2011 Year In Review and 2012 Outlook
Perhaps the biggest storyline surrounding last year's Burlington Bees squad was the hot start that saw manager Aaron Nieckula's club win the first-half championship with a Midwest League-best record of 45-25. Although Oakland's MWL affiliate would eventually bow out in the first round of the playoffs, the 2011 season overall was a huge success.
With this spring's Opening Day roster stocked with a mix of returning players and high-performing selections from the past two amateur drafts, a first-half championship repeat isn't entirely out of the question. Nieckula and hitting coach Haas Pratt are back in the fray, and will be joined by pitching coach and former major-leaguer John Wasdin. Burlington opens the season at Clinton on April 5th.
The Burlington Infield and CatchersThe Bees infield features four Vermont promotions and one holdover from last year's roster. B.A. Vollmuth (3rd Round, 2011) and Chad Lewis (4th Round, 2010) will anchor the corners. A late signee last year, Vollmuth saw action in just 12 games after signing out of Southern Miss. OaklandClubhouse's 13th-ranked A's minor-league prospect for 2012, Vollmuth tallied seven hits, including four doubles, in 14 at-bats during a brief stint in Vermont. He is coming off of a standout spring training performance. Just 20 years old, Lewis is still looking for prolonged offensive success at the professional level. He posted a line of .279/.332/.611 over 70 games at Vermont.
Three middle infielders – Wade Kirkland (11th Round, 2010), Zhi-Fang Pan (NDFA, 2010) and Sean Jamieson (17th Round, 2011) – also figure into the mix. Kirkland played all of last season in Burlington, hitting .217 in 83 games while playing a reserve role behind Yordy Cabrera. Pan was an on-base machine at Vermont, hitting .336 while reaching safely nearly 40 percent of the time. In 69 games of short-season ball, Jamieson - a defensive wiz - posted a line of .235/.350/.312. He should see the bulk of the playing time at shortstop.
Nick Rickles (14th Round, 2011) and John Nester (39th Round, 2010) will handle the catching duties. Rickles fared well at Vermont after signing with the A's early out of Stetson University, posting a line of .310/.364/.441 in 43 games. Nester spent all of last season with Burlington, batting .213/.318/.325. Both catchers saw some time as reserves for big league spring training games this March, although neither appeared in a game with the big club.
The Burlington Outfield
High-round draft choice Bobby Crocker (4th Round, 2011) highlights the Burlington outfield. After signing early out of Cal-Poly, San Luis Obispo, Crocker split time between short-season and rookie league ball. He was one of the New York-Penn League's top hitters in the final month, batting .322 with three homers and 15 RBIs to go along with an OPS better than 800.
The outfield is rounded out with a pair of Burlington returners in Royce Consigli (30th Round, 2009) and Douglas Landaeta (NDFA, 2006) and Vermont grads Dusty Robinson (10th Round, 2011) and Chad Oberacker (25th Round, 2011).
Consigli posted a .247/.335/.350 line in 127 games last season, while Landaeta played 110 games with a line of .250/.296/.364 for the Bees.
Robinson showed off a nice power stroke in Vermont (seven HRs and .461 SLG in 128 at-bats), but will need to develop a better plate approach at the next level. Oberacker was a consistent player in the Lake Monsters lineup, hitting .293 with a .371 OBP. He didn't show much power, but was 13-for-15 in stolen bases.
Highly touted prospect Aaron Shipman (3rd Round, 2010) will begin the year at extended spring training as he rehabs an injury, but he is expected to join the Burlington roster as soon as he has accumulated enough at-bats in Phoenix. Shipman showed great plate discipline in 63 games at Vermont, posting a .383 on-base percentage and a BB:K rate of 42:39.
The Burlington Pitching Staff
Although the Bees have yet to release their starting rotation for the season, a few names are sure to be a part of the group.
Right-hander Raul Alcantara (NDFA, 2009), who came over from Boston in the Andrew Bailey trade, garnered starting experience at short-season Lowell last summer. Although the Dominican was roughed up to the tune of an 0-3 record and 6.23 ERA in four starts, the 19-year-old previously showed promise in rookie league ball and is a highly thought of prospect. OaklandClubhouse lists him as a top-20 A's prospect in this year's rankings.
Right-hander Jose Macias (18th Round, 2010) returns to Burlington after a solid 2011 stretch run in which he became one of the Bees' top starters. The converted infielder finished with an 8-4 mark and 3.45 ERA over 16 Low-A starts. The 22-year-old struck out 62 batters and walked just 18 in 80.2 innings of work.
Fellow Burlington returnee Jonathan Joseph (NDFA, 2006) started 14 of 21 games and pitched 81 innings at Burlington last year, posting a 6-4 record and 5.67 ERA.
After starting five of 13 games in the Arizona Rookie League last year, Max Perlman (35th Round, 2011) was afforded the rare opportunity of a two-start cameo with Triple-A Sacramento. The 6'7'' right-hander from Harvard answered the call with nine solid innings, allowing just two earned runs on six hits.
Two more rotation candidates are RHP Seth Frankoff (27th Round, 2010) and LHP Brent Powers (18th Round, 2011). After a rough start in Burlington last spring, Frankoff re-invented himself at extended spring training and emerged with Vermont in June. He was arguably the Lake Monsters' best starter the rest of the way, posting a 2.34 ERA in 73 innings. He struck-out 63, walked 27 and allowed only one homer. Powers, a Sam Houston State product, also earned a spot in the Vermont rotation and started 12 of 14 games, posting a 4-2 record with 3.84 ERA in 63.1 innings of work.
Burlington's bullpen will likely be anchored by right-hander Ryan Doolittle (26th Round, 2008), who drops down a level after an injury-plagued 2011. After battling a forearm strain throughout much of last season, he will look to regain some confidence in the Midwest League. Prior to the injury, Doolittle was on a roll at High-A Stockton, tossing 20.1 innings and allowing only five runs on 17 hits with a K:BB rate of 8:1.
RHP Drew Granier (32nd Round, 2011), RHP Nathan Kilcrease (30th Round, 2011), LHP Chaz Mye (NDFA, 2010), RHP Drew Tyson (17th Round, 2010) and LHP Jeff Urlaub (30th Round, 2010) should round out the Bees' relief staff.