As the Oakland A's start their off-season, one of the areas of focus will be how they construct their pitching staff. Thanks to injuries, the A's used 27 different pitchers in 2016 (two of them were position players). Eleven of those pitchers were rookies. While not all of those pitchers will return to the A's next season, Oakland is likely to be looking at a pitching staff that trends towards inexperience in 2017.
One of those young pitchers who will be competing for a spot on the A's pitching staff next spring is Raul Alcantara. The 23-year-old made his major-league debut with the A's this September, starting five games down-the-stretch. Alcantara struggled in his first and last starts, but pitched well in the three starts in-between. Despite being only 23, Alcantara will enter next season out-of-options. OaklandClubhouse has confirmed Alcantara's option status with A's General Manager David Forst.
Alcantara's option situation was somewhat murky because he missed more than a year from April 2014 until June 2015 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. The A's added Alcantara to their 40-man roster in November 2013 to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. He entered the 2014 season as one of the A's top prospects -- and as the A's top starting pitching prospect -- but he injured his elbow during his third start of that season with the Double-A Midland RockHounds. He would miss the rest of that season and the first two months of the 2015 season before returning to the mound with the Stockton Ports in June 2015.
Players are granted three option seasons once they are on a 40-man roster. During those option seasons, a player may be sent back to the minor leagues without being exposed to waivers. Once a player is out-of-options, a player cannot be sent back to the minor leagues without being placed on waivers. If that player clears waivers, he can be outrighted to the minor leagues as a non-roster player. Occasionally, players are granted a fourth option year when one of those first three option seasons is lost to injury. In Alcantara's case, however, no fourth option season was granted.
Alcantara threw 158 innings between Double-A, Triple-A and the big leagues in 2016, his first full season since the surgery. He had a 3.58 ERA and a 105:30 K:BB in 135.2 innings between Midland and Nashville. In five starts with the A's, Alcantara had a 7.25 ERA and 14:4 K:BB. He allowed nine homeruns in his five big league starts. Alcantara allowed only 12 during his minor league outings.
Alcantara will likely head into spring training as a candidate for the A's fifth starter spot, but he could remain on the A's 25-man roster as a reliever if he doesn't earn a rotation spot. He has always had excellent stuff, but he has never been a strike-out pitcher, something that could change in a role where he wasn't expected to turn over a line-up. Last spring, A's minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson suggested that Alcantara's ultimate big league home could be in the bullpen.
The A's will have plenty of decisions to make this off-season. They have already been busy, removing 12 players from their season-ending 40-man roster.