The Stockton Ports’ season didn’t end the way anyone expected, but the first-round post-season exit shouldn’t minimize the accomplishments of the Oakland A’s High-A affiliate in 2014.
Led by Cal League Manager of the Year Ryan Christenson, pitching coach John Wasdin and hitting coach Brian McArn, the Ports were the A’s best minor league affiliate during the regular season. The Ports finished the season with the best record in the California League at 85-55. They were the Cal League’s Northern Division second-half champions and finished second in the division in the first half.
Cal League rules give the first-half division champs (and not the team with the best overall record) a first-round bye, and that rule cost the Ports in the post-season. Stockton dropped the first two games of a best-of-three series to the wildcard Visalia Rawhide, losing out on a chance to take home the Ports’ first Cal League title since 2008. Still, the Ports left their mark on the Cal League in 2014.
Despite competing against teams with much more offensive-friendly ballparks, the Ports finished tied for third in the league in team OPS with an 805 mark. Stockton was third in OBP (.354), third in slugging (.451) and fourth in runs scored (761). Thanks in part to league-leader Matt Olson, the Ports were second in homeruns (174). The Ports also finished second in walks.
The Ports’ pitching staff didn’t feature a lot of high-profile prospects in the starting rotation, but that didn’t stop Stockton from leading the Cal League in team ERA with a 4.08 mark. Wasdin earned the Cal League’s “Coach of the Year” award for his work with the Stockton staff. Stockton hurlers led the league in strike-outs (1254 in 1264 innings), fewest hits allowed (1216) and were tied for second in team shutouts (8). The Ports also led the league in WHIP (1.33) and they allowed the fewest runs and earned runs.
There were several post-season award winners on the Stockton roster. First-baseman Matt Olson, third baseman Renato Nunez and starting pitcher Seth Streich each earned Cal League post-season honors to go along with Christenson and Wasdin.
Note: Players with at least 100 at-bats were considered for this article.
Not since Chris Carter suited up for Stockton in 2008 have the Ports had a power threat like Matt Olson in the line-up. The sweet-swinging left-handed hitter finished just two homers short of Carter’s franchise record (39), but Olson still led the Cal League in homeruns with his 37 blasts. He also led the league with 117 walks and his .404 OBP was third-best in the league. That is all despite the fact that opposing teams often used a shift against Olson, something rarely seen in the minor leagues. Those shifts robbed him of several more hits during the season.
Olson had a solid first full season in 2013 with the Beloit Snappers, but he improved his approach at the plate in 2014. His K-rate dipped significantly and his BB-rate had an even more dramatic rise. Olson struggled badly versus left-handers in 2013 (.180/.267/.346), but he handled them just fine in 2014 (.252/.406/.489). Olson also improved as the season went on, hitting .233/.384/.465 during the first half and .388/.422/.614 during the second half. Olson batted .313 with seven homers and 23 walks in August, a sign that his chase for Carter’s team record did not negatively impact his approach. One other stat A’s fans will appreciate: Olson had a 988 OPS with runners in scoring position and two outs. Defensively, Olson provided value with the glove at first base and even saw a little time in the outfield, a project that will likely continue as he rises through the ranks in order to give him more versatility when he reaches the big leagues.
Olson wasn’t the only Ports’ infielder to have a standout season. In fact, an argument can be made that each position in the Ports’ infield was filled by the top prospect at that position in the A’s organization. Across the diamond at third base was Renato Nunez, who finished second on the Ports with 29 homers. The native of Venezuela improved his slash line from .258/.301/.423 in 2013 with Beloit to .279/.336/.517 in 2014. Nunez has the most power of any right-handed hitter in the A’s organization and he showed the ability to reach well beyond the fences to all fields this season.
Although Nunez is still refining his approach at the plate, he showed a better understanding of the strike-zone this season. He increased his walk rate while cutting down his strike-outs. Nunez can pull the ball with the best of them, but he showed the ability to go the other way this year when the situation called for it. Nunez struggled in August as he chased that 30-homer plateau, but he still drove-in 20 and hit .261 during the month. Defensively, Nunez cut his error total in half compared to 2013, but he still has a lot of work to do at third base. His body may end up being better suited for first base, but the A’s will continue to give him looks at third as long as he shows improvement.
A’s 2013 third-round pick Ryon Healy split time with Olson and Nunez at the two corner spots and filled the DH role when both Olson and Nunez were in the field. While his numbers may have paled in some respects to those put up by Olson and Nunez, Healy was certainly no slouch in his first full professional season. The Oregon alum overcame a nightmare month of April when he hit .185 to finish the season with a .285/.318/.428 line. He hit 16 homers and drove-in 83. In speaking with those who were around the Ports all season, they were quick to point out that Healy was even better than those numbers would indicate. He made arguably the most consistent hard contact of any player on the roster. Healy doesn’t walk a lot, but he showed excellent bat control and was able to barrel the ball consistently. He had only 79 strike-outs in 561 at-bats for Stockton – a low total for a power hitter in the Cal League. Defensively, Healy has more recent experience at first base than he does at third, but he held his own at third this season and could stick there. His arm is strong and he showed soft hands. At first, Healy was above-average. He didn’t commit an error in 34 games there and showed good instincts around the bag.
When it comes to instincts on the diamond, perhaps no player in the A’s system has better instincts than shortstop Daniel Robertson. Arguably the MVP of the team despite not making the Cal League post-season All-Star team (all-world Dodgers’ prospect Corey Seager got the nod at shortstop), Robertson had an outstanding season at the plate and in the field in 2014. At the plate, Robertson led the Ports in hitting with a .310 average. He led all Cal League batters in hits with 170 (that was also the top total in the A’s system). He was second on the team in walks with 72 and posted a .310/.402/.471 line with 15 homers, 37 doubles and 110 runs scored.
Numbers don’t quite capture Robertson’s value as a player, however. He was the engine that started the Stockton offense for much of the year, seeing a lot of pitches in the first and second spots in the order. On the field, he was a stabilizing force up the middle, showing above-average range and a strong arm at short. After missing time while recovering from knee surgery in 2013, Robertson was healthy all year and was a leader on and off the field for Stockton.
Robertson’s double-play partner for much of the year was second baseman Chad Pinder. Like Healy, Pinder spent his first full professional season at the High-A level, and, like Healy, he acquitted himself well. Pinder missed nearly 50 games with a variety of injuries and he was never really healthy all season (he had an MRI on his wrist following the end of the season), but he still hit .288/.336/.489 with 13 homers and 32 doubles in 403 official at-bats. An excellent athlete, Pinder was a shortstop and third baseman in college, but he learned second base on the fly in 2014. He was error-prone early in the season, but by the end of the year, Pinder looked very comfortable at second. He also saw some time at short and third and should be fine at both of those positions should he need to move back to those spots in the future. Pinder is a bit of a free-swinger, but he has a good, up-the-middle approach. His legs were a bit banged up early in the year, but he was seven-for-eight in stolen base attempts in August and should be more of a factor on the bases in the future.
When Pinder or Robertson weren’t available, veteran Wade Kirkland saw most of the Ports’ reps at shortstop or second base. Kirkland returned to Stockton after spending the entire 2013 season with the club. The versatile middle infielder hit .241/.288/.377 with four homers and six stolen bases in 74 games with Stockton in 2014. For the second straight year, Kirland also made an appearance on the mound, tossing two scoreless innings. He appeared in three games as a pitcher in 2013 and allowed a run in 3.1 innings.
Centerfielder Bobby Crocker was another returning member of the Ports and he put together a second straight solid season for Stockton. The Cal-Poly alum stole a team-high 31 bases (in 37 chances) and connected on 11 homers in 120 games. Crocker continued to struggle to keep his strike-out totals low, but he did lower his K-rate from his 2013 levels. Crocker had a mediocre first half, but he excelled during the second half, batting .283/.362/.451 in 233 at-bats. With several A’s Double-A and Triple-A outfielders entering free agency years, Crocker should finally reach Double-A next season.
During much of the first half of the season, Crocker shared time in the outfield with Billy McKinney, Dusty Robinson and Aaron Shipman. However, none of those three were a factor for Stockton during the second half. McKinney was traded on July 5th, Robinson was released in late June and Shipman battled an oblique injury that limited him to just 11 second-half games.
Before being traded to the Chicago Cubs, McKinney was opening eyes in the Cal League. The A’s top pick in 2013 had little trouble adapting to the league despite being 19 at the time (he turned 20 in August). In 75 games, McKinney hit .241/.330/.400 with 10 homers and 36 walks. He excelled with the Cubs after the trade, batting .301/.390/.432 in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League.
Robinson spent parts of three seasons (2011, 2012 and 2013) on the Stockton roster. A clubhouse and fan favorite, Robinson showed some power during his tenure with the Ports, but he struggled to keep his strike-outs down and his average up. At the time of his release, he was batting .230/.301/.397 with 68 strike-outs and eight homers in 66 games. The Fresno State alum spent the rest of the season with Rockford and Fargo-Moorhead in the independent leagues. He hit .244/.309/.437 with those two teams in 58 games.
Shipman was in the middle of a breakout season when he landed on the DL in mid-July. The A’s third-round pick in 2010 has been plagued with injuries during his brief professional career. His career-high in games played is 108, which came in 2012. In 2014, he managed just 58 games played, although there is no question that he had his most productive season to date. Shipman has always had an excellent sense of the strike-zone, but he was almost too passive at the plate, letting hittable pitches pass him by while looking for the walk. Shipman added more aggressiveness in 2013 with good results and that continued in 2014. For the Ports, he hit .292/.414/.410 with 13 stolen bases in 15 attempts. Shipman is an excellent defensive outfielder. If he can put together a fully healthy year next season, he should see time in Double-A.
Three outfielders who began the year with Low-A Beloit took over most of the outfield at-bats during the second half of the season. Jaycob Brugman appeared in 50 games with the Ports and had 195 at-bats. Brugman experienced a big power surge with Stockton. At one point, he homered six times in five games and 11 times in the month of August. In total, Brugman had 13 homers for Stockton and 21 overall for the season. The BYU alum also hit for average with the Ports (.282) and played a solid right field, flashing an above-average throwing arm.
The other two – Tyler Marincov and Boog Powell – each accumulated just 60 and 61 at-bats for the Ports. Powell joined Stockton after an All-Star first half with the Snappers, but he was suspended not long after joining the team for violating baseball’s policy on amphetamines. Powell hit .377 in those 61 at-bats for the Ports. Marincov had a strong season with Beloit and that continued with Stockton, when he hit .317/.377/.533 in 60 at-bats.
Stockton had several players share time behind the plate this season. At the start of the year, Bruce Maxwell had the majority of the at-bats. The A’s 2012 second-round pick had a 729 OPS with the Ports in his first stint with Stockton, which came during the second half of the 2013 season. This year, Maxwell had a .273/.365/.381 line with six homers in 289 at-bats. Maxwell was promoted to Midland shortly after he appeared in the mid-season Cal League-Carolina League All-Star game. Maxwell struggled at the plate with Midland, but it was an overall positive season for him. Maxwell improved his defense in 2014, throwing out 37% of would-be base-stealers and building a strong rapport with his pitching staff.
Oregon State alum Ryan Gorton served as the Stockton back-up catcher for most of the season. He didn’t hit much, but Gorton provided a solid glove behind the plate. The 2012 31st-round pick has future coach or manager written all over him.
When Maxwell was promoted, the A’s sent catcher Beau Taylor back to Stockton from Midland to take Maxwell’s place. Taylor hit .328 for the Ports in 2012, but he had struggled with the bat since being promoted to Midland midway through that 2012 season. He hit .239 for the RockHounds this year, but Taylor found his stroke again quickly when he returned to Stockton. In 32 games, Taylor hit .333/.435/.553 in 114 at-bats. He also added two hits and two walks for Stockton in the post-season. Taylor is an excellent defensive catcher, so if he can find a way to hit well at Double-A (and beyond), he could still have a big league future.
USF alum Ryan Lipkin battled injuries all season and managed just 32 at-bats for the Ports. The backstop had only 61 at-bats all season, appearing in games for Stockton, Midland and Sacramento. Lipkin hit .344 for Stockton.
Note: Pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched were considered for this article
The Stockton Ports began the year with a starting line-up and bullpen filled with high-profile A’s prospects, but their starting rotation was relatively anonymous. Right-hander Seth Streich changed that perception during the season, although a devastating late-year injury has left his 2015 season in doubt.
Streich, the A’s sixth-round pick in 2012, pitched well for Low-A Beloit in 2013, but a strained elbow kept him from pitching the final month of the year. Streich was healthy by spring training and he got off to a fast start for the Ports. He posted a 2.36 ERA in April and never looked back. In 15 starts for Stockton, Streich posted a 3.16 ERA. He struck-out 116 and walked just 22 in 114 innings. Streich was a member of the Cal League’s mid-season All-Star team, and despite missing the final five weeks of the season, Streich still was named to the Cal League’s post-season All-Star team. Unfortunately, Streich’s injury was a serious one, as he had inflammation of both his labrum and his rotator cuff. At the moment, Streich is attempting to rehab the injuries without surgery. When healthy, Streich is arguably the A’s top starting pitching prospect, but shoulder injuries are always tricky.
Right-hander Josh Bowman led the Ports in innings pitched with 130.2. Bowman had an up-and-down season and finished with a 5.03 ERA. He walked only 36, but he struck-out just 89 and allowed 143 hits (23 of which were homers). Bowman has pitched in Stockton for parts of the last three seasons.
Left-hander Chris Lamb began the year in the Low-A Beloit bullpen, but he was a revelation for the Ports as a starter. Lamb had a 2.77 ERA in 26 innings for the Snappers before his promotion and a 3.21 ERA in 103.2 innings for the Ports. Lamb struck-out 100 and walked 36. He made Cal League history on August 24 when he struck-out 10 batters in a row. He finished that start with 17 Ks. The Berkeley High alum flashed a fastball that touched 94 MPH, a darting slider and 12-to-6 curveball. Lamb has always had good stuff, but he made some adjustments with his mechanics going into this season, quieting his delivery. Those changes added some deception and allowed him to command his pitches better. He should get a chance to start in Midland next year.
The A’s selected right-hander Tim Atherton during the minor league Rule 5 draft, and he spent most of the 2014 season with the Ports. The native of Australia made 15 starts for the Ports before landing on the disabled list in early July. He had a 5.04 ERA and a 67:26 K:BB in 81.1 innings. Atherton’s season highlight came on April 25, when he carried a perfect game into the eighth inning.
Right-handers Hunter Adkins and Jake Sanchez were the only other Ports’ starters with more than 10 starts. Adkins began the year with the Ports and had a 5.74 ERA in 12 appearances (11 starts) before he was sent back to Beloit. Adkins had a 37:27 K:BB and he allowed 10 homeruns.
Sanchez was acquired by the A’s mid-season in the deal that sent Michael Taylor to the White Sox. A former independent league star, Sanchez posted a 2.87 ERA in 81.2 innings at the Rookie-ball level in 2013. He began the year in Low-A with the White Sox, but the A’s had no hesitation about moving him up a level after the trade. He acquitted himself well with the Ports, posting a 3.42 ERA in 12 starts (71 innings). Sanchez struck-out 72 and walked just 17. Not a hard thrower, Sanchez relies on locating his pitches to succeed. After striking out 138 in 132 innings at the A-ball level this year, Sanchez could be poised to pitch in Double-A next season.
Manny Correa (8), Dylan Covey (8) and Tim Alderson (7) made the majority of the remaining starts for Stockton. Correa had a 5.40 ERA in 36.2 innings before landing on the disabled list in mid-May. He missed the rest of the year. Covey, one of the A’s top pitching prospects, had an up-and-down start to his season with Beloit and that continued with Stockton. He was effective at times for the Ports, but he was also hit around more than one would expect for a pitcher with his caliber of stuff. Covey has a devastating hard sinker, a sharp curveball and the ability to hit 95 with his fastball. The A’s are hopeful that he is able to put it together in 2015.
Alderson signed with the A’s on a minor league free agent deal after he was released mid-season by the Baltimore Orioles. The former San Francisco Giants first-round pick was once one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, but he ran into a wall at the upper levels once he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Alderson made seven starts and one long relief appearance for the Ports, posting a 4.11 ERA and a 42:12 K:BB in 46 innings.
Joseph, in his second full season with Stockton, made 37 appearances for the Ports (34 in relief and three starts). The right-hander was a reliable arm out of the bullpen, posting a 3.58 ERA and a 72:38 K:BB in 78 innings. Cal League hitters batted just .236 against him and he allowed just five homers. Joseph was a minor league free agent last season but he re-signed with the A’s. He will be a free agent again this winter.
Sanburn was a relief ace all season for the Ports. The A’s 2012 second-round pick appeared in 42 games for the Ports. He recorded six saves and had a 3.28 ERA in 71.1 innings. The hard-throwing Sanburn can reach the high-90s with his fastball and he used that and his sharp breaking ball to record 73 strike-outs. The Indiana native was traded to the Chicago White Sox on August 31 in exchange for DH Adam Dunn. Sanburn will be one of the White Sox’s top relief prospects going into next year.
House served as the Ports’ closer for most of the season, leading the team with 19 saves. He had an outstanding year, striking out 79 in just 54.2 innings pitched. He walked 19 and allowed just 47 hits. House has an above-average change-up and a sinking fastball that sits in the low-90s. He will compete in the Arizona Fall League and is one of the A’s top relief prospects.
Hall was a workhorse for the Ports. He made 40 appearances and logged a career-high 56.2 innings. His ERA was 4.29, but he struck-out more than 12 per nine innings (77). Walks were an issue for Hall (38), but he improved his command as the season wore on. If Hall can continue to pound the strike-zone this spring, he should have a shot of moving up to Double-A.
Dominican natives Omar Duran and Michael Ynoa each racked up more than 45 innings for the Ports out of the bullpen. Duran had a breakthrough season, finally reaching Double-A after six-plus seasons at the short-season and full-season A-ball levels. The hard-throwing left-hander has always had a plus fastball and an effective slider, but he has struggled to command his pitches. Although Duran was still wild at times, he was much more consistent about throwing strikes in 2014 than at any other point in his career. With Stockton, he posted a 2.35 ERA and he struck-out 61 in 46 innings. He walked just 22, the best walk-rate of his career. Duran pitched for Midland during the final month of the season and had a 3.14 ERA in 14.1 innings. He is a minor league free agent this off-season, but given his improvement this year, the A’s could make a push to re-sign him.
Ynoa had a strange year for Stockton. He made a career-high 31 appearances, but he also had two DL stints with arm injuries that appeared serious when he left games with injuries but turned out not to be anything more than soreness/inflamation. Then during the playoffs, he left his only appearance against Visalia with a strained oblique. In between, Ynoa flashed elite stuff at times, but he also struggled with his command. Ynoa’s ERA was 5.52. He struck-out 64 in 45.2 innings, but he walked 21 and allowed five homers. Generally, Ynoa was either lights-out or he had a blow-up inning. Ynoa’s fastball was regularly clocked between 97-101 MPH and one gun even had him at 102 at one point. His slider was at 88-91. If Ynoa can find some consistency next season, he could jump up several levels quickly. He will be in his final option year in 2015.
Right-hander Andres Avila spent the first half of the season with Low-A Beloit, and he earned a spot in the Midwest League All-Star game after saving eight games and posting a 2.67 ERA for Beloit. Avila was similarly effective for Stockton. The native of Mexico had a 3.00 ERA and a 41:11 K:BB in 36 innings. Avila had a 9.30 ERA as a starter for Stockton in 2013, but he has looked like a different pitcher since moving into the bullpen. He should remain in that role in 2015.
A change in roles was in order for Jeremy Barfield at the start of the year. The outfielder started a conversion to the mound late last year, but he didn’t make his regular season pitching debut until April with the Ports. Barfield showed good stuff, but he never warmed to being a pitcher. He was a good solider, working hard at improving every day. However, after posting a 4.63 ERA in 35 innings, he requested a return to the outfield and the A’s obliged. Barfield spent the rest of the season with Double-A Midland, where he helped the RockHounds win a Texas League title as an outfielder.