The Oakland Athletics have been focused on adding young talent to their farm system, mainly fresh MLB-ready starting pitchers.
In the past year, the A’s have added 24-year-old Sean Manaea in the trade that sent Ben Zobrist to the Kansas City Royals, 23-year-old Daniel Mengden in the Scott Kazmir deal with the Houston Astros and most recently, 24-year-old Jharel Cotton in the trade that sent Josh Reddick and Rich Hill to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
They’ve added younger arms and relievers too. That includes using their top three draft picks to pick up three pitchers in left-hander A.J. Puk, along with right-handers Daulton Jefferies and Logan Shore.
While the 2017 starting rotation will undoubtedly include right-handers Sonny Gray and Kendall Graveman, and left-hander Manaea, there are a number of options to fill in those fourth and fifth spots that will still open in the rotation.
Those spots are likely to be filled by two of the pitchers that will be called up this September when teams are allowed to expand their rosters in order to take a look at the players who could impact the ballclub’s future success.
In the case of the Athletics, the starting pitchers mentioned above — right-handers Cotton and Mengden — are givens to be September call-ups, as is homegrown left-hander Dillon Overton. Both Mengden and Overton have gained some experience in the big leagues already this season. They will all likely be fighting for a spot in the A’s starting rotation next spring.
The Athletics have had so many injuries to the starting staff that there are a couple of current starters, who were also call-ups this season, who may also have a chance to fight for one of those rotation spots.
Twenty-seven-year-old Andrew Triggs has been surprisingly impressive as a fill-in starter for the injured Oakland rotation. He has consistently put up starts that prove he is more a big league starter than the reliever he was originally profiled to be, including the right-hander’s start Sunday in which he allowed just four hits and three earned runs in six innings of work. He didn’t allow a walk and struck out eight St. Louis Cardinals’ batters.
Zach Neal, another 27-year-old right-hander, is an on-the-fringe starter who, if he were to show up in March and have an amazing spring, has a slim chance at a rotation spot. However, unlike Triggs, Neal put up much better numbers as a reliever this season than when he was in a starting role. Still, Neal has had some very strong starts and is capable of being part of the back-end of a big league rotation.
There will be a few more candidates returning from injury with a chance to start for the Athletics next season such as Jesse Hahn, Henderson Alvarez and Chris Bassitt, but as of now, it appears that the position battle here will most likely be between Mengden, Overton, Cotton and Triggs.
Mengden has made nine starts in the majors this season. He struggled a bit which, for most rookies, is to be expected, going 1-5 with a 5.73 ERA and a 1.60 WHIP.
He was much stronger with the Triple-A Nashville Sounds. Mengden has gone 8-2 in 13 starts for Nashville this season with a much-lower 1.67 ERA over 75.1 innings while posting a 0.96 WHIP. Mengden will get more experience against big league hitters come September, and has the potential to easily slide into one of the A’s open rotation spots next year.
Overton struggled more than Mengden during his stint in Oakland. He made five starts while with the A’s, posting a 10.97 ERA. He did win a game though and ended up going 1-3 with a 2.29 WHIP.
Back in Nashville, like Mengden, Overton has thrived, going 13-5 in 21 appearances, 20 of which were starts. He owns a 3.21 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP. Sometimes it takes more than a few starts to adapt to the big leagues, making Overton another soon-to-be September call-up with a shot at making the rotation in 2017.
Jharel Cotton has yet to make a big league appearance, though you can expect to see him in an Athletics uniform very soon. He made a big impression after coming over from the Dodgers’ organization in just his second start for Nashville. Cotton came within one out of throwing a perfect game for the Sounds, retiring 26 batters before allowing a hit with two outs in the ninth inning.
Cotton currently leads the Pacific Coast League in strikeouts with 149 over just 130 innings pitched. He offers a mid-90s fastball and uses a plus-plus changeup as his go-to strikeout pitch, making him a definite candidate for the starting rotation next season.
Triggs spent most of the season going back and forth between the Oakland and Nashville, spending the majority of that time pitching out of the bullpen. As a reliever for Nashville, Triggs made 16 appearances, posting a 2.95 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP over 18.1 innings. During his first few stints with Oakland (he has thus far moved an Oakland record eight different times between the two clubs) Triggs made 17 relief appearances over 29.2 innings posting a 5.76 ERA with a 1.61 WHIP.
As a starter, however, Triggs has pitched 25.2 innings for the Athletics and has posted a much-lower 2.81 ERA and a 0.77 WHIP, thus showing the A’s brass that he may be cut out to be a starter and not a reliever after all. He will have a chance to further prove himself during more starts in September and in the spring. Assuming he pitches the way he has been, he may be a surprise addition to the A’s 2017 starting rotation.
To get an idea of who will be in the A’s starting rotation next season, be sure to watch these pitchers closely during the month of September. How they perform over the course of the next month will make an impression on A’s manager Bob Melvin, GM David Forst and vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane. Those impressions will certainly have an impact on their role, or lack thereof, on the A’s 2017 pitching staff.