The 2011 season represents a year of change for the Oakland A's and the Vermont Lake Monsters of the New York-Penn League. The A's and Lake Monsters began an affiliation this year after ending long-term relationships with different clubs. The A's had been affiliated with the Vancouver Canadians for 11 years (most of which were with the Canadians as a Northwest League short-season affiliate) and the Lake Monsters had a relationship with the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals that dated back 17 seasons.
Unfortunately for A's position players, the change from the Northwest League to the New York-Penn League won't be any easier for them from an offensive perspective, as both leagues are considered pitcher-friendly. The A's will get an opportunity to see affiliates of clubs they tend not to face at other levels, including the Boston Red Sox, the Baltimore Orioles, the Nationals, the New York Mets, the Tampa Bay Rays, the Florida Marlins, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Philadelphia Phillies and the Cleveland Indians. This could help the team's scouting efforts to a degree.
Although it is with a new short-season affiliate, two of the three coaches from last year's Canadians' squad will be guiding the Lake Monsters. Manager Rick Magnante returns with hitting coach Casey Myers. They will be working with a new pitching coach, former A's right-hander John Wasdin. Wasdin is replacing Craig Lefferts, who is now the High-A Stockton pitching coach.
Through their first five games, the Lake Monsters are 3-2 and tied for first place in the Stedler division. There are three divisions in the New York-Penn League: Stedler, Pinckney and McNamara.
The Opening Week Vermont roster features a blend of players taken in the 2011 draft and young prospects who began the season at extended spring training, as well as a few members of the 2010 draft class who began the year with Low-A Burlington.
On the position-player side of the roster, there are a number of notable names from the 2010 draft class. A's third-round pick Aaron Shipman and fourth-round selection Chad Lewis will be spending their first full pro seasons with the Lake Monsters. Both Shipman and Lewis were taken out of high school last season and signed late, limiting their playing time in the Arizona Rookie League to a handful of games.
Shipman is arguably the fastest player on the Vermont roster. A centerfielder with plus speed and excellent athleticism, Shipman has a high ceiling as a player, but is still learning his craft and will be brought along slowly by the A's. Lewis doesn't quite have Shipman's ceiling, but his game is a little more polished and he could put up big numbers this season for Vermont. He is a third-baseman, but he will see some time at first base, as well.
Another big name from the 2010 draft class is outfielder Jordan Tripp, who was taken out of junior college by the A's in the seventh round. Tripp struggled in his first taste of short-season A ball, batting only .125 in 18 games with the Canadians last season. He hit .261 in 13 games with the Arizona Rookie League A's. Tripp is already off to a much better start this season with seven hits, including two doubles and a triple, in 18 at-bats. Tripp is a five-tool player, but he is still relatively raw. The 21-year-old could get a taste of full-season baseball later in the year if he continues to hit well for Vermont.
Joining Shipman and Tripp in the Vermont outfield are Xavier Macklin, Chad Oberacker and Jeff Bercume. Macklin was the A's 12th round pick. The NC State A&T alum is a powerful hitter who set a school record by hitting 49 homeruns in his three seasons with the Aggies. He hit 22 homeruns this season for A&T. He already has a double and a triple in three games.
Oberacker was the A's 25th-round pick a year after being taken in the 19th-round by the St. Louis Cardinals. A true centerfielder, Oberacker had double-digits in homeruns and stolen bases this season for Tennessee Tech. He has two stolen bases in three games for Vermont. Bercume was signed as an undrafted free agent last year and played the entire season for the Vancouver Canadians. He hit .280 in the Northwest League. The Worcester, Massachusetts, native will be playing close to home in 2011.
Shortstop Zhi Fang Pan is coming off of a big season with the A's Rookie League squad. A native of Taiwan, Pan hit .331 with an 825 OPS in 43 games last season. A throwing shoulder injury kept him from starting this season with a full-season affiliate, but the switch-hitter could also be on a promotion track if he is healthy and hits like he did last season. Pan has a .313 average in 16 at-bats thus far for Vermont.
Filling out the Vermont infield are Neudy Clime, Michael Fabiaschi, Sean Jamieson, Sam Roberts, Chris Affinito and Jacob Tanis. Clime is a product of the A's Dominican Academy and he has been slowly moving up the A's chain. He repeated the Arizona Rookie League last season and put together a solid year, batting .278 with nine stolen bases. He will see time all over the infield. Fabiaschi was the A's 38th round pick last season. He appeared in 31 games for Vancouver in 2010. Although he batted only .234, he had an OBP of .374 thanks to 17 walks. He is one of the most patient hitters on the club and he has a versatile glove in the infield. Chris Affinito is the other infielder among this group who was in the A's organization last season. An undrafted free agent signing in 2009, Affinito split time between Low-A, short-season A and Rookie ball last year. The Seton Hall alum is a burly slugger who had seven homers in 57 at-bats in 2010. He was a catcher early in his pro career, but he has seen more time at first base/DH lately.
Tanis, Jamieson and Roberts are all 2011 draft picks. Tanis was taken in the 13th round out of Mercer. He has a classic corner infielder's offensive profile and he hit 37 homers over his last two seasons in school. Tanis will split time with Lewis at third and first base. Jamieson, a shortstop, is an above-average runner who swiped 22 bases in 25 chances for Canisius this season. He is also a very patient hitter. The A's 17th-round pick already has two stolen bases in three games and he has walked four times. Roberts was taken in the 26th round out of VMI. Another patient hitter, he walked more than he struck-out in college. Roberts is also a shortstop but he will see time at both middle infield positions this season.
The Lake Monsters' catching corps is highlighted by A's 2011 fifth-round pick Beau Taylor. Taylor starred at Central Florida and is an advanced defensive catcher, as well as an accomplished left-handed hitter. He went 0-for-9 to start his pro career, but had two hits in four at-bats in his last game. Daniel Petitti is also an accomplished defensive catcher. The A's 37th-round pick in 2010, Petitti began the year with Low-A Burlington, but hit only .143 in limited playing time. He had two hits in his first three at-bats with the Lake Monsters. Diomendes Lopez is the third catcher on the Lake Monsters' roster. A product of the A's Dominican academy, Lopez hit .266 in 36 games with the AZL A's last season, his second in the US. He has the Lake Monsters only homerun thus far this season.
The Vermont starting rotation at the moment is made up of four pitchers who were in the organization last season and one pitcher from the 2011 draft class. Seth Frankoff was the Opening Day starter for the Lake Monsters and he allowed two runs in 4.1 innings. The 27th-round pick in 2010 struggled in five starts for the Burlington Bees at the start of this season (11.25 ERA in 12 innings). The right-hander excelled last season for the AZL A's and Vancouver, posting a 2.81 ERA and striking out 66 in 57.2 innings.
When Argenis Paez made his first start for Vermont on June 18th, it marked his first outing outside of Rookie ball. The Venezuelan native and product of the A's Dominican Academy spent 2008 in the Dominican Summer League and the past two seasons in Arizona. A groundball specialist, Paez had a 53:17 K:BB ratio last season and he allowed only three homeruns in 65.2 innings. The right-hander struggled in his first Vermont outing, allowing three runs and three walks in 4.2 innings.
J.C. Menna moves into the rotation this season after serving mostly as a reliever for the AZL A's last year. Oakland's 2010 14th round selection, Menna struck-out seven and earned a win in his first start for the Lake Monsters. Menna, a New Jersey native, has an excellent fastball that has been clocked as high as 94.
Fourth starter Jose Macias is another native of the Northeast. An 18th round pick last season, Macias began this year in extended spring training, but made five starts for the Burlington Bees before being sent to Vermont for the start of the New York-Penn League. Macias is very new to pitching, having converted to the mound during his last year in school. He has an excellent feel for pitching despite his inexperience and has a 24:7 K:BB ratio for Burlington and Vermont this season.
The rookie on the Lake Monsters' pitching staff is right-hander Kurt Wunderlich, who may only be a temporary member of the rotation given that he has had a relief appearance in addition to his start on Tuesday. Wunderlich, the A's 20th-round pick this season, has a starter's pitch mix with four offerings: a fastball, splitter, slider and big breaking curveball. He struggled in his first start, failing to get out of the first inning and walking three in two-third of a frame.
Although the starting rotation is all right-handed, the Lake Monsters do feature four southpaws in the bullpen: Ryan Hughes, Charles Mye, Brent Powers and Jeff Urlaub. Of that group, only Powers is a 2011 draft selection. The 18th round pick of the A's this season, Powers' curveball comes to the pros advertised as above-average and his fastball sits in the high-80s/low-90s. Powers has struck-out five in four innings thus far this season, although he has allowed four runs.
Hughes, a native of the East Bay, didn't pitch much the past two seasons, so the A's have been careful to build up his arm slowly. The towering left-hander was a 16th round pick last season. He has a power arm and is an intimidating presence on the mound. Hughes struggled in his first outing for Vermont, allowing three runs in two-thirds of an inning.
Mye was an undrafted free agent signing last season. The New York native impressed A's coaches in Arizona in 2010 while with the AZL A's. He had a 3.52 ERA and 23 strike-outs in 23 innings. Mye has allowed a run with two strike-outs and a walk in one appearance this season for Vermont.
Urlaub, the A's 30th round pick last season, was with Burlington until the start of the short-season. Urlaub pitched pretty well for the Bees, posting a 3.93 ERA and striking out 23 while walking six in 18.1 innings. The Arizona native has six strike-outs in his first four innings with the Lake Monsters, although he has allowed three earned runs.
Right-hander Jeiler Castillo was also on the Burlington roster last week but was sent to Vermont at the start of the Lake Monsters' season. He had a 4.32 ERA in eight games for the Bees, but he has been lit up in two appearances for the Lake Monsters thus far. In one inning of work, he has allowed four earned runs and he has walked five. Castillo was a minor league Rule 5 pick this past off-season from the Houston organization. He has spent the majority of his five-plus year minor league career in short-season or Rookie ball.
The Lake Monsters also have Andrew Bailey in their bullpen. No, not that Andrew Bailey, but the Bailey who was taken in the 35th round by the A's last season. Also a right-hander, the younger Bailey had a 4.38 ERA for the AZL A's in 2010 before arm injuries shortened his season. He has allowed four runs in 3.2 innings for Vermont thus far.
Nathaniel Kilcrease may not have a famous name, but he is likely to be well-known as the smallest pitcher in the league. The 5'6'' Alabama alum has been proving naysayers wrong since high school and he capped a successful career in the SEC by being drafted in the 30th round by Oakland this year. Kilcrease earned a save in his only appearance thus far for Vermont, striking out two in one inning.
Tanner Peters might be the skinniest guy on the Vermont roster at only a listed 150 pounds. The A's 16th round pick this season was a star for UNLV, showing plus command and the ability to rack up strike-outs. He already has three Ks in 1.1 perfect innings for the Lake Monsters.
Fellow 2011 draftee T.J. Walz is also off to a good start for Vermont. Walz was a re-draft of the A's this season after being taken in round 50 in 2010. He was a 15th round pick this year. The right-hander is one of the most decorated pitchers in Kansas University history. He had a scoreless two inning outing in his pro debut, striking out two.
Logan Chitwood and Drew Tyson, both 2010 draft picks, round out the Lake Monsters' pitching staff. Chitwood was a 19th round selection last year and split the 2010 season between the Arizona and the Northwest leagues. In two appearances thus far for Vermont, Chitwood has allowed one earned run in 1.2 innings. He had 16 strike-outs in 16 innings last season. Tyson, a 6'5'' right-hander, spent a portion of this season with Burlington. In 14 relief appearances for the Bees, he had a 3.57 ERA and a 15:9 K:BB ratio in 22.2 innings. He has tossed three scoreless innings thus far for Vermont. Tyson was a 17th round pick last year.