|Justin Duchscherer missed much of the season with a hip injury. b>|
The news wasn't all bad, however. Hard-throwers Andrew Brown and Santiago Casilla both emerged as potential set-up men for the A's, each showing promise in their first extended looks in the big leagues. In addition, Street pitched well when he was healthy, a sign that he could be in for a big year in 2008.
Good-Bye And Hello
|Ruddy Lugo was lost on waivers to the Mets. b>|
The A's are welcoming a few new faces this season. Former All-Star closer Keith Foulke signed a one-year deal with Oakland late in the off-season. He spent the 2007 season out of baseball, but he is expected to act as a set-up man for the A's in 2008. In addition, the A's acquired hard-throwing righty Joey Devine from the Atlanta Braves for Mark Kotsay. Devine has had extensive closing experience in college and the minor leagues. The A's are also inviting a Rule 5 pick to compete for a spot in their bullpen for the second consecutive year. In 2007, it was Jay Marshall, who spent the entire year with the A's and is back in big league camp this season as a non-roster invitee. This year, Fernando Hernandez will try to win a spot in the A's bullpen. Oakland has also inked minor league free agents who will compete for bullpen spots: Troy Cate, Chris Gissell and Ryan Wing.
Starting Pitchers Invited To Camp
*Denotes member of the 40-man roster
Number Of SPs Likely On Roster – 6 or 7 Note that pitchers such as Kirk Saarloos, Dan Meyer, Dallas Braden, Lenny DiNardo and Dana Eveland would be candidates for the bullpen if they don't win the fifth starter spot. We profiled all five pitchers in the starting pitching battle article.
Locks To Make The Team
|Kiko Calero has a torn rotator cuff. b>|
Injuries have been a constant for Calero throughout his career, and they were even worse for the right-hander in 2007. Shoulder woes affected his location all season. Normally unhittable versus right-handed hitters, Calero allowed right-handers to hit him at a .315 clip. The A's shut him down in late August in an attempt to get him healthy for this season. As it turns out, Calero was pitching with a partially torn rotator cuff. The A's non-tendered him during the off-season and then brought him back at a salary lower than what he would have earned in arbitration. Calero is attempting to rehab the injury without surgery, but he will start Spring Training behind the rest of his teammates and may start the year on the DL. He will be a big injury risk throughout the season, but the A's will try to get as many healthy innings out of Calero as possible this season.
|Alan Embree saved 17 games in 2007. b>|
With Street now healthy and former All-Star closer Keith Foulke on-board, Embree is expected to go back to being a full-time set-up man in 2008. He was very tough on left-handed hitters in 2007, holding them to a .205 BA and a 581 OPS. The hard-throwing Embree will make a nice compliment to the change-up artist Foulke and the slider-artist Calero in the 8th inning for the A's in 2008 – that is, if they keep him all season. Given Embree's age (38), value as a left-handed reliever and his contract status (an option year for 2009 is all that remains on Embree's contract), he is a prime target to be traded at the deadline to a contender if the A's are out of the race.
|Keith Foulke was last with Oakland in 2003. b>|
In January, Foulke announced that he was making a comeback, having undergone elbow surgery during his year away from baseball. The rebuilding A's didn't seem like an obvious choice for the veteran Foulke, but he came to terms with his old club on a one-year, incentive-laden contract just weeks before the start of camp. Foulke isn't expected to return to his old job, however. Instead, he is slotted to be a set-up man for Huston Street. According to the A's coaching staff, Foulke has been throwing with his same pinpoint location and he has been changing speeds like the Foulke of old. He was never a hard thrower, so the A's don't seem concerned that his fastball has been clocked in the mid-80s. Like Calero, Foulke figures to be a health risk during the season given his history. However, if he is healthy, Foulke could be one of the best set-up men in the big leagues. He gives the A's a nice back-up option for the closer position should Street suffer an injury.
|Huston Street was effective when healthy. b>|
Street's small frame and his high-effort throwing motion have led some scouts to speculate that Street will be vulnerable to injuries throughout his career, something that the A's will have to monitor. Oakland acquired two potential closers this off-season in Foulke and Joey Devine and drafted two collegiate closers with high round picks last year, which has led to speculation that the A's might move Street for prospects. For now, however, Street is still with the A's and, based on his numbers last season, could be on the verge of a breakout year. The A's have assembled a deeper bullpen this season than they have had in past years, which could help Street stay healthy by allowing the A's to limit his back-to-back appearances and avoid giving him too many multi-inning outings.
Favorites For The Final Spots
|Andrew Brown was acquired from San Diego. b>|
Brown's stuff has always enticed major league teams. He has been involved in a number of high profile trades during his career, including two involving Bradley, one involving Gary Sheffield and another involving Kevin Kouzmanoff. Unfortunately for Brown, injuries and control problems had prevented him from making an impact in the big leagues before last season. He still had some control issues last season, walking more than three and a half batters per nine innings, but his control was improved over previous seasons. Brown has the velocity and the secondary stuff to be a late-inning reliever in the big leagues, but he will need to improve his control to become a regular in the eighth or ninth innings. The A's like Brown's potential and he is out of options, so it will likely take a horrific spring from Brown for him not to make the Opening Day roster.
|Santiago Casilla had his best showing in the big leagues in 2007. b>|
Then Casilla finally got the break he was looking for. He began the year in Sacramento, but was recalled in early June when injuries devastated the A's bullpen. He quickly ran off 10 straight scoreless innings, his first string of success in the major leagues in his career. Casilla finished June with an 0.57 ERA and a regular role as a set-up man in the A's bullpen. He struggled during the final two months of the season, and finished the year with a 4.44 ERA in 50.2 innings. Like Brown, Casilla is a hard thrower with an above-average secondary pitch (in Casilla's case, an excellent slider). He struck out more than a batter an inning last season in the big leagues, but he also walked 23, a number that he will need to improve to find better success in the major leagues. Casilla, like Brown, is out of options and almost assuredly will start the year with the A's. He has been delayed in the Dominican Republic with visa issues, but he was delayed with similar issues each of the last two years and he was still ready to start the season.
|Joey Devine was a collegiate closer for NC State. b>|
Control problems have plagued Devine throughout his pro career. He has classic closer stuff, but he has averaged more than a walk an inning during his 19.2 major league innings and nearly a walk every two innings during his minor league career. Devine will need to improve his command significantly to find consistent success in the major leagues. He has one more option, so the A's could start him in Triple-A if he struggles to throw strikes during camp. However, if Devine looks strong in camp, the A's will be hard-pressed to keep him off of the roster, as he has the stuff to be an above-average reliever in the bigs.
Battling For The Final Spot
|Jerry Blevins was light's-out for Sacramento in 2007. b>|
Blevins is likely to spend a decent portion of the 2008 season with the A's, but he may have to start the year in Triple-A, as the A's have a large number of lefties in camp with more experience and fewer minor league options. He could be a lefty set-up man for the A's for years to come. Blevins uses his 6'6'' frame to generate a downward plane to his pitches. He has good velocity for a lefty, sitting in the low-90s and hitting 95 on occasion, and a nice assortment of secondary pitches. His control is plus, plus and he is effective against both lefties and righties. Although Blevins is probably ready for the big leagues, it wouldn't be the worst thing for his development if he started the year back with Sacramento, where he could focus on tightening up his curveball and gain more Triple-A experience (he has only 13.2 innings at that level, including the playoffs). He will be 24 until early September.
Fernando Hernandez: For the second consecutive year, the A's selected a reliever out of the Chicago White Sox's chain in the Rule 5 draft. Last year, it was lefty Jay Marshall, who was in the Oakland bullpen for the entire season. This year, it is the right-hander Hernandez who will be looking to stick with the A's for the 2008 campaign. Hernandez spent the entire 2007 season at the Double-A level, where he had a 3.06 ERA in 85.1 innings. He struck out 84 and walked 23 and allowed only four homeruns on the season. Hernandez was very impressive during the Arizona Fall League, where he suited up with A's prospects for the Phoenix Desert Dogs. In 12.2 innings, he didn't allow an earned run and he gave-up only five hits while walking four and striking out 11.
Hernandez isn't an overpowering pitcher, but that hasn't stopped him from putting together an impressive minor league resume. In 293.1 innings, Hernandez has a nearly 3:1 K:BB ratio and he has averaged more than a strike-out per inning. His career ERA is 3.25 and he has saved 34 games, including nine last season. A low-round pick in 2002, Hernandez has had to overcome the prejudice against shorter right-handed pitchers and pitchers without great fastballs in his career. He has plus command and an above-average curveball that he uses as an out-pitch. Hernandez will have a lot of competition for a spot in the A's bullpen (Oakland will need to carry him on the major-league roster all season or offer him back to Chicago), but he is in a good position given that the A's are in a rebuilding mode. Oakland carried Marshall all season even though they started the year hoping to contend, so it appears more likely than not that the A's would be willing to carry a Rule 5 pick in a rebuilding situation. Of course, Hernandez, like Marshall did last year, will have to earn it with a good performance in major league games this spring.
|Jay Marshall is a non-roster invitee this season. b>|
Marshall was slated to represent the A's in the Arizona Fall League this past off-season, but only one week into league play, Marshall was outrighted off of the A's 40-man roster and claimed on waivers by the Boston Red Sox. He remained on the Red Sox's 40-man roster until early December, when he was outrighted by Boston. The A's claimed him at that point, but removed him from the 40-man once again only a few days later. This time, Marshall cleared waivers and rejoined the A's as a non-roster player. He was invited to big league camp with a legitimate shot to earn his way back on the A's 40-man roster.
Despite the ugly numbers, Marshall showed promise last season and could be a valuable member of the A's bullpen down-the-road. He showed good off-speed stuff during Spring Training, but appeared leery of using anything but his fastball in regular season big league games. Marshall was also over-exposed against right-handed batters, and he predictably struggled against them, which likely affected his confidence. In an ideal world, Marshall would act strictly as a lefty specialist who can be used in crucial situations to get a groundball out. If Marshall shows more confidence in his entire repertoire this spring, he may find himself back in the A's bullpen at the start of the year. Otherwise, he'll see significant time either at Double-A or Triple-A (two levels he never reached before making his big league debut), where he can work on his command and on mixing in his secondary pitches.
Looking To Make An Impression
|Troy Cate made his big league debut in 2007. b>|
Cate is a left-hander who has spent time both starting and relieving during his minor league career. He generally throws his fastball in the 85-90 MPH range and he has an above-average curveball and a decent slider. Cate has averaged more than a strikeout per inning during his career and has allowed an average of 2.71 walks per nine innings. He is one of a slew of lefties in A's camp, so he'll need to have a big spring to standout. However, the A's have promoted a number of their minor league free agent reliever signings over the past few years during the season, so he can position himself for that possibility with a good spring.
|Chris Gissell spent the last two seasons in Japan. b>|
Because Gissell has been in Japan for the past two seasons, it has been awhile since any of the A's coaching staff has seen him pitch live in all likelihood. Gissell has a lot of mileage on his arm, having thrown nearly 1500 innings in his career. He is a big right-hander at 6'5'', 220 pounds and was known as a hard-thrower during his minor league career. Gissell turned 30 this January. He has a starter's repertoire – fastball, slider, curveball and change-up – but his best hope for seeing time with the A's this season is in the bullpen.
|Jeff Gray was added to the 40-man roster this off-season. b>|
Gray has an excellent fastball that he can throw in the mid-90s with movement. He also has a change-up, curveball and slider, although he is working to improve his command of the slider. Command, in general, is Gray's biggest weakness, as he walked 24 in 67.1 innings in 2007. He has been working with A's bullpen coach Ron Romanick on a few mechanical tweaks that he hopes will help address his command issues. Gray is in a similar position at the start of camp that Mike Mitchell was in last year, as a hard-throwing reliever with good stuff and a history of command problems. Mitchell threw well enough in big league camp last season that he almost earned a spot on the A's Opening Day roster (an injury to his shoulder was the biggest reason he was left-off the roster). Gray has the stuff to make a similar impression if he can throw strikes. More likely than not, however, he will start the year with Triple-A Sacramento, where he could be an option for the A's during the season if one of their right-handed relievers goes down with an injury.
Ryan Wing: Wing signed as a minor league free agent with the A's after six seasons mostly spent in the Chicago White Sox organization. The left-hander was once one of the White Sox's best southpaw pitching prospects, but injuries have derailed his career. From 2004-2006, Wing threw less than 100 innings. Last season, he was finally healthy and he appeared in 35 games with Double-A Birmingham. He made 17 starts and 18 relief appearances and posted a 3.24 ERA with 93 strike-outs in 114 innings.
Wing's shoulder problems took him a long time to get over, but he was never a hard-thrower, so it didn't dramatically affect his stuff. He relies on changing speeds and locating his pitches well. His best pitches are his secondary offerings – a change-up and a curveball. His fastball sits in the mid- to high-80s with some movement. Because of the shoulder woes, Wing hasn't had a lot of time in the minor leagues for a guy with seven years in professional baseball. It also isn't clear whether the A's see Wing as a starter or a reliever. If they see him as a starter, he will likely begin the season in Double-A. If they see him in the bullpen, he will compete for a spot in Triple-A this spring.
|Brad Ziegler became a side-armer in 2007. b>|
Ziegler will be making his first appearance in major league camp, although he is already very familiar to A's coaches Tony DeFrancesco and Ron Romanick, both of whom worked with Ziegler in the minor leagues. Thanks to his side-arm motion, Ziegler has developed into a right-handed specialist. He held right-handers to a batting average under .200 last season, while lefties hit him at a better than .300 clip. Ziegler induces a lot of groundballs and has shown good durability. He projects as a Chad Bradford-type reliever in the big leagues. The A's certainly had a lot of success with Bradford in their bullpen in the past, and could turn to Ziegler during the season if they feel that they have room to carry a right-handed specialist.