Photo by Chris Lockard / OaklandClubhouse.com

Beyond the Oakland A's top-50: Pitchers, Part Two

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 took a look at those players who just missed the cut. In our final segment, we look at the rest of the pitchers who fell just short of inclusion.

PITCHERS THAT JUST MISSED THE TOP-50, PART Two

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

Dustin Hurlbutt

Vitals: 16th-round pick in the 2015 draft; Age: 23; 6’1’’, 195, R/R

Hurlbutt’s journey to pro ball took several turns and included two seasons lost to Tommy John surgery. The right-hander landed on the draft prospect radar screen with a standout season for Tabor College that included a trip to the NAIA World Series. Hurlbutt landed with the A’s in the 16th-round after posting a 3.16 ERA in 88.1 innings. He struck-out 106. The A’s were careful to limit Hurlbutt’s innings once he turned pro since it was his first full season back from the surgery. He stayed in the Arizona Rookie League and posted a 3.14 ERA with 20 strike-outs and 10 walks in 14.1 innings.

Hurlbutt will be pitching without innings restrictions in 2016 and he could be tried in a starting role, although he handled the closer role well for the AZL A’s, saving five of six opportunities. Hurlbutt has the velocity to pitch towards the back-end of a bullpen, with a fastball that can touch 94. His best secondary pitch is his change-up and he has a decent breaking ball. Hurlbutt’s command is still rounding into shape after the surgery (command is often the last thing to return for Tommy John patients). He should jump into full-season ball in 2016.

Dustin Hurlbutt Scouting Video (video by Kimberly Contreras)

Rob Huber

Vitals: 26th-round pick in 2014 draft; Age: 24; 5’11’’, 200; R/R

If there was a most-improved award from the 2014 draft class, Huber certainly would have been in the running. The senior sign posted an 8.02 ERA and allowed 27 hits in 21.1 innings in the Arizona Rookie League in 2014. In 2015 – after some work on his mechanics – Huber had a 3.02 ERA and held opposing batters to a .238 average in 53.2 innings for the Beloit Snappers. Huber also struck-out more than a batter an inning (57).

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Huber had his mechanics completely overhauled by current A’s bullpen coach Scott Emerson during the A’s 2014 fall Instructional League. Huber’s pitching coach in Beloit, Steve Connelly, said that the changes cleaned up Huber’s delivery and the new delivery improved all of his pitches.

“He is a kid who really made a good move forward. He has got a fastball that is 89-92,” Connelly said. “For being not very tall, he creates a pretty good angle down with it. He has a swing-and-miss curveball that is top-to-bottom with a little bit of bite. He also has a nice slider that works off of that.”

Huber is likely to stay in a relief role and should get a chance in High-A in 2016. 

Chris Jensen

Vitals: Acquired from Coloardo along with Drew Pomeranz for Brett Anderson before the 2014 season; Age: 25; 6’4’’, 200; R/R

Jensen was a Texas League post-season All-Star in 2014, so it had to have been a disappointment for him to be sent back to Double-A for 2015. As it so often happens with prospects who have success at a level but are forced to repeat, Jensen struggled during his second tour of the Texas League. His ERA jumped from 3.14 to 4.87 and his homeruns allowed went from three in 160.1 innings to 18 in 166.1 innings.

Jensen’s other numbers stayed fairly similar to his 2014 season. His walk rate dropped .6 percent while his strike-out rate dropped 1.2%. He was still primarily a groundball pitcher (45% of all balls hit into play), but the groundball rate declined 4% and the line-drive rate increased 4%. In other words, when he was missing, he was missing in more hittable areas in 2015.

Jensen still has time to recover his prospect status. He has an excellent low-90s sinker, as well as a curveball and a change-up. Jensen has never missed a lot of bats, which has left him vulnerable to BABIP bad luck. If he can add a swing-and-miss pitch to his arsenal, he still has a chance to be a back-end starter in the big leagues. Jensen’s best stretch of starts came during the final five weeks of last season, so he will be looking to build off of that momentum in 2016.

Branden Kelliher

Vitals: 8th-round pick in 2014 draft; Age: 20; 5’11’’, 175; R/R

It was a forgettable first full professional season for Kelliher, who struggled during extended spring training and never got on-track during the regular season. The then-19 year old had trouble repeating his delivery all season and his pitches were all over the place. He walked 19, hit 13 batters and allowed 36 hits in 31.2 innings in the Arizona Rookie League.

The good news for Kelliher is that he is young and he is talented. His throwing motion underwent a complete overhaul during the fall Instructional League. He may sacrifice some of his velocity (he can touch 96) with the new motion, but A’s coaches feel that Kelliher will be able to command the ball better with the new mechanics. It’s still a work-in-progress, but Kelliher just turned 20 in the late winter, so he still has time to put it together.

“We tried to switch the tables on him and said, ‘hey, we don’t want a thrower anymore, we want someone who can pitch,’” former A’s minor league pitching coordinator Garvin Alston said. “We started to remake his delivery. I actually used Sonny Gray’s delivery as a starting point and he kind of liked it, so now he is getting used to the new delivery and getting used to where his hands should be and everything else. He has shown flashes of being really good, but he kind of goes back to what he knows when his energy level gets high and he falls right back to where he was before.”

Aaron Kurcz

Vitals: Acquired from the Atlanta Braves for an international signing bonus slot in July 2015; Age: 25; 6’0’’, 175; R/R

The A’s picked up Kurcz last July from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for an international signing bonus slot. Kurcz has been well travelled since going to the Cubs in the 10th round in 2010. He was traded to the Red Sox in 2012 as part of the Red Sox’s compensation for the loss of GM Theo Epstein and to the Atlanta Braves in 2014. Kurcz will be eligible for minor league free agency at the end of the year if he isn’t on a 40-man roster.

The right-hander spent all of last season in Triple-A, logging 33 innings in the International League and 26 innings in the Pacific Coast League after the trade. In total, Kurcz had a 3.66 ERA and a 69:36 K:BB. He struggled in a brief Arizona Fall League stint and was shut down early with a tired arm.

Kurcz is primarily a fastball-slider pitcher. His fastball can touch 97 and his slider sits in the low- to mid-80s. He also features a change-up. Kurcz has always been hard to hit (.219 career BAA), but he has struggled with his command (130 walks in 261 innings). He should factor into the Triple-A Nashville bullpen this season.

Aaron Kurcz pitching in the Arizona Fall League (video by Kimberly Contreras)

Carlos Navas

Vitals: Signed as an international free agent before the 2010 season; Age: 23; 6’1’’, 170; R/R

Navas is one of those players that coaches and teammates root for because of his positive attitude and work ethic. An under-the-radar prospect his first five years in the A’s system, Navas had a breakthrough season in 2015, and he has positioned himself as a player to watch in 2016.

The right-hander made the transition from the starting rotation to the bullpen, jumped from the Rookie League to the Midwest League in 2015 and put together his best season as a pro. In 58.2 innings for Beloit, Navas posted a 2.61 ERA and a 69:18 K:BB. He allowed just two homeruns and held batters to a .243 average. That earned Navas a late-season promotion to High-A, where he threw nine innings and struck-out nine, while allowing four runs.

Navas isn’t a fireballer, but he has a deep arsenal for a reliever and he mixes his pitches well.

“He is a guy who pitches at the top half of the ‘zone and it works for him,” Connelly said. “He isn’t necessarily down in the ‘zone. His fastball is up but he has a really good breaking ball. He has a curveball that is more top-to-bottom and he has a slider that is running away. It’s his ability to have four pitches that he can use and he uses his off-speed off of that fastball really well. It looks like it is 95 but it is 89-92.”

 

Photo by Chris Lockard / OaklandClubhouse.com

Zach Neal

Vitals: Signed as a minor league free agent in March 2013; Age: 27; 6’3’’, 220; R/R

Since coming to the A’s as a minor league free agent before the 2013 regular season, Neal has been ‘Mr. Efficiency’ within the A’s system. The right-hander isn’t overpowering, but he is one of the most aggressive pitchers within the strike-zone in the A’s system. That allows him to work quickly and work deep into games. He has thrown no fewer than 165 innings in each of his three seasons with the A’s.

For the past two seasons, Neal has split his time between Double-A and Triple-A. Last season, he began the year in Midland but spent the bulk of the season in Nashville. With the Sounds, Neal was a consistent presence in a rotation that was up-and-down all year. He posted a 4.18 ERA in 131.1 innings. Neal struck-out only 78, but he walked just 20 and allowed just 10 homeruns.

Neal’s fastball rarely tops 91, but he locates it well. His slider is his best secondary offering. He also features a change-up and a curveball. Neal mixes his pitches well and throws all of his offerings for strikes. He will need a few breaks to get a shot in the big leagues this year, but he should be in the mix for a spot in the Nashville rotation this spring.

Jake Sanchez

Vitals: Acquired from the Chicago White Sox for Michael Taylor during the 2014 season; Age: 26; 6’1’’, 205

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Sanchez joined the A’s midway through the 2014 season in a trade with the Chicago White Sox. Undrafted out of college, Sanchez pitched in the independent leagues before signing with the White Sox in 2013. He has made the most of his opportunity in affiliate ball since then. Last season, Sanchez spent the bulk of the year in the Double-A Midland rotation. He had a 4.50 ERA and a 100:41 K:BB in 142 innings. He got one late-season start with Nashville and then threw seven innings of one-run ball in the Midland post-season.

This winter, Sanchez was a key contributor to a Mexicali team that won the MWL and Caribbean Series championships. He is slated to join Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic.

Sanchez is another workhorse who pitches to contact. He is a groundball pitcher with some deception to his delivery. Sanchez’s fastball generally sat in the 88-91 MPH range as a starter, but it ticked up a bit in the bullpen. That may be his best role longterm.

“Do I think he is a starter or a reliever long-term? I think the verdict is still out on that one,” Alston said. “He did a solid job this year. He put up some quality innings and went through stretches where he was dominant. But he also went through stretches where it was tough for him to get out of the second or third inning.

“The one thing that we were talking with him about during the season was for him to control his emotions. When he walked a guy or gave up a hit – or whatever it was – his energy level would get too high. Once his energy level got too high, his balls would flatten out and he wouldn’t be as effective as he could be.”

Joel Seddon

Vitals: 11th-round pick in 2014 draft; Age: 23; 6’1’’, 165; R/R

Seddon was one of a handful of members of the A’s 2014 draft class that jumped to High-A Stockton for their pro debut seasons. The right-hander handled the challenge promotion well, posting a 3.59 ERA in 105.1 innings as a swingman with the Ports. He made 14 starts and 20 relief appearances, pitching equally effectively in both roles.

Seddon was a closer at South Carolina, but he has more of a starter’s pitch mix than a late-inning reliever’s arsenal. Seddon’s fastball sits in the 88-90 range with sink and he relies on a slider and an excellent change-up to keep hitters off-balance. Above all else, Seddon is a strike-thrower. He isn’t afraid to challenge hitters and he gets enough movement to induce weak contact in the strike-zone.

Whether Seddon fits as a starter or a reliever remains to be seen. Now that he has eclipsed the 100-inning mark, he can be stretched out as a starter full-time, should the A’s decide to go that route.

“Once we got him, from day one, he was strike-one, strike-two. He was so good in the strike zone that we actually had to teach him to go outside the strike zone,” Alston said. “I think he can contribute at the big league level as a starter, like a Jesse Chavez almost. He can start for you but he can definitely be a bullpen guy that you can count on to go multiple innings. To me, he has put a lot of value on himself by being able to do both.

“He doesn’t have a big arm, but, again, he’s effective because of his strike zone abilities and being able to sink the ball and being able to throw a slider behind in the count – and he came in with a very good change-up – those things were in place for him already.”

Matt Stalcup

Vitals: 9th-round pick in 2013 draft; Age: 25; 6’2’’, 195; L/L

Minor injuries have limited Stalcup some over the past two seasons, but when he has been on the mound, he has been quietly very effective. In 2015, Stalcup spent the season with High-A Stockton, where he posted a 3.24 ERA in 89 innings. He struck-out 77, but walked 31. Opposing batters had a tough time squaring him up, batting only .224 against him. Stalcup added another five innings of quality work for Stockton in the post-season, allowing just one run and striking out six.

Stalcup doesn’t throw particularly hard, but he can get the ball up to 92 MPH and he gets good movement on his fastball. He still has trouble locating the fastball at times. His breaking ball is his best pitch and he has a developing change-up.

“We are kind of looking at him like a Dallas Keuchel-type guy, the kind of guy who can throw his fastball in and out,” Alston said. “His secondary pitches are what is going to make him. He understands that. We worked on some delivery things with him to get him throwing a little bit more downhill and not kick out as much. He did well.”

Stalcup has experience as a starter and as a reliever, although he was far more effective for Stockton as a starter. He will compete for a spot in Double-A this spring.

Stockton Ports


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