Name: Bubba Derby
Height/Weight: 5’11’’, 185
How Acquired: Drafted in the 6th round of the 2015 amateur draft
The Oakland A’s sixth overall pick in the 2015 draft made a strong first impression in his pro debut season. Bubba Derby was dominant in the New York-Penn League and continued to improve once the regular season was over.
The A’s grabbed Derby with the 166th overall pick in the 2015 draft after Derby put together a solid three-year career at San Diego State. A closer his freshman year, Derby transitioned into the role of the Aztecs’ Friday night starter for his next two seasons. He finished his collegiate career with an ERA of 3.28 and a 275:87 K:BB in 244 innings.
Bubba Derby 2015 Stats
At 5’11’’, Derby didn’t have the build of a typical right-handed starter, but the A’s liked Derby’s athleticism and his ability to throw a plus change-up and sink his fastball coming out of college. He made two appearances in the Arizona Rookie League before the A’s assigned him to the New York-Penn League.
Derby was kept on a tight innings limit with the Vermont Lake Monsters because he had thrown more than 100 innings during the college season. Consequently, Derby amassed only 34.2 innings with Vermont despite making 12 appearances. He made those appearances count, however. He allowed just three earned runs on 19 hits and 10 walks for Vermont. Derby also struck-out 45 and he didn’t hit a batter.
It isn’t uncommon for polished collegiate pitchers to dominate in short-season leagues, but A’s Assistant General Manager Billy Owens says that Derby’s success was about more than outsmarting hitters.
“He is very competitive and he has some weapons on the mound,” Owens said. “He’s definitely not just a kid who has had some success in short-season with pitchability. This guy has athleticism and pure stuff, along with the pitchability.”
Video of Bubba Derby pitching at A's 2015 fall Instructs (video by Kimberly Contreras)
Derby’s two best pitches are his sinking fastball and his change-up, which has a chance to be an above-average major league offering. His fastball sits 90-93 and he can touch 94. Derby also has a breaking ball that has flashed above-average at times. He gets a lot of movement on all of his pitches, which can occasionally work against him when the ball starts moving out of the strike-zone.
Former A’s minor league pitching coordinator Garvin Alston noted that as dominant as Derby was during the New York-Penn League season, Derby’s strike-percentage (the number of pitches thrown for strikes) wasn’t as high as the A’s like to see. Alston suggested a mechanical change to Derby (moving his hands more north-south rather than east-west) at the start of fall Instructs and Alston says that Derby was more frequently in the strike-zone during his Instructs appearances.
“His problem is that his ball moves A LOT,” Alston said. “We just need to understand that his starting point needs to be here rather than where it was before to help him be in the strike-zone a lot more.”
A’s minor league field coordinator and Vermont manager Aaron Nieckula was impressed with Derby’s mental toughness in addition to his pitching repertoire.
“Here’s a guy who doesn’t necessarily have a plus fastball. He just pounds the ‘zone at the bottom and works in and out and has a devastating change-up,” Nieckula said. “He just knows how to pitch. He has a good idea of what to do out there. He does an excellent job repeating his mechanics and he stays within himself. He doesn’t let adversity phase him one bit.”
Right-handers under six-feet are often moved into the bullpen, but the A’s view Derby as a starter for now.
“One thing that he does do is throw at a great plane down hill when he throws his pitches,” Alston said. “As long as the plane is there – granted, it’s not going to be the same as if he was 6’2’’, 6’3’’ – but he still has a chance. He is a guy who can live at 90 miles per hour up to 93 miles per hour, depending on the day. For us right now, it’s kind of a wait-and-see about where he fits [long term], but he has shown us that he can definitely be a starter, go out there and get quick outs.”
Derby throws over the top and uses a twist at the waist to generate extra torque towards the plate (a toned down version of the motion often employed by pitchers from Japan). He repeats his delivery well and has shown the stamina to get through a long season, throwing more than 150 innings between college, the minor league season and the Instructional League. If Derby is going to stick as a starter, he will need to continue to increase his strike-percentage and he will have to improve the consistency on his breaking ball. If he does have to transition to the bullpen, he should be a late-innings option. Derby has the mindset to handle both roles.
The A’s player development staff will have to do a lot of juggling to spread out all of their starters who project to play full-season A-ball next year between the two clubs. Derby has a chance to push his way right to High-A, but the A’s are likely to start him in Low-A with the idea of moving him up during the second half of the year if he finds success in Beloit.