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Nashville Sounds

2017 Season in Review: Nashville Sounds

The 2017 Nashville Sounds had their sights set on a playoff appearance. Injuries and promotions kept the team from reaching that goal, but there were still several memorable individual performances in Nashville this season.

Franklin Barreto returns to 1B after a single. / Photo by Chris Lockard
Franklin Barreto finished strong for Nashville. / Photo by Chris Lockard

Overview

After leading the Pacific Coast League in regular season wins in 2016, big things were expected of the Nashville Sounds in 2017. On Opening Day, much of the core of the 2016 team was on the 2017 roster, and top prospects Franklin Barreto and Matt Chapman were added into the mix.

Injuries both on the big league roster and the Sounds’ roster prevented that magical season from coming together. The Sounds hovered around .500 for much of the season and finished the year at 68-71, 22 games back of the eventual PCL champion Memphis Redbirds. Several members of the Sounds’ Opening Day roster spent significant time in the big leagues, while others bounced back-and-forth from the disabled list.

As a team, Nashville was middle-of-the-pack offensively with a team BA of .262 and a team OPS of 757. Nashville averaged 4.7 runs per game and finished fourth in the league in homeruns with 159. Strikeouts were a problem all season, and the Sounds led the league with 1,217.

On the mound, Nashville finished fifth in the league in team ERA with a 4.37 mark. Sounds’ pitchers struck-out 1,050 in 1,229.1 innings, and they walked 411 (third-fewest in the league). The Sounds did a good job keeping the ball in the park, allowing just 102 homeruns, fewest in the league. Nashville’s 11 shutouts tied for second-most in the league, and the Sounds had one combined no-hitter during the season.

Sounds’ hitters

The Sounds’ roster was in flux all season and only three players appeared in at least 100 games for Nashville this season: Joey Wendle, Renato Nunez and Franklin Barreto. All three players would finish the year on the A’s roster.

Nunez led the Sounds in games played with 126, and he was named the team MVP at the close of the season. The 23-year-old finished second in the PCL with 32 homeruns and was named to the league’s mid-season and post-season All-Star teams. Nunez finished the year with a .249/.319/.518 line with the Sounds. He established career-highs in homeruns, walks (47) and strike-outs (141). Nunez moved around the field defensively, logging more games in leftfield (48) than his natural position third base (44). Nunez also played five games at first base and two games at second. Nunez didn’t receive a big league call-up until September, but he is almost assured of not returning to Nashville next season (unless it’s on a rehab assignment) because he will be out-of-options in 2018.

Wendle started the season on the disabled list, rehabbing a right shoulder injury he sustained during spring training. Despite missing most of April, Wendle finished the year with 118 games played, good for second on the Sounds. Ever reliable at the plate, Wendle hit .285/.327/.429 with 29 doubles, eight homeruns and 13 stolen bases in 17 chances. In three seasons with the Sounds, Wendle has a .285/.325/.441 line. Defensively, Wendle continued to play well at second base and he added some versatility, logging 24 games at third base and five games a shortstop. He had to wait until September to get a call to the big leagues. Wendle will be in his final option year next season.

Barreto began the season on a tear, but he had his share of ups-and-downs in his first season at the Triple-A level. The 21-year-old batted .333 with a 934 OPS in April, but he struggled in May and June to make consistent contact. In late June, Barreto joined the A’s roster when Chad Pinder landed on the DL with a hamstring injury. He hit two memorable homeruns during his two-week stint with the A’s and returned to Nashville on July 8. Barreto struggled for a few weeks after his return, but he finished strong. His .349/.393/.550 line in August was his best for any month this season. Barreto’s final line of .290/.339/.456 was solid, especially considering he is only 21-years-old. Defensively, Barreto saw time at second base, as well as his traditional shortstop. He returned to the A’s roster on September 1 and should compete for a spot on the A’s roster next spring.

One of the first players to be recalled to Oakland from Nashville this season was outfielder Jaff Decker, who joined the A’s on April 15. Decker hit only .200 in 17 games with the A’s, but he was productive for the Sounds. In 93 games, he hit .274 with a .342 OBP and 15 stolen bases. Decker played the majority of his games in centerfield, but he also saw significant time in right and left field.

Decker may have been one of the first players to head from Nashville to Oakland, but Matt Olson earned the badge for most frequent traveler on that path. Olson made five back-and-forth trips from Nashville to Oakland before finally sticking for good on his sixth trip. Olson’s time with the A’s has been well documented, but he was just as productive with Nashville, as well. In 294 at-bats, Olson hit .272/.367/.568 with 23 homers. Between Oakland and Nashville, Olson hit 47 homers in 483 at-bats, which means he homered every 10.2 at-bats this season.

Third baseman Matt Chapman played 49 games with the Sounds, but he had a similar impact on the team as Olson. Chapman’s season got off to an ominous start when he injured his wrist the first week of the season. After two weeks on the disabled list, Chapman returned to the line-up and hit 16 homeruns in 168 at-bats (one homer every 10.5 at-bats). He also played Gold Glove-caliber defense. The A’s promoted Chapman to the big leagues on June 15. Since joining the A’s, Chapman has been one of the team’s most valuable players, earning 3.3 WAR through Wednesday.

Mark Canha began the season on the A’s roster, but he struggled out of the gate and was replaced by Decker on April 15. Canha has struggled in his stints with the A’s this season, but he was one of the Sounds’ most productive hitters. In 75 games for Nashville, Canha hit .283/.373/.529 with 12 homers. He was especially good for Nashville after the All-Star break, posting a 1069 OPS in 26 games. Canha played all three outfield positions for Nashville.

The Sounds also received a strong second-half performance from Yairo Munoz. Munoz joined Nashville from Double-A Midland on June 24. He got off to a slow start with Nashville, but he hit .313 after the break. Munoz posted a .289/.316/.414 line in his first season in Triple-A. He was also very valuable on defense, playing 27 games in the outfield, 24 games at shortstop and 15 games at third base for Nashville. He also pushed the envelope on the bases, stealing 10 bags in 14 chances in 65 games.

Although Bruce Maxwell began the season as the Sounds’ primary catcher, he only appeared in 25 games for the Sounds before joining the A’s for good on June 22. Matt McBride caught 27 games for Nashville, but it was the combination of Ryan Lavarnway and Beau Taylor that received the majority of the playing time behind the plate.

The veteran Lavarnway appeared in 82 games for Nashville — 61 behind the plate. He hit only .239/.327/.341, but he was a key leader on a young club. Lavarnway also appeared in six games with the A’s.

Taylor joined the Sounds on June 26 from Midland. The promotion was Taylor’s first to the Triple-A level after he spent all or parts of six seasons in Double-A. Taylor had a strong Triple-A debut, batting .289/.374/.394 in 41 games with the Sounds.

McBride missed time with injury, but he still appeared in 79 games for Nashville. One of the most versatile players on the Sounds’ roster, McBride logged time at catcher, first base, right field and left field. He hit 10 homeruns and posted a .231/.299/.434 line in 251 at-bats.

Melvin Mercedes provided similar defensive versatility. Although he didn’t repeat his 2016 feat of appearing at all nine positions in the same game, Mercedes was still impressively versatile. Originally an injury fill-in on the Nashville roster, Mercedes ended up spending most of the season with the Sounds. In 62 games, he hit .238/.355/.287 while logging time at shortstop, third base, second base, left field and right field. Mercedes also appeared in five games as an emergency pitcher.

2016 Sounds’ MVP Jaycob Brugman was one of many members of the 2017 Nashville roster whose time with the team was limited by big league promotions and injuries. Brugman began the season on the DL with a lower leg injury he suffered during the final weeks of spring training. After he recovered, he spent a month with the Sounds before receiving his first big league call-up on June 9. Brugman appeared in 48 games for the A’s and held his own at the plate (.266 BA/.346 OBP), but he struggled with his assertiveness defensively. He returned to Nashville on Aug. 11 and was expected to re-join the A’s in September when rosters expanded. Unfortunately, he broke his foot on a foul ball on Aug. 16 and is out for the rest of the season. Brugman appeared in just 38 games for Nashville and he hit .275/.355/.340.

With fellow Nashville outfielders Canha, Brugman and Decker spending time with the A’s, Kenny Wilson ended up playing a prominent role in the Sounds’ outfield. Wilson played in 71 games in the outfield for Nashville. He also spent three weeks with Double-A Midland during the season. With the Sounds, the speedy Wilson hit .237/.301/.293 with 12 stolen bases in 19 chances. An excellent defender, Wilson split his time between all three outfield positions.

While Olson was the everyday first baseman while he was with Nashville, the Sounds had several other players fill-in at first when Olson was with Oakland. At the start of the season, Chris Parmelee was Olson’s main first base fill-in. Parmelee appeared in 42 games with the Sounds, and he hit .199 with a .281 OBP before he was released on June 13. He finished the season with the New Orleans Baby Cakes.

In mid-July, the A’s signed former top prospect Chris Carter to a minor league deal after he was released by the Yankees. Carter led the National League in homeruns in 2016, but he hit only .201 with 8 homers in 62 games for New York this season. He spent the final seven weeks of the season with Nashville. Carter got off to a slow start, batting only .208 with no homers in eight July games. Over the final six weeks of the season, Carter looked more like himself, batting .262 with nine homers in 29 games in August and September.

Sounds’ pitchers

The Sounds had a revolving door for a rotation in 2017. No Nashville pitcher threw 100 innings for the team and only one made more than 15 starts. Nineteen different pitchers made starts for Nashville this year.

Zach Neal led the Sounds in starts and innings pitched despite spending three weeks of the season with the A’s. The right-hander threw 99 innings over 16 starts and five relief appearances. He had a 4.82 ERA and a 43:10 K:BB. Neal, who is a minor league free agent, has spent parts of the past four seasons in Triple-A with the A’s and parts of the last two seasons in the big leagues with Oakland.

Youngsters Paul Blackburn and Daniel Gossett were the leaders of the Nashville rotation for the first half of the season, but both pitchers ended up spending most of the second half with the A’s. Blackburn earned mid-season PCL All-Star honors and had a 3.05 ERA in 79.2 innings for Nashville. He struck-out 56, walked 26 and held opposing batters to a .231 average. Blackburn earned his first big league promotion on July 1 and was outstanding in 10 starts with the A’s before his season ended early when he was hit in the pitching hand by a line-drive.

Gossett was the Sounds’ Opening Day starter after a standout 2016 season that saw him pitch at three different levels. He struggled in April (6.27 ERA), but he rode a red-hot May (1.54 ERA) into a June 14 promotion to the big leagues. Gossett remained with the A’s until Aug. 3, when he was sent back to Nashville. He spent three weeks with the Sounds before returning to Oakland for good on Aug. 23. Gossett had a 3.66 ERA and a 71:24 K:BB in 76.1 innings for Nashville. He has been up-and-down with the A’s and currently sports a 5.82 ERA in 89.2 innings with Oakland.

Chris Smith, Corey Walter and Ben Bracewell were the only other Nashville starters to make more than 10 starts this season. Smith threw the first six innings of a combined no-hitter on June 8 and was a mid-season PCL All-Star. In 74 innings with the Sounds, Smith had a 3.16 ERA and a 64:20 K:BB. He made 12 starts and three relief appearances. On July 8, Smith was recalled to Oakland. He has pitched both as a starter and as a reliever with the A’s since that time, compiling a 7.00 ERA in 54 innings.

Walter had a 2.15 ERA for Double-A Midland in 2016, but he was forced to repeat with the RockHounds at the start of 2017 because of a crowded rotation in Nashville. He spent most of the first two months of the season with Midland and had a 2.44 ERA in 44.1 innings. Walter joined the Sounds for good on May 25 and would go on to make 11 starts and 10 relief appearances for Nashville. As a starter, Walter had a 6.04 ERA in 53.2 innings. He moved to the bullpen late in the year and found success, posting a 2.84 ERA and a 15:2 K:BB in 19 innings.

Bracewell had a similar path in 2017. After pitching extremely well for Midland in 2016, he returned to the RockHounds at the start of 2017 and spent most of the first three months with Midland. On June 30, he joined the Sounds’ rotation and made 12 starts and one relief appearance during the course of the rest of the season. Bracewell struggled initially, but he finished the season strong. Over his final five starts, he allowed seven runs in 30 innings (2.10 ERA) and he won the PCL Pitcher of the Week award for the week of Aug. 27.

Daniel Mengden finished just outside this group with nine starts for Nashville. The right-hander began the season rehabbing a broken foot he sustained during an off-season workout. He joined the Sounds on May 8 on a rehab assignment and was officially added to the Nashville roster on May 20. The A’s called Mengden up on June 4 and he made two starts before being sent back to Triple-A. Mengden didn’t pitch again for Nashville until Aug. 14 thanks to a lat strain that landed him on the Nashville DL just days after returning from Oakland. Mengden worked his way back slowly with the Sounds, throwing five full innings in only one of his five August starts for the team. He earned a call-up to Oakland in September and Mengden has pitched very well since joining the A’s. In four starts, he has a 1.93 ERA and he threw his first big league shutout. He has worked at least six full innings in all four of his big league outings and is positioning himself well for a spot in the A’s rotation next year.

Chris Jensen made only seven starts for the Sounds, but he finished second on the team in innings pitched thanks to 23 relief appearances. Jensen was terrific in mostly a relief role during the first half of the season. In 48 innings before the All-Star break, he had a 3.94 ERA. After the break, Jensen split his time between the rotation and the bullpen and he struggled, posting an 8.59 ERA.

Michael Brady also spent time as both a starter and a reliever for Nashville this season. The Cal alum made eight starts and nine relief appearances for the Sounds in 2017. He spent most of the first half with Nashville, but he spent the second half of the season going back-and-forth between the big leagues and Triple-A. With the Sounds, Brady had a 3.21 ERA in 53.1 innings. He struck-out 51 and walked only six. With the A’s, Brady has served a middle relief role. In 30.2 innings, he has a 5.87 ERA and a 23:6 K:BB.

Among the full-time relievers, no one threw more innings than Tucker Healy, although Healy’s season ended on Aug. 5 with an injury. After posting a 3.61 ERA and striking out 76 in 52.1 innings last season, Healy had an uncharacteristically rough 2017 campaign. He struck-out only 34 in 42.2 innings and he walked 22 while posting a career-worst 4.64 ERA. Healy’s ERA the month before he landed on the DL was 13.50.

For much of the season, the Sounds two most reliable relievers were Josh Smith and Simon Castro. Both pitchers spent significant time with the A’s this season, but both made an impact on Nashville while with the club. Smith made 17 relief appearances and two starts for Nashville, posting a 3.70 ERA in 41.1 innings. He struck-out 44 and walked 11 for the Sounds. Smith spent more than two months of the season with the A’s and had a 4.89 ERA in 35 innings for Oakland. He wasn’t added to the A’s September roster, however.

Castro was a regular in the back-end of the Sounds’ bullpen until he was promoted to Oakland on July 16. The right-hander saved four games and posted a 3.32 ERA in 38 innings for Nashville. He struck-out an incredible 63 batters in those 38 innings, although he did walk 21. Castro has 32 strike-outs in 35 innings with the A’s, as well as a 4.33 ERA.

Major league veterans Felix Doubront and Chris Bassitt spent most of the season with Nashville in their first seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Doubront pitched out of the bullpen for all but two of his 29 outings, and he was effective. In 42 innings, he posted a 3.86 ERA and a 50:19 K:BB. Bassitt began the year pitching out of the rotation in hopes of returning to the A’s starting rotation, but his rehab hit a snag and he ended up pitching mostly out of the bullpen. In 15 relief appearances and two starts, Bassitt had a 6.21 ERA and a 31:16 K:BB. The A’s did not add Bassitt to their bullpen for September.

Raul Alcantara started the season as the A’s fifth starter, but he was removed from the rotation after one poor outing. Two bad relief appearances later and Alcantara was designated for assignment. He surprisingly cleared waivers and joined the Sounds’ rotation. He got off to a good start with Nashville, but landed on the DL with biceps tendinitis after five outings. Alcantara missed two months and returned to Nashville in August as a reliever. He continued to pitch well the rest of the season and finished the year with Nashville with 2.67 ERA in 33.2 innings. The A’s added him back to the roster on Sept. 1. Since re-joining the A’s, Alcantara has pitched very well, allowing only two runs in 12.2 innings.

Frankie Montas also began the year on the A’s roster. He made 23 relief appearances with the A’s in two separate stints. The hard-throwing right-hander struck-out 36 in 32 innings, but he walked 20 and had a 7.03 ERA for Oakland. When Montas pitched for Nashville, he was mostly a starter. In eight starts and one relief appearance, he had a 5.22 ERA in 29.1 innings. Montas did have a 37:7 K:BB and he held opposing batters to a .223 BAA, so his ERA was a bit unlucky. His season ended on Aug. 13 with an oblique strain.

Injuries impacted right-hander Jesse Hahn for much of the year. The right-hander made 13 starts and one relief appearance with the A’s, but he never looked right, posting a 5.30 ERA. With Nashville, Hahn had similar struggles. He had a 4.32 ERA and an 18:14 K:BB in 25 innings. Hahn was on the disabled list for all of August but returned the final weekend of the year, throwing one scoreless inning.

The Sounds’ bullpen composition changed significantly during the second half of the season, as the A’s continued to borrow liberally from the Nashville staff. Oakland signed minor league free agents Patrick Schuster and Logan Bawcom to deals during the second half. Schuster was with the A’s for part of the 2016 season and pitched for Nashville during part of that time. In 2017, he had a 5.94 ERA in 33.1 innings with the Sounds, but he did post a 40:12 K:BB. Bawcom made 11 appearances with the Sounds and had a 5.19 ERA in 17.1 innings.

Although the Sounds had plenty of roster movement during the year, they didn’t add too many relievers from Double-A Midland. One arm they did add from Midland was right-hander Lou Trivino, who had a strong first showing at the Triple-A level. After posting a 2.43 ERA in 33.1 innings for Midland, Trivino had a 3.60 ERA in 35 innings for the Sounds. He converted all four of his save opportunities. Trivino also posted a solid 31:11 K:BB. He was particularly good down-the-stretch, allowing just two earned runs on 10 hits over his final 14.1 innings pitched.

Hard-throwing right-handers Jake Sanchez and Kyle Finnegan were also notable additions from Midland to Nashville this season, but both saw their tenures with Nashville cut short. In Sanchez’s case, it was a broken radial bone in his elbow that sidelined him for the year after 18.1 innings with the Sounds. Sanchez looked like a big leaguer during that stretch before he got hurt, posting a 1.47 ERA and striking out 19 while walking only four. Finnegan struggled in his first extended taste of Triple-A. He had a 4.94 ERA in 23.2 innings with the Sounds before being sent back to Midland on Aug. 18. Once back with Midland, Finnegan found his groove again and he was key to the RockHounds’ playoff push for a fourth straight title.

Right-handers Tyler Sturdevant and Aaron Kurcz began the year with Nashville, but they both struggled with the Sounds and were sent down to Midland during the second-half of the season. Both would make strong contributions to the RockHounds’ title run.

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