OAKLAND—Hard as he tried, young J.B. Wendelken could never quite get the hang of the curveball. He threw it just the way his dad taught him, but it kept breaking the wrong direction.
“I finally figuired out the problem,” Wendelken said. “Dad threw lefthanded. Since I was righthanded, it went the other way.”
A decade later, Wendelken greets life with an easy manner and good humor until he steps on the mound, where he assumes a new level of intensity. “He has a bulldog reliever’s mentality. That’s something we really liked about him,” said Will Schock, who scouts professional players for the Athletics.
The A’s acquired Wendelken from the White Sox with Zack Erwin as part of the Brett Lawrie deal this offseason, and the Georgian, who will turn 23 shortly before Opening Day, could develop into an important part of their bullpen for the future.
“He has a good fastball,” Schock said. “He throws 90 to 94, and it’s a solid-average to plus pitch. He throws strikes, and he has a good changeup. He turns it over and it has a nice fade and sink.”
Wendelken still throws that curve he learned from his dad, Jefferey, but it’s his third pitch. If he can develop it into more of a weapon, it could enhance his effectiveness. The change is particularly important to his repertoire,
because he will throw it two or even three times in a row to keep hitters off balance.
At 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, Wendelken is a big, sturdy pitcher. The Red Sox drafted him in the 13th round of the 2012 draft, then traded him to the White Sox a year later. In 2014, Chicago tried to convert the reliever into a starter, with disastrous results. He finished 7-10, 5.25 at high Class A. So it was back to the bullpen in ‘15, and he had a big year, going 6-2, 3.20 while splitting the year between Double- and Triple-A. There is no doubt which role Wendelken prefers.
“I love it in the bullpen. It feels like home.”
• Former major league outfielder Scott Cousins joined Oakland’s amateur scouting corps. He will cover the Four Corners region of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.
• Also joining the scouting contingent is Anthony Aloisi as an area scout in Southern California and Al Skorupa as an area scout in Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas.