The post-season ended a week short of a title, but during the regular schedule, no team in the Pacific Coast League was better than the Nashville Sounds in 2016. Led by PCL Manager of the Year Steve Scarsone, the Sounds went a league-best 83-59 and won the American Conference’s Southern Division by 12.5 games. The Sounds would lose a tough five-game series to the Oklahoma City Dodgers in the PCL semi-finals, putting a disappointing end on an otherwise dream season for the Oakland A’s Triple-A affiliate.
Despite playing in the less-offense friendly American Conference, the Sounds finished fifth in a 16-team league in team OPS with a 758 mark. Nashville was fourth in the league in SLG (.427, tops among American Conference teams) and second in the league in homers (148 in 142 games). The Sounds were in the bottom third of the league in OBP (.331), although only nine points separated the 11th team from the fourth team in that category. Nashville averaged 5.03 runs per game and finished fourth in the league in scoring.
The Sounds did plenty right on the mound, as well. Nashville led the league in team ERA by 30 points with a 3.42 mark. The Sounds allowed the fewest hits and the fourth-fewest walks, leading to a league-best 1.24 WHIP. Nashville was fifth in the league in strike-outs and they allowed the fewest homeruns as a staff. They were the only PCL team to give up less than 100 homeruns this season (they allowed 93). Nashville pitchers tossed three complete games, including a memorable one by Jharel Cotton, who didn’t allow a base-runner until the 27th batter of a game on August 9. Sounds pitchers also combined for 10 shutouts and 36 saves.
Nashville’s post-season berth broke a rare two-season gap in playoff appearances for the A’s at the Triple-A level. The strong season came despite the fact that the A’s needed to dip liberally into the Nashville roster all season due to injuries and ineffectiveness at the big league level.
Only hitters with at least 190 at-bats for Nashville were considered for this article
Thanks to injuries and promotions, only five players appeared in more than 100 games for the Sounds in 2016: Matt Olson, Renato Nunez, Joey Wendle, Chad Pinder and Rangel Ravelo. With the exception of Ravelo, each member of that group finished the season on the Oakland A’s big league roster.
Olson was the team leader in games played with 131. Playing every day is nothing new for Olson, who has played at least 131 games in each of his four full professional seasons. The 2016 season wasn’t an easy one for the 22-year-old. He struggled to make regular contact early in the season and went into the All-Star break batting just .218/.328/.389. Things turned around for Olson during the second half, as he hit .263/.345/.475. Olson’s strike-out rate before the break was 26.2%. After it was 19.4%. Olson was pull-happy throughout the season, but that probably isn’t going to change in the future. Olson projects as a three-true outcomes player: a walk, a strike-out or a homer are distinct possibilities each time he is at the plate. Defensively, Olson played 81 games in right and 49 games at first this season thanks to the abundance of corner infielders on the Sounds’ roster. Olson held his own in right, but he is still a much more accomplished first baseman. He didn’t commit an error at first this season and is a definite asset at the position. Olson has played only first base in his limited time in the big leagues this September, but where he ends up long-term is yet to be determined.
Nunez, who joined Olson as a September call-up to Oakland, also had a trying 2016 season. The powerful third baseman was the Sounds’ team leader in homeruns with 23, but the rest of his numbers were down significantly compared to past seasons. His .228 average and .278 OBP were career-lows and his .412 SLG was his lowest since his pro debut season. Nunez hit for more power the second half of the season, but he struggled to hit for average all season. His BABIP was an uncharacteristically low .253. Nunez’s walk rate slipped from 6.7% with Midland last season to 5.7% this year and his K-rate jumped nearly 6% to 21.4%. Nunez was also pull-conscious this season. He has the ability to hit to all fields and if he is able to use the whole field better, Nunez has a chance to hit for average as a big leaguer. Defensively, Nunez made strides at third base, but he is still behind both Matt Chapman and Ryon Healy with the glove. He played some first base last season and appeared in 12 games in left field at the end of this year. Left field could end up being his permanent home when the dust settles.
Wendle returned to Nashville for a second season after putting together a PCL All-Star campaign for the Sounds in 2015. Wendle set a franchise record for doubles in 2015, but he had to overcome a slow start to post those numbers last season. He got off to a similarly slow start in 2016. He hit only .221 in April and .246 in May before righting the ship in June with a .301 average. Wendle hit .335/.376/.545 after the All-Star break and finished the year with a solid .279/.324/.452 line. He struck-out more than normal (112 in 491 at-bats), but was otherwise a steady presence for the Sounds for most of the season. Wendle was also very solid with the glove at second base, committing only eight errors in 122 games. He received a call-up to Oakland in late August and has established himself as a regular at second and, more recently, in the lead-off spot. Depending on what the A’s do with Jed Lowrie this off-season, Wendle could be the favorite for the A’s second base job next season.
Wendle’s double-play partner for much of the season was Pinder, who put together a Texas League MVP season in 2015. Pinder’s transition to Triple-A was rocky, at least initially, as he struggled with the bat and had issues with his throws on defense. Pinder worked through those initial struggles and improved on both sides of the ball as the season went on. He never got into the same kind of groove offensively that he experienced with Midland in 2015, but his .258/.310/.425 line was decent for a shortstop in his first year in Triple-A. Pinder’s .316 BABIP was his lowest since his pro debut season in 2013 and his K-rate inched up 3.5% over last season, but the rest of his numbers were very much in-line with his Texas League season, suggesting that he suffered from some bad luck (or good scouting reports). Pinder joined the A’s in mid-August but has played sparingly since his call-up. He’s stuck behind Marcus Semien at shortstop on the A’s depth chart, but could factor in the second base competition or the back-up middle infielder competition in A’s camp next spring.
In some respects, Ravelo had the most disappointing season of anyone on the Sounds’ roster. Ravelo’s 2015 season was cut in half by a wrist injury, but he had a monster winter campaign in Venezuela and the expectations were high for what he could do in 2016. He struggled in big league camp, however, and those struggles carried over into the regular season. In 106 games, he hit just .262/.334/.395, disappointing numbers for a player who is limited defensively to first base. Like many Sounds, Ravelo did show significant improvement after the All-Star break. He hit .279/.370/.429 after the break. Ravelo is one of the top contact hitters in the A’s system and he struck-out just 15.3% of the time this season. His .294 BABIP was also his lowest since 2013. However, he didn’t hit for as much power as one would expect for a hitter of his build and position. Ravelo is in his second option year and could be running out of opportunities in Oakland with Olson and Healy ahead of him on the first base depth chart.
Despite not joining the team until May 21, Jaycob Brugman finished fourth on the squad in at-bats. He was arguably the team’s MVP, as his arrival at the top of the Nashville line-up helped to solidify roles up and down the line-up and coincided with an offensive surge by the entire team. Brugman hit .261/.335/.439 in 38 games with the RockHounds before his promotion to Triple-A, and he improved in nearly every offense category at the higher level. In 94 PCL games, Brugman hit .295/.352/.438 with 37 extra-base hits. He hit .310 with a .368 OBP after the All-Star break. Brugman doesn’t have the classic speed of many lead-off hitters or the gaudy walk totals, but he makes a lot of contact, works a tough at-bat and has shown some power in spurts. Brugman struggled versus southpaws, but had an 838 OPS versus righties. He can play all three outfield positions and made several highlight reel plays in center for the Sounds this season. Brugman has also shown a propensity for playing well in big moments. He hit .364 with a .440 OBP in the Sounds’ five-game playoff series and is a career .392/.466/.686 hitter in 51 post-season at-bats. Brugman wasn’t added to the A’s roster this September, but he is a strong candidate to join the 40-man roster later in the off-season.
The A’s love versatile players and Matt McBride has been a jack-of-all-trades throughout his career. Signed as a minor league free agent during the off-season, McBride moved himself up the A’s catching depth chart with a strong spring. He was added to the A’s roster in mid-May, in part to keep him from heading to Asia. McBride would go back-and-forth between Triple-A and the big leagues the rest of the year. With Nashville, he logged 70 games and 247 at-bats. He hit a respectable .267/.339/.441 with seven homers. The 31-year-old played catcher, first base and right field for Nashville. McBride has played almost exclusively behind the plate for Oakland, although he did make one appearance at first and another in right. With Josh Phegley set expected to return from a knee injury and Bruce Maxwell playing well, McBride isn’t likely to remain on the A’s 40-man roster this off-season, but he could return to the A’s on another minor league deal.
Another versatile player – Arismendy Alcantara – factored into a lot of the Sounds’ second half line-ups. The A’s acquired Alcantara from the Chicago Cubs in a trade on June 9. Alcantara would then spend the rest of the season shuttling back-and-forth between the majors and the minors. When he was with Nashville, Alcantara made a positive impact on the line-up. In 200 at-bats, he hit .290/.336/.480 with 21 extra-base hits. He played all over the place on defense, logging time at second base, shortstop, left field and centerfield. Despite being in professional baseball since 2009, Alcantara is still just 24. He has yet to put things together on the big league stage, but he has a career 775 OPS in 311 Triple-A games and can add value with his legs and his defensive versatility. Alcantara is out of options next season, but he figures to get a long look from the A’s next spring.
Much like he did in 2015, Max Muncy spent the 2016 season going back-and-forth between Oakland and Nashville. The utilityman added even more defensive positions to his resume this season, logging his first significant playing time as a professional at second base and in the outfield. Muncy’s versatility has opened up opportunities for him at the big league level. He has appeared in 47 games for the A’s this season. He will need to have more impact with the bat to stay in Oakland, however. He is batting just .191 for the A’s this season, although his 20 walks have him with a .315 OBP. With Nashville, Muncy had more of an impact at the plate. He hit .251/.360/.408 with eight homers in 228 at-bats. Muncy is likely to be part of the spring training battle for one of the A’s bench spots next season.
One of the stars of the A’s 2016 big league camp was outfielder Andrew Lambo, who the A’s claimed off of waivers during the off-season. He started the year on the A’s roster, but was optioned back to Triple-A after appearing in just one game. Lambo appeared in 56 games for the Sounds, posting a .255/.321/.384 line, before he learned he had testicular cancer. He was placed on the Nashville DL on June 19. On July 4, the A’s added Lambo to their big league roster and placed him on the 60-day DL. We continue to wish him all the best in his recovery.
In 2015, one of the key members of the Midland RockHounds’ run to the Texas League title was infielder Colin Walsh, who hit .302 with a .447 OBP. He parlayed that season into a Rule 5 selection by the Milwaukee Brewers during the off-season. Walsh made the Milwaukee roster out of spring training, but he was returned to the A’s in early June after hitting .085/.317/.106 in 47 big league at-bats. Walsh spent the rest of the season with Nashville and hit .259/.384/.388 in 201 at-bats. Like many of the players on the Nashville roster, Walsh played several positions, logging time at second and third and in left and right fields. Walsh will be eligible for minor league free agency this off-season if the A’s don’t add him to the 40-man roster.
Maxwell and Healy didn’t log many at-bats with the Sounds this season, but the impact they had on the team and the advancement they made in their careers were significant. Coming off of two disappointing seasons in Double-A, Maxwell earned his way into an Opening Day assignment in Triple-A with a strong big league camp that had him with the A’s until the final cuts. He got off to a slow start with the Sounds, but after a trip to the disabled list in early May, Maxwell turned around his season. He returned May 19 and hit .369 with 10 homeruns in 134 at-bats before the A’s promoted Maxwell to the big leagues on July 23. With Oakland, Maxwell had three hits over his first 31 at-bats. Since then, he has 13 hits in 32 at-bats. He hit his first major league homerun on Monday night. Maxwell has played well defensively for the A’s, as well. Maxwell’s emergence behind the plate could allow the A’s to move Stephen Vogt to a different position next season.
Caught in a numbers crunch, Healy began the year back in Double-A despite posting a Texas League All-Star season with Midland in 2015. He quickly demonstrated he was too good for Double-A, terrorizing Texas League pitching to the tune of a .338/.409/.628 line in 36 games. That effort finally earned Healy his much-deserved opportunity in Nashville on May 17, and he took full advantage. Even with a slight slump around the All-Star break, Healy still hit .318/.362/.505 in 192 at-bats for the Sounds. He was the A’s representative in the MLB All-Star Futures game, putting together an impressive multi-hit performance. The A’s called Healy up to the big leagues after the All-Star break, and he has since then been the best rookie in the American League not named Gary Sanchez. In 221 at-bats for the A’s, Healy has a .312/.348/.543 line with 11 homeruns. Between the majors and the minors, Healy has hit a career-high 25 homers this season. His previous career-high was 16 in the Cal League. Whether Healy remains at third base for the A’s long-term remains to be seen, but he has held his own at a position he didn’t see much playing time at during his minor league career. If he needs to move to first base in Oakland, he has shown during his minor league career that he is adept at that position. His bat will play at either spot.
Only pitchers with at least 35 innings with Nashville were considered for this article
The Sounds put together the best pitching staff in the Pacific Coast League this season despite a constantly shifting roster that resulted in only two pitchers throwing more than 100 innings in a Nashville uniform. Those two pitchers – Chris Smith and Dillon Overton – accomplished that feat despite spending part of the season in the big leagues.
Smith, a longtime veteran who made his professional baseball debut in 2002, led the team with 130.2 innings. The right-hander was sixth in the PCL in strike-outs with 121. He had a 6.31 ERA in April but recovered to post a 3.93 ERA for the season. In four starts after the All-Star break, Smith had a 2.63 ERA in 24 innings. He joined the A’s roster on August 7 and has pitched well in a relief role for Oakland. In 20 innings, Smith has a 3.60 ERA and a 25:8 K:BB. This is Smith’s first trip to the big leagues since 2010.
Overton is on the opposite end of the experience spectrum from Smith. The A’s 2013 second-round pick made his Triple-A debut in 2016 after splitting the 2015 season between High-A and Double-A. Overton’s 2015 season was his first full professional campaign after he missed the first half of the 2014 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. Overton pitched very well for the Sounds, winning a team-high 13 games and posting a 3.29 ERA in 125.2 innings. He struck-out 105, walked just 31 and allowed only six homeruns. Overton’s time in the big leagues hasn’t been as successful thus far. In 22.1 innings, he has allowed 12 homeruns and a 12.49 ERA. His location hasn’t been nearly as sharp in his big league outings and location is key for Overton, who rarely breaks 91 MPH with his fastball. He’s too good not to get better results in the major leagues and Overton should receive more opportunities in the major league moving forward.
Although he began the year in Double-A and spent a significant portion of the season pitching in the A’s rotation, Daniel Mengden finished fourth on the Sounds in starts and first in ERA among pitchers with at least 50 innings with Nashville. In 13 starts with the Sounds, Mengden had a 1.67 ERA and a 67:17 K:BB. He also allowed just four homeruns. Mengden’s results in the big leagues have been mixed: at times he has looked brilliant, at times he has struggled with his command. He has pitched well over his last two starts with the A’s (two earned runs in 12 innings) and he has averaged a strike-out an inning in the big leagues. Mengden will likely be in competition for a spot in the A’s rotation this spring.
Jesse Hahn began the spring as part of the A’s projected Opening Day rotation, but he struggled badly during camp and began the year in Triple-A. Hahn would go back-and-forth between Triple-A and the big leagues all season. He also spent time on the DL with the A’s. In between, he finished third on the Sounds with 15 starts, although he threw only 66.2 innings for Nashville. Hahn never looked like the pitcher who had a 3.35 ERA in 96 innings for the A’s in 2015. He struggled with location all season and had a 4.32 ERA for Nashville and a 6.02 ERA for the A’s. In 113 innings between the big leagues and the minor leagues, Hahn walked 53 and he allowed 12 homeruns. When the A’s rosters expanded in September, Hahn wasn’t recalled to Oakland. His future with the club remains up in the air.
Originally ticketed to be part of the Nashville bullpen, Zach Neal found himself back in the rotation before the season even began thanks to injuries in Oakland. Neal was his typical steady self for the Sounds, posting a 3.21 ERA and a 32:8 K:BB in 11 starts (61.2 innings). The most efficient pitcher in the A’s system, Neal has found a way to compete at the highest level despite not having over-powering stuff. He earned his first big league call-up this season and has now logged 59.1 innings for Oakland. His MLB ERA is currently 4.70, but he has pitched better during his latest stint with the A’s, posting a 3.50 ERA over his last 43.2 innings. He could carve a future out as a longman for the A’s.
Chris Jensen went back-and-forth between Nashville and Midland this season, but he still managed to log 10 starts and one relief appearance for the Sounds during the regular season. In his first taste of Triple-A, Jensen had a 4.53 ERA and a 31:22 K:BB in 59.2 innings.
At the end of July, Raul Alcantara was 90 innings into his season with Double-A Midland, and it wasn’t clear how many more innings the right-hander was going to be allowed to throw. Alcantara missed nearly all of the 2014 season and half of 2015 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and it was expected that he would throw no more than 110-120 innings in 2016. Alcantara earned a promotion to Triple-A on July 20, and his performance with the Sounds changed those plans. He would dominate in eight starts for Nashville, allowing just six earned runs and three walks in 45.2 innings. Then at the start of September, Alcantara earned his first promotion to the big leagues. He had a shaky first outing, but the 23-year-old has allowed just four runs over his last two starts (11.1 innings). Alcantara is now up to 150 innings for the season. He hasn’t shown signs of wearing down, so he could notch another start or two before the end of the season. Alcantara should be a big part of the competition for one of the A’s rotation spots next spring.
Cotton joined the A’s in a deadline deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. It didn’t take long for him to make his presence known in Nashville. In his second start for the Sounds, Cotton carried a perfect game until there were two-outs in the ninth. He would finish with a shutout and 12 strike-outs in arguably the most impressive start in the minor leagues this season. Between Oklahoma City and Nashville, Cotton struck-out 155 in 135.1 innings to lead the PCL. Armed with one of the best change-ups in the league, Cotton held PCL batters to a .214 average. With Nashville, he had a 2.82 ERA in 38.1 innings. He struck-out 36 and walked seven. Cotton joined Alcantara in the A’s rotation at the start of September. Three starts into his big league career, Cotton has a 1.50 ERA and an 11:3 K:BB in 18 innings. He will also be a big part of the A’s rotation battle next spring.
Angel Castro was a feel-good story for the A’s last season when he made his major-league debut after 10 years in the minor leagues. Castro didn’t pitch in the big leagues this season, but he was a valuable pitcher for the Sounds as a swingman. Castro made 10 starts and 27 relief appearances and logged 92.2 innings this season. His ERA was 5.15, but he helped keep the staff afloat through all of the personnel changes.
Eduard Santos was also a valuable part of the Nashville pitching staff. The minor league free agent signing logged 63.1 innings in relief for the Sounds. He recorded five saves in five opportunities and posted a 3.43 ERA. Santos walked too many (39), but he struck-out more than a batter an inning (66), allowed just three homeruns and held opposing batters to a .196 average. Santos will be a minor league free agent again this off-season. He turns 27 in October.
For much of the season, Tucker Healy was a force to be reckoned with out of the Sounds’ bullpen. The right-hander was the team leader in saves with eight (although he did have six blown saves). In 52.1 innings, Healy had a 3.61 ERA, but that number didn’t reflect how well he pitched on most nights. He struck-out 76 batters (13.07 per nine innings) and opposing batters hit just .202 against him. Healy’s Achilles heel was his walks. He allowed a career-worst 4.47 per nine innings. If Healy can cut that walk total by even one per nine innings, he should get an opportunity in the big leagues next season. He is a strong candidate to be added to the A’s 40-man roster this off-season.
Right-hander Ryan Brasier was also a strike-out machine for the Sounds this season. In 60.2 innings, he struck-out 70. Brasier also walked just 19 and posted a 3.56 ERA. It was arguably his best professional season. The 29-year-old veteran will be a minor league free agent this off-season and he figures to generate plenty of interest on the open market.
After spending his 2015 season in Triple-A, Aaron Kurcz found himself back in Double-A to start the 2016 season. The hard-throwing right-hander pitched his way back to Triple-A by posting a 1.26 ERA and a 12:0 K:BB in 14.1 innings for the RockHounds. Kurcz joined the Sounds on May 10 and spent the rest of the season in the Nashville bullpen. In 54 innings, Kurcz had a 3.50 ERA and a 43:17 K:BB. He held PCL batters to a .231 average. Throughout his career, Kurcz has posted impressive strike-out totals, but his command has prevented him from dominating. He improved his command significantly in 2016. Although that took away from his strike-out totals, it made him a better pitcher overall. Kurcz is eligible for minor league free agency this off-season. At only 26 years old, he should be one of the more sought-after minor league free agents on the market.
It was a bit of a strange first season in the A’s organization for J.B. Wendelken. Acquired from the Chicago White Sox during the off-season, Wendelken missed virtually all of spring training with an injury. However, he recovered quickly enough to be on the A’s roster by May 8. That short stay with the A’s would be one of four stints with Oakland this season (he is still currently with the A’s). In between those big league stops, Wendelken racked up 46 innings for the Sounds. He posted a 4.11 ERA, but he struck-out 65. Despite those strike-out totals, Wendelken was surprisingly hittable. Opposing batters hit .259 against him and he allowed five homeruns. With the A’s, Wendelken has allowed 14 earned runs in 12.2 innings. He has struck-out 12 and has walked nine. He has a big league fastball-slider combination, but he will need to improve his command significantly to make a longterm home in the A’s bullpen.
Signed as a minor league free agent this off-season, Patrick Schuster had a year to remember in 2016. The lefty made his major league debut with the A’s on July 5. He also put up excellent numbers in Triple-A, posting a 1.16 ERA in 38.2 innings for Nashville and then allowing just one run in six innings with Lehigh Valley after he was claimed off of waivers by the Philadelphia Phillies. Schuster is currently pitching in the Phillies bullpen.