After a disappointing 2012, the Stockton Ports have gotten off to a solid start early, playing better than .500 ball (17-14) through May 8th. The Ports sit three games behind San Jose and Visalia for the Northern division lead.
Their promising start can be connected to an offensive surge, as the team currently leads the league in homers (46, next closest is 33), is fourth in OBP (.338) and ranks third in overall runs scored (168). The production on the mound has been consistent as well. The Stockton staff has the second-most strikeouts (298) and sits in the middle of pack for walks and HRs allowed. Stockton is tied with San Jose for the third fewest hits allowed (253), also proving that Stockton has improved defensively after struggling badly in that area in 2012.
The headliner for this year's ballclub and the main attraction to draw scouts and fans alike out to Banner Island Ballpark was Addison Russell, Oakland's number one prospect and the 11th overall selection in the 2012 MLB Draft. However, Russell, the youngest player in major league spring training camp this season by almost 11 months, has struggled initially to find his footing in the Cal League. Batting a modest .184/.337/.303 through 95 PAs, Russell has struck out at an alarming 30.5% rate. But Russell's youth, potential and upside indicate that this stretch should soon pass, as the youngster still does have the eighth most walks in the league at 18 (18.9%), a healthy improvement so far over last year.
Comings and Goings
Stockton currently only has a lone member on the DL: David Mota. The hulking 265-pounder pitched entirely in Burlington last season and fared decently in 36.1 innings of work. Replacing Mota on the roster was Max Perlman, the Harvard alum that finished last year in Stockton.
Right-hander Andres Aliva, who initially began the season with the Ports after spending the last two seasons in the short-season leagues, has been demoted back to Beloit. In 20.1 IP for the Ports, he allowed 26 H, 21 ER (3 HR), 7 BB and he struck-out 19. Replacing Avila is Sergio Perez, an MiLB free agent signing this spring and former second-round choice in 2006 by Houston. Perez began the year with Double-A Midland, but he was injured during the first week of the season. After rehabbing at extended spring training, Perez was sent out to Stockton when there was an opening. Perez pitched in 75.2 innings for Oklahoma City last season, finishing with a 4.54 ERA while walking 37 and striking out 59.
The final transaction on the pitching front was for Sean Murphy, who received a promotion to Double-A after just three 2013 outings with the Ports. Deyvi Jimenez, who made a spot start for Stockton in a doubleheader last year, took Murphy's spot. The 2007 international free agent signee has a line of 13 IP, 15 H, 6 ER, 6 BB and 15 K so far in Stockton.
Mexican league free agent signing Antonio Lamas also joined the cast to replace Michael Fabiaschi. Lamas currently is tied for the team lead in hits (33) and boasts a .314/.368/.457 line through 114 PAs on the year thanks to an inflated .370 BABIP. Lamas was on the Ports' initial opening day roster, but he was held back in Arizona for a few days while the final details of his contract were approved by MLB.
Catcher Ryan Ortiz was sent to Sacramento last week to replace Luke Montz, who was promoted to Oakland. Oakland had their third 2012 draft selection reach Stockton in Philip Pohl. The 28th round pick, Clemson alum, and College World Series standout is well known for his Cooperstown ties, becoming the first draft selection out of the baseball mecca in 24 years. In his Cal League debut, he hit two singles and walked twice, getting on-base in all four trips to the plate.
Staff ace Drew Granier has not disappointed this season. The 2011 32nd round selection from Louisiana-Monroe has thus far kept up his pace from last season in which he ranked second in the organization in strikeouts (162) behind Dan Straily and topped all other A's pitchers in innings pitched (167.2). Granier has muscled his way through 39 IP in seven starts so far, allowing only two homers (both in his second start to San Jose) and ranking only behind Zach Neal for the organizational innings lead.
Most impressive have been Granier's strikeout totals. He has tallied up 50 thus far, tying him for the overall minor league lead with Arizona phenom, Archie Bradley. Granier also has two 10+ strikeout games in seven Cal League starts (Sean Murphy, Blake Treinen and Josh Bowman had only three 10+ strikeout games between them in a combined 59 Cal League starts last season). Despite the inflated walk rates, Granier's absurd K numbers and his unwillingness to give up the long ball will serve him well in the Cal League as he tries to follow the path paved for him by Straily only but a year ago.
First baseman Max Muncy joins Addison Russell as the only 2012 draft picks to start the year in Stockton, and he has taken full advantage. The power-hitting lefty and 5th round pickup from Baylor raised eyebrows in Midwest League action last season, hitting .275/.383/.432 all while amassing a 41:37 BB:K ratio. Muncy has continued to get on-base this year, and his .414 OBP ranks sixth overall for Oakland minor leaguers. But Muncy's power has been the real attraction, as he has crushed nine homers to take the organizational lead.
A surprising standout from the April/May stretch of the season has been Jake Brown, a Georgia Southern alum who spent all of 2012 in Stockton fluctuating inbetween rotation and bullpen duties. Brown has the most strikeouts without a walk in the organization with 25 strike-outs and no walks. Brown, who has recently usurped Blake Hassebrock's place in the rotation, has only allowed two homers on the year through 20.1 IP, giving him a 2.17 FIP on the season.