Oakland Athletics Prospect Bruce Billings – The Odd Man Out
For Bruce Billings, the time is now. The 27-year old starting pitcher for the Sacramento River Cats is entering his third season (second full season) with the triple-A ball club and trying to make his case for a call-up to their parent club, the Oakland A’s. Through June 22nd, Billings has posted a 8-4 W-L record (leading the Pacific Coast League in the wins category) with a 4.37 ERA and 1.429 WHIP in 70.0 IP, and has 70:29 K/BB ratio.
Originally drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 30th round of the 2007 MLB Draft out of San Diego State University, Billings was acquired by the A’s, along with a player to be named later, in a trade that sent second baseman Mark Ellis and cash back to the Rockies in the 2011 season. He was sent directly to triple-A Sacramento, and has been here ever since.
While Billings may not be next in line if an A’s starting pitcher were to get demoted or injured, that honor seems locked up by A’s top pitching prospect, Sonny Gray, there is a path for Billings to get a call-up. With A’s starting pitcher Brett Anderson already on the shelf with an injury, if another A’s starting pitcher were to go down with an injury, or say maybe a suspension of some sort (cough-Bartolo Colon I’m looking at you-cough), that could open up a couple of rotation spots for either Billings or Gray or both. Also, the A’s could call up Billings over Gray, as they could try and save some service time on Gray. However, we are past the deadline for the “Super-2” service clock, so it would not cost the A’s a year of service time to call up Gray this season. But, you never know.
I had the pleasure of getting to see Billings pitch against the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, the triple-A affiliate for the Rockies. Here is how his outing went:
First inning: Billings shows a 91-93 MPH fastball, 78 MPH curveball, 85 MPH slider. Nice, easy delivery. After two easy ground outs, one by the leadoff hitter, Charlie Culberson, and the #2 hitter, Hernan Iribarren, he blew away the #3 hitter, Charlie Blackmon, looking on a called strike-three with a 94 MPH fastball.
Second inning: Billings is very economical with his pitches this inning, forcing two more easy grounders, one to the #4 hitter, Ryan Wheeler, and the other to the #5 hitter, Ben Paulsen, for the first two outs, on early counts. He got the same result, has he ended the inning by getting the #6 hitter, Kent Matthes, to fly out to center fielder.
Third inning: After getting the #7 hitter, Tim Wheeler, to foul out to third, he gave up his first walk of the game to the #8 hitter, Greg Golson. Billings then gave up a single to the #9 hitter, Lars Davis, putting runners on first and second. Billings is still trying to find some command, as he is nearly 50/50 with balls and strikes. He then ran into some bad luck, as the next batter, Culberson, hit a sharp ground ball to short that looked to be an inning-ending double play, but it hit the umpire in the foot, ruling the ball dead and a base hit to the batter. Billings then gives up a run as the next batter, Iribarren, hit into a 4-3 fielder’s choice. He got out of the inning by getting a pop-out to the short stop by Blackmon. Score after three, 2-1 River Cats.
Fourth inning: Billings led off the inning giving up a single to R. Wheeler. He got the next batter, Paulsen, to strike out for the first out of the inning. He got Matthes to hit into a fielders choice to short, but it was a productive out as the runner moved over to second. The next batter, T. Wheeler, crushed a 3-1 pitch to deep right for his first HR of the season. Billings redeemed himself by striking out Golson to end the inning. Score after four, 6-3 River Cats.
Fifth inning: Billings starts off the inning with Davis grounding into an easy 4-3 put out. The next batter, Culberson, struck out on a 90 MPH fastball. He followed up that at-bat with Iribarren striking out on a curveball to make 5 K’s on the night. Nice, easy inning for Billings.
Sixth inning: Billings enters the 6th with a 74 pitch count, 49 strikes / 24 balls. He is in-line to get his 9th win of the season, as the River Cats are giving him plenty of run support. He gets Blackmon to ground out to third on another early count. The next batter, R. Wheeler, struck out looking for Billings 6th strike out of the night, 2nd looking. His fastball is showing 90 MPH. He ends the inning by getting Paulsen to ground out to first. Score after six, 11-3 River Cats.
Seventh inning: Billings gives up a HR to the first batter of the inning, Matthes, his second of the season. The next batter, T. Wheeler, grounds out on the first pitch he sees to short. He gets Golson as well to ground out to short. After that batter, Billings night is complete; he receives a standing ovation from the crowd.
Final Line: Billings goes 6 2/3 IP, 5 H’s, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 6 K’s, 2 HR’s, 96 pitches / 67 strikes.
After watching Billings pitch, I think he is more suited as a reliever. His fastball is straight, with little movement, and he throws it a lot for strikes. He showed only three pitches, fastball, curve ball, slider; and had some control issues with his secondary pitches early on in the game. He manufactured a lot of ground-ball outs, only getting 3 outs by way of the fly ball.
If Billings were to get a call-up, he would serve nicely a long-man out of the pen. But if he intended on remaining a starter with the A’s, trying to crack their solid, young pitching staff, he just may be the odd man out.