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Oakland A's 2017 top-50 prospect scouting report: Jharel Cotton, 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 Jharel Cotton. Cotton made a positive first impression on the A's last summer. What does he have in store for a follow-up in 2017?

Name: Jharel Cotton
Position: RHP
Height/Weight: 5’11’’, 195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Age: 25
How Acquired: Acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in July 2016

It didn’t take long for Jharel Cotton to endear himself to his new organization after coming to the Oakland A’s in a July trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers. With an impressive debut under his belt, can Cotton establish himself as a mainstay in the A’s rotation? Cotton’s road to the big leagues began in the Caribbean in his native St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. He came to the mainland United States in 2010 to attend Miami-Dade, a junior college. After two strong seasons there, Cotton joined the staff of East Carolina, where he posted a 3.65 ERA. A broken elbow limited him to just 74 innings that season, however, and he wasn’t selected until the 20th round of the 2012 draft. After a strong showing in the summer Coastal Plains league, Cotton signed with the Dodgers in time to throw a handful of impressive innings for Ogden of the Rookie-level Pioneer League.

In 2013, Cotton began his first full pro season in the Low-A Midwest League. He pitched well for the Great Lake Loons, posting a 3.55 ERA and striking out a batter an inning in 58 innings. Just before the All-Star break, Cotton joined the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts for a brief period as a reliever before returning to the rotation with the High-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in mid July. He lasted only two starts with the Quakes before landing on the disabled list on August 2nd. He would miss the rest of the season.

The next year, Cotton returned to Rancho, and he would spend the entire season with the Quakes. His ERA was 4.05, but he was pitching in the extremely hitter-friendly southern portion of the California League for more than half of his starts. Cotton allowed fewer than a hit an inning that year and posted a 138:34 K:BB in 126.2 innings. His biggest issue was homeruns allowed, as he gave-up 18.

Jharel Cotton Stats

2012 Ogden 15 1.20 9 0 3 20 .180 0.64
2013 Great Lakes 58.1 3.55 42 4 17 58 .200 0.78
2013 Chattanooga 10 8.10 15 0 3 11 .341 0.46
2013 Rancho Cucamonga 5.2 1.59 4 0 3 3 .190 1.00
2014 Rancho Cucamonga 126.2 4.05 113 18 34 138 .239 1.16
2015 Great Lakes 3.1 5.40 4 0 1 6 .286 0.33
2015 Rancho Cucamonga 22.1 1.61 14 1 7 28 .182 0.50
2015 Tulsa 62.2 2.30 49 4 21 71 .221 1.02
2015 Oklahoma City 7.1 4.91 9 0 2 9 .321 2.00
2016 Oklahoma City 97.1 4.90 80 17 32 119 .219 1.12
2016 Nashville 38.1 2.82 28 0 7 36 .201 0.77
2016 Oakland (MLB) 29.1 2.15 20 4 4 23 .185 0.63
Career (MiLB) 447 3.68 367 47 130 499 .223 0.96


His 2015 season got off to a slow start when he was hit with a line-drive during spring training that resulted in a broken wrist. The injury cost Cotton the first five weeks of the regular season. He pitched in A-ball for the first five weeks back on the mound before joining the Double-A Tulsa rotation in late June. Over the next two months, Cotton would be one of the top starters in the Texas League, posting a 2.30 ERA in 62.2 innings. He struck-out 71 and held opposing batters to a .221 average. During his final week with the Drillers, Cotton moved to the bullpen, as the Dodgers started to prepare him for a possible relief role as a September call-up. He would join the Oklahoma City Dodgers for the final two weeks of the regular season, making five relief appearances to close out the year.

As it would turn out, the Dodgers didn’t recall Cotton to the big leagues that September, but he did get to pitch in the fall as a member of the Glendale Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League. In five starts, Cotton struck-out 17 in 14.1 innings in a solid showing.

In 2016, Cotton spent the entire minor league season at the Triple-A level. With Oklahoma City, he threw 97.1 innings and was leading the Pacific Coast League in strike-outs when the A’s acquired him in mid July. Cotton’s ERA was 4.90 at the time of the trade, but he had a 1.15 WHIP and a .219 BAA. With the A’s Triple-A affiliate, Cotton’s ERA would finally match his strike-out and WHIP excellence. In six starts for the Nashville Sounds, Cotton posted a 2.82 ERA in 38.1 innings. He struck-out 36, walked only seven and held opposing batters to a .201 average. In his second start with the Sounds, Cotton came within one out of a throwing a perfect game. He would finish with a one-hit shutout.

The A’s were thrilled with what they saw from Cotton in Nashville and he joined their rotation in September. He made an immediate impact in the big leagues, allowing just seven earned runs in 29.1 innings in five starts. Cotton struck-out 23 and walked only four. A’s minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson was impressed with what he saw from Cotton.

I really like him. He doesnt walk people, he pounds the strike-zone and he has pretty good swing-and-miss,” Patterson said.

Cotton is on the smaller-side for a right-hander, with a similar build to former A’s right-hander Jarrod Parker. His fastball ranges from 89-95 MPH. Early in his career, he had trouble maintaining his velocity late in outings, but he did a better job of that last season. Cotton’s best pitch is his change-up, which is nearly unhittable. During his major league stint, Cotton threw his change-up 124 times according to FanGraphs’s Pitch F/X database, and he allowed just one hit off of the pitch. Cotton’s breaking ball wasn’t a pitch that he used that often with the Dodgers, but he threw it more frequently with the A’s and got good results with the pitch. If Cotton can continue to throw the breaking ball effectively this season, he should have plenty of weapons to remain a starter.

Cotton’s career minor league ERA of 3.68 is higher than one would expect based on his strike-out, walk and hits per innings numbers. That ERA is mostly attributable to his homeruns allowed rate, which has always been on the higher side for a pitcher of Cotton’s level of effectiveness. Cotton’s only blip as a major leaguer last September was the four homeruns he allowed for a 1.24 HRA. He has nominally been a flyball pitcher during his career, with a career 0.96 GO/AO. Three of the four homers Cotton allowed in the big leagues came off of his fastball. His fastball is a solid pitch, but if he misses location with it, he is vulnerable to the longball. As long as Cotton isn’t walking a lot of batters or giving up many hits, the homeruns shouldn’t be a significant issue.

Cotton has a similar statistical profile to former A’s starter Dan Haren. Like Haren, Cotton relies on secondary pitches for a lot of his swings-and-misses, although Haren was significantly taller and didn’t throw as hard as Cotton. Throughout Haren’s career, he was vulnerable to the longball, but he was able to minimize the impact by keeping runners off the bases. Haren built a lot of his value by being a workhorse, something that Cotton will need to prove he can be over time. Cotton has dealt with a few minor injuries during his career, but he threw 165 innings last season without losing any effectiveness at the end of the season.

Going into spring training, Cotton has the inside track on a spot in the As Opening Day rotation. It should be his job to lose all season as long as he remains healthy.

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