The 2010 Stockton Ports' club overcame a slow start and put together a long winning streak late in the season to make the California League playoffs. The Ports fell in the first round, but it was still a memorable season. Offensively, the Ports were potent, led by top prospects Grant Green, Stephen Parker, Michael Spina and Jeremy Barfield. On the pitching-side, Stockton received a great performances from starter Shawn Haviland and relievers Paul Smyth, Trey Barham and Lance Sewell.
None of the aforementioned players will be returning to Stockton for 2011, but there will still be plenty of talent at Banner Island Ballpark. The "headliner" is outfielder Michael Choice, who was the A's top pick in last year's draft. Choice is coming off of an excellent spring training, during which he turned heads both in big league and minor league camps. He is a five-tool talent with big-time power and he could put up Chris Carter-esque power numbers for Stockton this season.
Catcher Max Stassi probably won't reach Carter-levels with his power numbers, but the highly touted prospect should challenge (health-permitting) the 20-homer mark. He hit 13 in 110 games in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League last season, and he should find the offensive-friendly nature of the California League to his liking. Stassi will need to cut down on his swings-and-misses, however, as he struck-out 141 times last season. He is a talented defensive catcher and will get the majority of the playing time behind the plate. When Stassi isn't in the game, Juan Nunez will get the nod at catcher. A good defensive backstop, Nunez hit .171 in 44 games for Low-A Kane County last season.
Speed will be plentiful among the Stockton outfielders. In addition to Choice – who is one of the fastest players in the A's minor league system – the Ports will have good speed in the form of outfielders Rashun Dixon, Mitch LeVier and Myrio Richard. None of the aforementioned players have put up great stolen base numbers during their short professional careers, but all have the ability to reach double-digits if given the running opportunities.
Dixon, a former two-sport star in high school, is beginning his fourth minor league season, but he is still only 20-years-old. After a rough 2009 campaign with Vancouver, Dixon put together a solid campaign with Kane County last year, batting .275 with a 754 OPS. Like Stassi, he will be looking to cut down on his strike-outs (135 in 119 games).
LeVier and Richard both had good, but injury-shortened seasons in 2010. LeVier missed the first half of the season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. He hit .288 with an 803 OPS in 40 games for Vancouver, the AZL A's and Kane County. He is a ninth-round pick from 2008. Richard missed time last year with minor injuries, but hit .281 in 98 games with a .359 OBP and 27 doubles. Richard is the younger brother of former Ports' infielder Michael Richard. Like Michael, Myrio has a good approach at the plate, but he has more power and isn't as fast as his older brother.
Kent Walton, who was a member of the Ports during the second half of the 2010 season, can also play some outfield. He has primarily been a DH as a pro thanks to a shoulder injury he sustained in college. Walton had a .265 average with a 720 OPS in 344 at-bats with the Cougars and Ports. He hit .296 in 67 games for Vancouver in 2009.
Conner Crumbliss will see time both at second base and in the outfield for Stockton. The 2010 minor league walk leader is one of the toughest outs in all of the minor leagues (126 walks). Crumbliss is also a good base-runner and he had 24 stolen bases for Kane County last season. He will be at the top of the Ports' line-up and should give the middle of the line-up plenty of RBI opportunities.
First-baseman Anthony Aliotti should also wear-out the path from home to first this season. He walked 92 times in 133 games for Kane County last season. The East Bay native and St. Mary's College alum is also a top-notch defensive first-baseman. He hasn't shown the typical power of a corner infielder, however, but those numbers could get a boost from moving to the Cal League.
Shortstop Dusty Coleman is back on the field after missing the entire 2010 season with a broken wrist. The wrist injury was incurred early in the 2009 season and it impacted him for the last four months of that season. He had surgery before the 2010 campaign, but it didn't heal correctly and he had to have a second surgery. Coleman is now healthy, however, and coming off of a strong spring. He has good power and decent speed and has a strong arm at short. Coleman signed for an above-slot bonus in 2008 and was highly regarded before the wrist problems.
Michael Gilmartin was the primary shortstop for Kane County last season, but with Coleman getting the bulk of the starts at short, Gilmartin will move around the infield, seeing time at second and third, as well. The only switch-hitter on the Stockton roster, Gilmartin was streaky for Kane County last season and finished with a .245/.326/.371 line. He is another good base-runner and he swiped 15 bases last year.
Leonardo Gil opened eyes last season when he clubbed 13 homeruns in 117 games with Kane County. The third-baseman's previous career-high was two homeruns. He sacrificed patience for power last year, however, and saw his OBP drop from .325 in 2009 to .296. Gil will need to see that number rise to continue to get playing time in the A's system, but his power is intriguing.
The pitching staff is led by a number of returning pitchers. Opening Day starter Fabian Williamson made 13 starts for Stockton last season after he was acquired from the Boston organization in the Eric Patterson trade. The left-hander had a good spring, improving his command. He struggled in that area last year, walking 45 in 63 innings with Stockton and 79 in 128.1 innings in total.
Returning right-handers Justin Murray (10-4, 3.67 ERA in 117.2 innings for Stockton last year) and Murphy Smith (3-5, 6.19 ERA in 48 innings for Stockton last year) will also be in the rotation. Murray is the only starter with experience above the A-ball level, having made four appearances (three starts) for Double-A Midland last season. He was one of the Ports' top starters last year and could be a candidate to move to Midland as soon as there is an opening in the rotation. Smith struggled with Stockton last season, but pitched well with Kane County (3.64 ERA in 96.1 innings) and is coming off of a good spring.
The rotation will also feature two hard-throwing righties from the 2009 draft class: Robert Gilliam (eighth round) and Daniel Straily (24th round). Gilliam struck-out 101 and had a 3.89 ERA in 111 innings, most coming out of the starting rotation for Kane County. He also allowed only 105 hits. Straily was one of the top strike-out pitchers in the A's system last season, collecting 149 punch-outs in 148 innings, all in the starting rotation. His command could be shaky at times, as evidenced by his 13 homers allowed and 61 walks.
The Stockton rotation figures to get a big boost sometime in late April or early May when the A's 2010 Organizational Pitcher of the Year is cleared to join the team from extended spring training. Ian Krol injured his left forearm early in minor league camp and was shut-down for a few weeks. Krol had a 10-4 record and a 2.80 ERA with 111 strike-outs and only 28 walks in 138.1 innings for Kane County and Stockton last season. He was a Midwest League Post-Season All-Star.
The bullpen will be anchored by Jose Guzman and Connor Hoehn, who served as late-inning relievers for Kane County last season. Guzman saved 18 games and had 49 strike-outs in 50.1 innings along with a 3.40 ERA. The native of the Dominican Republic pitched briefly for Stockton in 2008 and 2007, but has pitched mostly for Vancouver and Kane County the past two seasons. He is 23-years-old. Hoehn, a 12th-round pick in 2009, has a lively arm, as was evidenced by his 101 strike-outs in 87.2 innings. Hoehn's command was up-and-down last year, as the 21-year-old allowed six homers and 39 walks. He is one of the most talented pitchers on the Stockton staff.
Scott Deal, Ryan Doolittle, Gary Daley and Bo Schultz are the other right-handers in the Stockton bullpen. Deal was a steady arm in the Stockton ‘pen last season, posting a 3.15 ERA in 68.2 innings. The fifth-round pick in 2005 will be looking to make the jump to Double-A at some point this season, as he has spent all six of his previous minor league seasons at the A-ball level. Daley spent all of last season in the Texas League, mostly as a starter in the St. Louis Cardinals chain. He made two relief appearances for Midland last year, allowing five runs in 2.1 innings.
Doolittle, like Richard, has an older brother who played for the Ports previously. Ryan is the younger brother of first-baseman/outfielder Sean Doolittle, who starred for the Ports in 2008 (and is still featured in the masthead of the team's website). Ryan missed all of the 2009 season with an arm injury, but made 24 relief appearances in 2010 for Vancouver and Kane County. He had a 2.45 ERA and an impressive 37:2 K:BB ratio in 40.1 innings. Doolittle did an excellent job of keeping the ball on the ground last season, inducing 2.6 groundouts for every flyout.
Schultz is another groundball specialist. The submariner produced nearly four groundouts for every flyout last year for Kane County and he had a 2.87 ERA in 75.1 innings. An undrafted free agent out of Northwestern in 2008, Schultz has had an ERA under 3.00 in each of the last two seasons. Like most submariners, Schultz excels against arm-side hitters and he could be used as a right-handed hitter specialist this season.
Stockton will carry two left-handers at the outset of the season – San Jose State alum Max Peterson and returning Ports' pitcher A.J. Huttenlocker. Peterson was the A's 18th round pick in 2009. His first full minor league season was spent with Kane County, where he struck-out 70 in 52.2 innings. Peterson did a good job against both lefties (.209 BAA) and righties (.217 BAA) last season. Huttenlocker spent most of the 2010 season with Kane County, where he posted a 3.02 ERA and struck-out 46 in 44.2 innings. He finished the year with Stockton, making six appearances in August and September. He had a 5.79 ERA, but struck-out eight and walked only one in 9.1 innings.
The Ports will be led this season by an entirely new coaching staff. Heading the team will be veteran manager Webster Garrison, who has served as a coach in the A's minor league system since 1999. He had been with the Midland Rockhounsd either as the hitting coach or manager since 2004. He will be joined by hitting coach Brian McArn, who had been the hitting coach for the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats since 2005, and pitching coach Craig Lefferts, who had served in that capacity for short-season Vancouver for the past seven years.