Name: Heath Fillmyer
Height/Weight: 6’1’’, 180
How Acquired: Selected in the 5th round of the 2014 MLB Draft.
After leading all Oakland A’s minor leaguers in innings pitched and helping to guide the Midland RockHounds to another title, Heath Fillmyer earned a spot on the A’s 40-man roster. How close is he to a big league opportunity?
When the A’s selected Fillmyer out of Mercer County Community College in 2014, they knew they were getting a project. An infielder in high school and at the start of his JUCO career, Fillmyer made the transition to the mound only a year before the A’s called his name in the fifth round of the draft. Fillmyer had a strong arm and above-average athleticism, and the A’s made the bet that they could help mold him from a pure thrower into a pitcher.
At the outset, the A’s bet didn’t look to be going that well. Fillmyer began his first full professional season in Low-A Beloit, and he had a rude welcome to full-season baseball. He posted an 8.24 ERA for the first half of that season and the A’s were close to sending him back to short-season. In early July, then-Beloit pitching coach Steve Connelly and then-A’s minor league pitching coordinator Garvin Alston sat down with Fillmyer to discuss some changes to his mechanics. Mid-season changes are never easy for players – especially young ones – but Fillmyer took to the adjustments quickly and posted a 2.85 ERA over the second half of the season with the Snappers.
“We made some serious delivery changes with his mechanics [mid-season],” Connelly said in an interview with OaklandClubhouse after the 2015 season. “He always struggled with that he would get really east and west in his delivery. He never rode it down the slope. We changed his delivery up where we preset him and we got him a little bit shorter and we found a way to get him a little bit better direction down hill towards the plate.
“He is as athletic of a kid as you will find on a baseball field. He played shortstop in junior college and so he was able to pick it up quick. It just clicked and each time he went out it got better. He just really created an angle down with his fastball. He was able to spot it in and out. His breaking ball was really cleaned up. It wasn’t so slurvy and loose. I had more of a sharp bite to it. And then he’s got a tremendous change-up that is firm – 88-89 MPH – but it is a dive-bomb sinker, in a way. It just ties guys up. Hitters are all out in front of it. They really don’t have much of a chance of hitting it.”
Fillmyer continued to impress into the 2016 season. He began the year with High-A Stockton and posted a 3.60 ERA in 95 innings with the Ports before the A’s promoted Fillmyer to Midland to finish out the year. In his first taste of Double-A, Fillmyer had a 2.54 ERA in eight starts (39 innings).
The A’s returned Fillmyer to Double-A for the 2017 season, and he settled in at the top of the RockHounds’ rotation, teaming with Grant Holmes to serve as workhorses. The two battled all season for the title of most innings thrown by an A’s minor leaguer, with Fillmyer edging out Holmes by an inning.
Fillmyer was a steady hand for the RockHounds throughout the 2017 season. In only one month did he have an ERA above 3.80 and he finished the year with a 3.49 ERA in 149.2 innings pitched. He finished fifth in the Texas League in ERA and fifth in innings pitched. Fillmyer’s K:BB (115:51) wasn’t eye-popping, but he improved those peripheral stats as the season went on. His K:BB for the first half of the season was 42:29, and he improved to 73:22 for the second half.
Fillmyer was at his best at the end of the season when the RockHounds were battling for a post-season spot. In August and September, he had a 2.52 ERA and a 30:7 K:BB in 39.1 innings pitched. Fillmyer continued to pitch well in the post-season, helping the RockHounds earn a title with two strong starts in which he allowed three runs in 11.2 innings.
A’s Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman says that Fillmyer’s maturation as a pitcher continued in 2017.
“He’s at that stage where the other day he had a bases-loaded, nobody out and he found a way to get out of it,” Lieppman said in a late-season interview. “That was part of the goal for him was to learn how to pitch and he’s learning how to do that and work himself out of jams. The groundball is always the pitcher’s best friend.
“He changes speeds well. He’s a grinder. He has given us a lot of innings. Certainly from the guy who started out in Beloit a couple of years ago and struggled so mightily, he’s really matured. He was the position player who hadn’t pitched much. Now he’s the pitcher who is an excellent fielder.”
Fillmyer has always had plenty of arm strength. His fastball sits in the low-90s but can touch 96 when he reaches back for something extra. He gets run on the pitch, although sometimes he has trouble commanding it. Fillmyer has two solid secondary pitches that he mixes well with his fastball to change speeds. One is a change-up that comes out of his hand looking like a fastball but arrives about five miles per hour slower and with late diving action. The other is a curveball that has swing-and-miss potential.
Fillmyer hasn’t yet consistently missed a lot of bats as a pro, but he is effective at inducing soft contact and generating a good number of groundballs. As he continues to refine his fastball command, his strike-out numbers should inch up. He is an excellent athlete and has proven to be good at receiving and implementing instruction. He is also often mentioned as having one of the top work ethics in the system.
Fillmyer will turn 24 in May. After more than a year in Double-A, he is likely to make the jump to Triple-A to start the season. He could be an option for the A’s later in the year if he gets off to a good start with the Sounds.
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