Now that Sean Manaea is in the bigs with the Oakland A's, Daniel Mengden is quickly establishing himself as the most exciting pitching prospect in the team's minor league system. The right-hander dominated for four starts in Double-A in April, allowing just two runs total and striking out 30% of the batters he faced, and when a hole opened up in the rotation of the Triple-A Nashville Sounds he got the call. He seemed unfazed by the tougher competition on Monday, rolling through his debut outing with a line of 6 ip, 0 runs, 4 Ks, 2 BB, 5 hits, 96 pitches.
Ever since the A's acquired Mengden last summer in the Scott Kazmir deadline deal, he has been tabbed as a candidate to be fast-tracked to the bigs. However, his ascent so far has been quicker than anyone really expected, especially considering that he has stuck as a starter to this point. Remember that Mengden was only drafted in 2014, which means that it took him less than two calendar years and only 37 games pitched to make it all the way up to Triple-A. At this rate, he'll have conquered the Majors by the end of June and be playing in the Lunar League on the moon.
I'm as big of a Mengden fan as there is, and even I didn't see this coming. I was just hoping he'd find success in Double-A by the end of the year and earn a promotion to Nashville by 2017, but all of that only took a month. Granted, the situation played a big role -- with Chris Bassitt going on the DL for the A's, the Sounds lost two starters (Manaea, Hahn) while only getting one back (Surkamp). That meant there was an extra spot to fill, which opened a door for Mengden. But the only reason he got to walk through that door into Nashville's rotation is that he was pitching so well, and if the A's didn't think he was ready for a look at a higher level then they wouldn't have made this move. In other words, he probably doesn't get promoted yet without Bassitt's injury, but that doesn't mean he didn't earn it or isn't ready for it.
Of course, fast-tracking pitchers is common for the A's. Whereas they sometimes move infuriatingly slowly with their young hitters, there have been many pitchers who have moved up quickly. Tim Hudson reached MLB nearly two years to the day after being drafted, and blue-chippers Mulder and Zito went even quicker. Sonny Gray only needed two years, and in 2012 A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily famously made mad dashes up the minor league ladder to reach Oakland. Kendall Graveman didn't come up through the A's system, but they still valued him highly after he appeared at five different levels a couple years ago; he was drafted in 2013 and has already made 26 MLB starts. Regardless of draft position or pedigree, a huge performance on the mound will be quickly rewarded in Oakland's system.
The next test for Mengden is to keep it up at Triple-A and prove his debut wasn't a matter of beginner's luck. If he does that, then perhaps the A's will end up with one more option on their depth chart than anyone reasonably expected this season. Never count out a bulldog.
Highlights from Thu-Mon
We last checked in with the Sounds on April 26, and since then they've played five games. They took 3-of-4 from the Round Rock Express (Rangers), and Mengden's debut victory came in the opener against the Iowa Cubs.
The games on Thursday and Friday were marked by power displays from a few Sounds hitters. Homers by Matt Olson and Max Muncy, and a triple from Joey Wendle, helped Nashville to a 7-3 triumph in the opener. The next day it was a dinger by Renato Nunez and a two-run double from Olson (both off big leaguer Nick Tepesch) that carried them to a 3-2 win.
On Saturday the offense went silent in a 3-2 loss, wasting a quality effort by Dillon Overton: 6 ip, 3 runs, 7 Ks, 1 BB, 5 hits, 89 pitches. With Manaea promoted, Overton and Mengden are the two legit prospects remaining in Nashville's rotation, along with the emergency sub (Surkamp) and a couple bits of org filler (Chris Smith, Zach Neal). Sunday's game was also quiet, though the Sounds scratched out a few runs for a 3-0 victory.
On Monday, with Mengden dominating on the mound, it was again Nunez who came through at the plate. The "third baseman" went 3-for-4, with a homer, a triple, and an RBI single, leading the team to a 5-1 win. If you were wondering which Triple-A hitting prospect would set himself apart first, the answer has been Nunez, who leads the team with five homers and a .925 OPS.
Finally, the bullpen provided no drama all weekend, which is the nicest thing you can say about a bullpen. They tossed nine scoreless innings in the series against Round Rock, including two outings from J.B. Wendelken (2 ip, 5 Ks, 1 hit) and an inning each from Tucker Healy (3 Ks, 1 BB) and Andrew Triggs (1 K).
Renato Nunez, 3B: .296/.344/.580, 5 HR, 4 BB, 15 Ks (90 PAs)
Joey Wendle, 2B: .213/.260/.383, 3 HR, 5 BB, 26 Ks (100 PAs)
Chad Pinder, SS: .221/.242/.349, 1 HR, 2 BB, 27 Ks (91 PAs)
Matt Olson, 1B: .147/.259/.324, 3 HR, 11 BB, 22 Ks (81 PAs)
Bruce Maxwell, C: .213/.315/.255, 0 HR, 7 BB, 9 Ks, 31% CS (54 PAs)
Rangel Ravelo, 1B: .221/.280/.265, 0 HR, 6 BB, 11 Ks (75 PAs)
Look out, Billy Butler, because Renato is gunning for your spot. But how about Wendle, who despite a low average is showing off his gap power out of the leadoff spot (.170 isolated slugging). The rest of the lineup is dragging, though, and by measure of wRC+ the only above-average hitters on the team are Nunez (144) and Muncy (139). No one else is currently above 80. Here's a video of Nunez homering off Tepesch to soften the blow of that last sentence.
Max Muncy, 1B/3B: .278/.370/.506, 5 HR, 9 BB, 14 Ks (90 PAs)
Jake Smolinski, OF: .239/.278/.391, 1 HR, 5 BB, 17 Ks, 3 SB (97 PAs)
Andrew Lambo, OF: .222/.291/.361, 1 HR, 6 BB, 17 Ks (79 PAs)
Matt McBride, C: .158/.273/.289, 1 HR, 6 BB, 10 Ks (44 PAs)
Just keeping an eye on the emergency backups. Muncy is hitting like he wants another shot in Oakland this year, but he's the only one.
Dillon Overton, LHP: 5 games, 3.38 ERA, 26⅔ ip, 25 Ks, 4 BB, 0 HR
Daniel Mengden, RHP: 1 start, 0.00 ERA, 6 ip, 4 Ks, 2 BB, 0 HR
Daniel Coulombe, LHP: 8 games, 0.79 ERA, 11⅓ ip, 10 Ks, 2 BB, 0 HR
J.B. Wendelken, RHP: 9 games, 0.90 ERA, 10 ip, 18 Ks, 4 BB, 1 HR
Tucker Healy, RHP: 8 games, 2.79 ERA, 9⅔ ip, 17 Ks, 5 BB, 0 HR
Patrick Schuster, LHP: 8 games, 1.93 ERA, 9⅓ ip, 13 Ks, 1 BB, 0 HR
Andrew Triggs, RHP: 7 games, 4.50 ERA, 8 ip, 10 Ks, 3 BB, 0 HR
In addition, Eric Surkamp was untouchable in his first start back in the minors (7 ip, 0 ER, 10 Ks, 1 BB, 2 hits). We already have a pretty good idea what he is (an adequate emergency fill-in), but it's nice to see him stay sharp while he's waiting for his next chance.
I can't keep my eyes off this bullpen. If only they'd had these guys waiting in Triple-A last year when Oakland's relievers were tanking. I am legitimately excited about the strikeout rates of Wendelken and Healy, who are mowing down batters at what I can only describe as an Aroldisian rate.
All four affiliates are in action.
Triple-A Nashville: 4:35 p.m., Chris Smith vs. Iowa
Double-A Midland: 4:30 p.m., Dylan Covey vs. Corpus Christi
High-A Stockton: LIVE, Zack Erwin vs. San Jose
Single-A Beloit: 3:35 p.m., James Naile vs. West Michigan
The Ports are already halfway through their game and Erwin got absolutely demolished. Sad face. Covey is slowly heating up over his last couple outings, so his progress will be interesting to track tonight.