OAKLAND—A funny thing happened to Dillon Overton on his road to recovery: He learned how to pitch.
Overton had Tommy John surgery shortly after the A’s drafted him in the second round in 2013, and he has been gradually building strength since the surgery. He threw just 37 controlled innings in 2014, then 126 in 2015. That all served as prelude to a very interesting 2016.
At Triple-A Nashville, he went 13-5, 3.29 with 105 strikeouts in 125.2 innings. In the majors, however, he went 1-3, 11.47. He allowed 12 homers in 24.1 innings with the A’s after giving up just six with Nashville.
The lefty threw in the mid-90s at Oklahoma, and had been projected as a high first-round pick before it became apparent he would need elbow surgery. Since the surgery, it has been about building arm strength to try and regain his once-fierce fastball. He averaged around 88 this year, sometimes hitting 92.
“It’s better than last year,” Overton said. “Last year it was 86-90. So it’s gone up a tick. If it goes up another tick, that could make a difference.”
And that tick or two could make a huge difference in his future. “If he can pitch at 90, he can be a very effective major league pitcher,” pitching coordinator Gil Patterson said.
Pitching without a potent fastball has forced Overton to rely on a curve, cutter and changeup combination that worked quite well at Triple-A.
Learning to read hitters is a critical skill for a pitcher without a big fastball, and Overton’s limitations have forced him to learn.
“This shows why he’s going to get better,” Patterson said. “He’s willing to work, and he’s open to suggestion.”
The 25-year-old has also refined his other pitches. “I’m a lot more consistent with the curveball than I was the last two years, and I have a lot better feel for it,” he said.
• Baltimore hired away John Wasdin to serve as their pitching coordinator. The former first-round pick has been a highly effective coach in the A’s system, and was slotted for Double-A this season. The A’s have not yet announced his replacement.
• Righty reliever J.B. Wendelken has spent much of his winter at the A’s minor league complex in Mesa, Ariz., recovering from his October Tommy John surgery.
— Casey Tefertiller is a writer based in the Bay Area