The A’s may struggle lately with big trades, but sometimes those quieter “under the radar” moves can help counter-balance the higher profile fails.
Consider that the A’s got one of the AL’s better rookies, Ryan Noda, in the rule 5 draft and are close to graduating possibly their next shortstop, Darell Hernaiz, thanks to a deal that cost them only a fast-fading Cole Irvin.
This week they made no national headlines when they plucked, off the waiver wire, a 27 year old reliever with all of 2 big league innings under his belt. Devin Sweet is known for his “bugs bunny changeup,” which can translate to many things. You can be Jharel Cotton, flashing intriguing stuff but serving up HRs like they’re going out of style or you can be another Devin, Williams of the Brewers, striking out more than 14 batters per 9 IP and anchoring the back end of a bullpen.
By pedigree — 27 years old, having toiled in the minors from ages 21-26 and then waived after barely a drip of coffee in the big leagues — Sweet is just another strand of spaghetti thrown against the wall by a desperate team scanning resumes for “has a pulse”.
But Sweet offers more than just a plus changeup. He throws 94 MPH with a slider offering a 3-pitch repertoire. None of which elevates him beyond Cotton or current Athletic Adrian Martinez. What might make Sweet a steal of a reliever isn’t his stuff, but rather what he has consistently accomplished with it since joining pro ball in 2018.
The fact is, all Sweet has ever been as a pro is really good. So much so that I can’t figure out why the Mariners never gave him a real shot and then waived him. But this is the organization who, while battling for the post-season, decided to trade its closer, Paul Sewald, at the deadline. Perhaps they just hate having good relievers.
When I say Sweet has been consistently good, here’s what I mean. As a 21 year old, he debuted with 19.1 IP in which he walked 6 and struck out 24.
In 2019, he started out at full-season A-ball where he threw 108.2 IP and compiled a 3.06 ERA. He walked 23 and struck out 131. Promoted to advanced-A ball at the end of the season all he did was post an 0.96 ERA in 18.2 IP, allowing 12 hits, 4 BB with 21 K.
Post pandemic, in 2021 and 2022, his superficial stats don’t look as good with ERAs of 4.74 and 5.28. But he continued to put up solid peripherals: 79.2 IP, 29 BB, 93 K followed by 58 IP, 23 BB, 68 K. This year he posted a 2.30 ERA across AA and AAA with 11 BB and 56 K in 43 IP.
In fact, Sweet has struck out more than a batter an inning every single season with very good BB rates overall. For his MiLB career his stats are outstanding:
327.1 IP, 300 hits, 41 HR, 96 BB, 393 K.
By ratio? That’s 10.81 K/9IP against just 2.64 BB/9IP with a HR/9IP rate of 1.13.
Sweet debuted for the A’s last night and picked up his first big league win thanks to 2 hitless and scoreless innings. He commanded his fastball both on the outside corner and up in the zone, flashed the changeup and used his slider effectively to the RH batters. The one slider he didn’t command so much was to Corey Seager, who was hit by it and became the only base runner over Sweet’s 2 IP.
Is Sweet the second coming of fellow Devin-reliever Williams? No, almost certainly not. But he could well be a rare 2023 find for the A’s and that is a reliever worth having on the next competitive A’s team.
If so it will be quite the get because with 0.00 years of service time, despite turning 27 earlier this week Sweet is still under contract control from 2024-2029.
The A’s have thrown a lot of bad pasta against the bullpen wall this year, from Rico Garcia and Angel Felipe to Sam Long and Yacksel Rios, from Tayler Scott and Chad Smith to a Spenser named Patton and a Spenser named Watkins.
Mark my words: this one might be a keeper. How Sweet it is (to be gloved by you).