Burlington Notebook: Treading Water

Last season, the Burlington Bees cruised to a first-half division title. This year has been more of a grind for the Oakland A's Low-A affiliate. Bill Seals has an update on the Bees.

Team Overview

After two months of inconsistent baseball and record that continues to hover around .500, the Burlington Bees are still a difficult team to figure out. But that should come as no surprise, as the A's Low-A affiliate has had considerable roster turnover thus far. Aaron Nieckula's club has seen its top two hitters and starting pitcher summoned to Stockton in the past few weeks.

The good news: Burlington is closing out the month of May at Community Field, where they've been at their best. The Bees have won five of six games in their current homestand, which concludes with a game against Peoria on Friday.

But even with the recent streak, they currently reside 8.5 games back in the MWL's Western Division with a 25-28 record.

Last season, Burlington relied on a strong pitching staff and during the first month of 2012 it was led by a pair of aces – Sean Murphy and Drew Granier. But roster turnover has been a constant theme, and Murphy was summoned to High-A Stockton on May 23rd.

Outside of Granier, Bees' starters haven't had prolonged success through the season's first two months. As a result, Burlington's 3.90 team ERA and 1.35 WHIP both rank fourth-worst in the MWL.

Jonathan Joseph (0-2, 5.19) and Jose Macias (2-4, 6.28) were recently banished to the bullpen in favor of Seth Frankoff (1-3, 3.72) and Brent Powers (3-3, 6.08). A key addition in the Andrew Bailey off-season trade, Raul Alcantara (3-5, 5.69) has remained in the rotation but has yet to muster much success.

Offensively, Burlington is a middle-of-the pack team with slash marks of .251/.325/.396. The Bees have hit 42 home runs to tie for second in the league. Two major contributors to their early-season success, outfielders Chad Oberacker and Dusty Robinson were promoted to Stockton, leaving Eliezer Mesa as the team's current leader in batting average (.315). Mesa arrived on May 2nd after a stint with the Ports.

Nieckula is looking for more out of a pair of former third-round picks – B.A. Vollmuth (2011) and Aaron Shipman (2010). Vollmuth heated up slightly during the month of May, posting a slash line of .284/.360/.404. Shipman (.274/.390/.365 in May) is starting to find his groove after being hampered by a hip flexor in spring training.

Comings and Goings

After a roster that remained largely intact through the opening month, the list of players at Nieckula's disposal changed frequently in May. Murphy, Robinson, Oberacker and Ryan Doolittle all packed their bags for Stockton this month.

Murphy was certainly deserving of the nod, posting a 1.97 ERA with 52 strikeouts and 17 walks in 50.1 innings. He was victimized by poor run support, evidenced by his 3-4 record while in Burlington. Fellow staff mate Doolittle excelled in the bullpen and allowed just one earned run and struck out 12 in 9.2 innings. Prior to his call-up he appeared in eight games and posted a miniscule 0.52 WHIP.

Robinson and Oberacker were constants in the Bees' lineup through the first six weeks. Robinson hit a team-high nine homers and drove in 28 runs while posting a .262/.348/.560 line in 38 games. He was also named offensive player of the week on two separate occasions. Oberacker still ranks first on the team in batting average (.317) and on-base percentage (.403). He hit for the cycle in a game this week for Stockton.

Burlington activated five players during the past month, headlined by heralded pitching prospect A.J. Cole, who was demoted from Stockton after compiling an 0-7 record and 7.82 ERA. The 6'4'' right-hander pitched one of his better games as a member of the A's organization on Tuesday, allowing one earned run on four hits while striking out seven in six innings.

Outfielder Rashun Dixon returned to Low-A ball for the first time since 2010. After struggling mightily this spring in Stockton, Dixon has five hits in his first 17 at-bats as a part of the Bees' lineup. His long homer to left field on Sunday was the difference in a one-run victory over Clinton.

Infielder Ryan Pineda is also back in Burlington after a short run in the California League.

Gone from the Bees roster are third baseman Chad Lewis, a fourth-round pick in 2010, who was shipped to extended spring training after managing just four hits in 30 at-bats. A surprising move by the A's came last week when undersized pitcher Nathan Kilcrease was released after posting a 1.46 ERA in seven relief appearances. He has since signed on with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.

Who's Hot

Infielder Zhi Fang Pan has four multi-hit games in his past five outings and is 10-for-20 during that stretch. He had a homer and four RBIs Wednesday night during a 10-1 Burlington rout of Peoria. The recent surge has raised Pan's slash mark to .297/.362/.406 in 44 games.

Mesa has been just as hot for the Bees and is hitting .390 with a 1004 OPS in his last 10 games. He has seven multi-hit games during the stretch. The 23-year old, who was the player-to-be-named later in last summer's Mark Ellis trade with Colorado, has been a nice addition to the A's farm system.

Infielder Sean Jamieson had the game-winning homerun on Thursday night versus Peoria and he has a .441 OBP over his last 10 games. He leads the team with 15 stolen bases and has an 845 OPS for the month of May. Jamieson has a .380 OBP for the season.

In his second start as a member of the Bees rotation on Wednesday, Frankoff tossed six innings of one-run, four-hit ball. The 6'5'' right-hander, a 27th-round selection out of UNC-Wilmington in 2010, struck out 11 batters and did not issue a walk.

Lanky left-hander Jeff Urlaub looks a lot like current A's reliever Jerry Blevins and has been solid recently as a member of the Burlington bullpen. He has allowed just one earned run over five innings over his past seven relief appearances. Urlaub has issued only one walk all season.

Granier has continued to excel. On Thursday, he earned a win with seven strong innings versus Peoria. He walked four, but he struck-out six and allowed only two runs on four hits. Granier is now 7-2 with a 2.10 ERA on the season.

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