In the 2003 MLB draft, the Phillies selected right-handed pitcher Brad Ziegler in the 20th round. Ziegler threw six nice innings in short-season ball and was cut the next season, heading to the independent leagues.
The A's eventually picked Ziegler up in late 2004. He spent the next three years as a decent starter in the high minors, but there was nothing exceptional about him that made him stand out.
Going into 2007, Ziegler was a 27-year-old with only four games of Triple-A experience. As a finesse righty with a nice change and little else, he was thought of as a depth guy in the minors.
However, inspired by their success with submarining righty Chad Bradford in the majors, the A's thought they'd try dropping Ziegler's arm slot way down and putting him in the bullpen.
The conversion was initially thought of as a mere curiosity. Even after Ziegler dominated Double-A and Triple-A in 2007, he had few believers.
Fast-forward to 2009, and Ziegler is the owner of the longest scoreless streak to start a career (39 innings in 2008). He also is one of the most trusted setup arms in the majors.
Just like Bradford's success may have brought on the Ziegler idea, Ziegler's success may have contributed to the A's decision to draft University of Kansas reliever Paul Smyth in the 35th round of the 2009 draft.
Like Ziegler, Smyth wasn't highly regarded coming out of college, as the draft position attests.
This is largely due to his arm slot, which is a little bit higher than Ziegler's or Bradford's, but is certainly far below where most pitchers throw. He's also a short right-hander (5'10"), further hurting his status among scouts.
From the sidearm angle, Smyth fires a low-90s cutter, a two-seam fastball with a lot of run and sink (like most sidearmers), and a decent slider.
Since he had significant college experience, the 22-year-old Smyth was sent to short-season-A-ball upon signing in June.
To say he's been dominant there would be an understatement.
In 22-2/3 innings, Smyth has struck out 27 batters. He's allowed eight hits, no homers, and two walks.
He hasn't allowed a single run.
Obviously, projecting Smyth to be as good as Ziegler when he hasn't even gotten to full-season ball yet is hyperbole.
However, his utter dominance is an excellent sign.
Smyth also throws harder than Ziegler, and has that cutter that he can throw in on the hands of lefties.
With Bradford and Ziegler, the A's have shown great ability to find (or make) sidearmers who can excel in the bullpen.
While Paul Smyth is still far from the majors, he may continue that tradition.