Stockton Notebook: In The Hunt

It hasn't always been pretty for the High-A Stockton Ports this season, but it has often been effective. Despite middle-of-the-road stats for their team pitching and offense, the Ports have been winning at a consistent clip. Stockton enters their Thursday evening game atop the Cal League's Northern Division.

Team Overview

After working overtime for a 13-inning victory on Wednesday, the Stockton Ports found themselves tied with their rivals, the San Jose Giants, for first in the California League's North Division with a 17-10 record. Three teams in the California League are tied for the best record in the league with that 17-10 mark. Stockton has gotten off to a fast start despite the fact that neither the offense nor the pitching has been firing on all cylinders on a consistent basis.

The Stockton offense has been quiet at times this season and the Ports rank third-to-last in the league in team OPS with a 741 mark. Despite a team batting average of only .257, the Ports are getting on-base at a .345 clip thanks to 117 walks, second-best in the Cal League. Stockton infielder Conner Crumbliss leads the Cal League with 21 walks. He was the minor league leader in that category last season. Ports' outfielder Michael Choice is seventh in the league in walks with 17. Stockton is also second in the league in strike-outs with 259. Dusty Coleman is tied for the most Ks in the league with 39 and Choice isn't far behind him with 33 whiffs.

The Ports' pitching staff has also had its ups-and-downs. Stockton is fifth out of 10 teams in ERA with a 4.74 mark. Stockton pitchers have logged 245 innings this season, second-most in the league. They have allowed the third-most homeruns (25), but have walked the second-fewest (71). The Ports have struck-out 217, sixth-most in the league. Stockton is tied for the league lead in saves with 10, a number indicative of the number of close games the Ports have played this season.

Stockton is currently in the middle of a Southern Division roadtrip, but they return to Stockton on Tuesday when they start a three-game series versus Modesto. The Ports then travel down the road to San Jose for a three-game set. Somewhat remarkably, that series will mark the first time this season that the Northern California rivals will have met.

Comings and Goings

The roster movement has been relatively minimal for the Ports thus far this season. Right-hander Gary Daley, Jr. has left the team twice to make spot starts for Triple-A Sacramento, but he has been on the Stockton roster since April 20. Right-hander relievers Josh Lansford and Jeff Lyman joined the bullpen in mid-April from extended spring training, and the Ports said good-bye to right-hander Justin Murray, who was promoted to Double-A Midland's starting rotation on April 11. Submarine reliever Bo Schultz was released on April 26th and he was replaced on the active roster by Lansford, who spent a week on the DL with a bruised pitching hand.

On the position-player side of the roster, Stockton has seen the most movement at the catcher position. Projected starting catcher Max Stassi has been on the Ports' roster all season, but he has been limited to DH duties thanks to a sore throwing shoulder. Consequently, Stockton has been carrying three catchers all season. Jonathan Johnston was the first catcher added to the Ports' roster after Stassi's shoulder flared up. Johnston, who hadn't played affiliated baseball since 2008 while he served his commitment to the US Navy, was with the team for three weeks in April. He was sent back to extended spring training on April 21 to make way for Ryan Lipkin, who joined the roster from extended. Lipkin, a USF grad, was held back at extended at the start of the season when he had an emergency appendectomy during spring training.

The Ports have also had a little movement within their outfield ranks. Myrio Richard was placed on the DL on April 7th and didn't return to the active roster until April 23, when he replaced Kent Walton. Walton was promoted to Double-A Midland.

Who's Hot

After missing all of last season, Dusty Coleman showed a little rust at the start of the year, but he looks like he has found his swing over the past few weeks. In 26 games, Coleman is tied with Michael Choice for the team-lead in homeruns (4) and RBIs (17). Coleman's .490 SLG is tops on the team and he has an 865 OPS overall. The shortstop has struck-out a lot (39 times), but he has walked 13 times and has a healthy .375 OBP. Coleman was caught stealing his first two attempts of the year, but he is five for his last five. He has homered in three of his last four games.

Choice has yet to get into the kind of groove that allowed him to post a 1016 OPS with short-season Vancouver last year, but the outfielder is still putting up decent numbers. In addition to his team-leading homerun and RBI totals, Choice is second on the team in walks (17). He has stolen three bases in three attempts, including two on Wednesday night. Choice was slowed early in the season with a minor hamstring strain, so the two stolen bases on Wednesday are a likely indication that his leg is feeling closer to 100 percent. Choice has a 974 OPS versus left-handed pitchers and he is batting .289 with an 843 OPS over his last 10 games. His overall line is .239/.357/.457.

Since coming off of the DL in late April, Myrio Richard has played well. The outfielder has a .349/.349/.488 line in 10 games this season. The zero walks thus far is a surprising number given that Richard had 38 walks in 98 games last season, so look for that number to increase considerably as the season goes on. Richard has four extra-base hits, including a homer, in those 10 games.

Fellow outfielder Mitchell LeVier has also gotten off to a good start. In 17 games, LeVier has an 807 OPS, thanks in large part to a .484 SLG. He has homered twice, doubled six times and tripled in only 62 at-bats. LeVier has been especially hot over the past 10 games, during which he is batting .324/.375/.649.

One of Max Stassi's goals this season was to cut-down on his strike-outs and increase his walks. While his power numbers have yet to match his potential, Stassi has done a much better job with his strike-zone judgment this season. In 19 games, he has a 17:10 K:BB ratio and a .352 OBP. In 2010, Stassi struck-out 141 times against 45 walks in 110 games and he had a .310 OBP. Stassi missed a week in April with the sore shoulder, and he is six-for-16 with two doubles and a homer since returning.

After spending most of the past two seasons in Low-A, Leonardo Gil is out to prove that he deserves to stay in High-A this year. The corner infielder has hit well for average thus far, posting a .284 BA. His K:BB ratio isn't great (29:5), but he has eight doubles, two triples and a homerun in 102 at-bats.

A recent slump has dropped his numbers some, but infielder Michael Gilmartin has still gotten his 2011 season off to a good start. He hit .306 in April and is batting .282 in 18 games overall. Gilmartin has often been serving as the Ports' lead-off hitter and he is batting .313 with a .365 OBP with the bases empty.

First-baseman Anthony Aliotti is picking up the pace after a slow start. He is batting .303/.410/.455 over his last 10 games. Aliotti has excelled against right-handed pitching, but the left-hander has yet to record a hit versus a southpaw in 14 official at-bats. His overall line is .271/.374/.388.

Catcher Jonathan Johnston's stay with Stockton was a relatively short one, but he made a strong impression. Despite the three-year layoff, Johnston had no trouble recapturing his swing. In eight games, he had seven hits in 22 at-bats and he walked three times for a .318 average and a .424 OBP. He is currently at the A's extended spring training.

On the pitching side, Daniel Straily and Ryan Doolittle have led the staff all season. Before allowing six runs in four innings on Wednesday, Straily had given up only three earned runs in 28 innings pitched. Even with the poor outing on Wednesday, Straily still sports a team-best 2.53 ERA. He has struck-out 31 in 32 innings and has walked only nine. He was the Cal League Pitcher of the Week for the week of April 18.

Doolittle has had a similar season. Until a poor outing on Tuesday when he allowed four runs in 2.1 innings, Doolittle had been nearly flawless all season, having given up only one run in 16 innings. Overall, he has allowed five runs in 20.1 innings. Doolittle has given up only 17 hits and three walks and he has struck-out 24 in 20.1 innings. He was the Cal League's Pitcher of the Week for the first week of the season.

Gary Daley, Jr. has had a yo-yo of a first month of the season, having made three starts for Stockton and two starts for Sacramento. Daley has been outstanding for Stockton, allowing only two earned runs in 17 innings. The right-hander and former second-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals has struggled badly with his command for most of his professional career, but he is currently throwing strikes for Stockton with 11 K's and only two walks in 17 innings. He did walk five in nine innings for Sacramento, however.

Connor Hoehn has one of the stronger arms in the A's minor league system and that arm strength has been on display for Stockton already this season. He has four saves and a 2.45 ERA in 11 innings. Hoehn has allowed only seven hits and he has struck-out 14 while he has walked only two.

Jose Guzman has been the Ports' other ninth inning option and he has saved three games while posting a 3.06 ERA in 17.2 innings. Guzman has struck-out 17 and has walked only three. He allowed homeruns in each of his first three outings this season, but has not allowed a homerun since then. Righties are batting only .190 against the right-hander.

A.J. Huttenlocker has dominated left-handed batters thus far this season. The southpaw is holding lefties to a .125 average. He hasn't struck-out many guys overall (seven in 14 innings), but he has a 1.93 ERA and earned the win in Wednesday's extra-inning affair with three shut-out frames.

Josh Lansford has appeared in only five games thanks to that bruised pitching hand he injured trying to field a comebacker on April 17th, but he has been effective in every outing except his first one. In that first appearance, Lansford gave up two runs in two innings. Since that time, he hasn't allowed a run in six innings. He has yet to walk a batter and he has eight strike-outs in eight innings overall.

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