The 2016 season was supposed to be when Oakland A's pitching prospect Xavier Altamirano started his ascent through the organization, and through four appearances last April it was certainly setting up to be that way.
The right-hander pitched in four games as a hybrid starter/reliever and allowed just one earned run on nine hits in 12.2 innings. But then adversity struck for the A’s 2015 27th-round pick out of Oral Roberts University, as Altamirano struggled in three of four appearances and was finally sent out to Arizona after suffering a lat strain during a side session in Cedar Rapids.
Following up on his opening four-game stretch, Altamirano’s final Midwest League results didn’t look as solid. He posted a 4.85 ERA in 26 innings of work across eight appearances and had an 18:11 K:BB rate.
He regained his confidence post-injury at short-season Vermont, making nine relief appearances and five starts, finishing with a 2.48 ERA. Altamirano’s command also improved during the summer months, as he posted a 57:10 K:BB rate in 65.1 innings.
Now, Altamirano is getting another shot to begin that rise as a member of the Snappers’ bullpen. So far, the results have been good as he opened 2017 with 3.1 scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and striking out three.
“In the spring, it was the same thing as always, just go out there and compete,” Altamirano said. “It’s a weird transition because I was a starter in spring and got switched to a reliever here. I had that starter routine and now I’ve switched to a reliever routine. I kind of figured out how to prepare myself. Going into relief, my first outing this year I wanted to keep the same mentality: thinking of it as 0-0, compete, pitch to contact and get quick outs. That helped me focus, instead of looking back and seeing we were down 4-0.”
The 22-year-old Altamirano said he learned from his rollercoaster ride a year ago and is approaching every day with a different mindset.
“Just get your work done,” he said. “If they ask you to lift, go at it 100 percent and don’t slack off. If your name is on the board to do arm care, not only just do it but do it correctly. Don’t skip reps. Take care of yourself. Choose the best meal possible so you don’t feel sluggish. I feel more mature this year and am calmer because I know what I need to do. I know what it’s like and am more confident.”
Doing all of the above hopefully will lead to his staying on the field all of this season, and in turn give him a chance to move up.
“I need to maintain health,” Altamarino said. “I don’t want to go through that scenario again where I got hurt, have to go back to Arizona and slowly try to find my way up again. It comes down to taking care of yourself and knowing when I should stop or say something, or ask for a day off.”
“The only thing I was working on was tying up my curveball,” Altamirano said. “I feel like I accomplished that. It’s not much faster, but my spin rate is a lot harder. Instead of it bouncing off my hand, it’s straighter and down than it was last season. It’s just a matter of my mind telling my arm what to do.”
If Altamirano posts another strong April and continues the season with a clean bill of health, he’ll finally get that opportunity to move up the organizational ladder to High-A Stockton.