When Dillon Overton fell to the Oakland A's in the second round of the 2013 draft, the A's scouting department believed they had gotten a steal. Overton came into the 2013 collegiate season as a potential top-10 pick in the draft as the ace of the Oklahoma Sooners. Despite posting a career-best 3.02 ERA, Overton's draft stock fell in 2013 thanks to a drop in velocity and strike-outs. There were whispers that Overton wasn't healthy, but the A's felt the risk was worth taking with their second overall pick in the 2013 draft.
As it turned out, the injury concerns were valid, and Overton had Tommy John surgery shortly after signing a below-slot deal with the A's. He wouldn't make his professional debut until the following June with the Arizona Rookie League A's. While it was a slow start to Overton's professional career, he has more than made up for it since then. In an interview with OaklandClubhouse's Donald Moore in 2014, Overton said his goal was to reach the big leagues in two years. Nearly two years to the day that he made his professional debut in the heat of the Fire League, Overton will step on the mound at Angel Stadium in his major-league debut.
While Overton's journey from rehab to the big leagues has been relatively short, his road has not been without obstacles. Before Overton injured his elbow in college, his fastball would often sit 91-93 and occasionally touch 95. Since returning from the surgery, Overton hasn't seen that velocity return. During his first year back, he often sat 83-86. Over the past year, that has jumped up to 86-89, but he still doesn't have the dominating fastball that made him a potential top-10 pick as a rising junior at OU.
One of the qualities the A's scouting staff liked about Overton going into the 2013 draft was his competitiveness. Since turning pro, Overton has used that competitive nature to make the most out of what his post-surgery velocity has left him. His off-speed pitches and ability to read hitters have allowed him to "pitch backwards" and use his fastball when hitters aren't expecting it. The results have been positive. In 246.2 career minor league innings, Overton has a 3.06 ERA and a 231:53 K:BB. Despite pitching in the hitter-friendly California and Pacific Coast Leagues for a good portion of his pro career, Overton has allowed just 13 homeruns (a 0.47 HR/9).
"When you don’t have the velocity you did before, it really makes you focus on hitting your spots when you need to," Overton said in an interview while with the Stockton Ports. "Obviously you have to hit your spots every pitch, but it also helps you rely on your off-speed pitches and your change-up. Mainly your change-up because when you don’t have your velocity, the more you throw your change-up, the faster your velocity looks. That’s my best pitch. It has helped out a lot."
In a recent interview with Oakland A's Vice President of Player Personnel Billy Owens, Owens touched on what makes Overton so unique.
"Dillon is a pitcher. This is a guy that if you go back to his Oklahoma days has always been able to pitch. He can change speeds, move the ball around, is very intelligent on the mound," Owens said. "[A]t least initially, he flashed higher velocity as an amateur than he has as a pro, but I’m not concerned [about that]. I like Dillon Overton the way he is. He’s an intelligent pitcher. He can read swings. His change-up is excellent. He has a good idea how to throw his breaking ball, which is an effective pitch. He dots the ‘zone with his fastball. He has a really good mound demeanor... He’s fun to watch. He’s a competitor."
Oakland A's minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson missed Overton's first two seasons in the A's organization, but Patterson was immediately impressed with the left-hander when he saw him this spring. Patterson said the Overton's numbers draw on similarities to another bearded left-hander in the AL West.
"I have seen some analytical reports on [Astros’ ace] Dallas Keuchel, someone who is not a hard-thrower but has had significant success," Patterson said in an interview this spring. "It’s almost not fair when you start comparing someone to Dallas Keuchel, but all I will say is this: Dillon pitches in, he can locate and he’s got a great change-up. Those things right there say something about what he can do. I think he is going to be awfully fun to watch and I’m glad to be a part of it."
When Overton joins the A's in Anaheim, he will be with several former minor league teammates, including rotation-mate Daniel Mengden and A's bullpen coach Scott Emerson, who was the A's minor league pitching coordinator in 2013 and 2014 when Overton was completing his rehab from Tommy John surgery and starting his professional career.
"Emo" has been a fan of Overton's since the beginning.
"What has impressed me is his ability to go out there and pitch," Emerson said in an interview in late July 2014. "I got to see him twice during my last trip to Arizona and he was able to come inside with the fastball. He’s got a good change-up and he’s got a good breaking ball.
"I think after having the surgery, once you come back, you have to pitch with your command until your velocity gets there. I think at times it makes these guys better pitchers because they start to learn to command the baseball...He’s a smooth left-handed pitcher, a good competitor. He throws strikes...He’s done a great job of controlling his delivery."
Overton's first stay in the big leagues may not last beyond the one start with Sean Manaea and Rich Hill scheduled to return to the Oakland rotation in the coming week. However, with the A's likely to make several trades at the July deadline, Overton could see significant innings with the A's down-the-stretch. He is the first member of the A's 2013 draft class to make the big leagues -- although he may not be the last, as Ryon Healy and Chad Pinder are making cases for call-ups of their own. Overton joins Sonny Gray, Ryan Dull, Sean Doolittle and Max Muncy as homegrown players on the A's 25-man roster.