The Oakland A’s have signed pitcher Tyler Alexander to a minor league contract, first reported by Top Flight Academy and Athletics Farm and confirmed by Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle. The A’s also later confirmed the move. The left-hander has an invite to MLB camp this spring.
I don’t normally do a full post for every minor league free agent, and in fact you can click here to see a roundup of all of them. But Alexander has an interesting story, so let’s take a quick look.
On the surface, it’s easy to overlook this signing. Alexander was a 27th-round draft pick in 2013, and after two seasons he was suspended 50 games for a drug of abuse (not a PED). He was then suspended again for 100 games the next year after another positive test (they were all for marijuana, reports Slusser). He never returned to the minors (peaked at Single-A), and spent the last four years in various independent leagues — mostly the American Association, but also the Canadian-American Association, plus time in some fall/winter Mexican/Dominican leagues.
Dig deeper, though, and you can begin to understand why he’s here. Usually I wouldn’t even bother looking at Indy ball stats, but it’s worth mentioning that in 2017 Alexander set the all-time single season record for most strikeouts in any independent league, according to Matt Bove of the New Jersey Herald. He fanned 167 batters in 148 innings that year, after coming one strikeout away from setting the record the previous season. I have no way to judge the competition he faced, but “the most ever in this league or any league like it” is a language I can begin to understand. The strikeout record had previously been held by Brandon Mann, who was also later signed by the A’s out of Indy ball and eventually made his MLB debut last summer for the Rangers.
Bove goes on to offer this description of Alexander’s arsenal (article is from May 2018):
The lefty ... wants to attack by throwing a lot of strikes with his fastball -- that tops out in the low 90s -- and making hitters respect the inside corner. He has a slider, curve and changeup to work off his heater.
Here’s another take, from Slusser after the signing:
(A’s Asst GM Dan) Feinstein described Alexander as having a crossfire, deceptive delivery and a fastball that registers in the low 90s that he can cut and sink, plus a slider and a changeup. “Everything is down,” Feinstein said. “Everything is around the zone.”
Or, have a look for yourself, from the 2017-18 Mexican Winter League (highest velocity reading is 92 mph):
Alexander has served as a starter throughout his Indy/foreign career, but Slusser implies that he’s here as a reliever. If that’s the case, then remember the scouting report above refers to his velocity in longer starter-level stints (and the video above is of him as a starter as well). Some pitchers find a couple extra ticks on their fastball in shorter stints, though it remains to be seen if Alexander is one of them.
The A’s have already built up some Triple-A depth among lefty relievers, so the point here isn’t to highlight Alexander as any kind of front-runner. From Jerry Blevins, to Kyle Crockett, to Wei-Chung Wang, there are already some intriguing lefties to sort through this spring. But Alexander belongs on the list even despite a career resume that might seem lackluster at first glance, and the A’s agree enough to make him a full Non-Roster Invitee this month. And, as Slusser notes in that last tweet linked above, the depth chart in this department is looking more promising than it did the last couple years, with all due respect to the likes of Jeremy Bleich and Sam Moll (and Dean Kiekhefer, who is actually back for another year).
The story gets even more complicated though. You see, there is another Tyler Alexander in the minors, who also happens to be a left-handed pitcher. The other Alexander is an outright prospect, as a recent 2nd-round draft pick who ranks within the Tigers Top 30 list. It’s not quite a Brady Feigl situation, in which the two unrelated players also coincidentally look like identical twins, nor a Jeff D’Amico situation where the name is particularly unusual, but still. It’s a fun small-world story, and the important takeaway is to make sure you search for the correct Tyler Alexander when looking up his stats.