Athletics

Cotton thrilled to receive some tips from 'Flash' Gordon

cotton-jharel-as-white.jpg
AP

Cotton thrilled to receive some tips from 'Flash' Gordon

MESA, Ariz. — After watching Jharel Cotton shine in his major league debut in September, A’s manager Bob Melvin said the young right-hander reminded him of former All-Star reliever Tom “Flash” Gordon.

It was none other than Gordon himself who Cotton received some long-distance tutoring from over the winter.

Gordon and Cotton both are represented by Beverly Hills Sports Council, and Cotton’s agent, Nate Heisler, put the two in touch.

Coming off his impressive cameo with the A’s in September, Cotton seems to have all but locked up a spot in Oakland’s rotation. But his goal this spring is to hone his 12-to-6 curve ball. Enter Gordon, who fooled hitters with the same pitch over a 21-year career that ended in 2009 at age 41.

“We talked during the offseason,” Cotton shared on the latest A’s Insider Podcast. “He was in Florida —I was trying to get him to come up to Michigan, but it’s too cold in Michigan. I’ve been chatting back and forth sending videos and he’s been sending me some drills to work on with the curve ball.”

Like Cotton, Gordon was an undersized right-hander. In fact, at 5-foot-9, he was smaller than Cotton, who’s listed at 5-11. Melvin played alongside Gordon in 1992 with the Kansas City Royals, and he drew the comparison in his first afternoon watching Cotton in September.

“It's that catapult, over-the-top (delivery),” Melvin said then. “It's the downer curveball, it's kind of that deceptive fastball. The delivery's real, real similar. He has a better change than ‘Flash’. But certainly the delivery and the fastball/curveball portion of it are real similar.”

As a young pitcher growing up in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Cotton said he experimented with nearly 10 different pitches, including a very brief flirtation with a knuckler. Against major league hitters, he relies primarily on a fastball that runs up to the mid-90’s, a changeup that rotates like a screwball, a curve ball and cutter. But it’s the curve that Cotton, 25, is looking to perfect.

“I want to try to get it to bounce when I want it to bounce, be in the zone when I want it to be in the zone. And of course, try to make it sharper and get the loop out of it as much as I can,” Cotton said.

The right-hander said nothing replaces the in-person instruction he gets from A’s pitching coach Curt Young and bullpen coach Scott Emerson. But he’s hoping Gordon might make it out to an A’s game this season so the two can talk pitching face-to-face. The feedback so far has been quite positive.

“He told me, for the most part, I repeated my mechanics,” Cotton said. “He was like, ‘You shouldn’t change anything, because your mechanics may be a little funky but that’s your special sauce. … Leave it the way it is and just go out there and pitch.’”

Evaluating A's arbitration in 2018 MLB offseason: Kendall Graveman

gravemanusatsi.jpg
USATSI

Evaluating A's arbitration in 2018 MLB offseason: Kendall Graveman

(Over the next week, we will be examining each of the A's arbitration-eligible players to determine whether they will return in 2019.)

The A's face an interesting decision with right-handed pitcher Kendall Graveman. Oakland's Opening Day starter in 2018 will miss all of next season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.

Graveman, 27, struggled even before his injury, going 1-5 with a 7.60 ERA and 1.66 WHIP in seven starts last season. However, he was much better the three previous years, recording an ERA between 4.05 and 4.19 in each season.

Graveman earned $2.36 million last season and is projected to get $2.5 million in arbitration, according to MLB Trade Rumors.

Why he might be a bargain

If the A's believe Graveman can make a full recovery and get back to the pitcher he appeared capable of becoming, he could be worth keeping around. The right-hander was a key piece of the Josh Donaldson trade in 2014 and he looked like he could develop into a solid starting pitcher in Oakland.

If Graveman can get back on track after returning from Tommy John surgery, he could still have a productive career as a starting pitcher.

Why he might be too pricey

It's hard to give a $2.5 million contract to any injured pitcher, let alone one who struggled the way Graveman did in 2018. Even in a best-case scenario, the right-hander wouldn't contribute in Oakland until 2020.

While the A's clearly struggled at starting pitcher last season, they do have reinforcements on the way in the form of Jesús Luzardo, A.J. Puk, and Jharel Cotton. Graveman may not fit into their long-term plans.

Verdict

This will not be an easy decision for the A's, but all things considered, it's probably time to move on without Graveman. Even if he does make a full recovery from his Tommy John surgery, there is no guarantee he will get back to being a reliable starting pitcher, especially following his struggles in 2018.

By the time 2020 rolls around, the A's will have better starting pitching options than Graveman, who will be 29 years old and nearly two years removed from throwing a pitch in the majors.

Evaluating the A's arbitration decisions: Cory Gearrin

gearrinus.jpg
USATSI

Evaluating the A's arbitration decisions: Cory Gearrin

(Over the next week, we will be examining each of the A's arbitration-eligible players to determine whether they will return in 2019.)

The A's acquired RHP Cory Gearrin from Texas in August for minor league pitchers Abdiel Mendoza and Teodoro Ortega. Gearrin pitched just six innings for Oakland, allowing four earned runs on 10 hits, with two strikeouts and two walks.

For the season, the 32-year-old went 2-1 with a 3.77 ERA and 1.34 WHIP between San Francisco, Texas, and Oakland. He has a career ERA of 3.54 over seven major league seasons.

Gearrin earned $1.675 million in 2018 and is projected to get $2.4 million in arbitration, according to MLB Trade Rumors.

Why he might be a bargain

Gearrin has proven to be a solid veteran reliever and a team can never have too much depth in the bullpen. He will turn 33 in April and figures to have at least a few good seasons remaining.

With fellow veteran relievers Jeurys Familia, Fernando Rodney, and Shawn Kelley unlikely to return, Gearrin could have a role in the A's pen as a setup man for closer Blake Treinen.

Why he might be too pricey

If the number really is as high as $2.4 million, it would be a lot to pay for a depth option like Gearrin. While his numbers have been decent, the A's have younger and cheaper options in Lou Trivino and J.B. Wendelken. Oakland may be better off using that $2.4 million on other pitching help, or for re-signing other key players.

Verdict

It seems highly unlikely that Gearrin will return in 2019, especially for $2.4 million. The A's already have a deep bullpen and don't really have a need for Gearrin. Treinen, Wendelken, Trivino, Ryan Buchter, and Yusmeiro Petit all provide more value than Gearrin, and it would be hard to justify giving $2.4 million to your sixth best relief pitcher. Expect Oakland to move on without the 32-year-old right-hander.