Photo by Chris Lockard/OaklandClubhouse.com

Previewing the 2016 Nashville Sounds

The Nashville Sounds struggled in 2015, but with a prospect-laden roster, will the 2016 squad make it to the post-season? We preview the Oakland A's Triple-A team.

Overview

Click here to view the Nashville Sounds’ full roster.

The Oakland A’s first season in Nashville was a success, despite fewer wins than expected. The A’s are enjoying their relationship with the Sounds’ franchise and opening a new ballpark has made the partnership even more successful. The A’s are sending a prospect-filled group to Nashville to start the 2016 season and are in position to add more in the W column in 2016.

Steve Scarsone returns as the A’s Triple-A manager for a fourth season. He will be looking to improve on the Sounds’ 66-78 2015 record while also developing several players who are expected to contribute to the A’s at the big league level in 2016. Scarsone is joined on the Sounds’ staff by longtime A’s minor league pitching coach Rick Rodriguez, who was with High-A Stockton last season. Eric Martins, who served as the Midland hitting coach in 2015, moves up to Nashville for 2016.

The Sounds begin the season at home on Thursday with a four-game set versus the Oklahoma City Dodgers. Colorado Springs then comes in for three games before the Sounds head out on the road for a seven-game road trip against the Dodgers and SkySox.

Pitchers

It isn’t a stretch to think that at least three-fifths of the Sounds’ Opening Day rotation will be in the Oakland A’s rotation by August. In fact, one member of the “current” rotation will be in Oakland on Friday when the A’s fill the injured Felix Doubront’s spot in the rotation. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the starter will be Eric Surkamp. In any case, the Sounds are likely to lose a starter by the end of the week.

Before that happens, Nashville will open the season with a talented rotation, led by top A’s pitching prospect Sean Manaea. Manaea will be accompanied in the rotation by fellow top-10 prospect Dillon Overton, as well as Surkamp (for now), Jesse Hahn and veteran Chris Smith. Zach Neal was expected to be in the bullpen for Nashville this year, but if Surkamp lands in Oakland, Neal could slide back into the starter’s role he held with the Sounds last season.

Manaea headlines the Sounds’ pitching staff. The big left-hander begins his first full season in the A’s organization riding a wave of momentum after a strong showing in his A’s debut last year and a solid big league camp. 

http://www.scout.com/player/175493-sean-manaea?s=304

Acquired in the Ben Zobrist deal last July, Manaea has been nothing short of spectacular since coming to the A’s. He dominated the Texas League in seven post-trade regular season starts with the Midland RockHounds, putting up a 1.90 ERA and a 51:15 K:BB in 42.2. innings. He then allowed just two runs in 15 post-season innings and was one of the stars of the Arizona Fall League.

Manaea is very close to being big league ready. He has a big fastball that can touch 96 and sits comfortably in the 91-94 MPH range. He hides the ball well and gets plenty of movement on the pitch. Manaea’s breaking ball is also an excellent pitch and his change-up has improved significantly since coming to the A’s. His command can betray him at times, and improving that command while continuing to work on his change-up will be his main focus with Nashville. Manaea will also continue to work on improving his pick-off move to first.

Fellow lefty Overton will be pitching without restrictions for the first time in his professional career.

http://www.scout.com/player/154663-dillon-overton?s=304

The A’s 2013 second-round pick had Tommy John surgery shortly after turning pro and has worked his way back the past two years. Last year, Overton was limited to five innings per start. He made every start on turn and still accumulated 126 innings between Stockton and Midland in his first full pro season. Overton had a 3.43 ERA and a 106:27 K:BB. He was a non-roster invitee to big league camp and threw seven scoreless innings in big league games. 

Overton has a plus change-up and a curveball that can be a swing-and-miss weapon when he is throwing it well. He locates his fastball well, although he is still throwing with diminished velocity (87-90 MPH) compared to where he was before the elbow surgery (91-94 MPH). Overton mixes his pitches well and hitters have a very tough time getting into a good rhythm against him when he’s on his game.

Like Overton, Hahn knows all about arm injuries. He had Tommy John surgery right after being drafted by the Rays and it took awhile before he returned to full strength. Once healthy, Hahn moved quickly through the minor leagues. He was one of the top starters in A’s rotation last year and it is likely only a matter of time before he re-joins the big league club.

http://www.scout.com/player/144298-jesse-hahn?s=304

The right-hander joined the A’s before last season in a deal that sent Derek Norris to San Diego. Hahn posted a 3.35 ERA in 96.2 innings before a forearm strain landed him on the DL for the rest of the season on July 11. He struck-out only 64 with the A’s, but he walked only 25 and held opposing batters to a .238 average.

Hahn appeared healthy this spring, hitting 96 on several occasions with his fastball. His command was non-existent, however, and he lost his roster spot after allowing 19 runs in 15.1 innings. Hahn will be in good hands with Rodriguez as his pitching coach and could force his way back into Oakland’s rotation with a few good starts to begin the season.

The A's want Hahn to prove he is ready for the big leagues, so Surkamp -- who had a more consistent spring -- will get the nod to replace Doubront for now. Surkamp may never make a start for Nashville, although if Doubront’s elbow injury isn’t serious, Surkamp could return to the Sounds in a few weeks.

http://www.scout.com/player/159188-eric-surkamp?s=304

Once the top pitching prospect in the Giants’ system, Surkamp had Tommy John surgery in 2012. He has 43 career appearances in the major leagues, all but seven coming in relief. Surkamp has been a starter for most of his minor league career, however, and he holds a 3.15 ERA in 677.1 innings. Despite not having overpowering stuff, Surkamp has 727 career strike-outs thanks to a deceptive delivery and solid off-speed pitches.

Surkamp spent all of spring training in big league camp and had an outstanding outing in relief of Doubront during the final spring game. He had a 3.60 ERA in 20 innings this spring.

Smith, the veteran of the Sounds’ roster, will round out the rotation. He didn’t get a long look in big league camp this spring, but Smith has a long track-record in the Pacific Coast League.

http://www.scout.com/player/57239-chris-smith?s=304

Smith began his pro career in 2002 as a fourth-round pick of the Red Sox. He first reached Triple-A in 2006 and has pitched in the Pacific Coast League in parts of five different seasons, including two seasons with Nashville when the Sounds were a Milwaukee affiliate. Smith has 884.1 career minor league innings and 67.2 innings at the big league level. He had a 3.60 ERA in 22 starts for El Paso of the PCL last season.

The Sounds’ bullpen has a veteran feel, with nearly every reliever on the staff coming into the season with previous experience in Triple-A. Neal, if he remains in the bullpen, and Angel Castro are the only two current Sounds’ relievers who pitched for Nashville in 2015.

http://www.scout.com/player/141043-zach-neal?s=304

Neal has been a starter for the vast majority of his career, logging 127 starts in 142 career appearances. Last season, he began the year with Midland but spent the bulk of the season with Nashville. He was a workhorse for the Sounds, logging 131.1 innings in 20 starts and one relief appearance. He doesn’t throw hard, but Neal pounds the strike-zone and works quickly. He walked just 35 in 167.2 innings last year.

http://www.scout.com/player/93843-angel-castro?s=304

Castro is a 10-year veteran. He made his major-league debut last season after more than 600 minor league innings. Experienced as both a starter and a reliever, Castro is expected to work in the late innings for the Sounds this year. He had a 3.13 ERA in 60.1 innings for Nashville in 2015. Castro can hit the mid-90s with his fastball and he walked only 19 last year.

While the Midland RockHounds open the season with no lefties on their staff, Nashville has three in their rotation and two in their bullpen: Patrick Schuster and Daniel Coulombe.

http://www.scout.com/player/130468-patrick-schuster?s=304

Schuster signed with the A’s as a minor league free agent this off-season. He came to fame as a senior in high school when he threw four straight no-hitters. Schuster signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks after going in the 13th round of the 2009 draft. He spent his entire career with Arizona before being traded to the Reds midway through last season. The crafty lefty has been a reliever for most of his pro career and he has a 3.46 ERA in 408 innings. Schuster was impressive in big league camp and could be an option for Oakland if injuries strike the bullpen.

http://www.scout.com/player/170091-daniel-coulombe?s=304

Coulombe joined the A’s as a late-season acquisition last September and he made nine relief appearances for Oakland during the final weeks of the season. Before being traded to the A’s, Coulombe spent the year between the Los Angeles and Oklahoma City Dodgers. A lefty with good stuff, Coulombe has a career 3.40 ERA and 255 strike-outs in 198.2 innings. Coulombe was designated for assignment by the A’s over the off-season, but he cleared waivers and was a non-roster invitee to spring training.

Right-handers J.B. Wendelken and Andrew Triggs are the only members of the Sounds’ bullpen currently on the A’s 40-man roster.

http://www.scout.com/player/204302-j-b-wendelken?s=304

Wendelken was one of two pitchers acquired from the White Sox for Brett Lawrie this off-season. The 23-year-old has a good fastball that can touch 95 and a solid change-up. Wendelken’s breaking ball is inconsistent but effective when he is throwing it well. He missed much of spring training with a sore shoulder but recovered in time to make the Sounds’ roster out of camp. He could be a candidate for saves if he is throwing well.

http://www.scout.com/player/207008-andrew-triggs?s=304

The A’s picked up Triggs off of waivers from the Orioles during spring training and immediately optioned him to Triple-A, so he didn’t make any appearances in big league camp. The sidearmer spent last season at Double-A, where he saved 17 games in 17 chances and posted a 70:11 K:BB in 61 innings. Triggs has a remarkable 232:51 K:BB in 236 career innings.

http://www.scout.com/player/185746-eduard-santos?s=304

Eduard Santos will be making his Triple-A debut in his seventh minor league season. A member of the Angels’ organization until this off-season, Santos spent last year in the Texas League. He was impressive, posting a 2.31 ERA and a 78:32 K:BB. He signed with the A’s as a minor league free agent. Despite six years of minor league experience, Santos is only 26.

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Tucker Healy returns to Triple-A after spending all of last season with Double-A Midland. Healy made his Triple-A debut in 2014 with Sacramento but was caught in a roster crunch that pushed him back to Double-A last year. Healy had an outstanding year with the RockHounds, posting a 1.95 ERA in 55.1 innings. He went nearly two months at one point in the season without allowing a run. Healy has always had swing-and-miss stuff, but he was often pitching out of the strike-zone. He did a much better job pounding the strike-zone last year and, even though his strike-outs were down, he was more effective overall.

Infielders

The Nashville infield is so crowded that the A’s were forced to start top-15 prospect Ryon Healy in Double-A and the Sounds’ top infield prospect – first baseman Matt Olson – may get more playing time in the outfield than the infield. In fact, two of the three outfielders listed on the Sounds’ Opening Day roster are actually natural infielders (Olson and Tyler Ladendorf). It is going to be a challenge to get everyone the regular playing time he needs, as I wrote in March, especially if Eric Sogard is optioned to Triple-A after he is activated from the disabled list.

After winning the Texas League’s MVP award last year, shortstop Chad Pinder will be looking for an encore in his first season at the Triple-A level. The A’s 2013 compensation round pick had a solid big league spring training and has improved every year he has played in pro ball.

http://www.scout.com/player/177351-chad-pinder?s=304

It remains to be seen whether Pinder will be a shortstop full-time in the big leagues, but he should see plenty of time at the position with Nashville. He could also log some innings at second base – a position he played in 2014 with Stockton. In addition, Pinder could get a few innings at third base, a position he played his final year in college. Pinder has the ability to be an above-average offensive player for a middle infielder. He has a solid hit tool and 15-20 homer power. Pinder focused on trying to be more patient last season. While he didn’t increase his walk rate that much, he did do a better job of swinging at pitches he could drive and laying off unhittable offerings.

Pinder’s regular double-play partner should be Joey Wendle, who returns to Nashville after an All-Star season with the Sounds in 2015.

http://www.scout.com/player/188009-joey-wendle?s=304

Wendle was – in many ways – the only true position player prospect on Sounds’ roster last season. He should have a lot more support in the line-up this season. Wendle was the hottest hitter in the PCL during the second half of last season and he hit .289 with 10 homers and a Nashville franchise-record 42 doubles for the season.

Wendle’s plate discipline needs to improve, but he was otherwise impressive at the plate. Wendle also played much better defensively at second than he was expected to and he should be fine at that spot in the big leagues. Wendle doesn’t have any experience at any other defensive positions, which will make it hard to spread out the second base innings with the other Sounds on the roster who can play there.

One of the players who could see some time at second base is Max Muncy, who figures to be a nomad around the Sounds’ infield this season.

http://www.scout.com/player/169839-max-muncy?s=304

A first baseman for most of his career, Muncy started gaining experience at third base at the tail-end of the 2014 season and then split his time between first and third in 2015. Some of that time at third came in the big leagues, where it was a trial-by-fire situation for the A’s 2012 fifth-round pick. Muncy spent some time at second this spring and will likely be a utility player for Nashville in hopes he can fill a similar role in the big leagues. Muncy is a patient hitter who quietly added more power last season. He didn’t get enough regular playing time in the big leagues, but he held his own considering the situation he was thrown into.

Muncy is one of three players on the Nashville roster who has logged the majority of his career playing time at first base. Olson and Rangel Ravelo are the other two.

http://www.scout.com/player/195504-rangel-ravelo?s=304

Ravelo missed the first half of last season after injuring his wrist during spring training. He returned to the field with Midland but found his way to Nashville by early August. Ravelo hit only .277/.324/.376 for the Sounds, but he had a monster winter in the Venezuelan Winter League, hitting for power and average.

Ravelo has some experience at third base, but he is mostly a first baseman and a pretty good one. Ravelo has always hit for average but has yet to hit for the power one would expect of a player his size. He showed that power in Venezuela this winter, so perhaps that will emerge for him in Nashville this season.

The Sounds will have plenty of power this season, and third baseman Renato Nunez could be the most powerful hitter in the bunch.

http://www.scout.com/player/145915-renato-nunez?s=304

A couple of lower body injuries limited Nunez to 93 games with Midland last season, but his power was on full display when he was healthy. He hit 18 homers and slashed .282/.332/.480. Nunez has always hit for average, but he did a much better job of making contact last season, cutting his K-rate from 20.1% in 2014 to 15.9% against more advanced pitching in 2015. Nunez has the quickest wrists in the A’s system and has arguably the most power from the right side (he and Matt Chapman are the top two). Defensively, Nunez has improved at third and will continue to see the majority of his time there, although he may get some time at first and at DH, as well.

Catchers

The Sounds are technically carrying three catchers on their Opening Day roster, although Matt McBride will see the majority of his playing time in the outfield or at first base.

http://www.scout.com/player/169826-bruce-maxwell/news?year=2016&s=304

Bruce Maxwell makes his Triple-A debut after an outstanding spring training that saw him remain in big league camp until the final cuts. Maxwell homered twice and posted an 868 OPS in 23 spring training at-bats. He also homered in a WBC qualifying game for Team Germany. Maxwell has grown into a solid defensive backstop and he may now be tapping his offensive potential after a tough sled in Double-A over the past year-and-a-half. Maxwell hasn’t hit for much in-game power during his career, but he has as much batting practice power as anyone in the A’s system. The power surge this spring could be a sign he is starting to translate that into game power.

http://www.scout.com/player/73243-bryan-anderson?s=304

Bryan Anderson returns to Nashville for a second season after spending the entire 2015 regular season with the Sounds. The veteran backstop received a late September call-up to Oakland. He was designated for assignment after the season but re-signed with the A’s as a minor league free agent. Anderson had a good spring in big league camp. He struggled offensively last season, but he brings plenty of experience and hit .320 in 2014.

http://www.scout.com/player/87782-matt-mcbride?s=304

The aforementioned McBride signed a minor league free agent deal with the A’s during the off-season. McBride has split his career between the Cleveland and Colorado organizations. He has 72 games of big league experience, including 20 with the Rockies last season. McBride is very versatile. He can play catcher and both corner outfield positions, so he should find his way into the line-up despite the logjam of prospects on the roster. He is a career .300 hitter in 10 minor league seasons and he hit .328 in Albuquerque last year.

Outfield

The Sounds will begin the season with three players listed as outfielders, although Andrew Lambo is likely to join the Nashville roster when the A’s add a fifth starter later this week. All three Nashville “outfielders” have experience in the infield, as well, and all three are candidates to contribute to the A’s this year and in future years.

Olson leads this group. A potential Gold Glove-winning first baseman, Olson gained experience in right field last year and will continue to see plenty of reps there this year.

http://www.scout.com/player/163138-matt-olson?s=304

The A’s feel that the added versatility will only help Olson reach the big leagues quicker, although Olson will bring his most defensive value at first base. He isn’t fleet of foot, but Olson is a solid athlete and he has an above-average throwing arm. He racked up 11 assists from right field with Midland last year.

Of course, the real focus should be on Olson’s bat. He has the potential to be that number three hitter the A’s have been lacking for many years. Olson has legitimate 30+ homer power and has one of the best batting eyes in the minor leagues. His faith in his understanding of the strike-zone can sometimes put him in bad counts, and his high strike-out total is a result of that. But he more than makes up for those strike-outs with his power. Last season was a test for Olson, who was playing in unfavorable hitting conditions for a left-handed power hitter. He worked his way through a tough middle of the season and finished the year with 17 homers and an 826 OPS. Olson has a career 851 OPS and should find the PCL more to his liking.

The Sounds open the season with no true centerfielder, but Tyler Ladendorf should be up to the task of manning that position on a regular basis. 

http://www.scout.com/player/66679-tyler-ladendorf?s=304

A natural shortstop, Ladendorf has developed into a jack-of-all-trades over the years. He is extremely athletic and is average to plus at every position he plays. Ladendorf made the A’s Opening Day roster out of camp last season and would likely have spent a significant portion of the season with the A’s, but he broke his ankle a few games into his stint with Nashville and missed most of the year. Now healthy, Ladendorf will be in a good position to get back to Oakland if he can stay on the field and continue to show the line-drive stroke that got him on the 40-man roster before the 2015 season. 

Jake Smolinski returns to Nashville after a brief 25 game stint with the Sounds last season during which he hit .349 with five homers. Smolinski began the year with the Texas Rangers, but he struggled and was sent to Triple-A Round Rock. The A’s eventually claimed him on waivers and he spent the rest of the season going between Oakland and Nashville. In 41 games with the A’s, Smolinski had trouble getting on base, but he posted a .462 SLG.

http://www.scout.com/player/116202-jake-smolinski?s=304

Smolinski had a strong spring and he left a strong impression on the A’s coaching staff. He has hit for power during his time in the big leagues, but Smolinski has struggled to maintain a solid K:BB. His minor league track record (.358 OBP) suggests that he can be patient, but he hasn’t shown it yet in the big leagues. If he can improve on his plate patience the next time he gets to the big leagues, he should stick there. Smolinski began his career playing infield (first and second base) as well as outfield, but he has been primarily an outfielder the past few years. He should see all of his playing time in the outfield or DH with the Sounds.


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