Oakland A's MLN: Barton, Melillo Keep On Truckin'

The Midland Rockhounds have been a dominant squad all season, but lately their dominance has been helped by a pair of mid-season additions. Prospects Daric Barton and Kevin Melillo don't have a lot in common, except that this season, Barton and Melillo have been making minor league pitching look – well – minor. Barton and Melillo continued to swing a hot bat in Midland's 7-2 win over Springfield. Find out the details of that game and the other action inside…

Daric Barton and Kevin Melillo are on opposite ends of the prospect spectrum. Barton was a high school phenom who was drafted in the first round and has been highly touted since his professional debut. Melillo is a polished collegiate player who fell further than expected in the draft and arrived in the A's organization with little fanfare. However, both men are similar in that they have received the opportunity to prove themselves against higher competition this season and both men have been up to the task.

Barton began the year in high-A Stockton, a logical place for a prospect who had begun his career in Rookie ball and had advanced to low-A during his second season. So for the third straight season, Barton would be beginning a season one level higher then he ended the season before. It took a little while for Barton to get going this season, but once he got on-track, he pummeled California League pitching. In 79 games for the Ports, Barton posted a .318 batting average and a 907 OPS. That earned him his first ever in-season promotion, as he was shipped to AA-Midland on July 4.

Melillo would also do some traveling on July 4, but it wasn't to Midland. Despite his collegiate experience, Melillo began the year in low-A Kane County, where he proved himself an able top of the order hitter. In 78 games, Melillo hit .286 and posted an impressive 53:40 BB:K ratio. On the 4th of July, Melillo packed his bags for Stockton to replace Barton on the Ports' roster. The plan was to keep Melillo in Stockton for the rest of the year, but Melillo would have nothing to do with that plan. He annihilated California League pitching to the tune of a .400 batting average and an incredible 17 extra-base hits (including nine homers) in only 90 at-bats. After that performance, Melillo was sent to Midland to join Barton as a teammate for the first time.

Both players have had a profound affect on the Midland batting order. Melillo began his time with the Rockhounds at his customary spot at the top of the order, but he has hit with so much power that he has recently been in the middle of the line-up, often protecting Midland star Andre Ethier. On Thursday, Melillo went 2-3 with a double, two runs batted in, a walk and three runs scored to raise his AA batting average to .348. The double was Melillo's tenth extra-base hit in 69 AA at-bats (including four homeruns). He has maintained that good eye at the plate, striking out and walking 11 times each. Melillo has also been an efficient run producer for Midland, driving in 17 runs and scoring 20 in only 19 games.

Barton has also made big contributions to Midland. He began his stay with the Rockhounds in the middle of the line-up, but he has settled into the second spot over the past few weeks. In that spot, Barton has brought his keen eye and an ability to jump-start rallies. He picked up two hits in five plate appearances on Thursday, raising his AA batting average to .331. He has walked an impressive 27 times against 18 strikeouts and is reaching base at a .434 clip. His 956 OPS is tops on the team right now.

Catcher Jeremy Brown also had a big game for Midland on Thursday night. Continuing his recent power glut, the Alabama alum crunched his 17th homerun of the season, a two-run shot in the third inning that was part of a four-run third that put Midland firmly in control of the game. Brown walked the other three times he made a plate appearance, drawing half of Midland's six free passes. Brown hasn't been the on-base machine this season that he has been in past years, but his power production has been impressive and his .364 on-base percentage is acceptable. His recent homerun-hitting spree (four in the past week) is especially impressive considering how many games he has caught this season in the heat and humidity of the Texas summer.

Shortstop Mark Kiger and DH Brian Stavisky also chipped in with multi-hit games. Stavisky has followed his California League MVP campaign with another solid year at the plate. The 2002 draftee has been over the .300 mark for most of the season and his average currently sits at .309. Stavisky has an impressive 57 extra-base hits this season, including his fifth triple, which he picked up on Thursday. He also has 75 runs batted in. Stavisky is not a gifted fielder, but he is a professional hitter and could have a Scott Hatteberg-type career in the major leagues. He has spent time at first and in the outfield this season, but has also spent a lot of time at designated hitter.

Starter Drew Dickinson picked up his sixth win of the season with an impressive performance. He went 6.2 innings, allowing one run on four hits and three walks. He struck out six. Dickinson lowered his ERA to 5.55 with the effort. Midland's stalwart bullpen closed out the game, as Evan Fahrner and Kyle Crowell combined to pitch the last 2.1 innings, allowing one run. The Midland bullpen has been a real strength of the team all season and the All-Star Fahrner and the long-man Crowell have been big parts of that bullpen.

Other Notes

-- Midland starter Dallas Braden is on the DL with a strained forearm. Braden had been struggling over the past few weeks, so the time off should do him some good. The A's have been very excited over his progress this season, but he has thrown the most innings of his career, so limiting his innings over the next month is probably a good idea.

-- Catcher Raul Padron and outfielder Jose Pineda both homered for the Kane County Cougars, but it wasn't enough, as the Cougars fell to West Michigan, 8-4. The homer was Padron's fifth and Pineda's fourth. Pineda was in centerfield on Thursday in the place of injured centerfielder Javier Herrera. Herrera went on the DL with a left wrist strain on Thursday. Also notable in this game was the fact that the Runnin' Cougars did not steal a base. Kane County has been extremely active on the base-paths this season. They have swiped 108 bases and have two players with more than 20 stolen bases (Herrera and first round pick Cliff Pennington). Perhaps most impressively, the Cougars have been caught only 31 times, the least amount of caught stealings in the Midwest League.

-- The River Cats used a little late-inning magic to move themselves one game closer to the post-season. Down two in the top of the ninth, the River Cats rallied for three runs off of former Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Yankees pitcher Randy Choate. Sacramento closer Jairo Garcia blew the save by allowing a run in 0.2 of an inning in the bottom of the ninth, but Ron Flores got him out of the ninth and then worked the 10th and 11th to give the River Cats a chance to win, 7-6. Sacramento mounted their winning, 11th inning rally off of former major leaguer Jason Bulger. Shawn Garrett, who entered the game in the ninth as a pinch-runner, singled to lead-off the inning. He advanced to second on Andrew Beattie's bunt. After Jack Cust was intentionally walked, both Garrett and Cust moved up a base on Bulger's wild pitch. Mike Rouse then followed with a two-run, ground-rule double. It was Rouse's only hit of the game, but it was the game-winner. Starter Juan Cruz struggled with his command, allowing nine hits and three walks in six innings. He gave up four runs and was in-line for the loss before the River Cats' offense saved him with their late-game rally.

-- The River Cats will be putting playoff tickets on sale on Friday. Sacramento is going for their third straight PCL championship.

-- Stockton also rallied in the ninth, but they couldn't push the winning run across, as High Desert grabbed the win with a run in the 10th. The final score was 6-5. Luke Appert hit a game-tying, two-run homerun in the top of the ninth to send the game into extra-innings, but High Desert collected the game-winning run off of closer Jared Burton in the 10th. It was an uncharacteristically poor outing for Burton, who has been excellent this season. Eddie Cornejo and Jed Morris each had four hits and Dustin Majewski doubled twice to lead the Stockton offensive attack.

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