The High-A Stockton Ports played what can best be described as a Little League game on Friday against the Modesto Nuts. Actually, make that two Little League games. It took six hours, 36 hits, 21 walks, 6 wild pitches, 3 errors, 3 HBPs, 3 pickoffs, and 14 pitchers, but the Oakland A's affiliate came away with a 12-10 victory in 17 innings. The winning "pitcher" was first baseman John Nogowski, who fired off four innings of scoreless relief.
Stockton initially faced a tough challenge in the form of starter Jon Gray. The right-hander was a top-20 prospect for two years running and made nine starts in the bigs for the Rockies last summer, and while his MLB debut was a bit ... shall we say, rocky, with a 5.53 ERA ... that resume still overqualifies him to face hitters in the low minors. Gray was dominant for the Modesto Nuts, striking out eight batters in his four innings, but his defense let him down as the Ports tallied three unearned runs against him in the 4th. By the middle of the 5th the Ports had a 6-0 lead, with half of the damage done by a pair of run-scoring doubles off the bat off Seth Brown.
However, Stockton did not merely cruise to victory from there. Starter Heath Fillmyer had a similar experience to Gray's, as 5th-inning errors by shortstop Mikey White and first baseman Sandber Pimentel led to a couple unearned runs for the Nuts. Fillmyer's final line: 5⅓ ip, 3 R, 1 ER, 4 Ks, 2 BB, 5 hits. By the end of the 7th the lead was down to 6-5 thanks to another shaky outing from reliever Bobby Wahl. At one point, Wahl had runners on first and second with one out, but after two wild pitches in the same at-bat the lead runner had scored and the trail runner had moved to third, where he soon scored on a sac fly.
The Ports answered back in similar fashion, as Modesto's pitcher issued a walk, a pair of run-scoring wild pitches, and a pair of HBPs in the top of the 8th to plate three more runs. But then Stockton reliever Ben Bracewell coughed up four runs in the bottom of the frame to tie the score at 9-9.
At this point, the game was not quite half over.
It seems that in most marathon games there is one extra inning in which both teams manage to score to keep the contest going. On Friday, that was the 10th. Mikey White singled home a run to give the Ports the lead in the top of the frame, but a pair of doubles off Koby Gauna knotted things back up at 10-10 and the good times kept on rolling. Both teams kept fighting after that, as it took until the 13th before there was another 1-2-3 inning. Nogowski took the mound in the bottom of the 14th and allowed just a pair of walks in his first three innings of work.
The 17th inning finally brought sweet, sweet closure, seven innings after the previous runs had been scored. It started with a leadoff HBP, of course, and the runner eventually came around to score on a wild pitch. I told you this was a Little League game. Brown later added another run by singling home White, and the Ports had a two-run lead. Nogowski allowed a pair of singles in the bottom of the frame to put the tying run on base, and at this point I like to imagine that there were about 19 fans left in the stands and they all let out a collective sigh of frustration. But a strikeout ended the evening and the Ports held on for a 12-10 victory.
Key hitting prospects:
Seth Brown: 3-for-8, 2 2B, BB, 4 RBI, SB
Mikey White: 3-for-8, BB, RBI, 3 R, CS
James Harris: 2-for-6, 2 BB, 3 R, picked off
Tyler Marincov: 3-for-8, 2B, BB, 2 RBI, SB
Sandber Pimentel: 0-for-2, BB, 2 Ks
Overall, Marincov and Harris have been the stars of the lineup so far this season. Marincov is 24 and so time is running out for the former 8th-round pick to make a meaningful move up the ladder, but the 22-year-old Harris could still enter the prospect radar if he keeps up his current level of play. Harris was a supplemental 1st-round pick (No. 60 overall) by the Rays in 2011, as a high schooler out of Oakland Tech. The top pitcher so far has been righty Daniel Gossett, whom we covered on Thursday.
Triple-A Nashville Sounds
The rest of the A's minor league games were of the normal, nine-inning variety, but that doesn't mean they were boring. Chad Pinder hit an RBI double in the 1st inning and an RBI single in the 5th, but by the beginning of the 6th the Sounds faced a 3-2 deficit. That's when Nashville's massive prospect power finally came to life, as Renato Nunez and Matt Olson launched back-to-back solo homers to take the lead. For Olson, it was part of a day that saw him reach base three times, a positive sign for the struggling slugger.
Unlike in the Ports game, Nashville received lights-out relief work from Daniel Coulombe (2 ip, 2 Ks), Tucker Healy (1 ip, 2 Ks), and Angel Castro (didn't blow the save), and the Sounds finished off the 5-3 victory.
Key hitting prospects:
Matt Olson: 2-for-3, HR, BB, K
Renato Nunez: 2-for-3, HR, SF, 2 RBI, fielding error (3B)
Chad Pinder: 2-for-4, 2B, 2 RBI
This game was a welcome sight, with those three top prospects waking up a bit at the plate. Nunez and Pinder are at least above the Mendoza Line at this point, while Olson leads the trio with a .758 OPS thanks to his team-leading seven walks (against only seven Ks). Healy has been a standout in the bullpen, with an overall line of 5 ip, 0 runs, 8 Ks, 2 BB, 1 hit.
Double-A Midland RockHounds
Daniel Mengden got the start for Midland, and he was masterful once again. In fact, there was something familiar about his pitching line ...
Mengden, 4/09 vs. Arkansas: 6 ip, 0 runs, 8 Ks, 3 BB, 2 hits
Mengden, 4/15 vs. Arkansas: 6 ip, 0 runs, 8 Ks, 3 BB, 2 hits
Spoooooky. Mengden put up the exact same pitching line in two straight outings against the exact same opponent. It took him an extra 21 pitches this time, but the mustachioed bulldog is off to a stellar start to the year after coming over in the Scott Kazmir trade last summer. His numbers for the year are ... well, just take Friday's start and multiply by two. Here's a quick look at one of his strikeouts:
Good news bad news time. The bad news is that the Hounds got shut down just the same as Arkansas did, and the scoreless tie extended all the way to the 9th. The good news is that Midland is the one who finally broke the seal, as Ryon Healy launched a walk-off solo homer for a 1-0 victory. As impressive as the homer was, though, the call from the broadcast booth was even bigger:
Get excited, fella.
Healy leads the team this year with a 1.000 OPS (.300/.400/.600), including two of the Hounds' four homers. (Still waiting for Barreto and Chapman to heat up.) While Mengden has of course been the star of the rotation, the bullpen stalwart has been 23-year-old Trey Cochran-Gill, acquired for Evan Scribner last winter. Cochran-Gill threw two more scoreless innings on Friday, and his line through three games this year is: 6 ip, 0 runs, 7 Ks, 0 BB, 4 hits. That's an encouraging line after the righty walked more batters than he struck out in his first Double-A trial last year.
Single-A Beloit Snappers
I don't even know what to make of this game. The Snappers committed three errors in the 1st to allow two unearned runs to score. Their opponent made two errors themselves in Beloit's four-run 6th. By the end, the Snappers had lost 6-4, but the lesson I've learned from the early season so far is that you have to apply some large chunks of salt to the proceedings in the low minors. Between this game and Stockton's wild one, it's tough to judge things based on a box score -- how much of each team's success was born from quality performances, and how much from the opponent's sloppiness?
Starting pitcher Jesus Zambrano got roughed up (3 ip, 6 R, 4 ER, 0 Ks, 8 hits), but Angel Duno did a wonderful job in long relief (5 ip, 0 R, 4 Ks, 4 hits). In the lineup, Chris Iriart and Skye Bolt each notched a pair of hits. Iriart still leads the team with his 1.210 OPS (.406/.429/.781), with Bolt the runner-up at .785 (9-for-26, 2B, 2 BB, 6 Ks).
Disclaimer: Just like with the current MLB season, all of these performances have come in tiny samples. We can't judge a minor leaguer on eight games any more than we could judge a big leaguer in that span; in fact, probably less, since many minor leaguers are currently adjusting to new levels in the early going. If you're worried that a hitter is struggling, give it some time and see if he heats up, and vice versa if there's a hot prospect whom you're getting overly excited about.