A’s future pitching picture comes into focus after trade with Yankees

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After months of speculation, the A’s finally pulled the trigger on a deal involving their No. 1 starter, Frankie Montas, sending him and reliever Lou Trivino to the Yankees on Monday in exchange for starting pitching prospects Ken Waldichuk, JP Sears and Luis Medina and infield prospect Cooper Bowman. The trade continues a trend for the A’s, who have accumulated a significant haul of pitching prospects since the start of spring training through deals with the Mets, Braves, Blue Jays, Padres and now the Yankees.

A’s general manager David Forst insisted on a conference call Monday afternoon that the A’s didn’t go into any of their deals so far this season specifically targeting pitching.

“I wouldn’t say that any of the deals we made since March we necessarily went out to target pitching, but ultimately the organizations and systems that we were dealing with, that’s kind of where we landed,” he said.

It seems a happy coincidence nonetheless that the A’s were able to address a significant area of need in acquiring several top-end arms in those deals. Before the A’s started wheeling and dealing in March, it was hard to see where the next generation of A’s starters was going to come from once Montas, Chris Bassitt and Sean Manaea were no longer with the team. The picture may not yet be in full focus, but the A’s at least have several subjects in the frame now.

“I think certainly after this deal, you look at the pitchers who’ve been added to our system over the past couple months, and I feel really, really good about our depth going forward,” Forst said.

Already in place were the trio of right-handers the A’s acquired this spring — Gunnar Hoglund, Ryan Cusick and JT Ginn, all of whom were drafted in the first round by other organizations. All three spent much — or all — of the first half of the season rehabbing from injuries, but all of them appear to be turning the corner, health-wise. Hoglund, who had Tommy John surgery before being selected in the first round last season by the Blue Jays, recently made his professional debut in Rookie ball and he will be sent to Low-A Stockton later this week.

Ginn and Cusick began the season in the Double-A Midland rotation, but both landed on the injured list with a forearm strain and an oblique strain, respectively. Ginn will return to the Midland rotation this week after two rehab starts in Arizona and Forst said on the conference call that Cusick has resumed throwing.

Forst also expressed optimism about two homegrown arms the A’s were high on going into the season — right-handers Mason Miller and Jorge Juan, who can both top 100 mph but spent most of the season rehabbing injuries. Juan has made two appearances in Arizona and is nearing a return to a full-season rotation and Miller is throwing again. The A’s also have Adam Oller, Zach Logue and Adrian Martínez, the three starters acquired this spring who have already pitched for the A’s at various points this season. None of them have taken rotation spots and run with them, but, as the A’s saw with the development of Montas and Bassitt, sometimes it can take a few times in the major leagues before it all comes together.

The public reaction to the deal has been mixed — The Athletic’s Keith Law did not like the return for the A’s — but Forst said the A’s spent a lot of time talking to the Yankees and evaluating their players over the past several weeks. He left open the possibility the A’s could make more deals before the deadline hits at 3 p.m. PT on Tuesday, but either way feels good about the talent the team has accumulated in trades over the last six months.

“I expect to look back on the trades we made in spring training and the trades we’ve made today and who knows what happens in the next 24 hours, but I expect to look back on all that and hopefully see where a lot of the next group of Oakland A’s major-leaguers came from,” he said.

None of the four players acquired from the Yankees will join the A’s in Anaheim on Tuesday, but the three pitchers, Waldichuk, Sears and Medina, are upper-level arms who should be able to contribute to the A’s rotation by early next season, if not sooner.

“You add these three guys — again, all either Double- or Triple-A level and knocking on the door of the big leagues — it’s an exciting group of depth for our system,” Forst said.

Waldichuk, a Saint Mary’s alum, is a 6-foot-4, 220-pound left-hander who has dominated since going to the Yankees in the draft in 2019. He’s maintained a better-than 3:1 K:BB while holding opposing hitters to a .193 average and allowing just 22 home runs in 215 2/3 career innings. In 17 starts between Double A and Triple A this season, he has a 2.71 ERA and a 116:33 K:BB in 76 1/3 innings. He recently pitched in the Futures Game.

Forst said A’s pro scout Jeff Bittiger evaluated Waldichuk and believes he has frontline starter potential. The fastball — a four-seamer that sits 92-95 and gets a lot of carry up in the strike zone — is Waldichuk’s best pitch, but he has effective secondary offerings, as well.

“He’s gone out since being drafted and done nothing but perform and kind of checked every box in terms of strikeouts, the command and velocity and a couple of plus off-speed pitches in his curveball and changeup,” Forst said.

At 5-11, 190, Sears doesn’t have Waldichuk’s profile starter’s frame, but he has been just as dominant. In 43 Triple-A innings this season, Sears has a 1.67 ERA and a 55:7 K:BB. In seven big-league appearances (including two starts), he has a 2.05 ERA. One of those big-league starts came against the A’s and Montas, during which he allowed just three hits in 5 2/3 scoreless innings. Sears is more of a pitchability prospect than a “stuff” prospect, but the A’s have done well with that type of pitcher, with Bassitt, Cole Irvin and Paul Blackburn as recent examples. Both his fastball and slider outplay their velocity by seemingly disappearing on hitters, and his changeup has shown flashes of potential. Both Sears and Waldichuk will begin their A’s careers in Triple-A Las Vegas but are likely to get a shot in the big leagues before the end of the season.

Where Sears may be mostly polish and less “stuff,” Medina is the opposite. The 6-1 right-hander has a fastball that has been clocked as hard at 103 mph and he pairs that with a hard changeup that looks like a splitter and a swing-and-miss curveball. Medina struggled badly with command early in his career but has made strides in that area the last two seasons, when he’s had an ERA of 3.38 in 178 1/3 High-A and Double-A innings. All of his innings this season have come in Double A, where he’s struck out 81, walked 40 and allowed four home runs in 72 innings.

The command issues would suggest that Medina could be headed for a relief role in the big leagues, but Forst says the A’s see Medina as a starter. Medina will join the Double-A Midland rotation this week.

“We know the curveball is a plus, plus pitch and we think the changeup is excellent, as well,” he said. “We think there is a three-pitch mix there to continue starting.”

Can the A’s get the most out of the arms they acquired? That is yet to be determined, but it’s worth noting that the two pitchers they traded away on Monday were significant development success stories. Trivino, a 2013 11th-round pick, was stalled out as a starter in High A when he was moved to the bullpen halfway through the 2015 season. Thanks to a tweak he made to his delivery, he added several miles an hour to his fastball and blossomed into a sometimes dominant major-league reliever.

Montas, meanwhile, was on his fourth organization when he arrived in a deadline deal in 2016. He overcame several injuries and turned the corner in his career in 2018 when he developed his now-dominant pitch — a split-fingered fastball. Forst began the conference call by expressing his appreciation for the work both pitchers did to become “the players that they are and contributing to some very important teams here in Oakland.”

The A’s are also excited about the fourth player in the return from the Yankees, infielder Cooper Bowman. A 2021 draft pick out of Louisville, Bowman hit only .217/.343/.355 in 80 games for High-A Hudson Valley this season, but he’s stolen 35 bases and walked 55 times. He’s also playing in a league that is difficult on hitters. Forst says the A’s saw Bowman a lot in college.

“He plays hard,” Forst said. “Scouts just love watching this guy. His walks and his contact rate,  a lot of things jump out at you offensively.”

The A’s plan to move Bowman around the infield in Lansing, where he will share time with Max Muncy and Euribiel Angeles up the middle.

(Photo of Ken Waldichuk: Jayne Kamin-Oncea / USA Today)