Athletics

Three minor league pitchers can help A's regardless of trade deadline moves

Three minor league pitchers can help A's regardless of trade deadline moves

OAKLAND -- While the A's are still trying to add pitching help before Wednesday's Trade Deadline, they should have some reinforcements coming from their own minor-league system.

Of course, Sean Manaea and Jharel Cotton are two names that come to mind, with both already having major league experience. Manaea, 27, is expected to make two more rehab starts for Triple-A Las Vegas, putting the left-hander on track to return to Oakland within the next couple of weeks.

Cotton, 27, has made four rehab appearances in relief for Las Vegas and could join the A's bullpen sometime in August. But there are three more minor league pitchers who could have a huge impact in August, September, and possibly October.

A.J. Puk

The A's No. 2 prospect has looked phenomenal in two relief appearances for Las Vegas, tossing three scoreless innings with three strikeouts and just one baserunner allowed. The 6-foot-7 left-hander has been throwing his fastball in the high-90s, which pairs incredibly well with his devastating slider.

Puk, 24, underwent Tommy John surgery last April and has not suffered any setbacks. If that continues, along with his stellar performance, he could become a primary late-inning option in the A's bullpen.

Puk will eventually be a top starter for Oakland, but since he's on an innings limit this year, a relief role makes more sense. He and the newly-acquired Jake Diekman will give A's manager Bob Melvin two dominant, hard-throwing southpaws to mix with right-handers Liam Hendriks, Yusmeiro Petit, Blake Treinen, and Lou Trivino.

J.B. Wendelken

Wendelken has already proven himself at the big league level, allowing just one run in 16 2/3 innings last season as a rookie. He fell into a bit of a sophomore slump this year, but could still give the A's another hard-throwing right-hander in the bullpen.

Wendelken, 26, has spent about half of this season in Triple-A, going 4-1 with a 6.04 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings. In 21 appearances with the A's, he is 1-1 with a 4.56 ERA and 28 punchouts in 25 2/3 innings.

Wendelken has looked sharp in his last nine outings for Las Vegas. In 11 1/3 innings, he has an ERA of 3.18, which is terrific in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. He has also notched 13 strikeouts against four walks. At the very least, Wendelken will be back with the A's as a September call-up.

Jesús Luzardo

Oakland's top prospect is scheduled to throw two simulated innings on Thursday in Arizona. Luzardo looked great in five minor league appearances this year, before suffering a left lat strain early this month in Las Vegas. The left-hander was originally recovering from a strained left rotator cuff, sustained late in spring training.

[RELATED: Khris Davis makes bold prediction after walk-off walk gives A's 6-5 win]

Luzardo, 21, certainly appears MLB-ready from a talent and composure standpoint. The question will be his health. If his simulated innings go well, the A's figure to stretch him out in the minors again. Ideally, Luzardo could be a factor in Oakland's starting rotation beginning in September.

If Luzardo does stay on track, he would help form a formidable top three in the A's rotation, along with Manaea and Mike Fiers.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports, where you can watch the MLB Trade Deadline Show at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. PT on Wednesday. Also check out our comprehensive coverage of the Giants, A’s, 49ers, Raiders, Warriors, Kings and Sharks!

Ex-A's catcher Bruce Maxwell details mental toll of kneeling in HEADSTRONG

Ex-A's catcher Bruce Maxwell details mental toll of kneeling in HEADSTRONG

"It made me feel a little lost in the world."

Former A's catcher Bruce Maxwell made history on Sept. 23, 2017, by being the first MLB player to kneel during the national anthem in protest of racial inequality and police brutality. 

He detailed that day to NBC Sports Bay Area/California in NBC Sports' documentary, "HEADSTRONG: Mental Health and Sports."

"When I got to the field, I immediately walked into my manager's office -- had a sit down with him and our GM in private, told them what I was going to do, told them how I was going to go about it -- told them my plan, reasons, and shed a few tears because it's a heartfelt subject for me ... " 

Maxwell knew the backlash he would receive, he just wasn't prepared for the magnitude of it. He received death threats -- and still does to this day.

"The fact that somebody actually took the time to find out what school my sister coached basketball at in Texas, somebody took the time to find out where my mother lived," he explained. 

Maxwell then admitted he rarely left home when he headed back to Arizona following the event. 

"I was miserable," he said. 

He didn't want to do anything. Not exercise, not even talking to his parents.

"At that moment in time, I was standing for something way bigger than myself," Maxwell explained.

Just a few weeks later, the 28-year-old made headlines once again when he was arrested at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and disorderly conduct after he allegedly pointed a gun at a food delivery worker.

Maxwell told NBC Sports Bay Area/California he was in a certain mental state, and in addition to what was currently going on, he felt he needed to grab his gun in order to protect himself.

"I'm in my house, I'm defending myself, just in case this happens to be one of these crazy-ass people that are sending me threats," Maxwell said

He didn't feel like himself. Not even like a human being, he explained.

[RELATED: Marcus Semien shares mental health journey]

But now, he's freely talking about it and wants to leave his mark on the world with more than just what's going on between the foul lines.

You can watch all of the "HEADSTRONG: Mental Health and Sports" vignettes right here. The full documentary will play all month on NBC Sports Bay Area and NBC Sports California.

Check our channel listings page for times and dates.

MLB free agency: Five relief pitchers A's could target this offseason

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USATSI

MLB free agency: Five relief pitchers A's could target this offseason

It's no secret that the A's need to improve their bullpen. Oakland blew 30 saves in 2019, the most of any team in the majors.

With that in mind, here are five free agent relief pitchers the A's could target this offseason:

Will Harris

The A's already know Harris well from his time with the Astros. The 35-year-old has spent the last five years in Houston, posting a sparkling 2.36 ERA and 0.99 WHIP.

The 2019 season was the best of Harris' career. The right-hander went 4-1 with four saves, along with a 1.50 ERA and 0.93 WHIP. He notched 62 strikeouts in 60 innings, allowing just 14 walks.

Harris earned $4.225 million this past season and could be due a raise after his terrific performance. However, at the age of 35, he still figures to be an affordable option for Oakland.

Drew Pomeranz

The former A’s left-handed found tremendous success as a reliever this year after getting dealt to Milwaukee. In 25 games with the Brewers, Pomeranz went 0-1 with two saves, a 2.39 ERA, and a 0.91 WHIP. The 30-year-old struck out an eye-popping 45 batters in just 26 1/3 innings, while issuing eight walks.

Pomeranz pitched for the A's in 2014 and 2015, going 10-10 with three saves and a 3.08 ERA. He spent the first part of last season across the Bay in San Francisco, where he struggled mightily as a starter, going 2-9 with a 5.68 ERA. But once he arrived in Milwaukee, he became a completely different pitcher.

Pomeranz earned $1.5 million this year after making $8.5 million in 2018. His new contract will likely fall somewhere between those figures, making a second A's stint a possibility.

Daniel Hudson

A crucial part of the Nationals' World Series title, Hudson figures to be a hot commodity on the free agent market. The 32-year-old went 9-3 with eight saves and a 2.47 ERA between Washington and Toronto, striking out 71 batters in 73 innings.

Hudson also notched four saves in the postseason, going 1-0 with a 3.72 ERA. The right-hander has a career ERA of 3.83 in 10 seasons, with the first four coming as a starter.

Hudson earned just $1.5 million this year and will be in line for a significant raise. Still, the hard-throwing veteran could be worth it for an A's team in need of late-inning options.

[RELATED: Why A's, Hudson would be good fit]

Joe Smith

Smith was superb in limited appearances for the Astros this season. The veteran right-hander went 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA and 0.96 WHIP in 25 innings, striking out 22 and walking five.

Smith, 35, has a career ERA of 2.98 in 13 major league seasons. The sidearm specialist has been particularly effective against right-handed hitters, limiting them to a meager .215/.278/.308 slash line throughout his career.

Smith just completed a two-year, $15 million deal with Houston and could be available for a similar price this time around. The A's would be wise to at least make an inquiry.

Steve Cishek

Cishek is coming off back-to-back stellar seasons with the Cubs. The right-hander combined to go 8-9 with 11 saves and a 2.55 ERA, registering 135 strikeouts 134 1/3 innings.

[RELATED: Bullpen upgrade is Forst's main priority]

Cishek, 33, has a career 2.69 ERA and 1.15 WHIP with 132 saves in 10 seasons. His sidearm delivery has also been especially successful against right-handed hitters, allowing them to slash just .199/.265/.288 in his career.

Cishek earned $6.5 million each of the last two seasons with the Cubs and figures to get a similar contract this offseason. He could certainly help boost the A's bullpen in 2020.