Stockton Notebook: Second-Half Push

The Stockton Ports had a disappointing first half of their 2012 season. Despite losing their best player over the All-Star break to a promotion, the Ports are optimistic about competing for a post-season spot during the second half of the season. Chris Kusiolek briefs us on the latest with the Oakland A's High-A affiliate.

Team Overview

The Stockton Ports are gradually recovering from their disastrous 16-game losing streak that saw them plummet from first half California League title contention while wasting a 7-3 beginning to the 2012 campaign. However, since the skid was snapped, Stockton has shown that they intend on challenging for the second half crown, with gritty performances throughout the latter portions of May and the remainder of the pre All-Star schedule in June. Now, without their standout slugger, Miles Head, Stockton must tackle another speedbump in replacing the heart of their offense. But, as they squad has proven in recent weeks, they possess the ability to score runs with their remaining eight members of their nightly lineup.

Stockton would close out the first half on a stellar run that to some degree paralleled their 7-3 start by winning six of their final 10 contests that included series victories over Visalia and San Jose, a series split versus Bakersfield that prevented the Blaze from clinching the first half title on Stockton's turf, and a dominating 11-3 romp over the Rawhide to close the curtain on Stockton's initial 70 games.

Things haven't been quite as positive in Stockton to commence the second half, as the Ports were recently swept by the Modesto Nuts in a four game series to stamp a 0-4 mark on Stockton to begin the second half push. The Ports were struck out 48 times in the series and were shutout out offensively in the second game for the first time since April 27th.

Through Sunday, the Ports were sixth out of 10 teams in the league in OPS with a 744 mark. The Ports have hit the fourth-most homeruns (71), but they have scored the third-least runs (343). Stockton's pitching staff has been solid. The team is ranked third in ERA with a 4.16 mark and they have a 629:193 K:BB ratio. Their 193 walks are the second-fewest in the league. The team defense has let the Ports down all season, however, as the Ports' staff has been tagged with 73 unearned runs.

Comings And Goings

There has been a considerable amount of player movement for the Ports during the last several weeks. Most notably, top prospects A.J. Cole and Rashun Dixon were sent back down to Low-A Burlington and were replaced by right-hander Sean Murphy and outfielder Dusty Robinson. Cole has excelled in Iowa. The lanky prospect allowed two homers in his Midwest League debut, but through Sunday, Cole hadn't surrendered another long ball in 22 2/3 IP and he had a 31:6 K:BB ratio. Dixon has experienced a resurgence as well, hitting .214/.368/.443 with 31 total bases for the Bees thus far. For Stockton, Robinson has fared relatively well for the Ports, having hit seven homers. A recent slump has dropped his OPS to 702, however, and his strikeout percentage tops 33%. Murphy has highlighted a Ports rotation and has a 0.94 WHIP and a 39:9 K:BB in six 2012 Stockton starts.

Myrio Richard was placed on the DL, and Mitch LeVier took Richard's spot following his service of a 50-game suspension for a second violation of baseball's drug policies. LeVier has succeeded with the Ports since his return, hitting .293/.370/.415 in 41 at-bats through Sunday.

Stockton has restocked their pitching arsenal by adding Pedro Vidal from extending spring training, A.J. Huttenlocker following a demotion from Midland and Blake Hassebrock following two-month stint on the disabled list. Hassebrock started a contest against Visalia on June 15th and struggled, permitting five hits, four runs, and a homer in two frames. Vidal, a native of the Dominican Republic, has contributed in Stockton's bullpen by recording 6.1 scoreless frames, allowing four hits, and striking out seven. Huttenlocker, a fixture for Stockton in 2011, has received a warm welcome with the Ports, possessing a 6:2 K:BB in 4.1 IP.

During the All-Star break, the Ports lost their top player when Miles Head was promoted to Double-A Midland. The Cal League All-Star left the team with the league's best OPS and BA. Replacing Head is another promising offensive prospect, B.A. Vollmuth, third round 2011 selection. In his Ports debut, he went 2-7 with a BB in an 18 inning thriller.

Who's Hot

The most pivotal offensive piece for Stockton this season has been Head, who was hitting .382/.433/.715 with 18 HR, six triples, 23 doubles, and had 191 total bases with the Ports before departing to Texas following the All-Star break. Without Head, Stockton must search for other outlets of offensive production to fuel the ballclub to a possible second half title. One possibility is A.J. Kirby-Jones, who hit .297/.414/.543 in the first 70 games of the season and notched the second-highest OBP in the league behind Head. Kirby-Jones also was second on the squad in homers with 13, and had two triples and 12 doubles en route to 123 total bases.

Kirby-Jones' collegiate teammate at Tennessee Tech, Chad Oberacker, has solidified the leadoff position for Stockton with his consistent ability to get on base. He's transitioned well from Low-A Burlington, hitting .282/.355/.436 with five homers and 11 doubles in the Cal League. He also hit for the cycle earlier this year. Most recently, Oberacker is hitting .308/.460/.487 in his previous 10 contests and also has stolen the most bases in the league without being caught (15). Even during team-wide offensive droughts, Oberacker has remained as a consistently reliable force for the Ports.

Catcher Beau Taylor has shined since transferring to Stockton from extended spring training. Taylor, a fifth-round selection in 2011, may not have wowed with his power, recording two HR in 139 at-bats, but he has been a model of consistency with a .309 average, .401 OBP, 819 OPS and a 13.0 BB%. Taylor has a miniscule 13.6 K% and the highest BB/K on the club.

Highlighting the Ports pitching core is their resident ace, Blake Treinen. Treinen, while having surrendered numerous hits, has been otherwise outstanding for Stockton, compiling a 7.90 K/9, 1.70 BB/9, and 4.63 K/BB. The 97 hits he's allowed in 84.1 IP may be linked to his slightly inflated .337 BABIP and his less than stellar 0.85 HR/9. But still, Treinen has claimed a 3.35 FIP and has a 28:4 K:BB in his previous five starts (28.1 IP). The righty from Ossage City, Kansas, strung together a phenomenal performance on June 12th, where he finished the first complete game for a Stockton Port since May of 2010 in a shortened 7-inning contest versus Bakersfield. He struck out 10 and walked one.

At the end of Stockton's bullpen, Zach Thornton has settled into the closer role for the Ports. The righty has six saves, a 12.24 K/9, and a 2.25 BB/9 while bucking the California League flyball trend in 2012, allowing a single homer in 28 IP. Most recently, Thornton has a 17:4 K:BB in his previous 10 appearances.

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