Assuming the Oakland A’s get through spring training with all of their relievers healthy, Oakland figures to roll out a bullpen of Santiago Casilla, Ryan Madson, John Axford, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Dull, Liam Hendriks and maybe a long reliever (possibly Raul Alcantara or Andrew Triggs, with the other being in the rotation) on Opening Day. That would leave 40-man roster member Daniel Coulombe and all of the A’s off-season minor league free agent signings likely headed to Nashville to start the year. That group includes veterans Simon Castro, Tyler Sturdevant, Cesar Valdez, Josh Smith, Michael Brady and Ross Detwiler. A couple of those pitchers may end up in the Nashville rotation; however, the A’s will likely also send relievers Tucker Healy and Aaron Kurcz to Nashville. Both were non-roster invitees to big league camp and both spent the majority of the 2016 season with the Sounds. Hard-throwing right-hander Bobby Wahl joined the A’s 40-man roster this off-season and has a strong chance of making the Nashville bullpen at the end of spring, as well.
Beyond those relievers, the A’s have plenty of bullpen depth should there be injuries at the big league or Triple-A level this season. One of the biggest strengths for the 2016 Texas League champion Midland RockHounds last season was its bullpen, and the RockHounds figure to have a very strong bullpen once again in 2017. Who are these relievers who represent the A’s third line of bullpen defense this season? We take a look:
Jake Sanchez: Currently pitching for Team Mexico in the WBC, Sanchez has seen his prospect status rise significantly since moving from the starting rotation into the bullpen. His fastball gained nearly 5 MPH on average as a reliever and he caught the attention of scouts around the league with his dominating performance this winter in the Mexican Winter League, where his fastball touched 100 at various points in the season. In 66.2 innings for Midland in 2016, Sanchez had a 3.11 ERA and a 72:18 K:BB. He wasn’t added to the A’s 40-man roster this off-season despite the impressive campaign and wasn’t given a non-roster invite to spring training. With the A’s backlog of relievers in Triple-A, he could be headed back to Midland for a third straight year. Sanchez deserves an opportunity in Triple-A, but it may take an injury to someone ahead of him on the depth chart for him to get there.
Trey Cochran-Gill: Cochran-Gill joined the A’s organization in a trade with the Seattle Mariners before the 2016 season. He impressed in his first year as a member of the A’s, overcoming a slow start to post a 3.07 ERA in 73.1 innings. Cochran-Gill went on to pitch in the Arizona Fall League, where he had a 1.84 ERA and a 14:2 K:BB in 14.2 innings. That earned him a non-roster invite to big league camp. Cochran-Gill can touch 95 and has a good sinker-slider combination that he uses to induce plenty of groundballs (his groundball rate was better than 60% last year). Cochran-Gill will be in the mix for a spot in Triple-A this spring, but may be forced to head back to Midland to start the 2017 season thanks to the backlog ahead of him.
Sam Bragg: Bragg’s year-end statline isn’t reflective of the season he had in the RockHounds’ bullpen in 2016. The right-hander began the year as a “tandem starter” and the experiment didn’t go as planned. He had an ERA of 15.12 in 8.1 innings while in that role. Once back in a traditional relief role, Bragg posted a 2.70 ERA and a 60:13 K:BB in 56.2 innings. He would go on to put up a 1.98 ERA and a 12:1 K:BB in 13.2 innings in the Arizona Fall League. Bragg has a good fastball that can touch 95 and a plus curveball that is a swing-and-miss pitch. He improved his change-up in 2016, as well. Bragg commands the ball well and has a better than 3:1 K:BB for his career.
Kyle Finnegan: Much like Sanchez, Finnegan has seen a career revival since moving from the rotation to the bullpen. The right-hander began last season in Stockton but moved up to Midland after striking out 28 in 21.2 innings. With the RockHounds, Finnegan posted a 2.14 ERA and a 41:20 K:BB in 42 innings. He also hit triple digits on the radar gun on a few occasions and sat in the upper-90s. Finnegan will likely need to whittle down his walk rate a bit to get that opportunity in Triple-A, but he has big league stuff.
Lou Trivino: Trivino began the 2016 season in the Stockton bullpen along with Finnegan, giving the Ports some firepower in the late innings. Trivino’s promotion to Midland didn’t come until much later in the year, but, like Finnegan, he found success in the Texas League. For the year, Trivino had a 2.85 ERA and a 61:25 K:BB in 60 innings. With Midland, his ERA was 2.45 in 18 innings, although he did walk seven. Trivino’s four-seam fastball sits in the upper-90s and he has a cutter that sits 91-93. His breaking ball is an effective secondary offering, coming in at 82-84 MPH. Trivino had a re-worked delivery last season and made significant strides with his consistency.
Cody Stull: The left-hander took a big leap forward in 2016, going much of the summer without allowing a run while in the Stockton bullpen. In 61.2 innings that came mostly with Stockton but included cameos with Nashville and Midland, Stull had a 1.61 ERA and a 65:14 K:BB. Left-handed hitters collected just eight hits and four walks in 72 plate appearances versus Stull in 2016 (.118 BAA). Stull features a cutter, an above-average change-up and a fastball with plenty of run. Most importantly, he throws a ton of strikes. In a system with few left-handed relief prospects, Stull stands out.
Carlos Navas: Navas has been in the A’s organization since 2010 and had an opportunity to test the free agent market this off-season but chose to re-sign with Oakland. The native of Venezuela moved into the bullpen in 2015 and has put together two solid seasons since the switch. In 2016, he spent most of the season with Stockton, where he struck-out 67 in 53 innings. He was particularly impressive in a late-season stint with the Nashville Sounds, where he allowed two runs in 6.2 regular season innings and then threw three shutout innings in the post-season. Navas pitched well this winter in the Venezuelan Winter League, posting a 2.28 ERA and striking out 30 in 27.2 innings.