The Double-A Midland RockHounds got off to a wonderful start this season, going 14-8 in April, but they've gone 20-30 since and finished the first half of the season below .500 and far from the first-half division title. One leading factor in that decline is surely the loss of a few standout performers, including Daniel Mengden, Ryon Healy, and Jaycob Brugman, all of whom were promoted in May. Another reason is that the remaining top prospects are struggling.
Nowhere are those growing pains more evident than in the bat of Matt Chapman. He still leads the Texas League in home runs, with his 16th coming on Tuesday to open the second half of the season, but he's doing a lot more missing than hitting these days. In 20 June games, he's struck out 31 times in 82 plate appearances, which is an absurdly high rate. Add in May and the rate remains the same, around 38% of his trips to the plate. The question with Chapman was always whether he would make enough contact to translate his power into games, and the early returns have been great the last couple years, but now he'll need to make the necessary adjustments and re-prove himself against upper minors pitching.
Franklin Barreto's cold month was actually May, when he posted a .530 OPS. In June he has rebounded with an .814 mark so far, and on Tuesday he added his seventh dinger of the season. Even better, he's made only three errors in the field this month, raising his total to 12 on the year -- that's a huge improvement from the 34 he committed in an injury-shortened 2015 campaign, in nearly the same number of games. (He's played some 2B this year, but the vast majority of his innings have still come at SS.)
Finally, Yairo Munoz has played in only eight games this month, though it's unclear why. He got off to a hot start after missing the beginning of the year to injury, but since May 16 he's just 16-for-88 for a .427 OPS. He hasn't played much shortstop lately, and the position accounts for less than half of his defensive innings.
The pitching staff has also been a problem. After losing Mengden to a promotion and Dylan Covey to an oblique injury, they've struggled just to put a starter on the mound every day -- not unlike the A's themselves. Another top prospect, Raul Alcantara, has a 6.43 ERA in his last five outings and is now on the DL as well. All of that has led to relievers like Corey Walter and Ben Bracewell making starts, as well as the aggressive promotion of James Naile from Beloit -- just 12 months after he was drafted in the 20th round. The one bright spot has been Daniel Gossett, who has made four appearances since his own promotion from High-A Stockton and sports 23 Ks, 2 BB, and a 3.32 ERA.
The Hounds won the Texas League championship each of the last two years, but they'll need to turn things around quickly if they want a chance at a three-peat. The standings reset this week for the beginning of the second half, so their poor play the last couple months is in the past and won't affect their hunt for a second-half division title. But the top prospects are going to have to get back on track for Midland to have any hope of contention.
Naile joins the team
The disarray in Oakland's rotation has sent waves down throughout the minor league system, and nobody has felt the rollercoaster more than 2015 draftee James Naile. He pitched well in Single-A Beloit to start the season, with a 3.28 ERA and three strikeouts per walk, but as the A's reached deeper into Triple-A Nashville's barrel (in this case for Zach Neal) the Sounds finally ran out of replacements and needed an emergency sub on May 29. Naile did perfectly fine (5⅓ ip, 3 runs), and then came back for another spot start two weeks later (5⅔ ip, 4 runs).
With that fire extinguished, Naile has now moved to Midland to help with their pitching crisis. He's made two totally decent starts:
6/16: 6 ip, 4 runs, 7 Ks, 0 BB, 7 hits
6/21: 6 ip, 3 runs, 2 Ks, 2 BB, 7 hits
The smart bet is to never expect anything from a 20th-round pick, but here is Naile, in his first full season, holding his own in the upper minors already. If there is any good news at all to come out of Oakland's current pitching woes, it's that the farm system has stepped up with a handful of breakout performances and some guys who have responded amazingly well to aggressive fast-tracking.
The Midland rotation as it currently stands:
1. Daniel Gossett (good)
2. Joel Seddon (7.48 ERA)
3. Corey Walter (reliever)
4. James Naile (first full pro season)
5. Ben Bracewell (reliever)
Hitters (thru 73 games)
Barreto (15) and Sportman (10) also have double-digit steals, though not at worthwhile success rates.
Marincov, an 8th-round pick in 2013, has been a pleasant surprise this year. The 24-year-old is now at a level that somewhat suits his age, and he's responding well to his newest challenge through his first 34 games. The A's can use all the outfield depth they can get, so it would be great to see Marincov continue his mini-breakout.
|... Bullpen ...|
You might be wondering why I keep including reliever Sam Bragg in these updates. Well, here are his numbers if you remove his disastrous first two outings of the season, when the team was toying around with turning him into a starter: 13 games, 1.80 ERA, 23 ip, 29 Ks, 7 BB, 2 HR. In my eyes, the 23-year-old is still a legit relief prospect.
All five affiliates are in action, with Nashville playing a makeup doubleheader while Stockton and Beloit open the second halves of their seasons.
Triple-A Nashville #1: 3:08 p.m., Chris Smith vs. Iowa
Triple-A Nashville #2: After #1, Angel Castro vs. Iowa
Double-A Midland: 5:00 p.m., Daniel Gossett vs. San Antonio
High-A Stockton: 7:10 p.m., Kyle Friedrichs vs. San Jose
Single-A Beloit: 4:35 p.m., TBD vs. Cedar Rapids
Low-A Vermont: 4:00 p.m., Dakota Chalmers vs. Tri-City
Gossett and Friedrichs continue their excellent seasons, while we get our second look at Chalmers.