It doesn’t take much to get us excited about pitching these days.
The A’s haven’t had a good year on the mound, and while there’s reason for hope due to youngsters, an average starting pitcher would be a welcome start. Enter Raul Alcantara, he of two short but fabulous spot starts.
In the wise words of our Blogfather Nico (by the way, does anyone know who the Blogmother is?), you should never fall in love in September. With division races long decided and rosters fully expanded, there’s just too much noise going on for the results to be truly meaningful. That doesn’t even note the size of the sample, something that will lead you to get excited about Daric Barton’s offensive potential.
So caution is in order with Alcantara, though optimism is too. In his two spot starts, he’s been pretty wonderful, allowing no runs over 8 2/3rd innings. He’s struck out seven while walking three and while he’s not going to keep that up, he has looked better via your good old fashioned peepers.
His fastball is about two miles an hours faster than it was in his earlier stint, and his velocity increase is steady across his arsenal. That might be a function of his arm gaining strength throughout the year, it might be due to being more comfortable in his second stint in the bigs, it might be a confluence of factors. No matter what, extra velo is a good sign.
The sample is too small to really know what effect that’s had, but one positive indicator for Alcantara is his groundball rates - since he’s returned, he’s garnered a 57% groundball rate. It’s probably not sustainable, as he’s never really been a groundball pitcher before. If he’s going to succeed, though, he’ll have to induce different contact whether that be weaker or on the ground, or hopefully both.
Ultimately, we shouldn’t put too much into Alcantara’s recent success. He’s the same guy he was at the beginning of the year with the hopeful development he needed. At year’s beginning, Alcantara was forced onto the big league squad by virtue of having no options remaining. He probably wasn’t ready for that level of baseball but didn’t have the luxury of having of AAA seasoning.
An early DFA afforded him the chance to get that much deserved time at AAA, where Alcantara thrived. In 33.2 innings across 18 appearances and three starts, Alcantara posted an ERA of 2.67 with 22 k’s and seven walks. They’re not numbers that’ll blow you away, but they’re the numbers you would hope and expect to see. It’s the typical progression for a guy of his nature, and now he should be ready to give the bigs his best shot.
Going into 2018, we face the same question we did in 2017. Where does Alcantara belong?
Looking purely at Alcantara, the answer is probably the pen. He showed ample ability to succeed there in Nashville, and obviously it’s an easier place to succeed than the rotation. With a young rotation that’s tenuous at best, there are sure to be innings to be eaten, and Alcantara’s ability to pitch multiple frames would be an asset. Should he kill it in the long reliever sort of role? Cool, consider moving him to the rotation then.
Yet when considering Alcantara’s status, it’s impossible not to factor in the rest of the roster. The rotation is thin, potentially worse than it appears at first glance due to Jharel Cotton’s elbow. If Alcantara could hold down the final spot, the A’s could save on the mediocre veteran they’ll likely target on the free agent market while buying time for a youngster like Grant Holmes or AJ Puk to graduate and enter the bigs in a Sonny Gray like manner.
The A’s rotation will hopefully look something like, in no particular order:
with Jesse Hahn and Frankie Montas as lottery ticket depth. You should know by now that pitching depth is a myth, eaten by the numerous injuries that accompany slinging your arm at high rates of speed over and over again. There’s likely going to be an opening in that rotation.
But Alcantara is no sure thing. Do you believe in Alcantara after his recent surge of success, and where does he belong in 2018?