2009 Awards: Stockton and Kane County

With the 2009 minor league season finally in the books, it is time for us to bestow our awards on the best individual performances for 2009. In the second of our series, we hand out the awards for the top players and pitchers for the Oakland A's A-ball affiliates.

Stockton Ports

After winning the California League championship in 2008 with a roster stacked with top prospects, the Stockton Ports had a disappointing 2009 season. Stockton dug itself into an early hole and was never able to climb out of it. They finished in last place during the first half of the season, going 25-45. Stockton improved during the second half of the season, however, making a late push for a playoff spot before falling short. Stockton went 36-34 during the second half of the season and 61-79 overall.

Top Position Player: Grant Desme

Desme was only with the Ports for the second half of the season, but he was a big part of why the team improved so much after the All-Star break. He posted solid numbers with Kane County during the first half of the year (.274/.334/.490), but he blew those numbers out of the water with Stockton. In 62 games, Desme hit .304/.398/.656 with 20 homers, 51 RBIs and 16 stolen bases. He also scored 49 runs. Thanks to his combined efforts with Stockton and Kane County, Desme became the first A's minor leaguer in as long as anyone can remember to post a 30-30 season. In fact, he was so good on the base-paths that it was really a 30-40 season, as he swiped exactly 40 bases on the season while hitting 31 homers. As a bonus, he also played excellent defense for Stockton in center and in right field.

Other Players Considered: Steve Kleen, Yusuf Carter, Jemile Weeks

Like Desme, Kleen was only with the Ports for the second half of the season, but he made a big impact. In 70 games, he hit a blistering .342 with a .430 OBP and a 917 OPS. The first baseman didn't miss a game all season for Stockton or Kane County after missing all of the 2008 campaign with a shoulder injury. He hit a combined .312/.395/.461 for the two teams in 2009… Carter was the most steady offensive player for Stockton during the season, hitting .318/.373/.494 in 91 games. Carter was also the Ports only representative in the Cal League/Carolina League All-Star game. He missed time with hand ailments at a couple of points during the season and his presence was missed badly in the Ports line-up when he was hurt…Weeks had an uneven time with the Ports, but when he was playing well, he carried the team and helped them turn around their play at the mid-point of the season. He began the year in extended spring training with leg injuries, but didn't miss a beat when he arrived in Stockton, collecting hits in his first 23 games. He slumped some in his final 27 games with the Ports, but still finished with an impressive .299/.385/.468 line in 201 at-bats.

Top Pitcher: Ben Hornbeck

Hornbeck also started the season with Kane County, but he was so good early in the year that he joined the Ports by mid-May. He would appear in 21 games for Stockton, starting 10 and relieving in 11. The lefty posted a 5-4 record with a 3.52 ERA with Stockton and he struck-out an impressive 111 batters in only 76.2 innings. He also held California League hitters to a .225 average and gave up only three homers. Hornbeck was the minor league leader in strike-outs for much of the season before finishing tied for seventh with 159 in 116.1 innings. If the A's hadn't tried to limit his innings at the end of the season by putting him in the bullpen, Hornbeck might have threatened the 200 K mark.

Other Pitchers Considered: Carlos Hernandez, Tyson Ross, Justin Friend, Derrick Gordon, Mickey Storey

Hernandez split his season between Stockton and Midland, but he was at his best with the Ports. He won a team-high nine games, posted a 3.99 ERA in 108.1 innings and struck-out 90. He also won six games with Midland and finished the year with the sixth-highest win total of any minor leaguer…For much of the season, Ross was the Ports most steady starter. Although his numbers were hurt some by poor defense played behind him, Ross still managed a 4.17 ERA and 82 strike-outs in 86.1 innings. He held California League batters to a .237 average and posted a 2.59 ERA in four July starts before he was promoted to Midland, where he helped the Rockhounds win the Texas League title…Friend, who grew up in nearby Tracy, was one of the Ports' most reliable relievers in 2009. He appeared in 43 games for Stockton, posting a 2.87 ERA in 59.2 innings. Friend struck-out 64 and held opposing teams to a .213 average.

Gordon was the veteran leader for the Ports and a rubber arm out of the bullpen, throwing 85.2 innings over 39 appearances (all but one coming in relief). He had a 3.78 ERA and struck-out 90 while holding opposing batters to a .222 average. Gordon also had a game-winning RBI in a late-season extra-inning game at Bakersfield when he was forced to hit after the Ports lost their DH earlier in the contest…Storey could have been the pitcher of the year for three different clubs, but he was "hurt" by his own effectiveness, as he kept being promoted before he could pitch long enough at any one stop to earn the award. He spent the longest amount of time with Stockton, where he appeared in 22 games, mostly as the Ports' closer. He saved nine games and posted a 2.28 ERA. Storey struck-out 35 and walked only six in 23.2 innings. For a season split between four affiliates, Storey had a 1.22 ERA, 18 saves and a ridiculous 71:8 K:BB ratio in 51.2 innings.

Kane County Cougars

It was a solid season for the Kane County Cougars, who earned a first-half division title and appeared in the Midwest League playoffs. Injuries and promotions caught-up with the Cougars during the second half of the year, but Kane County still managed to finish with a 76-64 record for the season. The Cougars' pitching staff posted a 3.63 ERA, but the team's hitters struggled, batting only .243 with a 676 OPS for the season. Kane County was swept in the first round of the playoffs, losing both games in their best-of-three series against Burlington.

Top Position Player: Jason Christian

Injuries plagued the Cougars during the second half of the season, and perhaps no injury was more damaging to the team than the one that sent Christian home midway through July. The third-baseman dislocated his shoulder halfway through July, robbing Kane County of one of its biggest weapons on offense. Although his overall "slash" line was relatively mediocre (.261/.341/.385), Christian was better than those numbers would indicate for a majority of the season. He hit .286 or better in every month except May, when he struggled to the tune of a .204 average. Christian contributed to the offense in a number of different ways. In 86 games, he scored 51 runs, had 86 hits, hit seven homers and stole 28 bases in only 31 chances. Christian also played well defensively at third base. He thrived in front of the home crowd, batting .305 at the Cougars' Elfstrom Stadium.

Other Players Considered: Jeremy Barfield, Dusty Coleman, Steve Kleen, Grant Desme, Michael Spina

On a team plagued by injuries, Barfield was a constant presence in the Cougars' line-up, appearing in 116 games despite joining the team from extended spring training at the end of April. He was up-and-down at times at the plate, but still managed to finish second on the team in homers, RBIs and doubles and first in hits. He excelled away from Elfstrom Stadium, batting .292 with a 793 OPS…Coleman was arguably the best player in the Midwest League for the first two months of the season, posting OPSs of 959 and 918, respectively. He tailed off in June and July, however, posting OPSs below 600 in each of those two months. Still, Coleman finished tied for second on the team in homers and triples and third in doubles despite appearing in only 93 games. He also stole 18 bases…Before joining Stockton, Kleen was one of the Cougars' top hitters, batting a team-best .282 in 70 games. He drove-in 46, good for third on the team despite playing in only half of the season

Desme's best work came with Stockton (as mentioned above), but he was still a standout with the Cougars despite beginning the year 0-20. In 69 games, he hit .274 with a team-best 11 homeruns. He also stole 24 bases in 24 chances and was the team's best defensive outfielder…Spina joined the Cougars for the second half of the season after being drafted by Oakland. He was the Cougars' main power source during the second half of the season, belting seven homers and 10 doubles in 184 at-bats. He also walked 25 times for a .352 OBP, third-best on the team among players with more than 40 games played. Spina also drove-in 28 runs. Perhaps most impressive was that he posted these numbers despite missing nearly two weeks after being beaned in the head with a pitch.

Top Pitcher: Kenneth Smalley

Smalley began the year in the Cougars' bullpen, but he quickly established himself as one of the top starters in the Midwest League. He was the Midwest League leader in ERA for much of the season before fading in August. Despite his August struggles, Smalley still managed a sparkling 2.73 ERA, good for second in the Midwest League. He was a mid-season and post-season Midwest League All-Star. For the year, Smalley allowed only 109 hits in 131.2 innings and he struck-out 119. In May through July, Smalley allowed 15 earned runs in 85 innings (1.58 ERA). He finished second on the team in wins, innings pitched and strike-outs.

Other Pitchers Considered: Pedro Figueroa, Anthony Capra, Justin Murray, Trey Barham, Jamie Richmond, Mickey Storey

Despite spending the final seven weeks of the season with Stockton, Figueroa still was the Cougars' leader in wins with 10. The hard-throwing lefty posted a 3.23 ERA and he struck-out 78 in 86.1 innings…Capra had a losing record with the Cougars (4-7), but it wasn't reflective of how he pitched. He posted a 3.24 ERA and struck-out 103 while allowing only 70 hits in 100 innings. Capra went on to strike-out 67 more batters with Stockton to finish with 170 on the season, the second most for any minor league pitcher in 2009…Murray was the Cougars' closer for much of the season and he was the Cougars' save leader with 12. He also had a 5-1 record and a 2.84 ERA to go along with a solid 45:14 K:BB ratio in 44.1 innings.

Barham was dominant out of the Cougars' bullpen, posting a 1.24 ERA in 43.2 innings. He allowed only 26 hits and struck-out 41 batters. The southpaw was particularly tough against lefties, holding them to a ridiculous .045 average…Richmond moved from the starting rotation to the bullpen for Kane County in 2009 with good results. He posted a 2.70 ERA and saved four games in 50 innings for the Cougars. The right-hander allowed 48 hits and he struck-out 40 while walking only five. On the season, he walked only eight batters in 76.2 innings between Kane County and Stockton…Storey's amazing season was described in more detail above, but he had to get a mention in the Kane County section, as well. Although he appeared in only 13 games for the Cougars, he earned nine saves, second-most on the team. He allowed only one run on five hits and one walk in 17.1 innings and he struck-out 23 batters over that stretch.

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