Bulls for the ‘Pen: Oakland Athletics
In the latest in a thirty-part series (yeesh!) that will henceforth be published twice weekly on Tuesday and Thursday, We will be looking around baseball at potential bullpen vacancies and the internal candidates that each organization has in the upper levels of their systems to fill those vacancies. We’re hoping to expose some fresh faces that should see plenty of action in 2014 barring injuries or roster screwery and in doing so provide a bit of a relief summary for each organization’s upper minors. Without further ado, we’ll get moving onto the Oakland Athletics and Jeff Urlaub.
The A’s surprised the baseball world this past week by picking up a reliever that actually makes money. Long the sabermetric darlings, Billy Beane’s Athletics have broken one of the cardinal rules of advanced stats as they agreed to pay for a ‘proven closer.’ Their 2013 ‘pen was 3rd best in the AL in both ERA and FIP, and Beane dealt from a position of strength when he sent Jerry Blevins to the Nats. A massive turnover will have taken place in the A’s ‘pen to begin the 2014 season, with 2013 members Pat Neshek, Grant Balfour, Hideki Okajima, Chris Resop and Blevins all finding new homes come springtime. New acquisition Jim Johnson should play very well in O.co, as his strong groundball tendencies and Oakland’s excellent defense should allow him to keep on outperforming his peripherals. Bridging the gap to Johnson will be Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook, Dan Otero, Jesse Chavez and newcomer Eric Scribner return from the 2013 squad after strong seasons. The signing of SP Scott Kazmir means that one of either Tommy Milone or Dan Straily is likely to be shifted into the long-relief role, leaving prospects and hopefuls to compete for a reserve role should any of the above names falter.
The A’s enviable pitching depth makes it difficult to predict just who will be on a tear or who will be injured at the right time to allow for certain prospects to crack the roster in 2014, but one of the many names that could see action for Billy Beane is LHP Jeff Urlaub. Urlaub hasn’t started a game as a pro, so he most definitely qualifies as a real relief prospect, and his peripherals have been nice at each level he’s seen. As a pro across five levels, the beanpole-lefty (he’s 6’2″ and 160lbs) has put up a 1.026 WHIP in 194 innings and in that time he has a 5.60 K/BB ratio backed up by his great control and healthy 9.1 K/9 rate. This past year he posted strong peripherals during 46.2 Double-A innings, but a .329 BABIP was the story of his year, inflating his ERA to an unsightly 3.86 compared to his FIP mark of 3.01. It was more of the same in the AFL this year, where Urlaub posted an 11.08 K/9 rate that could have gone to hell thanks to a .387 BABIP, but his opposite-lucky 91.6% strand rate helped him still outperform his FIP.
The 26 year old boasts a fastball that touches 95 and talent evaluators seem to see him as a lefty specialist. Scouting reports and video seem strangely hard to come by considering he threw in AA and the AFL this year, but limited reports indicate that he’s found a lot of confidence in a recently added curveball, which has likely given him some helium on Oakland’s depth charts. Urlaub will likely never blossom into an elite closer, but specialists will always be needed and Beane has shown a remarkable penchant for identifying talent that can contribute in all avenues he explores. Jeff Urlaub will be no different, and Beane will be able to pat himself on the back for another gem found.
Not bad for a 30th round pick.