Last year at this time, Nolan Sanburn was in Arizona, fighting to get back on the mound after suffering a shoulder injury during spring training. This year, Sanburn is pitching in the Cal League with the Stockton Ports and is already making a strong bid to move up to the next level.
Selected in the second round of the 2012 draft by the Oakland A's, Sanburn made a strong first impression with his new club in 2012 by striking out 19 in 18.2 innings in a limited role with the short-season Vermont Lake Monsters. Sanburn continued to shine during the A's fall Instructional League that year and he looked poised for big things in 2013 when the shoulder injury stopped his progress cold.
Sanburn spent the entire first half of the season at extended spring training, slowly working his shoulder back to full health. After two appearances with the A's Rookie League team in Arizona, Sanburn spent the rest of the 2013 season in the bullpen of the Low-A Beloit Snappers. Although Sanburn's numbers were encouraging (1.38 ERA in 26 innings with Beloit), it was still a disappointing season for the right-hander because he wasn't able to pitch a full season.
This spring, Sanburn was determined not to let history repeat itself. He arrived in Phoenix for the A's spring mini-camp and remained healthy and on-track for the entire spring. Assigned to High-A Stockton at the start of the season, Sanburn is ready to pitch without restrictions.
"[Being healthy at the start of the year] was something I was for sure looking forward to," Sanburn said just before the start of the Ports' 2014 regular season. "I wasn't counting down the days, or anything, but I told the guys, every day after I pitch, I'm just thankful to be healthy. I always try to better myself every outing and every day. I'm just thankful to be here and to be healthy."
Sanburn starred for Arkansas for two seasons. Arkansas reached the College World Series finals during his last season with the Razorbacks. Sanburn had a 2.43 ERA and 49 strike-outs in 40.2 innings that year. The right-hander believes that his time pitching in the highly competitive SEC was good training for pitching professionally.
"College is a little bit different animal because it is more team-oriented," Sanburn said. "In the minors, it's more about going out there and doing your best and if the team wins, yay, but if not, you aren't going to lose sleep over it. I definitely believe it prepared me for professional baseball mentally because the SEC is such a strong conference."
Sanburn was mostly a reliever with the Razorbacks, although he did make four starts in 2012. When the A's selected him 74th overall, the original plan was to try him out as a starter. Sanburn started all seven games he appeared in with Vermont in 2012, although he was on a tight pitch- and innings-count. Last season, with the time missed due to injury, Sanburn pitched exclusively in relief, generally in outings no more than two innings long. The A's had Sanburn start during their fall Instructional League, but this spring they decided he would move more quickly through the system as a reliever.
Sanburn is off to a good start in his role in the back-end of the Ports' bullpen. He has already saved two games in two appearances. In four total innings, Sanburn has yet to allow a walk and has given up just two hits. He has struck-out five. Sanburn is content with the move to the bullpen.
"I have always been [comfortable] with whatever is best for the team. I think being a reliever is a good opportunity for me, but at the same time, if Ryan [Christenson, Ports manager] wanted me to start, I'd be fine with that, too," Sanburn said.
"Whatever it takes to help the team win. I feel like [relieving] is a role that I have a chance to excel at and it's going to help the team be better. This is an opportunity for me to move up and get a chance to play in Oakland one day."
Sanburn is a rare reliever with a four-pitch arsenal – a mid-90s fastball, a power curveball, a change-up and a slider. He feels comfortable throwing all four, but Sanburn believes he still has work to do to in regards to executing his fastball location and throwing his curveball more consistently for strikes. He plans to use all four pitches even though he will be throwing in shorter stints.
"I think basically I'm going to go out there and throw the kitchen sink in one inning instead of trying to string it out more," Sanburn said. "I'm going to out there and do my best whether I'm starting or relieving. I don't think the mentality is any different. I'm just trying to get everybody out."
RockHounds Rock Travelers
The Midland Rockhounds brought out the big lumber on Tuesday, as they cruised to a 20-8 win over the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. It was the second start of the season for Drew Granier, who was on the wrong end of a 20-7 decision in his first outing. He didn't end up qualifying for the win, but he pitched well, allowing a run on six hits and a walk in four innings. He struck-out three.
The offense was the story for Midland, however. They pounded Jason Adams and the Naturals pitching staff for 23 hits and eight walks. Two of those hits left the park, as Josh Whitaker and Max Muncy each homered. Muncy had six RBI in the game. Whitaker had four hits and four RBI, while Miles Head, Beau Taylor and Conner Crumbliss each had three hits. Billy Burns reached base three times and stole his fifth base of the season. He also scored from second on a sacrifice fly by D'Arby Myers. Myers himself had two stolen bases and he drove-in three.
Herrera and Stalcup Stifle Silver Hawks
In their first appearances of the season, Ronald Herrera and Matt Stalcup combined to smother the South Bend Silver Hawks in a 5-1 win. Herrera allowed a run on five hits in six innings. He didn't walk a batter and he struck-out six in his full-season affiliate debut. The only run he allowed was a solo homerun. Stalcup finished off the game with a brilliant three-inning outing. He struck-out six, walked none and allowed just one hit.
River Cats Drop One Late
The River Cats mounted several comeback rallies on Tuesday night, but their last one fell just short in a 7-6 loss to the Las Vegas 51s. The River Cats were down 3-0 in the top of the third when Sacramento used back-to-back doubles by Shane Peterson and Stephen Vogt to tie the game.
Las Vegas jumped ahead in the fifth with two runs, but Sacramento clawed back to tie it with single runs in the sixth and seventh. Philip Humber wasn't able to hold the tie, allowing two runs in the bottom of the seventh. Sacramento scored a run in the eighth, but they were unable to scratch across another run.
Peterson and Vogt led the way with two hits and two RBI a piece. Alden Carrithers also had a double. Craig Gentry, in another rehab appearance, had a hit and a walk in four official at-bats. Arnold Leon allowed three runs on four hits and one walk in four innings in his second start of the season. Fernando Nieve allowed two runs (one earned) in two innings and Humber allowed two runs in two innings. He earned the loss.
Ports Drop A Heart-Breaker
Up four runs in the bottom of the ninth, the Stockton Ports were unable to close out a win against the Bakersfield Blaze. Michael Ynoa allowed four runs in the bottom of the ninth (three earned) and the Ports eventually lost in the bottom of the 12th, 10-9. Jonathan Joseph tossed two scoreless innings in relief of Ynoa, but he was touched for the winning run in the ninth when he walked the bases loaded and then allowed a walk-off sacrifice fly.
The Ports had plenty of offense in the game. Billy McKinney (3), Daniel Robertson (1) and Matt Olson (1) each homered, while Renato Nunez doubled twice and Robertson, Chad Pinder and Bobby Crocker each added a double. Robertson had three hits and he is batting .480 on the early season.
Josh Bowman got the start and he allowed three runs in five inning. He didn't walk a batter and he struck-out one. Kris Hall allowed a two-run homer in 1.2 innings of work. Jeremy Barfield threw a scoreless inning before things unraveled for the Ports' bullpen late. Ynoa got the final out in the eighth, but he couldn't find the strike-zone in the ninth. He allowed three hits, walked three and threw two wild pitches in the ninth. Ynoa also had to pitch around a missed catch error by Crocker.