The Oakland A’s enjoyed plenty of success at the Low-A level of their minor league system during a stretch from 2011-13, but the most recent three seasons in the Midwest League with the Beloit Snappers have been pretty dreadful as far as team results go. The Beloit Snappers wrapped up the 2016 campaign at home on Labor Day with a 4-3 victory over Wisconsin to finish with a 59-80 record. The team finished five games under .500 in the first half of the season, but the wheels really came off during a stretch in late July and early August, all but assuring it would not earn a postseason bid for the third consecutive year.
With second-year skipper Fran Riordan at the controls, the Snappers posted records of 32-37 and 27-43, respectively, in the first and second halves. Riordan has managed just a 114-164 record in his two seasons at the helm, but in his defense, the organization hasn’t sent many of the club’s top position player draft picks to Beloit.
As one might expect with a team that finished 21 games under .500, Beloit struggled in many statistical categories. Of the 16 teams in the Midwest League, the Snappers ranked next-to-last in average (.232) for the second consecutive year. Riordan’s club was 13th in on-base percentage (.307), 14th in slugging (.329) and 15th in runs scored (475). Snappers' hitters struck out 1,184 times this season to rank ninth and stole the second-fewest bases in the MWL with 71.
Beloit’s pitching staff was bolstered by some consistently great starting pitching from low-round draft picks, but even that didn’t last long as hurlers such as Kyle Friedrichs, James Naile and Evan Manarino were called up to High-A Stockton during the season. When all was settled, the Snappers ranked seventh in the league in ERA (3.40) and WHIP (1.28). Beloit’s pitching staff focused on pitching to contact, as evidenced by its league-low 972 strikeouts.
This was Oakland’s fourth season in Beloit and second-and-final one under the Player Development Contract signed following the 2014 campaign. The organization will announce in the coming weeks whether it will return to the state of Wisconsin for two more years, sign with another affiliate in the Midwest League, or opt for a change of scenery altogether in the South Atlantic League.
Note: Batters with at least 110 at-bats were included in this review
While there was a lot of movement with regards to the pitching staff, many position players remained with the Snappers for the balance of the 2016 season. That list included the likes of outfielder Brett Siddall, second baseman Trent Gilbert, first baseman Ryan Howell, infielder Trace Loehr, outfielder Skye Bolt, shortstop Edwin Diaz and catcher Jose Chavez. Outfielder Justin Higley spent all but the final two weeks of the season with Beloit, as well (note: Chavez joined Nashville during the regular season's final weekend and will be with the Sounds for the post-season).
Out of that group, second-year Snapper Gilbert had the best offensive season with a slash line of .269/.327/.380 in 129 games. The A’s 15th-round pick in the 2014 draft out of Arizona had opened last season with Beloit before struggling across 28 games with High-A Stockton. Gilbert, who homered in Beloit’s final regular season game, hopes to get another shot with the Ports in 2017.
Loehr’s batting average didn’t settle in above the Mendoza line until midway through the month of June, but Oakland’s sixth-round pick in 2014 was the team’s best performer down the stretch and MWL Offensive Player of the Week in late-August. Loehr posted a .338/.372/.513 slash line in 21 August games and had seven hits in 21 at-bats in September. As a result, his overall season line settled at .249/.292/.350 in 103 games.
It should have come as no surprise that the one Canadian native on this year’s team, Siddall, got off to a scorching start in a chilly month of April, slashing .347/.429/.500 in 20 games. However, the A’s 13th-round selection in last year’s draft had a difficult time replicating that production the rest of the season. He did show some positive signs early in the second half, batting .283 in the month of July, but cooled off considerably during the stretch run. The outfielder finished with a .241/.321/.356 slash line playing a team-high 135 games.
Bolt, the enigmatic 2015 fourth-rounder out of North Carolina, saw his season follow a similar pattern as Siddall’s. The 22-year-old slashed .304/.395/.435 during his first month with a full-season affiliate, but the wheels fell off during the month of May, as he battled an injury. Bolt managed just nine hits in 64 at-bats during games that month. He rebounded nicely in July with a .256 average, but really struggled down the stretch. Bolt finished with a slash line of .231/.318/.345 in 101 games at the Low-A level.
Diaz got another shot with the Snappers after a miserable 45-game stretch in 2015 during which he managed just 14 hits in 140 at-bats. The strong-armed infielder rebounded to slash .236/.311/.331 in 92 games this season. Diaz’s best stretch came during the month of May when he hit .303 with a pair of homers and 14 RBIs.
A 13th-round selection in the 2013 draft, Higley played in 115 games with the Snappers and slashed .237/.313/.361 before getting a late-August call up to Stockton. It’s been much smoother sailing for Higley since getting the call, as he’s mustered 18 hits in 50 at-bats with the Ports.
Chavez struggled with the bat for much of the 2016 season, slashing just .207/.246/.243 in 80 games. The 21-year-old did handle himself well behind the plate and was one of the Snappers named to the mid-season All-Star Game. However, a broken finger shelved him for the midsummer classic and cost him nearly three weeks of the season. He earned a promotion to Triple-A Nashville in the final week of the season when Matt McBride joined the A's as a September call-up.
Although Howell would hit just .216 in 107 games at Beloit, he sported an on-base percentage of .345 as he drew a team-high 61 walks. The East Bay native also had 31 extra-base hits, including seven homers. Howell had monthly OPS of 766 or higher from May through July, but he struggled in August, posting a 579 OPS, and had only three hits in 16 September at-bats.
With so many offensive players staying put for much of the season, very few prospects were summoned from Vermont or the AZL A’s. One that did make a nice impact was outfielder Luis Barrera, who earned an August promotion from short-season ball, and responded well with a .286/.320/.443 slash line in a 19-game stint with Beloit. The 20-year-old got the opportunity after batting .321 with an 800 OPS in 41 games with the Lake Monsters.
Mike Martin spelled the injured Bolt in center field earlier in the summer, getting the call from extended spring training, but went down with a season-ending injury in the middle of July after slashing .298/.372/.347 in 34 games with Beloit.
Corner infielder Chris Iriart was on the fast track to a Stockton promotion after hitting nine homers in the first 49 games of the season. However, the 12th-round pick in 2015 was hit by a pitch in the eye and missed considerable time during the middle of the season. Iriart recovered his power stroke by hitting four homers and driving in eight runs during 14 August games, before receiving that High-A call up. He finished the year with 22 homeruns between Beloit and Stockton, third-most among A's minor leaguers. After collecting 11 extra base hits and nine walks in 16 games with the Ports, Iriart will be a batter to watch going into next season.
Oakland’s 26th-round selection in last year’s draft, Jordan Devencenzi, was a nice complement to Chavez behind the plate in large part due to his offensive ability. Devencenzi, another East Bay native, slashed .281/.352/.333 during 38 games with the Snappers, but went down with a season-ending injury during the third week of August.
Jean Carlo Rodriguez emerged as a super sub for Beloit after opening the year in extended spring training. The 20-year-old Panamanian slashed .232/.303/.358 in 55 games this season. He, too, saw his season end early with injury, landing on the DL in early August.
After spending last year in Stockton, Michael Soto returned to Beloit in early June following a rehab stint in extended spring training. The first baseman struggled with injuries all year and appeared in just 40 games. He hit .169/.232/.215 with one homer.
The only two starters to open and finish the season with Beloit were Boomer Biegalski and Angel Duno. A 14th-round selection in last year’s draft out of Florida State, Biegalski led the team with 153.1 inning pitched. One of two Snappers to represent the A's in the MWL All-Star Game, the right-hander finished his first full professional season with a 3.70 ERA and 115:38 K:BB rate while starting 25 of 28 games.
Duno also would have made an appearance in the mid-summer classic, but he went down with an injury on June 10th that nearly cost him a month of the season. The 22-year-old Venezuelan native still managed to pitch 121 innings in his first stint with a full-season affiliate and posted a 2.68 ERA and 76:16 K:BB rate. He never had an ERA higher than 3.60 in any month this season and finished the year tied with Zach Neal for second among A's minor league starters in BB/9.
As mentioned above, the starting rotation seemed to be constantly changing throughout the season due to a number of factors. The team opened with a tandem starter system, but that gradually went by the wayside due to early injuries.
Promotions also led to some adjustments. Kyle Friedrichs was the first one to go to Stockton after posting a minuscule 1.25 ERA while starting eight of 10 games. The former Long Beach State standout managed a 31:6 K:BB rate in 52.1 innings before being summoned to the California League. He spent the rest of the season with Stockton and will pitch for the Midland RockHounds in the Texas League playoffs. Friedrichs was the A's minor league leader in BB/9 among starters.
James Naile bounced around from affiliate to affiliate almost from the word go, and would end up seeing time across all four full-season levels in 2016. He got his most work in with Beloit, however, posting a 2.66 ERA and 64:19 K:BB rate in 88 innings. The 2015 20th-rounder out of UAB started 14 of his 15 games before leaving for Nashville. He would spend time in Triple-A and Double-A before re-joining Beloit for a stretch. Naile then spent five weeks with the Ports before re-joining the RockHounds just before the Texas League post-season. He made seven starts at Stockton, three with Midland and two in Nashville. In 156.2 total innings between all four clubs, Naile had a 3.39 ERA and a 125:38 K:BB.
Evan Manarino was the last of the heralded starting pitchers to get the opportunity to prove himself at a higher level. The former UC-Irvine standout tied Biegalski for the team-high in wins with eight, while pitching to a 2.15 ERA and 103:20 K:BB rate in 121.2 innings. Manarino was named to the MWL All-Star Game, but did not pitch, and made the move to High-A Stockton in late July. Manarino's 1.98 ERA between Beloit and Stockton was good for second lowest among A's minor league starters with at least 15 starts.
Hurlbutt found the most success out of the three, starting 14 of 19 games and posting a 2.57 ERA across 98 innings. Oakland’s 16th-round selection in the 2015 draft out of small Tabor College took over as a starter in mid-June. The 23-year-old right-hander managed a 78:24 K:BB rate in his first full professional season.
A 32nd-rounder in last year’s draft out of Florida Gulf Coast, Murray made 12 starts for the Snappers and finished with a 4.28 ERA and 53:13 K:BB rate in 61 innings. The 22-year old right-hander earned a brief cameo with Stockton, but was sent back out after struggling in three starts at the High-A level.
Butler actually saw action across three levels in the 2016 season, making with a pair of appearances with Stockton when the Ports were short on arms before returning to extended spring training, where he started the season. He made seven solid starts at short-season Vermont before getting the call to the Snappers. With Beloit, he started nine games and posted a 3.14 ERA and 46:16 K:BB rate in 51.2 innings. All told, Butler struck-out 82 and posted a 2.84 ERA in 92 innings in his first full season as a professional.
The most consistent performer in the Beloit bullpen for much of the season was Jared Lyons, who pitched in a team-high 41 games and finished with a 1.72 ERA. Oakland’s ninth-round selection in 2015 out of Liberty University, the 23-year-old left-hander posted a 61:16 K:BB rate in 52.1 innings before getting called to Stockton last month. He finished the year with a 10.7 K/9 between Beloit and Stockton. It was a big improvement for Lyons, who struggled in his pro debut with Vermont last season and posted a 12.27 ERA in 14.2 innings.
Right-handed reliever Armando Ruiz spent the entire season with Beloit. He racked up 52 innings in 39 appearances and posted a 3.46 ERA. Ruiz struck-out nearly a batter an inning (50) and didn't allow a homerun. In his final appearance of the season, Ruiz threw a career-high five innings.
Rob Huber began the season with Stockton, but he returned to Beloit at the end of May after struggling with the Ports. He regained his footing with the Snappers, posting a 3.56 ERA and striking out 45 in 43 innings in the Midwest League. Huber allowed just one homerun with the Snappers.
After four seasons in the A's chain (including one season lost to injury), Cody Kurz finally made it to a full-season affiliate in 2016. He spent the year with Beloit, serving as one of the team's closers. He converted six of seven save opportunities. Kurz struggled with his command (37 walks in 42.1 innings), but Midwest League batters hit just .212 against him. He had a 4.89 ERA.
For much of the season, Andrew Tomasovich teamed with Lyons as the two lefty relievers in the Snappers' bullpen. Tomasovich missed about three weeks over two separate DL stints, but still managed to throw 39.2 innings. He had a 5.67 ERA and a 50:26 K:BB.
Right-hander Tyler Willman was promoted to Beloit from Vermont after just two appearances with the Lake Monsters. Despite some shakiness with his control, Willman fared well in the later innings with the Snappers. A 12th-rounder in 2014 out of Western Illinois, he appeared in 18 games and finished with a 2.91 ERA but only a 21:23 K:BB rate in 21.2 innings.
Reliever Kevin Johnson changed levels midway through the season, but it was actually back down to Vermont, after he posted a 3.42 ERA in 12 appearances with the Snappers. Oakland’s 24th-round selection in 2013 out of Illinois, Johnson struggled in the control category with a 16:12 K:BB rate in 26.1 Low-A innings. He tried to remake himself as a knuckleball pitcher, but decided to retire after just one start with Vermont. Johnson had Tommy John surgery in 2013 and didn't make his professional debut until last season despite being selected in the draft by the A's two years earlier.