Photo by Kimberly Contreras

Oakland A's 2017 top-50 prospect scouting report: Bobby Wahl, 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 Bobby Wahl. Wahl nearly reached the big leagues in 2016. Can he take that final leap into Oakland's bullpen in 2017?

Name: Bobby Wahl
Position: RHP
Height/Weight: 6’2’’, 210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Age: 24
How Acquired: Selected in the 5th round of the 2013 MLB Draft

The first few years of Bobby Wahl’s professional career were marked by injury, but the right-hander finally had a relatively injury-free season in 2016 and has now positioned himself as a viable candidate for the big leagues. Will he be pitching in the late innings for the Oakland A’s by year’s end? With an intimidating demeanor on the mound and a fastball that blew past hitters, Wahl became a legend in his three seasons at Ole Miss. The right-hander struck-out 104 in 99 innings for the Rebels as a sophomore and then went 10-0 as a junior. He was in first-round discussion for much of the 2013 season, but a bout with blisters and whispers about an arm injury caused Wahl’s draft stock to drop. The A’s picked him up in the fifth round and signed him to an above-slot bonus of $500,000. He began his professional career as a starter, but he was moved into a relief role midway through his first full season.

Although Wahl has not had the major arm injury that many predicted for him leading into the draft, injuries have hurt his progress since he turned pro. During his first full season in 2014, Wahl struggled with an oblique injury that impacted his performance in Low-A. In 2015, he missed half of the season with a right forearm injury that required surgery. Going into the 2016 season, Wahl had yet to put together a fully healthy campaign.

Bobby Wahl Stats

2013 AZL A's 1 9.00 0 2 1 0 .000 0.00
2013 Vermont 20.2 3.92 20 6 27 3 .241 0.71
2014 Beloit 42.2 5.06 46 19 43 5 .267 0.83
2014 Stockton 10.2 4.22 8 6 19 2 .190 0.88
2015 Midland 32.1 4.18 36 14 36 2 .283 1.38
2016 Stockton 4 6.75 3 5 3 0 .231 1.00
2016 Midland 40.2 2.21 26 17 48 3 .188 1.39
2016 Nashville 9.2 2.79 7 6 14 0 .200 0.75
Career 161.2 3.90 146 75 191 15 .239 1.01

In 2016, Wahl got to show what he was capable of when healthy. He began the year with High-A Stockton so the A’s could ease him back slowly after the 2015 arm surgery. After three appearances with the Ports, Wahl moved to Double-A Midland, where he would serve as the team’s closer for much of the year. He was brilliant with the RockHounds, posting a 2.21 ERA in 40.1 innings with 48 strike-outs and 17 walks. He allowed two runs in an appearance on May 29 and then allowed only one earned run the rest of his stint with Midland (which run through August 5). From June 1 through August 5, Wahl allowed one earned run on nine hits and nine walks in 22 innings. He struck-out 30 and saved 10 games in 10 chances.

Wahl joined the Nashville Sounds for the final five weeks of the season and found similar success in his first taste of Triple-A. In his first eight appearances for the Sounds, Wahl allowed just a run on seven hits and two walks (one of which was intentional) in nine innings. He struck-out 13 and saved four games in four chances. On September 1, Wahl walked four and allowed two runs in two-thirds of an inning. It would be revealed after the appearance that he strained a muscle near his abductor. He would miss the playoffs and a chance to pitch for Oakland in September.

That final outing aside, the last three months of the season represented a big turning point for Wahl. He has always had some of the best raw stuff of any pitcher in the A’s system, but he had trouble locating with his fastball, in particular. A’s Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman says that Wahl became more of a pitcher and less of a thrower in 2016.

“Before it was about velocity and overpowering hitters. Now he is able to still use the high velocity, but now he is locating better,” Lieppman said. “Those walks were killing him – sometimes they were back-to-back walks – and now he’s learning to command the fastball a lot better. He has been very aggressive.”

Wahl features a four-seam fastball that sits 97-101 MPH and ranks with the newly acquired Frankie Montas as the best fastball in the A’s system. He also has a slider that is a legitimate swing-and-miss pitch. The slider has always had significant break late and Wahl has more recently been able to throw the pitch for strikes when he needs to. His change-up is behind both of his main two pitches, but he can use that pitch against lefties with some effectiveness. As a reliever, the fastball-slider combination is often more than enough to get him through an outing.

“From an injury and durability standpoint, Bobby has just teased with the possibilities before in his minor league career,” A’s Assistant General Manager Billy Owens said at the tail-end of the season. “This year, he has been assertive and aggressive with his pitches. Hes been up to 97-100 miles per hour pretty much every outing and his breaking stuff has gotten better over the course of the season.” 

Wahl’s command may never be perfect, but if he can throw strikes as consistently as he did from June through August, he could be a very effective late-inning reliever. There are still durability concerns with Wahl, but it was encouraging to see him make it from April to August with no restrictions. Wahl was added to the A’s 40-man roster this off-season. With the A’s addition of Santiago Casilla, Wahl is a long-shot to make the Oakland Opening Day roster, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Wahl spend a majority of the 2017 season in the big leagues.

He didnt have a whole lot of innings in Triple-A and, for me, you cant ever lose by making a guy go down to Triple-A for a month or two to make sure that he maintains everything he finished with this past year, but if he made the club, I wouldnt be shocked,” A’s minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson said in October. “The way he finished up was tremendous. It would not surprise me if he made that club, but it also could come down to making sure that what we saw was true, but what we saw was pretty special.”

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