Photo by Kimberly Contreras

Oakland A's 2017 top-50 prospect scouting report: James Naile, RHP

Our Oakland A's 2017 top-50 prospects list is out. Now find out more about the players on that list. In this piece, a close look at top-50 prospect James Naile. Naile took a tour of the A's system in 2016. Where will his journey take him in 2017?

Name: James Naile
Position: RHP
Height/Weight: 6’4’’, 185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Age: 23
How Acquired: Selected in the 20th round of the 2015 MLB Draft.

Not even two years into his professional career, James Naile can already serve as a tour guide for the entire US-based portion of the Oakland A’s minor league system. The right-hander completed his affiliate BINGO in 2016, suiting up for all four of the A’s full-season affiliates after playing for both short-season squads in 2015. Where will Naile’s 2017 take him? to Tommy John surgery that cost Naile all of his 2014 collegiate season, the Missouri native got his pro career off to a bit of a late start. The A’s selected Naile in 2015 in the 20th round. Although technically a red-shirt junior, Naile was as old as most seniors when he began his pro career. He has more than made up for his delayed start since turning pro with an accelerated development path.

Naile’s first year in the A’s system saw him pitch exclusively out of the bullpen. He was in his first year back from the elbow surgery and the A’s wanted to be cautious with his workload after he threw 109.2 innings during the year for Alabama-Birmingham. Naile made a strong impression during his pro debut season despite the lighter workload. Serving mostly as a late-innings reliever, Naile posted a 1.78 ERA and saved six games in 25.1 innings for the AZL A’s and the Vermont Lake Monsters. He had a 2.00 GO/AO and an 18:6 K:BB. Naile then participated in the A’s fall Instructional League, where his sinker-slider combination piqued the interest of pitching coaches throughout the organization.

At the start of the 2016 season, Naile was assigned to Low-A Beloit. While Naile would log the majority of his innings for the Snappers in 2016, he only spent half the season in the Midwest League. The rest of the year he was pitching at the upper levels for Triple-A Nashville, Double-A Midland and High-A Stockton. Naile was outstanding at the A-ball level, solid in Double-A and held his own in two Triple-A starts. All told, he posted a 3.39 ERA and a 125:38 K:BB in 156.2 regular season innings. He allowed just nine homeruns and induced more than 60% of balls in play on the ground.

James Naile Stats

2016 Beloit 88 2.66 67 19 64 2.90 2
2016 Stockton 40.2 3.76 39 11 46 1.73 5
2016 Midland 17 4.76 20 3 11 0.90 1
2016 Nashville 11 5.73 11 5 4 1.64 1
Career 182 3.16 156 44 143 2.10 9

Naile’s travel through minor league baseball in 2016 wasn’t linear. He spent April 14 through May 22 with Beloit, made one start with Nashville, returned to Beloit for one start, went BACK to Nashville for a start and then joined Midland for two starts before returning to Beloit for three weeks from June 27 to July 23rd. Naile then moved up to High-A Stockton, made eight starts with the Ports before re-joining the RockHounds for one regular season start and the post-season. Naile was outstanding in the playoffs for Midland, starting the game that clinched the Texas League title and throwing six two-hit innings in that win.

A’s High-A pitching coach Steve Connelly spent more than a month with Naile in Stockton this year and worked with him at Instructs in 2015. Naile came into the 2016 season with two above-average offerings – the sinking fastball that sits 88-91 and a plus slider. Connelly says Naile added two more off-speed pitches in 2016 that should help him continue to develop as a starter.

He was working on the change-up all year. He tried a number of different grips and he finally found a grip that he liked that had good action on it. I think he would like to have a little more separation of velocity with it, but I dont know that he necessarily needs that. But thats a goal of his to have more separation of velocity between his change-up and his fastball. The action on it is good. Hes getting more comfortable with it, Connelly said. He also has the cutter that he will throw in there, too. He doesnt throw it a ton. Maybe [next] year he will throw it a little bit more. But it is a good pitch for him.

Nailes signature sinking fastball and his delivery remind As Assistant General Manager Billy Owens of a former Oakland great.

The first time I saw him, hes a sinkerballer and he tries to mimic his game after Tim Hudson. Obviously, two different eras and all of that stuff, but his delivery is spot-on and he really sinks that ball, Owens said.

Naile isnt a power pitcher, but he gets his share of swings-and-misses and soft contact thanks to the movement he gets on his pitches. The sinker bores in on right-handers and away from lefties and he spots it well. The slider is an out-pitch that Naile can go-to when he has two-strikes or when hes looking to get ahead of an aggressive hitter. In the upper-levels, lefties hit Naile a little better than righties did, but the cutter should help him against more advanced southpaw hitters as he gets comfortable using it more frequently. He throws a ton of strikes and lives in the bottom half of the strike-zone, making it hard for teams to roll up big innings against him.

At 64’’, 185, Naile is long and lean and has the frame to be able to start for a full season. He does have the Tommy John surgery in his health history, but Naile was very durable in 2016 and has had two straight healthy seasons since the surgery. He shouldnt be on any kind of innings restriction in 2017. The As will continue to develop Naile as a starter for as long as they can, but he showed in 2015 that he can handle a bullpen role if that is the direction his development takes him. As a groundball pitcher who throws strikes and has a swing-and-miss off-speed pitch, Naile could be a very effective reliever in the big leagues even without a big velocity fastball.

Naile will be 24 throughout the 2017 regular season, so he is on the older side for a player entering his second full professional season. However, he has made up for a lot of that age difference with his experience in the upper-levels in 2016. He could easily start the 2017 season with Midland and be in Triple-A by the end of the year. Much of where he starts and ends will have to do with moves the As make at the major-league level.

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