The Oakland A's Double-A affiliate, the Midland RockHounds, are a part of the Texas League. To be more specific, they are the two-time defending champions of the Texas League, but that's beside the point. The league features a total of eight teams spread throughout Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Missouri, which means there are around 200 active players on any given day. Of that pool, 43 of them are batters who have accrued enough plate appearances to be eligible for a theoretical batting title (3.1 PAs per team game). And of those qualified hitters, Ryon Healy of the Hounds leads them all with an 1.100 OPS. (Note: Sherman Johnson of the Arkansas Travelers has a higher OPS but misses the PA cutoff for qualification.)
If I'd told you a member of the Hounds led the league in hitting and asked you to guess which one, it's doubtful you would have picked Healy unless you've been following along on a daily basis. Matt Chapman has emerged as the hot name on the roster and he leads the team in homers, and Franklin Barreto is the most prominent name in the entire system. But Healy has hit for a high average (.360), displayed good plate discipline (13 BB, 25 Ks, .424 OBP), and actually hit for a higher isolated slugging mark than Chapman (.315 vs. .301) thanks in part to his league-leading 11 doubles. The right-hander has been the total package at the plate, even as Chapman's defensive pedigree at the hot corner has forced Healy to become a regular first baseman for the first time in his pro career.
This breakout has come not a moment too soon for Healy, too. After earning a third-round selection in the 2013 draft, he struggled to a below-average line in both Low-A Vermont ('13) and High-A Stockton ('14) to begin his pro career. He had already begun to fall off the prospect radar in 2015 when he got off to another slow start for Midland (Apr-Jun: .676 OPS), but in the second half something finally clicked and he started shredding (Jul-Sep: .891 OPS). The performance was enough to get him back onto our preseason Community Prospect List at No. 20, but it wasn't enough for him to crack the logjam of corner infielders in Triple-A Nashville (Olson, Nunez, Ravelo, Muncy). That meant a return trip to Double-A, where he would have to double down on his late 2015 success while waiting for a spot to open for him up the ladder.
Well, after the first month of the new season, the survey says that Healy's 2015 breakout was not a fluke. Everything about his current performance suggests that he's finished with Double-A and ready for a bigger challenge, with the only question being how to give it to him. Heck, even his BABIP is so comical that I hesitate to write it off -- he's maintained a mark over .400 for his last 344 PAs dating back to the beginning of last July, and at some point that's only partly a fluke with the rest being the result of crushing the dang ball against inferior competition. Even if/when his average drops from .360 down toward last year's .302, he'll still have an enormous batting line. His wRC+ of 199 means that he's twice as good as the average hitter in the league, so he has some room to regress and still be a monster.
This was always going to be a critical year for Healy. He could either take a step forward by building on last year's success, or he could slip back into the world of mediocrity he'd inhabited for his first two calendar years as a pro. So far he's doing the former, and now all he can do is keep plugging along and wait for something to change on the depth chart above him.
Franklin Barreto injury?
The Hounds had a great day on Thursday, pounding the Corpus Christi Hooks (Astros) by the score of 13-0. However, it got off to a sour start in the 1st inning when leadoff man Franklin Barreto left due to an apparent injury. In his first at-bat, the infielder fouled a ball off his leg and was replaced on defense the following inning. No word yet on whether the injury is severe enough for him to miss time, or if he was simply removed as a precaution. Barreto is the team's top prospect, so there's no point in messing around with his health. In an odd coincidence, the Hooks' leadoff hitter also left the game with an injury after his first at-bat of the evening (also on his own foul ball).
To distract you from feeling sad about this, here is Barreto hitting an opposite-field homer on Monday.
Highlights from the last week
We last checked in with Midland a week ago, and they've been hot since then as winners of nine of their last 11. Their last four series have all been against the Hooks and the San Antonio Missions (Padres), with the following results: lost 3-of-4 to Missions, swept Hooks in 4, won 3-of-4 from Missions, won 2-of-3 from Hooks (finale Friday). I included that initial series loss against San Antonio to show that the Hounds came back and did better the next time.
Three times in the last week, the lineup scored in double-digits: a 19-7 trouncing last Friday, an 11-10 squeaker Monday, and then the 13-0 evisceration on Thursday. Although Healy has led the charge, the entire lineup has gotten in on the fun, from the top prospects down through the org filler. The offense has been so thorough that it's not even worth singling anyone out; we'll get to it in the stats section below.
The pitching has been less consistent, but still good enough for the team to win quieter affairs like a 4-3 decision Saturday and a 3-1 triumph Tuesday. One standout was Dylan Covey, who put together easily his best start of the season and his third straight strong effort overall. He only needed 96 pitches to reach the 8th inning, and for the first time all year he struck out at least twice as many batters as he walked. His final line: 7⅔ ip, 1 run, 7 Ks, 3 BB, 1 HR, 3 hits.
Through the first seven frames Covey faced just two batters over the minimum, including the solo homer that accounted for his only run. If he's to succeed as a starter it'll likely be because he learns to efficiently eat innings on a consistent basis, and so the biggest thing I'm looking for with him is how deep he lasts into games (and, as a factor of that, how many pitches he wastes by walking batters).
However, the hero of the staff this week was Raul Alcantara, who fired off six no-hit innings on Thursday. The righty had allowed seven runs in his previous start against the Hooks, and then bounced back with a decent outing his next time out, but this performance was a nice sight after a discouraging couple of years for the 23-year-old. His final line was 6 ip, 0 runs, 0 hits, 4 Ks, 1 BB, 88 pitches. The Hooks eventually broke up the no-no with a single leading off the 8th against reliever Ben Bracewell.
As for the rest of the staff, it was another rough day for Joel Seddon on Monday. The right-hander now has four stinkers in five outings, this time with a line of 4 ip, 5 runs, 2 Ks, 3 BB, 7 hits. Unfortunately, there aren't really any other exciting options to take his spot until someone is ready to come up from High-A Stockton, especially with Sam Bragg on the disabled list and reliever Corey Walter already taking the spot vacated by Daniel Mengden's promotion. May as well keep running Seddon out there and see if he can figure it out.
Ryon Healy, 1B: .360/.424/.676, 6 HR, 13 BB, 25 Ks, 199 wRC+ (125 PAs)
Matt Chapman, 3B: .272/.380/.573, 8 HR, 15 BB, 28 Ks, 158 wRC+ (121 PAs)
J.P. Sportman, OF: .300/.380/.443, 1 HR, 9 BB, 16 Ks, 130 wRC+, 4 SB (79 PAs)
Jaycob Brugman, OF: .280/.330/.458, 4 HR, 7 BB, 22 Ks, 119 wRC+ (115 PAs)
Franklin Barreto, SS: .260/.313/.385, 3 HR, 5 BB, 27 Ks, 97 wRC+, 7 SB (112 PAs)
Yairo Munoz, SS: 6-for-25, 1 HR, 1 BB, 5 Ks
More Healy facts that I couldn't fit into the first section! I usually don't care much about RBI, but 29 of them in 27 games will get my attention; only two other hitters in the league have at least 20. His 20 extra-base hits lead the entire minor leagues. And he was named to the Prospect Team of the Week by MLB Pipeline last week. He's currently on a seven-game hitting streak during which he's 14-for-28 with eight extra-base hits.
The new name on this list is Sportman, who is on a nine-game streak of his own (16-for-35). He's actually a couple weeks younger than Brugman, and after missing most of 2015 he's essentially in his first full pro season this year. His line is largely average-dependent right now, but hitting for average is supposed to be part of his skill set so if he keeps up his current pace then perhaps we'll be hearing more about him as the summer heats up. Note that Sportman is playing primarily LF while Brugman mans CF, but that Sportman had played primarily CF entering this year.
Finally, Munoz has made three of his five defensive starts at SS so far, pushing Barreto to 2B each time.
Dylan Covey, RHP: 5 starts, 1.91 ERA, 28⅓ ip, 24 Ks, 17 BB, 2 HR
Raul Alcantara, RHP: 6 starts, 5.53 ERA, 27⅔ ip, 28 Ks, 14 BB, 5 HR
Joel Seddon, RHP: 5 games, 11.64 ERA, 19⅓ ip, 10 Ks, 12 BB, 2 HR
Trey Cochran-Gill, RHP: 8 games, 3.38 ERA, 16 ip, 15 Ks, 5 BB, 2 HR
Bobby Wahl, RHP: 5 games, 6.43 ERA, 7 ip, 6 Ks, 1 BB, 0 HR
Cochran-Gill had never allowed a professional home run entering this year, spanning 70 appearances since 2014. He's now allowed two this season, but even still I'm encouraged by his work in Midland. He was gonna serve one up eventually, but so far that has been virtually the only way to scratch across a run against him. Meanwhile, Wahl is starting to settle down, at least in terms of his walk rate.
All four affiliates are in action.
Triple-A Nashville: 4:35 p.m., Dillon Overton vs. Memphis
Double-A Midland: 5:00 p.m., Corey Walter vs. Corpus Christi
High-A Stockton: 7:10 p.m., Heath Fillmyer vs. Modesto
Single-A Beloit: 4:35 p.m., Kyle Friedrichs vs. South Bend
Overton was scheduled for Thursday but got bumped for a Henderson Alvarez rehab start, which is fair enough. He'll go tonight instead. Fillmyer is the other guy to watch.