Photo by Kimberly Contreras

Oakland A's 2016 top-50 prospects scouting report: Bobby Wahl

Our Oakland A's 2016 top-50 prospects list is out. Now find out more about the players on that list. In this piece, a close look at top-50 prospect Bobby Wahl. Wahl is arguably the most talented relief prospect in the A's system. Can he stay healthy enough to reach his potential?

Name: Bobby Wahl  
Position: RP
Height/Weight: 6’2’’, 210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Age: 23
How Acquired: Selected in the 5th round of the 2013 draft

Injuries have prevented Bobby Wahl from racing to the big leagues during his first two full pro seasons. However, he has the talent to make a move up the ladder quickly if he can stay on the field.

Going into the 2013 draft, Wahl was projected to be a first-round pick as one of the top college starters coming out of the SEC. Surprisingly, Wahl slipped to Day Two of the draft, when the A’s selected him in the fifth round. There were whispers of a high bonus demand and of a possible arm injury that shadowed Wahl during the draft. In the end, he signed with the A’s to an above-slot deal worth a reported $500,000.

Wahl spent three seasons at Ole Miss before turning pro. During his sophomore and junior campaigns, Wahl was one of the best starters in the SEC. As a sophomore, he had a 2.55 ERA and 104 strike-outs in 99 innings. As a junior, Wahl went a perfect 10-0 with a 2.03 ERA in 97.2 innings. However, he missed a little time with a blister issue and his strike-outs fell considerably while his walk rate rose. His velocity also dipped. Those issues led some to speculate that Wahl was dealing with an undisclosed injury.

Bobby Wahl stats

2015 MID 32.1 4.18 14 36 2 1.55 1.38
Career 107.1 4.53 47 126 12 1.46 0.92

Wahl didn’t show any signs of injury during his pro debut season in 2013 with Vermont, however. The A’s limited his innings – as they do with most of their starter draft picks – but he pitched regularly. He was effective for Vermont, striking out 27 in 20.2 innings.

In 2014, Wahl began the year in the Low-A Beloit starting rotation. He got off to a slow start with the Snappers, posting a 7.71 ERA in three starts before landing on the DL in mid-April with an oblique injury. Wahl returned in mid-May. He made four more starts before the A’s decided to move Wahl to the bullpen. At the time of the switch, he had a 7.01 ERA and 13 walks in 25.2 innings.

The A’s brass believed that Wahl would benefit from a move to the bullpen because he had trouble maintaining his mechanics from start-to-start. He did a better job of being consistent when pitching more regularly. After the move to the bullpen, Wahl posted a 2.12 ERA and a 23:6 K:BB in 17 innings for Beloit. He was promoted to High-A Stockton at the end of July and would spend the rest of the season in the California League. Wahl’s ERA with the Ports was 4.22 in 10.2 innings, but he struck-out 19. He did walk six and allow two homeruns, however.

This spring Wahl was one of a handful of prospects invited to the A’s mini-camp, which was a minor league camp that preceded the start of minor league spring training. Wahl was one of the standouts of that camp and he carried that success into minor league spring training. When camp broke, Wahl was part of the Opening Day roster for Double-A Midland despite having spent only a month in High-A.

Wahl got off to a solid start with the RockHounds. Through May, his ERA was 3.86 and he had a 28:7 K:BB in 23.1 innings. He was also inducing groundballs at a good clip. In June, Wahl struggled in four appearances and he landed on the DL with a sore right forearm on June 22. He returned to make four appearances in July, but he was placed on the DL for good on July 21. Wahl finished the year with a 4.18 ERA and a 36:14 K:BB in 32.1 innings for the RockHounds.

Wahl would eventually have surgery on his right forearm. According to A’s Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman, Wahl is expected to be ready for the start of spring training.

When healthy, Wahl can be dominating. His fastball is a devastating weapon. It sits at 95-99 MPH and, when his mechanics are right, he can locate the pitch in the bottom half of the strike-zone. Wahl also has a sharp slider that is a knee-buckler at times. He doesn’t use his change-up as much as he did when he was a starter, but that is another pitch he can turn to to change speeds.

A’s Assistant General Manager Billy Owens says that Wahl has a high ceiling but is still a work-in-progress.

He's shown glimpses of being a shut-down, late-inning reliever,” Owens said. “If he can harness his fastball command and continue to develop his slider, Wahl has the equipment to be a late-inning flamethrower at the top level.”

There is no question that Wahl has the mental toughness to be a late-inning reliever in the big leagues. He has been a leader on every team he has played on and is fearless on the mound. He thrives in situations when the game is on the line.

The biggest roadblock for Wahl has undoubtedly been his health, however. It has been difficult for him to develop the consistency he needs to improve his command because of the time he has missed with injury. Going into spring training, Wahl will be a bit of a question mark coming off of the surgery. If he is healthy, however, he could be a factor for the A’s by the end of the year given the quality of his stuff.

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