The Oakland A’s have added experienced pitching depth with three early off-season signings. On October 7, Oakland purchased the contract of left-hander Brandon Mann from the independent Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks. Then last week, Oakland re-signed right-handers Angel Castro and Taylor Thompson. Both were set to be free agents after being removed from the A’s 40-man roster during the season.
Mann set the American Association record for strike-outs with 157 in 143.2 innings last season with the RedHawks. The left-hander has traveled a winding road through professional baseball. The Washington state native was a 27th-round pick of the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2002. He took time away from the game after the 2006 season, but re-signed with the Rays before the 2008 campaign after one year away. He remained in the Tampa organization through the 2009 season but never reached higher than Double-A.
In 2010, he signed a minor league free agent deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Mann threw 48 innings for High-A Inland Empire before he was released by the Dodgers in August of that year. He signed with the independent Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, finishing his season in their rotation. Some of his teammates with Southern Maryland included former A’s pitchers John Halama, Connor Robertson and Joey Newby.
Mann’s professional career moved overseas in 2011, when he joined the Yokohama Bay Stars of the Japanese Professional League. He pitched well for Yokohama that season, allowing just three runs in 23.1 innings. He returned to the Bay Stars in 2012 and he posted a 5.32 ERA in 69.1 innings.
Mann returned to the US in 2013 on a minor league deal with the Washington Nationals that included an invitation to major league spring training. He appeared in two games with the Nationals that spring and allowed three runs in 1.2 innings. Mann was released by the Nationals on the last day of minor league spring training. He once again traveled back to Japan, this time pitching in the independent leagues there. He would return to the States in 2014 on a minor league deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Once again, he had an invite to major league spring training and he pitched well in limited opportunities, allowing one run in 5.2 innings.
That good spring still didn’t lead to an opportunity for Mann in Triple-A. He was assigned to Double-A Altoona. Although he posted a 2.91 ERA and struck-out a batter an inning, Mann was released by Pittsburgh after throwing just 34 innings. He spent the rest of the 2014 season with the independent Lancaster Barnstormers. In 2015, he spent the entire season with Fargo-Moorhead.
Mann was a traditional, over-the-top left-hander until he made a change to a three-quarters slot during his time in Japan in 2013, according to an article on the Fargo-Moorhead team website. Mann’s velocity jumped from touching 89 to touching 94 after the change. He also throws a slider, curveball and change-up. Mann has primarily been a starter during his professional career, although it would not be surprising to see him in a relief role in the A’s organization. He is 31 and will be looking to reach Triple-A for the first time in his career.
If Mann is looking for inspiration, he will have Castro in the dugout with him as an example of a player who made his major-league debut at age 32. Castro spent 10 years in the minor league before being recalled by the A’s on May 8 of this season. He had two stints with Oakland in 2015, allowing one run in four innings out of the bullpen. Castro spent the rest of the season with Triple-A Nashville, where he had a 3.13 ERA and a 45:19 K:BB in 60.1 innings.
Castro isn’t a strike-out pitcher historically, but he does throw hard. He topped out at 97 MPH with the A’s and averaged 94 with his fastball. Castro also throws a slow curveball and a change-up. He will turn 33 next week.
Thompson joined the A’s on a waiver claim from the Chicago White Sox last off-season. He remained on the A’s 40-man roster throughout the off-season, but a shoulder injury prevented Thompson from being able to pitch during spring training. He was placed on the A’s 60-day disabled list at the end of spring training and remained on the DL until August 9, when he was optioned to Triple-A. One week later, Thompson was outrighted off of the A’s 40-man roster. Thompson finished the year with just 17.1 innings pitched. He was eligible for minor league free agency at the start of the free agency period.
Thompson was a 44th-round pick of the White Sox out of Auburn in 2009. He rose quickly through the Chicago system, making his major-league debut at the end of the 2014 season. We ranked Thompson as the A’s 44th-best prospect heading into the 2015 season. Click here for a full scouting report on Thompson from before his shoulder injury.