Heuser A Valuable Arm For Stockton

After four years of relative obscurity in the Oakland A's system, James Heuser put his name on the prospect map last season when he struck out nearly nine batters per nine innings as the workhorse in the Kane County Cougars' starting rotation. This season, Heuser is with the High-A Stockton Ports, where he has made himself a valuable member of the pitching staff as both a starter and a reliever.

After being selected in the 27th round out of Illinois Community College in 2003, lefty James Heuser has made a gradual climb through the Oakland A's system. A raw prospect when he was selected, Heuser spent two years in the Arizona Rookie League in 2003 and 2004 before jumping to a full season affiliate in 2005.

During that 2005 season, Heuser experienced his first set-back as a professional. Throwing in front of friends and family for the Low-A Kane County Cougars, Heuser developed a sore left elbow that eventually required Tommy John surgery. He threw only 14.2 innings that season before having the surgery. At the time of his surgery, Heuser had made 46 appearances, all of them as a reliever.

After a 12-month rehab program, Heuser returned to the mound, this time as a starter for the short-season Vancouver Canadians. He made 14 appearances – 12 starts – for the C's that season, going 5-4 with a 4.13 ERA and 55 strike-outs in 65.1 innings. In 2007, the Illinois native got another chance to pitch in front of friends and family. He was in the starting rotation for Kane County for the entire 2007 season.

"It was great [pitching for the Cougars]. I only live about an hour and a half away from there. I was starting there, so my family was able to come down on the days that I was pitching," Heuser said.

Heuser demonstrated that he was all of the way back from his elbow troubles, throwing a team-high 155 innings and striking out 147 batters, good for second among A's minor leaguers.

"The elbow feels good," Heuser said over the weekend.

"I haven't had a problem with it since the surgery. The doctor who did the surgery did a good job."

After his strong showing in 2007, Heuser earned a promotion to High-A Stockton at the start of the 2008 season. Since arriving in Stockton, Heuser has been a jack-of-all-trades for the Ports. He has made 17 appearances this season, six of them starts.

Heuser likes aspects of both roles.

"They are both pretty fun. Starting, you get to relax in-between outings because you know when you are going to pitch," Heuser said.

"Relieving is a little more exciting because you get to be involved in tight games, hopefully, and hopefully be involved in some tight situations."

In 50 innings this season, Heuser has struck-out 47 and he has posted a 5-1 record for the Ports. He has been wild at times, however, walking 34, which has led to an ERA of 5.22.

"It's a little different in the Cal League. You know that the ball is going to fly a little bit more here at times. Everyone gets a little bit better as you move up and you just have to make the adjustment," Heuser said.

Heuser has been hard at work refining his game. He has been working with Ports' pitching coach Garvin Alston all season on a cut fastball. The results have been good for Heuser lately. He has allowed only three runs over his last 14.2 innings, striking out 10 in the process. With top Stockton starter Trevor Cahill being promoted to Double-A Midland and valuable Ports' reliever Arnold Leon going back to Mexico for the rest of the year, Heuser figures to play an important role on the Ports' pitching staff during the second half of the season.

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