Saturday, March 1, 2014

Midland's bullpen potential

Oakland's relief cast boasts a formidable contingent of statistically brilliant arms with the acquisitions of Johnson, O'Flaherty and Gregerson coinciding with Athletics veterans such as Doolittle and Cook to frontline the A's relieving cast unanimously considered one of the most phenomenal amongst all of baseball. Hidden behind that are Jesse Chavez, Fernando Abad, Evan Scribner, Dan Otero and Fernando Rodriguez who are expected to feature within middle and long relief capacities for the Athletics, which is further bolstered by Sacramento assets such as Pomeranz, Flores, Hooker, Smyth, and McBryde whom could appear within the Coliseum should injury correlate with a sensational performance of one these men. While this amount of depth may be sufficient for Oakland throughout the 2014 campaign, the bullpen prospects set to dwell in the A's Texas stronghold that is Midland for this approaching season have established themselves as one of the most intriguing of any single positional group housed within an Athletics affiliate throughout the system. Upstarts, late round underdogs and journeymen with oodles of potential comprise this club poised to close ballgames for the Rockhounds through 2014 en route to a probable berth with the Athletics should they transition onward to Sacramento. Despite the engrained characters currently within Oakland, these gentlemen ought to challenge for opportunities either with the A's or elsewhere with their performances thus far and the anticipated outings they'll provide this year.

Omar Duran (LHP/Pictured above): One of the most outstanding strikeout assets upon the farm, Duran has been as erratic as he has been effective throughout his professional stint with the Athletics. The aging Duran and recent Rule 5 eligible reliever had his first legitimately extensive sample size achieved with Stockton after practically vaulting over the Midwest League entirety after just three appearances and 3 2/3 innings with mediocre results. Versus the California League, he once more struggled out of the stretch with his delivery occasionally disintegrating, a similar issue with with fellow Dominican Ports buddy, Jon Joseph. Regardless, he excelled for the most part through 33 appearances and 53 frames with the second highest K% (35.3%) in the organization behind Tucker Healy, another former Stockton bullpen member who should shift towards Midland as well to accompany Duran. His 84 cumulative strikeouts contrasted with his 41 walks distributed (17.5% BB%) and demonstrated his absurd inconsistency, often unnecessarily being thrown into high leverage situations. That, compounded by his plus groundball rate (1.67 GB/FB through Stockton, with a lifetime 1.87 rate) wound up inflicting significant damage upon his traditional statistics throughout his campaign, unfortunately. However, Duran's 3.43 FIP was for more indicative of his potential brought to the Athletics as he additionally had permitted zero career dingers upon the mound prior to 2013, where he surrendered a respectable four in the ruthless confines of Banner Island. 

The 24 year old received an AZFL berth, where he noticeably struggled through 9 2/3 IP with an amassed 9 H, 6 R (1 HR), 7 BB, 6 K (2 WP) line before he would succumb to injury. Though it shouldn't jeopardize his 2014 attempt, it showcased Duran's fatigue after his first extensive campaign in a full season affiliate. The pronounced 6'3", 210 pound lefty failed to acquire a 40 man position following his lackluster outing in the AZL, and therefore didn't follow Pedro Figueroa's path as another Dominican southpaw to snag a roster post before ever having pitched past Stockton. Still, Midland seems likely for Duran to showcase his capabilities and convince the Athletics to extend him into 2015 following his MiLB free agency come September. Utilizing his devastating 96-98 MPH fastball (93-95 if used for multiple frames) and a filthy curve to stall opponents with an arsenal that completely frazzles batters. Albeit in a minuscule 81 plate appearances, lefties only hit .123/.298/.138 off Duran and he features to be project as a LOOGY who could probably fare somewhat decently in a purely LHB exclusive role versus major league competition at the moment. His next task will be having to solve the advanced opposition of the Texas League with the Rockhounds however, and will continue to be one of the most peculiar relievers currently under an Athletics contract. 

Ryan Dull (RHP): It could be argued Dull had the highest organizational stock increase of any Athletics prospect through 2013, rising past Beloit to Midland prior to being admitted into the AZFL and establishing himself as a Sacramento bullpen candidate for 2014 as the 32nd round senior signee in 2013 from UNC-Asheville has defied odds and dominated the whole of the A's full season competition. A diminutive righty at 5'11" that neutralizes opposition with a 92-91 fastball and changeup/slider secondary combination, Dull rocketed past the AZL upon being ushered into the A's system and promptly was flown to Vermont after four appearances. He would conclude his short season tenure with the Lake Monsters to accumulate a 47:9 K/BB between 31 2/3 IP with a mere two dingers allowed through 2012 with a GB/FB greater than 1.70 to firmly place himself upon Beloit's roster for the following campaign. With the Snappers, Dull thrived in relief after his 20 appearance, 25 2/3 IP stint had concluded just prior to the MWL All-Star break following a first half Beloit championship over Cedar Rapids as he, Healy, and Alcantara were packaged out to California with the Ports. His exceptional performance (35:3 K/BB, 1 HR allowed, 1.69 GB/FB) in Wisconsin would continue through Stockton where he excelled at an even greater rate comparatively to his outings while partaking in his Midwest stay, constructing a 22 2/3 IP, 13 H, 4 R (0 HR), 3 BB, 31 K line just before transitioning to Beloit to become the only A's minor leaguer to have bounced past two affiliates in a single season for 2013 (Sam Bragg would later accomplish that feat by going from the AZL to Beloit). 

In Texas, Dull finally was stymied by the advanced caliber of competition with a somewhat mediocre performance with the Rockhounds after batters were able to square up to Dull's pitches and decipher his pitch sequencing for the first instance in his MiLB career. Additionally, versus primarily AA and AAA opposition, Dull struggled more so in the AZFL with statistical not reminiscent of the Winston-Salem native's previous Athletics résumé (22 2/3 IP, 3 HR, 7 BB, 21 K between MID/AZFL). Dull could've been bitten by fatigue however, such as his fellow Fall League alumni, Omar Duran, was and thus hindered his production against the most elite offenses he had tackled throughout his career. He'll likely be sanctioned off to Midland once more in an attempt to actualize his potential following a recuperative offseason. The righty still obliterated fellow like-handed batters, as righties hit a measly .177/.200/.269 off Dull and a 51:3 K/BB was amassed, which is the second most dominant RHB split of any A's reliever behind Tucker Healy (See below). With a career 125:18 K/BB through 91 2/3 IP, Dull's outstanding production could have him challenging for an Oakland roster position should be replicate his Beloit/Stockton outings in Texas and Sacramento 

Tucker Healy (RHP): Dull's bullpen tag team companion, the pair assaulted batters across the sphere of minor league baseball to develop into the most outstanding closing tandem throughout all full season squads. Owning a 39.2% K% through Stockton, Healy amassed a 74:10 K/BB between 48 1/3 IP (33 appearances) and just narrowly missed on an October berth with Mesa. Still, Healy is the absolutely most dominant reliever in the Athletics organization versus RHB, as righties hit .167/.165/.306 against him in 109 PAs cumulatively in 2013... Wondering how Healy's opponents had a lower on-base? Well, that's because the walked ZERO right handed batters and struck out 48 of them (44.0% K%) in that span. It's the most ridiculous split of any A's pitcher in the system, and will be one of the more interesting storylines to cover as he progresses to Midland. I wrote a brief blurb on Tucker in January as one of the Athletics' most prominent MiLB sleepers:

"Tucker has been a revelation since inking with the Athletics out of Ithaca College as a 23rd rounder in 2012, and has gone mostly unnoticed partially due to Ryan Dull's emergence as the AZFL alumni has complemented Healy within bullpen configurations in Arizona, Vermont, Beloit and Stockton with Dullie being bestowed with 9th inning duties and Healy with the much less glamorous set-up role. The two have formed a formidable duo, and have become arguably the best 8th/9th inning tandem throughout all of minor league baseball, compiling a 154:19 K/BB between their cumulative 108 IP in 2013. With Dull having been uplifted to Midland, Healy remained in Stockton after grappling with an injury that cost him his entire August and lost out on a probable offseason berth for the Solar Sox. But still, the former Cape Cod participant figures to reunite with Dull in Texas for 2014, and aims to outperform his fellow relieving prospect. The righty owns a 91-95 MPH fastie and coincides it with a changeup and a slider, but practically abandoned the change after arriving in the Cal League following a couple dingers blasted off the offspeed offering. Healy has outstanding command, and the statistical results have proven it as he finished with a ludicrous 39.2% K% for the season and has earned the claim as the best strikeout reliever in the organization entering 2014. If the product isn't affected by the Texas and Pacific Coast league environments, he'll be in green and gold by September"

Seth Frankoff (RHP): Another recent Stockton Port and 2013 offseason Fall League representative, Frankoff reestablished himself as a prospect that must be acknowledged within the A's system following a dominant performance while housed in the infamous California League. The former long relief specialist and starter following his 27th round selection in 2010 out of UNC-Wilmington featured in a rotation exclusive role prior to 2012, where he transitioned into relieving sequence between 36 appearances with 27 of them resulting in Frankoff emerging from the bullpen in Burlington. After an initial stint with the AZL and Vancouver, Frankoff's 2011 was spent predominantly within the short season ranks once more as Oakland shifted their affiliation to the NYPL thanks to a grotesque .447 BABIP through his first 12 innings participating in Burlington. He would locate success in Vermont however, accumulating a 3.01 FIP and producing a 21.1% K%/9.0% BB% split while allowed a lone HR through 73 frames in a campaign that definitively convinced the organization that he was beneath the northeastern affiliate. Frankoff then became a stalwart force in the Bees' bullpen through 2012 as he embarked upon his professional shift towards a relieving position, yet unfortunately accumulated mediocre statistical results with a 4.34 FIP, 0.95 HR/9 and a decrease in strikeout efficiency to 18.9% between 104 1/3 IP which put his corresponding Stockton eligibility for the then 23 year old in jeopardy. 

However, a position was available and Frankoff trekked onward to Stockton, where he now dwelled exclusively in a late innings capacity, seldom appearing earlier than the 7th inning. It was a remarkable breakthrough for the towering 6'5", 200 pound North Carolinian, tallying ludicrous strikeout totals and adopting the role as one of the California League's most steady set-up men. Through his 48 appearances, Frankoff decisively proved himself worthy of a Rockhounds promotion with a 93:23 K/BB between 74 1/3 IP, a 2.88 FIP, 0.73 HR/9, 30.4% K% and a 2.68 GB/FB that ought to catapult the 25 year old to Texas and snatch a high leverage bullpen post for Midland. Frankoff finally seems to be materializing after having committed to pitching exclusively as a high school senior and struggling to assimilate upon the mound through his collegiate career. The production also seemed to correlate with the sharpening of his cutter (89-91 MPH) and curveball, both of which were exceptional versus Cal League bats, additionally bolstering that with a 90-91 MPH fastball and reliable changeup encompassing an arsenal that isn't necessarily common within the realm of closing options. His repertoire would be showcased further in Arizona with an AZFL ticket punched and he continued to demonstrate his consistency after a 12 1/3 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 15 K performance pitted against some of the most fearsome and well renowned minor league opposition in baseball, which cements his roster position in Texas come April. He'll be a MiLB FA following his Rule 5 eligibility this previous December, similarly to Duran, Joseph and Hassebrock, so Frankoff shall have to be flawless against AA offenses should he wish to continue towards Oakland. 

       (Photo Courtesy: Chris Lockard)

Ryan Doolittle (RHP): The sibling of Oakland's phenomenal left handed late inning asset, Sean Doolittle, Ryan has floundered through the Athletics due, not to statistical mediocrity, but his inability to remain healthy through Stockton and the Midwest League. Just recently having undergone TJS to repair structural damage to his UCL, Doolittle now seems poised to ascend onward to Midland with his age rapidly beginning to outweigh his potential. Still, when healthy, the New Jersey native has been unstoppable and hopes to produce a breakthrough season with the Rockhounds. I profiled Ryan for the full season pitching preview earlier this year:

"Yes, the sibling of famed Sean Doolittle, the younger Ryan is still under contract with the Athletics despite having just undergone TJS which cost him nearly the entirety of 2013. Having partook in other additional UCL surgeries while within the Oakland system, Doolittle has hardly had a legitimate opportunity to distinguish himself from the older brother, now one of the most dominant left handed relievers in baseball following an impromptu transition to the mound. But Ryan, when healthy, has been nearly unhittable and has been one of the most statistically remarkable pitchers for the Athletics since he was selected by Oakland in the 26th round in the 2008 Draft. Never having amassed more than 24 appearances in a single campaign, Doolittle hopes 2014 can be the breakout season in which he reunites with Sean in the green and gold. 

Through 163 career innings, Doolittle has a 157:20 K/BB with 10 dingers permitted and a 2.20 GB/FB, an exceptional performance over the previous half decade that has made his absence all the more tragic. If healthy throughout the whole of his career, he likely would be in consideration for a major league bullpen position, if not having already acquired one in Oakland. The righty still has an opportunity though, with a probable Midland position awaiting him to commence 2014, which would serve as Doolittle's AA debut. The Tabernacle, NJ native owns a 59:7 K/BB in 50 1/3 California League frames and has thoroughly demolished the competition with Stockton, as the 26 year old seems the most adequately suited for the Rockhounds bullpen. 

Doolittle recuperated within the AZL last season in August prior to the two start Ports stints, which was to amass as many possible innings as the A's could before the season concluded. Between 17 innings and six appearances, he constructed a 11 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 10 K line that he hopes should vault him upward to Midland. Utilizing a 91-93 FB with movement and an exceptional changeup/slider combination, Doolittle's repertoire is somewhat reminiscent of Ryan Dull, who demonstrated what Ryan Doolittle could've done if healthy for a prolonged period during 2013. The dreams of a sibling tandem in the east bay aren't completely dead though, but it'll require Doolittle to be spotless in 2014."

          (Photo Courtesy: Nick Badders) 

Blake Hassebrock (RHP): The 6'5", 220 pound behemoth has been ridiculously inconsistent despite wielding a rare six pitch repertoire of a 95-96 MPH fastball (In a bullpen exclusive role) and a secondary cornucopia of a sinker, slider, cutter, curveball and changeup which all range from 83-94 MPH. The extensive arsenal and limited velocity differential has bitten Hassebrock, who recently was overwhelmed by Texas League offenses in his 16 1/3 IP debut to conclude his 2013 stint. The hulking righty shall venture into MiLB free agency this Fall and the Athletics have one lone campaign to squeeze the remaining potential out of the still developing and potential rich Hassebrock, serving as the third North Carolinian in the Rockhounds bullpen. The 2010 8th round draftee has meandered through the lower reaches of the system, similarly to Frankoff, for the previous few campaigns after transitioning between bullpen and rotation roles, but seems to have permanently settled within a middle relief duty as he shall attempt for the final instance in his Athletics career to actualize into the phenom they once envisioned him to be.

After a relatively rapid ascent past the short season affiliates in Arizona and Vermont, Hassebrock continued to develop as a rotation member through his 2011 debut with Burlington, starring between 139 1/3 IP (26 starts) with a 18.2% K%, 7.6% BB%, and 0.58 HR/9 to amass a respectable 3.75 FIP as he would transition onward to Stockton. With the Ports, Hassebrock would wind up being overwhelmed by the feverish California League surroundings, surrendering six dingers (1.00 HR/9) through 50 2/3 IP and accumulating a 8.17 ERA (4.64 FIP) thanks to an absolutely mindboggling .426 BABIP.However, he was granted with quite possibly the worst defensive infield in the minors during that fateful 2012, featuring the likes of Yordy Cabrera and BA Vollmuth who struggled to reward the gargantuan righty for his 2.29 GB/FB, consistently one of the organization's best groundball inducing arms. Compounded by injury, Hassebrock struggled further in his demotion to Burlington and was forcibly made to recalibrate as he approached the 2013 campaign. Upon his return to Stockton, Hassebrock posted a career best strikeout production (25.8% K%, 68 K) and a career worst BB% (10.8%, 29 BB) through a now essentially bullpen exclusive capacity between 26 appearances and a mere five outings housed within the starting rotation, in a performance that was further bolstered by his persistence and ability to limit dingers that saw him flown to Midland for his AA debut. With the Rockhounds, Hassebrock went 16 1/3 IP, 18 H, 12 ER, 7 BB and 5 K with an abysmal stint that shall undoubtedly have him attempting the Texas League once more through 2014. 

Invoking comparisons to former Athletics asset and now major league bullpen piece, Ryan Webb, Hassebrock has positive attributes such as his career 2.60 GB/FB and sizzling fastball that shall carry him to the cusp of the majors either with the A's or another organization. His statistical performance, while cumulatively mediocre, has been demonstrated to improve as he constructed a far more respectable Stockton sophomore season after being blown apart by California League offenses as in 2012. In all likelihood, the Rockhounds will serve as the affiliate to determine Hassebrock's fate as a professional baseball player

Jeff Urlaub (LHP): Urlaub has risen to prominence within the organization partly assisted by his age, acquired as a 5th year senior from Grand Canyon University after a previous stint with UNLV. The precision oriented lefty recently was bestowed with AZFL admittance and fared as one of the more successful Athletics representatives for Mesa, compiling a 16:3 K/BB through 13 innings following a passable Texas League debut. A frail 6'2", 160, dimensions reminiscent of Tanner Peters, the 26 year old has a unique philosophy, stating that he'd "rather give up a homer than walk somebody" when I interviewed him as a Stockton Port in 2013. That was off the heels of a sensational Burlington stint where the lefty couldn't walk anyone even if he had tried, permitting one free pass through 34 2/3 IP before his promotion to Stockton, where he has since starred for his strike throwing capabilities, but won't likely ever be able to replicate his Midwest League dominance. Still, the consistent Urlaub has churned away and since carved out a plaque as one of the most meticulous and precise relief pieces within the farm system. Now currently competing for a Sacramento position, Urlaub shall likely commence in Midland once more prior to his 27th birthday on April 24th, as he'll service as a left handed specialty reserve and middle relieving component of the Midland pitching staff.

Upon his selection in 2010, Urlaub, who had previously been selected twice before by Tampa Bay and Miami despite grappling with TJS recovery in college, entered the Athletics system and spent the entirety of his debut campaign stashed within Arizona. He would amass 26 2/3 IP with a 26:3 K/BB before transitioning onward to Vermont, where he would accumulate 56 frames between the NYPL and Burlington following promotion with a FIP south of 3.30 prior to his 2012 breakthrough within the Midwest League. His aforementioned statistical production bumped him towards Stockton where he once again was phenomenally consistent between 21 appearances and 30 1/3 IP, producing a 3.23 FIP, 26.3% K%, 6.8% BB% (31:6 K/BB, 2 IBBs) and a 91.6% LOB% that convinced Oakland that he was deserving of Midland. With the Rockdoggies, Urlaub saw a significant decline between his strikeout production versus extraordinarily advanced offensive weapons, but once again stealthily amassed consistent production with a 3.01 FIP in 46 2/3 innings (40 appearances, 20.0% K%, 40:13 K/BB, 2 HR, 1.35 GB/FB) as he now sits comfortably with a career résumé of a 196:35 K/BB through 194 IP with an accompanying 1.79 GB/FB. The soft tossing lefty has many internally within the A's organization comparing him to Jerry Blevins, despite not possessing his size, with a 86-90 MPH fastball, plus 77-79 MPH changeup, steadily improving curveball, and a seldom utilized slider that have him pounding upon the door of the Rivercats roster. The most likely candidate to be plucked and immediately receive entry into the Sacramento bullpen, it'll unfortunately likely require an injury to occur to those already hypothetically slated to commence within the PCL for Urlaub to gain admittance and further trek towards Oakland. However, injuries are commonplace in the spring, and Urlaub could easily continue his ascent as quite possibly the most reliable reliever within the A's system. If not, it'll be another attempt with Midland before a certain promotion to California come summer. 

Nate Long (RHP): The former collegiate teammate of Michael Choice at UT-Arlington, the Fort Worth native and 2009 draftee has since been serviced as a predominant long relief asset for Oakland between his steady rise, despite wielding a minimal major league probability as he celebrated his 28th birthday this past February. The righty spent two consecutive campaigns housed in Vancouver prior to his Midwest League debut in 2011, which would prove to be his most extensive stint between 108 IP and 26 appearances (15 starts) with a cumulative 3.52 FIP, 20.2% K%, 9.2% BB%, and 0.50 HR/9 prior to his Stockton assignment. The California League wasn't kind to Long, who was obliterated with a 1.41 HR/9 after 14 dingers surrendered between 89 1/3 IP and 35 appearances in an otherwise proficient season with a 6.5% BB% and a 2.58 GB/FB that saw him conduct his Texas League debut in 2013. Proving that park factors had hindered his performance with the Ports, Long has emerged from his most outstanding season thus far, with a 2.95 FIP between 32 appearances and 63 IP with a 20.7% K% and a career best 3.38 GB/FB.

Long's remarkable fastball movement and aggressive philosophy have propelled him to the fringe of Sacramento, as lefties hit .236/.299/.315 off the hulking 215 pounder and minor league veteran as MiLB free agency looms. Another candidate for Sacramento promotion, Long likely is one of the first available should the Rivercats rotation suffer a casualty. 

Jon Joseph (RHP): The longest tenured Oakland Athletics arm is Jonathan Joseph, originally inked out of the Dominican Republic as an 18 year old in 2006, and now enters his 9th campaign under contract with the A's after inking a MiLB deal this offseason in Mid-October and seems destined to arrive in Texas following a sensational campaign with Stockton in his California League entry. Featuring primarily as a starting asset until the Midwest League, his rotation duties gradually dissipated between Kane Country and Burlington until his seven appearance, bullpen exclusive attempt with the Ports in 2012. As 2013 approached, Joseph became a committed reliever for the first instance in his extensive career and flourished between 47 appearances with a 28.5% K%, 3.54 FIP, and a mere six dingers allowed between 64 1/3 frames to coincide with a 1.47 GB/FB with a career altering performance. Joseph was inconsistent, however, often struggling horribly in certain situations and permitting himself to overthink scenarios in one appearance while bring completely composed and dominant the next. He produced one the most absurd single game outputs during the 2013 campaign throughout minor league baseball as well, going 1/3 IP with 1 H, 5 R (1 HR), 2 BB, and 3 K... Striking out two that reached on consequent wild pitches to achieve that nearly impossible line. In his next appearance, he went 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB and 2 K in what sums up Joseph's 2013 perfectly. 

Throwing a dangerous 92-95 fastball in relief with a eyepopping 12-6 curve as his most legitimate secondary offering, Joseph starred and his continual changeup development assisted him through the previous season as well.  Lefties, figured to bat more favorably versus the righty in Joseph, were stifled by his repertoire with a cumulative .180/.282/.270 slash between 120 PAs while he produced a more expected slash when pitted against righties. It's a split that could affect his prospects within the organization, now packaged towards the Texan prairie to grapple with the most challenging competitors he's ever had to solve. 

       (Photo Courtesy: Chris Lockard) 

Trey Barham (LHP): The Athletics consistent Virginian southpaw, Barham has remained a stealthy contributor throughout his Athletics tenure and professional ascent, similarly to fellow lefty, Jeff Urlaub. The previously anonymous 265h round acquisition from VMI, Barham has featured predominantly as a reliever exclusively between his 198 career appearances, with only a mere 15 outings within the rotation accumulated and seven of those occurring whilst partaking in his rehabilitation stint within the AZL during the 2013 campaign. The hulking 6'0", 210 pound asset was forcibly made to attend Papago due to having undergone TJS during the offseason and squandering an opportunity for a more successful attempt at Sacramento after a 9 2/3 IP, 18 H, 15 R (2 HR), 8 BB (2 IBB), 6 K try following his 2012 Rivercats debut. He would trek through the rookie league facility and Banner Island until now what is expected to be another reacclimation to Midland and Sacramento in his final season under Oakland ownership prior to free agency. Despite statistics that aren't necessarily eyecatching, Barham's unwavering composure and consistency have vaulted him upwards towards the upper reaches of the Athletics MiLB bullpen candidacy and squarely place him within the top tier of left handed arms within the system. 

His stint with Oakland began through Vancouver and ran past Kane County between the 2009 season to amass 105 2/3 IP within 48 appearances with a 77:28 K/BB and two dingers permitted for a FIP south of 3.00 despite his mediocre strikeout percentages. Once again, Barham burst upward to Stockton, where the lefty starred as one the Ports most reliable relieving cogs through 68 1/3 IP and 59 cumulative outings with a 19.4% K%, 6.6% BB%, 3.48 FIP and a 2.32 GB/FB to propel him past another affiliate to Midland. Unfortunately, his 2011 campaign with the Rockhounds was his first genuine lackluster year with a 10.4% BB% and a career worst 4.22 FIP which convinced Oakland to retain him within Texas for another attempt. Barham adjusted instanteously however, marching through to Sacramento where he was stymied significantly before his corresponding 2012 was halted to his elbow ailment. Now, Norfolk native shall emerge within Oakland's premier affiliates once more to attempt for the last instance to reach the majors with the Athletics. The 28 year old possesses two and four seam fastball variations in a 89-92 MPH range with additional secondary array of a changeup, slider and curveball in which utilizes for his absurd groundball percentages and now shall have to grapple with an treacherous path to don the A's insignia. In all likelihood, Barham will have to latch onto another organization for the 2015 campaign should he wish to progress and rise to his major league aspirations. 

        (Photo Courtesy: Nick Badders) 

TJ Walz (RHP): The diminutive righty and Omaha native, Walz arrived in the Athletics system following his 15th round acquisition from Kansas, where the righty rampaged through the Big 12 competition en route to being considered one of the most esteemed arms in Jayhawks history. Orginally plucked in the 50th round by Oakland following the completion of his junior campaign, Walz indicated he would return to acquire his degree and once again the Athletics scrounged him up within the 2011 draft fray as he rapidly assimilated within the system between Vermont and Butlington before becoming one of the first draftees from that crop to reach Stockton, as he began within Stockton's six man opening day rotation to commence 2012. Throwing a 89-93 fastball with a curveball featuring as his primary secondary, Walz has continuously received plentiful acclaim for his competitiveness upon the mound through his collegiate tenure and since amongst the A's organization as he shall attempt to transition onward to Midland during the 2014 season as a 25 year old, after shockingly being excluded from a Rockhounds berth the year prior following a remarkable Stockton debut. It'll be a difficult task to now mingle amongst some of the premier relieving arms now housed beside Walz in his affiliate tier, but the Kansan's propensity for strikeout production and a spike in groundball rate during the previous campaign bode extremely well as he continues to navigate through his current situation. 

Between his 2011 debut, Walz was absolutely stellar after obliterating NYPL offenses with a 22 IP, 14 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 27 K line prior to settling within Iowa through his initial 10 Midwest League outings (18 2/3 IP) with a 16:7 K/BB. The performance, and his status as a highly regarded senior asset, propelled Walz onward to Stockton for his rotation debut, however he would eventually shift towards a more comfortable bullpen post where he has resided since now following a cumulative 81 appearances and eight starts throughout his Stockton career. He flourished within the California League as a sophomore, compiling 99 2/3 IP with a 26.6% K%, 8.6% BB% (112:32 K/BB), .293 BABIP, 77.1% LOB% and a 0.81 HR/9 to conclude with a 3.45 FIP and a nearly assured transition to Texas. However, as mentioned previously, Walz would be retained in one of the more startling opening day roster snubs within the organization, and he righty's notability tapered as a would succumb to a grotesque .404 BABIP and 62.4% LOB% that haunted him between his 42 outings in 2013, as his defense couldn't support his strikingly plus 2.41 GB/FB after showcasing his previously well estsblished fly ball orientation. He wouldn't assist himself though, with an increase to a 1.02 HR/9 and a 10.5% BB% throughout his season, in what have since crippled his prospect standing. He still retains significant potentiality within the A's ranks however, with often exhibited swing-and-miss production with a newfound groundball rate that ought to assist him in progressing to Midland, regardless of the relievers strewn out in front of him in this projected Rockhounds bullpen alignment. 

Jesus Castillo (RHP): Oakland's most prominent offseason competitor, Castillo shall star amongst AA opposition following a lengthy fall stint with the Navajeros de Hermosillo as a consistent long relief component upon their Serie Del Caribe championship squad. Castillo, the Mexican native and Tucson transplant, was housed for three consecutive campaigns upon the Broncos de Reynosa roster following being drafted by Los Angeles out of Pima CC as a 27th rounder in 2003 and ascended through the Dodgers' system up towards an Albequerque stint in 2010 where he amassed 23 2/3 IP with severely subpar results. His most notable MiLB campaign came in 2008 with Jacksonville following a 114 IP duration with a 3.72 FIP, as he feature predominantly as a rotation asset between Inland Empire to Albequerque, making a mere 11 bullpen appearances through 146 career appearances in LAD's system. Following his 2011 release, Castillo latched onto Reynosa and participated entirey within their bullpen between the 2011 and 2013 season, serving as a starting asset momentarily through 2012. Within the Mexican Summer League, he was sensational between a cumulative 191 IP (96 appearances) with a 149:49 K/BB, a remarkably minuscule six dingers surrendered and a GB/FB in excess of 3.75 prior to the Athletics inking him as a temporary bullpen piece on August 12th. Between six appearances and 10 IP upon his organizational return, Castillo went 7 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 5 K before his offseason assignment, where he went a cumulative 52 2/3 IP (38 appearances) while producing a 56 H, 10 R (1 HR), 20 BB, 25 K line to conclude his tenure as an Oakland Athletic before this 2014 campaign. Likely to be retained between AA throughout this approaching season, Castillo could additionally service as a starter within Stockton's rotation should injury require an emergency replacement. 

Midland likely shall not field a twelve man bullpen, and thus injuries and probable promotions/demotions shall determine the final alignment for the Rockhounds contingent relieving ballgames in Texas as Oakland representatives. Midland's rotation also is overflowing (Granier, Peters, Correa, Smith, Bowman, Alcantara, Jensen, Murphy, Neal), so Oakland shall have to reconfigure their cast to some extent to smush everyone onto the roster, but these individuals shall undoubtedly anchor the squad and whoever else shall be present, making the Rockhounds' bullpen the most intimidating throughout the entire AA MiLB caste. 

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