One of those prospects is first baseman A.J. Kirby-Jones, who, like so many of his teammates, has struggled during the Ports recent losing streak. Kirby-Jones has managed to scrounge up a .108/.214/.135 line with 15 strikeouts in 37 ABs and an uncharacteristically miniscule five walks in his previous 10 contests. In the Ports one win during their 17-game stretch, Kirby-Jones went 2-for-4 with a double, a walk and two RBIs.
Despite the rough three weeks, Kirby-Jones still has solid numbers for the Ports. In 29 games, he has a .267/.366/.429 line with 17 RBIs. He has walked 17 times, but he has also amassed 35 strike-outs. Over his first three years in professional baseball, Kirby-Jones has shown a propensity for posting high strike-out and walk totals while also putting up impressive power numbers.
Kirby-Jones was raised in the heart of football country on the footsteps of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Tthe 6'0", 210 pounder excelled on the gridiron with his stout, physical frame that also translated brilliantly to the baseball field. He attended Webb School, a private boarding institution, and hit 17 HRs over the course of his upperclassman career. As a junior, he batted .464 and he hit a staggering .500 as a senior. Kirby-Jones also pitched out of the bullpen in high school, compiling a 6-4 record and a 3.02 ERA with two saves. He was recruited by several Division I programs, but would decide to remain within the boundaries of the Volunteer state to attend Tennessee Tech University.
After a strong freshman campaign, Kirby-Jones opened eyes with a standout sophomore season. He hit 20 homers and earned the Ohio Valley Conference tournament MVP award. Kirby-Jones would best this accomplishment in 2010 as a junior. He hit a monstrous .388 while hitting a Tennessee Tech-record 26 homers. He also ranked fifth in the nation in walks (58) and led the nation in intentional walks with nine. This incredible season saw Kirby-Jones designated as a second team All-American, complementing his collegiate teammate, Chad Oberacker, who earned first team honors (Oberacker is currently a teammate of Kirby-Jones' on the Ports). Overall, Kirby-Jones shattered milestones during his three-year stint with a university record 51 homers, 143 runs, 409 total bases and 207 hits. This led to Kirby-Jones being drafted by Oakland in the ninth round (275th overall) of the 2010 draft.
Upon signing with Oakland, Kirby-Jones was sent across the continent to suit up for the A's short-season affiliate, the Vancouver Canadians. He would team with the A's 2010 top pick Michael Choice to form a powerful one-two punch in the middle of the Canadians' line-up. Kirby-Jones hit 14 homers and 10 doubles, and he amassed a .419 OBP and an impressive 887 OPS in 319 plate appearances. The former Golden Eagle would accumulate a remarkable 19.1% walk rate throughout his season with the Canadians; however, he would also post a 25.7% strikeout rate. Regardless of his numerous swings and misses, Kirby-Jones would receive Northwest League Player of the Week honors twice during his short-season stint. He was named to the Northwest League's post-season All-Star team.
In 2011, Kirby-Jones would spend his first full professional season with the Low-A Burlington Bees of the Midwest League. He battled a series of injuries all season, but still managed a .240/.360/.415 line while collecting 135 total bases with 13 homers and 18 doubles while maintaining a neutral .308 BABIP. The season would culminate in a playoff appearance for the Bees and Kirby-Jones would earn another Player of the Week award.
This season, Kirby-Jones, accompanied by several of his 2011 Burlington teammates, was promoted to the High-A California League to suit up for the Ports. Thus far, it has been a relatively smooth transition for Kirby-Jones from the Midwest League to the California League.
"There's not really a huge difference [between the two leagues]," Kirby-Jones said.
"There's more breaking balls here. In the Midwest League they gave me more fastballs and I was able to locate their pitches better."
This offseason, Kirby-Jones tweaked his swing in order to reduce his swings-and-misses.
"I lowered my hands in the Instructional League last season," Kirby-Jones remarked. "This year, it is working out pretty well for me, but I've also changed my approach a bit, just trying to get better pitches while maintaining my aggressiveness."
That new approach was on display on April 18th versus Modesto when Kirby-Jones exploded for the first three-homer contest in the minor leagues this season. Kirby-Jones maintains a basic plan at the plate.
"Just keep your approach and don't get out of the gameplan by swinging at pitches you shouldn't swing at," Kirby-Jones said of his offensive gameplan.
"Just get your pitch and connect by putting a good swing on it."
The three-homer game was the signature moment within a superb week that saw Kirby-Jones named as player of the week for the fourth time in his minor league career. For the week of April 23rd, he hit .375 with a .483 OBP.
"It's always a great honor to earn an award like that," Kirby-Jones said.
"I try not to think about it too much and to focus on my performance."
A strong stretch of play from Kirby-Jones would go a long way towards the Ports getting back to their winning ways.