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Domingo Acevedo leads Oakland A’s minor league free agent pitcher signings

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Some depth for the bullpen, and maybe a hidden gem

2017 Major League Baseball All-Star Week: SirusXM All-Star Futures Game
Doo you find yourself reminded of anyone, A’s fans?

Each winter, teams stock up on minor league free agent signings. Most of them will help fill out Triple-A and Double-A rosters. A few could crack the MLB squad when an emergency replacement is briefly needed. And every so often, one of them turns out to be a sleeper who unexpectedly blossoms into a legit big leaguer.

The Oakland A’s have begun picking up their depth crew, and they’ll continue adding more as the winter goes on. We already took a look at veteran shortstop Pete Kozma, and there are several other position players on the list, but for now let’s stick with just the pitchers. There are six new arms so far, including one particularly notable name.

  • RHP Domingo Acevedo
  • RHP Cristian Alvarado
  • RHP Argenis Angulo
  • RHP Matt Blackham
  • RHP Montana DuRapau
  • RHP Trey Supak

They’re not on the 40-man roster, but they’re all invited to spring training to compete for an MLB job or at least showcase themselves for future consideration. Most or all of them will then slot into the minors to begin the year, hoping to force their way up the ladder toward Oakland. Here’s a quick look at each one.

Domingo Acevedo

Age: 27 next season

  • 2019, AA (NYY): 3.86 ERA, 35 ip, 33 Ks, 10 BB, 7 HR, 4.74 FIP
  • 2019, AAA (NYY): 5.40 ERA, 16⅔ ip, 31 Ks, 4 BB, 4 HR, 5.12 FIP

As recently as mid-2018, Acevedo ranked as the Yankees’ No. 4 prospect on MLB Pipeline. At the time, his scouting report read like this, led by a 70-grade fastball and a 55 Overall:

Acevedo’s fastball has been clocked as high as 103 mph in the past, though he usually works from 93-97 mph as a starter, and it’s especially difficult to hit because of the funkiness and angle his 6-foot-7 frame and low three-quarters arm slot create. That slot makes it tough for him to stay on top of his mid-80s slider, though it has gotten more consistent this year. He has a solid changeup that he locates well and is effective against both left-handers and right-handers.

For an extra-large guy with a lot of velocity, Acevedo throws a surprising amount of strikes. His delivery isn’t smooth and features effort, yet he somehow makes it work and finally proved he could hold up over a full season in 2017.

FanGraphs offered a similar report, praising his heater while calling him a future reliever. He got the call to the majors that summer (2018), but didn’t appear in a game before being sent back down.

And then, Acevedo fell off the map. The next winter he didn’t make the Yankees’ Top 30 on Pipeline, nor their Top 38 on FanGraphs. Randy Miller of NJ.com offered some reasons why, including nine trips to the injured list from 2015-19, and an enormous dip in velocity down to the low-90s. Without his previous heat, there wasn’t enough else in his profile to give him an MLB future.

He converted to relief in 2019 and spent the year in the upper minors, though with only mediocre results. Still, Yankees Twitter seems to have nice things to say.

Is Acevedo a busted former prospect, or is a hidden gem ready to break out in a new organization? On a related note, where is his velocity at these days? We’ll begin to find out in 2021!

Video links: 2080Baseball | Yankees YouTube

Cristian Alvarado

Age: 26 next season

  • 2019 AA (BAL): 2.66 ERA, 74⅓ ip, 70 Ks, 18 BB, 7 HR, 3.32 FIP

The rest of the names on the list aren’t former top prospects like Acevedo, but Alvarado is among those who have at least received some attention along the way. Entering 2018, FanGraphs put him in their honorable mention (below the Top 20) in a section called “guys with good breaking balls,” and said the following about him: “Alvarado is 90-92 with a plus curveball.”

This past February, Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun did a feature on Alvarado, charting his journey from Venezuela to the upper minors. He praised Alvarado’s command, and mentioned that the curveball had been ditched for a while and then readopted as a strikeout pitch.

Video link: 2080Baseball

Argenis Angulo

Age: 27 next season

  • 2019, AA (CLE): 2.06 ERA, 35 ip, 63 Ks, 22 BB, 0 HR, 1.46 FIP
  • 2019, AAA (CLE): 5.20 ERA, 27⅔ ip, 25 Ks, 16 BB, 7 HR, 6.95 FIP

Today’s lesson: The jump from Double-A to Triple-A is no joke. Angulo thoroughly dominated the lower level at age 25, but ran into trouble upon a promotion. That said, his Triple-A numbers look somewhat better if you remove one disaster game in which he faced six batters, retired none of them, and allowed all to score including a homer and three walks. Without that, his ERA was 3.38 and his FIP drops by at least a run.

Entering 2018, FanGraphs put Angulo in their honorable mentions (below the Indians’ Top 22), with the following note: “Angulo has a three-pitch mix led by a plus fastball and curve, but he has 30 command.” He’s from Venezuela but was drafted out of college in Texas, in 2014 in the 19th round.

Video links: Baseball Census | 2080

Matt Blackham

Age: 28 next season

  • 2019 AA (NYM): 2.72 ERA, 39⅔ ip, 59 Ks, 21 BB, 4 HR, 3.10 FIP
  • 2019 AAA (NYM): 2.30 ERA, 15⅔ ip, 11 Ks, 7 BB, 1 HR, 4.77 FIP

Drafted in the 29th round in 2014, Blackham has pitched well throughout the pros, including a solid audition in Triple-A in 2019. If he’d been in the A’s system, his numbers would have Athletics Nation screaming to give him a chance.

He doesn’t register on any Mets prospect lists lately, and he missed 2016 to an elbow injury, but Steve Sypa of Amazin Avenue said the following entering 2019:

“Though only 5’11”, 180 pounds, Blackham throws hard. His fastball sits in the low 90s and has armside run. He complements the pitch with a curveball with a lot of depth, a slider, and a changeup. His delivery is high effort, with a long arm action and a stiff landing on his front leg, both of which negatively impact his command.”

Video links: Baseball Census | 2080 | interview from Feb 2020

Montana DuRapau

Age: 29 next season

  • 2019, AAA (PIT): 2.14 ERA, 46⅓ ip, 57 Ks, 14 BB, 3 HR, 3.04 FIP
  • 2019, MLB (PIT): 9.35 ERA, 17⅓ ip, 22 Ks, 9 BB, 4 HR, 5.58 FIP

He’s the only member of this list to have pitched in MLB, and he’s also got an 80-grade name. Drafted in the 32nd round in 2014, he quickly rose to Double-A as a reliever and then spent a few years striking out the world in the upper minors. The Pirates gave him a chance in the bigs in 2019, and he still earned Ks there, but as you can see he got lit up overall.

Statcast registered four pitches in DuRapau’s MLB stint: 4-seamer (92.2 mph average, 45.9% usage), cutter (86.3 mph, 37.0%), curveball (81.2 mph, 13.8%), and changeup (85.3 mph, 3.4%). While his heater averaged around 92, it topped out at 94.4 on a couple occasions, with plenty of instances above 93. But why read about it when you can see it yourself?

At the very least, he can miss some bats, especially with his cutter. It’s the hard contact in between those whiffs that he needs to work on.

Trey Supak

Age: 25 next season

  • 2019 AA (MIL): 2.20 ERA, 122⅔ ip, 91 Ks, 23 BB, 6 HR, 3.14 FIP
  • 2020 AAA (MIL): 9.30 ERA, 30 ip, 27 Ks, 9 BB, 6 HR, 6.00 FIP

Three things set Supak {SHOO-pawk} apart from the rest of the group. One is that he’s younger, still only 24 until next May. Next is that he was a starter in his most recent action in 2019, and still could profile as one moving forward. And finally, he’s the only one to have changed organizations before now, having been drafted by the Pirates (2nd round, 2014) and then traded to the Brewers in 2015 in a package for outfielder Jason Rogers.

Supak’s high draft stock means he’s got a history on recent Brewers prospect lists, with FanGraphs ranking him 17th entering 2019, and then 25th entering 2020, with the following note: “Supak is a strike-throwing backend starter who has now had success up through Double-A. His velocity was down a bit [in 2019] but his fastball has a lot of spin for how slow it is, as well as other traits that bolster it. He’s a bigger-bodied guy whose athletic longevity is a question.”

MLB Pipeline had him 11th in Milwaukee in mid-2019, with the following report:

Supak’s velocity has improved as he’s grown into his big frame and learned to better repeat his delivery, and he spent his breakout 2018 campaign sitting in the low 90s and touching 95 mph. The 6-foot-5 right-hander will use his height to create angle to the plate, showing feel for pounding the bottom of the zone or elevating his heater with some riding life. His slider and changeup have above-average potential, and he throws both more than he does his mid-70s curveball, a fringy pitch that he can locate for strikes. He’s consistently around the zone with all four pitches, demonstrating an above-average control profile, though his command still requires refinement.

The fly-ball tendencies that hurt Supak at times in 2017 improved last season, as he generated more ground-ball contact and did a better job of keeping the ball in the park. His feel for mixing his pitches translates to solid, if unspectacular strikeout rates right now, and he might not miss as many bats at higher levels given his velocity and lack of a put-away pitch. That said, Supak has all the ingredients to be a successful big league starter, with size, stuff and feel for pitching that point to him becoming a durable, back-of-the-rotation asset for the Brewers.

In terms of grades, Pipeline (mid-2019) gave him 55 for Fastball, Slider, Changeup, and Control; a 50 for Curveball; and a 45 Overall. FanGraphs (whose grades tend to be a notch lower) gave him these in June 2020 (present/future): Fastball (40/40), Curve (50/50), Change (50/55), Cutter (45/50), Command (50/55), Future Value (40), with a velocity reading of 87-91 and topping at 93 mph.

Video links: Minors game from 2018 | Aug 2020 interview

***

As usual, there is plenty of intrigue on this list. Acevedo is a former serious prospect looking to regain his fallen star with a change of scenery. Supak is a recent 2nd-round pick who isn’t too old to pan out as quality rotation depth. DuRapau is a strikeout monster who has at least tasted the majors. Alvarado could have the command to be a sleeper reliever, Blackham has a sterling track record in the minors as a late-inning arm, and Angulo has Double-A stats that can’t be ignored.

Is there a keeper here? We won’t know until next spring at the earliest, but for an A’s team that needs to rebuild its bullpen quickly and cheaply, while bolstering its backend rotation options, these are some fun lotto tickets.