Burlington Notebook: A Needed Reboot

The second half of the Midwest League season is underway and the Burlington Bees have come out of the gates strong in search of a playoff spot. Bill Seals updates us on the Oakland A's Low-A affiliate.

Team Overview

As it turns out, the Midwest League All-Star Break is just what the doctor ordered for the Burlington Bees in their quest for a mid-season turnaround. Of course, the addition of an impact bat from the 2012 first-year player draft hasn't hurt matters either.

It's all added up to five wins in seven second-half games for Burlington, which has Aaron Nieckula's club out in front in the MWL's Western Division. The Bees now have four consecutive series victories under their belt, including sets over Cedar Rapids and Kane County following the All-Star Break.

One of the biggest differences has been the introduction of Max Muncy to full-season ball. The 6-foot first baseman from Baylor went straight from the NCAA Regionals in early June to the Midwest League by month's end. The fifth-round selection has handled the transition well, with six hits in his first 15 at-bats, including a home run in his first professional plate appearance.

Muncy's addition and the continued solid play of Eliezer Mesa (11-for-28 in the second half) have been enough to lift Burlington's triple-slash line to .248/.327/.394 as July approaches. The Bees rank third in the league in slugging percentage, fourth in OPS (721) and second in runs scored (376).

On the mound right-hander Drew Granier led the way through the season's first half, but A.J. Cole has taken over the reins as staff ace during the month of June.

As Granier struggled to a 5.63 ERA and allowed 37 base-runners over 24 innings this month, Cole began to show the stuff that made him a prized prospect in the Gio Gonzalez trade with Washington. Since allowing eight runs (five earned) on 12 hits in five innings during his first start with Burlington, Cole has surrendered six earned on eight hits while striking out 28 in his last 27.1 innings. He has won all three of his decisions with the Bees.

Burlington was represented by three players in this month's MWL All-Star Game, hosted by Kane County. Shortstop Sean Jamieson, Granier and fellow starter Seth Frankoff represented the team.

The trio of all-stars are back in the Windy City suburb with the rest of their team this week, as the Bees play a mini three-game road trip against the Kane County Cougars before returning home to face Clinton.

Comings and Goings

Muncy's aggressive assignment to a full-season league was the biggest news of the month. After putting up big numbers in college, he has answered the A's challenge thus far by reaching base in all five games and posting a 1371 OPS.

Third baseman B.A. Vollmuth's promotion to Stockton preceded Muncy's arrival. Oakland's third-round selection in the 2011 draft spent the first 67 games in Burlington and posted a triple-slash line of .260/.337/.411, but played much better in the weeks leading up to the All-Star Break.

Also during the month, infielder Ryan Pineda moved back up to High-A Stockton after hitting .215 with a .262 on-base percentage in 23 games. His promotion made way for Michael Fabiaschi, who was promoted after a brief three-game stint in split-season Vermont.

Burlington added a pair of relievers by way of the A's short-season squads: Omar Duran and Tanner Peters. Now in his fifth professional season, Duran has hit a crucial stage of his career and will be looking to re-establish himself after injuries stalled his development. The hard-throwing 6'3'' southpaw struck out five in 3.2 perfect innings for the Arizona A's prior to his assignment. Peters is getting his first look at Low-A competition and has allowed two earned runs on two hits over 4.1 innings.

The bullpen also lost a pair of arms this month, as Jeff Urlaub was promoted to Stockton and Brent Powers headed down a level to Vermont. Urlaub played a key role in the 'pen and factored into nine decisions – winning five of them – while leading the team in appearances with 25. Urlaub was promoted during a personal run of seven consecutive scoreless innings, in which he struck and seven and walked none.

Who's Hot

In addition to the aforementioned Muncy and Mesa, outfielder Bobby Crocker has been wielding a hot bat. He hit .320 with three homers and 19 RBIs in 75 June at-bats. Oakland's fourth-round selection last year has pushed his season triple-slash mark to .270/.342/.410 in a pitching-dominated league.

After a promising run as a starter late in the 2011 season, right-hander Jose Macias suffered through a disappointing first two months of this year, but he has settled in as the team's long reliever. He has allowed just one run on three hits while striking out eight and walking none in his past 8.1 innings. Improved command will be what gets Macias back on track and he posted a remarkable 14:1 K:BB ratio in seven June appearances.

A disastrous outing on June 13th at Cedar Rapids has not deterred right-hander Drew Tyson, a 17th-round selection in 2010. Most recently, he struck out three over 3.1 hitless innings on Wednesday against the same Kernels lineup and has now pitched 6.2 consecutive innings of scoreless ball in his past three appearances.

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