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A look back at the 2015 Stockton Ports

The 2015 Stockton Ports were a mix of high profile prospects and gritty over-achievers. The result was a team that reached the post-season and won 74 games.

Overview

For a second straight year, the Stockton Ports had a roster highlighted by some of the Oakland A’s top prospects. While the Ports’ 2015 roster wasn’t filled with as many highly rated prospects as the 2014 squad, Stockton still had plenty of talent.

The team also showed lots of resolve, as the club overcame injuries to key players throughout the year to earn a Wild Card spot and post a 74-66 overall record. Stockton’s season would end in heartbreaking fashion with a 15-inning lost in Game Three of the Wild Card series. Nonetheless, it was an excellent season for the Stockton nine.

The Ports had several standouts on offense, but the team overall finished sixth out of 10 teams in OPS (707). The Ports were fifth in the league in homers (100) and sixth in runs scored. Stockton showed good plate discipline as a team, finishing third in the league in walks (433) and struck-out the least in the league (1,068). The Ports were also efficient on the base-paths, swiping 113 bases in 148 attempts.

Stockton’s pitching staff was solid all season. The Ports were second in the league in team ERA with a 3.72 mark. Their bullpen was particularly good and they were second in the league in saves with 42. The Ports allowed the third-most homeruns (124), but they minimized the damage, in part, by walking the second-fewest batters (364). The Ports didn’t strike-out a lot of batters, but they took advantage of a strong team defense to post the best team WHIP (1.02).

Hitters

Only hitters with at least 100 at-bats were considered for this article

Going into the season, there were two headline prospects projected to be on the Stockton roster: shortstop Franklin Barreto and third baseman Matt Chapman. The Ports had to wait a month for Barreto to heat up at the plate and six weeks for Chapman to join them after a knee injury suffered during spring training. Once the two got going, however, they were a force to be reckoned with.

Barreto was the key prospect in the package the A’s received from the Toronto Blue Jays for Josh Donaldson. The native of Venezuela missed much of spring training while he attended to a family matter. Despite not having a full spring, Barreto jumped from short-season to High-A as a 19-year-old. He was the youngest player in the California League, and, for the first month of the season, it looked as though the jump was going to overwhelm him. In 19 April games, Barreto hit .171/.205/.243.

Once the calendar turned to May, Barreto suddenly began to show exactly why he was so highly regarded. He hit .326/.375/.533 in May and never looked back. Barreto hit .299/.315/.460 in June and then exploded in July, posting a .375/.393/.700 with six homers in 19 games before a wrist injury stopped him in his tracks. Barreto would miss all of August, but he returned for the final week of the season. In two games, he naturally collected four hits in nine at-bats, including a homerun. Barreto finished the year with a .302/.333/.500 line with 13 homers in 90 games. Defensively, Barreto struggled with consistency at short, and he had 34 errors. He still is young enough to grow as a defender, but his bat may necessitate a position change as his bat will likely be big league ready well before his glove. Barreto has the athleticism for second base or centerfield and should be fine at either spot should that be where he ends up.

Chapman also had a truncated season because of injury, but he was a prolific power hitter when he was healthy. The A’s 2014 top pick was remarkably consistent for the first two months he was active. He posted a .247/.330/.508 with five homers in 21 games in May and then hit .245/.333/.551 with seven homers in 25 games in June. Like Barreto, Chapman took off in July. In 29 games, he hit .280/.376/.673 with 10 homers. He looked poised to zoom past the 30-homer plateau when a wrist injury landed him on the DL, as well. Chapman would return at the same time at Barreto, but he suffered a set-back with his wrist injury and wasn’t able to participate in the Ports’ post-season.

When the A’s drafted Chapman, he was considered the best defensive third baseman in college baseball. He lived up to those expectations with Stockton. He committed 19 errors, but Chapman made spectacular play after spectacular play. His glove should be ready for the big leagues as soon as his bat is. Assuming his wrist injury is healed, Chapman will get to continue his season in the Arizona Fall League.

Finishing second on the team in homers was outfielder Tyler Marincov, who spent the entire season with Stockton after joining the team late in the 2014 season. Marincov led the team with 521 at-bats and posted a .257/.320/.409 line with 14 homers and 14 stolen bases. Strike-outs were an issue for Marincov, who K’d 140 times, eighth-most in the Cal League. He led the team in doubles (29) and was third in walks (44). The right-handed hitting Marincov struggled against righties, but he dominated lefties, posting a .319/.393/.588 line with seven homers in 119 official at-bats. He was the Ports’ regular right fielder, playing 126 games at the position (and one game in left).

Fellow outfielder B.J. Boyd had a disappointing 2014 season, but he rebounded nicely in 2015 with the Ports. The South Bay native finished second on the team in at-bats and posted a .277/.344/.389 line with 33 extra-base hits and a career-high 18 stolen bases. Boyd cut his strike-out rate down from his 2014 levels and was generally a tougher out, working deeper into counts. His energy level on the field was significant better, as well. Boyd has shown in the past that he can hit for more power than he did in 2015. If he can add back that power while maintaining his 2015 approach and his improved base-running, he could take a significant step up the prospect ranks in 2016. He has the speed to play center, but with Brett Vertigan holding down that spot for the Ports for much of the year, Boyd spent most of his season in left field.

The aforementioned Vertigan began the season with Low-A Beloit, but he had a significant impact on the Ports once he joined the team in early May. Vertigan struggled in July, but he was otherwise a very consistent presence for the Ports at the top of their batting order. The speedy Vertigan swiped 24 bags in 32 chances and collected 23 doubles and seven triples. He was the best bunter on the Ports’ roster, using that skill as a weapon both to get on-base and to advance other runners. He finished his first season at the High-A level with a .286/.352/.394 line. Vertigan also covered a significant amount of real estate in centerfield. After missing nearly all of 2014 with injuries, Vertigan’s 2015 was one of the best comeback stories within the A’s system.

Justin Higley and J.P. Sportman got the bulk of the remaining playing time in the Ports’ outfield. Higley, a Sacramento native, began the year as a regular for Stockton, but he was sent back to Low-A Beloit after struggling out of the gate. He hit .220/.271/.379 with four homers and a 10:53 BB:K in 37 games with the Ports.

Sportman came into the season riding a wave of momentum after an impressive spring training that included some big hits in big league games. He got off to an excellent start before injuring his wrist in late April. He would eventually land on the DL with the injury and he missed most of the rest of the season. His rehab included a couple of set-backs when he returned to the field, only to experience pain again in the wrist. The good news was that Sportman finished the season on the Ports’ active roster and was an injury replacement for the Midland RockHounds during the Texas League finals. Sportman finished his 2015 season with a .292/.335/.435 line in 38 games with the Ports. He had 13 extra-base hits and stole seven bases in eight chances. Assuming he is healthy next year, Sportman will be a player to watch in 2016.

With the exception of a handful of innings, the Ports’ first base spot was held down by the combination of John Nogowski and Michael Soto. The two employed contrasting styles at the plate, with Nogowski being one of the top contact hitters on the team and Soto looking to swing for the fences.

Nogowski, a rare left-handed thrower and right-handed hitter, spent his first full season as a pro at the High-A level. The Florida State alum more than held his own, proving to be one of the best defensive first basemen in the league and hitting for average (.274) while doing a good job of getting on-base (.352). He posted a strong BB:K (39:47) and was generally a pain for opposing pitchers to face. Nogowski, in many ways, epitomized the 2015 Ports as a team. He may not have been on the Ports’ Opening Day roster had Chapman not gotten hurt in spring training. However, he exceeded expectations and was an integral part of the team’s success. Nogowski will need to hit for more power to reach the big leagues because of his position, but his approach and his defensive abilities are both assets to his club.

Coming off of a solid – but truncated – 2014 season, Soto was expected to take a leap forward in 2015. Instead, he struggled to maintain a consistent approach at the plate, resulting in an ugly 113:27 K:BB in 114 games. He did match a career-high with nine homeruns and he collected 23 doubles. Soto increased his versatility this season by spending a significant amount of time playing third base for the first time since the 2010 season. To continue to move up in the A’s system, Soto will need to get back to the approach that was so effective for him in Low-A in 2014.

Like Chapman and Nogowski, 2014 seventh-round pick Branden Cogswell spent his first full professional season at the High-A level. The Virginia alum was a shortstop in college but he spent a significant amount of time at second base while Barreto handled the shortstop position. Cogswell hit only .235 for the Ports, but he led the team with 56 walks. He struck-out 108 times in 118 games, however, and posted a .303 SLG. The A’s have been working with Cogswell since he was drafted to revamp his swing to try to get more power behind it. He continues to be a work-in-progress. Defensively, he did fine with the switch to second base and will be a solid option at either second or short moving forward.

Melvin Mercedes showed plenty of versatility with the Ports this season. Like Vertigan, Mercedes began the season in Low-A, but he earned a promotion to Stockton in early May. He filled a number of roles for the Ports, playing games at short, third, second and even the outfield. Offensively, Mercedes got off to a red-hot start with Stockton but struggled as the season went on. He finished the year with a .248/.317/.301 line in 80 games. Mercedes had a solid BB:K (27:45) and he stole 11 bases in 13 chances. A switch-hitter, Mercedes was significantly better hitting from the right-side, posting a .308/.415/.404 line.

When Barreto landed on the DL with the wrist injury in late July, the A’s promoted Yairo Munoz from Low-A Beloit to take Barreto’s place. Munoz, in his first year in a full-season league, got off to a great start with the Snappers but was in the middle of a two-month swoon when the A’s jumped him up to Stockton. The change in levels may have been all Munoz needed to get going, as he was a significant factor in the Ports’ late-season push to the playoffs. In 150 at-bats, Munoz hit .320/.372/.480 with four homers and 11 walks. He also played well defensively at short. Munoz is a special talent and, while he still has some fine-tuning to do (especially with his approach at the plate), he will enter 2016 as one of the A’s top prospects.

At the start of the season, Beau Taylor and Nick Rickles formed the Ports’ catching tandem. Both Taylor and Rickles would finish the year at higher levels, and mid-season acquisition Jacob Nottingham assumed the role of everyday catcher for the Ports down-the-stretch.

Taylor returned to Stockton for his third tour through the California year. He had his worst season at the plate for the Ports, putting up a 638 OPS in 68 games. Taylor was very solid defensively, however. He threw out 49% of would-be base-stealers.  His bat picked up when he moved to Midland late in the year.

Rickles returned to the field after missing all of the 2014 season thanks to an injury to his throwing shoulder that required surgery. He hit .227/.231/.359 in 34 games with the Ports. Rickles throwing and receiving appeared unaffected by his injury. He threw out 46% of would-be base-stealers.

Nottingham was one of two highly regarded prospects the A’s received from the Houston Astros in the Scott Kazmir deal. The 20-year-old was in the middle of a breakout season with Houston when he was traded. He had an OPS well above 900 at the time of the deal. Nottingham’s bat cooled off some after the trade, but he still put up solid offensive numbers for a catcher (.299/.352/.409 in 164 official at-bats). Nottingham is built like an NFL safety and has the athleticism to be a uniquely productive catcher on both sides of the ball. His bat is ahead of his defense, but he showed a strong arm with Stockton (36% caught-stealing rate). He will enter next season as one of the A’s top prospects.

Pitchers

Only pitchers with at least 30 innings were considered for this article

The Ports’ pitching staff saw a lot of changes throughout the year, but one consistent presence was right-hander Dylan Covey, who anchored the Stockton staff. Covey led the team with a career-high 140.1 innings. He finished third in the Cal League in ERA with a 3.59 mark. Covey, once again, posted remarkable groundball numbers. Of the balls hit into play against him, Covey got 60% of those balls hit on the ground. Covey was the only Ports’ representative on the mid-season Cal League All-Star team.

Covey’s strike-out numbers still are lower than one would expect given the quality of his fastball, but he struck-out more than a batter an inning over his last six starts of the season. He also walked only seven in those 30.2 innings, and he will look to carry that momentum into next season. Covey also showed his toughness this year. He was struck in the jaw by a line drive and suffered a significant contusion, but he was back on the mound after missing just one start.

Right-hander Kyle Finnegan was the only other member of the Ports’ staff to maintain a regular turn in the rotation throughout the season. Finnegan had a 5.44 ERA in a career-high 127.1 innings. Despite the high ERA, Finnegan had some positives come out of this season. He improved his walk and strike-out rates over his 2014 campaign and he had a solid groundball rate.

For the first half of the season, left-hander Dillon Overton was the Ports’ number two starter behind Covey. Overton had Tommy John surgery in July 2013, so the A’s were cautious with him throughout the season. He never threw more than five innings in any start. While that could be frustrating to watch when Overton was in the middle of a dominating start, the strategy kept Overton healthy and in the rotation all season. Before a mid-season promotion to Double-A Midland, Overton had a 3.82 ERA in 61.1 innings for Stockton. He struck-out 59, walked only 12 and had only four outings (out of 14) where he allowed more than two runs. Remove his worst start of the season (a 2 IP, 7 ER outing), Overton had a 2.88 ERA for the Ports.

Around the time of Overton’s promotion, lefty Matt Stalcup moved from the Ports’ bullpen to the starting rotation. Stalcup proved a worthy replacement for Overton, as he posted a 2.75 ERA and a 62:21 K:BB in 68.2 innings as a starter. Stalcup added another solid start in the post-season, allowing just a run in five innings against the San Jose Giants. He struck-out six and walked two in that game. As a reliever, Stalcup’s ERA was 4.87 and he walked 10 in 20.1 innings. He is likely to be a full-time starter next season.

Joel Seddon also found himself going back-and-forth between a starter’s and a reliever’s role with the Ports. In his first full professional season, Seddon jumped to High-A. He began the year as a long reliever, moved into the rotation and then went back into the bullpen once his innings total started to creep up past 100 innings. All told, he finished with a 3.59 ERA in 105.1 innings. He struck-out 85 and walked just 17 while allowing only 11 homeruns. Seddon’s numbers were almost identical as a starter and as a reliever. It isn’t clear yet what role he is ultimately best suited for, but he has proven he can compete at a high level in either role despite not having an overpowering fastball.

Lou Trivino also split his time between the rotation and the bullpen. He made nine starts and 23 relief appearances, many of them multi-inning outings. Trivino was the Ports only 10-game winner, and he finished with a 3.91 ERA in 89.2 innings. Trivino was very difficult to hit. Opposing batters hit only .216 against him and he struck-out 78. His command got him in trouble at times, however, as he walked 44. A groundball pitcher, he allowed only four homeruns and had a 1.24 GO/AO.

Like Overton, Raul Alcantara was on a strict innings limit in 2015. The right-hander missed virtually all of the 2014 season after injuring his elbow in April and undergoing Tommy John surgery. Alcantara joined the Ports in June and he made 15 starts. He accumulated only 48.2 innings pitched, but he remained healthy throughout the year. Alcantara’s ERA was 3.88. He didn’t strike-out many (29), but he showed good command (8 BB) and his velocity returned to the pre-surgery mid-90s levels. He should be ready for a more regular workload in 2016.

Right around the trade deadline, the A’s acquired two talented right-handed starters and both Daniel Mengden and Casey Meisner were placed in the Stockton rotation to finish out the season. Mengden was already in the California League at the time of his trade from the Astros to the A’s. He made eight starts for Stockton during the regular season and then earned the Ports only post-season win. Mengden’s ERA was 4.25 over 42.1 regular season innings with the Ports, although he pitched better than that number would suggest. He struck-out 41, walked only 10 and held opposing batters to a .234 average. Mengden was basically brilliant against everyone but Visalia, against whom he allowed 14 runs in 12.1 innings.

Meisner came over to the A’s from the Mets in the Tyler Clippard deal. The 20-year-old right-hander had been pitching in the Florida State League at the time of the deal. Meisner got off to a bit of a slow start with the Ports after the trade, but he was brilliant over his final four starts. He allowed just two runs in 20 innings. He struck-out 19 and he walked none over that stretch. Overall, Meisner posted a 2.78 ERA with a 24:7 K:BB in 32.1 innings for Stockton. The A’s shut Meisner down before the post-season and he finished his first season in a full-season league with 143.1 innings pitched.

The Ports’ bullpen was outstanding all season and was led for much of the year by closer Brendan McCurry. He led the team with 21 saves before earning a promotion to Double-A at the end of July. In 46.1 innings with Stockton, he had a 1.94 ERA and a 56:11 K:BB. He blew only one save all year and that came in April. McCurry allowed six earned runs over his first 7.1 innings and then allowed just four earned runs over his final 39 innings with Stockton. McCurry could be in the big leagues with the A’s sometime next year.

After McCurry’s promotion, right-hander Corey Walter took over as the team’s closer. Stockton didn’t miss a beat with Walter, who had an outstanding year from start to finish. In 57 innings, he had a 1.42 ERA. Cal League batters hit only .197 against him and he had a 46:15 K:BB. Walter allowed just one homerun, the first of his pro career. His super-sinker produced a lot of groundballs, as more than 61% of the balls put in play against him were hit on the ground.

Ben Bracewell also played a significant role for the Ports in the back-end of their bullpen. The right-hander was an undrafted free agent signing by the A’s last season, but he pitched like he was a top-10 round pick. In 56 innings, he had a 2.89 ERA and a 54:12 K:BB. Opponents hit just .223 against him and he did an excellent job keeping the ball on the ground.

Sam Bragg also put together an outstanding season in the Stockton bullpen. He struck-out 92 in 74 innings and held opposing batters to a .231 average. Bragg’s ERA was 3.65. He was especially good during the second half of the season, during which he had a 2.85 ERA and a 51:7 K:BB in 41 innings. He was equally good against righties and lefties.

In his second season as a pitcher, Sam Roberts put together a solid season in the Stockton bullpen. The former infielder had a 3.65 ERA in 69 innings. His K:BB was mediocre (47:31), but he induced groundballs on more than 50% of balls hit into play.

Right-hander Trevor Bayless began the year with Low-A Beloit, but a hot start to the season quickly earned him a promotion to Stockton. Bayless’ ERA before the All-Star break was 3.72 and after the break it was 4.71, but Bayless’ peripheral numbers were roughly the same in both halves. He finished with a 4.31 ERA and a 45:21 K:BB in 48 innings with Stockton. Bayless joined Triple-A Nashville for the final week of the season and impressed with six shutout innings. He allowed one hit, three walks and he struck-out 11.


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