When the Oakland A’s acquired starting pitcher Mike Fiers from the Tigers in early August, the return was initially listed as two players to be named later or cash. One of those players has now been identified, as relief pitching prospect Nolan Blackwood is heading to Detroit, the team announced Saturday.
The right-hander was Oakland’s 14th-round draft pick in 2016, but his prospect stock was higher than that draft position suggests. Blackwood pitches with a sidearm delivery, but unlike most sidewinders he brings solid velocity. That intriguing package earned him the No. 20 spot on our preseason Community Prospect List, making him the top pure reliever in the rankings. He also made the preseason A’s lists of FanGraphs (20), Oakland Clubhouse (24), and MLB Pipeline (28, down to 30 at midseason update).
After spending a successful 2017 season as the closer for High-A Stockton, Blackwood moved up to Double-A this summer and experienced some inconsistency. His year started poorly, with an 8.59 ERA in his first six games, but then he caught fire for nearly two months and allowed just one run in his next 24 innings. Since then, though, he resumed his struggles and posted a 6.65 ERA in his last 16 appearances. Overall his numbers look pedestrian, but he did at least show one long stint of dominance to get excited about.
Blackwood, 2018 AA: 4.08 ERA, 53 ip, 48 Ks, 16 BB, 3 HR, 3.51 FIP
The 23-year-old doesn’t put up big strikeout rates, but rather thrives on inducing weak contact and ground balls (62.5% grounders this year). He also doesn’t pump in upper-90s heat, instead using deception to play up his low-90s fastball. Opinions of his potential varied widely on Athletics Nation, but clearly he had quite a bit of support given his placement on the CPL.
Now that Blackwood has been named, one more mystery prospect will presumably head to Detroit. At the time of the trade, Jon Morosi of MLB Network reported that the Tigers “expect to acquire two prospects from the Double-A/Class A levels.” If that holds true, then Blackwood is the Double-A guy and we can expect the A’s to lose one more player from either Double-A or the lower minors. It’s also possible that Detroit could opt for cash instead of the second prospect, reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle.
Farewell, sweet sidewinder! We hardly knew ye.
Blackwood was a notable prospect, but in terms of giving up value to acquire veteran help for a postseason run, this is an acceptable price. Fiers was a key addition to a roster that needed extra rotation depth, and he has performed well so far in his first two starts. That’s worth giving up a non-closer relief prospect, even a good one.