Name: Andrew Bailey
When the Oakland A's selected Bailey in the sixth round of last year's June amateur draft, they made him the highest-ever draft selection to come out of the Northeast Conference. Despite that honor, Bailey's path through collegiate baseball was not an easy one. Up until the start of his junior season at Wagner, Bailey's college career couldn't have gone better. The right-hander parlayed some impressive strikeout totals and a mid-90s MPH radar gun reading into top draft prospect status heading into the 2005 season. Unfortunately for Bailey, his collegiate career was sidetracked only seven starts into the 2005 season when he was sidelined with an elbow injury that eventually required Tommy John surgery.
Even with his injury status, the Milwaukee Brewers had seen enough of Bailey's college performance to take him in the 16th round in 2005. Bailey turned down Milwaukee's offer, however, preferring to rehab at Wagner and make a comeback in 2006. That decision proved to be a wise one for Bailey, as the right-hander returned to the mound ahead of schedule in 2006 and he managed to throw 44.1 innings for Wagner. Bailey began his final collegiate season in the bullpen to build up arm strength, but he returned to the rotation in enough time to post two complete games.
When the A's selected Bailey in June of last year, he was about 80 percent recovered from his injury. His velocity had mostly returned to the low to mid-90s that he threw pre-injury, although his command was still a work in progress. The A's assigned Bailey to short-season Vancouver. He was eased into the starting rotation slowly, first completing a throwing program and then making a couple of relief appearances.
Bailey ended up making 13 appearances for Vancouver, 10 of them starts. His record was only 2-5, but he had a 2.02 ERA and he allowed only 39 hits in 58 innings.
Bailey's ERA and peripheral stats were very encouraging for his first taste of professional baseball. He struck out 53 in 58 innings and allowed only two homeruns. He held opposing batters to a .187 BAA. Bailey was especially impressive versus right-handed hitters, limiting them to a .171 BAA and striking out 31 against only five walks.
If Bailey had any weakness last season it was against left-handed hitters. Lefties hit only .209 against Bailey, but they walked 15 times against only 22 strikeouts. They also hit for a higher slugging percentage against Bailey than did right-handed hitters.
After the season was over, the A's sent Bailey to the Instructional Leagues, where they went about tinkering with his mechanics. Bailey told OaklandClubhouse earlier in the off-season that his new delivery was much more balanced and that he had eliminated a jump in his throwing motion that had caused him previously to have an inconsistent delivery point.
The combination of his refined mechanics and the lengthening of the passage of time since his Tommy John surgery leave Bailey poised for a big season in 2007. Command is usually the last aspect of a pitcher's arsenal to return after Tommy John surgery. Bailey's control was pretty good during his first professional season, but it should only improve next season as he learns to trust his reconstructed elbow completely. In addition, Bailey's refined mechanics should help him spot his pitches better, especially against left-handers, as his body and head will be more stable when he is releasing his pitches. It may also protect him from future elbow or arm injuries.
Bailey will turn 23 in May. His age combined with his collegiate experience and his success at Vancouver could allow Bailey to skip a level and start the season at High-A Stockton. The California League can be a touch place in which to pitch, especially for right-handed pitchers, but Bailey's ability to keep the ball in the ballpark and his groundball tendencies should help him in the California League.
If he pitches well for Stockton, Bailey could find himself on the fast-track in the A's system, as the A's don't have that many hard throwing starting pitching prospects at their top minor league levels.