The High-A Stockton Ports are not one of the Oakland A's strongest minor league affiliates this year. That's not a bad thing, because instead the best prospects are at higher levels and thus closer to MLB, but it does mean the one local Northern California farm team carries less intrigue than in recent years.
Only six members of the active roster made our preseason Community Prospect List Top 30. Four of them are members of the starting rotation, leaving only two everyday players, and of the six only two of them appear in the top 18 spots on the CPL. The list of top Ports:
9. Casey Meisner, SP
16. Mikey White, SS/2B
19. Zack Erwin, SP
24. Sandber Pimentel, 1B
25. Heath Fillmyer, SP
27. Daniel Gossett, SP
Granted, shortstop Richie Martin (No. 8) will eventually join the team after recovering from his torn meniscus, but to this point there hasn't been a lot of star power in Stockton's home dugout. What's worse, most of the guys on that list haven't been playing very well yet, and the one who has (Gossett) just spent a couple weeks on the disabled list before returning Wednesday.
Fortunately, a new name has stepped up: outfielder James Harris. I first became aware of Harris at spring training, when Jeremy Koo, Torrey's Tacos and I took in an A's/Indians Cactus League game at Goodyear Ballpark in Arizona. My reaction at the time:
I have literally never heard of James Harris Jr.— Alex Hall (@AlexHallAN) March 18, 2016
Well, I've heard of him now. Harris was a first-round pick in 2011 by the Rays, but more importantly he was selected out of Oakland Tech. That's the same high school that produced Rickey Henderson, former NFL superstar Marshawn Lynch, and a whole host of other famous people from all walks of life. The last time the A's had a speedy outfielder out of Oakland Tech, it worked out quite well. Sure, that's more correlation than causation, but it's still a fun thing to note and I will always root harder for local products.
There's more to Harris than just his hometown, though. He's already racked up 13 multi-hit games out of 26 total contests, and he has more three-hit games (five) than 0-fers (three). In total he's provided a great spark out of the leadoff spot, batting .356 with a bit of extra-base pop and a reasonable strikeout rate (17.3%). His six stolen bases are top-10 in the Cal League, and he's done all of this while playing in center field. His best tool appears to be his speed, which certainly got my attention when I watched him play in the spring (and saw him easily steal a base).
Over at FanGraphs, David Laurila shares this quote from Harris explaining his improvement this season:
"Maturity," said Harris. "I came in thinking I knew a lot. I talked a lot. I was young. Now I'm better at listening. I've grown up and learned that nothing is going to be given to you; everything has to be earned."
There are still things to improve on, and Chris Kusiolek did mention in a recent scouting report that he saw "poor effort on balls and lackadaisical given game situation, frequent poor body language and effort through game." But it's tough to be anything but thrilled with the growth that Harris has shown and the numbers he's producing on the field.
Since Harris was drafted out of high school, he's still only 22 years old despite being in his sixth professional season. It never worked out for him as a teenager in Tampa Bay's system, but he's still young enough to be a legit prospect. If he continues to stand out in Stockton then it will be interesting to see how aggressively the A's move him up the ladder, especially with Brett Vertigan struggling in Double-A Midland and Skye Bolt and Brett Siddall knocking on Stockton's door down in Single-A Beloit.
Danny Valencia is scheduled for a three-game rehab assignment with the Ports before he rejoins the A's for their trip to Baltimore on Friday. His first game was a quiet 0-for-3 on Monday, but on Wednesday he launched a homer (off a lefty). He also committed a pair of errors (one throwing, one fielding), but the whole point of a rehab assignment is to shake off the rust after sitting out for a couple weeks. The important thing is that he made it through those first two games healthy and he's still on track to returning promptly to Oakland.
Henderson Alvarez made another rehab start on Saturday as he works back from last year's shoulder surgery, with a line of 4 ip, 1 run, 4 Ks, 1 BB, 1 hit, 48 pitches. You can read more about the proceedings by checking out Jeremy Koo's eyeball scouting report, but the bottom line is that his velocity was in the low-90s (up to 94), his eephus pitch was working, and his strong defense was as nimble as ever. He still has a couple more weeks before the A's must activate him from the DL, whether that means bringing him to Oakland or optioning him back to the minors for more fine-tuning.
Meanwhile, the Ports got back one of their top performers of the early season: starting pitcher Daniel Gossett. The right-hander landed on the disabled list after leaving his April 23 start early, with what A's Farm suggested may have been a trapezius issue. Whatever it was it didn't hold him out for long, because he returned to the mound for an abbreviated start on Wednesday. He threw three innings, settling down after a rough 1st frame to post a line of 3 ip, 4 runs, 4 Ks, 1 BB, 7 hits, 65 pitches. The low pitch count was surely by design in order to ease him back into a normal workload, and the hits were mostly singles (with one double). My takeaways from this outing are that Gossett is back and still striking out a batter per inning.
Finally, catcher Lana Akau returned to the lineup on April 28. The 20-year-old Hawaiian didn't quite crack our CPL Top 30 despite getting some late nominations, and then he missed the beginning of the season due to a concussion incurred in the spring (via Scout.com). He's off to a slow start over the last week, going 2-for-15 with a walk and seven Ks, but let's give him some time to settle in. He's returning from a brain injury, he's at a new level again after starting last year at Low-A, and he's still young for his league. And hey, just the fact that we're even discussing a 20th-round pick from the 2013 draft is a small victory.
Highlights since last time
We last checked in with Stockton after their game on April 23, when Gossett got hurt. The short version of their time since then: they got swept by the San Jose Giants, but then they turned around and swept the Modesto Nuts (Rockies). That put them right back in a four-game set against San Jose this week, and they enter Thursday trying to avoid yet another sweep at the hands of the young Giants. Seriously, FTG. At 11-15, the Ports aren't making any noise in the Cal League standings, which frankly doesn't come as a huge surprise considering what we discussed in the intro to this post.
The most relevant part of the team is the starting rotation, so they're our focus in this section. Each starter put up a Jeckyll-and-Hyde performance over the last two weeks, with one strong outing and one stinker:
- For Brett Graves, my focus is his K/BB rate -- bad in his first game (1 K, 4 BB), great in his next one (4 Ks, 0 BB).
- Heath Fillmyer allowed nine runs in his first start, but he followed it up with six sparkling innings of one-run ball on Sunday.
- Before Casey Meisner's April 27 start I set a goal of striking out more batters than he walked; he missed the mark that day (3 Ks, 4 BB), but passed with flying colors the next time against the same opponent (7 Ks, 2 BB), all without allowing an earned run in either game (albeit 3 unearned runs each time).
- Zack Erwin nearly completed the 7th inning last Thursday, and he didn't even throw 90 pitches -- that's the kind of efficiency I want to see out of him. However, he got shelled his next time out, allowing eight runs and failing to get out of the 2nd.
The biggest news among the hitters was the breakout of Sandber Pimentel. The slugger finally got around to some slugging, with a pair of doubles on Saturday, a pair of homers on Monday, and then another double on Tuesday. Banner Island Ballpark is kind to lefty power, so hopefully this is the beginning of Pimentel putting up the kind of silly numbers we're used to from our High-A mashers.
James Harris, OF: .356/.389/.475, 1 HR, 5 BB, 22 Ks, 6 SB (127 PAs)
Sandber Pimentel, 1B: .241/.362/.431, 2 HR, 9 BB, 22 Ks (69 PAs)
Seth Brown, OF: .221/.323/.326, 2 HR, 12 BB, 22 Ks (99 PAs)
Mikey White, SS: .220/.273/.297, 0 HR, 6 BB, 21 Ks (99 PAs)
Lana Akau, C: 2-for-15, 1 BB, 7 Ks
Brown is slowly inching up his numbers, with his average moving over the Mendoza Line after a slow start. His strong BB and K rates give me confidence that he'll settle in eventually and that his other underwhelming numbers aren't a sign that he's simply overmatched. Meanwhile, 24-year-old Tyler Marincov leads the team with seven homers and a .959 OPS, and he can get my attention by earning a call-up to a higher level. Here is Brown launching an opposite-field homer last week:
Heath Fillmyer, RHP: 5 games, 26⅔ ip, 4.72 ERA, 18 Ks, 7 BB, 0 HR
Casey Meisner, RHP: 5 starts, 26⅔ ip, 2.70 ERA, 22 Ks, 16 BB, 1 HR
Brett Graves, RHP: 5 games, 24 ip, 6.00 ERA, 17 Ks, 12 BB, 3 HR
Zack Erwin, LHP: 5 starts, 23 ip, 4.30, 21 Ks, 12 BB, 2 HR
Daniel Gossett, RHP: 5 starts, 22 ip, 4.50 ERA, 30 Ks, 6 BB, 2 HR
Don't worry too much about the high ERAs in the Cal League. Instead, I'm unhappy with the high walk rates from the three guys in the middle, especially since no one except Gossett (and maybe Erwin) can strike anyone out. But this is High-A and that's the kind of thing they're here to work on, and remember that this group includes a 21-year-old (Meisner), a 2015 draft pick (Erwin), and a guy who has only been pitching full-time for a couple years (Fillmyer). This rotation is bright but quite raw, so it will require patience.
There's no one in the bullpen whom I'm terribly interested in, but it's worth noting that 23-year-old righty Carlos Navas has 20 Ks in 14 innings.
All four affiliates are in action.
Triple-A Nashville: 4:35 p.m., Dillon Overton vs. Iowa
Double-A Midland: 5:00 p.m., Raul Alcantara vs. Corpus Christi
High-A Stockton: 7:10 p.m., Brett Graves vs. San Jose
Single-A Beloit: 4:05 p.m., Angel Duno vs. South Bend
Overton is the obvious draw here, but I'll be keeping an eye on all four of these guys. Alcantara and Graves are still trying to prove they belong as starters, and Duno's K/BB ratio (23) is higher than his age (22).