Name: Dustin Driver
Height/Weight: 6’2’’, 210
How Acquired: Drafted in the 7th round of the 2013 amateur draft
Three years into his professional career, Dustin Driver’s on-field production has yet to live up to his immense talent. Thanks to a standout performance by Driver during the A’s fall Instructional League, there is optimism that the numbers might match the talent in 2016.
Driver was the A’s seventh-round selection in 2013 out of a Washington state high school. A projected top-three round pick going into the draft, Driver signed an above-slot deal worth $500,000 to turn pro (he was a UCLA commit). He threw only 11.1 innings during the 2013 regular season, but the hope going into the 2014 season was that he would be able to amass at least 50 innings in short-season leaguge. A back injury derailed those plans and kept Driver from pitching at all during the 2014 regular season.
Dustin Driver Stats
Driver was able to return to game action in time for the A’s 2014 fall Instructs, and he was the talk of the camp. His velocity during Instructs was consistently 93-97 and he flashed a promising breaking ball and the makings of a solid change-up. Expectations were high for Driver going into the 2015 season.
Healthy throughout camp, Driver participated fully in spring training. The A’s kept him back in Arizona at the start of the full-season schedule to allow him to continue to develop in the warm weather. On May 14, the A’s sent Driver to Low-A Beloit, where they hoped he would spend the rest of the season. Driver struggled in his first taste of full-season ball, however. He spent a week on the disabled list, breaking up his four starts for the Snappers. In those four outings, he threw only 11 innings and he allowed 14 runs (11 earned) on 15 hits and five walks.
On June 10, the A’s assigned Driver to the Vermont Lake Monsters and he was on their roster for Opening Day of the New York-Penn League season. Driver spent the rest of the year with the Lake Monsters, battling inconsistency along the way. He finished the New York-Penn League season with a 4.99 ERA and a 32:35 K:BB in 52.1 innings.
Once again, Driver was able to end a frustrating season on a positive note during fall Instructs. Former A’s minor league coordinator Garvin Alston and A’s minor league field coordinator/Vermont manager Aaron Nieckula both signaled Driver out as one of the most improved pitchers in camp.
“He was pounding the ‘zone at 94 to 96. Throwing a good curveball. Working on his change-up,” Nieckula said. “He did a nice job. I think he can take that into 2016 and build upon that.”
Video of Dustin Driver during 2015 fall Instructional League (video by Kimberly Contreras)
Alston said the key for Driver was finally getting him to make an adjustment in his delivery that coaches had been working with Driver on for the entire season.
“He has this delivery where he has this kick-out thing with his foot that was throwing him off. We have been trying to work with him all season and talk with him all season to say, ‘look this action with your foot is allowing you to be up in the ‘zone and your pitches to be sporadic. We need to get that taken care of,’” Alston said.
“Finally, we tried a different approach with him. Understanding that he was very athletic in high school, we said, ‘let’s go back to that athletic delivery.’ We tried something different with his foot underneath his body. His next game, he was amazing. He was 93-97 and, I believe, of the 15 fastballs he threw, 14 were strikes down in the ‘zone. Actually, he pitched in the last game here [at Instructs] and he was 93-98 and he was throwing strikes. For whatever reason, the last two weeks of the Instructional League were productive for him and it bodes very well for him.”
While the on-field results weren’t there consistently for Driver until the final few weeks of Instructs, Driver’s 2015 season was still important in that he was able to stay on the field for the vast majority of the season. Between spring training, extended spring training, the regular season and Instructs, Driver threw right around 100 innings. Reaching that number should allow Driver to throw an entire season with a full-season affiliate in 2016.
There is no question that Driver is one of the most physically gifted pitchers in the A’s system. He has the size (6’2”), the velocity (mid-90s) and the two potential plus secondary pitches (breaking ball and change-up) to be a frontline starter in the major leagues. He is also still very young, having only turned 21 in October. His secondary pitches still aren’t consistent, however, and he is still learning how to spot his fastball effectively.
“His secondary stuff is a work-in-progress but he’s got the physicality and he’s got the pure velocity,” A’s Assistant General Manager Billy Owens said. “It’s just a matter of him gaining consistency and really getting assertive and throwing more quality strikes. The potential is there. The body is there. Now, he just has to keep harnessing his pitchability.”
The 2016 season will be important for Driver. With three years of instruction under his belt, Driver now needs to show that he can take what he learns in a camp environment onto the field during a non-complex league season. Driver should start the 2016 season with Low-A Beloit and could find his way in High-A by the end of the year if he can carryover what he showed at the end of Instructs.