Name: Heath Fillmyer
Height/Weight: 6’1’’, 180
How Acquired: Selected in the 5th round of the 2014 MLB draft
In his first full professional campaign, Heath Fillmyer spun a tale of two seasons. What Fillmyer produced during the second half of 2015 has many within the organization anxious for the next chapter.
If the 2014 draft for the Oakland A’s had a theme, it was “projects”, at least in the top-10 rounds. The A’s took several players in those top-10 rounds that were far from finished products, even if they had collegiate experience. Fillmyer was one of those selections. A fifth-round pick out of Mercer County Community College, Fillmyer only had one season of experience as a full-time pitcher when he turned pro. The former shortstop came to professional baseball with a big fastball, but little refinement. Much has changed in the 18 months since his debut.
Heath Fillmyer Stats
The A’s eased Fillmyer into pro ball, letting him throw only 9.2 innings in Rookie ball in 2014. He impressed A’s coaches during fall Instructs and was the talk of minor league spring training in 2015. Fillmyer flashed a mid-90s fastball and two impressive off-speed pitches. The A’s assigned Fillmyer to the Opening Day roster for the Beloit Snappers as a member of their starting rotation.
It wasn’t a smooth transition for Fillmyer into full-season ball. He struggled to find his footing and had an 8.24 ERA for the first half of the season. Fillmyer averaged under four innings an outing and opposing batters hit .354 against him.
Things turned around for Fillmyer mid-season, however. He got on a roll and was one of the best starters in the Midwest League for the final two-plus months of the season. In 60 innings, he posted a 2.85 ERA and opposing batters hit only .256 against him. His homer rate also fell considerably.
Beloit Snappers’ 2015 pitching coach Steve Connelly says that Fillmyer’s improvement was no accident.
“We made some serious delivery changes with his mechanics [mid-season],” Connelly said. “He always struggled with that he would get really east and west in his delivery. He never rode it down the slope. We changed his delivery up where we preset him and we got him a little bit shorter and we found a way to get him a little bit better direction down hill towards the plate.
“He is as athletic of a kid as you will find on a baseball field. He played shortstop in junior college and so he was able to pick it up quick. It just clicked and each time he went out it got better. He just really created an angle down with his fastball. He was able to spot it in and out. His breaking ball was really cleaned up. It wasn’t so slurvy and loose. I had more of a sharp bite to it. And then he’s got a tremendous change-up that is firm – 88-89 MPH – but it is a dive-bomb sinker, in a way. It just ties guys up. Hitters are all out in front of it. They really don’t have much of a chance of hitting it.”
Video of Heath Fillmyer at 2015 fall Instructional League (video by Kimberly Contreras)
In a system that doesn’t feature many high velocity starting pitchers, Fillmyer stands out with his power arsenal. His fastball sits 93 but can touch 97. His breaking ball can be a devastating swing-and-miss pitch when he is spotting it well. Despite not having a huge separation in velocity from his fastball, Fillmyer’s change-up is effective because of the late movement it gets down in the strike-zone.
“He pitched extremely well [the second half of the season in Beloit] and then he carried that into here [at Instructs],” former A’s minor league pitching coordinator Garvin Alston said. “He was able to locate and his velocity was in the mid-90s. The best part about it was his off-speed pitches, which were a lot more in the ‘zone than before.”
Fillmyer did spend three weeks on the Beloit disabled list, but he finished the season strong. He repeats his delivery well and has shown a capacity for making adjustments quickly. Fillmyer was a year younger than the average Midwest League player last season and won’t turn 22 until May. He is still far from a finished product, but he has one of the highest ceilings of any starting pitcher in the A’s system currently. Whether Fillmyer can continue to improve his command will ultimately determine whether he can be a 2-3 starter in the big leagues or whether he moves into a bullpen role.
The biggest challenge for Fillmyer going into the 2016 season will be to carry over the changes he made to his delivery into what is likely going to be the California League, which is a hitter’s league. Fillmyer struck-out only 77 in 99.1 innings with Beloit last season despite his excellent stuff. He will need to miss more bats in the California League to avoid leaving his fate to the winds and bandboxes.