September is all about call-ups for teams who are not in contention for the postseason. The Oakland Athletics have called up some pretty promising prospects so far, especially in third baseman Ryon Healy (who was actually called up in mid-July), two second baseman in Chad Pinder and Joey Wendle, as well as quite a few pitchers including Raul Alcantara and the biggest, most intriguing call-up so far: Jharel Cotton.
Cotton was acquired as part of the trade that sent Josh Reddick and Rich Hill to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Of course, at first it appeared that the Dodgers had gotten the better deal. Reddick was having a career year and, despite a stint on the disabled list with a broken thumb, upon his return he picked up right where he left off.
Unfortunately for the Dodgers, Reddick hasn’t been quite as good since being traded. He’s currently hitting .198 for LA with just three extra-base hits — one a home run, along with a pair of doubles. He’s provided just two RBI for the Dodgers in the last month.
Hill was the surprise ace of the Athletics starting rotation earlier this season. He went 9-3 in 14 starts for the A’s while posting a 2.25 ERA. Just prior to being traded, Hill was struggling with a blister on his middle finger, a major issue for any pitcher who relies heavily on their curveball like Hill does.
Hill has made just two starts in over a month for the Dodgers while still struggling with blister issues, which isn’t exactly what the team was hoping for.
However, he’s gone six innings in each of those two starts and has yet to give up a run. That bodes well for both the Dodgers and Hill, but it’s still a question if he can stay healthy when they need him down the stretch.
Both Reddick and Hill are rentals, meaning they will both be free agents at the season’s end, while the A’s got three strong minor league pitchers in return: Grant Holmes, Frankie Montas and Cotton.
Montas has yet to pitch due to injuries but is slated to pitch in this year’s Arizona Fall League. Holmes, a first-round draft pick by the Dodgers in 2014, is still in the lower minor leagues.
The first test of how well the Athletics actually made out in this trade comes down to Cotton, who is slated to make his big league debut, starting on Wednesday for the A’s against the Los Angeles Angels.
So far in six starts for the A’s Triple-A affiliate Nashville Sounds, Cotten has been quite good, pitching at least five innings in each start and only once giving up more than three runs. Most impressive was his second start for Nashville, in which he came within one out of pitching a perfect game. His ERA with the Sounds is a solid 2.82.
Cotton’s two main offerings are his mid-high-90s fourseam fastball and a plus changeup. He mixes them up, throwing his fastball up in the zone and his changeup in the lower half. Those two pitches have helped him rack up strikeouts all throughout the minor leagues, and he currently is averaging 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings with Nashville.
Cotton also throws a curveball and a cut fastball; however, he seldom uses them as they are rated as below-average offerings.
At just 5’11” Cotton is small for a big league pitcher but he is able to use a high arm slot and short stride to generate plane on his pitches — the way taller, more imposing pitchers do. He has struggled at times with his command, as his delivery takes some effort, but seeing his high number of pitches thrown for strikes he can normally keep the ball under control.
Wednesday, the 24-year-old right-hander will see his dream of being just the second U.S. Virgin Island-born pitcher to reach the big leagues become a reality.
More importantly for the Athletics, they will get their first taste of what they may have gotten out of trading Reddick and Hill.