by Bill Moriarity / A’s Farm Editor
With the end of the minor league season about a week away, it seems like a good time to take a look at some of the young hurlers in the A’s system who’ve been having true standout seasons on the field this year. Many minor league players can dazzle with an amazing week, or even an amazing month, but being able to perform at a high level over the course of an often grueling minor league season, where travel can be torturous and days off are rare, is another thing altogether. So, let’s take a quick look at some of the top-performing pitchers in the A’s system this year. For the purposes of this piece, we’re only examining hurlers who’ve thrown over 100 innings this season. And remember, we’re not ranking top prospects here, just taking a look at some of the top performers on the field. All statistics are through games of August 25…
Beloit Snappers (A) / Stockton Ports (A+) / Nashville Sounds (AAA)
(120 IP / 99 H / 43 ER / 46 BB / 126 K / 3.23 ERA / 1.21 WHIP)
After being selected by Oakland in the 9th round of the draft last year, the left-hander may be having the best season of any hurler in the A’s system this year. Sawyer started out the season by putting up a 2.25 ERA and striking out 64 in 56 innings for Beloit before compiling a 2.93 ERA while striking out 60 in 55 1/3 frames for Stockton. The 23-year-old surrendered 11 runs in a pair of spot starts for Nashville earlier in the year or his overall numbers would look even more impressive. But thanks to his mid-90s fastball and a solid changeup, the southpaw’s always been able to put up strong strikeout numbers, and his 126 K’s are the fourth-most among A’s minor leaguers. And with his strong showing at Stockton in the second half, Sawyer should be in a position to compete for a spot in Double-A Midland’s starting rotation next season.
Midland RockHounds (AA)
(136 2/3 IP / 141 H / 53 ER / 51 BB / 104 K / 3.49 ERA / 1.40 WHIP)
A former infielder, the right-hander hadn’t spent a lot of time on the mound when the A’s took him in the 5th round of the 2014 draft, but the team clearly saw something it liked. The 23-year-old has turned out to be a smart pitcher who seems to have learned how to handle hitters and work his way out of jams while primarily pitching to contact. His fastball can range from the low to mid 90s and he shows a decent changeup and curve as well. Fillmyer doesn’t miss a lot of bats or put up gaudy strikeout numbers, but he knows how to get the job done and has shown an ability to stay healthy and take his turn on the mound every fifth day. He was a non-roster invitee to big league camp last spring, so the organization obviously values him. Fillmyer should make it onto the 40-man roster by next spring and ought to be ready to show what he can do at Triple-A next season.
Beloit Snappers (A)
(109 IP / 94 H / 40 ER / 28 BB / 87 K / 3.30 ERA / 1.12 WHIP)
After being drafted in the 27th-round in 2015 and then splitting last season between Beloit and Vermont, the right-hander may be having one of the most overlooked seasons among A’s minor league hurlers this year. Altamirano started out the season in the Beloit bullpen, making 17 relief appearances before moving into the starting rotation, where he’s made 12 starts for the Snappers. The 23-year-old is very much a control pitcher and has issued just 28 walks over 109 innings this season, which is impressive, especially for a hurler in the low minors. He’s definitely a pitch-to-contact guy who isn’t going to overpower anyone, but he seems to have the ability to induce a lot of weak contact. He allows very few base runners and delivers a solid outing almost every time out. And after turning in a strong season for the Snappers, Altamirano should get a chance to challenge California League hitters for Stockton next season.
Stockton Ports (A+) / Midland RockHounds (AA) / Nashville Sounds (AAA)
(118 1/3 IP / 92 H / 48 ER / 43 BB / 108 K / 3.65 ERA / 1.14 WHIP)
After turning in a solid season for Beloit last year, much like Altamirano, Hurlbutt has quietly put together a strong season in the A’s system this year. The right-hander possesses an effective changeup, and hitters seem to have a hard time figuring him out, so he ends up avoiding a lot of hard contact. Hurlbutt had Tommy John surgery during his college career before being taken by the A’s in the 16th round in the 2015 draft. The 24-year-old spent the first half of this season averaging more than a strikeout per inning at Stockton, made one spot start for Nashville, and then spent most of the second half with Double-A Midland before landing on the disabled list a little over a week ago with a right shoulder strain. But he should be more than ready to return to Midland next year to pick up where he left off this season.
Stockton Ports (A+) / Midland RockHounds (AA)
(112 1/3 IP / 94 H / 53 ER / 46 BB / 166 K / 4.25 ERA / 1.25 WHIP)
The A’s top pick in last year’s draft, the 6-7 southpaw has certainly opened some eyes and flashed some tantalizing glimpses of the potential that the A’s saw when they selected him in the 1st round last year. Puk has had some truly dominant starts, and then has had a few where he’s seemed completely out of whack. But on the whole, the 22-year-old has looked very good in his first full season as a pro. Of course, what really jumps out about Puk are his eye-popping strikeout numbers. The lefty leads all A’s minor leaguers with 166 strikeouts and has been whiffing an average of 13.3 batters per nine innings this year. Puk started out the season averaging 14.5 K/9 for Stockton before moving up to Midland. It’s also good to know that he’s been able to keep his walk rate down to 3.7 BB/9 this season. But even more impressively, he’s only allowed 3 home runs all year, which is quite an accomplishment considering he spent half his season in the homer-happy California League. It’ll be interesting to see if the A’s take things slow and have Puk return to the RockHounds to start next season or if they decide to have him start the year at Triple-A Nashville. Either way, depending on how things play out over the course of the season, it’s entirely possible that Puk could end up seeing time in Oakland before next year is through.
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