Photo by Kimberly Contreras

AZL A's Notebook: Season stretch run

The 2016 Arizona Rookie League A's season is in its final stretch, and the AZL A's are battling for a spot in the post-season. Kimberly Contreras reports on the latest happenings with the A's Rookie club.

Webster (Webby) Garrison has managed teams at most levels in Oakland’s minor league system for almost 15 years, but this season is his first at the Rookie level. Webby is great with the players, tolerates the heat, and shares his love of the game with everyone he meets. His gregarious personality is infectious and he is a joy to be around. With a great staff, including the invaluable Ruben Escalera, Gabe Ortiz, pitching coach Gabriel Ozuna, and trainer Chris Lessner, it really is a team effort. And after 38 games played, only 15 remain in the 56 game season. If you’re doing the math in your head, factor in rained-out games that won’t be made up. But in order to advance to the single elimination playoffs, Webby’s team will have to win the East Division outright and it is certain to come down to the wire. Stay tuned.

I won’t be the least bit surprised if this team advances to the playoffs. It’s a good team, with a roster of extremes; college seniors and young, green, recently promoted players from the Dominican Summer League; and Webby and his staff have done a great job of making them a contending team. As a team, they haven’t set the league on fire but they play hard, they contend, and they have a winning record. I don’t mention team pitching numbers, as the focus is not on these numbers. This isn’t really a pitchers’ league; not due to the weather, but the development stage of those on the on the mound.

Using the MLB All-Star break as the starting point, let’s look at some of the non-traditional numbers for the AZL Athletics:

Their record, so far: 11-10-3. Three postponed/cancelled due to weather, not tied. One is scheduled to be made-up as part of a double-header on August 25th

Only two extra-inning games; both were as visitors, and lost in 11 innings

Faced nine on major league rehab assignments; three on minor league rehab: five pitchers: Dbacks: Rubby De La Rosa; Dodgers: Yimi Garcia; Cubs: Brian Matusz, Stephen Fife; Angels: Kyle Kendrick; four position players: Dbacks: AJ Pollock, Chris Owings & David Peralta, who’s now out for the season with wrist surgery; Rangers: Drew Stubbs; Also three pitchers from A+/AA: Dbacks: Ryan Burr; Dodgers: AJ Vanegas; Cubs: Jack Leathersich

Faced one pitcher the night before he was tradedSunday, 7/31 vs RHP Jhoneider Salinas (Indians: 4.1IP  2H  3R(E)  3BB 2Ks) who was traded to Tampa Bay the next day for LF Brandon Guyer

Have had two minor league rehabbers: RHP Kris Hall – Double-A Midland RockHounds; 1B Chris Iriart – Low-A Beloit Snappers

Faced almost 4.5 pitchers per game

Sent 4.05 pitchers to the mound

Professional debuts of remaining three draft picks, and one promoted from the Dominican Summer League: July 13: Catcher, and Bay Area native, Collin Theroux (32nd round, from Oklahoma State & San Joaquin Delta JC); July 15: RHP Miguel Sanchez (International Free Agent Signee, September 2015 from San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic); August 8: RHP, and central California native, Daulton Jefferies (CBA, Cal); August 9: Catcher, Roger Gonzalez (22nd, Winthrop) from Miami, FL.

Three players sent to Vermont: OF Robert Bennie; RHP Matthew Milburn; C Jarrett Costa – who had already spent some time in Triple-A Nashville, though did not see any game action.

In return, AZL received three players from Vermont: OF James Terrell; C/1B Miguel Guzma; OF Jhonny Rodriguez

Let’s take a look at what this team looks like on a nightly basis...

PITCHING

Tandem-pitching is utilized throughout Oakland’s system, with the exception of Triple-A Nashville. Two main pitchers, each with a set pitch count or inning designation, then relievers enter the game as assigned or needed. This development approach fairly distributes the workload while allowing more pitchers to have more appearances. It is especially effective at this level, with the newest additions from the June draft.

The most utilized tandem rotation looks something like this:

  • Oscar Tovar, Wandisson Charles
  • Mitchell Jordan, Miguel Sanchez
  • Yeudy Minaya, Kevin Ferreras
  • Argenis Blanco, Emerson Nelo
  • Skylar Szynski, Kevin Duchene

Relievers: Frederick De La Cruz, Philip Ortiz

Game-Finishers: RHPs Joseph Camacho, Nick Highberger, Matt Milburn & Sam Sheehan

Daulton Jefferies made his debut on August 8th at home against the Cubs. His first pitch to Luis Ayala was a 93 mile per hour fastball for a strike. Ayala struck out, as did batter number two, Kwang-Min Kwon. Isaac Paredes, Jefferies third and final batter of the inning, lined out to first baseman Miguel Guzman. The second inning was a little more active, as Jefferies gave up four hits and one earned run. But he was great. Polished. His fastball was between 92-94, his change-up and slider were both working nicely, and he can throw strikes. It was a pleasure to watch.

Moving forward, there will be changes with the addition of Jefferies and the removal of Matt Milburn to Vermont, and Duchene, who was recently added to the 60-day DL for a tear in his left rotator cuff.

CATCHERS

When doing the five-year review, the strength position of Oakland’s 2016 draft class may be in the backstop position: Jarrett Costa is indestructible and fearless and has some pop when he hits, and he likes to hit. Skyler Weber throws out runners with pinpoint precision. At the same time, he is so smooth and athletic when it’s his time on the bases, it’s as if he forgets he’s a catcher. His five stolen bags are best among those in the proximity of 64 ABs. Collin Theroux’s reputation of his stellar defense preceded him…and it still didn’t do him justice. Roger Gonzalez was activated from the DL on August 9th after having his hamate bone removed. On his first at-bat, he doubled to right field and ended the game going 2-for-3. He will make his debut behind the plate sometime soon. I look forward to it.

Robert Mullen is a returning teammate. The 20-year-old signed as a free agent from Panama in 2013 and his hard work is evidenced by his performance behind the plate and at it, as well. Earlier in the year, Robert hit the team’s only grand slam against the Diamondbacks.

INFIELDERS

The Core Four: Charley Gould at first base, Josh Vidales at second, Casey Thomas at shortstop, and Javier Godard at third. Best odds of winning are when they are on the field at the same time. Gould leads the Arizona League in RBIs (31) and leads the team in hits (38). The double-play duo from Texas (Thomas from Texas A&M Corpus Christi, and Vidales a native Texan from the University of Houston) are money! Vidales rarely has both feet on the ground, which could explain why he is the best second baseman in the league. I’ve seen Thomas run to first base with such determination that it makes the first baseman misplay the ball. I know his middle name isn’t “hustle”, but it should be. Javier Godard has been terrific, as well. 

Also sharing the infield are 1B Miguel Guzman, INF Jesus Lage and Carlos Hiciano.

OUTFIELDERS

A quick scan of the outfield gets a nod of confidence because it usually shows Kyle Nowlin in left, Cole Gruber / Jeramiah McCray in center, and Robert Bennie in right. 

Nowlin announced his presence on his first two at-bats of the season on Opening Day: two hard hit, long fly balls for doubles. The Tommy Everidge-twin has consistently been in the top-three in the league in walks and currently sits atop the list with 30. Love it. Can’t score runs if you’re not on base. My other favorite stat of Nowlin’s is that he has zero errors. Gruber averages a stolen base with every 4.1 ABs, which is why he is the active league leader with 21. Pretty good stats, too, considering he and fellow centerfielder, McCray have truly split the duties; Gruber 25 games/ 86 ABs; McCray 24 games/87 ABs. McCray, high school draft pick whose ceiling is celestial, may not have the stolen base numbers to match Gruber, but he is so smooth; he glides around the bases. Beautiful. Right-fielder Bennie was recently added to the Vermont roster, and to no one’s surprise, is a good hitter. Along with Josh Vidales, Bennie spent the season atop the AZL offensive leaderboards in various categories. [See: Bennie, Joey; brother for further evidence.] Defensively, he is quite good, as well. No errors charged in his 29 AZL games. Of course now that Bennie is in Vermont, expect to see Anthony Churlin and the recently reassigned Jhonny Rodriguez in right field.

CHANGE

Brett Bittiger, drafted in June and signed as a shortstop out of Pace University in New York. Three games into his first professional season, Brett is hit by a pitch, in the ribs. Ouch. I heard it. Double ouch. He’s around during every home game, he’s active and engaged in what’s happening on the field. When I talked to him last week; checked on how he was feeling and when he thought he might play again, he shared that he is making the transition to becoming a pitcher. This isn’t a new position for the 5’10”, sub 200 lb righty; he saw significant time on the mound in his youth. When he leaves Mesa for the off-season, he’ll have an off-season program just like all pitchers do.  Oakland has had success with these transitions in the past.

If there are any questions about making the transition from position player to pitcher, the young righty has to simply call home. Brett’s father, Jeff, an area scout for the Athletics, made the same transition as he joined the Mets in 1980 and pitched in the major leagues for parts of four seasons. Jeff was drafted by the Mets in the 7th round out of high school, behind three high schoolers taken in the first round. You may have heard of them: #1 pick Darryl Strawberry; #2 pick (1st round) Billy Beane (yep, that one); #3 John Gibbons – current manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. Also worth noting: the Mets selected a fiery catcher – and former Little League World Champion – Lloyd McClendon with their 8th pick.

In three weeks, the 2016 AZL regular season will be over, but until then, anything is possible.

Ed. Note: On Friday, MLB announced that RHP Yeudy Minaya was suspended 56 games for violating the MiLB PED policy. He begins his suspension immediately.


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