Name: James Naile
Height/Weight: 6’4’’, 185
How Acquired: Selected in the 20th round of the 2015 MLB Draft
As far as mid-round draft picks go, no one from the Oakland A’s 2015 draft class made as strong a first impression as right-hander James Naile. While it isn’t yet clear whether Naile’s future remains in the bullpen or the starting rotation, his effectiveness in his pro debut has landed him on the radar of the A’s player development staff.
Naile was a 20th-round pick of the A’s out of the University of Alabama, Birmingham, where had an outstanding junior season coming out of the Blazers’ rotation. In 109.2 innings, Naile had a 2.63 ERA and a 92:32 K:BB for the Conference USA school. The 109.2 innings were a career-high for Naile, so the A’s were cautious with his workload once he turned pro.
James Naile 2015 stats
Naile spent virtually all of his pro debut season with the Vermont Lake Monsters, pitching out of the bullpen. He quickly established himself as the Lake Monsters’ late-inning ace. In 23.1 innings, Naile posted a 1.93 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. He saved six games in eight chances and held New York-Penn League batters to a .218 average.
According to A’s minor league coaches, Naile was even better during his pro debut than those numbers would suggest. He wowed during the A’s fall Instructional League, flashing a good sinker, an outstanding slider and a solid change-up.
Former A’s minor league pitching coordinator Garvin Alston called Naile “the star of Instructs.”
“He was absolutely phenomenal. He was always a two-seam fastball guy and all of his pitches were moving,” Alston said. “I asked him, ‘hey, can you throw a four-seam fastball?’ He said, ‘I didn’t, but I can learn.’ Immediately, he picked up the four-seam fastball and then understood that he could throw it and then throw his two-seam fastball off of that. He has a wipeout slider. I didn’t know that about him until this camp. His slider is one of the best, I would say, out of the guys that were drafted.”
Video of James Naile at 2015 Fall Instructional League (video by Kimberly Contreras)
The biggest question surrounding Naile going into 2016 is where he will slot in his first full season in pro ball. A’s minor league field coordinator and Vermont manager Aaron Nieckula likes Naile in that late-inning relief role.
“First and foremost for me, being a back-end guy is more about mindset and mentality and he’s got that for me,” Nieckula said. “In terms of stuff, he’s 91-93 with a heavy two-seamer that’s as heavy as a bowling ball. He works in a good slider. He is probably a guy who is going to stick as a reliever, and probably as a back-end guy. Things can change, but he did a tremendous job for us in the back-end in Vermont.”
A’s minor league pitching coach Steve Connelly sees Naile’s role as to be determined.
“I love [Naile]. I don’t know what we are going to do with him. I don’t know if he is going to be a starter or a reliever, but this guy has the stuff to make the jump to the Cal League, in my opinion,” Connelly, who will be in Stockton as the pitching coach in 2016, said. “He has a fastball that he commands side-to-side with sink that sits in the low-90s. A wipeout slider and a great change-up. He has really come a long way. I think he is going to be a great arm for us in the future.”
Naile was a senior sign, so he was a bit old for his level in 2015. He turned 23 in February, but if he starts the year in Stockton, his age will be in-line with the majority of the league. If Naile remains in the bullpen, he could move quickly. As a starter, Naile’s development may be a bit more gradual.