April can be an especially harsh month for baseball in the Midwest League, and this spring has been no different for the Burlington Bees. In the last 11 days, the Bees have endured five rain-outs and played three doubleheaders in that time frame.
Despite its bad record against Mother Nature, Burlington is off to a sizzling start and currently owns 2.5-game lead over Cedar Rapids in the West Division with a 13-3 record. Under veteran manager Aaron Nieckula, the Bees have won nine of 10 games and swept a trio of doubleheaders. In that stretch, the only blemish came in the form of a 4-3 defeat at Kane County on April 18th.
With the A's back in Burlington for the first time in four decades, the Bees have had some great individual performances thus far from a pair of 2010 draftees, third baseman Tony Thompson (6th round, Kansas) and starting pitcher Blake Hassebrock (8th round, UNC-Greensboro).
As a team, the Bees rank first in ERA at 2.44, WHIP at 1.02 and have shut out three opponents in 16 games. Offensively, Burlington's .254 batting average ranks fifth in the Midwest League. Nieckula's squad has an on-base percentage of .338 and has swiped 18 bases, both good for fifth in the league.
Burlington wraps up a three-game road trip with an 11 a.m. contest on Thursday at Beloit, before hosting Kane County, now the MWL affiliate of Kansas City, for a weekend series at Community Field.
Comings and Goings for the Month of April
It's been a relatively quiet three weeks on the player movement front for Burlington, with the only moves being made last Wednesday when RHP Nathan Long and IF A.J. Kirby-Jones were placed on the disabled list. To fill the void, the A's promoted IF Josh Whitaker and RHP Pedro Vidal from extended spring training.
A ninth-round selection last June, Kirby-Jones had one hit in six at-bats prior to injuring his knee. Long made one three-inning relief appearance and allowed one run on two hits while striking out a pair.
Since arriving in Burlington, Whitaker has fulfilled a reserve role and has yet to get his first MWL hit in seven at-bats. Vidal struck out one batter in a scoreless relief appearance on Monday.
In his first full professional season, Thompson is off to a blazing start and ranks second in the MWL with a .393 batting average. All of his splits rank near the top of the league: .607 SLG (sixth), 1036 OPS (sixth) and .429 OBP (13th). The 2010 sixth-round pick has 19 RBIs in just 60 plate appearances. Although he has drawn just four walks thus far, he's only struck out five times. In Monday night's victory over Beloit, Thompson drove in four runs with a single and double.
After hitting .340 and posting an OPS near 900 in the Arizona Rookie League last summer, outfielder Royce Consigli has remained hot with a trio of two-hit games in Burlington's last eight contests. He leads the team with six multi-hit games, and his .353 batting average ranks 11th in the MWL.
A master at getting on base this season, Nino Leyja ranks first in the league in OBP (.500). In addition to ranking 15th with a .346 batting average, Leyja has 16 walks in 68 plate appearances and has five stolen bases. He has nine hits in his last 19 at-bats.
Hassebrock has yet to allow an earned run in his first three Burlington starts and leads the MWL in ERA. His most recent outing came April 23rd against Wisconsin, as he struck out six and allowed just two hits in six innings. The 6'4'' right-hander has a 13:4 K-BB ratio and has allowed just nine hits in his three starts after spending much of his time in the Vancouver bullpen last summer.
Yet another standout performer in the Bees rotation is Jake Brown, who has won his first three decisions and posted a 1.06 ERA in 17 innings of work. Like Hassebrock, Brown has limited professional starting experience but has flourished in the new role. He has struck out 15 and walked just two, while allowing just seven hits in three appearances. His 0.53 WHIP leads the league. Not a bad start for the 26th rounder out of Georgia Southern.
Rounding out Burlington's Big Three is A.J. Griffin, who has coasted through his first four professional starts with a 3-0 record and 1.40 ERA. The 13th-round selection in the '10 draft has struck out 25 batters and walked just three in 25.2 innings. Griffin was the winning pitcher in Monday night's victory over Beloit and he allowed just one run on five hits over six innings.
In an April 20 start at Kane County, Josh Bowman picked up his second victory of the season by allowing three unearned runs on five hits and striking out four in five innings. Through 14 innings and three starts, Bowman has a 2.57 ERA.
Zach Thornton has a pair of holds to his credit in five relief appearances. In nine innings of work, the 2010 23rd-rounder from Oregon has allowed two earned runs on six hits while striking out 12. Thornton has adapted well to his new surroundings after struggling with a 4.39 ERA in 15 appearances at Vancouver last summer.
Daniel Tenholder has pitched a scoreless inning in each of his first four Burlington outings, most recently taking the hill against Beloit on Monday. Tenholder impressed during a 24-game stint at Vancouver last summer and has remained solid in the Bees bullpen.