The Oakland A's are expected to call up top prospect Daniel Mengden to start on Saturday in Cincinnati against the Reds. The news was first reported by Jane Lee of MLB.com, who notes that the team has not officially commented on the move. Mengden was acquired from the Astros last July in the deadline deal for Scott Kazmir.
UPDATE (6/11 6:55 a.m. PT): It's official! The A's formally added Mengden to the active roster, bringing it to 25, and transferred Mark Canha to the 60-day disabled list to open a space on the 40-man roster.
Mengden entered the year as the No. 15 prospect in Oakland's system according to our Community Prospect List, but his performance this season has shattered that ranking along with any conceivable expectations anyone may have ever had for him. The 23-year-old opened in Double-A and allowed just two total runs in his first four starts, which was enough for the A's to move him up to Triple-A Nashville for a tougher test. In seven starts for the Sounds, he gave up a total of seven earned runs. Overall, five of his 11 outings have been scoreless, and the right-hander is yet to allow more than two earned runs in a single game. His total numbers, spanning both levels:
Mengden 2016: 11 starts, 1.19 ERA, 68⅓ ip, 67 Ks, 22 BB, 3 HR, 43 hits
The peripherals don't quite match the ERA, with a pedestrian walk rate and an unsustainably low hit rate, but at some point you have to just step back and marvel at the two-month run this guy is on. He's dominating his opposition and there is a clear need at the MLB level, so that makes this the right time to try him out.
As for that clear need, it's quite simple -- the A's rotation is in absolute shambles. Sonny Gray is back and looked like his old self last time out, but he still has a 5.77 ERA for the season. Rich Hill has been the only effective starter, but he just landed on the DL with a groin injury. The rest of the rotation has pitched like every game is in Coors Field, between Kendall Graveman (5.49), Sean Manaea (6.20), and Jesse Hahn (6.49), and now Hahn has been sent back down to Triple-A. Everyone (except Hill) is giving up a ton of homers, and none of them have a walk rate under 3.0 BB/9. And all of this is happening after Chris Bassitt and Felix Doubront were lost to Tommy John surgeries.
Athletics Farm did a great interview with Mengden in May, which I can't recommend highly enough, and it sheds some light on his current repertoire. Mengden throws a fastball (two- and four-seam), a change, a cutter, and a curve. The fastball sits 93-94 mph and has been clocked as high as 98 this year. He ranks the changeup tops among his secondary offerings, but identifies the cutter as his most reliable pitch, the one that's always there for him when he needs it. He has also developed the curve from a "get-me-over" pitch into a true weapon.
Perhaps the biggest improvement, though, has been that fastball velocity. It's gained a few miles since his time in Houston, when it sat in the 90-91 range and topped out around 95. He attributes the increase to health -- he spent the pre-2015 offseason rehabbing a back injury, but was able to work out this past winter.
Mengden is scheduled to oppose Dan Straily on Saturday, which brings all sorts of parallels. Straily started his MLB career with Oakland as well, and he did so after a similarly rapid ascent up the system. Straily finished 2011 in High-A, then blew through Double-A and Triple-A the next season before debuting for the A's late in 2012. Mengden followed the same timeline four years later, except he did it even faster -- Straily spent 25 starts in the upper minors in 2012 before debuting, as opposed to 11 for Mengden this year. Furthermore, Mengden will wear jersey No. 67 according to John Shea of the S.F. Chronicle, and that was the number Straily himself wore in his three seasons in Oakland.
When we talk about fast-tracking a prospect, this is what it looks like at its upper limit. Rather than making him maintain his success at a certain level for months or a full season, bump him up as soon as he looks like he's figured out the competition and see how he responds. In a (rare) best-case scenario like this, he keeps on rolling at the next level, all the way up until he reaches the bigs. Mengden was drafted in 2014, which means he spent exactly two years in the minors before making his debut -- that's a quick turnaround.
The cavalry is beginning to arrive, folks. Mengden may struggle initially like Manaea has, or he may get off to a hot start like fellow fast-tracker A.J. Griffin did in his debut season, or he may immediately become the next ace, but the point is that he's here already. The A's rotation was always a question mark and it's turned out even worse than anyone could have guessed, but the good news is that the farm is delivering its top prospects slightly ahead of schedule to help fill the gaps. As Nico and I have been saying since Mengden was acquired: Never count out a bulldog.
Welcome, Daniel! We look forward to your fastball and your mustache.
Extra Link: Another good profile from Josh Nelson at Scout.com.