2011 Year In Review: Burlington Hitters

Our "2011 Year In Review" series returns with a look at the hitters on the Oakland A's Low-A affiliate.

Burlington Bees Offense At A Glance
Team BA:
.245 (11th out of 16 teams)
Runs Scored: 611 (seventh out of 16 teams)
Team OPS: 689 (eighth out of 16 teams)
Team Stolen Bases: 146 (sixth out of 16 teams)
Team Slugging Percentage: .365 (10th out of 16 teams)

Note: this article covers all hitters who had at least 240 at-bats for the Bees this season.

As was detailed in our review of the 2011 Burlington pitching staff, it was the pitching that led the way for the Bees for much of the 2011 season. The Midwest League is a difficult league for hitters and that fact was reflected in the team batting numbers throughout the league. Burlington's overall offensive numbers weren't pretty, but they were good enough to finish in the middle of the pack in almost all categories.

Despite the mediocre overall team offensive numbers, there were a few strong performances in the Bees' line-up. No performance was stronger than that of first-baseman/DH Josh Whitaker, who was in the MVP discussion for the league at the end of the year and finished with a spot on the Midwest League's post-season All-Star team.

Whitaker's year began at extended spring training, but it ended with him leading the league in batting average with a .326 mark. His 957 OPS was also tops in the league and he hit 17 homers in only 396 at-bats. Although not a speedy runner, Whitaker managed to swipe 10 bags in 12 opportunities and he collected 34 doubles and three triples. He hit .339 after the All-Star break and posted a 1007 OPS. He would be promoted to High-A Stockton for the Cal League finals and hit a homerun in that series. Whitaker's season was the best Midwest League offensive performance for any A's prospects since Jeff Baisley's MVP campaign in 2006. It will be interesting to see what kind of numbers Whitaker can put up in the California League next year.

No other Bees' hitter posted an OPS above 800 on the season. The next best offensive performance came from A.J. Kirby-Jones, who split time with Whitaker at first base and DH throughout the season. In fact, it was an early season injury to Kirby-Jones that gave Whitaker an opportunity to play everyday and establish himself in the Bees' line-up. Kirby-Jones struggled with injuries for much of the first half of the season and never found the groove that allowed him to post an 887 OPS in the Northwest League in 2010. Still, despite his struggles and those injuries, Kirby-Jones managed to finish the year with a 775 OPS and 13 homers in 325 at-bats. He walked 56 times in 94 games and had a .360 OBP and also drove-in 50 runs. Kirby-Jones had a strong fall Instructional League camp and he should team with Whitaker to form an intimidating middle of the line-up for the Stockton Ports next season.

Third-baseman Tony Thompson finished second on the team behind Whitaker in homeruns with 14 in 397 at-bats. Like Kirby-Jones, Thompson struggled with injuries and inconsistency throughout the season. He hit .290 before the All-Star break, but only .226 after. He demonstrated good contact skills, striking out only 57 times in 108 games, but he walked only 37 times. His OPS for the season was 738. Thompson, the A's sixth-round pick in 2010, has a promising bat, but he has yet to reach his full potential as a pro. He should have the opportunity to move up to High-A Stockton next season, although where he plays could depend on where the A's decide to start 2011 third-round pick B.A. Vollmuth, also a third-baseman.

Infielder Ryan Pineda joined Whitaker, Kirby-Jones and Thompson as the only Bees' regulars to post OPSs above 700 for the season. Pineda, a Cal-State Northridge alum and 2010 draft pick, had a 706 OPS for the year. Unlike Thompson, Pineda warmed as the weather did. Hi hit .200 before the All-Star break, but bumped that number up to .297 after the break. He had a 773 OPS after the break that included a .420 SLG. Pineda was a power hitter at Northridge and he has had to adjust his approach for wood bats. His strong second half is a good indication that those adjustments are starting to click and he could be in-line for a break-through season in 2011 with Stockton similar to the one Michael Gilmartin put together for the Ports this year.

At the start of the season, it looked like outfielder Douglas Landaeta was on his way to a break-out season. The native of Venezuela hit .291 with a 763 OPS before the All-Star break and was named to the midseason All-Star team. His production fell off of a cliff during the second half, however, and he hit only .193 with a 518 OPS. He finished the year with a .250 average and a 661 OPS. Landaeta has shown flashes of offensive potential throughout his young minor league career. He hit .293 for short-season Vancouver in 2010 and hit well this season with runners on base and runners in scoring position. He still has some work to do to make the next step forward with his development, however. He will be 23 throughout next season.

Royce Consigli is another young outfielder who started the season red-hot but struggled to maintain that pace throughout the season. The native of Canada didn't turn 20 until after the regular season had ended, making him the youngest position player on the Bees' roster. He hit .338 with a 901 OPS out of the gate for Burlington in April. He hit only .218 in May and vacillated between hot-and-cold the rest of the season. At season's end, he finished with a .247/.335/.350 slash-line and 16 stolen bases in 25 chances. At his best, Consigli was a game-changer for the Bees. He has always been a patient hitter and he walked 59 times in 127 games this year while striking out 83 times. Consigli also showed he could be disruptive on the basepaths, although he is still learning to pick his spots to steal. At 6'2'', 220, he should continue to add more power as he grows into his frame. Defensively, Consigli is still a work-in-progress, but he has the tools to be a solid defender. The A's may have him repeat at the Low-A level next year given his age, but if he gets off to a fast start, he could make a mid-season move to Stockton.

Nino Leyja was another young player on the Bees' roster. Although he has been in the A's system since 2008, Leyja just turned 21 in early October. His development has been uneven, but he showed some signs of improvement in 2011. Like Consigli, Leyja got off to a fast start this season. Despite a wrist injury, he hit .329 in April with a 17:13 BB: K ratio. He was unable to maintain that pace in May and June, but saw an uptick in production in July. Then in August he showed a burst of power, hitting five homeruns in 101 at-bats. He had hit only six homeruns total in his career before the month of August. Leyja sacrificed his plate discipline (28 strike-outs and only three walks) to post those power numbers in August and that isn't likely a trend the A's will want him to continue next season. Leyja profiles best as a top-of-the-order hitter. He has good speed (he stole 28 bases in 33 chances), but needs to continue to improve his plate discipline. Leyja can handle both shortstop and second base and that positional flexibility could give him an opportunity with Stockton next season. Despite the fact that he has already spent parts of two seasons in the Midwest League, it wouldn't be a disaster for Leyja to repeat the league again in 2012 given his age.

As the A's second-round pick in 2010, Yordy Cabrera came into the 2011 season as the most highly touted position player on the Bees' roster. He had a solid, though not spectacular, first half offensively, batting .254 with a 747 OPS. Cabrera struggled down-the-stretch, however, batting only .210 with a 587 OPS after the break. He also struggled with his glove throughout the season, committing 38 errors at shortstop.

Although Cabrera was 20 years old throughout the season (he turned 21 in early September), he was much more inexperienced than most 20-year-old professional ballplayers. Cabrera was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to Florida for high school. He had to learn English when he arrived in the States and was held back a year to allow for his language skills to catch-up. Consequently, he turned 19 only a few weeks after signing with Oakland out of high school. The A's were impressed with Cabrera's approach during spring training and felt he was ready for the challenge of full-season ball in his first year as a pro. Although he struggled, he showed flashes of the talent that made him a second-round pick. Cabrera stole 23 bases in 29 chances and had a .422 SLG before the All-Star break. He also hit considerably better versus right-handed pitching (723 OPS) than he did versus southpaws (506 OPS) despite being right-handed himself. Although he had a rough 2011 season, Cabrera could still find himself as the starting shortstop with the Stockton Ports on Opening Day next season. He should find the California League's hitting environment more to his liking.

Shortstop Wade Kirkland shared time with Cabrera at shortstop and also saw playing time at second and third base. The A's 11th-round pick in 2010 never got his bat going this season. In 258 at-bats, he hit only .217 with a 612 OPS. Those numbers were a drop-off from his 2010 campaign, during which he hit .271 with a 646 OPS. Kirkland did walk more this season. In roughly the same number of at-bats, he doubled his walk total (nine in 2010; 20 in 2011) although his strike-outs also increased (59 to 73, respectively). His on-base percentage, in particular, will have to improve for him to advance in the A's system.

Although he was replaced late in the season by 2011 fifth-round pick Beau Taylor, John Nester compiled the most at-bats for any Bees' backstop this season. Known mostly for his glove, Nester hit only .213 with a 644 OPS in 249 at-bats. Whether he moves up to Stockton next season will depend on where the A's send Taylor, as well as catching prospect Max Stassi and another 2011 draft pick, Nick Rickles.

Speaking of Taylor, the University of Central Florida alum made a strong impression in his brief time with the Bees' at the end of the 2011 season. He started off slowly, but hit his stride in August, batting .321 with a .408 OBP and an 813 OPS. He finished his first stint at the Low-A level with a .293/.367/.367 line in 43 games. Taylor is also a solid defensive catcher and is part of a strong group of catching prospects in the A's system.

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