A wipeout slider, which he flashed during the A’s instructional league last fall, landed James Naile on the Oakland A’s prospect radar last summer. But it wasn’t until recently that his command enabled him to start using it effectively.
A 20th-round selection in last June’s draft, Naile has come on of late as a starter for the Beloit Snappers. Over his last two starts, Naile has worked 15 innings, allowing just two runs on nine hits with two walks and 13 strike-outs. The two outings lowered his season ERA to 3.28 in 46.2 innings.
“I went out with the idea of just commanding the zone and doing a better job of pounding all my pitches in-and-out,” Naile said of his March 17 performance, during which he worked seven innings and struck-out a season-best nine. “I had gotten away from that a little and let people get too deep in counts. I wanted to work ahead and that gave me a lot of success. I kept the pitch count down, got into the seventh and gave our team a chance to win.”
Working in the strike zone allowed Naile to mix in a slider that some A’s coaches have called the best of all of the team's 2015 draftees. It was a luxury the 6'4'' right-hander didn’t enjoy as much as he’d like to early in the season.
“I was putting myself in counts that didn’t allow me to throw a good breaking ball,” Naile said. “Maybe I was pitching behind in a count and I had to throw fastballs for strikes. Being able to get ahead with the fastball allowed me to go to a swing-and-miss breaking ball. Going forward I need to focus on pitching off my fastball and getting ahead of batters in order to go to the slider which has been an effective pitch for me.”
After starting the year in a tandem starter role, Naile is now working on a streak of three straight starts of at least five innings. He was one of the earliest of Beloit’s pitchers to break out of the tandem starter/reliever role. Naile has started eight of his nine appearances. He has a 36:11 K:BB and a .224 BAA so far this year. His GO/AO is a whopping 4.00.
Still, Naile says he would like to show more consistency on the mound. He looks back on a pair of outings early in his season on April 10th and May 3rd, where he allowed a combined nine earned runs on 14 hits in nine innings. The results weren’t what Naile was looking for.
“I felt that I pitched a little better than numbers may show or the results I was getting,” he said. “I was trying to stay the course, trust myself, trust my mechanics and not get too consumed with a stat line. I’ve continued to work on commanding the zone. Having fastball command of both sides of the plate is the name of the game.”
Naile, who missed the entire 2014 season after Tommy John surgery, entered the A’s system on an innings limit after a big workload in his final year at UAB.
The 23-year old spent much of his debut season at short-season Vermont, pitching out of the bullpen where he became a late-inning ace. In 23.1 innings, Naile posted a 1.93 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. He was 6-of-8 in save opportunities and held New York-Penn League batters to a .218 average.
“I think I had around 119 innings out of college and then threw an additional 20 innings,” he said. “That gave me roughly 140 and then a few at instructional league. You’re looking at 150 innings on my first year off of Tommy John. This year we haven’t talked about an innings limit. We have such a great staff in there that keeps up with our arm care. I’m trying to stay on top of keeping my body the best I can.”
With his role defined as a starter, Naile will try to build on his most recent outings and maintain the command that helps him utilize all of his off-speed pitches.