The High-A Stockton Ports are tied for last place in their division and have the second-worst record in the Cal League, which is the reason I haven't been doing many updates about them. Even with last year's 1st-round pick Richie Martin back in action, there simply haven't been many standout performances to report. One hitter has finally started to emerge, though, and that is first baseman Sandber Pimentel.
Pimentel was solid but not great last year in his first full pro season for Single-A Beloit (112 wRC+), but he's taken a step forward this year in High-A (139 wRC+). He's already nearly matched last year's homer total in just half the number of games and he's still finding ways to get on base, though his strikeouts have gone up a bit. It's important to remember that he's only three months older than this year's 2nd-round pick, Logan Shore, so he's making excellent progress so far in the early going of his career. (He'll turn 22 in September.)
In particular, Pimentel has been on fire in June after a slow start. His monthly splits (the numbers in parentheses are his plate appearances):
April (58): .213/.362/.298, 0 HR, 15.5% BB, 32.8% Ks
May (111): .255/.342/.531, 8 HR, 9.9% BB, 25.2% Ks
June (60): .358/.417/.604, 3 HR, 8.3% BB, 26.7% Ks
Of course June's high batting average isn't sustainable, but you can still see the overall improvement. He has already cut down his strikeouts since that weak opening month, and although he's not walking as much that appears to be because he's too busy hitting the ball with authority. Ports hitting coach Tommy Everidge had this to say about Pimentel's development (via Josh Jackson of MiLB.com, click here for the full quotes):
"Lately, he's allowed things to happen. He's starting to understand he doesn't need that extra [effort]. If he stays calm, the homers are going to happen. ... He's just finally understanding himself. He's a big, tall, physical kid and he's shortened things up. He realized he doesn't have to have big movement [on his swing] to get into the ball. ... Early in the year, he was swinging at everything. We talked about shortening up his approach, and he started having good at-bats and getting strikes."
Despite not homering in April, Pimentel's 11 dingers are now tied for fourth in the 10-team Cal League. and his wRC+ is top-10 among full-time hitters as well. The lefty is in a hitter-friendly league and so big numbers are virtually expected, but it's nice to see that he's stacking up well against his top peers. I wouldn't expect to see this hot streak earn him a promotion anytime soon, as he seems like just the kind of raw youngster who could benefit from a full season of success at his current level, but it's hard not to be encouraged by his current progress.
Friedrichs settles into starting rotation
Last year's 7th-round pick, Kyle Friedrichs, was the first member of Single-A Beloit's promising rotation to receive a promotion this summer. Unfotunately, the right-hander got annihilated in his first outing for Stockton, failing to get out of the 2nd inning and allowing nine earned runs along the way. (If you're curious, that added up to a 48.80 ERA.)
However, things have really turned around for Friedrichs since then. After that disastrous debut, here's what he did in his next three starts:
6/05: 6 ip, 3 ER, 11 Ks, 0 BB
6/11: 6 ip, 1 ER, 7 Ks, 0 BB
6/16: 7 ip, 3 ER, 5 Ks, 0 BB
His ERA, now down to "only" 6.97, will be skewed for the foreseeable future thanks to that over-the-top first game. But check out how well he's controlled the strike zone -- no walks at all in those three outings, and meanwhile his strikeout rate is fully double what he posted in Beloit. Overall, he's recorded 26 Ks and only one walk in four starts for the Ports.
Friedrichs profiles as more of a pitch-to-contact groundball guy, so I don't expect him to maintain the huge strikeout rate he's got going right now (11.3 K/9, or 28.6% of batters). But if there's one thing I want to see out of that type of hurler, it's a low walk rate, and you can't get much lower than one free pass in four starts. Of course, just as I cited Pimentel being on the younger side, it's worth noting that Friedrichs is already 24 years old. But given that he's still in his first full pro season and he's already finding success and moving up the ladder, I'm not yet at a point where I'm holding his age against him -- if he continues on the fast track then it will truly not matter at all.
Fellow 2015 draftee James Naile (20th round) has actually leapfrogged Friedrichs in the system, as Naile has made a couple spot starts for Triple-A Nashville and now seems to be settling into Double-A Midland's beleaguered rotation. But we'll talk more about him the next time we update the RockHounds. For now, Friedrichs might be at the front of the A's 2015 draft class in terms of pro success.
Hitters (thru 67 games)
Martin has played 21 games since returning from his knee injury and he's not doing a lot just yet, but give him some patience and remember that his strength is his premium defense. White, on the other hand, is quickly falling off my radar -- I know that's a bit premature, but I saw him as a low-ceiling fast-track guy and if he's already struggling to do anything at the lowest levels of the minors then it'll be a tough road from here on out.
|... Bullpen ...|
We talked about Friedrichs, but check out Fillmyer. His sparkling ERA is backed up by great peripherals -- a strikeout per inning, a lot walk rate, and somehow only one homer allowed in a tough league for pitchers. He was identified as a sleeper pick by the top MiLB sources last winter, and he's more than delivering on that promise.
All five affiliates are in action. Wait, five? Yep, Low-A Vermont started their season today!
Triple-A Nashville: Live, Chris Smith vs. Round Rock
Double-A Midland, #1: Lost 3-2, Daniel Gossett vs. San Antonio
Double-A Midland, #2: Live, Ben Bracewell vs. San Antonio
High-A Stockton: Live, Brett Graves vs. High Desert
Single-A Beloit: Live, Evan Manarino vs. Wisconsin
Low-A Vermont: Live, Heath Bowers vs. Lowell
Despite Midland's loss in the opener of their doubleheader, Gossett had a fine outing (5 ip, 1 run, 5 Ks). They went with a bullpen game in the nightcap, started by the reliever Bracewell.
Down in Beloit, Manarino was superb yet again (8 Ks, 0 BB), and Bowers (24th round, 2015) got the nod in Vermont's opener.