Now that we’re almost a month into the minor league season, it’s time to take a look at which of the A’s minor league relievers have gotten off to the hottest starts in 2019. Familiar names like Kyle Finnegan and Wei-Chung Wang have been solid, but lesser-known names like Nick Highberger and Eric Marinez may be the best performers out of the bullpen so far this season.
On this week’s A’s Farm Podcast, I had the opportunity to talk with A’s Assistant General Manager Dan Feinstein about a few of the A’s more under-the-radar prospects like Luis Barrera, Dairon Blanco, Brady Feigl and Gus Varland. And later on in the podcast, Stockton outfield prospects Austin Beck and Jameson Hannah talk with Robert Bermudez about their first season in the California League. If you’re interested, you can check it out here – A’s Farm Podcast
LAS VEGAS AVIATORS (AAA)
LHP Wei-Chung Wang 16 IP/17 H/7 ER/3 BB/12 K/3.94 ERA/1.25 WHIP/0 SV
(LHP Jerry Blevins 10.2 IP/9 H/2 ER/4 BB/16 K/1.69 ERA/1.22 WHIP/0 SV - Traded)
(RHP Ryan Dull 9.2 IP/5 H/0 ER/2 BB/14 K/0.00 ERA/0.72 WHIP/2 SV - Promoted)
The Aviators bullpen has been the weakest part of the team so far this season, and the departures of Ryan Dull (to Oakland) and Jerry Blevins (to Atlanta) certainly haven’t helped. Dull failed to allow a run in his 6 appearances for Las Vegas, while Blevins whiffed 16 batters in 10.2 innings for the Aviators. But with the team’s top righty and top lefty out of the picture, Wei-Chung Wang is the only remaining reliable arm in the Triple-A bullpen. Wang has failed to allow a run in 5 of his 9 appearances and has shown good control, walking just 3 while striking out 12 over 16 frames. Most of the damage against him has been due to the long ball as the lefty has already allowed 4 home runs this season. Every other reliever currently serving in the Aviators bullpen is sporting an ERA over 5.00, and the team’s primary closer, RHP Brian Schlitter who leads the team with 3 saves, has given up 9 runs in 10 2/3 innings of work so far this season.
MIDLAND ROCKHOUNDS (AA)
RHP Kyle Finnegan 11 IP/9 H/3 ER/4 BB/18 K/2.45 ERA/1.18 WHIP/4 SV
RHP Norge Ruiz 11.1 IP/10 H/3 ER/2 BB/14 K/2.38 ERA/1.06 WHIP/1 SV
RHP Angel Duno 10.2 IP/8 H/3 ER/1 BB/8 K/2.53 ERA/0.84 WHIP/0 SV
Kyle Finnegan, who’s now spent parts of five seasons in Midland, has been serving as the primary closer for the RockHounds this year. Finnegan has failed to allow a home run while notching 18 strikeouts in just 11 innings of work, and he currently leads the A’s system with 4 saves. After spending the past couple of seasons serving strictly as a starter, Cuban righty Norge Ruiz has shifted to the bullpen this season, and the move seems to have increased his effectiveness. After averaging 6 K/9 over most of his career, Ruiz has been averaging 11 K/9 so far this season. Angel Duno made the move to the bullpen last season with Stockton, and it’s looked like a good move for him as well. So far this season, Duno has issued just 1 walk while whiffing 8 over 10 2/3 innings of work for the RockHounds. Meanwhile, longtime starter Zack Erwin has also made the move to the bullpen, and the lefty has struck out 13 while walking 5 in his first 8 innings for Midland.
STOCKTON PORTS (A+)
RHP Nick Highberger 11.2 IP/2 H/0 ER/5 BB/7 K/0.00 ERA/0.60 WHIP/1 SV
RHP Jesus Zambrano 13 IP/8 H/3 ER/3 BB/16 K/2.08 ERA/0.85 WHIP/1 SV
RHP Seth Martinez 11.1 IP/6 H/4 ER/5 BB/13 K/3.18 ERA/0.97 WHIP/0 SV
Stockton’s top relievers this season all spent last year with the Snappers. Believe it or not, former 30th-round draft pick Nick Highberger may be the most effective reliever in the A’s system so far this season. The 25-year-old righty has been almost unhittable, allowing just 2 singles over 11.2 scoreless innings for Stockton. And the A’s front office has high hopes for the groundball pitcher who features a mid-90s fastball, a hard slider and a solid changeup. Jesus Zambrano has also looked strong for Stockton. The 22-year-old Venezuelan righty has struck out 16 in just 13 innings of work for the Ports. Seth Martinez, who saved 15 games for the Snappers last season, has been solid as well for Stockton, allowing just 6 hits over 11.1 frames while putting up a 3.18 ERA for the Ports. Meanwhile, righty Sam Sheehan has struck out 19 in just 10.2 innings, but he’s issued an unbelievable 16 walks as well.
BELOIT SNAPPERS (A)
RHP Eric Marinez 10 IP/4 H/0 ER/5 BB/16 K/0.00 ERA/0.90 WHIP/3 SV
RHP Charlie Cerny 9.2 IP/8 H/3 ER/4 BB/7 K/2.79 ERA/1.24 WHIP/1 SV
RHP Wandisson Charles 8.1 IP/5 H/4 ER/9 BB/16 K/4.32 ERA/1.68 WHIP/0 SV
Besides Highberger, the best reliever in the A’s system so far this season may be converted infielder Eric Marinez. The 23-year-old Dominican righty signed as a teenager and spent six seasons as an infielder in the A’s system. But he’s moved to the mound this year, and so far, the results have looked good. Marinez has allowed just 4 hits and struck out 16 over 10 scoreless frames while leading the Snappers with 3 saves. Last year’s 7th-round draft pick for the A’s, Charlie Cerny, has been solid, striking out 7 in 9.2 frames while putting up a 2.79 ERA for the Snappers. Meanwhile, 6-foot-6 Dominican righty Wandisson Charles has looked dominant at times, striking out 16 in just 8.1 innings of work, but he’s also been wild, issuing 9 walks as well.
INJURIES & PROMOTIONS
The A’s dealt LHP Jerry Blevins, who was on the Las Vegas roster, to Atlanta on Sunday for cash or a player to be named later. Meanwhile, RHP Edwin Jackson, who signed a minor league contract with the A’s earlier this month, was assigned to Stockton on Sunday so that the 35-year-old could make his first career start in the California League. And the veteran was solid, allowing 2 runs while walking none and notching 9 strikeouts over 5 frames to pick up the win for the Ports. Stockton starter Wyatt Marks and Beloit starter Daniel Martinez both landed on the injured list last week. Marks is suffering from a sore shoulder, and RHP Joel Seddon was sent from Las Vegas to Stockton to take Marks’ spot on the roster. 20-year-old Cuban outfielder Lester Madden returned to action from the IL for Beloit last week, while Snappers starter Bryce Conley was reassigned to Vermont.
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