Name: Bobby Wahl
Height/Weight: 6’2’’, 210
How Acquired: Selected in the 5th round of the 2013 MLB Draft.
The 2017 season was both unforgettable and ultimately frustrating for Bobby Wahl, who made his major league debut but also lost most of the season with injury. Can Wahl get healthy and back into the Oakland A’s bullpen in 2018?
Injury problems have dogged Wahl since his collegiate days at Mississippi. The right-hander entered his junior season as a projected top-15 pick, but after missing time his junior season with blister issues and a rumored sore shoulder, Wahl fell to the fifth round of the 2013 draft to the A’s despite going 10-0 with a 2.03 ERA for Ole Miss that year.
After pitching for the A’s two short-season clubs in his pro debut season, Wahl began the 2014 season with Low-A Beloit. He began the year in the Snappers’ rotation, but after getting off to a slow start and missing time with an oblique strain, Wahl was moved into the bullpen mid-season. He has been used exclusively in relief ever since.
Wahl had a solid finish with High-A Stockton as a reliever in 2014, and he jumped to Double-A Midland at the start of 2015. He was in the middle of a solid season with the RockHounds when soreness in his forearm popped up in late June. He landed on the DL for good in late July and had surgery to address the forearm issue that cost him the rest of the season.
The A’s were cautious with Wahl’s return in 2016. He began the year with Stockton, making three appearances over the first two weeks of the season. Once the A’s were confident Wahl was back to full strength, he moved back up to Midland, where he settled in at the back of the RockHounds’ bullpen. He made 33 appearances for Midland, posting a 2.21 ERA and a 48:17 K:BB in 40.2 innings. He saved 10 of 11 chances as the RockHounds’ closer. On Aug. 8, Wahl received his first promotion to Triple-A. He dominated for the Nashville Sounds until injuring his calf during a Sept. 1 appearance. That injury cost Wahl an opportunity for a September call-up.
The A’s added Wahl to the 40-man roster last off-season to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. He struck-out 10 in 5.1 innings in big league camp, making a strong impression on the A’s coaching staff. After getting off to a strong start for the Sounds, Wahl finally got the call to the big leagues on May 3. He made his debut that day in Minnesota. Wahl struggled in that outing, but he didn’t allow a run in four of his next five appearances and he appeared to be settling into a role in the middle of the A’s bullpen. Unfortunately, the injury bug bit Wahl again. After allowing two runs in two innings on May 23, Wahl landed on the DL with a right shoulder strain.
Wahl missed all of June and much of July, but he began a rehab stint on July 20 with Stockton. After two strong appearances with the Ports, Wahl continued his rehab with Nashville. However, after just three appearances with the Sounds, Wahl once again began to feel discomfort. This time, he was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome. He had surgery that August and missed the rest of the season. During the off-season, the A’s outrighted Wahl off of the 40-man roster. He cleared waivers and remained with the team as a non-roster player.
Wahl’s injury history likely scared off teams from making a waiver claim, but Wahl is expected to be ready to pitch this spring. He is a non-roster invitee to big league camp. Although Wahl isn’t on the A’s 40-man roster, he could still be a significant factor for the A’s at some point this season.
It may seem odd to have a non-roster player with Wahl’s injury history this high on the prospect list, but it speaks to his potential if healthy. When healthy, perhaps only Frankie Montas has a more dominating reliever repertoire in the A’s system than Wahl. Wahl’s fastball sits 95-98, touching 100, and it has explosive movement that makes it difficult for hitters to track. He also has a sharp breaking slider that sits in the 84-87 MPH range, and a change-up that acts more like a split-finger at 88-91. Wahl doesn’t throw the change-up nearly as often as he throws the fastball or the slider, but it can be an effective pitch at times.
Command has been an issue for Wahl throughout his pro career, but he has been much more consistently in the strike-zone over the past two seasons. He is a fierce competitor who has a closer’s mentality. If healthy, he has the stuff to be a late-innings force in the big leagues.
Health continues to be the biggest question surrounding Wahl. He turns 26 this March, but if Wahl can get over the health hurdle, he still has time to put together a long big league career.
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