Burlington Notebook: Still Buzzing Along

Neither rain nor the promotion of three of their top pitchers has slowed the Burlington Bees, who still boast the best record in the Midwest League. Bill Seals checks in on the progress of the Oakland A's Low-A affiliate.

Team Overview

Enduring the usual dose of inclement weather and a mini cold stretch of four losses in six games, the Burlington Bees had managed to close out May on a hot stretch; at least until Memorial Day, that is. On the holiday, the host Bees suffered a doubleheader sweep at the hands of Quad Cities, snapping a five-game winning streak.

But despite an error-filled Monday afternoon at Community Field, Burlington has put together an impressive two-month body of work. Manager Aaron Nieckula's team leads the Midwest League with a 36-16 record and is tops in the MWL in pitching with a 2.58 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. Just how good has the Bees pitching staff been? Peoria currently rates second in ERA at 3.19.

Burlington has relied on its strong pitching staff to overcome some offensive shortcomings. The Bees currently rate 13th in the 16-team MWL with a .234 batting average and are 14th in OPS (659). But the good news is the Bees are manufacturing just enough runs to end the month with a winning percentage near .700.

Burlington opens a six-game road stint at Great Lakes Tuesday night. The Bees then head to Lansing this weekend to close out the roadtrip.

Comings and Goings for the Month of May

The most notable moves of the month came with the promotion of starting pitchers Jake Brown and A.J. Griffin to High-A Stockton. Along with Blake Hassebrock, Brown and Griffin dominated MWL hitters on a regular basis. But the Big Three was split up with Griffin's promotion on May 20th, and Brown followed him to the California League three days later.

In the week since those promotions, Burlington has managed to hold serve with the additions of Jose Macias and Jonathan Joseph to the rotation. Griffin has posted two quality starts for the Ports and allowed just two earned runs in his first 14 innings. Brown hasn't fared as well, posting a 12.96 ERA in two starts.

The Bees also lost perhaps their best reliever to Stockton when Chris Mederos was promoted on May 17th. But like Brown, the 6'3'' right-hander has scuffled in his limited time with the Ports allowing five earned runs and seven hits in 5.2 innings of relief.

On the plus side, Burlington added RHP Nate Long and LHP Jeff Urlaub to the bullpen following DL stints.

In the infield, Burlington were without A.J. Kirby-Jones (leg injury) and Tony Thompson (flu) for periods of time, but both have returned to the lineup.

Who's Hot

After opening the season at extended spring training, Josh Whitaker stepped up when injuries and sickness befell starters A.J. Kirby-Jones and Tony Thompson. The A's 25th-round selection in 2010 out of Kennesaw State, Whitaker has hit safely in eight of his past 10 games, and is a combined 12-for-31 during that span with a line of .387/.472/.645. Through the first two months of the season, Whitaker leads the Bees in average (.301), slugging (.513) and OPS (887), and ranks second with a .370 on-base percentage.

It's not uncommon for first-year players to struggle out of the gates in the Midwest League, especially those just 12 months removed from high school. Burlington's Yordy Cabrera was one of those players, but the talented 6'1'' shortstop has recovered nicely. Oakland's second-round pick last June has hit safely in four of his last five games (6-for-14) and raised his average to .269. The high school infielder has also shown promise with the glove, and is proving to be another bright young shortstop prospect behind Grant Green.

Finally getting his first taste of full-season ball after signing with the A's out of Venezuela in 2006, Douglas Landaeta has been a fixture in Aaron Nieckula's lineup. The 6'1'' outfielder has four hits in his past eight at-bats and has gradually raised his average to .273. Oakland has been patient with the 23-year old, moving him up one level in each of the past four seasons.

The month of April was not a kind one for Zach Thornton, but the 6'3'' right-hander has been lights out in May. Oakland's 23rd-round pick last June has yet to allow a run in 18 innings this month. During that span, Thornton has struck out 17 batters while allowing just seven hits and three walks. He has rebounded nicely after a lackluster 15-game stretch in the Northwest League last summer.

The promotions of Griffin and Brown to Stockton has opened the door for Macias and Joseph in Burlington. Macias has responded nicely to the challenge, allowing just one earned run on four hits and striking out 10 through his first 11 innings. He made his home debut in game one of a double header against Quad Cities on Monday, pitching five innings and allowing just one earned run on three hits in a no-decision. As a result, Macias was named "Midwest League Pitcher of the Week" for the week of May 23-29. The Oakland farmhand has benefited from extra time at extended spring training and put a rough couple of 2010 Midwest League outings behind him.

As a part of Burlington's impressive rotation, Josh Bowman didn't get as much attention early in the season. But with Griffin and Brown now in the California League, Oakland's 10th-round pick in 2010 has become a steady presence in the Bees lineup. In a victory over Beloit on May 26th, Bowman threw seven shutout innings and struck out six while improving to 5-1 this season.

Utilized as both a starter and reliever over the past week, Nathan Long has responded with 11.2 scoreless innings and victory over Quad Cities on May 28th. The A's 16th-round selection in 2009 has struck out 11 and walked six during the three-game stretch. Long spent his first two pro seasons at Vancouver as a starter and reliever, so he'll continue to be a valuable asset to the Bees pitching staff.

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