2014 Year In Review: Sacramento River Cats

A close look at the year that was for the Oakland A's Triple-A affiliate.

Overview

The Sacramento River Cats were one of the better teams in the Pacific Coast League for most of the season, but a late-season surge by the Reno Aces left Sacramento out of the playoffs. The River Cats had a chance to win their division as late as the last game of the season, but a heart-breaking extra-inning loss to Reno ensured that the River Cats would miss out on the playoffs for just the fourth time in Sacramento franchise history.

Although nothing has been officially announced as of the publish date of this article, the 2014 season is expected to be the last year for the River Cats as an Oakland A’s affiliate. The relationship ends after 15 seasons in Sacramento and one in Vancouver (when the River Cats were known as the Canadians). Sacramento is expected to be affiliated with the San Francisco Giants next season; the A’s are expected to sign-on with the Nashville Sounds for their Triple-A affiliation.

Despite missing out on the playoffs, the River Cats had a solid year in 2014. Manager Steve Scarsone, hitting coach Greg Sparks and pitching coach Rick Rodriguez led the team to the third-best overall record in the PCL. The River Cats finished in the bottom-third of the league in OPS (748), but they were third in the league in OBP (.359). Sacramento didn’t feature too many homerun hitters in 2014, as they were the only PCL team to finish the year with fewer than 100 homers (83). They were second in the league in walks and fifth in runs scored (745 or 5.17 runs per game).

Sacramento finished in the middle of the pack in team ERA (4.60). The bullpen was tied for third in the league in saves with 40. Sacramento was sixth in the league in strike-outs (1114 in 1286.1 innings) and had the fifth-fewest number of walks (465). As a staff, the River Cats tossed five shutouts and had one complete game.


Hitters

Note: Players with at least 80 at-bats for Sacramento were considered for this article

The leader of the pack offensively for Sacramento this season was outfielder Shane Peterson, who was a Pacific Coast League mid-season and post-season All-Star. Peterson moved around between center field and the corners and made two appearances at first base. He generally hit either first or third for Sacramento, often igniting a River Cats’ offense that was more reliant on stringing hits and base-runners together this year than in year’s past.

Peterson posted a .308/.381/.460 line in a team-high 543 official at-bats. He walked 66 times, drove-in 90 runs and scored 101 times. He finished in the league top-10 in batting average, RBI, runs scored, hits (led the league with 167), doubles (led the league with 40) and walks. He hit .299 or higher in every month except August and his lowest OPS by month was 778 in May.

Outfielder Nick Buss didn’t join the River Cats until May 6, when he was acquired by the A’s off waivers from the Dodgers. Buss still had a significant impact on the River Cats. He finished second in the PCL in hits with 162 (138 coming with Sacramento). Buss hit .308/.371/.380 in 110 games for Sacramento. He mostly hit at or near the top of the order and scored 79 runs and drove-in 52. Buss tied for the team lead in stolen bases with 14 (in 18 chances).

Utilityman Alden Carrithers also swiped 14 bags for Sacramento. He finished tied with Peterson for the team lead in on-base percentage with a .381 mark. Carrithers missed nearly the entire month of June with injury, but he was a sparkplug when he was in the line-up. The UCLA alum scored 60 runs and had a 55:45 BB:K. He also provided versatility, logging time at third base, all three outfield positions, shortstop and second base. He also tossed a scoreless inning in relief.

Infielder Jose Martinez also was a strong contributor to the River Cats’ offense. The former St. Louis Cardinals prospect posted a .276/.345/.372 line in 122 games for Sacramento. He split his time almost evenly between third and second base and saw some action at shortstop, as well. On a River Cats team that was light on power hitters, Martinez finished the year fourth on the team in homeruns with eight.

The team leader in homeruns was first baseman Nate Freiman, who split his season between Sacramento and Oakland. Freiman got off to a very slow start with Sacramento, hitting only .204 with one homer in April. However, he heated up quickly in May and June, batting better than .300 and slugging 13 homers. He would finish his time with the River Cats with a team-high 15 homers and a .284/.371/.506 line in 310 at-bats. Known for his ability to hit left-handers, Freiman actually hit right-handers significantly better (.304/.383/.545) than he did lefties (.233/.340/.407) while playing everyday with Sacramento.

When it wasn’t Freiman at first base for Sacramento, Daric Barton was most frequently the man at that position. Barton, who became the River Cats’ all-time hits leader in 2014, appeared in 85 games for Sacramento after beginning the season on the A’s 25-man roster. Barton, who played for the River Cats in every season from 2006-2014 except for 2010, has appeared in 543 games for Sacramento during his career. He has 537 hits as a member of the River Cats.

In 2014, Barton hit .261/.371/.411, which was his least productive season with Sacramento since his first in 2006. His career line with Sacramento is .272/.392/.421. Barton wasn’t added to the A’s 40-man roster this September and will be a free agent. After 10 seasons in the A’s organization, Barton may have appeared in his last game as a member of the Oakland A’s organization.

Another longtime member of the A’s organization headed to free agency is infielder Tyler Ladendorf. Ladendorf was one of the River Cats’ most productive players during the first half of the year. However, he was suspended for 50 games for violating minor league baseball’s drugs of abuse clause and missed much of June, all of July and much of August. He still finished with his best offensive season as a pro. The infielder hit .297/.376/.407 in 78 games. A wizard with the glove, Ladendorf spent most of his time this season at second and short, although he did make two appearances in the outfield.

Arguably the best defensive player on the River Cats was infielder Andy Parrino, who re-joined the A’s organization from Texas in late April after being claimed by the Rangers from Oakland during spring training. Parrino not only dazzled with the glove at short, he also had a solid season at the plate. In 90 games for the River Cats, Parrino hit .286/.363/.404 with seven homers and 57 runs scored. Parrino also stole seven bases in seven chances.

Outfielders Michael Taylor and Jake Goebbert were strong contributors to the River Cats early in the season, but both were traded midway through the year. Taylor, the River Cats’ hits leader before Barton took the crown, appeared in 59 games for Sacramento before being traded to the Chicago White Sox. He hit .243/.357/.385 for the River Cats, but heated up after the trade. In 64 games for Triple-A Charlotte, Taylor batted .306/.386/.489. That earned him a spot on the White Sox’s roster this September.

Goebbert was arguably the River Cats’ top hitter early in the season. He was dealt to the San Diego Padres along with pitcher Ronald Herrera for Kyle Blanks in mid-May. Goebbert left Sacramento with an 876 OPS and six homers in 31 games. He hit even better for Triple-A El Paso, posting a 996 OPS with eight homers in 48 games. Goebbert has spent the rest of the season in the big leagues with San Diego, where he currently has a .253/.330/.368 line in 87 MLB at-bats.

Early in the year, Stephen Vogt was expected to be the River Cats’ everyday catcher. However, an oblique injury sidelined Vogt for much of April, opening the door for Ryan Ortiz to get a lot of reps behind the plate. Ultimately, Vogt would appear in 15 games as a catcher for Sacramento (21 games in total) before being promoted to Oakland. He destroyed PCL pitching, hitting .364/.412/.606 in 88 at-bats. Vogt is currently sidelined with an ankle injury, but he was batting .303 with an 813 OPS for the A’s before the injury.

Ortiz logged a team-high 79 games behind the plate. The longtime A’s farmhand hit only .215, but he had a solid .362 OBP thanks to 52 walks in 247 official at-bats. Ortiz didn’t hit for much power (13 extra-base hits), however. Behind the plate, he caught 15 of 81 attempted base-stealers and had a .995 fielding percentage.

Fellow 2009 draft class member Anthony Aliotti had two separate stints with the River Cats this season. He began the year on the River Cats’ Opening Day roster, but April struggles led to a demotion to Double-A. After hitting well for the River Cats for two months, Aliotti returned to Sacramento and hit much better. After the All-Star break, the East Bay native posted a .290/.369/.374 line in 131 at-bats. He finished his season with Sacramento with a .259/.349/.354 line in 243 at-bats. In many ways, Aliotti was a typical Sacramento hitter this year -- not a lot of power, but a tough out.

Outfielder Billy Burns had the odd distinction of making his major league debut before he made his Triple-A debut. The speedy switch-hitter spent most of the minor league season with Double-A Midland, but he was recalled to Oakland at the end of July when Craig Gentry and Coco Crisp went down with injuries. Once the A’s acquired Sam Fuld a few days later, Burns was optioned back to the minors, but he was sent to Sacramento rather than Midland. He would rack-up 109 at-bats with the River Cats before joining the A’s in September. Burns struggled badly out of the gate with Sacramento, but he had 10 hits in his last 28 at-bats for Sacramento. Burns was three-for-four in stolen base attempts with the River Cats.

Infielder Jake Elmore missed most of the first 10 weeks of the season with a strained quad. Once healthy, he was another tough out in the River Cats’ line-up, posting a .282 average with a .374 OBP. The A’s designated Elmore for assignment in late July and he was claimed off waivers by the Cincinnati Reds. After batting .279 with a .379 OBP in 25 games for Triple-A Louisville, Elmore joined the Reds in September.

With so many of the River Cats’ infielders battling injuries or moving on to different teams, infielder Colin Walsh wound-up spending a significant amount of the season with Sacramento. Walsh was signed to a minor league free agent deal by the A’s in April after Addison Russell was injured. Walsh was initially set to fill Russell’s spot in Midland, but he was then needed in Sacramento. He would also spend a week in Stockton. In total, Walsh played 47 games for Sacramento, 25 for Midland and six for Stockton. With the River Cats, Walsh posted a .273 average and a .363 OBP. He walked 19 times. Walsh was a super-utilityman for Sacramento. He pitched in two games, and he saw time at second and third, as well as left and right fields.

Outfielder Kent Matthes struggled during his time with Sacramento, posting just a 566 OPS in 101 at-bats. He was demoted to Midland in early May. That proved a fortuitous move for the RockHounds, as Matthes played a significant role in Midland’s Texas League title. He hit 15 homers for the RockHounds during the regular season.

Josh Whitaker spent the first half of the season with Midland, but he earned a mid-season promotion to Sacramento after batting .320 with an 890 OPS in 51 games for the RockHounds. Unfortunately, Whitaker’s first stint with Sacramento was cut short by injury. He appeared in just 22 games for the River Cats during the second half of the season. He homered three times but posted a 687 OPS. His injury came at a bad time, as Whitaker was riding a five-game hitting streak when he was injured.


Pitchers

Note: Pitchers with at least 40 innings for Sacramento were considered for this article

During the A’s tenure in Sacramento, the River Cats frequently had standout starting pitching staffs. In 2014, the River Cats’ starting rotation wasn’t particularly strong but the bullpen was outstanding.

The bullpen was led by Evan Scribner and Jeremy McBryde. Both pitchers served as the Sacramento closer at various points during the year. McBryde finished with 17 saves, while Scribner saved 16. McBryde was extremely difficult to hit in 2014. He allowed just 40 hits in 65 innings. He walked 26, but he struck-out 66 and allowed just four homeruns.

Scribner rode the I-80 shuttle between Oakland and Sacramento frequently this season, but he was still in Triple-A long enough to toss 47 innings. The off-speed specialist posted an incredible 72:9 K:BB and his WHIP was 1.02.

The pitcher with the lowest WHIP on the Sacramento staff was RHP Paul Smyth, who had a breakout campaign for the River Cats in 2014. The sidearmer allowed just 43 hits and 14 walks in 59 innings. He had a 3.05 ERA and he was a mid-season PCL All-Star. The Northern California native could get some time with the A’s in big league camp next spring.

After missing all of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, RHP Fernando Rodriguez returned to the mound during a regular season game with Sacramento in April. He would spend much of the year with the River Cats, although he did see some time with the A’s. Rodriguez had a stellar 1.97 ERA and he showed good command despite having the surgery last year. He had a 53:16 K:BB in 45.2 innings and he allowed just two homeruns.

Veterans Philip Humber and Joe Savery gave the River Cats length and experience in the bullpen. Humber made 44 appearances (39 in relief) and tossed 69 innings. He had a 3.65 ERA. Humber allowed a lot of baserunners (1.35 WHIP), but he struck-out nearly a batter an inning (68).

Savery made 43 appearances in the bullpen, accumulating 44.1 innings pitched. He had a solid first season in the A’s organization, posting a 2.84 ERA and a 45:17 K:BB. Savery allowed just four homeruns and lefties hit just .216 against him. Savery was designated for assignment by the A’s on September 1, so he will be a free agent this winter.

The River Cats’ starting rotation featured several different players during the 2014 season. Right-hander Arnold Leon led the team with 27 starts and 145 innings. He was the only starter to remain in the River Cats’ rotation all season. Leon had an up-and-down season. He had a number of excellent starts, but he was also vulnerable to the blow-up start when he would allow a lot of runs in just a few innings. His walk total (51) was a little higher than his career average, but he struck-out nearly eight batters per nine innings pitched (128). Depending on what moves the A’s make this off-season, Leon could be in play for a long relief role with Oakland next spring.

Right-hander Matt Buschmann had a similar season to Leon. At times, he was nearly unhittable, but he also had several starts when he allowed a lot of runs early. Buschmann missed time with injury in April and had two rehab starts with Stockton, but he still finished second on the River Cats with 22 starts and 133.1 innings pitched. He had a 4.52 ERA and a 123:49 K:BB in his first season in the A’s organization.

Right-hander Zach Neal began the year with Midland, but he was so dominant for the RockHounds that he earned an early season promotion to Sacramento. Neal isn’t flashy, but he really knows how to pitch and that showed during his time with the River Cats. He posted a 4.07 ERA in 119 innings pitched. Although he struck-out just 80, he walked only 19. Neal did allow 137 hits, but he was generally one of the most reliable members of the River Cats’ rotation this season.

A freak injury kept Josh Lindblom out for much of the second half of the season. Acquired by the A’s from the Texas Rangers over the off-season, Lindblom made one spot start for Oakland early in the season. With Sacramento, he made 16 starts before being struck on the ankle with a line-drive in the first inning of his July 1 start. He returned on August 31st and made one relief appearance. In total, Lindblom posted a 5.79 ERA in 84 innings with Sacramento. Lindblom struck-out 60 and walked 29. He was prone to the longball, allowing 10 homeruns.

Dan Straily began the year in the A’s rotation, but he had trouble with his command with the A’s and lost his rotation spot in early May to Drew Pomeranz. Straily would remain with Sacramento until he was traded to the Chicago Cubs on July 5. Straily’s struggles with his command have continued with the Cubs. He allowed nine homers in 63 innings with Sacramento and seven in 55 innings with the Iowa Cubs. Straily has the stuff to be an above-average major league starter, but he has made a lot of mistakes up in the strike-zone this season. If he can re-capture the command he had in 2012, he should find success once again in the big leagues.

Left-hander Drew Pomeranz began the year with the A's and he looked destined to stay with the A's all year before he broke his non-pitching hand punching a chair on June 16. By the time Pomeranz recovered from that injury, his spot in the A's rotation had been taken by Jason Hammel. Pomeranz made eight starts for the River Cats before he returned to the A's in late August. In those eight starts, he had a 3.69 ERA and a 54:17 K:BB in 46.1 innings. Pomeranz is likely to figure prominently in the A's starting rotation plans next season. He has a 2.53 ERA in 64 MLB innings this season.

Acquired by the A’s via a waiver claim in early April, Marcus Walden made 11 starts for Sacramento before he was sent down to Midland, where he would help the RockHounds win a title out of the bullpen. With Sacramento, Walden had a 5.73 ERA in 59.2 innings. He walked 27 and struck-out 34. An extreme groundball pitcher, Walden had a 1.76 GO/AO with Sacramento. His GO/AO with Midland was 2.90.


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