2012 Overview and 2013 Outlook
The 2012 season wound up being a disappointment for the Stockton Ports, who were attempting to defend their Northern Division title from 2011. Inconsistency ultimately did them in and they finished with a mere 56 victories, marking only the ninth time in Stockton history with a season win total below 60 and the team's fewest wins since 1994.
Despite the poor record, Stockton did develop many promising prospects during the season. Unfortunately however, many of these Ports alums have headed out of Oakland's organization. During the off-season, the A's traded several 2012 Ports: closer Zack Thornton, who was shipped off to Pittsburgh to acquire Chris Resop; first-baseman A.J. Kirby-Jones, who was as a part of the Tyson Ross package to acquire Andrew Werner and Any Parrino, and a trio of starters (A.J. Cole, Ian Krol and Blake Treinen) in the three-way swap that sent John Jaso to the A's. Several other 2012 Ports moved up to Double-A, such as Josh Bowman, Miles Head and Chad Oberacker.
Even with many notable losses, the theme of the Ports' opening day roster for 2013 still seems to be familiar faces, as 12 players on the 25-man roster spent time with the Ports during the previous season. Manager Webster Garrison returns, as well, for his third stint managing Stockton. Rounding out the coaching staff and replacing Craig Lefferts and Brian McArn are 2012 AZL A's pitching coach Jimmy Escalante and former A's draftee Haas Pratt, who will serve as the hitting coach. They will look to guide the Ports back to the playoffs.
The Stockton Ports Infielders and Catchers
Easily the most recognizable name for Stockton this season will be Addison Russell, the consensus number one overall prospect for Oakland and the 11th overall selection in the 2012 MLB Draft. After signing for a $2.625 million dollar bonus, Russell skipped cross-country in his pro debut season from Arizona to Vermont and finally Iowa, where he raised eyebrows and caught the attention from scouts nationwide. He finished with a .369/.432/.594 line through a little more than 240 plate appearances and received a big league camp invite this spring, becoming by far the youngest player in any major league camp. Russell will be the youngest A's prospect to start a season at High-A since Daric Barton joined the Ports in 2005.
Other members of the infield crew include Max Muncy, Antonio Lamas and Wade Kirkland. Muncy, a polished collegiate power hitter from Baylor, was selected by Oakland in the fifth round of the 2012 draft. Muncy hit a home run in his first professional AB and was the only member of the A's 2012 draft class to have his first assignment be with a full season affiliate. Muncy amassed a .383 OBP and walked more than he struck out for Burlington.
Lamas inked with the A's after five seasons of Mexican Summer League ball in which he established himself as a swing first, contact heavy middle infielder. Lamas had a breakout season offensively last year, when he hit .336 with 15 homers. Kirkland comes from Burlington and will serve as the reserve middle infield specialist backing up Russell and Lamas for the Ports. He has good power and excellent athleticism.
The only returning members of the infield are B.A. Vollmuth and Tony Thompson, who will battle for time at the hot corner. Vollmuth, a Mississippi native and third round pick in 2011, figures to open the season as the starter despite some defensive difficulties last season. Vollmuth kept steady production between Low-A and High-A last year, posting almost identical splits for both leagues. Vollmuth will push to lower his high strikeout rates and improve his defense this season as he makes a push for a mid-season promotion.
Thompson returns to Stockton for the second consecutive season. Thompson, a natural third baseman, will see time at both corner infield positions, as well as in the outfield. Thompson hit well in 2012, going for a .276/.344/.442 line through 390 plate appearances.
The catching duties this season figured to be handled to start by Ryan Ortiz and Ryan Delgado. Ortiz, like in 2011, split time between Midland and Stockton last season and will likely be the primary catcher at the start of the year. Delgado, a former Braves farmhand signed out of Indy ball this offseason, has hit well in limited plate appearances in affiliated baseball. He has only four games of experience at the High-A level coming into this season.
The Stockton Outfielders
Stockon opens with an outfield filled with returning Ports: Myrio Richard, Josh Whitaker and Dusty Robinson. Robinson was the organization's home run leader last season with 27 between Burlington and Stockton, but he will have to improve his plate discipline to move up the ladder. Whitaker also flashed his power potential for Stockton and almost made the Double-A roster coming out of camp. He could be one of the first promotions to Midland if a spot opens up. The speedy Richard will be looking to rebound from a down 2012 season that was marred by injuries.
The new addition to the cast is Bobby Crocker, the Cal Poly product and 2011 draftee who played for the Bees during 2012. Stockton could be the stop where Crocker finally begins to realize his power potential, as the Cal League's ballparks should allow him to swing for fences much more easily.
The Ports' Starting Rotation
The Ports, who began last season with a six-man rotation, open with a more conventional five-man revolution headed by Midwest League All-Star and 2011 32nd round selection Drew Granier. Granier burst onto the prospect radar last season as the organization's leader in innings pitched. He was second in strikeouts only to Dan Straily, who led the minor leagues in that category. The Louisiana native, who has already been announced as the opening day starter versus Bakersfield, tallied 167 punchouts in 162.2 IP with Burlington while walking only 53 (2.93 BB/9) and surrendering 12 HRs (0.66 HR/9). He'll be pushed in the Cal League, but Granier is poised for a breakout campaign.
Following him is a duo of returning Ports in Blake Hassebrock and Sean Murphy. Hassebrock brings a diverse repertoire and a solid frame back to Stockton. He struggled during the 2012 season, earning a mid-season demotion back to Burlington. But Hassebrock wasn't aided by a Ports' infield defense that ranked as one of the worst in minor league baseball. Hassebrock had a high groundball percentage but that led to a .426 BABIP in through 50.2 innings. With improved command and a brand new cast in the infield, Hassebrock could be prepared for a bounceback.
Murphy emerged last year as a mid-season promotion from Low-A and proceeded to mow down Cal League offenses with plus strikeout numbers, including a memorable start in Rancho Cucamonga in which he struck out eight of the first nine batters he faced, becoming the first in a Ports' uniform since Trevor Cahill to accomplish that feat. The post ASB campaign wasn't kind to Murphy though, as he gave up 19 homers after the break, the most of any Cal League pitcher. Murphy returns hoping to correct himself and get back on track in Stockton
The final two members of the rotation will be former UNLV standout Tanner Peters, who split time between Vermont and Burlington last year, and Andres Aliva, a native of Mexico who is skipping the Midwest League entirely to start in High A.
The Midland Bullpen
The bullpen is anchored by T.J. Walz, the former Kansas Jayhawk and 15th round selection in 2011, who returns to Stockton after an impressive 2012. Walz, who broke camp last year in the rotation, transitioned to the bullpen and found home, making 31 of his 39 appearances in relief. Walz had 112 strikeouts in 99.2 innings compared to just 36 walks and he allowed just nine homeruns. Walz could be on the list of early season promotions to Midland should a spot open up.
Alongside Walz is another former 2012 rotation member, Jake Brown, who is one of only two lefties in the pen along with Omar Duran. Brown shifted between the rotation and the bullpen constantly last season and figures to be used in the same role for the Ports once again this year.
Right-handers Seth Frankoff and Jose Macias come to the Stockton bullpen also having starting rotation experience. Frankoff had a strong start to 2011 in Low-A, but he struggled following the all-star break. Macias, also pitching in Low-A, had healthy strikeout totals, but he surrendered 14 HRs in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League, something to watch for in the Cal League.
Four power arms round out the Ports' bullpen: Pedro Vidal, Jonathan Joseph, Omar Duran and David Mota. Duran, who can reach the mid-90s with his fastball, has yet to allow a single home run in 160 professional innings while Vidal starred as a late season performer for the Ports last year. Mota is coming off of a very strong spring, while Joseph has shown promise in a variety of roles in past years.