Beloit Notebook: Still In The Hunt

Despite an average age of a little more than 21-years-old, the Beloit Snappers have been playing well through the first quarter of the 2013 season. Bill Seals brings us up-to-date on the Oakland A's Low-A affiliate.

Team Overview

Following a hot start to the month of May in which Beloit won six of eight games, the team has flattened out by playing .500 ball over the past week. The Snappers headed into Friday night's series opener in the Quad Cities with a 21-18 mark, just six games in back of first-place Cedar Rapids. Ryan Christensen's squad wraps up an eight-game road trip with a series at Quad Cities, starting Friday night.

Through the first six weeks of the season, the offense has shouldered the load for the Snappers, who rank second in the Midwest League with a slugging percentage of .418 and 753 team OPS. Beloit has launched a league-high 35 home runs while scoring the fourth-most runs in the MWL with 196.

Much of the team's offensive success can be traced to one of the league's top infields. Matt Olson and Renato Nunez, a pair of 19-year-olds getting their first taste of Low-A ball, have stood out as corner infielders. Olson has rebounded nicely from a slow start to post a slash line of .270/.367/.467 and has played in 38 of 39 games in his first full professional season. Nunez currently ranks second in the league with nine homers to go along with a slash line of .275/.331/.542. Daniel Robertson arrived from extended spring training in early May and leads the team with a .302 batting average in 63 at-bats.

Although the Snappers' pitching staff allowed a team ERA-inflating 23 runs in a loss to Cedar Rapids on May 12th, the staff has had its moments of brilliance this month. The Snappers rank in the bottom half of the league with a 4.03 ERA. On the bright side, they have allowed the third-fewest home runs in the league with 14 and fourth-fewest walks with 108.

Albeit in shorter stints than the rest of the starters, right-hander Michael Ynoa has anchored the pitching staff with a 1.44 ERA through 25 innings and eight appearances. His K:BB ratio stands at a much-improved 25:7 and he has allowed just 20 hits. Raul Alcantara (5-1, 3.18 ERA) and Dakota Bacus (3-1, 3.09 ERA) are also off to good starts and have only walked a combined 12 batters through 77 innings. Alcantara's five victories rank second in the league. Out of the bullpen, Ryan Dull has a team-high four saves and has pitched to a 1.76 ERA in 15.1 innings.

Comings and Goings

The highest-profile addition to the Snappers roster has been 2012 supplemental first-round draft pick Robertson, who has picked up right where he left off last fall and has given the team an instant shot of offense. The shortstop has three multi-hit games over his last 10.

Outfielder Rashun Dixon joined Robertson at Low-A ball out of extended spring training, but was shipped to Stockton on May 14th. Dixon hit four homers and drove in seven runs in just 36 at-bats, good for a .611 slugging percentage and 1033 OPS.

It's been an interesting journey for third baseman Chad Lewis. A fourth-round selection in 2010, the 21-year-old is back in the Midwest League for the first time since a brief eight-game stint at the beginning of last season. Lewis has retooled his offensive game and held his own with Beloit with a homer and a .415 SLG through 11 games. The homer came during a two-hit night Wednesday against Clinton.

Catcher Nick Rickles replaced Philip Pohl on the roster, but has struggled out of the gate with just nine hits through 49 at-bats. Rickles returned to Low-A ball after splitting time behind the plate in Burlington with John Nester last season.

On the injury front, Stuart Pudenz and Brent Powers were activated from the seven-day DL while Tyler Vail went on the shelf with an injury last week. Pudenz has pitched five scoreless innings over three appearances since his return, striking out four and allowing just two hits. Powers, who excelled at extended spring training before joining the Snappers, started May 14th at Clinton and allowed three earned runs on four hits over five innings to pick up the victory. Vail struggled in six relief appearances before his DL stint, posting a 7.45 ERA and dropping a pair of decisions. Fellow bullpen mate Drew Tyson was released by the A's on May 7th.

Who's Hot

Stats in this section through Wednesday, May 15

Catcher Bruce Maxwell was one of the team's best hitters during the opening weeks of the season, and has heated up once again over the past 10 games. He has hit safely in eight of those contests, while compiling a .394 average and 874 OPS. In a May 6th game at Lansing, Maxwell picked up his first four-hit game in the MWL.

Outfielder John Wooten has been just as dangerous from the batter's box, hitting .364 with an OPS approaching 1000 in his past 10 games. Heading into Thursday's finale in Clinton, Wooten had three multi-hit games in his past five and was 9-for-18 during that span. Wooten had four hits and five RBIs during the slugfest with Cedar Rapids on May 12th. The 37th-round selection in last June's draft, Wooten is holding his own at Low-A.

Although he has posted just a .243 average over his last 10 games, Nunez has hit three homers and driven in six runs during that span. Ryan Mathews has made the most of his limited opportunities in the Beloit outfield and is hitting .304 over his past 10 games with three doubles in 23 at-bats.

Second baseman Chris Bostick has turned a corner in May. After hitting only .203 in April, Bostick is batting .320 in May and has an 809 OPS over his last 10 games. He has four doubles in his last six games.

While he came back to earth in the Snappers' 6-5 extra-inning loss to Clinton on Wednesday, Alcantara put together the team's most impressive starting performance to date on May 10th when he allowed just one hit over seven innings and didn't issue a walk. The complete game victory was Alcantara's fifth win of the season.

Fellow starter Austin House was the tough-luck loser on May 14th at Clinton, when he allowed the game's only run in the bottom of the seventh. In 6.1 innings, House allowed just two hits while striking out four and walking two.

Ynoa had a string of seven straight appearances of allowing one run or less continued on Thursday night, but he surrendered four runs (one earned) on six hits in three innings. Even with the rough outing, Ynoa has pitched to a 1.44 ERA and posted a 25:7 K:BB ratio in 25 innings. Oakland's brass is particularly thrilled with the fact the right-hander hasn't issued a walk in his past 11 innings (three appearances).

Once the calendar turned to May, Bacus picked it up a notch by allowing just one earned run over his past 11 innings (three appearances). Strikeouts have been tough to come by for the right-hander, but he's allowed one walk or fewer in each of his past five outings.

Out of the bullpen, Dull is working on a string of 8.1 scoreless innings and has posted a 17:1 K:BB ratio and allowed just three hits during that span.

In three appearances (two starts) this month, Derek De Young has allowed just one earned run on 11 hits across 14 innings. He has also posted a 13:3 K:BB ratio.

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