A year removed from an appearance in the California League finals, the Stockton Ports began the 2012 season with high expectations. Their Opening Day roster featured several of the Oakland A's top prospects and a star-studded six-man starting rotation. However, injuries and inconsistent play doomed the Ports to a disappointing 56-84 overall record.
Despite having Miles Head lead the league in hitting for the first half of the season, the Ports finished at the bottom of the league in team average (.259). They fared better in the team OPS and runs scored standings, finishing seventh out of 10 teams (695 R/757 OPS). The Ports hit plenty of homers (160, good for second in the league) and drew plenty of walks (529, good for third in the league), but also struck-out a lot (1226, second-most in the league) and struggled on the base-paths (76 for 107 in stolen base attempts).
The Ports' pitching staff was fairly middle-of-the-road in the league. Stockton finished sixth in the league in team ERA with a 4.84 mark. Defense was an issue all season. Stockton pitchers allowed the third-most hits in the league and coughed up 134 unearned runs in 140 games played. The Ports' staff walked the fewest batters in the league (370) and struck-out the second-most (1169). However, they were homer-prone, allowing the most longballs in the league (165).
Note: only players with 100 at-bats or more were considered for this article
Although he was only with the team through the All-Star break, Miles Head unquestionably had the biggest impact at the plate of any position player for Stockton. At the time he left the Ports for Double-A Midland, Head led the Cal League in several offensive categories, including batting average and OPS. In 67 games, Head hit .382/.433/.715 and was the Ports' representative at the Cal League-Carolina League All-Star game. Acquired from Boston in the Andrew Bailey/Ryan Sweeney deal, Head made a strong first impression on his new organization. He also made the transition from first base to third base. While Head was far from a finished product at third, the A's were encouraged with what they saw from Head and plan to keep him there for the foreseeable future.
Catcher Beau Taylor was another prospect who made a strong positive impact on the Ports in a short amount of time. Taylor began the season at extended spring training recovering from injury, and he joined the Ports in mid-April. The left-handed hitting catcher batted .328/.412/.446 in 52 games with Stockton, splitting time at DH and behind the plate with fellow prospect Max Stassi. Taylor did an excellent job controlling the strike-zone at the plate, walking 28 times against 29 strike-outs. He was promoted to Double-A in mid-July and spent the rest of the season with the Rockhounds.
Of the Ports who spent the entire season with the team, first-baseman A.J. Kirby-Jones led the way. The right-handed hitter rebounded from a disappointing season with Low-A Burlington in 2011 to post a strong .248/.382/.461 line in 115 games. He hit a team-best 21 homers and led the team in walks with 86 (the next closest player had 47). Kirby-Jones finished second in the Cal League in walks and tied for 11th in homeruns.
Stassi fought off an ankle injury early in the year and lost the final few weeks of the season to an oblique injury, but he was effective when he was healthy. The backstop from Yuba City, Calif., hit .268/.331/.468 in 314 at-bats (86 games). Those numbers were a significant improvement for Stassi over his last full season in 2010, when he hit .229/.310/.380 for Low-A Kane County. Stassi hit 15 homeruns and played well defensively for the Ports.
Outfielder Josh Whitaker missed most of August with an injury, but he was still one of the Ports' top offensive contributors. Whitaker fought off a slow start to finish with a .259/.325/.472 line in 99 games. Despite missing so much time with injury, Whitaker still finished second on the team with 20 homeruns and he was second on the team in stolen bases with 11. Strike-outs were Whitaker's biggest issue, as he whiffed 122 times, good for second-most on the team behind Dusty Robinson's 129.
Robinson was one of the Ports' top power hitters, but his contact issues dragged down his overall production. The outfielder out of Fresno State actually led all A's minor league hitters with 27 homers. Robinson hit nine in April with the Burlington Bees and then added 18 with Stockton. However, he walked only 33 times with the Ports and posted a .296 OBP. He also managed only a .231 average. If Robinson can improve his strike-zone judgment, he could move up the ranks in the A's system fairly quickly given his raw power. However, he has struggled with contact issues since college.
Infielder Tony Thompson and centerfielder Chad Oberacker put together solid full seasons with the Ports. Thompson suffered through an injury-plagued 2011 campaign. Although he missed three weeks in June and July, Thompson was healthy for most of the 2012 season. He posted a .276/.344/.442 line in 344 at-bats (94 games). The corner infielder hit 11 homeruns and was particularly good after the All-Star break, posting an 850 OPS.
Oberacker joined the Ports in early May after a sizzling April with the Burlington Bees. The centerfielder provided a stabilizing presence at the top of the Ports' batting order for much of the year. After hitting .317/.403/.524 with the Bees, Oberacker put together a .260/.326/.432 line in 107 games with the Ports. He stole a team-high 25 bases (in only 28 opportunities) and hit 13 homeruns. The long season may have worn on Oberacker, as he struggled in August. But it was an overall positive first full season for Oberacker, who also impressed with the glove.
After solid 2011 seasons with Stockton, infielder Michael Gilmartin and outfielder Myrio Richard returned to the Ports for a second season thanks to a backlog in prospects at their positions at the higher levels. Both players struggled during their second Stockton go-arounds. Gilmartin was a Cal League mid-season All-Star in 2011, but he posted a 699 OPS in 118 games in 2012. His poor numbers were mostly due to a bad first half, however, as he put up a .311/.397/.453 line after the break. Given his strong finish and his solid 2011 season, Gilmartin should be in the running for a spot in Double-A next spring.
Richard has had a tough time staying healthy during his professional career and that trend continued into 2012. He appeared in only 72 games for Stockton, missing half of May, all of June and most of July. Richard posted a .253/.317/.346 line, down from his .292/.363/.419 line in 2011. He stole only five bases in 2012 after swiping 27 in 2011.
B.A. Vollmuth, the first position player selected by the A's in 2011, joined the Ports at the start of the second half after spending the first half with Low-A Burlington. The third baseman posted almost identical lines with the two affiliates: .260/.337/.411 with the Bees and .261/.336/.398 with the Ports. He hit seven homeruns at each level and posted a 74:29 K:BB ratio with Burlington and a 70:27 K:BB ratio with the Ports. More is expected of the talented Vollmuth, who will look to cut down on his strike-outs in 2013. He could begin the 2013 back with Stockton, as the A's will likely look to keep Vollmuth and Head at different levels to give each regular playing time at third.
Infielder Ryan Pineda had a rollercoaster season. He began the year on the Ports' roster, was demoted to Low-A after struggling in April and May, and then excelled initially when he returned to the Ports in late June before struggling again in August. All told, Pineda posted a .249/.344/.384 line in 237 at-bats (71 games) with Stockton. A good sign for Pineda: even though he hit only .151 in 20 games in August, he walked 11 times and posted a .348 OBP for the month.
Shortstop Yordy Cabrera missed the first few weeks of the season with a back injury he sustained during spring training. That back injury would impact him all season, causing him to miss additional time during the year and dragging down his production to some extent. He appeared in only 60 games for Stockton and batted .232/.293/.332 with only three homeruns. Cabrera also struggled defensively, committing 23 errors. He struck-out 68 times against only 16 walks. Despite those poor numbers, Cabrera still impresses scouts with his raw talent. Traded to the Miami Marlins' organization as part of the three-team deal that sent Chris Young to Oakland, Cabrera will be looking to build off of his current Arizona Fall League experience next season.
After three seasons in the Midwest League, infielder Nino Leyja finally got an opportunity at the High-A level in 2012. Unfortunately for him, his season ended in mid-June. Before his injury, he batted .211/.278/.304 in 48 games. He struck-out 47 times and walked only 15 times in 161 at-bats. Leyja has struggled to recapture the form he displayed in Rookie ball in 2008, struggling with injuries and contact issues in the subsequent seasons. He is still young, however, having only turned 22 in early October.
Another young player who has continued to struggle since a big debut in the Arizona Rookie League in 2008 is outfielder Rashun Dixon. Dixon repeated in Stockton after posting a 696 OPS for the Ports in 2011. He struggled even more with Stockton in 2012, posting a 621 OPS in 30 games before he was sent down to Low-A Burlington, where he remained for the rest of the season. Like Leyja, despite his struggles, Dixon still has time to grow into his talents, as he just turned 22 in late August.
Outfielder Mitchell LeVier began the season on the restricted list after he was suspended at the end of last season for a second violation of baseball's substances of abuse policy. He joined the Ports in mid-June and played a reserve role for Stockton. LeVier appeared in 37 games, posting a .240/.291/.390 line with five homeruns. LeVier has hit 20 homers in 136 career games in the Cal League, but he has struggled to hit for average and get on-base consistently.
Ryan Ortiz was an unexpected contributor to the Ports in 2012. After batting .340 with Stockton in 2011 and putting up an 873 OPS for the Ports in 2010, Ortiz's Stockton days looked to be behind him. However, he struggled in Double-A at the end of the 2011 season and at the start of 2012. Midway through the 2012 campaign, the A's promoted Taylor to Midland and sent Ortiz back to Stockton, where he would spend the final 10 weeks of the year. Ortiz didn't match his 2010 or 2011 performances with the Ports, but he did post a 905 OPS in August after struggling the first few weeks after his demotion. Ortiz will need to fight his way back ahead of Stassi and Taylor in the A's catching depth chart next spring.
Note: Only pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched are considered for this article.
The Stockton staff battled injuries all season, but starter Josh Bowman was an iron man for the Ports. The right-hander threw a team-high 146.2 innings. Bowman had the best ERA of any Ports' starter and had the best K:BB ratio (better than 3:1 with 127 strike-outs and 33 walks). He got better as the season went on, as his K:BB ratio spread to better than 6:1 in June through August. Bowman finished the year with a spot start at Double-A and he should start the 2013 campaign with the Rockhounds.
Jake Brown finished second on the team in innings with 133.1. The left-hander was mostly a starter for Stockton, although he did make nine relief appearances. As a reliever, Brown posted a 2.74 ERA with 15 Ks and three walks in 23 innings. As a starter, he had a 5.55 ERA in 21 starts in 110.1 innings. Brown had good command as both a starter and a reliever (only 26 walks all year), but he induced more groundballs as a reliever and had a better K:BB ratio. Brown – who relies on mixing his off-speed pitches – has been mostly a starter during his minor league career, but he could be an intriguing prospect as a reliever given his command.
Sean Murphy joined the Ports' staff at the end of May after eight strong starts with Low-A Burlington. The 6'6'' right-hander made 19 starts for the Ports and had a 4.80 ERA with a strong 107:35 K:BB ratio in 108.2 innings. Cal League batters had a tough time hitting against Murphy, who held them to a .236 average. His biggest issue was homeruns, as he allowed 21. Murphy will compete for a spot at the Double-A level next spring.
Blake Treinen missed all of the month of July with arm soreness, but he was able to return in August as a reliever. He made 24 appearances for Stockton, 15 of those were starts. The 2011 seventh-round pick put together a solid first pro season. He had a 4.37 ERA with a 92:23 K:BB ratio in 103 innings pitched. A groundball pitcher, Treinen allowed three homeruns in his final start before going on the DL, but allowed only eight in the other 97.1 innings he pitched this season. If healthy, he should return to a starting role full-time in 2013.
T.J. Walz began the season in the Ports' rotation but wound-up spending most of the year as a reliever. The Kansas alum struck-out 112 and walked 36 in 99.2 innings. He had a 3.16 ERA and held opposing batters to a .226 average. He was consistently effective all season and should be in-line for a promotion to Double-A in 2013.
Ian Krol and Blake Hassebrock made the majority of the remaining starts. Krol, who missed most of the 2011 season, had an inconsistent season with the Ports. He had a solid 79:24 K:BB ratio, but he allowed an uncharacteristic 13 homeruns in 86.1 innings. He also allowed Cal League batters to hit .275 against him. Krol finished the year in the bullpen, but that was because he was nearing his innings limit. He spent the final few weeks of the season with the Rockhounds and, barring injury or major struggles during spring training, should start next year in Midland's rotation.
Hassebrock sustained a strained oblique and a strained hamstring in the same late April start. He missed the entire month of May and part of June recovering from the injuries and never got back on track after that. Hassebrock allowed 84 hits in 50.2 innings and he walked 20, leading to a 8.17 ERA. He struck-out 44 in those innings and still generated groundballs at a good clip, so some of his struggles were likely the result of bad luck. Hassebrock returned to Low-A for the final month of the season and made some progress getting back to his 2011 form. He made further improvements in Instructs and is a strong candidate for a rebound season in 2013.
Despite spending most of the season as a reliever, Nate Long still managed to accumulate 89.1 innings of work this season. The right-hander was hit hard by Cal League hitters. He allowed 121 hits and 14 homeruns. Long did improve his K:BB ratio this season and induced a lot of groundballs and his FIP was half a point lower than his ERA (4.63 to 5.14).
Connor Hoehn and Zach Thornton were workhorses out of the bullpen. Hoehn, in his second season with the Ports, posted a 5.86 ERA in 58.1 innings. The right-hander was uncharacteristically wild this season. He walked 40 after walking only 12 in 48.1 innings last season. Hoehn did strike-out 61, extending his run of seasons with more strike-outs than innings pitched. He has good stuff but will need to show much improved command to move out of High-A ball.
Thornton's ERA was 4.53, but his other numbers were far more impressive. The right-hander struck-out 70 in only 53.2 innings and allowed just five homeruns. He saved 16 games and induced 1.69 groundball outs for every flyball out. The Oregon alum is a strong candidate for Double-A next season.
A.J. Cole began the season as one of the better-known prospects on the Ports' roster. Acquired from the Washington Nationals during the off-season, Cole is one of the top pitching prospects in the A's organization. He got off to a rough start with Stockton, however. In eight starts, he allowed 60 hits in 38 innings and was stuck with a 7.82 ERA. Cole had a solid 3:1 K:BB ratio but he did allow seven homeruns. The A's sent Cole down to Low-A after those eight starts and he turned around his season with the Bees. He may skip High-A all together next season and go to Double-A if he puts together a good spring.
Pedro Vidal, A.J. Huttenlocker, Jeff Urlaub and Max Perlman contributed to the Ports' staff after joining the team halfway through the year. Vidal joined the team in mid-June and he posted a 37:7 K:BB ratio in 39.1 innings out of the bullpen. The right-hander held opposing batters to a .196 average.
Huttenlocker began the year in Double-A, but joined the Ports in late June. The left-hander had a solid 38:8 K:BB ratio in 38.1 innings, but the 11 homeruns he allowed left him with a 5.40 ERA.
Urlaub and Perlman joined the Ports' staff from Low-A Burlington, where they spent the first half of the season. The lefty Urlaub had a 3.86 ERA in 30.1 innings. He struck-out 31 and walked eight. Between Burlington and Stockton, Urlaub struck-out 58 and walked nine.
Perlman split his time in Stockton between the rotation and the bullpen, making nine relief appearances and five starts. He struggled in his first taste of High-A ball, posting an 8.18 ERA. His K:BB ratio was an uncharacteristic 24:16 and he gave up eight homeruns in 44 innings. He will likely get another shot at the Cal League in 2013.
Early in the season, Sean Doolittle was the Ports' best reliever. The former first baseman/outfielder made his official professional debut as a pitcher with the Ports in April. He zoomed through the Cal League, and after striking out 21 and walking only two in 10.1 innings, Doolittle was promoted to Double-A. It wouldn't take him long to reach the big leagues, where he became an elite set-up man.
Sean's brother Ryan joined the Ports' bullpen not long after Sean was promoted to Midland. Ryan was also dominant for the Ports, posting a 1.48 ERA in 24.1 innings. He struck-out 31 and walked only three. In eight appearances for Burlington to start the year, Ryan struck-out 12 and walked none in 9.2 innings. Unfortunately, Ryan's season would end in mid-June with elbow pain. He eventually would undergo Tommy John surgery and will be out for nine-to-12 months. The oft-injured younger Doolittle has been brilliant when he has been healthy throughout his career. In 146 career innings, Doolittle has struck-out 147 and has walked 18.
Jose Guzman was one of the stars of the 2011 Ports, as he saved 20 games for Stockton that season. He began the 2012 season back with Stockton thanks to a backlog of relievers at the higher levels of the A's system. The right-hander made 15 appearances for the Ports at the start of the year, posting a 2.82 ERA in 22.1 innings. He struck-out 21 and walked eight before being promoted to Double-A in mid-May.