Name: James Naile
Height/Weight: 6’4’’, 185
How Acquired: Selected in the 20th round of the 2015 MLB Draft.
An oblique injury kept James Naile out of action for two months, but the right-hander continued to impress when he was on the mound. Can Naile challenge for a big league spot in 2018?
In his two-plus seasons as a professional, Naile has had his minor league baseball “passport” punched a number of times. In his first full pro season in 2016, Naile pitched at all four of the A’s full-season levels, accumulating 156.2 innings in the process. In 2017, Naile’s travels were due to injury, as an oblique strain sent him from Double-A Midland to the disabled list and later a rehab assignment in Arizona and Stockton. When all was said and done, Naile was impressive enough in his time with the Midland RockHounds that he should be in good position for a jump to Triple-A in 2018, despite the time missed due to injury.
A 20th-round pick in 2015, Naile came to pro baseball only a year removed from Tommy John surgery. The A’s were conservative with Naile’s innings during his pro debut, using him in a closer role with short-season Vermont. He pitched well in that role, posting a 1.93 ERA and racking up six saves in 23.1 innings over 18 appearances. Naile continued to open eyes during the A’s fall Instructional League that year, impressing with his sinker-slider combination.
In 2016, Naile moved back into the rotation and immediately stood out for his performance with Low-A Beloit. By late May, Naile had a 3.28 ERA with the Snappers and had pitched so well that when the A’s needed a spot starter in Triple-A, they called on Naile to pitch for the Sounds on May 29. He returned to Beloit for one start, then went back to Nashville for another spot start before going to Midland, where he filled in for two starts in mid-June. Naile then returned to Beloit for another month before earning a late July promotion to High-A Stockton, where he would stay until the final week of the regular season, when he joined Midland. He would throw five strong innings in a regular season finale and six shutout innings in his only post-season start for the 2016 Texas League champions (which was the title clincher).
Naile returned to Midland at the start of the 2017 season and the plan was for him to spend most – if not all – of the season with the RockHounds. He was part of the RockHounds’ tandem rotation to start the year and had just moved into a more traditional rotation role when he strained an oblique muscle before a late May start. Naile was shut down for several weeks and didn’t return to game action until on July 20 with rehab starts in the Arizona Rookie League. After two starts in the AZL, Naile made two rehab starts with Stockton before returning to Midland for good.
Naile was roughed up in his return to Midland, but he was very effective after that, allowing just three earned runs over 22 innings to close out his regular season. In 61.2 regular season innings with Midland, Naile had a 3.21 ERA and a 42:17 K:BB. He allowed just five home runs and held opposing batters to a .239 average. His groundball rate for the season was 56.5%.
Naile threw another 15.2 innings for the RockHounds in the post-season. He earned the win in the title clincher, tossing six scoreless innings in the RockHounds’ 1-0 win over the Tulsa Drillers. After the season, Naile participated in the A’s fall Instructional League to get his innings total above 100 for the season. He finished the year at 100% and isn’t expected to have any restrictions this spring.
Naile isn’t a hard thrower, with his fastball topping out at 91, but he is effective with all four of his offerings. He came to pro ball with an effective sinker-slider combination and has since improved his change-up and added a cut-fastball. Naile employs a three-quarters delivery that offers some deception and helps him to generate a lot of movement. He has excellent command, does a good job keeping the ball on the ground and has a career GO/AO of 2.02. Naile is able to help himself defensively, and he earned the minor league pitcher Gold Glove for the 2016 season.
Due to the season he missed in college because of the Tommy John surgery, Naile was on the older side when the A’s drafted him. He will turn 25 this February. The A’s like his competitive nature on the mound and his work ethic. He projects as a backend big league starter who can induce a lot of groundballs and throw a lot of innings.
“You could not ask for a harder worker. We are pretty lucky. I’m sure lots of teams are with the guys they have, but James, I really like all of the things that he has done,” A’s minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson said in a post-Instructs interview. “He can sink the ball. His change-up is getting better. The slider has some depth to it and quickness. The cutter, that he added this year, has been good too. I’m really looking forward to good things from James in 2018.”
Naile doesn’t throw as hard, but he has a similar pitching repertoire to current A’s starter Kendall Graveman. Naile may have to start the 2018 season back in Double-A thanks to the backlog of upper-level starters in the A’s system, but he should get at least a half season in Triple-A, barring injury. Depending on how the A’s pitching depth chart holds up during the season, Naile could be an option for Oakland at some point during the season.
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