In recent years, the Oakland A's have been known for their knack to develop homegrown starting pitching. The club switched up that strategy a bit last year, taking several highly touted bats- such as outfielders Austin Beck and Greg Deichmann- in the early rounds of the 2017 MLB Draft. However, despite using a majority of their early picks on position players, the Athletics still came away from the 2017 draft with a plethora of promising pitchers, as one would expect from a pitching-oriented organization.
Snappers fans have had the pleasure of watching several of those arms this year, one of the most prominent being 23-year-old right-hander Wyatt Marks. Oakland took Marks, a native of Lafayette, La., in the 13th round of the 2017 draft following his junior year at University of Louisiana-Lafayette. The right-handed strikeout specialist currently ranks as the Athletics' No. 23 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. The A's are utilizing Marks as a starter in Beloit, where he is 4-6 with a 3.83 ERA with 102 strikeouts in 87 innings. However, his previous experience as a late-inning reliever could give him the versatility necessary for a quick rise to the Majors.
Pitching for his hometown school, Marks posted a solid 3.24 ERA over 66 1/3 innings as a freshman in 2015, splitting time between the rotation and bullpen. As a full-time starter in 2016, his results were more of a mixed bag (4.50 ERA in 76 innings), though he did rank fourth in the Sun Belt Conference with 80 strikeouts.
In 2017, the Ragin' Cajuns moved Marks to the bullpen, and he blossomed as their closer. Marks posted a 2.28 ERA while his 14.97 strikeouts-per-nine (100 strikeouts in 59 1/3 innings) and 4.40 hits-per-nine both led the nation. The Athletics rewarded Marks' fantastic performance with a $110,000 signing bonus and, after five scoreless innings across two starts in the rookie-level Arizona League, an assignment to Short-Season A Vermont.
"Making the playoffs last year in Vermont was a lot of fun," Marks said of his squad's run into the New York-Penn League postseason in 2017. "Making that run with those guys and clinching, that was a great time."
Marks entered the A's organization equipped with a fastball that ranges from 88-91 MPH, as well as a tight slider that hovers around 80. He considers the slider, his bread and butter, as the reason for his sky-high strikeout rate. The righty has made a few adjustments since turning pro, though, such as adding a new pitch- a changeup, which also sits near 80 MPH- to his repertoire.
"I didn't throw a changeup in college," Marks said. "I was a closer in college, and then I come here and they move me to a starting role, so I had to develop a third pitch. And really, [the changeup] has come a long way. It's getting to be one of my favorite pitches to throw."
Regardless of whether he starts or relieves, Marks' approach remains the same: "trying to attack the hitter and threaten the hitter before they can threaten me." This strategy is similar to that of Marks' favorite player.
"One of my favorite pitchers is Nolan Ryan. He's the background on my phone," he said. "I like the way he attacked hitters. He wasn't really afraid of anyone and just went after them. Of course he's obviously one of the best pitchers to ever play, so I try to pitch like him."
That approach has led to Marks' success at every level, including this season in Beloit, where he was named a Midwest League All-Star. He traveled to Lansing along with teammates Beck, Trace Loehr and Xavier Altamirano to join the Western Division All-Star roster. Marks was credited with the final out of the seventh inning, although that one out was a pickoff play by Peoria catcher Dennis Ortega.
"It was a good experience," Marks said. "It was really fun to play in front of that many people. It was just an all-around great experience."
His professional career is only just beginning, but as he continues his development in the A's system, Marks is open to either starting or relieving.
"It doesn't really matter to me; you know, that's not really my decision to make. As long as I'm throwing, I'm OK with it. Right now I'm having some success starting, but it's really up to the guys in the office."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.