Entering June, first baseman Chris Iriart was the best hitter on the Single-A Beloit Snappers and one of the best sluggers in the whole Midwest League. But on June 2, he was hit on the head by a pitch (by the son of Ivan Rodriguez!) and went on the disabled list. The most concrete update we got on the nature of the injury was this photo on Twitter:
You never really know what to expect with head injuries, and it's important to remember to put thoughts of the person before thoughts of the player. Fortunately it looks like things have gone well, as six weeks later Iriart is back in the lineup and up to his usual tricks.
Iriart, the Oakland A's 12th-round pick in 2015, played two games in Rookie Ball last week upon his return and notched three doubles. That quick success put him back in Beloit on Saturday, and the next day he picked up right where he left off by launching a home run. Even with all the missed time, Iriart's 10th homer of the season ties him for fifth-most in the 16-team Midwest League.
There is still a lot to prove for Iriart, who is already hitting for a low average with a high strikeout rate in the high minors. Will he be able to make enough contact against more advanced pitching? But that's a question for another day. The important thing is that he's healthy and back in the lineup, and ready to resume his journey.
Skye flying high
Outfielder Skye Bolt, the A's 4th-round pick in 2015, is finally getting in a groove. The No. 18 prospect on our preseason CPL had a rough first half that was interrupted by a couple DL stints for a nagging hamstring, but he has come alive in the month of July. His numbers, in 13 games through Sunday (54 plate appearances)
Bolt, July: .333/.426/.571, 1 HR, 7 doubles, 7 BB, 13 Ks, 2-for-3 SB
He has as many multi-hit games as 0-fers over that span (5), and a .997 OPS for the month. My goal for Bolt this year was to make his way up to High-A Stockton -- if he keeps hitting like this for a while longer, with guys like James Harris and B.J. Boyd excelling for the Ports already, it might become time for a bit of an outfield shakeup from Beloit up through Midland. (Bolt went 1-for-3 with a walk on Monday, continuing his good hitting.)
Bolt was recently voted as having the Best Name In The Minors, and he joined MLB Network Radio to discuss his victory.
Collins on the way back
Catcher Nick Collins, the A's 8th-round pick in 2015, last played for the Snappers on May 12 and has been on the DL ever since. He's finally back on a rehab assignment though, playing on Friday for Low-A Vermont and going 0-for-1 with two walks. Collins wasn't doing much hitting before he got hurt, but it had only been a month and he did well enough in his pro debut last year in Vermont. Once he returns to the team, he goes back on the radar as a guy to keep an eye on in Beloit.
Beloit has been blessed with a conveyor belt of successful starting pitchers this season. Kyle Friedrichs has already moved up to High-A Stockton (where he is now their best pitcher), and many more have emerged as candidates to join him there. (All of these guys I'm about to list were 2015 draftees, and the number in parantheses is the round in which they were taken.)
Right-hander James Naile (20th) seems to have set himself apart as the next-best bet on the staff. He's already been on a moderately successful voyage to the upper minors, and since returning he's put up the following numbers in four starts: 1.23 ERA, 21 Ks, 4 BB, 1 HR. He's lasted at least seven innings in each of those outings. Naile caught the eye of Oakland Clubhouse over the winter, and they made him one of only seven 2015 draftees on their preseason Top 50 list. Between the preseason attention, the in-season success, the brief promotions he's already been given, and the recent thinning of Stockton's rotation, I can't help but wonder if he'll get bumped up the ladder sooner rather than later.
Lefty Evan Manarino (25th), whose first half was so impressive that he made the league All-Star team, has cooled off a bit lately. He's posted a 4.23 ERA over his last five starts, which doesn't sound awful but is quite a bit higher than the 1.82 mark he owned before that stretch. Still, he's managed 22 Ks to 5 BB during these darker times and hasn't allowed a homer, and he's still spun three quality starts out of five attempts. In other words, he's merely been solid rather than excellent, but hopefully he can go back to being the latter soon. The same can all be said for righty Boomer Biegalski (13th), who has a 4.01 ERA over his last 10 games but at least has nearly three strikeouts per walk over that time.
Another guy on the decline is right-hander Michael Murray (32nd), who burst onto the scene in May with a 1.54 ERA in his first four outings. In six starts since then, though, he's got a 7.28 ERA and has allowed hits at an alarming rate. His K/BB rate has remained strong, but as a super-late-round pick he needs everything to go right in order to keep anyone's attention. He'll need to step it up soon before someone else gets a chance instead.
Ending on a high note, righty Dustin Hurlbutt (16th) has done great work since arriving on the team in June. He's only started half of his 10 games, but he's pitched multiple innings every time and gone at least four frames in seven of them. My favorite stat is that he's only allowed a walk in three different games, and on top of that he's only allowed multiple runs in two contests. Just add him to the list of 2015 draftees who are off to good starts in the low minors -- that doesn't mean all of them, or even any, will ever make it to the bigs, but at least they're doing well in their first real tests.
Notes from around the organization
Normally I like to keep these updates to just one team at a time, but there are two bits of news that are worth breaking script for today.
First, Triple-A Nashville catcher Bruce Maxwell was named PCL Player of the Week on Monday. It was a short week because of the league's All-Star break, but in four games Maxwell went absolutely nuts at the plate: 11-for-17, 4 HR, a double, 2 BB, and no strikeouts. His wRC+ is now 140 and it's looking more and more likely that we'll see him in Oakland later this summer.
Meanwhile, down in Low-A Vermont, first-round pick A.J. Puk made his second start. Unfortunately, this one didn't go as well as his debut did, with a final line of 1⅓ ip, 2 unearned runs, 2 hits, 1 walk, and again no strikeouts. He didn't pound the zone like in his first game, falling behind several hitters and running some long counts. Nothing to freak out about, just one more small data point as Puk gathers his first pro experiences.
Hitters (thru Sunday, 83 games)
Since our last update two weeks ago, Bolt's wRC+ has gone up by 14 points. As you look at these Single-A numbers, remember that the Midwest League average OPS is .671 (.249/.318/.353), while the current MLB average we're used to is .739*, so seemingly pedestrian numbers are actually a bit better than they initially look when put into context. It's a league full of rainy weather and raw prospects who are just getting their feet wet and possibly even finishing their physical development, so it doesn't surprise me to see modest numbers rated so highly.
* In case you're curious about some other OPS averages: Pacific Coast League (.755), Cal League (.725), Texas League (.701).
Pitchers (thru Sunday)
|... Bullpen ...|
Having just pointed out in the last section that the Midwest League is a low hitting environment, why should you buy all these strong pitching performances? First off, the Snappers don't reel off legions of good starters like this every year, so this collection of sub-3.00 ERAs is still an outlier. Second, those enormous K/BB rates give me hope that these guys are doing more than just coasting through a weak league; they're dominating their competition by pounding the zone and missing bats. What more can you ask for until they get a chance to face tougher competition?
All five affiliates are in action.
Triple-A Nashville: 6:05 p.m., TBD vs. Albuquerque
Double-A Midland: 4:30 p.m., Daniel Gossett vs. Corpus Christi
High-A Stockton: 7:10 p.m., Kyle Friedrichs vs. Modesto
Single-A Beloit: Lost 5-1, James Naile vs. Bowling Green
Low-A Vermont: 4:05 p.m., Heath Bowers vs. Connecticut
Jeez, get through my whole Beloit update and it turns out they already played a Monday day game? Who does that? Anyway, the rest of the slate is solid, with Midland and Stockton putting out their best starters. We'll see what happens in Nashville -- Dillon Overton was scheduled but he will now start for Oakland on Tuesday in place of Sean Manaea, who pitched in emergency long relief Sunday. I expect a bullpen game or some similar short-notice measure in Nashville tonight.