The season couldn't have started much worse for Triple-A Sacramento. Manager Steve Scarsone's new club opened 2013 with a 2-6 homestand, struggling on defense and in the bullpen.
But immediately following the rough beginning, the team ripped off six-straight wins. Sacramento is currently riding a 10-4 wave that has catapulted the team back into first place in the Pacific Southern Division with a 17-13 record.
Offensively, the team is right on track, combining for an 853 OPS with 38 home runs in just 30 games. The usual suspects have gotten off to solid starts, including Michael Taylor (996 OPS), Daric Barton (946), Shane Peterson (907) and Grant Green (863).
Some new faces such as Stephen Vogt and Michael Choice have become cemented in the middle of Scarsone's lineup and have done quite well. Since coming from Tampa Bay in a trade in early April, Vogt has hit .394 with six homeruns and 20 RBI, giving him an OPS of 1139.
Choice has been the team's top run producer out of the cleanup spot, notching a team-leading 26 RBI in the club's first 30 games. His .302/.420/.528 slash line is encouraging, especially since the club's top outfield prospect broke his hand last July with Double-A Midland.
Aside from Sonny Gray and Dan Straily (who was recently called up by Oakland), the River Cats have struggled in the starting pitching department. Andrew Werner, Justin Thomas, Bruce Billings and Travis Banwart have combined for a 7.21 in 18 starts.
With Straily's promotion, Gray has become the stopper atop the rotation, going 3-1 with a 2.61 ERA in five starts. The right-hander threw a complete-game in his most recent start, allowing just a run on four hits in Fresno.
The middle of the team's infield has featured two former first-round draft selections that have switched positions. Jemile Weeks has become the team's regular shortstop while Green continues to work on his glove work at second base.
"The more reps I get there the more comfortable I'm feeling," Green said about learning the nuances of second base. "Definitely feeling a lot better than I did at the beginning of the year. Still a work in progress."
Green, the former shortstop-turned-outfielder, has gotten all but one start at second base – he made one start at first base on April 7. Green has continued to progress at the plate, improving his walk rate and becoming more selective. He has fared better away from Raley Field, with a .347/.411/.571 slash line in road games.
This time last year Green had spent just his first month in the Triple-A level and was still getting used his new surroundings. Now, knowing what to expect, Green is looking to take his offensive game to the next level while continuing to develop as a second baseman.
"I was kind of bright-eyed," he said. "This time I'm able to understand the pitchers a little better. The cities. It's a little bit more comfortable."
Green still has a long way to go to become a major league-caliber second baseman, but said he's making the strides in his footwork and finds that toughest adjustment is the short throw to first. As a shortstop and outfielder, nearly all of Green's throws were long.
"That short one tends to get a little hectic sometimes so I'm definitely working on that as well," he said.
Hideki Okajima (0-1, 2.40 ERA) and Dan Otero (0-0, 0.00 ERA, seven saves) have highlighted and otherwise underwhelming relief corps that's combined for a 5.30 ERA in 107 innings.
Comings and Goings
Since Yoenis Cespedes ended his major league rehab on April 25, the River Cats have made 14 transactions. Adam Rosales ended his rehab from his intercostal injury and returned to Oakland April 26, sending Andy Parrino back to Triple-A.
Straily was recalled April 29 to take the place of injured starter Brett Anderson, who wound up pitching in relief in the team's wild 19-inning affair against the Angels. But that start put Anderson on the disabled list, forcing Straily into the rotation for the time being.
The A's demoted Jesse Chavez back to Oakland after the right-hander struggled in his three appearances, allowing seven hits and three earned runs in 4 1/3 innings. Since rejoining the River Cats, Chavez has pitched well in his two starts, yielding just four earned runs in 11.2 innings.
After Coco Crisp suffered a hamstring injury in the 19-inning game last week, the A's called up catcher Luke Montz, who hit a homer in the A's series-clinching game in New York on Sunday, his first in the big leagues since 2008 with the Nationals.
After that same game against the Angels, Chris Young was shelved with a quad injury, giving Taylor his second shot at the major leagues in the young season. Taylor had a 6-for-13 stretch going before getting called up.
SS Hiroyuki Nakajim began his rehab stint with Sacramento on Friday, going 2-for-4 in his first and only appearances. Nakajima experienced some discomfort in his injured left hamstring and was sent back to Oakland for further evaluation before he'll make any more rehab appearances.
IF Scott Moore has caught fire in his last five games heading into Sunday, going 9-for-17 with his first two home runs of the season. Having split last season with the Houston Astros and Triple-A Oklahoma City, Moore came to the River Cats as one of the most experienced players on the roster and could be a player to watch if he maintains his recent production.
"At the beginning I think I was just trying to do too much," Moore said. "I just relaxed and kind of started taking what they were giving me. And it's worked out so far."
When Moore signed as a minor-league free agent, he considered the A's propensity to utilize minor league players, and thought the organization gave him the best opportunity to contribute on the major-league level.
"I gave that kind of stuff some thought, like, 'hey this could be a good place for me. They've used guys like me in the past.' Not just getting called up but actually using them," Moore said.
"We're winning, we're playing really well. If something crazy happens and I get that phone call, then great. But my focus is here."
Choice is having a very solid season to date, and has registered multi-hit games in his last three through Sunday, going seven for his last 12 and hitting two monster homeruns earlier in the week. Choice and Vogt both hold the team lead in homers with six.
Before going 0-for-4 on Sunday, Green had been hitting .355 in his previous 10 games, including a pair of home runs, giving him four on the season, which puts him on pace for more than 20 in a 144-game season in Triple-A.
"[Homeruns] are going to come," Green said. "When I start to grow into my body a little bit more – when I start to get the ‘old-man strength' as I like to call it. It will definitely come. Four in the first month, I'm happy with that. I hit a couple balls hard that were caught. There's only so much you can control."