Photo by Chris Lockard/OaklandClubhouse.com

Previewing the 2016 Stockton Ports

The Stockton Ports have had plenty of regular season success the past two seasons. Will that continue into the 2016 season? We preview the Oakland A's High-A affiliate.

Overview

Click here to view the full Stockton roster.

There has been plenty of talent sent to the Stockton Ports over the past few years, and that talent has resulted in exciting regular season runs. The Ports have been stuck on first-round playoff exits, but have been an entertaining club to watch during the regular season.

Manager Rick Magnante returns after guiding the Ports to the post-season last year. The longtime A’s minor league coach and scout is joined by two new assistant coaches – hitting coach Tommy Everidge and pitching coach Steve Connelly. Everidge returns to Stockton for the first time as a coach. He was a popular player for the Ports in the mid-2000s. Connelly is in his third year as an A’s minor league pitching coach. The California native spent the fall coaching in the Arizona Fall League.

The Ports begin their season at home on Thursday with a four-game set against division rival Modesto and a three-game series versus Lancaster. The Ports then head out on the road to take on the Nuts and the Visalia Oaks in a tour of former A’s Cal League cities.

Pitchers

The 2016 Stockton rotation comes in with plenty of talent and plenty of questions. Daniel Gossett, Brett Graves and Heath Fillmyer all endured up-and-down seasons in the Midwest League last year, but all three are highly regarded prospects. Casey Meisner finished the 2015 season with the Ports after a mid-season trade, but is still on the younger side for his level. Zack Erwin is the only lefty in the group and was an off-season acquisition from the Chicago White Sox.

Gossett came into the 2015 season with high expectations as the A’s second-overall pick in 2014. He had a strong debut with Vermont in 2014 but endured a nightmare start to his 2015 season with the Snappers.

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Gossett made significant adjustments during the 2015 season and had a much stronger second half of the season. His velocity was down for much of last year, but it was reportedly up a few ticks this spring. Gossett worked with Connelly to add a two-seam fastball into his regular pitch rotation last year. He then added a cut-fastball this spring that has received rave reviews from A’s minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson. Those extra wrinkles should compliment Gossett’s change-up and breaking ball and keep hitters off of his four-seam. He is the Ports’ Opening Day starter.

Graves had a more consistent 2015 season than Gossett, but he still didn’t put up the kind of numbers he was expected to as the A’s third selection in the 2014 draft.

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Like Gossett, Graves dealt with diminished velocity all of last season, but he, too, has been throwing harder this spring. Without his good fastball last season, Graves focused on his change-up, sinker and cutter, and all three pitches improved during the season. If Graves has his good four-seam fastball back, he should be a much more well-rounded pitcher than he was in college.

Velocity has never been an issue for Fillmyer, who has one of the most electric fastballs in the A’s system.

http://www.scout.com/player/189822-heath-fillmyer?s=304

Fillmyer was fairly new to pitching when he turned pro in 2014, having converted from shortstop during college. He got off to a rough start with Beloit last year, but Fillmyer had a 2.85 ERA in 14 second-half starts. Fillmyer’s fastball can touch 97 and he has an excellent change-up that sits 88-89 and acts like a dive-bombing sinker. His breaking ball improved as the season went on last year, as well.

Meisner returns to Stockton after spending the final five weeks of the season as part of the Ports’ rotation. The lanky right-hander had a 2.78 ERA in seven starts for the Ports despite getting off to a slow start with Stockton.

http://www.scout.com/player/180588-casey-meisner?s=304

Meisner, who won’t turn 21 until late May, joined the A’s from the New York Mets in the Tyler Clippard deal. Meisner was considered an excellent return for a half-year rental. At 6’7’’, he is one of the tallest pitchers in the A’s system. He currently only throws in the low-90s, but he has plenty of projection to his frame and could see his velocity spike up as he matures. Meisner has an advanced array of secondary pitches for a pitcher his age. He will be looking to improve his consistency with his delivery. Given his experience with the Ports last year, Meisner could be the first starter to move up to Double-A should there be an opening in the Midland rotation.

Erwin shared the odd distinction with a few other players this off-season of being one of the first prospects to be traded the off-season after they were drafted (before last year, prospects had to be on their original organization’s roster for a year before being traded).

http://www.scout.com/player/159514-zack-erwin?s=304

Erwin was acquired from the Chicago White Sox in the Brett Lawrie deal. The left-hander was a college teammate of Gossett’s at Clemson and came to professional baseball with a polished pitching arsenal. Erwin was the White Sox’s fourth-round pick last season. He split his pro debut between Rookie ball and Low-A, posting a 1.34 ERA and a 30:7 K:BB in 40.1 innings. Erwin is a groundball pitcher, which should help him in the hitter-friendly Cal League.

The Ports will have plenty of late-inning options in their bullpen, including right-hander Ben Bracewell, who was a late-inning reliever last year for Stockton.

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Bracewell converted seven saves in eight chances for Stockton last season and he had a 2.89 ERA in 56 innings. He struck-out 54 and walked only 12 while holding opposing batters to a .223 average. He’ll be a candidate to move up to Double-A if there are openings early in the year.

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Right-hander Koby Gauna has served in a closer role for most of his professional career. He spent last season with Low-A Beloit, posting a 1.55 ERA in 52.1 innings. Gauna missed the first 50 games of the season while serving a suspension, but he didn’t miss a beat from his impressive pro debut season once he was on the field. An extreme groundball pitcher, Gauna doesn’t strike-out many batters, but he is unflappable on the mound and is capable of working out of jams thanks to his ability to get groundballs.

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Early in the season, right-hander Bobby Wahl could be the go-to guy in the ninth inning for Stockton, but he isn’t expected to stay in High-A for long. The hard-throwing reliever is one of the most talented pitchers in the A’s system. He is coming off of arm surgery that cost him the second half of last season, so the A’s are easing Wahl back into the grind with a High-A assignment. Wahl has a fastball that can touch 99 and one of the best breaking balls in the A’s system. He had a strong spring in limited action and could be on a fast-track this year if he remains healthy. 

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After five seasons in Rookie Ball, Carlos Navas had a break-through 2015 season. He split his year between Low-A and High-A and had a 2.79 ERA with a 78:21 K:BB in 67.2 innings. One of the hardest working pitchers in the A’s system, Navas pitches up in the strike-zone but gets plenty of movement on his low-90s fastball. He should be able to give the Ports plenty of innings in the middle-to-late portions of the game this year.

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Right-hander Rob Huber quietly had a strong first full season in pro ball last year. In 53.2 innings for Beloit, Huber had a 3.02 ERA and a 57:23 K:BB. He was efficient with his pitches and induced plenty of groundballs. Huber has allowed just four homeruns in 75 career innings.

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Walnut Creek native Joey Wagman returns to Northern California with the Ports. Wagman had a brief stop in Stockton last season, but he spent most of the year in Beloit in a swingman role. Wagman had a 3.91 ERA and a 75:15 K:BB in 89.2 Midwest League innings. Wagman is a strike-thrower who has allowed just nine homeruns in 150.1 career innings despite being a flyball pitcher.

The Ports will have some length in their bullpen with former starters Lou Trivino and Kyle Finnegan making the move to relief roles.

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Trivino spent all of last season with Stockton, making nine starts and 23 relief appearances. In 89.2 innings, Trivino had a 3.91 ERA and 78 strike-outs. He walked too many batters (44), but Cal League hitters had a difficult time squaring him up. He had a .216 BAA and he allowed only five homeruns.

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Finnegan has been a starter for his entire career, but he should benefit from a move to the bullpen, where his mid-90s fastball and breaking ball should play up better. He has better stuff than his career numbers would indicate (4.53 ERA in 309.2 innings), and moving into a relief role should allow him to focus on his strengths.

Catchers 

The Ports will carry two catchers on their Opening Day roster and both are graduates of the A’s Dominican Academy. 

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Argenis Raga had a break-through second-half of the 2015 season. The native of Venezuela hit only .157 the first half of the year for Beloit. He returned to extended spring training midway through the season and, after a hot start with short-season Vermont, returned to Beloit in July. Raga hit .355 in 38 second-half games for the Snappers and is coming off of a strong spring training. He spent a lot of time early in his career as an infielder and is still learning the nuances of catching, but his defense improved significantly last year.

http://www.scout.com/player/152028-andy-paz?s=304

Andy Paz was limited to just 16 games last season thank to injuries. The 23-year-old hit well in the Dominican Summer League, but he has struggled to produce offensively since coming Stateside. Paz, who was born in Cuba but raised in France, played for Team France in the WBC this spring. He is a strong defensive catcher with an accurate throwing arm.

Infielders

A’s 2015 second-round pick Mikey White headlines the Stockton infield, which features a mix of players with previous High-A experience and players new to the level.

White has impressed since turning pro last season. He cruised through the short-season New York-Penn League, hitting .315 with a .405 OBP in 29 games before earning promotion to Low-A Beloit. White struggled offensively with the Snappers but played well defensively. He had a strong fall Instructional League and continued to impress this spring. White has a line-drive swing with gap power and the ability to grind out his at-bats.

http://www.scout.com/player/190437-mikey-white?s=304

White came to pro ball with the reputation of being an offense-first shortstop, but scouts have been surprised with how well he has played the position as a pro. A’s 2015 top pick Richie Martin would likely have started the year with Stockton had he not injured his knee at the end of camp. Martin could join the Ports in two months once he is healthy. If he does join Stockton, White will share time with Martin at short, but White will also see time at second and third. The A's envision White moving around the infield in much the same way Chad Pinder has in his career.

Joining White on the left-side of the infield will be Jose Brizuela, who began last year with Stockton but spent most of the season with Beloit.

http://www.scout.com/player/185115-jose-brizuela?s=304

Brizuela was one of the Snappers’ most consistent hitters in 2015. The Florida State alum batted .270/.358/.446 with 11 homers in 381 at-bats. He didn’t have an opportunity to play much with Stockton in his early-season stint last year, but he should get more regular playing time in 2016. He is more of a line-drive hitter than a pure slugger, but Brizuela’s power has increased over the past year and he could challenge the 20-homer mark in the Cal League this year.

The Ports’ best bet for reaching 20 homers is first baseman Sandber Pimentel.

http://www.scout.com/player/169730-sandber-pimentel?s=304

Pimentel is a hitter in the traditional A’s power-and-patience model. The Dominican native got off to a fast start with Beloit last year, but faded towards the middle of the season, as the grind of his first experience in a full-season league wore him down. He still finished with solid numbers for the Midwest League for a 20-year-old (.243/.335/.380 with 13 homers). Pimentel’s power should play up more in the Cal League. He will strike-out a lot, but he should be among the team’s leaders in walks.

John Nogowski returns to Stockton after serving as the Ports’ primary first baseman in 2015. He will share time with Pimentel at first and will DH a fair share, as well.

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Nogowski has the best bat control of any hitter on the Stockton roster. He struck-out just 47 times in 354 at-bats for the Ports last year. Nogowski hit .274 with a .352 OBP. He doesn’t hit for the kind of power one normally associates with a first baseman, but he is a solid all-around hitter and an excellent defender at first.

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Melvin Mercedes began last season with Beloit, but he earned an early season promotion to Stockton and remained with the club for the rest of the year. A natural shortstop, Mercedes can also play second and third base. He is a plus runner with a strong throwing arm and good hands. Mercedes also has a solid eye at the plate and should see plenty of playing time at second base, as well as some shortstop when he and White swap roles.

Outfield

The Ports begin the year with four outfielders on their roster, although Joe Bennie could also see time at third and second base this season.

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Bennie was one of the hottest hitters in the Midwest League last August. He hit .324 with eight homers in only 26 games and finished his season with Beloit with a .272/.363/.430 line. Bennie has gap power and good speed (he swiped 14 bases) and the adjustments he made late last season carried over into the fall Instructional League and this spring training. He could be in for a big season. Bennie played mostly left field last year, but he can also play second and third base.

Oakland native James Harris is another candidate to pick up stolen bases for the Ports this year. Harris signed with the A’s as a minor league free agent last April and had a solid season with Beloit.

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Harris was one of the standouts of minor league spring training, so he is carrying momentum into this season. A natural centerfielder, Harris has plus speed and a good eye at the plate. He could fill the lead-off role for Stockton.

Harris should split time in center with Seth Brown, who dazzled at that position with short-season Vermont in his pro debut last year.

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Brown, a senior sign, was old for his league, but that shouldn’t take away from his pro debut performance with Vermont. In a pitcher’s league, Brown hit .282/.352/.432 with 28 extra-base hits and six stolen bases in 68 games. He played well in a few big league spring appearances in March, as well. Brown is skipping Low-A, and his age (23) is now more in-line with his level. Brown can also play first base.

Tyler Marincov and B.J. Boyd return to Stockton after spending the entire 2015 season with the club.

http://www.scout.com/player/117693-tyler-marincov?s=304

Marincov homered in a big league spring game and he has reached double-digits in homeruns in each of his first two full professional seasons. He is an excellent athlete with a strong arm in right field and good speed. Marincov needs to cut down on his strike-outs, but he should be one of the first players to move up to Double-A should an opening appear on the RockHounds’ roster.

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Boyd, a South Bay native, had a solid rebound season in 2015 after a disappointing 2014 campaign with Beloit. Boyd hit .277 with a .344 OBP for Stockton last season. He stole a career-high 18 bases and established career-highs in doubles (20) and triples (8). Boyd has more power than the five homeruns he hit last season would indicate. He is also one of the fastest players in the A’s system. Like Marincov, he is a candidate to move up when there are openings in Midland.


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