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Oakland A’s prospect watch: Frankie Montas settling into rotation in Triple-A

Also, outfielder Anthony Garcia remains hot.

Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The Triple-A Nashville Sounds are the Oakland A’s highest minor league affiliate, and as such their roster tends to have more than just upcoming prospects. There’s also a contingent of MLB-ready backups who can step up to the bigs when a need arises, such as the two relievers who got the call up on Friday.

One player who doesn’t fit into either of those broad categories is Frankie Montas. The 25-year-old isn’t technically a prospect anymore by way of service time, having spent a couple months in Oakland last season, but he’s also not MLB-ready as he continues to work on harnessing his powerful stuff. Furthermore, the A’s are still trying to develop him as a starter instead of unleashing his raw velocity in the shorter relief stints he saw last year, which could make his path to the bigs even longer as he adjusts back to a more demanding role in the rotation.

The season began poorly for Montas, who got rocked for a 6.19 ERA in his first five starts despite promising peripheral stats. However, since then he’s put up three strong outings in a row:

  • 6 ip, 1 ER, 3 Ks, 2 BB, 1 HR
  • 6 ip, 1 ER, 10 Ks, 1 BB, 1 HR
  • 8 ip, 2 ER, 2 Ks, 1 BB, 2 HR

The homers aren’t ideal, and it would be nice to see more strikeouts from a guy who brings so much heat, but this might be the most encouraging stretch of performances we’ve seen from Montas since his acquisition in 2016. On the strikeout front, he at least racked them up in one of these recent starts, against a Colorado Springs lineup that has torched the rest of Nashville’s rotation and stands as one of the better offenses in the Pacific Coast League. I asked Sounds broadcaster Jeff Hem about Montas’ velocity, and he said the right-hander has been sitting in the 95-97 mph range as a starter this year.

Montas, 2018: 3.75 ERA, 36 ip, 30 Ks, 11 BB, 4 HR, 4.67 FIP

Of course, there’s still a lot left to prove before Montas can be considered a viable starting option for Oakland. Even with the A’s rotation falling apart by the day, with both Andrew Triggs and Brett Anderson leaving starts early this week with injuries, I wouldn’t expect to see Montas getting the call just yet. But for the first time, he’s showing some signs that a future in the rotation might at least be possible down the road. And even if he does wind up back in the pen eventually, at least he’s retiring hitters in some capacity these days, which wasn’t the case last year in any role.

Finally, it’s time to begin keeping an eye on Montas again. He’s not technically a prospect anymore, but he basically is in the sense of being an unproven youngster finishing his development in the upper minors. Here’s a quick look at the rest of Nashville’s rotation, two of whom could be in Oakland soon:

  • Kendall Graveman is starting tonight (Fri.), which would put him on perfect timing for Triggs’ next turn on Wednesday.
  • Daniel Gossett put up another six scoreless frames on Tuesday, giving him a 1.63 ERA in seven Triple-A games (3.37 FIP, nearly 10 K/9).
  • Chris Bassitt was lit up on Thursday, and in four starts he’s still yet to make it out of the 4th inning. Twice he’s allowed seven runs in a game during that stretch.
  • James Naile rebounded in his last outing and has been excellent against everyone but Colorado Springs. His total line in eight starts: 3.15 ERA, 45⅔ ip, 33 Ks, 11 BB, 2 HR, 4.06 FIP.

The most obvious options for immediate emergency duty are Graveman and Gossett, who are both on the 40-man roster already and have the most recent MLB experience. Graveman was strong in his last spot start against the Yankees, and Gossett has been excellent in the minors since his early demotion. Bassitt hasn’t done anything to show he’s ready, and Naile isn’t yet on the 40-man roster.

Remaining bullpen depth

With Emilio Pagan and Josh Lucas moving up to Oakland, and Ryan Dull coming back down to Nashville for some rest, who’s left in the Sounds bullpen? There’s no one else on the 40-man roster besides Dull, but there is still one more particularly promising arm to consider who could help right away.

Bobby Wahl made his MLB debut last year but disappeared quickly with an injury, which has been a constant problem throughout his career. However, the power righty is dominating once more in Triple-A, striking out 26 of 67 batters faced (38.8%) and missing bats all over (18.3% swinging strikes). His total line is eye-popping:

Wahl, 2018: 1.50 ERA, 18 ip, 26 Ks, 4 BB, 1 HR, 9 hits, 2.39 FIP

After Wahl, there are a couple more injury bounce-backs who don’t seem quite as imminently ready. Jake Sanchez missed the second half of 2017, but he’s back in Nashville after a brief dip down to Midland in April. He’s allowed runs in three of his last five games, and his strikeout rate is down significantly from the last couple years, so perhaps he still has some more work to do before making an MLB debut. Likewise, J.B. Wendelken is back from Tommy John surgery, but he opened the year in Double-A and has only made two appearances since moving up to Nashville.

There’s not much else to choose from. Raul Alcantara had his overall numbers skewed by a couple disaster meltdowns (6.43 ERA, 4.79 FIP), but he still can’t strike anyone out even in a relief role (11 in 21 innings, 11.6%). Lefty Jeremy Bleich is unexciting veteran depth, with a nice small-sample ERA (2.81) but weak peripherals (4.45 FIP, 1.8 K/BB). Power righty Kyle Finnegan is also out of the picture for the moment, as he’s currently on Nashville’s disabled list.

Garcia stays hot

In our last Nashville update we took a deeper look at Anthony Garcia, and he’s stayed hot since then. In his last five games he’s gone 7-for-18 with a homer, three doubles, and only four strikeouts. His overall hot streak looks like this since April 27 (in 75 PAs):

Garcia, last 17 games: .361/.453/.770, 202 wRC+, 6 HR, 10.7% BB, 21.3% Ks

Could this be the 26-year-old finally breaking out, in his fourth season appearing in Triple-A? Stay tuned to find out! I especially like the low strikeout rate during this power surge.

On the other hand, strikeouts continue to be a problem for the top prospects. Franklin Barreto fanned six times in his last three games and already once in his first at-bat on Friday, and his rate is still untenably high for the season. Sheldon Neuse has picked up a few extra hits lately but has also struck out in nearly half of his plate appearances in the month of May (29-of-60), and it’s been a similar story for Jorge Mateo (20-of-52). Neuse and Mateo still have plenty of time to figure out Triple-A, but it would be nice to see Barreto take a step forward as soon as possible in his second year in Nashville.

Note: Stats do not include Friday’s game, currently in progress.

Garcia, OF: .261/.374/.530, 132 wRC+, 7 HR, 11.5% BB, 20.1% Ks
Barreto, IF: .252/.355/.466, 115 wRC+, 5 HR, 12.4% BB, 27.3% Ks
Boyd, OF: .281/.333/.348, 82 wRC+, 1 HR, 7.5% BB, 12.9% Ks
Mateo, SS: .207/.243/.336, 43 wRC+, 2 HR, 4.7% BB, 30.9% Ks
Neuse, 3B: .194/.254/.256, 34 wRC+, 0 HR, 7.7% BB, 39.4% Ks

Mateo also leads the team in steals (8-of-12), though B.J. Boyd has a better success rate (5-of-6).

Heathcott released

The A’s parted with one of their veteran depth pieces on Tuesday, with the release of OF/1B Slade Heathcott. The lefty hadn’t been hitting much, with an 89 wRC+, a 30.8% strikeout rate, and little power or on-base ability, and Athletics Farm reports that he wasn’t likely to see much playing time moving forward.

All of that is fairly routine. The A’s take flyers on several depth guys every year, and now they’ve moved on from one that wasn’t producing much. However, there’s more to this particular story.

Heathcott told Athletics Farm:

“Coaches didn’t like that I stood up for players.” He referred to “standing up for minor league rights” & mentioned “It’s a business...they did what they thought was best for the A’s.”

More from Heathcott:

Most interesting!

Friday’s games

Full slate of action.

Triple-A Nashville: LIVE, Kendall Graveman vs. Oklahoma City
Double-A Midland: LIVE, Corey Walter vs. San Antonio
High-A Stockton: 7:10 p.m., Logan Shore vs. San Jose
Single-A Beloit: LIVE, Josh Reagan vs. Quad Cities

Although Reagan started for Beloit, normal starter Wyatt Marks is in for long/piggyback relief.

Link to box scores