OC Mailbag: Pitching Prospect Questions

Will Blevins be in green and gold in April?

We open up the mailbag for the first time this off-season and answer questions about a number of the Oakland A's top pitching prospects...

You updated your Oakland A's top-50 prospect list after the Dan Haren trade. Will you update it again after the Nick Swisher and Mark Kotsay trades?
- Phil, Mesa, AZ

Yes, definitely. We have held off on updating the list to see if the A's make any other trades. The revised list will be released before pitchers and catchers report for major league camp in February.

Does Jerry Blevins have a chance to make the A's bullpen out of spring training?
- Kevin, Des Moines

Blevins will definitely have an opportunity to make the A's bullpen out of spring training, although his chances would be greater if the A's deal veteran Alan Embree. Blevins is coming off of a breakthrough 2007 season that saw him move from High-A to the major leagues in one season. He had a mind-boggling 102 strike-outs versus only 18 walks in 77.1 minor league innings during the regular season and then he struck out 20 of the 33 batters he faced in the PCL playoffs with Sacramento. Blevins was uneven during his brief major league debut last September. He showed the stuff to retire major league hitters, but appeared nervous at times.

Blevins uses all of his 6'6'' frame to create good downward plane on his low-90s fastball and he has a plus breaking ball, and a decent change-up. He hasn't spent much time at Triple-A, but what little time he spent there, he dominated, so he probably doesn't need much seasoning at that level. Unfortunately for Blevins, he will be competing with a number of lefties for that second southpaw slot in the bullpen. If Embree isn't traded, the veteran will be guaranteed a spot. In addition, starters Lenny DiNardo, Dan Meyer, Dallas Braden, Greg Smith and Dana Eveland will be competing for that second lefty spot if they don't win a spot in the starting rotation. Of that group, all but Smith have major league experience. The A's could carry three lefties, but they are also bringing a Rule 5 pick into camp to compete for a bullpen spot (Fernando Hernandez) and the A's have three pitchers who are out of options (Santiago Casilla, Andrew Brown and Meyer) who could wind-up in the bullpen, making spots hard to come by.

That all being said, Blevins is ready for a major league role and if it doesn't happen at the start of the season, it is likely to happen at some point during the season. He could play a significant role as a lefty set-up man for the A's for the next several years.

Jason Fernandez had strong finish in Kane County and was listed at number 19 in your top fifty and then lowered to number 24. What is his projection?
- Michael

We are high on Fernandez, who has flown under the radar during his brief pro career. He came on very strong with Kane County this past season, pitching well in both relief and starting roles. He projected as a reliever before this season, but he showed well as a starter during the second half of the 2007 season. Fernandez has a live arm with three good pitches – a good sinking fastball, a hard slider and a hard curveball.

The A's like Fernandez, but it isn't clear whether they see him as a starter or a reliever long-term. He generally throws his fastball in the 89-92 MPH range. However, he can hit 94 MPH at times, which may suggest that he would have better velocity in shorter outings. Fernandez should be at High-A Stockton next season as part of a very talented staff. The A's may give him more time as a starter to develop his entire repertoire, but his future may be as a late-inning reliever. He has the mental toughness to be a closer and his three-pitch combination could be very effective in that role.

How could you guys leave Arnold Leon off of your top-50 prospects list? Sounds like Farhan Zaidi is really high on him.
- Jeff, Berkeley

We are very excited about what we are hearing in regards to Leon and his stats in the Mexican Summer and Winter Leagues are certainly promising. However, we haven't seen him pitch, nor is there much of a "book" on him yet. We'll get a long look at him this spring, and if he has the stuff that he is supposed to have, Leon will almost certainly be high on the list next off-season.

With the additions of Fautino De Los Santos and Jamie Richmond that potential Stockton rotation is getting crowded. With so many "High-A" level pitchers in the A's system, does that make it more likely that "on-the-cusp" guys like Brett Anderson, Ryan Webb and Vince Mazzaro get pushed up to Double-A to start the season?
- Peter, Stockton

It is true that there are theoretically only five starting rotation spots in the Stockton rotation (although it is possible that the A's could try something creative, such as a six-man rotation or a tandem rotation to fit more starters on the roster), and right now, there are a number of good arms that are projected to possibly fill that rotation: Anderson, De Los Santos, Trevor Cahill, Henry Rodriguez, Jason Fernandez, Graham Godfrey, Travis Banwart, Mazzaro, Webb, Richmond, Scott Deal, Jared Lansford and maybe Craig Italiano.

Obviously not all of those pitchers can be in the Stockton rotation. However, the jump from High-A to Double-A is arguably the most difficult one in baseball. Consequently, the A's aren't going to promote anyone to Double-A unless they feel he is 100 percent ready. Unlike major league spring training camp, where the coaches and front office already have a decent idea of who will make the team going into the camp, minor league spring training is much more of a real tryout. If any of the aforementioned pitchers look ready to handle Double-A this spring, they will likely find themselves in Midland.

Have questions of your own? E-mail them to our staff.

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