Athletics

A's prospect Frankie Montas impresses with fastball that touches 100

A's prospect Frankie Montas impresses with fastball that touches 100

MESA, Ariz. — Frankie Montas comes across soft-spoken and humble in conversation, and his smooth delivery on the mound is just as subtle.

It isn’t until the baseball leaves his hand that you realize what all the buzz is about.

The A’s young right-hander showed a glimpse of his explosive stuff Wednesday, catching manager Bob Melvin’s attention during a roughly 30-pitch bullpen session in Oakland’s first official workout of the season.

“For a guy that throws that hard, you would think there would be what looks like a little bit more effort,” Melvin said. “It looks like he’s just playing catch, and the ball is just screaming in there. I think that’s part of what makes him so good. It’s an easy motion and all of a sudden the ball just jumps on you.”

Acquired from the Dodgers as part of the prospect package for Josh Reddick and Rich Hill, Montas enjoyed an outstanding Arizona Fall League season, pumping a fastball that has been clocked as high as 102 miles per hour. Couple that with a slider that’s shown signs of an effective putaway pitch, and a changeup he’s woking hard to develop, and the A’s believe they’ve got quite the future talent.

The question: Will the 23-year-old Montas eventually join the rotation, or is the smoke he throws best suited for late-inning relief? The A’s aren’t making that call right now, but Billy Beane, head of their baseball operations, made it clear what role the club would prefer.

“I think ideally you’d like it if he was a starter,” Beane said. “That being said, it doesn’t eliminate the possibility that he could serve a role in the ‘pen as well. It’s one of the things we’re gonna be discussing through the spring.”

One consideration is that Montas threw just 16 innings last year in the minors because of two separate rib injuries. Because of that, he’ll be on a pretty strict innings limit this season, and if he’s used as a starter, he’ll hit that limit much sooner than he would in the bullpen.

Montas, ranked by Baseball America as the A’s No. 5 prospect, is just happy to be healthy. He suffered a fractured rib cage that led to him having one of his upper ribs removed last February (Montas motions near his right collarbone to describe where the pain was). During that operation, doctors noticed a crack in another rib on his right side, but Montas says they believed it would heal in due time and not be an issue.

It kept bothering him, and he returned to the disabled list in mid-June and missed the rest of the season.

Montas was in so much pain that it hurt when he played with his 1-year-old son, Michael.

“It was actually affecting me during my day,” he said. “Sometimes I’d wake up and I couldn’t breathe right.”

The A’s felt comfortable enough to pull the trigger on the Aug. 1 trade with Los Angeles that also netted Oakland two other promising right-handers in Jharel Cotton and Grant Holmes. Once recovered, Montas posted a 0.53 ERA in the Arizona Fall League, allowing just one earned run and seven hits in 17 innings.

His velocity stood out, but A’s Double-A manager Ryan Christenson — who also skippered Montas’ AFL squad — was impressed with Montas’ dedication to improving his changeup.

“We tried to mandate, throw so many changeups per inning, and he did,” Christenson said. “He committed to it. It’s becoming a good pitch, that changeup is.” Since originally signing with the Red Sox in 2009, Montas — a Dominican Republic native — also has committed to learning English, and he now has a fluent grasp on the language. That caught Cotton by surprise when he first met Montas during the Dodgers’ FanFest last season.

“I was in the elevator and I started talking my Spanish to him, and he was like ‘Papi, I speak English,’” Cotton recalled.

Perhaps Montas, who has already been traded three times, can find a home with the A’s. He’s working to refine his fastball command along with developing that changeup.

“I’m trying to be more a pitcher than a thrower,” he said. “Like everyone here, I’m trying to make the 25-man roster, but I actually want to learn about pitching with all these guys here. There’s some very good pitchers in here. I feel like watching them pitch and throw bullpens, I can learn a lot.”

A's Bob Melvin should be 2018 AL Manager of the Year, and here's why

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AP

A's Bob Melvin should be 2018 AL Manager of the Year, and here's why

Any other season, Alex Cora and Kevin Cash would have been worthy recipients of the American League Manager of the Year Award, which will be handed out Tuesday.

Cora led the Red Sox to a franchise-record 108 wins and a World Series championship in his first season on the job. Cash guided the Rays to a surprising 90-win season, marking a 10-win improvement from 2017.

But in 2018, Bob Melvin was in a league of his own.

The A's manager took a team with the lowest payroll in baseball and led it to the fourth-best record in the league at 97-65, a remarkable 22-game improvement from the previous year. Perhaps most impressive, he essentially did it without a starting rotation.

Injuries forced Melvin to use 15 different starting pitchers, an A's franchise record. Oakland lost a whopping 10 starters -- Sean Manaea, Jharel Cotton, A.J. Puk, Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Andrew Triggs, Daniel Gossett, Paul Blackburn, Daniel Mengden and Kendall Graveman -- to injury, seven of them season-ending. Yet somehow the A's kept winning.

Melvin refused to let his players use the injuries as an excuse. He adapted, and so did they. Melvin relied more heavily on his bullpen, often pulling his starting pitcher before the fifth inning. He also managed his position players brilliantly, using his entire bench and keeping everyone focused whether they started or not.

Before the season, not even the most optimistic A's fan could have expected a playoff berth. Oakland was coming off three consecutive last-place finishes in the AL West. Sure, the team had talent, but it was young and inexperienced, probably two years away from contention. Then Melvin found the perfect balance between fun and focus, demanding hard work from his players while still allowing them to be themselves.

A Manager of the Year nomination is nothing new for Melvin, who already has won the award twice, first in 2007 with the Diamondbacks and again in 2012 with the A's. He's one of just 14 managers to win the award multiple times, and one of six to do it in each league.

[RELATED: You could build an entire A's roster on Harper's projected salary]

Cora likely will be Melvin's toughest competition this year, but just look at the talent on the Red Sox's roster. Boston entered the season with the second-highest payroll in baseball at over $206 million, more than tripling Oakland's $63 million.

Yes, Cora won the ultimate prize with a World Series trophy. But Manager of the Year is a regular-season award, and Melvin's accomplishments then were unparalleled.

Build an A's roster for less than Bryce Harper's projected 2019 salary

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NBC Sports Bay Area

Build an A's roster for less than Bryce Harper's projected 2019 salary

No one knows where Bryce Harper will end up next season, but one thing is for sure: He'll get paid. A lot. And that's an understatement.

Many have speculated Harper could sign for as much as $400 million over 10 years, translating to a whopping $40 million per season. By comparison, the A's entered 2018 with a $63 million payroll. For the entire team!

Just for fun, here's a breakdown of Oakland's starting lineup last season, with their combined salaries, courtesy of Spotrac.com:

Catcher: Jonathan Lucroy ($6.5 million)
First base: Matt Olson ($547,500)
Second base: Jed Lowrie ($6 million)
Shortstop: Marcus Semien ($3.125 million)
Third base: Matt Chapman ($547,500)
Left field: Nick Martini ($240,260)
Center field: Ramón Laureano ($172,870)
Right field: Stephen Piscotty ($1,333,333)
DH: Khris Davis ($10.5 million)
Starting pitcher: Sean Manaea ($550,000)

Total: $29,516,463

That's the A's entire starting lineup, plus their ace, for more than $10 million less than Harper's projected $40 million per season.

Let's keep going. Here are some other players you could add to an A's roster and still remain below $40 million:

Blake Treinen ($2.15 million)
Edwin Jackson ($1.5 million)
Trevor Cahill ($1.5 million)
Brett Anderson ($1.5 million)
Ryan Buchter ($555,000)
Chad Pinder ($550,000)
Mark Canha ($518,144)
Lou Trivino ($474,660)
Daniel Mengden ($418,048)
Dustin Fowler ($341,504)
Franklin Barreto ($263,700)
Frankie Montas ($208,030)
Chris Bassitt ($167,010)
J.B. Wendelken ($164,080)
Beau Taylor ($87,900)

Total: $39,914,539

To recap, that's an entire 25-man roster for less than the $40 million that Bryce Harper could earn next season:

Starting pitchers: Sean Manaea, Edwin Jackson, Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Daniel Mengden
Relief pitchers: Blake Treinen, Lou Trivino, J.B. Wendelken, Ryan Buchter, Frankie Montas, Chris Bassitt
Catchers: Jonathan Lucroy, Beau Taylor
Infielders: Matt Olson, Jed Lowrie, Marcus Semien, Matt Chapman, Franklin Barreto
Outfielders: Stephen Piscotty,  Ramón Laureano, Nick Martini, Mark Canha, Chad Pinder, Dustin Fowler
DH: Khris Davis

Unless  Harper can play every position simultaneously, à la Bugs Bunny, the A's appear to have the edge.

Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in baseball. Monday is dedicated to Nationals slugger Bryce Harper.

Giants could use Harper money to fill numerous other needs
Phillies could use Harper's personality just as much as his big bat
Why Harper sacrificed home runs with Nationals to save his season
White Sox would have to pitch Harper on possibility of bright future
World champion Red Sox not a part of Harper's free-agent journey