Do you like big, physical left-handed pitchers?
If you answered no, then you don’t want your team to win.
The A’s just called up Ken Waldichuk, who checks off all of the boxes, and they’re giving him the ball on Thursday against the Nationals to see what he can do right away.
The A’s got their No. 3 prospect (No. 70 on the Top 100) at the Trade Deadline from the Yankees in the Frankie Montas deal, and he will be the second of the three arms they acquired to pitch for Oakland, joining J.P. Sears, who is currently in the big league rotation.
Waldichuk’s climb to this moment has been a terrific story of excellent amateur scouting and development by the Yankees, strong work by the A’s pro scouting department and, of course, the effort by the southpaw himself. Waldichuk had a solid career at St. Mary’s in California (Corbin Burnes’ alma mater), but was a bit inconsistent during his junior season in 2019 as he sacrificed some pitchability for velocity. As a result, he wasn’t taken until the fifth round of that June’s Draft, where the Yankees were able to sign him for just about pick value.
He had an impressive debut in the Rookie-level Appalachian League that summer, albeit in just under 30 innings, then had to wait through the pandemic to really show what he was capable of in 2021. Not that he wasted the time during the shutdown -- Waldichuk got stronger and found more consistent velocity. He’s changed his profile a bit since his college days.
More of a sinking two-seamer type at St. Mary’s, he now features a four-seamer that has outstanding shape and carry up in the zone, with hitters regularly swinging under it. In his time in Triple-A this season -- he earned a promotion from Double-A in mid-May with the Yankees -- the pitch has averaged 94.5 mph and topped out at 97 mph, with a 29-percent miss rate. His slider, with excellent tilt, and changeup, thrown with good separation and fade, both flash plus and both miss bats, with both coming in the low-80s more often than not. He folds in a slower curve with good spin as well and all of it plays up because of his arm angle, deception and extension. Lefties in particular do not enjoy facing him, hitting .168 against him throughout the 2022 season.
That might make you think he could be really nasty out of the bullpen, to face big left-handed hitters. But that would be selling Waldichuck short, even if the 6-foot-4 left-hander provides a big physical presence and the repertoire that points to a long-term future in the bullpen. Yes, his command can still be refined, with a 3.6 BB/9 rate, but he’s shown strike-throwing ability more often than not this year, including walking just three in his four starts since joining the A’s. And the 2022 Futures Game has missed bats everywhere he’s pitched, from his 10.8 K/9 rate in college to his career 13.4 rate in the Minor Leagues.
This is a trial run, of sorts, for the A’s and Waldichuk. The organization is looking ahead to next year and it makes perfect sense to give their new lefty a taste of what the highest level is like. In an ideal world, he’ll get a month of starts with Oakland now in order to give him a running start into 2023, with the hope he’ll be ready to start reaching his ceiling as a solid No. 3 starter, or better, full time next season.