Although the majority of the Oakland A's 2011 draft class is currently competing at extended spring training, 13 of the A's '11 draft picks are already taking on the challenge of full-season baseball. One draft pick is at Double-A, while four others are currently playing at High-A Stockton and eight are competing for Low-A Burlington.
The '11 draftee competing at Double-A is top pick Sonny Gray, who actually began his professional career at that level last season. He allowed just one run in 20 innings for the Midland Rockhounds in 2011.
Thus far in 2012, Gray's numbers haven't been quite as dominant with the Rockhounds. In six starts, the right-hander is 1-2 with a 4.62 ERA, but has a slightly better FIP of 3.85. Coming into his first big league camp this spring, the 22-year-old faced high expectations after his success during his abbreviated summer last year. Pairing the burden of those expectations with his focus on command might have led to his drop in numbers early on. But the drop won't be viewed as alarming.
Gray's walk rate (up to 3.86 per nine innings from 2.70 last year) and strikeout rate (down to 6.08 from 8.1) are likely due to his continued work on making his changeup a viable third pitch while improving the location of his fastball. It's worth noting that the 22-year-old is competing against players who mostly have multiple years of professional experience under their belts.
Taylor, who began the season at extended spring training rehabbing a minor injury, has caught 12 games for Stockton since joining the Ports in mid-April. He's hitting .227/.320/.318 in 13 games after amassing a 735 OPS at Low-A Burlington last summer. Taylor is expected to share the catching duties with fellow A's top prospect Max Stassi for the rest of the summer.
Treinen, a 23-year-old right-hander, is getting re-accustomed to a starting role after making 14 appearances in relief last year in the Arizona Rookie League and the Midwest League. He said the toughest transition is adding a third pitch.
"Coming back as a starter, I wasn't sure how it was going to translate. Just trying to work a new changeup in, because before it was just fastball, breaking ball. I'm pretty happy with the way things are going," Treinen said of his progress thus far this year.
In six starts, the sinker-baller is 2-3 with a 4.50 ERA in 38 innings. While the ERA isn't where he'd like it to be, his K:BB ratio is an impressive 33:7 and he has allowed only one homerun. The A's consider themselves lucky to have drafted Treinen after he was originally selected by the Florida Marlins in the 23rd round of the 2010 draft. Treinen signed with Florida, but his contract was voided when the team wasn't satisfied with MRI results that showed inflammation in his shoulder. Things turned out well for Treinen, who jumped 16 rounds after going back to South Dakota State for another year of school.
Fellow 2011 draft pick and Ports' rotation member Walz has gotten off to a very good start to his first full professional campaign. Like Treinen, Walz was used as a reliever by the A's last year, but he has made a smooth transition to the starting rotation in 2012. In 30 innings over five starts, Walz has allowed 26 hits with 34 strikeouts and just six walks. He has pitched at least six innings in all but one of his starts.
"He's got the unorthodox style with the leg kick and he's not the traditional 'plant your foot and go [pitcher]'," Stockton manager Webster Garrison said of Walz. "He's got the hesitation move. He keeps the ball in the zone. He's a good, aggressive pitcher with the slider and the changeup."
The 23-year-old right-hander was drafted by Oakland two years in row. In 2010, the club took him in the 50th round, but he elected to go back Kansas for his junior season. Like Treinen, Walz has been focusing on improving his fastball command and his changeup.
Oberacker, an outfielder, was a recent addition to Stockton's roster. He began the year with Burlington and had a season-opening 11-game hitting streak where he went 18-for-45 (.400). Things slowed down over the next five games, lowering his line to a still impressive .317/.403/.524 in 16 games overall with the Bees.
The speedy outfielder also pitched during his four years at Tennessee Tech, where he was teammates with current Stockton first baseman/DH A.J. Kirby-Jones. Oberacker said that being able to focus on his responsibilities as a position player has contributed to his good start at the plate. He developed a routine during spring training that he has stuck with every day since.
"Now that I started doing it every day, I love it. I try to get that in every day if I can and just take a solid approach in BP," Oberacker said.
Over the weekend in Stockton, Oberacker was able to gain some valuable knowledge from A's legend and roving instructor Rickey Henderson.
"I actually talked to him for like 15 minutes before batting practice [on Saturday]. There are some things he's picked up over the years that just helps. Some minor tweaks here and there," Oberacker said.
Henderson suggested Oberacker focus his vision out in front of him so he can see pitches and react to them earlier.
"It definitely helped," he said.
The A's 2011 draft class is well represented on the Low-A Burlington roster. Four of the class' most notable picks are main cogs in the Bees' line-up: third baseman B.A. Vollmuth (third round) and outfielders Bobby Crocker (fourth round) and Dusty Robinson (10th round), and catcher Nick Rickles (14th round).
Robinson is off to a great start, with eight home runs and 25 RBIs in the club's first 29 games. With an OPS of 982, the right-handed slugger is second in the Midwest League in homers and runs driven in. In three years with Fresno State, Robinson averaged .312 and hit 47 long balls. Robinson has already earned two Midwest League Player of the Week honors.
Vollmuth was the A's top position prospect selected in 2011. In 2011, the infielder went 7-for-14 for the Vermont Lake Monsters late in the year, finishing with a .268/.388/.488 line his 12 games.
After a strong spring training, Vollmuth is off to a slower start with Burlington. In 28 games, he is hitting .223/.273/.357 with 36 strikeouts, but has managed 16 RBIs. Vollmuth has excelled versus left-handed pitching (825 OPS) and with runners in scoring position (883 OPS), however.
The A's next-highest position player draft pick in 2011, Crocker, is off to a slow start with Burlington, as well. In 18 games, the outfielder is hitting .230/.342/.279. He showed good power potential in 2011, but is off to a rough start given his on-base clip is considerably higher than his slugging percentage. He hasn't played since April 27th.
Rickles made a strong first impression on the A's last season when he hit .310 in 41 games for the Lake Monsters. It has been a slow start for the Florida native, who is batting .206/.250/.294 in 19 games for the Bees. It is worth noting that Vollmuth, Crocker and Rickles are all from warm-weather states and slow starts during the cold weather months of the Midwest League season are not uncommon for hitters.
Granier has been one of the Bees' top pitchers this season, posting a 4-1 record and a 1.42 ERA. In 31.2 innings, he has a 31:7 K:BB ratio and he has allowed only 27 hits.
Powers, the only lefty of the four, has appeared in seven games. All of them have technically been relief appearances, although they have been scheduled appearances as part of a starter-tandem schedule that goes every fifth day. In 15 innings, Powers has a 3.00 ERA and 15 strike-outs, although he has walked nine. Lefties have yet to collect a hit off of Powers and opposing batters are hitting only .192 off of him overall.
Perlman is also part of a starter-tandem and he has six "relief" appearances thus far. In 18 innings, he sports a 4.00 ERA and a 9:5 K:BB ratio. Perlman opened eyes last season when he starred for the A's Rookie League team and then impressed in two late-season starts for the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats.
Kilcrease has been limited to only three appearances thus far this year thanks to a DL stint. He returned to active duty on April 27th after missing more than two weeks. The 5'6'' right-hander has allowed one run on four hits with three strike-outs and a walk in six innings this season.
Melissa Lockard also contributed to this report.