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Oakland A's prospect watch: The MLB-ready pitching depth

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Switch-pitcher Pat Venditte made his MLB debut, but then hit the DL almost immediately.
Switch-pitcher Pat Venditte made his MLB debut, but then hit the DL almost immediately.
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Before the season began, Athletics Nation voted on its annual Community Prospect List, ranking the 25-best players in the minors. With hope for the playoffs dwindling by the day, it's time for us to take a look at how those top prospects are doing. For the full 2015 list, as well as a list of the different categories that I've separated the prospects into, scroll to the bottom of the post.

Today, we will visit The MLB Pitching Depth, which consists of hurlers who are ready to contribute at the MLB level but are either injured or are biding their time in Triple-A until their names get called. This is the only category that includes only three players, so I added an extra couple more to round things out. Aaron Brooks, who recently came over in the Ben Zobrist trade and is scheduled to start for Oakland on Saturday, will be covered in The New Acquisitions category. In the meantime, you can learn more about Brooks here.

No. 8 -- Sean Nolin
No. 11 -- R.J. Alvarez
No. 23 -- Pat Venditte
Bonus -- Arnold Leon
Bonus -- Barry Zito

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No. 8: LHP Sean Nolin

2015 Triple-A stats: 10 games, 2.67 ERA, 33⅔ innings, 26 Ks, 17 BB, 3 HR, 5.08 FIP
(Currently on disabled list)

Nolin arrived in the Josh Donaldson trade as an MLB-ready lefty starter. In fact, he had already made an MLB appearance in each of 2013 and 2014 for Toronto. His attractiveness as a prospect had more to do with his proximity to the bigs than any super-high ceiling; it's not even certain that he will remain a starter in MLB. But he's fully expected to at least make it to Oakland at some point, which is more success than a lot of prospects ever find.

Especially considering that background, 2015 was a lost season for Nolin. He missed spring training while recovering from sports hernia surgery, and he didn't return to action until May. By the end of June, though, he was back on the minor league DL with a left shoulder problem. In the short time that he was healthy, he showed mixed results; in his first few starts he was sharp, and then he started walking too many hitters and giving up some runs, but it's tough to know if/when the shoulder started bothering and/or affecting him.

Either way, though, he was supposed to be a valuable piece of starting pitching depth for the A's this year and instead he has been a complete non-factor. Of course, that doesn't mean he can't jump back into the picture next year, but the book is probably closed on his 2015 as far as contributing to the MLB club. I'll conclude with some words from Nashville manager Steve Scarsone, via Athletics Farm (posted July 26):

[H]e's on the mend and we'll probably look to see him start to get himself into a rehab situation over the next week or so. And then hopefully over the next couple weeks we should see him back active. I don't know if we'll use him as a starter or in the bullpen. We'd have to build him up as a starter again, and I don't know if we have enough time left in the season to get him built up.

No. 11: RHP R.J. Alvarez

2015 Triple-A stats: 21 games, 4.12 ERA, 24 innings, 33 Ks, 12 BB, 0 HR, 2.47 FIP
2015 MLB stats: 10 games, 13.00 ERA, 9 innings, 16 Ks, 6 BB, 4 HR, 7.30 FIP

R.J. Alvarez was the secondary piece who came over with Jesse Hahn in the Derek Norris trade. He's a hard-throwing righty reliever who made it into 10 games for the Padres last year, so like Nolin he was considered MLB-ready. He's also got a high ceiling, given his monster strikeout potential -- already 25 in 17 career MLB innings (13.2 K/9, or nearly one-third of all batters he's faced).

Alvarez opened the 2015 season on the A's roster, and he later spent a second stint with the team. His stats are skewed by one meltdown in which the A's left him out to finish a nightmare inning in an already-conceded game, but the fact remains that his control wasn't quite there yet. What I remember from watching him in his brief MLB trials this year was thinking how unhittable he would be if he could just locate his pitches. The fastball averages 95 mph and I remember being impressed by the slider, but when his control disappears the pitches are either far out of the zone or right in someone's wheelhouse. Will he figure it out? Some guys learn to harness their stuff, and some guys don't. We'll just have to wait and see.

As a result of the recent deadline deals, Alvarez is back in Oakland for the moment. He might yet bounce back and forth between Nashville, depending on who goes down for new starter Aaron Brooks on Saturday, but either way we should see a bit more of Alvarez in green and gold this season. He pitched well for Nashville this year (2.21 ERA in last 19 games) and his ceiling remains high, and although he hit the DL in early July due to a forearm strain I have to assume he's good to go now since the A's called him up. He should get a serious look in Oakland's 2016 pen.

(Note: Alvarez is unlikely to graduate from the prospect list this year, as he needs 33 more MLB innings, so he should be in the mix for next year's CPL.)

No. 23: SHP Pat Venditte

2015 Triple-A stats: 17 games, 1.36 ERA, 33 innings, 33 Ks, 13 BB, 1 HR, 3.26 FIP
2015 MLB stats: 4 games, 0.00 ERA, 5⅔ innings, 4 Ks, 2 BB, 0 HR, 2.72 FIP

If you've never heard of Venditte, then welcome to your first visit to Athletics Nation! He's a reliever who can pitch with both hands and it's totally sweet. No, there's never been anyone like him before. He made his MLB debut in June just before his 30th birthday, he looked legit in four games, and then he went on the DL because the A's aren't allowed to have nice things this year. I suppose he does have twice as many throwing arms to hurt.

You probably already know who Venditte is and what he's done (in simplest terms, he's a middle reliever who can go multiple innings), so let's just check up on his status. He recently completed a rehab outing with the High-A Stockton Ports, in which he made three appearances: one righty inning, one lefty inning, and then a two-inning outing in which he used both hands. He's now heading to Triple-A Nashville to pitch back-to-back days (Fri/Sat), and then at that point we could presumably see him in Oakland at any time.

Venditte started the year as the No. 23 prospect on this list, and even that was generous because we were all just so excited about him. And yet, here we are in late July, counting the days until he returns and hopefully saves our bullpen. Baseball is funny.

(Note: Venditte will almost certainly be eligible for the CPL again next year, unless he somehow throws 44 more MLB innings in the next two months.)

Bonus: RHP Arnold Leon

2015 Triple-A stats: 16 games, 3.24 ERA, 50 innings, 49 Ks, 12 BB, 7 HR, 4.29 FIP
2015 Triple-A (relief): 7 games, 2.28 ERA, 27⅔ innings, 26 Ks, 2 BB, 3 HR
2015 MLB stats: 7 games, 3.72 ERA, 9⅔ innings, 10 Ks, 1 BB, 1 HR, 2.66 FIP

Leon once looked like a promising prospect and I believe he even made this list at least once in the past as a starter, but he missed 2010 and 2011 due to Tommy John surgery and never quite regained the magic in the rotation. He made 27 starts in Triple-A last year but didn't do anything remotely impressive with them. It was looking like more of the same at the start of 2015, but with the A's desperate pitching situation he was able to make his MLB debut and get a few innings out of Oakland's bullpen.

And then something happened. He ... wasn't bad out of the pen. He allowed a couple of runs, but he was also racking up strikeouts without really walking anyone. Having presumably given up on him as a starter, the A's moved him to relief duty permanently in early June, even during his stints in Nashville. In 14 relief outings between the two levels, he's got 36 strikeouts against only three walks -- that kind of ratio will always get my attention.

Maybe it's the general crappiness of this season forcing me to reach as far as necessary for happy thoughts, but I've gotten myself really excited about Leon in the last month. I have recently developed a serious interest in failed starters converting to relief, which I'll get into in another column, and Leon fits that bill. Factor in the eye-popping peripheral stats and pray that home runs don't become a problem for him (like fellow strike-thrower and K:BB maven Evan Scribner), and there might just be something here after all. Leon will likely continue to bounce back and forth between Oakland and Nashville for the rest of the year, but I can absolutely see him claiming a spot in the 2016 pen as a middle reliever.

(Note: Leon needs 40 more innings to graduate, so he should be eligible for next year's CPL.)

Bonus non-prospect: LHP Barry Zito

2015 Triple-A stats: 21 starts, 3.74 ERA, 125 innings, 85 Ks, 54 BB, 10 HR, 4.69 FIP

OK, obviously Zito isn't a prospect. He's 37, he's got over 2,500 career MLB innings, and he has a Cy Young and a couple rings. But he is part of the current pitching depth, so he's worth a quick word.

I understand that Zito is probably washed up. I get that, if given an MLB start, he will probably get crushed and lose. You know what? I don't care. Wins and losses don't matter anymore. The last 12 months have absolutely sucked for A's fans, in so many ways, and I want to have fun for a day. I am curious to see Aaron Brooks. I have also heard that he profiles as a likely reliever. I can wait a week or two to see Aaron Brooks in Oakland, if it means having a special Barry Zito Day where he pitches and everyone gets interested in the A's that day and actually wants to watch. He could officially retire in an A's uniform, instead of a Giants one. And can you imagine if he actually pitched well and won a game? That would be so much cooler than anything Brooks would likely do that day. And then the next week, go back to baseball and start trying out Brooks. There is just nothing to lose here, except a game that we would probably have lost anyway.

A's fans lost many of their fan favorites last winter, and then two more have essentially missed the season with injury. I think we need this, a familiar old face pitching a game where we can step back and not care about the score or the result and just enjoy a big ol' loopy curveball. That is my argument for why Zito should be the one starting on Saturday, or at least once before the end of the year. Please don't keep him all season long but never let us see him.

***

The categories:

The Graduates
- The MLB Pitching Depth
- The Young Hurlers
- The Even Younger Hurlers
- The Middle Infielders
- The Corner Sluggers
- The Best of the Rest
- Stepping up in 2015
- The 2015 Draft
- The New Acquisitions

***

The List

(Note: The stats are not updated from my last posting, so they are only through Mondays games, July 27. I'll update them for the next installment.)

Each player is listed at the level at which he currently plays, and his stats only include his performance at that current level. The levels refer to the Nashville Sounds (AAA), the Midland RockHounds (AA), the High-A Stockton Ports (A+), the Single-A Beloit Snappers (A), and the short-season Low-A Vermont Lake Monsters (A-). For the hitters, I am going to focus less on raw numbers and more on league-adjusted stats (wRC+) and rates (K% and BB%).

Oakland A's 2015 Community Prospect List
# Name Pos Age Level 2015 Stats
1 Matt Olson 1B 21 AA 425 PAs, 123 wRC+, 12 HR, 17.9% BB, 24.2% Ks
2 Franklin Barreto SS 19 A+ .354 PAs, 120 wRC+, 12 HR, 4.2% BB, 18.4% Ks
3 Matt Chapman 3B 22 A+ 313 PAs, 149 wRC+, 21 HR, 10.9% BB, 23.0% Ks
4 Renato Nunez 3B 21 AA 321 PAs, 112 wRC+, 14 HR, 6.9% BB, 16.2% Ks
5 Dillon Overton LHP 23 AA Promotion! 5 starts, 3.96 ERA, 25 ip, 16 Ks, 6 BB, 3 HR
6 Kendall Graveman RHP 24 MLB 16 starts, 4.13 ERA, 89⅓ ip, 1.78 K/BB, 0.1 fWAR
7 Yairo Munoz SS 20 A* 400 PAs, 86 wRC+, 9 HR, 5.5% BB, 15.5% Ks
8 Sean Nolin LHP 25 AAA On disabled list (shoulder)
9 Raul Alcantara RHP 22 A+ 9 starts, 3.56 ERA, 30⅓ ip, 21 Ks, 5 BB, 3.45 FIP
10 Joey Wendle 2B 25 AAA 435 PAs, 90 wRC+, 6 HR, 3.9% BB, 17.5% Ks
11 R.J. Alvarez RHP 24 AAA* 21 games, 4.13 ERA, 24 ip, 33 Ks, 12 BB, 2.47 FIP
12 Rangel Ravelo 3B 23 AA 66 PAs, 181 wRC+, 2 HR, 13.6% BB, 13.6% Ks
13 Mark Canha 1B/OF 26 MLB 251 PAs, 92 wRC+, 8 HR, 6.8% Ks, 20.7% BB, 0.5 fWAR
14 Chad Pinder SS 23 AA 376 PAs, 134 wRC+, 10 HR, 6.1% BB, 20.7% Ks
15 Chris Bassitt RHP 26 MLB 9 games, 2.94 ERA, 33⅔ ip, 1.91 K/BB, 0.4 fWAR
16 Dustin Driver RHP 20 A- 7 games, 5.54 ERA, 26 ip, 13 Ks, 13 BB, 4.93 FIP
17 Billy Burns OF 25 MLB 323 PAs, 109 wRC+, 20 SB, 4.0% BB, 13.3% Ks, 1.4 fWAR
18 Max Muncy 1B/3B 24 AAA* 156 PAs, 106 wRC+, 4 HR, 13.5% BB, 26.3% Ks
19 Tyler Ladendorf IF/OF 27 AAA On disabled list (ankle surgery)
20 Daniel Gossett RHP 22 A 20 starts, 4.81 ERA, 106⅔ ip, 84 Ks, 44 BB, 4.72 FIP
21 Bobby Wahl RHP 23 AA 24 games, 4.18 ERA, 32⅓ ip, 36 Ks, 14 BB, 3.15 FIP
22 Chris Kohler LHP 20 A- 7 games, 4.94 ERA, 31 ip, 32 Ks, 6 BB, 3.17 FIP
23 Pat Venditte SHP 30 MLB On disabled list (shoulder, currently rehabbing in A+)
24 Jaycob Brugman OF 23 AA 401 PAs, 102 wRC+, 5 HR, 9.7% BB, 16.7% Ks
25 Brett Graves RHP 22 A 20 starts, 5.02 ERA, 104 ip, 60 Ks, 37 BB, 4.26 FIP
NR Bruce Maxwell C 24 AA 280 PAs, 74 wRC+, 1 HR, 10.4% BB, 13.2% Ks
NR Ryon Healy 3B/1B 23 AA 375 PAs, 92 wRC+, 6 HR, 5.9% BB, 13.3% Ks
NR Branden Kelliher RHP 19 N/A Extended spring training in Arizona
NR Dylan Covey RHP 23 A+ 19 starts, 3.82 ERA, 103⅔ ip, 65 Ks, 35 BB, 5.10 FIP
NR Sandber Pimentel 1B 20 A 362 PAs, 118 wRC+, 10 HR, 10.8% BB, 22.4% Ks

Which piece of pitching depth are you most interested in seeing more of? OK, that's not fair. After Venditte, which piece of pitching depth are you most interested in seeing more of?