With improved command, Boyle eyes spot in A's rotation

February 21st, 2024

MESA, Ariz. -- For most of his professional career, had been tabbed by scouts as a likely future reliever due to some serious command issues. His performance last season, however, might have changed that perception.

Joining the A’s at the 2023 Trade Deadline from the Reds in exchange for reliever Sam Moll, Boyle combined for 46 strikeouts and 18 walks in 33 1/3 innings with Double-A Midland and Triple-A Las Vegas, quite the shift from the 122 strikeouts and 75 walks over 84 innings he’d compiled in Cincinnati’s system at Double-A Chattanooga earlier in the year. Receiving his first call to the Majors in September, Boyle made three starts and allowed three earned runs in 16 innings with 15 strikeouts, capping the stint by carrying a no-hitter into the seventh inning of his final start of the season at Angel Stadium.

“The speed at which he got to the big leagues surpassed our expectations,” said A’s general manager David Forst. “We felt like [Boyle] was a Major League starting pitcher when we made the trade. We knew there were some adjustments to be made based on his walk rates, but we were very optimistic.”

Asked what led to the significant command improvements last year, Boyle could not pinpoint one specific adjustment, rather attributing it to being in the zone more consistently to develop a process and believing in it.

With that newfound improved command accompanying his 80-grade fastball that frequents triple digits to Spring Training, Boyle, ranked Oakland’s No. 20 prospect by MLB Pipeline, should be near the top of the list of the several pitchers in camp who are vying for perhaps only one open starting rotation slot.

Boyle is slated to pitch in the A’s Cactus League opener against the Rockies on Saturday at Hohokam Stadium. Such a designation could be interpreted as a hint at how he stacks up at the start of what should be a highly competitive rotation battle, though Boyle has not given much thought as to where he stands in that picture.

“I’m more just focused on what I can control, which is being able to take the ball every time they ask me to and collecting outs,” Boyle said. “I know there’s a lot outside my control, so I’m just focusing on sticking to my process. Just keep punching dudes out and the rest will fall into place.”

Punchouts are certainly a strength of Boyle’s game, evidenced by his 362 strikeouts in 237 2/3 innings across three Minor League seasons. During his short big league stint, however, Boyle struck out slightly less than one batter per inning, which he said was the result of the caliber of hitters in the Majors and their ability to make adjustments on the fly.

Focusing this offseason on translating that high-strikeout form to the big leagues, Boyle added a sweeper to his arsenal of pitches, which also includes a traditional slider and curveball.

“That was the biggest add this offseason,” Boyle said. “I’ve gotten better at throwing breaking balls, so it was just a matter of leaning into what I’m already good at and just throwing a different type of breaking ball.”

How could that new sweeper benefit him in a potential starting role over a full season?

“It’s another pitch and just gives hitters another look,” Boyle said. “It gives me more in the arsenal to use against lefties and stuff like that. Having another pitch makes it more challenging for the hitters to see my stuff, especially later in the ballgame. Third time through the lineup, I think that’s going to help a lot.”

Also emphasizing preparing his big 6-foot-7, 240-pound frame this offseason for the rigors of a full pitching season, Boyle appears to be in a good spot entering a battle for a fifth rotation spot that includes other young arms such as Luis Medina, Joey Estes, Mitch Spence and Freddy Tarnok.

“I think the biggest goal for me is how well can I stick to my process and my stuff consistently,” Boyle said. “Especially in the face of failure, whenever that may come, stick to that stuff and trust if something doesn’t work, I’ll be able to refine it or adjust however I need to.”