Stockton Notebook: Ports Start Off Strong

The Stockton Ports rode a hot second-half to a playoff berth and an eventual California League championship series berth last season. This year, they are wasting no time getting into the win column with a fast start to their 2012 campaign. Chris Kusiolek updates us on the first week-and-a-half of the Stockton season.

Stats as of Sunday, April 15, 2012

Team Overview

Despite a roster renovation that left the Stockton Ports with minimal veteran leadership before the 2012 season began, Stockton seems to have capitalized off of the momentum they harnessed from their 2011 California League playoff run and transferred it to commence the campaign at hand. The Ports have been victorious in seven of their first 10 contests while averaging 5.7 runs per game due to an offense that ranks third in average and OBP and second in SLG in the California League (.288/ .351/.450).

Stockton began the season by exacting revenge in a road series versus the Lake Elsinore Storm, who eliminated them in the California League championship last season, by snatching three victories in four contests. The Ports outscored the Storm 19-10 in the set. Josh Whitaker homered twice in the series, going 6-16 in four games. Stockton followed the satisfying series victory over Lake Elsinore with a split in a miniature two game set versus Bakersfield (the final game was postponed due to wet field conditions – the Blaze don't have a tarp). After suffering a hearty defeat to the Blaze that saw Josh Bowman get pounded for six runs in 3.1 IP, Stockton responded with a 10-9 win the following day, highlighted by a Tony Thompson three-run homer. During the game, however, Stockton's starting backstop, Max Stassi, suffered a mild ankle sprain after a home plate collision that has left him inactive since the collision.

Most recently, Stockton swiped a four-game series to christen their 2012 home schedule versus their geographic rivals, Modesto. The concluding contest included a swarm of bees that took to Banner Island Ballpark and proceeded a force a three minute "Bee Delay" and a three run walk-off homer from Ryan Pineda to secure the Ports their seventh victory on the season.

Upcoming series include yet another homestand versus Lake Elsinore followed by a continuation of the Ports-Nuts rivalry in Modesto. Stockton will return to Banner Island on April 23rd to embark upon a four game series versus Bakersfield.

Comings and Goings

Max Stassi's injury coupled with back-up catcher Petey Paramore's promotion to Sacramento to replace an ailing Joel Gallaraga has enabled Stockton to acquire two additions behind the plate. Juan Nunez, a native to the Dominican Republic who bounced from Stockton and Burlington last season, and Beau Taylor, Oakland's 5th round selection in the 2011 draft, have been added to the Ports' roster. Nunez's stay with Stockton may not last past when Stassi returns, but Taylor is likely to stay with the Ports for the long-run.

Who's Hot

Stockton has had countless outstanding performances that have guided them to a .700 winning percentage in the early stages of 2012. Most noticeably is that of Miles Head, who his attempting to make Michael Choice an afterthought after bombarding the California League with his plentiful power in 2011. Head, the youngster acquired in the Andrew Bailey trade this offseason from Boston, has amazed hitting for a team high batting average and a SLG that ranks fourth in the league (.439/.477/.805). He's proceeded to blast three homeruns en route to asserting himself as a prominent member of the Ports and could possibly swing his way into a Midland promotion.

Complementing Head in the order is his fellow Georgian, Josh Whitaker. Whitaker, the A's 25th round selection in 2010, obliterated the Midwest League with Burlington and seems to have duplicated his success in the Central Valley this season. He boasts a statline consisting of a .325 average, .400 OBP, and a .550 SLG coupled with two homeruns, three doubles and two stolen bases. Whitaker has exhibited astounding consistency, recording a hit in eight out of 10 contests, including five multi-hit games, as he has succeeded thus far by steamrolling into 2012.

Another hot hitter is the former Kansas Jayhawk and Burlington Bee, Tony Thompson. Thompson leads the squad in doubles, with five, and is narrowly behind Head and Whitaker in statistical averages (.313/.333/.563). Thompson has averaged a hit per contest and has been a chief contributor to the Ports early victories. An area of concern that must be addressed, however, is his fielding. Thompson has committed five errors at third base after committing sixteen last season.

Former Burlington first baseman A.J. Kirby-Jones has established his presence on the Ports after sharing duties at first with Head. Kirby-Jones, in 29 at-bats, is hitting .379 with a 1003 OPS in eight contests. Kirby-Jones hopes to continue his fiery start and expand his recent success to a season long span.

On the mound, Stockton has faltered slightly after the bulk of their pitching staff from 2011 departed to Midland, but has managed to allow the fewest walks (20) and HRs (three) in the California League while posting a team WHIP of 1.32 that ranks them at second in the league. While their starting rotation has been the epitome of inconsistency to begin the seasonal campaign, T.J. Walz, the 2011 draft selection, has showcased his potential in two starts for the Ports. In 12.1 IP, Walz has acted as a dominating and imposing figure on the mound, allowing a miniscule 0.89 WHIP and recording 12 strikeouts.

Slugger-turned-reliever Sean Doolittle has been splendid in relief. Eleven of his 16 outs recorded have been strikeouts and he hadn't allowed a single baserunner until Stockton matched up with Modesto on April 12th. Setting up in middle relief, Nathan Long has been nothing short of fantastic in 6.2 IP for the Ports. He boasts a microscopic 0.60 WHIP while having yet to allow an earned run out of the bullpen. The former starter seems to be adjusting wonderfully within Stockton's system.

Veteran Ports Connor Hoehn and Jose Guzman have also shown flashes of domination in relief.

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