Craig Italiano, Kane County Cougars:
The only blemish on his otherwise perfect stat-line this season has been his walk totals, which have climbed as Italiano has worked on mixing in more of his off-speed pitches and on locating his fastball. His velocity – clocked in the mid-90s – has been encouraging given the shoulder surgery that he underwent in 2006, and he hasn't shown any ill effects from the line-drive that hit him in the head last season.
Through Monday, Italiano had thrown 70 innings. Before the season started, the A's brass indicated that they would limit Italiano to roughly 100 innings, as he threw only 30 innings in 2006 and 2007 combined. Given those innings restrictions, Italiano may not pitch during the final few weeks of the season. Nevertheless, assuming he is healthy next season, Italiano's effort in 2008 should be a springboard for him to move up the A's system more rapidly in 2009. Despite being three years removed from his draft day, Italiano will only turn 22 in July, so the future is bright for the hard-throwing right-hander.
Trevor Cahill, Stockton Ports:
At the end of the first half, Cahill was promoted to Double-A Midland. On Friday, he made his debut for the Rockhounds, tossing six solid innings (one run on two hits with six strike-outs and three walks) and earning his first win in the Texas League. Through Sunday, Cahill's 109 strike-outs led all pitchers in minor league baseball. He was a candidate to start the California League-Carolina League All-Star game before he was promoted to Double-A.
Unlike Italiano, Cahill doesn't light-up the radar gun, but he can reach 93 MPH when he needs a little extra on his fastball. More than velocity, Cahill relies on the downward movement on his fastball and an array of off-speed pitches to keep hitters off-balance and swinging and missing. Cahill just turned 20 in March, so he is still growing into his 6'3'' frame, which means he may add velocity over the next year or so. Even if he doesn't add any MPH to his fastball, Cahill figures to fare well as he moves through the system given that he is a heavily groundball-oriented pitcher who can get a strike-out when he needs it. The A's won't rush Cahill, but if he continues to dominate, he could see Triple-A by the end of the year. More likely than not, however, Cahill will spend the rest of the season in Double-A.
Vince Mazzaro, Midland Rockhounds:
Like Cahill, Mazzaro's best pitch is a sinking fastball that causes hitters to pound the ball into the ground. Mazzaro, who won't turn 22 until late September, has seen a jump in his velocity to the 92-94 MPH range this season. He has shown improved command in 2008, walking no more than four batters in any outing and walking two or less in all but three outings. Mazzaro has also allowed only three homeruns after giving up 13 in 2007. Sixty-one percent of his pitches have been strikes thus far this season.
The biggest criticism of Mazzaro thus far this season has been his strike-out totals, as he has only K'd 65 in 91.1 innings (a 6.39 K/9). However, since May 1, Mazzaro has struck-out 54 in 62.1 innings (7.8 K/9), and his overall K/BB ratio is a solid 2.6/1. Mazzaro has spent each season of his pro career at one level, but he may be ready for his first in-season promotion in 2008.
Brett Anderson, Stockton Ports:
Anderson, who is exactly one month older than Cahill, joined Cahill in Midland on Monday. He leaves the Ports tied for second in the Cal League with nine wins. He was also second (tied) in the league in strike-outs and in K/9 (9.54). His K/BB of 4.4/1 was tops on the Ports' pitching staff.
The 20-year-old Anderson should make his Double-A debut towards the end of this week and he could get a taste of Triple-A by the end of the season if he posts similar numbers in the Texas League that he did with Stockton.
Scott Mitchinson, Kane County:
Mitchinson's control has been impeccable this year. He has struck-out 65 while walking only 10 in 67.1 innings. His 8.69 K/9 is sixth-best in the Midwest League and his 6.5/1 K/BB is best on the Kane County starting staff. Mitchinson has demonstrated good control throughout his pro career, but he has been slowed by injuries. The elbow problem that sidelined him for 10 days appears to have disappeared, and if he is healthy, look for Mitchinson to head to High-A Stockton soon to fill the void recently left by Cahill and Anderson.
Andrew Carignan, Stockton/Midland:
Like many late-inning relievers, Carignan features a power arsenal with a mid- to high-90s fastball. Strike-outs have been easy to come by for Carignan (38 in 30.1 combined innings this season) and he has limited opposing California and Texas League batters to a combined .183 batting average. He has been wild at times, however, walking 26 overall and 21 in 20.1 innings at Double-A through Sunday. The walks haven't hurt him thus far this season, but that total will need to come down before the A's feel comfortable moving him up to Triple-A.
Sam Demel, Stockton Ports:
The right-hander leads all California League relievers with a 13.12 K/9 and he is seventh among Cal League relievers in batting average against. Like Carignan, Demel has struggled at times with his command, walking 20 batters. However, he has allowed only one homerun all season. In his most recent outing, Demel struck-out six batters in 2.2 innings. He is likely to see time at Double-A at some point this season.
Jerry Blevins, Sacramento River Cats:
Blevins allowed four runs in his second outing of the season, but since that time, he has given-up only four earned runs in 28.1 innings (1.27 ERA). He also hasn't walked a batter since May 17th. In 17 appearances in the ninth inning, Blevins has allowed two earned runs in 16.1 innings. Sixty-seven percent of his pitches have been strikes and he has allowed only two of 10 inherited runners to score. The left-hander made his major league debut last season and is on the A's 40-man roster. Oakland's bullpen is deep at the major league level, but Blevins should see time in the A's bullpen at some point in 2008.
Jared Lansford, Stockton Ports:
Lansford has been very difficult to hit since he began pitching out of the bullpen. He has allowed opposing batters to hit only .204 off of him (28 hits in 38.1 innings). Like Mazzaro and Cahill, Lansford uses a good sinking fastball to induce a lot of groundballs. If he continues to shine in the Stockton bullpen, the 21-year-old could see Double-A by the end of the year.
Arnold Leon, Stockton Ports:
Despite being the youngest player on the Ports, Leon pitched like a veteran in his 20 relief appearances. He posted a 2.86 ERA and allowed only 25 hits and one homerun in 28.1 innings. He converted both of his save opportunities and struck-out 28 while walking only nine. Leon has returned to Mexico, where he will compete for Saltillo for the rest of the season. Next year when he is under the A's control for the entire season, Leon may move into the starting rotation. However, he has demonstrated this year that he can handle the bullpen if that is where the A's decide to leave him.
Brad Ziegler, Sacramento River Cats/Oakland A's:
When the A's asked Ziegler to switch from an overhand throwing motion to a submarine motion, they were hoping that he would develop into a groundball-inducing machine. He has done exactly that. In 11.1 major league innings, Ziegler has already induced four ground-ball double-plays. Ziegler has put himself in position to be part of the A's bullpen for the long-term with his performance thus far in 2008.
Jay Marshall, Midland/Sacramento:
Marshall, like Ziegler, is a submariner, but unlike Ziegler, Marshall throws from the left-side. Marshall has dominated lefties this season, allowing only nine hits in 54 at-bats versus southpaws. Righties have hit him much harder, reinforcing the notation that he is best suited in the role as a situational left-handed reliever. Mike Myers, Javier Lopez and Ricardo Rincon are just a few situational lefties who have made long major league careers out of dominating southpaws of late. The A's don't have a true lefty specialist on their major league roster at the moment, and could turn to Marshall late in the season should they feel the need to have someone in that role.