After Oakland A’s Low-A affiliates earned playoff appearances in three consecutive seasons between 2011 and 2013, the past two years have been pretty dreadful where team results are concerned. The Beloit Snappers wrapped up the 2015 campaign at home on Labor Day with a 4-3 victory over Quad Cities. The win ensured the A's Midwest League affiliate would finish with the same 55-84 record as last year’s club. The team slumped out of the gates in April and it struggled towards the finish line by losing its final four series of the season.
Under first-year skipper Fran Riordan, who joined the organization after a long run managing independent league ball clubs in various leagues, Beloit posted records of 26-44 and 29-40, respectively, in the first and second halves.
As the records would indicate, Beloit didn’t do much of anything particular well. Offensively, of the 16 teams in the Midwest League, the Snappers ranked 15th in average (.237), 15th in on-base percentage (.312), 11th in slugging (.354) and 10th in runs scored (568). Snappers' hitters struck out 1,173 times this season to rank third-highest and stole the least amount of bases (78) in the MWL.
Given the lack of high-level offensive prospects, those results didn’t come as a huge surprise. However, much was expected of the Beloit pitching staff which opened the year with four of Oakland’s top five 2014 draft picks in the starting rotation. That didn’t prevent the Snappers from ranking last in the league with a 4.72 ERA. The next-best team was Clinton, which posted a 4.31 ERA. Beloit also ranked last in WHIP (1.46) and shutouts (two), 12th in strikeouts (982), and allowed the most home runs in the league (99).
The Snappers enjoyed a hot start from leadoff man Brett Vertigan, who slashed .293/.421/.337 over 26 games before being promoted to Stockton. Riordan’s club never really recovered from Vertigan’s loss atop the batting order.
In the middle of the order, shortstop Yairo Munoz and first baseman Sandber Pimentel were a couple of prospects getting their feet wet in full-season ball for the first time. Munoz posted a line of .236/.278/.363 in 97 games before getting summoned to Stockton to play shortstop. The 20-year old native of the Dominican Republic hit nine homers and drove in 48 runs, but did most of his damage early in the season before a slump in June dropped his numbers considerably. He would recover to post terrific numbers during his August stint with the Ports.
Pimentel remained with Beloit for the entire season and slashed .243/.335/.380 in 117 games. He hit 13 homers and drove in 41 runs. After playing his past three seasons as a member of the A’s Dominican Summer League teams, Pimentel had his first taste of affiliated ball in the States. He showed above-average plate discipline, but seemed to wear down some during the dog days of summer. Still, given that this was his first experience playing during the regular season in the US, there was plenty for Pimentel to build off of going into next year.
Outfielder Joe Bennie and third baseman Jose Brizuela ranked among the team leaders on offense. Bennie finished the season on a tear and his slash line improved to .272/.363/.430. He hit 11 homers and drove in 56 runs while playing in 131 games. Following a short stint in Stockton to open the season, Brizuela settled in as the everyday third baseman for Beloit, slashing .270/.358/.446 over 109 games. Brizuela also homered 11 times and drove in 56 runs.
Raga posted a .278 batting average in 66 games, which ranked highest among all active players for the Snappers at the end of the season. After hitting just .157 in the first half of the season, Raga was nearly 200 points better in the second by slashing .355/.385/.464. The 21-year-old was playing above the Rookie ball level for the first time in his career. He struggled to throw out base-runners (21% caught stealing), but he had the highest fielding percentage of any of the Snappers' regular catchers.
On the flip side, Akau got off to a hot start upon his promotion to Beloit in early-July but struggled down the stretch. The Hawaiian catcher ended the 2015 campaign with a slash line of .252/.339/.367 across 41 games with the Snappers. The 20-year-old Akau connected on his first professional home runs this season (he hit one for Vermont and two for Beloit) and bested his previous career-best OPS by 300 points. Akau flashed a strong arm behind the plate, catching 31% of would-be base-stealers.
At the start of the season, Jose Chavez received much of the playing time behind the plate with Beloit. Chavez is still trying to find his way offensively, but he has been solid with the glove. He led all Beloit catchers with a 44% caught-stealing rate. Chavez would spend most of the final few months of the season with High-A Stockton.
Last year’s 13th-round draft pick out of Kentucky, Max Kuhn spent the entire season with the Snappers and played his best baseball in the second half. He posted averages of .281 and .301 respectively during the months of July and August, which helped him improve his overall slash line to .241/.320/.376. He finished the year with 10 homers and 29 doubles despite the slow start. Kuhn split his playing time between the corner outfield spots and first base after dabbling with the catcher position during last year's fall Instructional League.
Second baseman Trent Gilbert joined Munoz and Pimentel as position players from the Beloit roster to participate in the Midwest League's All-Star game. He hit .267/.305/.370 in 84 games with the Snappers before joining the Ports for the final six weeks of the season.
Outfielder Shawn Duinkerk spent most of the season with Beloit, save a stint at extended spring training and with Vermont mid-season. Duinkerk, playing his first season above Rookie ball, hit .228/.269/.318 with five homers. He walked only 11 times and struck-out 100 times. Outfielder Justin Higley also struggled to maintain a solid K:BB. He joined the team partway through the season after beginning the year with Stockton. Higley hit 10 homers in only 75 games, but he had an 87:35 K:BB and a .198/.293/.359 line. He did show his speed on the bases, swiping a team-best 21 bags in 26 chances. Higley finished the year with 14 homers and 25 stolen bases between the two A-ball levels.
The A's acquired Oakland native James Harris from the Tampa Bay Rays early in the season. After some time at extended spring training, he joined the Snappers and was a regular in the outfield for the rest of the year. In 302 at-bats, Harris had a .255/.359/.377 line and 23 extra-base hits. He struggled on the bases paths (11 stolen bases in 24 chances) but excelled defensively. He was rewarded for his solid season with a promotion to Triple-A for the final few games of the year.
Two members of the A's 2015 draft class joined the Snappers midway through the year. Shortstop Tim Proudfoot was the first to move to a full-season roster from the A's draft class. A defensive specialist, Proudfoot hit .208/.276/.253 in 49 games, but he impressed with the glove, spending time at short, second and third base.
Second-round pick Mikey White had a big first six weeks of his pro debut with the Vermont Lake Monsters, but he struggled at the plate after a jump to Low-A. In 35 games, he hit .200/.283/.262 with the Snappers.
Youngsters Robert Martinez and Edwin Diaz began the year on the Snappers' roster, but both were sent back to extended spring training after getting off to slow starts. Martinez hit .191 in 43 games and Diaz hit .100 in 45 games.
When Oakland’s minor leaguers broke camp in April, the organization sent Daniel Gossett, Brett Graves, Jordan Schwartz and Heath Fillmyer to Beloit. Each member of the foursome had been picked in the top five rounds of the 2014 draft out of the college ranks and came to Wisconsin with a great deal of fanfare.
However, all four got off to rocky starts and never really had any consistent success over the course of the season. A second-rounder out of Clemson, Gossett was particularly bad during the first two months of the season, but settled down in the second half to post a 4.73 ERA that was tops among the foursome. He pitched to a 5-13 record in 27 starts across 144.2 innings, posting a K:BB rate of 112:52. The 6’2” right-hander wrapped up his 2015 season by pitching five innings at Clinton and allowing two earned runs on three hits, striking out five and walking one.
A fifth-rounder out of Mercer County Community College, Fillmyer survived a disastrous start to his first full professional season. The right-hander lost all eight of his decisions and posted an 8.24 ERA in 10 appearances (nine starts) during the first half. But Fillmyer was perhaps the best of Beloit’s five starters down the stretch, as he pitched to a 2.85 ERA in 60 innings across 13 starts over the second half. Fillmyer will need to improve his control heading into next season, as his K:BB rate sat at 77:56 in 99.1 innings. With a mid-90s fastball and an effective slider, Fillmyer has arguably the best stuff of the pitchers on this year's Beloit staff.
Graves, a third-rounder out of Missouri, saw his season ERA balloon to 5.36 after a miserable end of the season in which he surrendered 11 earned runs on 20 hits in 10 September innings. Although Graves walked just 44 batters while striking out 91 in 142.2 innings, he become a lot more hittable as the season went on. In a bit of a statistical anomaly, Graves won a team-high 12 games despite ranking fourth out of five Beloit starters in ERA.
Schwartz made just eight starts and two relief appearances with Beloit before getting sent down to short-season Vermont. He would end the season in Arizona on a rehab assignment. The fourth-rounder out of Niagara posted a 9.08 ERA in 36.2 innings with the Snappers, striking out 35 and walking 27. Like Fillmyer, Schwartz has a big fastball, but Schwartz is still learning how to use it effectively.
Minor-league veterans Junior Mendez (4-11, 5.79 ERA) and Joey Wagman (8-4. 3.91) finished out their seasons in the Snapper rotation. Wagman, an East Bay native, was a reliever when he first joined the Snappers' roster, but he eventually became the team's most consistent starter. He walked 17 in 89.2 innings and he struck-out 75.
Among the standout relievers for Beloit this season was Koby Gauna, who flashed a devastating sinker on his way to a 1.55 ERA and five saves. The former Cal State-Fullerton right-hander induced a lot of groundballs, as evidenced by his 2.32 GO/AO average and 27:11 K:BB rate in 52 1/3 innings. Gauna missed the first half of the season while serving a suspension, but he could be on a fast-track next year in the A's system.
Carlos Navas and Jose Torres spent much of the year with Beloit before being summoned to Stockton in the final weeks. Navas posted a 2.61 ERA and 69:18 K:BB rate in 58.2 innings out of the bullpen, while Torres’ ERA sat at 2.69 through 73.2 innings. Torres also demonstrated great control and the ability to record strikeouts in bunches, as he posted an 80:23 K:BB rate. Torres' fastball was clocked as high as 96 MPH and he flashed an effective breaking ball.
Rob Huber (2-3, 3.02 ERA) and Kevin Johnson (2-7, 4.86 ERA) spent their entire seasons with Beloit. Huber struck-out more than a batter an inning (57 in 53.2 innings) and saved four games in six chances. Johnson served a long relief/occasional starter role in his first season back after Tommy John surgery. The former Illinois ace had a 54:27 K:BB in 79.2 innings.
It was a tale of two seasons for Mike Fagan, who had an ERA around 9.00 when he was sent back to Arizona in May. He returned in July after a stint at extended spring training and some time with Vermont, and he had a 3.28 ERA and a 28:8 K:BB in 24.2 innings. The left-hander will be a sleeper prospect heading into next season.
Lefty Cody Stull logged 68.1 innings for the Snappers in relief. He had a 60:23 K:BB and only four homers allowed, but Stull's ERA was 5.00 thanks to some bad luck.
Although he didn’t join the club until the final weeks of the season, converted catcher Ryan Gorton deserves mention after throwing six shutout innings across three relief appearances, striking out eight and walking just one.