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The Oakland A's first season with Beloit as its Midwest League affiliate was a smashing success, as the team advanced to the playoffs with a young and talented nucleus of players. However, that memorable 2013 campaign seems like ages ago as the Snappers have endured back-to-back lackluster seasons. The A’s hope to get their Low-A affiliate back on track in year four with Beloit with another young nucleus that includes 14 picks from the 2015 amateur draft.
A veteran manager from the independent leagues and Frontier League Hall of Famer, Fran Riordan returns to Beloit for his second season at the helm of an affiliated club. He will be flanked by a pair of coaches new to Beloit in longtime A's minor league pitching coach Don Schulze and former AZL A's hitting coach Juan Dilone.
Schulze returns to the Low-A level after spending last year in Nashville. He has also spent four seasons with Double-A Midland, High-A Stockton, the AZL A's, and Low-A Kane County. Dilone is also a veteran in the Oakland organization, as he has been the hitting coach for the A's Arizona Rookie League affiliate, High-A Visalia, and short-season Vancouver. Dilone also spent four seasons as an A’s instructor in the Dominican Republic.
The Snappers open the 2016 season at home on Thursday night with a brief two-game series against Wisconsin, before returning the favor with a two-gamer at the Timber Rattlers. Beloit will then hit the road to Clinton for a three-game series.
Thanks in large part to the return of A’s minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson to the organization, the Snappers will go back to a tandem-starter system instead of having the standard starting rotation it did to open last season. The starters in the tandem will be in four pairs of two and alternate who starts and who relieves during their respective turns in the rotation.
The eight starters pegged in the tandem roles are Evan Manarino, Xavier Altamirano, Kyle Friedrichs, Boomer Biegalski, Angel Duno, Jesus Zambrano, James Naile and Dustin Driver. The new roles will be a big step for the entire group, of which only one has any experience above short-season ball.
Driver, a seventh-round pick in the 2013 draft, is the only one with previous experience at the Low-A level. The 21-year-old former high school selection has been brought along slowly by the organization due to injuries and inconsistency. He struggled through four starts at Beloit last season, compiling an 0-2 record and 9.00 ERA, striking out nine and issuing five walks in 11 innings of work.
Driver was sent out to Vermont in mid-June where the results were only slightly better. He spent the rest of the year with the Lake Monsters, battling inconsistency along the way. Driver finished the New York-Penn League season with a 4.99 ERA and a 32:35 K:BB in 52.1 innings. However, following a solid run through the A’s fall instructional camp, hopes in the organization are high that Driver will finally be able to realize his immense potential.
Although in a tandem starter role, Friedrichs owns the distinction as the club’s opening-night starter as he will take the hill Thursday night against Wisconsin.
A seventh-round selection in last year’s draft, the 6''1' right-hander shipped out to Vermont shortly after inking with the A’s. He started 11 of 14 games, compiling a 1-3 record, 4.50 ERA and 19:13 K:BB rate in 36 innings of work. Opposing hitters did much of their damage in two of Friedrichs' starts, as the former Long Beach State standout allowed 10 of 18 earned runs in those outings. For much of the season, he was a consistent presence in the Vermont rotation and posted a 1.22 GO/AO and allowed just two homers.
Short-season Vermont was also the only stop for the left-hander Manarino, who was drafted in the 25th round last June out of UC-Irvine. While Manarino didn’t allow much in the way of walks (six over 38.2 innings), he gave up 24 earned runs on 46 hits across 15 games (five starts). He got off to a fast start with the Lake Monsters, allowing just five earned runs in his first 17 innings, but seemed to wear down in the stretch run.
The A’s are challenging Altamarino with a spot in the tandem rotation, especially since the 21-year-old right-hander pitched exclusively in the Arizona Rookie League after being drafted in the 27th-round out of Oral Roberts. Altamarino will be hoping to stick with the Snappers after being skipped over short-season ball. He pitched in 13 games with the AZL A’s, including a pair of starts, and posted a 3.22 ERA and 23:8 K:BB rate.
A 14th-round selection last June out of Florida State, Biegalski also spent all of last summer in the desert with the AZL A’s. The 6'2'' right-hander was a late sign. He made four starts and a pair of relief appearances, but the organization limited his workload as he pitched just 11.1 innings. Biegalski allowed four earned runs on eight hits and had a promising 12:2 K:BB rate during his stint in Mesa. Although he’s being skipped a level to open his first full professional season, Biegalski should be able to handle it given his one season of ACC-level competition at FSU. A draft-eligible sophomore, he signed an above-slot deal to turn pro last June.
Since signing him out of Venezuela in 2012, Oakland has brought along Duno slowly. The 6-foot right-hander pitched very well during three seasons with the A’s Dominican Summer League squad, posting sub-2.00 ERAs in a pair of those campaigns.
Duno finally made it stateside last summer and pitched across two levels with the AZL A’s and Vermont. Duno opened with the AZL A’s and earned a promotion to short-season after posting a 2.93 ERA and a 35:3 K:BB in 40 innings. Duno became more hittable with the Lake Monsters, as he pitched to a 5.59 ERA across 29 innings. However, his command remained solid and Duno posted an 18:1 K:BB rate.
Although he will be relatively young for the Midwest League, Zambrano certainly won’t be immature in terms of professional experience. The Venezuelan signed with the A’s just two days after his 16th birthday and immediately went to work with the club’s Dominican Summer League team in 2013. He arrived in Arizona in 2014 and pitched 70 2/3 innings across an entire season with the AZL A’s.
Zambrano struggled at times during a return to Arizona for 2015, allowing 27 earned runs on 66 hits across 44 innings and posting a 31:9 K:BB rate. He still managed to earn the rare distinction of skipping four levels to Triple-A Nashville and making a pair of stretch-run starts for the Sounds. The 5'11'' right-hander held his own during the brief stint, pitching nine innings and allowing four runs on eight hits, striking out six and walking just one.
Oakland’s 20th-round selection last June out of UAB, Naile rounds out the list of eight tandem starters for the Snappers. The 6'4'' right-hander saw his workload limited last summer, as he pitched in just over 25 innings across 20 relief appearances. After throwing a pair of scoreless innings with the AZL A’s, he spent the remainder of the summer with Vermont and allowed just five earned runs on 19 hits in 23.1 innings. He was a late-inning reliever for Vermont, but coaches raved about his stuff during Instructs and decided to stretch him out as a starter this spring.
With eight pitchers in piggy-back roles at the front of Beloit games to open the season, Riordan will have six pitchers at his disposal to use strictly out of the bullpen. Kevin Johnson and Corey Miller return to the Snappers after spending time with the club last season.
Johnson pitched exclusively in Low-A ball, making 34 appearances (eight starts) and pitching to a 4.86 ERA in 79.2 innings. A former 24th-round selection out of the University of Illinois, Johnson posted a 54:27 K:BB rate. He had Tommy John surgery shortly after being drafted in 2013 and made his professional debut in 2015 with Beloit.
Miller tried to stick with Beloit early in the season, but was sent out to Vermont after struggling to a 4.54 ERA in 33.2 relief innings. The former 2014 10th-round selection out of Pepperdine, Miller struggled to control his walks and posted a 26:15 K:BB rate with the Snappers. Miller rebounded to finish with a 2.91 ERA in 15 appearances (five starts) with the Lake Monsters.
A former seventh-round selection out of Oxnard College in 2012, Kurz will get his first taste of full-season ball after three seasons in Arizona and Vermont. He pitched to an 8.24 ERA and 16:14 K:BB rate across 19.2 innings at Vermont last summer. Kurz has struggled with injuries during his career but is finally healthy.
Lyons was drafted last June in the ninth round out of Liberty University and struggled mightily with the Lake Monsters. The 6'0'' left-hander allowed 20 earned runs on 32 hits in just 14.2 innings in the New York-Penn League.
Ruiz spent all of last summer with the AZL A’s after Oakland made him its 29th-round selection out of Alabama State. The 5'9'' right-hander pitched to a 4.32 ERA and posted a 24:10 K:BB rate in 16.2 innings out of the bullpen. He has experience as a late-inning reliever in college.
Tomasovich makes his full-season debut with the Snappers after pitching across two levels last summer. The 6'4'' left-hander was drafted in the 21st round out of Charleston Southern, and proceeded to make three relief appearances with the AZL A’s before spending the duration of the summer with Vermont. He posted a 2.25 ERA and 20:9 K:BB rate in 24 combined innings between the two stops. He has a deceptive and memorable delivery.
A pair of infielders return to Beloit in 2016 – one that has experienced a lot of Low-A success (Trent Gilbert) and another that never really got on track in his first go-around (Edwin Diaz) – to give Riordan some experience to open the Midwest League slate.
After being one of the Midwest League’s top hitters during a two-month span last season, Gilbert forced his way into a promotion to High-A Stockton. The 23-year-old second baseman posted a .320 batting average in the month of May and followed that up with a .308 mark in June to earn the trip out West.
It was anything but smooth sailing for Gilbert at Stockton, however. He finished with a slash line of .200/.250/.256 in 28 California League games. Despite hitting in a league known for boosting power numbers, Gilbert struggled with just three extra-base hits over 90 Cal League at-bats. After a terrible slump to wrap up the season, he will go back to the Snappers hoping to find the form that got him to High-A.
Oakland challenged Diaz with an aggressive assignment to open the 2015 season, as he skipped over short-season ball and went to Beloit. That experiment lasted just 45 games and was over after Diaz slashed .100/.158/.157 in 140 at-bats. The 20-year-old finished up with the AZL A’s, where he batted just .171 in 24 games. He has arguably the best throwing arm of any infielder in the A's system (save maybe for Matt Chapman) and is more talented offensively than he has shown in game play thus far.
The highest draft pick of the six-man Beloit infield is Trace Loehr, who was selected in the sixth round of the 2014 draft out of an Oregon high school. Loehr will finally get his shot with a full-season affiliate after combining to slash .256/.320/.307 in 108 games over the past two years.
Loehr got off to a slow start at the plate in 2015 with the Lake Monsters, managing only five hits over his first 30 at-bats. But after that, Loehr began to hit his stride by hitting .277 over his next 224 at-bats. He finished the year with a .264 average and a .325 OBP. Often lost in Oakland’s glut of middle infield prospects, Loehr will get a chance to shine as a starter for Beloit.
A pair of 2015 draft picks – University of Houston 12th-rounder Chris Iriart and Nevada-Reno 15th-rounder Ryan Howell – will open their first full professional seasons with the Snappers. Iriart was shipped straight to Vermont after signing and slashed.230/.304/.359 in 256 at-bats (69 games).
Howell also made his way to the Lake Monsters, but struggled at the plate to the tune of a .199/.278/.337 line. He had a strong Instructs and a good spring and should be more effective at the plate with Beloit.
Nicaragua native Jesus Lopez may not receive the headlines as other heralded middle infielders in the organization, but the 19-year-old has already shown a lot of potential and will be pushed to a full-season club to open the 2016 season. The highly regarded Lopez still needs to show he can handle the bat at an advanced level after two years of struggles in Arizona and Vermont. He has combined to slash just .203/.233/.228 in 97 career games, but has hit much better in camp environments such as fall Instructs. He is a switch-hitter with speed and a line-drive swing.
Twenty-year-old Mexico native Jose Chavez returns to the Midwest League to open the 2016 season after splitting time with Beloit and High-A Stockton last year. Known more for his defensive abilities behind the plate, Chavez has never hit more than .205 (Beloit, 2014) at any stop during his two years with Oakland affiliates.
An eighth-round selection in 2015 out of Georgetown, Nick Collins held his own with the bat at Vermont last summer, slashing .256/.333/.325 in 34 NYPL games. He was also solid behind the plate, throwing out 28 percent of would-be base-stealers. The first catcher drafted by the A's last June, Collins suffered a concussion that ended his season early with the Lake Monsters.
Easily the most-heralded offensive prospect on the Snappers roster to open 2016 is last year’s fourth-round selection out of the University of North Carolina, Skye Bolt. The 6'3'' outfielder signed after his junior season and was assigned to Vermont where he got 52 short-season games under his belt. Bolt slashed .238/.328/.381 and saw 16 of his 43 hits go for extra-bases.
Although he would deal with injuries and inconsistency during the two-month run at Vermont, Bolt did finish the season on an uptick by hitting .382 over his final 10 games. Also encouraging was Bolt’s solid BB:K rate of 24:44.
Returning to Beloit outfield after spending parts of the past two seasons in Wisconsin is Justin Higley, who will attempt to rediscover his stroke that helped him land at High-A Stockton to begin 2015.
The 13th-round selection in 2013 out of Sacramento State, Higley slumped down the stretch last summer to finish with a slash line of just .198/.293/.359 with the Snappers. This after a 37-game stint with the Ports in which he batted just .220 with four homers and 12 RBIs. The 6'4'' left-handed hitting outfielder entered last year with plenty of hype after he OPS’d nearly .900 in 24 games at short-season Vermont – a run that landed him a spot on the Beloit roster to wrap up 2014.
A pair of Midwest League rookies out of the A’s 2015 draft round out the Snapper outfield. Steven Pallares was drafted in the 10thround out of San Diego State and upon signing with the club was immediately sent out to Vermont. He posted a .246/.363/.317 line with the Lake Monsters and his 40:39 BB:K rate in 240 at-bats (67 games) should bode well for his continued improvement.
A Canadian native that attended Canisius University, Brett Siddall was drafted in the 13th round and spent time at two levels last summer. After a sizzling start to his professional career with the AZL A’s in which he slashed .342/.424/.575 in 19 games, Siddall earned a promotion to the Lake Monsters. The 6'1'' outfielder more than held his own in 43 New York-Penn League games, batting .264 with four homers and 29 RBIs. His father is Toronto Blue Jays broadcaster Joe Siddall.