It took until deadline day, but the Oakland A’s finally pulled the trigger on a deal that involved players on their 25-man roster. Just hours before the deadline, the A’s traded outfielder Josh Reddick and left-hander Rich Hill to the Los Angeles Dodgers for right-handers Grant Holmes, Frankie Montas and Jharel Cotton.
It isn’t a surprise that the A’s dealt Reddick or Hill. Both players are slated to be free agents at the end of the year and the A’s weren’t likely to outbid other teams for their services on the open market. In a season that has seen the A’s near the bottom of the American League West for most of the year, it made sense for the A’s to deal the highly productive Reddick and Hill for prospects. In return, the A’s get three intriguing arms who join an A’s system that has gone from pitching poor to pitching rich in a 12-month period.
The headliner of this deal from the A’s perspective is Holmes, the 20-year-old South Carolina native. Holmes was the 22nd overall pick in 2014 out of Conway High School, and he quickly established himself as one of the top pitching prospects in a Dodgers’ system headlined by promising arms. Holmes spent last season in the Midwest League, where he posted a 3.14 ERA and struck-out 117 in 103 innings as a 19-year-old. This year, Holmes has been in the California League and has more than held his own in the hitter-friendly Cal League stadiums. In 105.1 innings for Rancho Cucamonga, Holmes has a 4.02 ERA and a 100:43 K:BB.
Holmes is listed at 6’1’’, 215, but he looks bigger than that on the mound. He has a strong lower-half and has the build and delivery to be a workhorse starter in the major leagues. Holmes has a well-developed arsenal of pitches for a pitcher his age. He features a fastball with good movement that sits 91-93 and can touch 96 and he has a big breaking curveball, a slider and a circle change-up.
The slider is Holmes’ most inconsistent offering and may be a pitch the A’s choose to have him move away from in favor of a cut-fastball once he has been in the organization for some time. Holmes can struggle with his command at times, but he has improved his strike-percentage significantly this year as compared to last – a good sign that he is on a positive development track. He is two years younger than most pitchers in the Cal League and he is sixth in the league in strike-outs. The A’s have seen plenty of Holmes since he turned pro, as he has matched up regularly with A’s affiliates all three seasons. He is likely to be in Double-A to start next season as a 21-year-old.
Montas has the biggest ceiling of any of the pitchers the A’s acquired in this deal, but he also comes with the biggest risk. He hasn’t pitched since June 15 after fracturing a rib. That injury came after he had surgery to remove a rib to correct thoracic outlet syndrome at the start of the season. He has thrown only 16 innings this season. Montas was spectacular in those 16 innings, striking out 22 and walking only three.
The 23-year-old is on his fourth organization. Originally signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Boston Red Sox in 2009, Montas was part of the deal that sent Jake Peavey from the Chicago White Sox to Boston in 2013. Current A’s reliever J.B. Wendelken also went from Boston to Chicago in that deal. Montas spent the next two-and-a-half seasons in the White Sox’s chain and he pitched in the Arizona Fall League in 2014, posting a 3.52 ERA in 23 innings. He made his major-league debut with Chicago last season. In 15 big league innings, he posted a 4.80 ERA and a 20:9 K:BB.
This off-season, Montas was one of the headline prospect names in the deal that landed Todd Frazier in Chicago. It was a three-team deal that sent Montas to the Dodgers. Los Angeles had hoped Montas would factor into the team’s pitching picture at the big league level this season, but the rib injuries scuttled those plans.
Montas has an electric arm and he can top 100 MPH with his fastball. He also features a hard slider that sits 88-90 and is a true swing-and-miss offering. His change-up lags behind his fastball and slider but shows flashes of promise at times. Montas is in his second option year, and unless the A’s successfully petition for an extra year because of his injuries this season, he will be in his final option season in 2017. He has been a starter for most of his minor league career, but he projects as a back-end reliever in the big leagues given that his change-up lags behind his fastball and slider and that he doesn’t have many years left of “development time”. Montas has a huge frame – 6’3’’, 255 – and should be able to handle a big workload, although the rib injury is obviously of some concern.
Cotton has the lowest profile of the three pitchers acquired by the A’s in this deal, but he also has the highest floor. A native of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, Cotton was a 20th-round pick out of East Carolina by the Dodgers in 2012. The right-hander developed under-the-radar his first few years in the pros, but he took a big step forward in the Texas League last season when he posted a 2.30 ERA with 71 strike-outs in 62.2 innings. Cotton pitched at four levels in 2015 (Low-A, High-A, Double-A and Triple-A) and had a 2.45 ERA and a 114:31 K:BB in 95.2 innings. He missed the first six weeks of 2015 with a broken wrist suffered during spring training but was healthy after that. Cotton made up for some of those innings lost at the beginning of the season by pitching in the Arizona Fall League last off-season. He had a 3.77 ERA and 17 strike-outs in 14 innings for Glendale.
Cotton isn’t a big guy. He is listed at 5’11’’, 195 and may not be as big as either of those numbers. His fastball sits in the low-90s and can touch 95. His best pitch is his change-up, which is one of the best in the Pacific Coast League. He also features a curveball. Cotton is in his first option year, so the A’s have some time to develop the 24-year-old. He projects as a backend starter or a solid set-up man.
Going into last year’s trade deadline, the A’s were lacking in high impact pitching prospects. Since that time, Oakland has added Sean Manaea, Daniel Mengden, Casey Meisner, A.J. Puk, Daulton Jefferies, Logan Shore and Skylar Szynski, while also seeing 2014 draft picks Daniel Gossett and Heath Fillmyer take significant steps forward in their development. Top pitching prospects Dillon Overton, Raul Alcantara and Dakota Chalmers have also performed well. With the addition of Holmes, Montas and Cotton, the A’s top-20 prospect list is now very pitcher-heavy. Holmes will be in the discussion with Puk as the A’s top pitching prospect going into 2017. The A’s have historically been good at developing pitching and their minor league coaching staff now has plenty of talent to work with.
The A’s are likely still several years away from being contenders, but they have used the last 12 months to reload a farm system that had been stripped away during the A’s run of success from 2012-2014. The A’s now have a healthy stable of pitching prospects to compliment the group of position player prospects that are in their upper levels. They still lack in top outfield prospects in the upper levels, but their overall talent base is significantly stronger than it was a year ago.