Although he wasn’t drafted until the 32nd round of the 2015 draft by the Oakland A’s, pitcher Michael Murray could have just as easily been selected in the first 10 rounds had he been eligible one season earlier. Instead, the A's got themselves a potential steal on the final day of the draft in 2015 when the Florida Gulf Coast hurler fell to them.
The 6'3'' right-hander certainly looks like an emerging pitching prospect for the A’s through four starts with the Beloit Snappers.
Murray’s latest Midwest League start on Monday night, his fourth since arriving from extended spring training, was by far his best. He pitched seven scoreless innings, allowing just five hits and a pair of walks while striking out five, picking up a no-decision at home against Kane County. Murray has now posted a 1.19 ERA across 30.1 innings in those four starts, compiling a K:BB rate of 25:6.
After the Snappers lost starting pitcher Kyle Friedrichs, one of the league leaders in ERA, to a Stockton promotion, they needed someone to step up. Murray has done so, and credits the fast start to work done this spring in Arizona.
“I was mainly in extended for my innings count,” said Murray, who was unable to make his professional debut last summer after suffering a right elbow injury following the draft.
“I originally came into spring training relieving. [A's minor league pitching coordinator] Gil Patterson was telling me that since I didn’t have many innings, it would be smarter to use me out of the bullpen to get some longevity out of my arm. Once extended rolled around, they wanted me to start some games so I worked back into that routine. From there on out, the main goal was just to pound the 'zone and perfect my craft.”
Murray had a starter’s repertoire coming out of college, and said he’s deepened his offering of pitches.
“My stint at extended was very useful,” he said. “The main goal was to get better and hopefully break with a team, and if not, go to Vermont and continue working on my craft. It was a blessing to get called up to Beloit. The new pitch I learned at extended has helped me refine my overall craft."
Murray says his new breaking ball gives him another weapon.
“I learned a slider that’s a lot sharper and harder than it used to be,” Murray said. “Now I have two distinct pitches, a curveball and slider. In spring training it was kind of a mesh of both. That new pitch has helped me have success up here.”
Murray has also added a little fastball velocity with his return to health and says he’s sitting consistently between 89 and 90 MPH.
“I’m really happy to see that,” he said. “I’m actually getting stronger as the season progresses. It’s been a long process with having to sit out my entire rookie ball season. It’s been a smooth transition. I’ve cleaned up my delivery, which probably allows for higher velocity and makes pitching easier than it was in college.”
Murray had a historic season at FGCU as a college sophomore, posting a 1.85 ERA with 79 strikeouts and a program-record 13 wins. Murray took a slight step back as a junior, posting a 3.56 ERA and striking out 91 batters in 91 innings. His season ended a bit early when he was suspended for violating an unspecified team rule. Murray looked forward to signing and getting back on the mound, but the elbow injury shut him down for the balance of the summer.
After being limited to 75 pitches or five innings while in Arizona, Murray is now allowed to throw 90 or pitch eight frames with the Snappers. That’s allowed him to learn the tendencies of Low-A hitters more quickly.
“It’s nice to have a little freedom up here,” he said. “Compared to extended, the guys up here are a lot more aggressive. Guys were aggressive in extended, but up here they will hit your bad pitches and make you pay for your misses. You have to focus, stick to a plan and execute it.”
If Murray continues to execute as he has in his first four starts, his 2016 journey may continue out West with another promotion later in the summer.