Photo by Kimberly Contreras

Beyond Oakland A's 2016 top-50 prospects: Pitchers, part one

We recently ranked the top-50 prospects in the Oakland A's system, but those 50 are hardly the only players worth watching in the A's organization. We considered several other players before finalizing the list. In a several-part series, we take a look at those players who just missed the cut. In part three, we look at some of the pitchers who fell just short of inclusion.

Pitchers THAT JUST MISSED THE TOP-50, part one

Please note that players are listed in alphabetical - not rank - order.

Andres Avila

Vitals: Signed as an international free agent before the 2010 season; Age: 25; 6’0’’, 185; R/R

Avila has been a part of the A’s organization since 2010, but he made significant strides up the organizational ladder in 2015. After beginning the year in High-A Stockton with 13.2 innings and only one unearned run allowed, Avila got his first opportunity above the A-ball level with a promotion to Double-A Midland. Avila acquitted himself well at that level, posting a 4.10 ERA and a 42:14 K:BB in 48.1 innings. He was particularly effective after a rough first few outings with the RockHounds. In 28 innings from June 1 on, Avila’s ERA was 3.56 and he walked only eight while striking out 33.

Avila’s strong finish continued into the winter. He was the closer for Los Mochis of the Mexican Winter League and he converted 23 of 24 save opportunities. The 23 saves tied a league record that was established during the 1992-93 season. Avila had a 3.38 ERA and a 22:8 K:BB in 29.1 innings.

Avila began his career with the A’s as a starter, but he has been much more effective in the bullpen. He features a four-pitch mix, with a fastball that ranges from 91-93, a change-up that he uses against left-handers, a curveball and his best secondary offering – the slider. Avila is likely to return to Midland to start the 2016 season, but he could factor into the Triple-A Nashville bullpen by the end of the year. He is eligible for minor league free agency during the off-season unless he is added to the A’s 40-man roster.

Ben Bracewell

Vitals: Signed as an undrafted free agent after 2014 draft; Age: 25; 6’0’’, 195; R/R

Despite an excellent four-year career at Mississippi State, Bracewell went undrafted and signed with the A’s in 2014 after a short stint in the independent Frontier League. It’s hard to be noticed as an undrafted free agent, but Bracewell firmly planted himself on the A’s relief depth chart with an outstanding first full season in 2015. Pitching in the backend of the Stockton bullpen, Bracewell posted a 2.89 ERA and a 54:12 K:BB in 56 innings in the hitter-friendly California League. He converted seven of eight save chances and posted a 1.02 WHIP. Cal League batters hit only .223 against him. 

A college roommate of A’s starter Kendall Graveman, Bracewell overcame shoulder surgery in college. Bracewell’s age and his injury history are likely what caused him to go undrafted. He has a proven track record of success pitching against high-level competition in the SEC and then again in the Cal League. Bracewell is a groundball pitcher who relies mostly on his fastball-slider combination. He’s a fierce competitor who has the mindset to stay in a late-innings role. Bracewell should get an opportunity in Double-A this season.

Sam Bragg

Vitals: 18th-round pick in the 2013 draft; Age: 22; 6’2’’, 190; R/R

Bragg has managed to fly under-the-radar despite pitching effectively in his three professional seasons. The right-hander pitched exclusively out of the Stockton Ports’ bullpen last season and was a key component of a strong relief corps. Bragg threw 74 innings in a long-relief role and posted a 3.65 ERA with a 92:23 K:BB. He held Cal League batters to a .231 average.

Bragg struck-out more than 11 batters per nine innings last season thanks to a fastball that sat 92-94 and touched 96 and a tight breaking ball that generated plenty of swings-and-misses. He has the stuff to be a closer, but he hasn’t always been consistent with his command. Bragg reduced his walk rate last season, but he allowed nearly a homerun per nine innings, mostly on location mistakes. If he can find more consistency with his location, he could move up the ranks very quickly. Drafted out of junior college, Bragg is entering his age 23 season and should start the year in Double-A.

“He’s my sleeper,” former A’s minor league pitching coordinator Garvin Alston said. “I haven’t put my thumb on it yet, but I have seen him in real-game situations 10 or 12 times and every time I have seen him – except for once – he was pretty dominating. You go and look at the numbers and you see a guy who can touch 95 from time-to-time and I believe he touched a 96 this year. He sat 92-93. But his best pitch is that breaking ball. He can really spin that breaking ball.

“Again, it’s going to be a wait-and-see on his future. Some guys that have stuff don’t have heart and some guys that have heart don’t have stuff. We’ll wait and see if he can combine the two in regards to his stuff and his heart and get things moving.”

Video of Sam Bragg with Stockton in 2015 (video by Melissa Lockard)


Brendan Butler

Vitals: 30th-round pick in 2015 draft; Age: 22; 6’3’’, 215; R/R

The numbers don’t tell the tale on Butler and his potential. A little-known 30th-round pick in the 2015 draft, Butler spent his pro debut season in the Arizona Rookie League. He didn’t pitch all that well in the AZL, posting a 5.30 ERA and a .320 BAA in 18.2 innings. However, Butler opened a lot of eyes during the A’s fall Instructional League, hitting mid-90s with his fastball after some tweaks with his mechanics. He has good size and can find the strike-zone, although he still has trouble commanding where in the strike-zone his ball ends up.

Alston liked what he saw from Butler during Instructs.

Brendan Butler, we loved his arm coming out. His velocity went up two clicks also with some delivery changes,” Alston said. “Those changes were more with his foot. His foot was going towards the left-hand hitter’s batter’s box and he was losing energy and velocity. We got him to understand that his foot need to go in a certain direction. He was another one that opened eyes. He is a strike-thrower. He throws the ball over the plate, but he isn’t really commanding it. It’s more of a control thing. If we can get him to improve that, I think he can be a surprise.”

Video of Brendan Butler during fall Instructs (video by Kimberly Contreras)

Angel Castro

Vitals: Re-signed as a minor league free agent this off-season; Age: 33; 5’11’’, 240; R/R

Castro was one of the best stories in the organization last season when he made his major-league debut in May after nine years in professional baseball. He appeared in five games with the A’s, allowing a run on eight hits in four innings. Castro spent the rest of the season with Triple-A Nashville, where he posted a 3.13 ERA and eight saves in 60.1 innings. He was removed from the A’s 40-man roster but re-signed with Oakland as a minor league free agent with an invite to big league camp. This winter, Castro served primarily as a starter in the Dominican Winter League, posting a 3.50 ERA in 43.2 innings in eight starts and one relief appearance.

At 33, Castro isn’t a prospect in the traditional sense, but he could serve as a longman for the A’s at some point this year. He has a deep arsenal for a reliever, featuring a fastball that ranges from 90-96 and a curveball, change-up and slider. He has been a groundball pitcher throughout his career. Command has been a weakness at times, but when he is locating, Castro can be tough on advanced hitters. Depending on how the A’s move around their upper-level minor league starters, Castro could move into the Sounds’ rotation this year. He should remain stretched out for a long relief role regardless of whether he is in the Nashville bullpen or rotation.

Wandisson Charles

Vitals: Signed as an international amateur free agent before 2015 season; Age: 19; 6’7’’, 220; R/R

In addition to having the best name in the A’s organization, Charles has one of the best fastballs in terms of pure velocity. Although he was inconsistent in his pro debut season (4.12 ERA; 37:38 K:BB in 39.1 innings) in the Dominican Summer League in 2015, Charles was sent to the US for the A’s fall Instructional League based on his immense potential. His fastball can touch 98 and his 6’7’’ frame offers plenty of longterm projection. Charles will be a project, but one worth monitoring.

“Mr. Wandisson Charles, he has a long way to go, but, again, another big arm. He can reach 97, 98 miles per hour. He’s a big kid, 6’7’’, and he is strong, but he has a lot of delivery flaws at the present time,” Alston said after fall Instructs. “He needs to get that better to throw better strikes. I would love to treat him as a starter, but because he doesn’t throw enough strikes, we are thinking about maybe just putting him in the bullpen and letting him go and throw. We would like to make him a starter first, so we’ll keep exploring that, but we are going to make some delivery changes and see if he can get them.”

Ryan Doolittle

Vitals: 26th-round pick in 2008 draft; Age: 27; 6’1’’, 215; R/R

After eight seasons in the A’s organization, Doolittle is finally receiving an opportunity in big league camp. If not for arm injuries early in his career, Doolittle likely would have been an invitee to big league camp much earlier. A 2008 draft pick, Doolittle has re-signed with Oakland as a minor league free agent in each of the past two seasons. He has been part of the Double-A Midland bullpen for most of the past two seasons, helping to lead the RockHounds to two straight Texas League titles. Thanks to arm injuries that eventually led to Tommy John surgery in 2012, Doolittle didn’t reach Double-A until 2014. However, he has proven he can pitch in the upper levels. In 104.1 innings for Midland the past two seasons, he has a 3.28 ERA and a 93:35 K:BB.

Like his older brother Sean, Ryan is a strike-thrower. In 277.1 career innings, he has walked just 57 and he has allowed only 13 homeruns. The younger Doolittle has a fastball with some zip that can touch 95 and sits in that 91-93 MPH range. He also features a split-change and a slider. Doolittle works quickly and keeps the ball on the ground. He will be in the mix for one of Nashville’s bullpen spots this spring.

Kevin Duchene

Vitals: 5th-round pick in 2015 draft; Age: 22; 6’2’’, 220; L/L

Duchene was the ace of an Illinois staff that was one of the best in the nation in 2015. The left-hander posted a 1.75 ERA and he won 11 games in 102.2 innings, leading the Fighting Illini to a 50-10-1 record and a number eight ranking. Duchene’s big season came after a solid showing in the Cape Cod League, when he had a 3.37 ERA in 42.2 innings.

The A’s were careful with Duchene in his pro debut. He threw only 25.1 innings (22.1 of those coming for short-season Vermont). Duchene didn’t have as much success as one would expect from a polished collegiate lefty. With Vermont, he had a 4.84 ERA and an 18:9 K:BB. The A’s didn’t send him to fall Instructs, figuring he had thrown enough innings over the last 12 months.

Duchene isn’t overpowering, although he can touch 92 with his fastball. When he’s on, he succeeds with good command of his fastball, breaking ball and change-up. Duchene has good pitchability, but still has some maturing to do with his pre-game preparation. Now that he has had an opportunity to experience professional baseball, he should have a better understanding of the day-to-day responsibilities in 2016.

“He is an interesting fellow, to say the least. The way that he comes to work everyday, he’s very enthusiastic with everything that he does, but he has a lot to learn,” Alston said. “I think there is something there that we can get out of him. Hopefully he will understand that this isn’t college anymore. In doing so, I think the baseball-side of him will get better.

Seth Frankoff

Vitals: 27th-round pick in 2010 draft; Age: 27; 6’5’’, 210; R/R

Frankoff’s age and his status as an impending minor league free agent kept him off of our top-50, but Frankoff is still a very viable candidate for a big league career. He has been a bit unlucky the past two seasons in that the A’s have had a lot of Triple-A relief depth. He has had limited opportunities in Triple-A each of the past two years, but hasn’t received extended looks thanks to that depth.

Frankoff has nothing left to prove in Double-A. In 83.2 innings, he has a 2.90 ERA and a 97:25 K:BB. Frankoff has also converted 23 saves in 27 chances over two seasons at that level. His brief time in Triple-A hasn’t gone as smoothly. In 41.1 innings, his K:BB is only 29:19 and his ERA is 4.79. Much of those struggles can be attributed to nerves, as Frankoff’s stuff is plenty good enough for Triple-A. He features a sinking fastball that sits 88-91, a good cutter and a solid slider and change-up. Frankoff will be eligible for minor league free agency this off-season if he isn’t on the A’s 40-man roster.

Kyle Finnegan

Vitals: 6th-round pick in 2013 draft; Age: 24; 6’2’’, 170; R/R

Finnegan’s numbers weren’t pretty with Stockton last season, but the right-hander still offers promise. Armed with a fastball that sits 92-94 and can touch 97, Finnegan has had periods of success but has been unable to sustain long stretches of dominance during his pro career. There was talk of making him a reliever when he was first drafted, and that is an avenue the A’s could take with Finnegan this season. 

Finnegan’s biggest issue is his ability to maintain his mechanics throughout an outing. That inconsistency impacts his location and makes his pitches more hittable than they should be given the quality of his stuff. He is a groundball pitcher, but he allowed 19 homeruns in 127 innings last season. Finnegan is most effective with no runners on, but as he works deeper into an inning, he has trouble minimizing damage when runners reach base. Moving into the bullpen could simplify his approach and allow him to maintain one consistent throwing motion. 

Kyle Friedrichs

Vitals: 7th-round pick in 2015 draft; Age: 24; 6’1’’, 190, R/R 

Friedrichs was a top-10 round selection by the A’s in last year’s draft after a breakout season with the Long Beach State Dirtbags. The right-hander finished as a finalist for the Gregg Olson award and he had a 2.79 ERA in 100 innings. He walked just 12 and struck-out 109, pushing his way onto the draft radar. Friedrichs spent his pro debut season with the Vermont Lake Monsters. His ERA was 4.50, but 10 of the 18 earned runs he allowed came over the span of two starts and 3.1 innings. The rest of the season he was consistent for the Lake Monsters. He posted a 1.22 GO/AO and allowed just two homeruns.

Friedrichs doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but he has an advanced feel for pitching and is the kind of pitcher who gets the most of everything he throws. He is already 24 but could start the year in High-A, depending on how the A’s divide up their A-ball starters.  

“He’s going to eat up a lot of innings. If he stays as a starter, he could probably go six-plus innings a game,” Vermont manager Aaron Nieckula said. “He’s a low-effort [delivery] guy. He doesn’t have a dominating fastball, but he can locate it down in the ‘zone. He has a good curveball and change-up, so he has a good mix. He knows how to pitch. He’s very inquisitive. He’s always asking questions and looking for ways to not only improve his pitches but to improve his preparation for the next time he prepares for an opponent.”

Koby Gauna

Vitals: 20th-round pick in 2014 draft; Age: 22; 6’3’’, 225; R/R

A suspension for violating baseball’s drugs of abuse policy cost Gauna the first 50 games of the 2015 season. Once on the field, Gauna resumed frustrating hitters’ attempts to get the ball into the air. On balls hit into play against Gauna last year, a remarkable 60% of them were hit on the ground. Another 19% were line-drives and only 15.5% were flyballs (another 5% were pop-ups). Those groundballs allowed Gauna to post a 1.55 ERA in 52.1 innings despite striking out only 29. He allowed only one homerun and induced nine double-play grounders and four forceouts.

Gauna’s fastball rarely tops 91, but his ability to locate his sinker and his deceptive delivery make it difficult for hitters to get under the ball and drive it. Gauna is also a fierce competitor. He challenges all comers with his stuff and never shies away from contact. This approach makes him very reliant on his defense, but also puts him in a good position to work his way out of tough situations.

“Koby is a competitor like you wouldn’t believe. He trusts his ability to get the groundballs,” former Beloit and current Stockton pitching coach Steve Connelly said. “What makes him really good is his ability to locate his sinker glove-side. Most sinkerball pitchers just go in. They want to go in, in, in and get that sink, but he loves to go glove-side. He will go in on guys and a guy doesn’t swing and he’s 1-0. Then, boom, he goes glove-side and it goes back over the plate for strike-one and he’ll go back in and he’ll get a groundball or if the guy takes it for a ball, he’ll go back glove-side again. It’s almost an impossible pitch to hit. Instead of trying to get a strike-out with it, he uses it to get back into positive counts.

“He’s really got a good approach for what he wants to do. He never gets outside of that. He has a really good idea of what his next pitch is going to be.”

Gauna has been a closer during his first two pro seasons. His stuff doesn’t profile as a closer in the big leagues, but with his ability to get grounders almost on demand, he could fill a Chad Bradford-like role down-the-road. If he can add a pitch that is designed to miss bats, his chances of a big league career as a set-up man would increase.

Ryan Gorton

Vitals: 31st-round pick in 2012 draft; Age: 26; 6’2’’, 220; R/R

Gorton has been a full-time pitcher for less than a year, but he has already changed his status within the organization to legitimate prospect. The former catcher was on the verge of being released at the start of last season when he requested that the A’s give him an opportunity to try pitching. Gorton had some experience pitching in high school and college. The A’s agreed to give Gorton a shot and he took full advantage of the opportunity. He pitched well during extended spring training and then racked up 25.1 innings between the AZL A’s, Vermont Lake Monsters and Beloit Snappers. In those innings, Gorton posted a 2.13 ERA and a 29:6 K:BB.

Gorton’s success was no fluke according to A’s coaches. Gorton came to the mound with an advanced understanding of how to attack hitters. He also showed an ability to make adjustments and add new pitches quickly.

“He’s like a savant,” Connelly said. “He knows how to call a game. He knows what to throw. But the most impressive thing about him – and I’ll give you this as an example – is that he gets to Beloit and he says, ‘I really want to develop a change-up. I haven’t been able to throw a change-up.’ So I say, okay, and I watch him throw a bit. I say ‘why don’t you mess around with this grip here?’ and he throws it and says, ‘yeah, I like that grip.’ He takes it out into the game that night. The first change-up he throws is a swing-and-miss. So then he tries doing too much with the next change-up he throws and he ends up bouncing it. But then he makes a quick adjustment and doesn’t try to do too much. He throws the change-up again and it’s a swing-and-miss. His first night out there, he throws three change-ups and gets two swings-and-misses.

“Now he’s throwing that change-up all of the time. He’s got a fastball that is running arm-side. He’s got a cutter that he can throw glove-side. He’s got a slider that in the beginning he was just using to get swings-and-misses. I told him, ‘throw it up there in the ‘zone.’ He said, ‘okay’ and he throws it in the ‘zone and gets results with that. Then we go over the change-up and he gets results with that. I’m pretty sure if I taught him a knuckleball, he’d know how to throw a knuckleball quickly.”

Gorton is already 26 but has very little wear on his arm compared to most pitchers his age. As a reliever, he could move quickly.

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