The 2015 trade deadline brought back five young players for the Oakland A's, and four of them have started to make their marks in various ways. Sean Manaea and Daniel Mengden have already debuted in the big league rotation, Aaron Brooks pitched for Oakland last year and was later traded for Chris Coghlan (who was in turn flipped for Arismendy Alcantara), and Jacob Nottingham highlighted the swap for Khris Davis. And then there is 21-year-old Casey Meisner, all the way down in High-A Stockton.
After being acquired from the Mets for Tyler Clippard last summer, the 2016 season has not been kind to Meisner. His modest strikeout rate hasn't changed, but his walk rate has skyrocketed and he's giving up more hits as well. All of that has led to an ERA well north of 4.00, after posting a sub-3.00 in High-A last year. Here is a side-by-side comparison (the 2015 stats are combined between Stockton and the High-A St. Lucie Mets):
In his first 12 starts of the year, he completed five innings only seven times, and six innings only thrice. He wasn't preventing runs and he wasn't pitching deep into games, and so the Ports finally made the decision to move him to the bullpen last week. His last two outings have been multi-inning relief appearances, totaling one earned run (and three walks) in five frames.
From where we sit, mostly relying on box scores rather than legit scouting reports or our own eyeballs, it can be tough to know what to make of this kind of performance. However, I've been able to reach out and find a few answers to get us started, and I see them as a mix of good news and bad news.
According to sources close to the team (I've always wanted to say that!!), one issue is that Meisner is "down a few ticks on his fastball from last season." To me, that's the bad news. A big part of his appeal last summer was that his velocity had increased from the high-80s (in his high school days in 2013) to the low-90s with a top-out around 94/95. If that extra zip turned out to be a mirage, or was unsustainable in whatever way, then that will presumably reduce whatever ceiling we had in mind for him.
However, that's not the end of the story. The source also noted mechanical issues and cited those as the likely cause of the increased walk rate, which makes logical sense. This is the good news to me, because mechanics can be tweaked and changed by professional coaches -- or at least, much easier than talent can be added or injuries can be healed. If a pitcher is struggling, the best possible news is always that his delivery is out of whack. Remember Rich Hill this spring?
I'm going to digress for a moment and launch a bit of speculation. When a pitcher's mechanics are off, control isn't the only thing that can suffer -- velocity can as well. Let me be clear that my source did not connect the mechanics to the velocity in any way, but it does seem like the most logical explanation for why a youngster would suddenly lose some mph without any word of health problems.
There were already questions about Meisner's delivery last year, with our own Spencer Silva among those who saw lots of room for improvement. But again, we're talking about a lanky 6'7 kid who is the same age as the college guys who were just drafted this month. That means that some obstacles are still to be expected, and even struggling at High-A this year means he is ahead of his age-group peers.
One final note. Last year, Meisner's top secondary pitch was his curveball, though he was also working on a promising changeup. My source was complimentary about the progress of the changeup and noted that it's "been his best off-speed pitch."
This has been an excellent year for the A's farm so far, with several prospects breaking out and a couple of them already debuting in MLB. It's been the opposite story for Meisner, but at his age and with his skill set there is still plenty of time for him to turn it around. He was always going to be a long-term project, and sometimes this is what such a project looks like along the way.
Hitters (thru 71 games)
Nothing new to report here, so I'll use this space to note that 20-year-old catcher Lana Akau is 4-for-8 in his last two games with a homer and a double. His wRC+ stands at 86 through 116 plate appearances.
|... Bullpen ...|
We talked about Meisner, but Graves is another bummer on this staff. I didn't have high hopes for him entering the season and he has done nothing to change that opinion. Bobby DeMuro of Today's Knuckleball recently gave a thorough eyeball scouting report, and he did not come away impressed by Graves (click through for details).
On the bright side, Friedrichs continues to dominate. Don't be fooled by that high ERA -- remove his disastrous first game and that mark would only be 2.52. He hasn't allowed a walk in his last four starts, either, and he once again racked up the strikeouts in his outing on Thursday (8 Ks, in six innings).
All five affiliates are/were in action.
Triple-A Nashville: LIVE, Jesse Hahn vs. Iowa
Double-A Midland: Won 7-0, Joel Seddon vs. San Antonio
High-A Stockton: LIVE, Sean Manaea vs. San Jose
Single-A Beloit: Lost 6-4, Michael Murray vs. Cedar Rapids
Low-A Vermont: Lost 5-2, Brendan Butler vs. Tri-City
Seddon won a game!! And he was awesome! Eight shutout innings, just one hit. I've been waiting all year to see him put up a start like that. Too bad that leaves his ERA at the ever-awkward 6.66.
In more relevant news, Manaea is making a rehab start for Stockton, which is just the best news ever given most of us automatically assumed he'd need TJS after his forearm strain. Meanwhile, Hahn only threw two innings for Nashville, though it didn't help that his defense committed three errors in the 2nd frame (two by Nunez, one by Healy).