After a couple of trips to the post-season in 2014 and 2015, the Stockton Ports endured a rare down season in 2016. The Ports finished out of playoff contention during both halves of the season and compiled a 60-80 overall record. That record was tied for second-worst in the league for this season.
Offensively, the Ports were among the top teams in the league this season in several categories. Stockton finished with a team OPS of 742, good for fourth-best out of the 10-team league. The Ports were third in OBP (.346) and third in walks (539). Stockton was eighth in the league in homers, however, but fourth in doubles and fifth in the league in runs scored. Stockton did rank second in strike-outs and they stole the third-fewest number of bases in the league.
On the mound, the Ports struggled as a unit. Stockton’s team ERA of 4.56 was fourth-highest in the league. Stockton struck-out the third-fewest number of batters, but they also walked the fourth-fewest. Homeruns were an issue for Stockton all season, as they allowed the fourth-most in the league. The Ports had the third-highest WHIP (1.44) of any staff and recorded the second-fewest number of saves.
Things will be changing next season for Stockton and the rest of the California League, as the league goes from 10 teams and two divisions to eight teams and one division. The league has yet to announce playoff procedures. Under the 10-team format, six Cal League teams qualified for the post-season every year.
Only hitters with at least 200 at-bats were considered for this article
Several Stockton hitters had strong seasons, but it was outfielder James Harris and utilityman Joe Bennie who led the way for the Ports for much of the season. Harris finished fifth in the league in batting (.303), while Bennie finished eighth (.302). Both completed their seasons in Double-A.
Harris, a 2011 supplemental first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Rays, had his best season as a pro in 2016. The Oakland native hit .303/.379/.423 with 38 extra-base hits and 21 stolen bases in 119 games for Stockton. He got off to a strong start out of the gate, hitting .376 with a 918 OPS in April. Harris cooled in May, but he posted a .404 OBP in June and hit .342 with four homers in July. Harris also played solid defense, playing all three outfield positions for the Ports. Despite six years in pro ball, Harris turned only 23 in August. He should start next year in Double-A.
Bennie was the Ports’ team leader in OPS with an 826 mark. The A’s 2013 28th-round pick finished the 2015 season as the Midwest League’s hottest hitter during the final five weeks of the season. It took Bennie a little while to get that hot again in 2016, but, by June, he was ripping the cover off of the ball. He hit .343 with five homers that month and followed that by hitting .345 with a .419 OBP in July. Bennie spent most of August in Double-A. Defensively, Bennie is still looking for a permanent home, but he spent a lot of time at second base this season for the first time since 2014. Bennie also played several games in the outfield. He struggled in August in his first taste of Double-A, but he should get another opportunity with the RockHounds next season.
With 21 homeruns, first baseman Sandber Pimentel was the Ports’ biggest power threat for most of the 2016 season. Pimentel finished sixth in the league in homeruns and second on the team in walks with 60. He struck-out way too much, however, and those 145 Ks brought his overall line down to .237/.342/.436. Defensively, Pimentel sometimes suffered from lapses in attention, but he also made several spectacular plays, showing quick feet for his size and soft hands. He has the tools to be an above-average defensive first baseman. Pimentel has plenty of growing left to do, but it was a solid season for the native of the Dominican Republic, who turned 22 earlier this week. He will be strongly considered for a promotion to Double-A in 2017.
Outfielder Seth Brown led the Ports in games played with 127. The A’s 2015 19th-round pick skipped Low-A, jumping from short-season Vermont – where he was the team MVP in 2015 – to Stockton on Opening Day. Brown found mixed results during his first full professional season. He led the Ports in walks with 65 and posted a solid .340 OBP despite batting only .241. Brown also showed good speed, racking up 13 stolen bases and five triples. However, Brown struggled to make consistent contact, striking out 124 times. He was also made 11 errors in the outfield, a surprising number for a player who shows excellent range at all three outfield positions at times. Brown kept grinding all season and had a strong final five weeks of the year. He will be in the conversation for the Double-A roster next spring.
B.J. Boyd teamed with Brown and Harris in the Stockton outfield for much of the season. The South Bay native had a strong second year with the Ports, batting .288/.346/.395 with eight homers in 101 games. Boyd also spent a lot of time playing centerfield, where he acquitted himself well. He earned a late-season spot with Triple-A Nashville and held his own during the final week of the PCL season and the Sounds’ five-game semi-final series against Oklahoma City. Boyd showed resolve this season after being forced to repeat in Stockton despite a solid season with the Ports in 2015. He improved in every offensive category in 2016 and it would be surprising to see him back in the Cal League in 2017. Boyd still needs to work on his base-stealing, but he controls the strike-zone well and has the speed and patience to be a disruptive presence near the top of a line-up.
Super utilityman Melvin Mercedes also saw time in the Stockton outfield this season. In fact, he saw time at every position. Mercedes played all nine positions in one game on September 3. That game was a reflection of Mercedes’ talents, as he threw a scoreless ninth, didn’t embarrass himself behind the plate and played like a regular everywhere else on the field. At the plate, Mercedes was a grinder. He didn’t hit for power, but he batted .260 with a .363 OBP in 106 games. He finished third on the team in walks with 56. Mercedes is fun to watch and the kind of player a manager dreams of having on his team. He can plug any hole on the field and sees plenty of pitches when he’s at the plate. The 24-year-old could slide up the chain to Double-A in 2017.
The 2016 season was a grind for middle infielder Mikey White. The A’s 2015 second-round pick came into the season with high expectations, but he got off to a very slow start that extended through the first two months of the season. White showed significant improvement during the second half of the year, but it was still an overall disappointing first full season for a prospect who was considered to be a polished hitter coming out of Alabama. White had a .215/.282/.292 line during the first half of the season. He was much better the second half of the year, when he hit .276/.343/.404 with five of his six homeruns. White showed a tendency to pull off of pitches trying to yank the ball into left field early in the year. That improved some as the season went on, but he will need to continue to concentrate on an all-field approach in 2017. Defensively, White played well at both second base and shortstop. He also played a few games at third base. His glove is ahead of where many thought it was when he was drafted, so if he can get his bat back on track, White could make up the ground he lost on the prospect ladder this season very quickly.
Richie Martin, the A’s top pick in 2015, had a similarly frustrating season. Martin began the year in extended spring training, rehabbing a knee injury he sustained late in camp. He joined the Ports in late May and collected seven hits over his first 19 at-bats. Things went downhill quickly from there, however, as he batted just .244 in June and then struggled through an abysmal July during which he hit .144/.270/.173. Martin worked on several adjustments at the plate during his slump and the results started to show in August, when he hit .292/.385/.453. He finished the year in Midland, where he batted .333/.444/.553 in five games for the RockHounds during the regular season. Martin is currently hitting .300 in the post-season for Midland.
Martin’s strike-out rate (19.1%) with Stockton was high, although not out of line with much of the California League. His walk rate (9.1%) was solid, but his .278 BABIP was a sign that he wasn’t making hard contact for much of the season. Martin’s flyball rate jumped more than 10% in August over his June and July numbers and his line-drive rate increased 3%, while his overall groundball rate fell more than 20%. The 21-year-old shortstop showed polish and athleticism on defense with Stockton, flashing a strong arm. He also showed some speed, although he still needs to work on his reads and jumps. Martin still has plenty of work to do to reach his ceiling, but his strong finish offers optimism as he heads into the 2017 season.
Third baseman Jose Brizuela was another Stockton hitter who rebounded in the second half after a slow start. Brizuela hit only .226/.308/.363 during the first half of the season, but he was the Ports’ best hitter during the second half, batting .287/.370/.543. He finished second on the team in homers with 16, and six of those came in August. The A’s will have a crowded infield situation in Double-A next season, but Brizuela will be a candidate for a spot with Midland.
Brizuela’s college teammate John Nogowski was a solid contributor for the Ports in somewhat limited playing time. Nogowski compiled 288 at-bats in 89 games for Stockton despite being on the active roster for all but three weeks of the season when he was with Double-A Midland. When he received playing time, Nogowksi was productive. He hit .285/.354/.410 with a career-high seven homeruns (he also added an eighth homerun with Midland). Nogowski has one of the best contact rates in the A’s system. He struck-out just 11.6% of the time this season and had nearly a 1:1 K:BB ratio. He doesn’t have the prototypical power of a first baseman, but Nogowski offers plenty of other useful tools at the plate. He also plays a solid first base and logged some time in the outfield towards the end of the season. Nogowski was also an emergency pitcher for the Ports, appearing in three games and allowing two runs in six innings. On the last day of the season, Nogowski earned the win and had a walk-off single. The A’s have a log-jam at first base in their system, but Nogowski deserves more than a three-week look in Double-A.
For most of the season, the innings behind the plate were divided between two young backstops: Argenis Raga and Lana Akau. Both Raga and Akau had their growing pains with the glove, but both showed improvement as the season went on.
Raga, who turned 22 during the season, parlayed a strong second half with Beloit last season into a High-A assignment in 2016. He did a solid job of hitting for average (.263) with the Ports in 2016 and he posted a .329 OBP. Raga didn’t show much in-game power, however, connecting on only two homeruns and a .359 SLG. He has shown more power in batting practice and that part of his game could develop as he matures. Defensively, Raga had his struggles. He had 19 passed balls and 10 errors in 79 games. He threw out a respectable 27% of would-be base-stealers and has shown a strong arm and athleticism behind the plate. Raga was a corner infielder early in his career, so he is still relatively new to the position.
Akau began the season in extended spring training after suffering a concussion in camp. He joined the Ports in late April and spent the rest of the season in Stockton. Akau racked up 64 games and 206 at-bats in 2016. He hit just .214/.289/.267 with one homer. Akau especially struggled offensively the second half of the year, as the grind of playing a full year may have gotten to him (his previous career-high in games played was 49). Akau had similar issues to Raga behind the plate, but also flashed promise with the glove. He threw out 23% of would-be base-stealers. Akau turned 21 in late August and has plenty of talent. The A’s will be patient with the native of Honolulu, Hawaii.
Although he didn’t come close to meeting the at-bat cut-off for this article, Chris Iriart’s late-season exploits for Stockton shouldn’t go unremarked upon. Iriart appeared in 16 games for Stockton and hit .311/.417/.689. His six homeruns during that stretch left him tied for ninth on the team despite spending less than 12% of the season on the Ports’ roster. If Iriart returns to the Ports in 2017, he could be in-line for a huge homerun year.
Only pitchers with at least 25 innings pitched for Stockton were considered for this article
Thanks to promotions, demotions and injuries, only three pitchers threw more than 100 innings for the Ports this season: Brett Graves, Casey Meisner and Kyle Friedrichs. It is not surprising, given the frequently changing roster, that the Ports struggled to maintain consistency as a staff throughout the year.
Graves’ season was – in many ways – reflective of how the Ports’ season went as a whole. He struggled early in the year and then made some adjustments mid-season that led to improvements. His talent wasn’t fully reflected in his overall numbers – a 4.60 ERA and an 86:49 K:BB in 141 innings. Graves finished the season strong. He had a 3.36 ERA and a 45:15 K:BB in 67 innings after the All-Star break. Graves flashed a low-90s fastball that touched 95 and a heavy sinker that helped him post a 1.35 GO/AO. Graves’ off-speed pitches were behind his fastball in terms of effectiveness, but they showed improvement as the season went on. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Graves put together a much stronger statistical season in 2017.
Meisner had a head-scratcher of a season for Stockton. The 6’7’’ right-hander posted a 2.78 ERA for Stockton in 32.1 innings last season, but he never looked like that same pitcher in 2016. He lost his first 12 decisions and finished the year 1-14 with a 4.85 ERA in 117 innings. Meisner did pitch well for a stretch during the second half of the season, but he struggled in his last three outings, pushing his ERA from 3.99 to 4.85. Meisner had trouble with his release point and with getting full extension on his delivery all season. He worked on a number of adjustments and will continue to tinker with his mechanics this fall at the A’s Instructional League camp.
Friedrichs joined the Ports’ staff in late May and quickly became one of the Ports more reliable starters. In 100.2 innings, Friedrichs posted a 4.29 ERA with an excellent 86:10 K:BB. Not a hard-thrower, Friedrichs was hittable at times, allowing 10 homeruns and a .268 BAA. However, he was efficient with his pitches and worked deep into games, averaging nearly 5.2 innings per start. Friedrichs began the year in Beloit and finished the year in Midland, where he is currently pitching in the Texas League post-season. It was a strong first full season for the right-hander, who had a 3.35 ERA and a 119:16 K:BB in 153 total regular season innings.
A mid-July promotion to Midland left Heath Fillmyer five innings short of the century mark with Stockton, but the right-hander’s impact on the Ports was significant. He posted a 3.60 ERA in 95 innings for Stockton. Fillmyer struck-out nearly a batter an inning (86), didn’t walk a ton (31) and kept the ball on the ground (1.39 GO/AO and three homers allowed). He has big league stuff with a fastball that can touch 95 and gets plenty of movement, as well as a solid breaking ball and change-up. Fillmyer pitched even better for Midland after his promotion and has firmly planted himself among the A’s top starting pitching prospects.
The bulk of the remaining starts went to a group of pitchers who spent significant portions of the season not on the Stockton roster: Zack Erwin, Daniel Gossett, Grant Holmes, James Naile and Matt Stalcup.
Acquired from the Chicago White Sox this off-season, Erwin suffered through a frustrating first season in the A’s organization. A 2015 fourth-round pick out of Clemson, Erwin began his first full professional season in High-A. He struggled out of the gate and never got going with the Ports, posting a 6.53 ERA in 80 innings. Erwin struck-out 58, walked 32 and allowed 11 homeruns. He was sent down to Low-A Beloit on July 20 and was placed on the DL nearly a month later. Much like his college teammate Gossett in 2015, Erwin’s velocity was down throughout his pro debut season and he never quite looked like the pitcher he had been in college. Gossett (as we will discuss in the next paragraph) had a complete turnaround in his second full professional season. The A’s will be hoping for something similar with Erwin in 2017.
The aforementioned Gossett was something of an enigma coming into the 2016 season. The A’s second overall pick in 2014, Gossett suffered through a disappointing first full pro season in 2015. He came into spring training with his velocity back up to its pre-2015 levels and flashing an impressive cut-fastball to go along with his already above-average change-up. The A’s bumped Gossett up to High-A despite his struggles in Beloit last season, and he rewarded their faith in him. He made nine starts for Stockton, posting a 3.33 ERA and a 53:13 K:BB in 46 innings before earning a promotion to Midland on May 29. Gossett went on to star for Midland and Nashville. On the season, he posted a 2.69 ERA with 151 strike-outs in 153.1 innings.
Naile had an unusual first full professional season. Rather than easing into his pro career, Naile got a crash course in the entire Oakland A’s system. He began the year in Beloit, spent a month pitching for Nashville and Midland, returned to Beloit, then was promoted to Stockton and was finally sent back to Midland to finish the season. Naile made eight appearances (seven starts) for Stockton. He posted a 3.76 ERA in 40.2 innings. Naile struck-out 46, walked 11 and posted a 1.73 GO/AO. Naile opened a lot of eyes during his pro debut campaign. He’s a strong candidate to start next season in Double-A.
Holmes joined the A’s organization on August 1 in the Josh Reddick/Rich Hill deal. The high-profile right-hander made six appearances with the Ports (five starts). Holmes struggled during his first three outings with Stockton, but he pitched better during his last three appearances. The hard-throwing Holmes won’t turn 21 until next March and is still developing, but he has top-half of the rotation potential. He will enter next season as one of the A’s top prospects.
In 2015, Stalcup was a second-half hero for the Ports. He joined the rotation midway through the year and was one of the team’s top pitchers as they made a run to the post-season. Stalcup struggled with injuries throughout his pro career, however, and, after dealing with more discomfort this season, he decided to retire midway through the year. Before he retired, he posted a 7.23 ERA in 56 innings (13 relief appearances and nine starts). For his career, the lefty had a 4.28 ERA with 205 strike-outs in 243 innings.
Wagman, a Walnut Creek native, threw 76 innings for the Ports while serving as a longman. He had a 3.67 ERA and he struck-out more than a batter an inning (78). Wagman did an excellent job of keeping the ball on the ground, allowing just four homeruns and posting a 1.51 GO/AO. Wagman also made four starts for Midland during the season. He will pitch for Team Israel in the upcoming World Baseball Classic Qualifying Tournament in Brooklyn.
Gauna also served in a middle-innings role for the Ports this season. The groundball pitcher was a bit up-and-down during the season, but he finished the season strong with five runs allowed over his final 21 innings pitched. Gauna posted a 3.54 ERA in 68.2 innings for the Ports. Not a hard-thrower, Gauna relies on getting hitters to put the ball in play on the ground at his infielders. He did a good job of that for much of the season, but Gauna walked a few too many (24) and he was hurt when he elevated his pitches (eight homers allowed). He will battle for a spot in Double-A next spring.
For much of the year, Carlos Navas served as the Ports’ closer. The right-hander was effective, for the most part, for Stockton, but he was hurt by a few poor outings. He posted a 4.08 ERA in 53 innings, but he struck-out 67, held opposing batters to a .230 average and allowed just 17 non-intentional walks. Navas’ bad outings came in big moments, however, as he blew six-of-12 save opportunities. Still, he was often hurt by bloopers and bad plays defensively. Navas earned a late-season call-up to Triple-A, and he allowed just two runs on five hits and one walk in 6.2 innings. Navas struck-out five. He threw three scoreless innings in the post-season for the Sounds.
Lefty Cody Stull tied Navas for the team lead in saves with six. Stull finished his time with the Ports on an incredible run, not allowing a run in his final nine appearances (13.1 innings). Stull was terrific all year for the Ports, posting a 1.46 ERA and striking out 63 while walking just 11 in 55.2 innings. He spent the final 10 days of the regular season in the upper levels of the A’s system, first throwing four innings for Nashville and then joining Midland, where he is still on their playoff roster. Stull was murder on lefties for the Ports, holding them to a .133 average. He could be a future LOOGY for the A’s.
Hard-throwing right-hander Lou Trivino was a mainstay in the Stockton bullpen before a mid-season promotion moved him to Midland. In 41.2 innings with the Ports, Trivino posted a 3.02 ERA and a 49:18 K:BB. He didn’t allow a homer. Trivino continued to pitch well after his promotion. The A’s 2013 11th-round pick was a starter his first two-and-a-half pro seasons, but he has thrived since moving to the bullpen midway through last year. Trivino’s fastball was clocked as high as 98 MPH this season. He will be a relief arm to watch next season for the A’s.
Relievers Corey Miller and Victor Veliz spent significant portions of the season in the Stockton bullpen. Miller began the season in Beloit and he joined the Stockton roster at the end of May after two solid months with the Snappers. The Pepperdine alum got off to a slow start with Stockton, but he pitched well in July before fading down-the-stretch in August and September. He had a 3.70 ERA in 24.1 home innings, but posted a 10.20 ERA in 15 innings on the road. In total, Miller had a 6.18 ERA in 39.1 innings with a 34:13 K:BB with Stockton.
Veliz began the year at extended spring training and joined the Ports on May 22. He spent the rest of the year with Stockton, with the exception of a short stay with Beloit in late June. In 27.1 innings with the Ports, Veliz had a 7.24 ERA and a 21:12 K:BB.
Late in the season, the Stockton pitching staff received a boost from Evan Manarino and Matthew Sergey. Manarino, a post-season Midwest League All-Star, joined the Stockton roster at the start of August. He split his time between the rotation and the bullpen with the Ports and was as brilliant with the Ports as he had been with Beloit. In 28.1 innings, the lefty had a 1.27 ERA and an 18:8 K:BB. He didn’t allow a homerun and finished his first full professional season with a 1.98 ERA in 150 innings between the Snappers and the Ports. Manarino is currently with Midland on their post-season roster.
Sergey, who was picked up from the independent leagues, made his affiliated baseball debut with Stockton. He appeared in 12 games for the Ports, posting a 4.00 ERA in 27 innings. His peripheral stats were impressive, however. He struck-out 41, walked just nine and held opposing batters to a .220 average. Sergey’s weakness was the longball, as he allowed eight homeruns.