Oakland A's Prospect Profile: Joey Devine, RP

Last week, the Oakland A's sent outfielder Mark Kotsay to the Atlanta Braves for two prospects. OaklandClubhouse.com is taking a closer look at the two players that the A's acquired. We begin with a profile of right-handed reliever Joey Devine.

Name: Joey Devine
DOB: 9/19/83
H/W: 6'0''/ 210 LB
B/T: R/R

Joey Devine was a surprise pick as the 27th selection in the 2005 MLB Draft. It wasn't a surprise that Devine was chosen in the first round. He left NC State after three seasons as the Wolf Pack's all-time saves leader with 36 saves. During his final collegiate season, Devine struck out 72 in 48.2 innings. Armed with a sinker that he threw in the mid-90s and a low-80s slider, Devine had first-round buzz going into the draft.

It was still a surprise, however, when Devine's name was called as the 27th pick that season because the team that selected him – the Atlanta Braves – wasn't known for picking collegiate players (especially pitchers) in the first round. The Braves viewed Devine as a player who could move into a major league bullpen quickly, and the Braves' bullpen was in the midst of a poor season.

Devine, as predicted, arrived on the big stage in a hurry. The Braves began Devine at High-A Myrtle Beach, but he wasn't there long. After five scoreless innings, Devine was bumped up to Double-A Mississippi. Devine continued to shine for Mississippi, posting a 2.70 ERA with 28 strikeouts in 20 innings.

That was all the Braves had to see from Devine. They recalled him on August 20th and he made his debut that evening. Devine worked a scoreless 12th inning in his major league debut, but he ran into trouble in his second inning of work. The inning ended with Devine allowing a grand-slam. Devine would allow a grand-slam in his next appearance, as well, and he became the first major leaguer to allow grand-slams in each of his first two major league outings.

Things didn't get much better for Devine that first season. He threw only five major league innings during the regular season in 2005, but was included on the Braves' post-season roster when the Atlanta bullpen suffered from injuries. Devine made three appearances for the Braves in the NLDS versus the Houston Astros. His last outing was a memorable one, but for the wrong reasons. He worked a scoreless 16th inning, but allowed a homerun to Chris Burke with one-out in the 17th inning that ended Game Four of the series and the season for Atlanta.

Despite those struggles, Devine was expected to contribute to the Braves' bullpen in 2006. He began the year with Atlanta, but was sent down quickly after some early struggles. Much of the rest of Devine's first half of the 2006 season was lost with a degenerative disc problem in his lower back. He returned mid-season, but he was never 100 percent healthy and he struggled with his command after altering his throwing motion in an effort to protect his back from further wear-and-tear. Devine finished the year with a 4.30 ERA in 29.1 minor league innings and a 9.95 ERA in 6.1 major league innings.

Devine was sent to the Arizona Fall League that fall. He got off to a rough start, but finished strong. In eight innings, Devine had a 4.50 ERA and two saves. He walked seven and struck out nine.

The 2007 season was much more successful for Devine. Fully healthy, Devine found a more comfortable throwing motion and his control improved greatly. He was shuttled between stints in the major and minor leagues throughout the season, making five separate trips to Atlanta, totaling 8.1 innings in the big leagues. The rest of the season was spent split between Double-A and Triple-A, where he was dominant. Devine had a 2.06 ERA with 16 saves in 35 innings for Mississippi. He was promoted in July to Triple-A Richmond, where he went 1.64 ERA in 22 innings with four saves. In total, Devine had a 1.89 ERA and 78 strikeouts against 19 walks in 57 minor league innings. Devine had more success at the major-league level, as well. Although he walked eight in 8.1 innings, he limited the damage and allowed only one run in 8.1 innings.

The A's acquired Devine in January along with right-hander Jamie Richmond in exchange for centerfielder Mark Kotsay.

Scouting Report
Devine has classic closer stuff. The right-hander has a sinking fastball that he throws in the 92-94 MPH range and he can touch 96 MPH with the pitch. He also has a plus slider that he throws in the low-80s. Devine has, at times, thrown a change-up, although it isn't yet an out-pitch for the Kansas native. Scouts have always had high praise for Devine's mental make-up and his work ethic.

Devine has an unusual throwing motion that he uses to hide the ball well, especially from right-handed hitters. He throws at an arm angle that is somewhere between a three-fourths angle and a sidearm delivery. Devine has struggled with his motion in past years, especially in 2006, but he appeared more comfortable in 2007.

Scout.com's Bill Shanks, publisher of The Braves Show, had this to say about Devine's throwing motion in a scouting report earlier this off-season:

"Mechanically he stayed off his heel with his front leg and was much more ‘quiet' to the plate. Devine has really cleaned up his delivery in the last two years, making it less stressful on his body considering his sidearm delivery. The Braves also allowed him to go back to the windup with no one on base, which seemed to help as well."

Devine's biggest problem since he turned pro has been his command. He has averaged more than four walks per nine innings during his minor league career and more than 10 walks per nine innings at the major league level. Devine has also struggled to put away left-handed hitters, as his delivery is easier to pick-up for left-handers.

Devine's command was significantly better in 2007 on the minor league level (19 walks in 57 innings), and strikeouts have never been a problem (162 strikeouts in 112.1 minor league innings and 20 strikeouts in 19.2 major league innings). In addition, Devine's groundball rates jumped considerably in 2007, another positive development.

Despite having parts of three seasons of major league service time, Devine is still young in his development. He has amassed only 112.1 minor league innings and has never been given an opportunity to settle into a regular role in the major leagues. Many scouts have wondered whether Devine was rushed to the major leagues and whether he would benefit from a change of scenery. He will have a chance to start anew with Oakland this spring.

Although Devine has appeared in the major leagues in parts of three seasons, he has one option remaining thanks to a rule that awards players with a fourth option year when they have less than five years of professional service. Devine will enter the spring with a strong chance of making the A's major league roster out of spring training. However, because of the extra option year, the A's will not have to press Devine into a major league role at the start of the season if they feel he needs more seasoning after seeing him this spring.

Since he was drafted, Devine has been labeled as a future closer. He has the stuff to be a ninth inning guy, but he will need to improve his control to be a reliable asset in that role. He will also need to up his effectiveness against left-handers.

If Devine doesn't improve his command and his change-up, he will likely have a future as a middle reliever or a right-handed specialist (he dominates right-handed hitters with his fastball-slider combination). However, with a little refinement, it isn't hard to see Devine's repertoire playing well in the closer's role.

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