Name: Wandisson Charles
Height/Weight: 6’6’’, 225
How Acquired: Signed as an international amateur free agent before the 2015 season.
As an organization, the Oakland A’s have never been known for producing high-velocity pitchers. While the A’s have added some velocity over the years, RHP Wandisson Charles still stands out for his triple-digit fastball. Can Charles continue to refine his command enough to be a backend reliever in the big leagues?
Since signing with the A’s out of the Dominican Republic, Charles has been an eye-catching talent. The A’s brought Charles to the US after just one season in the Dominican Summer League. Charles walked more batters (38) than he struck-out (37) in his one season in the DSL, but the A’s wanted to get Charles and his triple-digit fastball to the US as soon as possible. Over the past two years, Charles has repaid the A’s trust in him by making significant improvements with his command.
Those improvements were a bit slow in coming in 2016. Charles struck-out 48 in 36.2 innings with the AZL A’s, but he walked 33 and he posted a 7.12 ERA. He started to turn things around towards the end of the 2016 season and into the fall Instructional League camps. However, it was the spring of 2017 when Charles took his biggest leap forward.
Pitching with more confidence and repeating his delivery with more consistency during Extended Spring Training, Charles pitched well enough to earn a spot on the Vermont Lake Monsters’ Opening Day roster. It didn’t take long for Lake Monsters’ manager Aaron Nieckula to trust Charles in a ninth-inning role. Charles responded by saving five-of-six opportunities.
Charles’ command faltered some in August, but he still showed marked improvements with his overall numbers with the Lake Monsters. In 21 innings, he posted a career-low 3.43 ERA and he struck-out 29 while holding opposing batters to a .203 average. He did walk 18, although six of those 18 came over three consecutive appearances in early August, when he was appearing to tire. His K/9 of 12.4 was a career-best, as well.
Nieckula says the difference between Charles in 2016 and 2017 was night-and-day.
“To be honest with you, and this is not disparaging, but he couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn last season,” Nieckula said in an interview with OaklandClubhouse’s Donald Moore in early August. “He has a power arm, a golden arm, throws mid 90s to 100. This year is tremendous. It’s two ends of the spectrum. This year he is pounding the fastball in the zone, he’s working in his slider. He has great composure on the mound, pitching with confidence and it really shows. So he has really made some tremendous strides within one year.”
A’s director of player development Keith Lieppman also pointed to Charles improved demeanor on the mound as a big reason behind his success in 2017.
“A year ago, he couldn’t throw the ball over the plate. It’s an amazing transformation for him. He’s maintained his velocity and he’s shown that he can stand out there with confidence,” Lieppman said. “He’s another big guy [6’6’’] and it’s going to take him a little while to get into his timing and his release, but we don’t have a whole lot of guys who throw 100 in our system, so he’s somebody we feel very strongly about.”
A’s minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson says that Charles continued to improve during the A’s 2017 fall Instructional League.
“He made progress. It’s still not over yet [in terms of his development], but I’m watching Kenley Jansen with the Dodgers and thinking, ‘Can Charles be our Jansen?’” Patterson said. “He has a long way to go but he’s making progress. He was still 97-99 this Instructional League and during the season he had some 102s. There’s lots of things there for us to be hopeful about.”
A behemoth on the mound, Charles has a very similar build to Jansen and similar arm strength. Charles is a currently a two-pitch pitcher with his fastball and his slider. The A’s may try to add a reliable third pitch once he is commanding his two primary offerings more consistently. His fastball sits 96-98, running up above the 100 MPH mark, and his slider sits in the mid-80s and has some late-breaking action.
For Charles to find success in full-season ball, he will need to be able to command his pitches more consistently. However, the progress he has made over the past 18 months leaves plenty of room for optimism that he will eventually have enough command to success in the upper-levels.
The A’s are likely to challenge Charles with an assignment to Low-A Beloit at some point next season. He will be 21 until September.
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