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Oakland A’s pitcher Jordan Weems added to 40-man roster, expected to make Opening Day team

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Right-handed reliever with a fascinating backstory

San Francisco Giants v Oakland Athletics Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images

There will be a new face in the Oakland A’s bullpen to begin the 2020 season, as reliever Jordan Weems is expected to make the Opening Day roster, reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle. Indeed, the team later announced that Weems has been added to the 40-man roster, a prerequisite for putting him on the active MLB squad.

The 27-year-old right-hander signed with the A’s as a minor league free agent last winter. Slusser notes in her full writeup that he had an opt-out clause in his contract that he could have used this weekend, so Oakland will keep him around and give him a try rather than losing him to another team.

In addition to that opt-out clause, another factor working in Weems’ favor is the expanded roster to begin the season. For the first two weeks, active rosters will be 30 players, instead of the standard 26, which itself was a new increase this year from the traditional 25-man. That means more room for extra relievers, at least temporarily; teams shrink to 28 after two weeks, and 26 after a month. For an under-the-radar player like Weems, though, that’s enough of an opportunity to get a foot in the door in the majors and hope to impress.

The A’s, like all teams, sign several veteran depth players each winter to stash in the minors, and it’s not unusual to see a few of them reach the majors — last year that group included pitchers Brian Schlitter and Wei-Chung Wang, and 2018 brought outfielder Nick Martini. It’s less often that they make the Opening Day roster, though last March catcher Nick Hundley did so as an injury replacement, and of course this summer is vastly different than normal due to the coronavirus pandemic postponing it for months and shortening it to 60 games.

Unfortunately, one of the A’s other recent minor league free agent signings got tougher news on Sunday, as infielder Ryan Goins was released.

Career history

Weems is not an ordinary pitcher, as detailed in this profile by Slusser in February. He was drafted as a high school catcher in 2011 by the Red Sox, and he didn’t move to the mound until 2016, several years into his minor league career. He hadn’t even pitched in school.

By 2018 he’d worked his way to the upper minors as a pitcher, and he’s picked up 15 innings of Triple-A experience as well. His most relevant sample is from Double-A, where he spent most of the last two years. His strikeouts are impressive and he’s kept the ball in the park, but his walk rate is a bit high, which is understandable for someone who is still relatively new to the job.

Weems, 2018-19 AA: 3.96 ERA, 86⅓ ip, 100 Ks, 49 BB, 4 HR, 3.37 FIP

His Triple-A work hasn’t gone as well, with 10 runs and 10 walks in those 15 frames, but he did also strike out 15 as well.

In a fun coincidence, when Weems was a catcher in Boston’s system, he was once a battery mate of J.B. Wendelken, now his teammate in the A’s bullpen. Here’s Alex Coffey of The Athletic with more about that connection and Weems’ overall journey.

Scouting report

Weems brings strong velocity with his lanky 6’4 frame. Slusser says he sits 94-97 mph with his fastball and can reach as high as 98 or 99, and she also references a “slurvy slider” and a new splitter. She offers the following quote from A’s pitching coach Scott Emerson:

“For a converted guy to be able to command the top part of the zone with a fastball and something soft at the bottom of the zone is pretty good for a guy who hasn’t done much pitching.”

Here’s a video clip from training in May:

As his strikeout numbers indicate, he’s capable of generating whiffs, with his swinging-strike rate in Double-A sitting in the solid 12-14% range.

Weems is also capable of going multiple innings, which could be a priority for the A’s in the early season. He went 3+ innings several times over the last two seasons, and finished at least two frames in 26 of his 84 outings.

That hair

Top prospect A.J. Puk made news this summer by cutting his shoulder-length locks, but Weems is here to fill in. A hair apparent, if you will, here to pick up the torch, but very carefully so as not to singe the ends.

Here’s a closeup of Weems’ flowing mane, from team photo day in the spring.

Oakland Athletics Photo Day Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images

And in action:

Looking good! And it can’t be easy for the batter to pick up the ball with all that hair flying in every direction.

Roster fit

Although the A’s haven’t committed to any specifics, the general expectation is that they could carry 15 pitchers on their opening 30-man roster. There are 14 easy picks, with one more spot left over for an extra arm to step up. A couple days ago we wondered if offseason acquisition Burch Smith might get that last place in the bullpen, as he was already on the 40-man roster, but now it looks like Weems is getting the call.

Smith has a minor league option remaining, so if he doesn’t get a spot in the majors (perhaps if they carry 16 pitchers? or if someone tests positive for the virus?) then he could be stashed in Triple-A. However, the A’s will still need to clear a 40-man spot in order to activate Daniel Mengden from the injured list, and it’s possible Smith could be DFA’d for that move if nothing else happens in the next few days to create space.

The A’s 60-man player pool has one open spot, with 59 total names. Players with asterisks** are the favorites to make the Opening Day 30-man roster, in my speculative opinion. Players in —italics are not on the 40-man roster; note that a corresponding move will need to be made to activate pitcher Mengden from the injured list.

Oakland A's 60-man pool
Pitchers Hitters
Starters

Frankie Montas (R)**
Sean Manaea (L)**
Mike Fiers (R)**
Chris Bassitt (R)**
Jesus Luzardo (L)**
A.J. Puk (L)**
Paul Blackburn (R)
Daniel Gossett (R)
—Daniel Mengden (R)**
Grant Holmes (R)
Daulton Jefferies (R)
James Kaprielian (R)
—Tyler Baum (R)
—Parker Dunshee (R)
—Brian Howard (R)


Relievers

Liam Hendriks (R)**
Yusmeiro Petit (R)**
Joakim Soria (R)**
Jake Diekman (L)**
T.J. McFarland (L)**
Lou Trivino (R)**
Jordan Weems (R)**
J.B. Wendelken (R)**
Burch Smith (R)
—Lucas Luetge (L)
—Jaime Schultz (R)
—Wandisson Charles (R)
—Miguel Romero (R)
Catchers

Sean Murphy (R)**
Austin Allen (L)**
Jonah Heim (S)
—Carlos Perez (R)
—Kyle McCann (L)
—Tyler Soderstrom (L)


Infielders

Matt Olson (L)**
Marcus Semien (R)**
Matt Chapman (R)**
Tony Kemp (L)**
Franklin Barreto (R)**
Vimael Machin (L)**
Sheldon Neuse (R)
—Eric Campbell (R)
—Nate Orf (R)
—Nick Allen (R)
—Logan Davidson (S)
—Robert Puason (S)


Outfielders

Khris Davis (R)**
Mark Canha (R)**
Ramon Laureano (R)**
Stephen Piscotty (R)**
Robbie Grossman (S)**
Chad Pinder (R)**
Seth Brown (L)**
Skye Bolt (S)
Luis Barrera (L)
Dustin Fowler (L)
—Brayan Buelvas (R)
—Greg Deichmann (L)
—Buddy Reed (S)