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A’s prospect watch: Jack Weisenburger, Aiden McIntyre lead breakout pitchers

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Tons of interesting new pitching names in High-A Lansing, and two already moved up to Double-A.

Jack Weisenburger
Photo provided by Lansing Lugnuts

On Thursday we began our first check-in with the High-A Lansing Lugnuts, but there are so many interesting players to follow that the first post only covered the hitters. Now we can take a look at the pitching prospects.

Like Lansing’s hitting contingent, their pitching staff is short on high-profile names but long on fascinating sleepers, especially college arms who are just getting their first substantial pro experience after the lost 2020 summer.

The Lugnuts were supposed to have right-hander Jeff Criswell, who was drafted in the 2nd round last summer and ranks No. 11 on our Community Prospect List, but he immediately got hurt (FanGraphs says elbow, though I’d heard it was shoulder). Fellow righty Tyler Baum, the previous year’s 2nd-rounder and No. 16 on our CPL, hasn’t pitched yet but I’m told he’s resumed throwing and should be ready soon; it remains to be seen what level he might go to, but High-A would make sense.

The only healthy CPL member remaining in Lansing is righty Colin Peluse, who burst onto the scene at No. 22 after reports of a velocity spike during the pandemic off-year. So far his ERA is shaky, but he’s striking out plenty of batters despite one of the lowest swinging-strike rates on the roster. For what it’s worth, half his earned runs came in one disaster outing, and his ERA drops to 3.62 without that.

  • Peluse: 5.58 ERA, 30⅔ ip, 32 Ks, 10 BB, 4 HR, 4.48 FIP

FanGraphs released their A’s prospect list on Friday, and Peluse got a vote of confidence with a No. 11 ranking. Eric Longenhagen said the following in the writeup:

“He was a pitchability righty with fringe stuff that played up because Peluse’s delivery screws with hitters’ timing, but after undergoing a bit of a physical transformation during the pandemic, he was sitting 94-98 during 2020 instructs. He’s held that velo into the 2021 season and his changeup has flashed better now than in the past. Peluse throws exclusively from the stretch, his fastball/slider combo gives him a relief floor, and the changeup progression gives him a shot to start.”

Here’s an example of that delivery.

This week’s report from Melissa Lockard of The Athletic isn’t quite as rosy, but still optimistic:

“[Director of Player Development Ed] Sprague says Peluse isn’t reaching the high 90s like he did in instructional league, but his velocity has still been solid (sitting 93-95, touching 96). Sprague chalked up Peluse’s occasional struggles this season to his inability to command his secondary stuff as consistently as he has in past years, but expects that will improve as the season goes on.”

Here’s another video of a Peluse swinging strikeout.

Two more Lansing pitchers have appeared on our CPL in the past, though they didn’t make the cut in the most recent edition. One is international signing Richard Guasch, who at 23 is the same age as a 2019 college draft pick. Before the pandemic he already had some promising pro experience and cracked the 2020 CPL at No. 28, and now he’s carried that success up to High-A despite missing out in our community voting last winter.

  • Guasch: 2.15 ERA, 29⅓ ip, 38 Ks, 14 BB, 1 HR, 3.77 FIP

The right-hander has never strayed far from the prospect radar, as Baseball America has labeled him as having the Best Slider in the team’s farm system each of the last couple years. Sprague addressed that breaking ball in this quote from Lockard’s article:

Now he’s starting to really land that breaker and as he’s going deeper into games, you can see the stuff and the confidence grow,” [Sprague] said. “We really like him. He just starting to command the baseball better which allows him to get ahead and put guys away with his wipeout slider.”

Another familiar name from the past is Dalton Sawyer. The big lefty was drafted in the 9th round in 2016, and made No. 21 on our 2018 CPL as a potential future reliever, but Tommy John surgery stalled his progress for a couple years. Now he’s back!

  • Sawyer: 2.75 ERA, 19⅔ ip, 31 Ks, 6 BB, 4 HR, 4.60 FIP

FanGraphs didn’t include Sawyer in their recent A’s Top 33 prospect list, but he did get an honorable mention at the end:

“Sawyer is a lower slot lefty who has had a little bit of a velo bump since moving to the bullpen, touching 94 this spring. He was a depth starter type before surgery but he’s missing a lot of bats out of the bullpen now.”

That sounds like exactly what we hoped he’d become a few years ago, before his surgery.

Note: That’s Cobie Vance (2018, 18th round) making the play at second base in the above video. FanGraphs describes Vance as a Fun Org Guy and a “stocky, tough-nosed infielder who is tough to strike out.”

New sleepers

The rest of the pitching standouts are new to the prospect radar, and in some cases pretty new to the organization entirely. There are several members of the 2019 draft class who barely got to play in the pros before the pandemic, plus a recent international signing.

First up are a pair of relievers who have raised their stock far enough to join FanGraphs’ latest A’s Top 33 list. Right-hander Jack Weisenburger wasn’t a high draft pick (2019, 20th round) but has improved his stuff after working with the Driveline program, with the following results per David Laurila of FanGraphs:

“Along with upping his velocity to a consistent mid-90s, Weisenburger has begun backspinning the ball better, increasing the ride he gets through the zone. He considers his slider — ‘I get a lot of horizontal movement on it’ — his go-to pitch. Weisenburger also throws a curveball and an occasional changeup.”

That new profile helped him rank No. 22 on the new FanGraphs A’s prospect list, with this report:

“Weisenberger is a pure reliever who has also enjoyed a velo spike in pro ball, now touching 97. His best pitch is a two-planed slider that features good back foot angle versus lefties, and he can also guide an okay changeup to the arm-side part of the plate.”

And it’s not just idle talk, as the results speak for themselves.

  • Weisenburger, A+: 1.76 ERA, 15⅓ ip, 26 Ks, 4 BB, 0 HR, 9 hits, 1.67 FIP

The 23-year-old already earned a promotion to Double-A, and has pitched twice for Midland.

  • Weisenburger, AA: 3 ip, 2 runs, 3 Ks, 1 BB, 0 HR, 2 hits

Pretty good progress for his first full pro season! He also earned four saves and a hold in late-inning duty for Lansing, with only one lead blown.

Also dominating High-A is Aiden McIntyre (2018, 22nd round). The right-hander, who was born in nearby Davis, was the first athlete drafted out of Holy Names University in Oakland by any pro sports league. He pitched a full season in 2019 and posted a monster strikeout rate as a starter in Low-A, and he’s picking up where he left off as a reliever in High-A.

  • McIntyre: 1.27 ERA, 21⅓ ip, 31 Ks, 5 BB, 2 HR, 12 hits, 3.47 FIP

Those numbers have come while seeing plenty of high-leverage action, as he’s also converted two saves and four holds without blowing any. Weisenburger gave the following scouting report of his teammate McIntyre, per Laurila:

“Out of the pen, Aiden McIntyre is pretty dang good. He’s got a big-time, high-spin-rate, vertical-break fastball and a good curveball that he uses to strike guys out. He’s been punching out a lot of guys.”

Like Weisenburger, McIntyre has also trained with Driveline. He has a YouTube channel, with videos showing various aspects of a baseball player’s life from his Driveline work, to diet, to road trips, to spring training. McIntyre was promoted to Double-A on Sunday, just before this post was published.

Another breakout performance in the bullpen belongs to 25-year-old right-hander Shohei Tomioka, who signed out of Japan in January 2020. At the time he was described as a “four-pitch pitcher with good command of a fastball that’s 92-95 mph,” with a cutter, curve, and changeup on the side, per John Shea of the S.F. Chronicle. Looking good so far!

  • Tomioka: 3.42 ERA, 23⅔ ip, 23 Ks, 5 BB, 0 HR, 25 hits, 2.69 FIP

Here’s another look at Tomioka.

Next we move to the starting rotation, where a relatively higher draft pick is making good so far. Right-hander Seth Shuman went in the 6th round in 2019 and fared well in a brief pro debut that summer, and he’s built on that even further in his first year of full-season ball.

  • Shuman: 2.25 ERA, 24 ip, 33 Ks, 4 BB, 2 HR, 2.97 FIP

FanGraphs included him in the honorable mentions after their Top 33 list, calling him “a pitchability righty up to 94, with command of four serviceable pitches.”

Here’s another clip, freezing a batter with a beautiful breaking ball.

But can he make a hitter look awkward? (Yes.)

Shuman started Opening Day, and you can hear him talk about the experience here. That was at the beginning of May, and this week in mid-June he finally allowed more than one run in a game for the first time this year, in his seventh outing.

Joining him in the rotation is lefty Brady Basso, a 31st-round pick from 2019. He was a reliever in college but is getting the chance to stretch out this year, with encouraging results. FanGraphs describes him as “a hard-throwing lefty with a curveball and a cutter” in their honorable mentions, and Lockard specifies that he was around 95-97 mph this spring.

  • Basso: 4.71 ERA, 21 ip, 26 Ks, 7 BB, 2 HR, 3.65 FIP

He’s only gone past three innings once, and Lockard reported this week that he’ll be capped around 75 innings this year due to his track record as a reliever. He went on the injured list Sunday just before this post was published.

To wrap up, let’s head back to the bullpen for three more intriguing stat lines, one each from the 2017-19 draft classes. All are right-handed.

  • Withers: 2.08 ERA, 13 ip, 22 Ks, 9 BB, 1 HR, 3.58 FIP
  • Nightengale: 3.52 ERA, 23 ip, 34 Ks, 14 BB, 1 HR, 3.59 FIP
  • Hall: 2.73 ERA, 26⅓ ip, 28 Ks, 6 BB, 1 HR, 2.94 FIP

That’s Brandon Withers (2017, 31st round), who got a couple years of pro experience before the pandemic. He has an interesting backstory and you can listen to him talk about it with Lugnuts broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, with the teaser: “Starting pitching as a high school junior, going from walk-on to A’s draft pick, discovering his wicked slider, teaching fifth-grade English, and more.”

Then there’s Bryce Nightengale (2018, 16th round), who also got pro action pre-pandemic but is posting his best results yet this year. Here’s a breaking ball for you.

Rounding out that trio is Charles Hall (2019, 33rd round), and see if you can guess what I like most about him. In addition to his stats above, he’s got a save and two holds but has blown one lead. In Withers’ interview linked above, he mentions that he and Hall grew up 10 minutes away from each other but had never met before 2021 spring training.

We just talked about 11 different pitchers, not counting the injured list. There’s no telling how many will continue to impress, and move up the minor league ladder, and even make it to the majors one day. It could be none, or it could be a bunch of them. But at this High-A level, especially in regard to sleepers like mid-round college draft picks, you’re looking for which lotto tickets are worthy of paying attention to and hopefully adding to the prospect radar someday. Lansing has a ton of early standouts to choose from.

And we didn’t even mention Stevie Emanuels, last summer’s 5th-round draft pick. His numbers aren’t great so far as he transitions from college relief to pro starting (5.18 ERA, 4.84 FIP), but FanGraphs ranked him No. 17 in the A’s system, saying:

“He sat in the upper-80s during the brief 2020 college season but certainly has the frame and athleticism to come into more velo late, and his command gives him a shot to start. ... He has lots of late-bloomer traits and could end up pitching toward the back of a rotation.”

Add it up, and here’s a roster of Lugnuts pitchers to keep an eye on, including which ones are ranked in the A’s system by either FanGraphs or our CPL.

Rotation

  • Colin Peluse (No. 22 CPL, No. 11 FanGraphs)
  • Richard Guasch (made 2020 CPL)
  • Seth Shuman
  • Brady Basso (lefty) (went on injured list 6/20)
  • Stevie Emanuels (No. 17 FanGraphs)

Bullpen

  • Promoted to Double-A: Jack Weisenburger (No. 22 FanGraphs)
  • Promoted to Double-A: Aiden McIntyre (No. 25 FanGraphs)
  • Charles Hall
  • Bryce Nightengale
  • Dalton Sawyer (lefty) (made 2018 CPL)
  • Shohei Tomioka
  • Brandon Withers

One more Lansing update. Outfielder Michael Guldberg (2020, 3rd round) missed three weeks to a hamstring, but he’s back in action and looked great on this running catch Friday.

And in conclusion, in case this new minor league affiliate wasn’t already cool enough, here’s one more treat for A’s fans. You might remember Sal Fasano from his days as a backup catcher, in Oakland and elsewhere, including the time he hit such a mammoth homer that it broke a suite window at the Coliseum. Fasano managed the Lugnuts in 2010 when they were a Blue Jays affiliate, which means he and his amazing mustache are a part of team lore and we get to enjoy him anew (though he now coaches for the Braves).

That’s a wrap for Lansing! It took two posts and over 4,000 words, because this squad is full of fun new sleepers to learn about, and the team itself puts out more content than any minor league club I’ve ever seen. Go Nuts!