The sun came up on Wednesday, and therefore the Oakland A’s announced another round of roster moves. This time, LHP Sean Doolittle was placed on the 10-day disabled list, RHP Cesar Valdez was designated for assignment, and RHP Bobby Wahl and RHP Josh Smith were brought up from Triple-A Nashville.
Let’s start with Doolittle, who goes on the DL with a strained left shoulder, retroactive to April 30. He was part of the late-inning bullpen crew, having racked up one save, five holds, and only one blown save (86% success rate). More importantly, he had looked fully healthy for the first time since 2014, with his fastball showing both velocity and command — he’d even added in an effective breaking ball.
But all that is on the backburner now, as he’s once again on the shelf. The A’s press release notes the following: “Doolittle missed 59 games last season with a similar injury and 121 games in 2015 with two different shoulder injuries.” He will have an MRI (via John Hickey, Mercury News) and manager Bob Melvin said he “[doesn’t] know that this is going to be a quick thing” (via Jane Lee).
Doolittle 2017: 9 games, 3.52 ERA, 7⅔ ip, 11 Ks, 1 BB, 2 HR, 3.92 FIP
With Doo out, the A’s have called on two new names from the minors. The big one is Bobby Wahl, who ranks as Oakland’s No. 24 prospect on our Community Prospect List. This is the first MLB call-up for the 25-year-old righty, who was added to the 40-man roster last winter for protection from the Rule 5 draft.
Wahl’s calling card is his velocity. MLB Pipeline notes that he can touch 100 mph, and they rank his fastball as a 70-grade on the 20-to-80 scale. That makes it one of the three highest-rated pitches in Oakland’s entire system, along with the fastballs of Frankie Montas and A.J. Puk (both also got 70-grades). In addition, Melissa Lockard of Oakland Clubhouse calls Wahl’s breaking ball “one of the best in the A’s system.”
The questions for Wahl revolve around two things: control of the strike zone, and health. The latter isn’t currently a problem, as in 2016 he finally enjoyed his first (almost) completely healthy pro season (2014: oblique strain ... 2015: elbow nerve impingement).
As for the control: From 2015-17, mostly in Double-A and Triple-A, he’s posted a rate of 4.3 BB/9 (11.4% of batters). If he can hit the zone with his max-effort fastball, command his breaking ball, and avoid beating himself with too many walks, then he has late-inning potential — as evidenced by his 10.8 K/9 (28.5% of batters) over that same span.
Wahl, 2017 AAA: 8 games, 1.93 ERA, 9⅓, 14 Ks, 4 BB, 2 HR, 4.64 FIP
The other new addition is Josh Smith. Note that he is not Chris Smith, another veteran depth guy who pitched for the A’s last year (and is still in Nashville). He is also not the former NBA power forward, who currently plays basketball in China. This is Josh Smith, a 29-year-old right-handed reliever who threw 92⅓ innings for the Reds the last two years. He was within the vicinity of average last season in 32 games, mostly in relief.
Smith, 2016 MLB: 4.68 ERA, 59⅔ ip, 48 Ks, 26 BB, 11 HR, 5.29 FIP
After an offseason waiver claim by the A’s, Smith appears to have finally settled in to his relief role in the minors after a former life as a starter. In particular, he’s striking out batters like never before through his first nine games. (Also note that all five of his runs came in one awful outing, so he’s been lights out for the other eight.) He will serve as the long man, says Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle.
Smith, 2017 AAA: 3.29 ERA, 13⅔ ip, 21 Ks, 3 BB, 1 HR, 2.33 FIP
In order to bring up Smith, the A’s had to add him to the 40-man roster. That wasn’t a problem, because they had an open spot already. However, they still chose to clear out another player anyway, and they did so by DFA’ing swingman Cesar Valdez. The 32-year-old appeared in four games for Oakland this year (one start, three relief), eating a few innings when needed but not providing much value.
Valdez, 2017 MLB: 9.64 ERA, 9⅓ ip, 5 Ks, 4 BB, 4 HR, 8.79 FIP
We won’t know Valdez’s fate for a couple of weeks. The most likely results are that he’s claimed off waivers by another team, sent back to Triple-A Nashville, or released entirely. The A’s still have 39 players on their 40-man roster, meaning there’s one spot open.
This is the 11th day out of the last 19 that the A’s have made moves involving their MLB roster, not including the acquisition of then-minor leaguer Ryan LaMarre from the Angels. Click here to catch up on the ridiculous last few weeks.
This is also the 11th time the A’s have used the DL this year, although that includes a holdover Tommy John patient as well as three players who have already returned from minimum stints. The full list: Sonny, Mengden, Bassitt, Axford*, Graveman*, Manaea*, Doolittle*, Semien*, Wendle, Smolinski, Rajai*. The six players with asterisks are the ones who didn’t get hurt until after Opening Day.
Hot takes: This is a tough blow for Doolittle. All the best to him from AN as he faces another injury hurdle.
In baseball terms, the A’s have lost a late-inning arm and their top lefty. That’s a blow to the pen, but it’s not like the rest of the team is exactly lighting it up right now so this is as good a time as any to give Wahl his first chance. He’s a legit prospect, with closer potential down the road. I wasn’t much interested in Smith over the offseason, but I’ll admit I’m intrigued by his strikeouts in Nashville; let’s see what he can do while we have some innings to fill anyway.
As for Valdez, I wouldn’t expect to see him back in Nashville. If the A’s wanted him there, they could have just optioned him; they didn’t need to clear his roster spot. My guess is they simply weren’t impressed with what they saw, and they’re moving on. But that’s just my speculation.