June 11, 2016
The Situation: With Rich Hill on the disabled list, Jess Hahn back in Triple-A, and the rest of the rotation in shambles, David Forst has dipped into his minor league system for starting help. He’s recalled Daniel Mengden, a 6-foot-1, 220 pound right-hander with a mustache and delivery that wouldn’t look out of place on one of Connie Mack’s old Philadelphia clubs. He is scheduled to make his debut today against Cincinnati.
Background: Mengden, who joined the Athletics organization as part of the Scott Kazmir trade, has dominated the upper minors this season. In 11 starts split between Double-A and Triple-A, he’s posted a 1.19 ERA while striking out 67 hitters and allowing 22 walks and three homers in 68 innings. He’s not as dominant as those numbers might suggest, but he’s taken a significant step forward this season, and is one of Oakland’s top pitching prospects.
Scouting Report: Mengden throws a two-seam and a four-seam fastball. He sat in the low 90s last year, but his average velocity is up a tick or two this season, and he’s reportedly been clocked as high as 96 mph. The change is Mengden’s primary offspeed weapon, and his best ones tumble sharply with a bit of fade. He replicates his arm speed well, and it’s a real swing and miss pitch when he locates effectively. He also throws a slider, a tight spinner with depth but limited break.
Mechanically, Mengden is unconventional. There’s a lot of movement in his delivery, starting with a throwback, hands-over-head wind up that feeds into a pronounced, slow upper body twist and then a quick step towards the plate. He hides the ball well, and that combined with the multi-speed delivery makes him tough to time. Hitters facing him for the first time often seem to have trouble getting into a rhythm, and in the minors, it helped his fastball play a little higher than the radar gun readings. As you might expect from the description though, Mengden doesn’t have the cleanest delivery: his front shoulder can fly open, his arm action is long, and his rock-and-fire motion leaves him susceptible to leaving the ball up in the zone. He’s tough when he has his best command, but it hasn’t always been there throughout his career.
Immediate Big League Future: Given the aforementioned problems in Oakland’s starting five, Mengden should have every chance to stick in the big league rotation. Plans could change if he gets knocked around early and often, but Oakland’s big yard should help mask his command problems. It’s always fun to watch guys who can use deception to their advantage, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Mengden’s somewhat unconventional skill set plays in the big leagues. — Brendan Gawlowski
Fantasy Take: The numbers posted by Daniel Mengden in Double- and Triple-A this year are outstanding. Across the two levels, he posted a 1.19 ERA, a 0.95 WHIP, 67 strikeouts and allowed only three home runs in 68.3 innings. That’s a big improvement over last year, when he put up a combined 3.72 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP with 125 strikeouts and eleven home runs allowed over 130.7 innings in Low-A Quad Cities and High-A Lancaster (with Houston prior to the Kazmir trade) and High-A Stockton (with Oakland after the Kazmir trade).
Mengden’s increased velocity in 2016 suggests that the improvement visible in his numbers is mostly real. Furthermore, in the transition from Double- to Triple-A, he made improvements in the area where improvement was needed most: walks. In four starts at Double-A, his BB/9 was an unseemly 4.70. After his promotion to Triple-A, the Texan’s BB/9 in seven starts was an even 2.00. Granted, the sample size here is fairly small, but it suggests that Mengden might be good at making the adjustments that he’ll need to make in the big leagues.
The A’s injury-ravaged rotation won’t be an obstacle for Mengden if he pitches well, so he should get a decent run of starts to establish himself. The fact that he’ll be making half of his starts in pitcher-friendly Oakland doesn’t hurt, either. If he can sustain his 2016 velocity bump and keep the walks under wraps, he could provide a fair amount of value to owners in all but the shallowest of leagues despite the lack of prospect pedigree and name recognition. He’s definitely worth a few FAAB dollars, especially if your rotation is as thin as Oakland’s. —Scooter Hotz
Brendan Gawlowski is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @GawlowskiB