If predicting is an art form, then I am drawing stick figures. Before the season, I made five predictions relating to the Oakland A's system -- specifically the pitching staff. Then, for good measure, I made a bonus prediction that would apply to the whole system.
So how did I do? Well, let's just say that no one will be confusing me with Patrick Jane anytime soon.
1) The Stockton Ports' pitching staff will finish among the top-two teams in Team ERA for the California League
The Stockton Ports began the season with a star-studded pitching staff, but ultimately that staff put together disappointing team numbers. On the Ports' Opening Day roster were top prospects A.J. Cole, Ian Krol, Blake Hassebrock, Arnold Leon, Sean Doolittle, T.J. Walz and Blake Treinen. The Ports began the year with a six-man rotation (Cole, Krol, Hassebrock, Josh Bowman, Treinen and Walz), but injuries felled those plans by late April. Cole struggled out of the gate and was sent back to Low-A (where he excelled) in late May. Krol had an uneven season and finished with an ERA of 5.21, while Hassebrock missed significant time with an oblique and a hamstring injury and had an inflated ERA (8.17) in 50.2 innings.
Overall, the Ports finished with a team ERA of 4.84, good for sixth-best in the 10-team California League. There were big expectations overall for the Ports in 2012, but the team as a whole struggled to win games on a consistent basis and finished the year with a disappointing 56-84 mark, good for last in the Cal League.
2) The Midland rotation will have at least two 10-game winners
The reasoning behind this prediction proved to be strong, even if the prediction itself fell short. The Rockhounds began the year with a talented starting rotation that featured 2011 first-round pick Sonny Gray, as well as two pitchers who had starred in A-ball in 2011: A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily. In addition, the Rockhounds' Opening Day bullpen had a number of veteran pitchers and it looked to be a team strength.
Griffin and Straily would each win more than 10 games in 2012 (14 for Griffin and 11 for Straily), but both pitchers were too good to stay in Midland long enough to accumulate those wins with the Rockhounds. In fact, both pitchers would spent significant amounts of time in Triple-A and in the major leagues. They were two of three pitchers from the Rockhounds' 2012 staff to factor in the A's 2012 major league staff, with reliever Sean Doolittle being the other.
As it turned out, right-hander Gary Daley, Jr. – who split his season between the rotation and the bullpen – would be the only Midland pitcher with 10 wins in 2012. Gray would finish with six wins, as would fellow rotation mates Shawn Haviland and Murphy Smith and swingman Carlos Hernandez.
3) A's will recall at least six pitchers from the Sacramento Opening Day roster during the season
So close, and yet so far away on this prediction. The A's promoted several pitchers who began the 2012 season in the minor leagues, but only five of those were on the Sacramento Opening Day roster: Jarrod Parker, Tyson Ross, Evan Scribner, Pedro Figueroa and Jim Miller. Others who began the year in the minor leagues who wound-up in the big leagues with Oakland were A.J. Griffin (Midland), Dan Straily (Midland), Sean Doolittle (Stockton), Pat Neshek (Baltimore Orioles' Triple-A affiliate), Travis Blackley (San Francisco Giants' Triple-A affiliate), Jeremy Accardo (Cleveland Indians' Triple-A affiliate) and Jesse Chavez (Toronto Blue Jays' Triple-A affiliate).
There were a few preseason candidates for a promotion to the big leagues who never received that call – Brad Peacock and veterans Erick Threets and Merkin Valdez in particular – that could have put this prediction over the top. Instead, we'll have to settle for a close, but no cigar on this one.
4) At least two A's minor league relievers will have 20 saves
In 2011, only Jose Guzman reached the 20-save mark in the A's system, but we were optimistic before the season that the A's would have at least two thanks to the new talent Oakland incorporated into the system during the off-season, especially on the pitching side. However, we fell short on this prediction as well. The A's finished with no relievers with more than 16 saves and only three with more than 10 (Zach Thornton – 16, Jonathan Ortiz – 15 and Jonathan Joseph – 12).
5) The A's will have four minor league pitchers with at least 150 strike-outs in 2012
In 2011, the A's had three pitchers break the 150 strike-out plateau – Dan Straily, A.J. Griffin and Rob Gilliam. Gilliam was traded in the off-season, but we felt Straily and Griffin had a strong chance of repeating their success in 2012 and that at least one other prospect would break that mark. We would come close on this prediction. Straily (190), Drew Granier (167) and Sean Murphy (159) would break the 150-strikeout plateau, while Brad Peacock (139) and A.J. Cole (133) would get reasonably close. Griffin would finish with 155 strike-outs, but only 91 of them came in the minor leagues.
Bonus Prediction about the Overall System: One of the A's affiliates will win a league championship in 2012
Even our bonus prediction fell short in 2012. We based this prediction on the theory that the 2012 season was going to track closely to the 2008 campaign, when the A's traded several major league veterans to bolster their minor league system. That minor league season was one of the best in recent A's history, as the Stockton Ports and Sacramento River Cats would take home titles and every full-season affiliate would finish with a better than .500 record.
The A's off-season preceding the 2012 campaign featured three major trades that brought in highly regarded minor league talent. However, the A's minor league affiliates did not find the same level of success that they did in 2008. The River Cats had a strong season and earned a post-season berth despite losing several key players to promotions. But the River Cats were unable to sustain that success into the post-season, falling in the first round to the eventual PCL champions, the Reno Aces. The Low-A Burlington Bees also made the post-season, but were unable to take home a title. The Stockton Ports and the Midland Rockhounds were left out of the post-season.
The affiliate that came closest to winning a league title was the A's Arizona League squad. The AZL A's were the best regular season team in the league by a large margin and they made it to winner-takes-all championship game against the Texas Rangers' AZL squad. Unfortunately, the AZL A's would fall short in that game, thus leaving us an embarrassing 0-for-6 on these predictions.