A's Prospect Profile: Matt Roney, RHP

Esteban Loaiza isn't the only right-handed free agent pitcher the Oakland A's have acquired this off-season. Oakland signed Matt Roney, a former Detroit Tiger who had been pitching with the Texas Rangers to a split contract. Roney is a former first round draft pick with a mid-90s fastball. So what should the A's expect from Roney in 2006?

Matt Roney, RHP, 6'3'', 230

Matt Roney's career reads like a cautionary tale against drafting high school pitchers. Roney, like many high school pitching phenoms, suffered from injuries early in his pitching career. Roney was taken 28th overall by the Colorado Rockies in 1998 out of Edmond North High School in Oklahoma. After being selected by the Rockies, Roney joined Colorado's Arizona Rookie League team. He made nine starts (including a complete game), but his shoulder wasn't up to the wear and tear of professional ball at the young age of 18. By the 1999 season, Roney was felled by a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder. He missed all of the 1999 season and part of the 2000 campaign recovering from surgery, stalling his development tremendously.

After recovering from the surgery, Roney was sent to the Rockies low-A squad and pitched well, going 7-5 with a 3.14 ERA and 85 strikeouts in only 80 innings of work over 15 starts. That performance earned him a promotion to high-A in 2001, but Roney struggled with the transition. His control betrayed him, as he walked 43 and hit 13 batters, resulting in an 8-10 record with a 4.98 ERA. Roney began the 2002 season back at high-A, but he was able to handle the league better this time around. He struck out 88 and walked only 25 in 82.2 innings over 14 starts before being promoted to AA. Roney once again struggled with the transition to a higher level, however, posting a 6.11 ERA in 13 starts at AA.

It was during the 2002 off-season that Roney's career took a dramatic turn. The Rockies took the risk of leaving Roney off of the 40-man roster in 2002 and lost the gamble, as the Pittsburgh Pirates took him in the Rule 5 draft and then traded him to the Detroit Tigers. Per the rules of the Rule 5 draft, Roney had to stay on the Tigers' major league roster all season or he would have to be returned to the Rockies. The Tigers liked the promise of Roney's mid-90s fastball and workhorse build and they kept the young right-hander on the roster for the entire season.

To say that Roney had a poor year at the major leagues in 2003 would be misleading. He finished that season with a 5.45 ERA and a 1-9 record in 45 games. However, he was part of one of the worst teams of all-time, so it isn't surprising that his numbers were poor. Almost any other team but the 43-119 Tigers would have kept Roney in the bullpen all season, where he was experiencing some success. However, the Tigers – desperate for any innings out of their starting rotation – force-fed Roney into the starting role for 11 starts despite the fact that he clearly wasn't ready for it based on his AA season the year before.

At the All-Star break in 2003, Roney had made 27 appearances, all but five of them coming out of the bullpen, and he was 1-3 with a .211 BAA over 62.2 innings. However, after the break, Roney went 0-6 with an 8.84 ERA in 38.2 innings (six starts out of 18 appearances). Roney's BAA jumped to .335 and he walked more batters then he struck out (20 BB/ 14 K). Roney did show promise against right-handed hitters, limiting them to a .232 BAA and a 1.16 WHIP.

The Tigers returned Roney to AA in 2004, where he spent most of the season. He made 22 starts for AA-Erie, going 9-9 with a 4.93 ERA with three complete games. His strikeouts per nine innings ratio fell from 7.77 in 2002 to 6.01 in 2004. It fell further when Roney hit AAA, as he struck out only 18 in 30 innings for the AAA-Toledo Mud Hens in a late-season stint.

Faced with a dropping K-rate, the Tigers chose to move Roney to the bullpen permanently in 2005. It may have been the move that saved his career. As he did when he was in the major leagues, Roney seemed to take well to life in the bullpen. He began the year in AA and made 11 relief appearances, striking out 23 in 21 innings and walking only six. He was promoted to Toledo and continued his great work, posting an 0.95 ERA and striking out 27 in 28.1 innings. Despite his success, Roney was not rewarded with a spot on the Tigers major league roster. Roney had an out-clause in his contract that allowed him to declare for free agency on July 1 if he wasn't on the big league roster. Roney chose to take that out route and was set free.

He signed on with the pitching poor Texas Rangers and landed on their AAA squad in his home state of Oklahoma. Roney was outstanding for Oklahoma, making 24 appearances and striking out 32 batters in 32.2 innings. On the 2005 season, Roney finished the year with a combined record of 5-3 with five saves and a 1.85 ERA in 49 relief appearances. He allowed only four homeruns and he struck out 82 in 82.2 innings. However, he was once again passed over for a major league call-up and left the Rangers' organization at the end of the season.

Roney was declared a six-year minor league free agent after the season, and it didn't take long for the Oakland A's to express their interest. It isn't hard to see why the A's would take a flier on Roney. There aren't many six year minor league free agents who are still relatively young (Roney will turn 26 in January) and who strike out a batter an inning. They also had to like his 95 MPH fastball and his ability to pitch both in the bullpen and out of the starting rotation.

Outlook for 2006

Although Roney may make a few starts next season, he will more than likely be in relief for the A's or the Sacramento River Cats. Roney has three secondary pitches (slider, curveball and splitter), but none of those pitches are above-average at this point. However, they are good enough to off-set his heavy fastball in short-inning appearances. His control has improved as a reliever, enough so that he can be trusted in late-game situations. He has a solid build and can throw two or three innings out of the bullpen or make an emergency start if necessary.

Roney signed a split-contract with the A's so he can remain with the organization even if he doesn't make the 25-man roster out of spring training. With right-handers Huston Street, Justin Duchscherer, Kiko Calero, Kirk Saarloos, Juan Cruz and Jay Witasick already signed to guaranteed major league contracts, there probably won't be room for Roney on the Opening Day roster unless the A's move one or more of those pitchers in the off-season. He'll also have to battle top-prospect Jairo Garcia for that spot if an open right-handed relief spot becomes available. However, the A's are light on major league-ready right-handed relief prospects, so Roney won't have much competition beyond Garcia at the AAA level (barring any additional acquisitions).

Although the A's have a stacked bullpen right now, there is hope for Roney that he will see time in Oakland before the year is out. He is in much the same situation that Tim Harikkala and Britt Reames were for the A's in 2005 and both players saw time in Oakland due to injuries in the A's bullpen. With Duchscherer's bad back and Calero's bad knee and elbow, Roney will provide the A's much needed insurance in case of injury. And if he continues to post numbers at AAA like he did in 2005, Roney will more than likely get another shot in the big leagues by 2007 at the latest.


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