In order to make the Midwest League playoffs, the Burlington Bees relied heavily on a solid starting rotation to overcome their shortcomings at the dish. But in the end, excellent starts from Tanner Peters, A.J. Cole and Drew Granier couldn't overcome an offense that was shut out in Games 2 and 3 of a first-round series loss to Wisconsin.
The three games ended in scores of 4-0, 4-0 and 3-0, with the Bees taking the first game before going punchless in a pair of matchups in Wisconsin. Burlington finished the regular season 67-72 and made the postseason by playing .500 ball in the second half, despite dropping its final six contests.
It was the second consecutive postseason appearance in Burlington for manager Aaron Nieckula's club, but ended in first-round heartache yet again. Last season, the Bees were eliminated in the decisive third game by upstart Kane County.
Excluding the playoffs, the A's Low-A affiliate finished 140-136 through the first two years of a young marriage. It remains to be seen if Oakland will remain in Burlington, as the affiliate agreement ended with the 2012 season.
Big Three "Shoulders" Load
As was the case in 2011, the Bees were all about pitching again this season. Although Burlington finished near the middle of the pack in staff ERA (3.86), its Big Three starting rotation of Cole, Granier and Peters down the stretch was one of the best in the MWL.
After a disastrous start in High-A Stockton, Cole resurrected his "prospect" status with Burlington over the summer. He won six of nine decisions over 19 starts, allowing just 22 earned runs and 78 hits in 95.2 innings. His 102:19 K:BB ratio bodes well for future success at higher levels. His 2.07 ERA and 1.01 WHIP were tops in the Bees' rotation.
Granier (11-10) spent the entire summer in the MWL and was the lone member of the staff to begin and end the season in the rotation. He made 28 starts for the Bees and posted a 3.21 ERA and 1.24 WHIP over 162.2 innings. While he struck out more than one batter per inning (167), he'll be looking to cut down on the walks (53) next season.
Peters saved his best work for the end of the season, as demonstrated by his Game One victory over Wisconsin. The right-hander tossed seven scoreless innings of two-hit baseball, allowing only one walk and recording six strikeouts. Peters retired 18 consecutive batters at one point in the game. He was just as effective in his final five appearances of the regular season, allowing just six earned runs on 30 hits in 32 innings, while posting a K:BB ratio of 33:5.
As was the case with Cole, Hassebrock experienced little success in Stockton and he was demoted to Low-A late in the season. One of the Bees' top pitchers in 2011, Hassebrock struggled mightily in two of five appearances with the Bees down the stretch. He ended with a 4.00 ERA and 2-2 record, while allowing 12 earned runs on 33 hits over 27 innings.
After four solid starts at short-season Vermont, Lamb earned an early-July promotion to Burlington. The left-hander finished 3-3 with a 5.03 ERA, while pitching 59 innings for the Bees. He allowed 33 earned runs on 68 hits while posting a K:BB ratio of 40:22.
Chitwood appeared in eight games for the Bees, allowing four earned runs on 14 hits in 17.2 innings. He ended the regular season with a scoreless streak of 14.2 innings. Tyson spent the entire season in Burlington, allowing 28 earned runs on 66 hits in 68 innings of relief. Mota appeared in 27 games and posted a 3-1 record and 3.47 ERA.
'12 Draft Class Boosts Offense, But Not Enough
Burlington lost much of its early-season offensive output due to promotions, as Chad Oberacker, Dusty Robinson and B.A. Vollmuth all departed for Stockton, and Eliezer Mesa headed for Midland after 70 games.
The lineup hits kept on coming late in the season, too. Outfielder Rashun Dixon (.238/.364/.414) was suspended by the A's in the middle of the stretch run and shortstop Sean Jamieson (.244/.354/.389) was sent to Arizona in the Stephen Drew trade. Futures Game participant Zhi-Fang Pan spent the season's final three weeks on the disabled list after posting a line of .243/.300/.324 in 83 games.
Offensively, Nieckula's club ranked near the bottom of the league in many categories including batting average (.240), slugging percentage (.366) and OPS (.688). The Bees' 1,110 strikeouts as a team ranked second in MWL.
The Bees received a nice shot in the arm offensively with the additions of 2012 first-round selection Russell and fifth-rounder Muncy. Russell played in 16 games at shortstop for the Bees over the final month, posting a triple-slash line of .310/.369/.448 in 58 at-bats. Muncy was sent directly to Burlington after signing with the A's, and went on to bat .275 with an 816 OPS. The first baseman hit four homers and drove in 23 runs over 229 at-bats.
Outfielder Bobby Crocker spent the entire 2012 season at Burlington and posted a triple-slash line of .268/.347/.369 over 112 games. Oakland's fourth-round selection in the 2011 draft hit six homers and drove in 53 runs in 406 at-bats. Crocker played his best during the middle of the season, hitting .357 with a 957 OPS in June.
Many prospect services considered catcher Nick Rickles a rising star in Oakland's farm system heading into 2012, but the 22-year old struggled mightily at the plate by posting a line of .220/.257/.328 in 95 games. Rickles' saving grace was his defense behind the plate, as he threw out 30-of-72 (42%) of would-be base stealers.