Entering the season, the High-A Stockton Ports had the deepest starting rotation of any of the Oakland A's minor league affiliates. Four of them were on our preseason Top 30 prospect list, and the other was a recent 3rd-round draft pick. There was a legit prospect on the mound every day.
We're getting down to the final couple weeks of the MiLB season now, and a lot has changed. Daniel Gossett quickly rode a new cutter to dominance and wound up promoted to Double-A, and Heath Fillmyer soon followed him. Zack Erwin went the other direction, flaming out hard enough to get the boot down to Single-A Beloit. Casey Meisner was banished to the bullpen for a month midseason and, as dumb as the pitcher win stat is, the fact that he didn't record his first of the year (in 25 games, 16 starts) until last week is sort of emblematic of his overall campaign. Finally, Brett Graves continued to not make much noise one way or the other.
RHP Daniel Gossett (drafted 2014, 2nd round): Promoted to Double-A
RHP Brett Graves (drafted 2014, 3rd round): Still here!
RHP Heath Fillmyer (drafted 2014, 5th round): Promoted to Double-A
RHP Casey Meisner (acquired for Tyler Clippard): Still here!
LHP Zack Erwin (acquired for Brett Lawrie): Demoted to Single-A
All of those developments left plenty of room for new names to emerge in Stockton, and that they have. The most notable addition has been 20-year-old Grant Holmes, the headliner from the Reddick/Hill trade with the Dodgers. However, the more impressive performers have been a trio of mid-rounders from the 2015 draft: Kyle Friedrichs, James Naile, and Evan Manarino.
That adds up to six guys, because Meisner and Manarino appear to have settled into a piggyback situation in which they split up the game between them -- after all, we've reached the part of the late season in which teams are trying to cut down the innings of their pitching prospects as they ease up toward future MLB workloads. Nobody is going much over five innings at this point. Here's the order they're currently pitching in:
RHP Brett Graves (drafted 2014, 3rd round)
RHP James Naile (drafted 2015, 20th round)
RHP Kyle Friedrichs (drafted 2015, 7th round)
LHP Evan Manarino (drafted 2015, 25th round)
RHP Casey Meisner (acquired for Tyler Clippard)
RHP Grant Holmes (acquired for Reddick/Hill)
The list starts with Graves purely to make the origin stories (draft/trade) line up nicely, but he also happens to be red-hot for, well, the first time in his career really. He has a 1.16 ERA over his last five starts (31 ip, 4 runs, 19 Ks, 6 BB). If you take it out to his last 10 starts, the ERA goes up to 2.95 but his K/BB improves to 35/8 -- he's walking only one-third as many batters as he used to. He went scoreless in three of those 10 games, topping out at eight innings in one of them (in only 74 pitches!). I didn't expect much out of Graves entering the year and I still think he'll wind up as a reliever in the long run, but this late-season surge is encouraging nonetheless.
On the other hand, Holmes has struggled since arriving. None of his four starts have been particularly good, but there's not really any point in judging him at this point. He's the age of a college sophomore and he's already well past his career-high in innings, so I'm not the least bit surprised to see him wearing down at the end of the year. Obviously I'd love to see him mowing down hitters like Meisner did last year in the final games of his age-20 season, but on the other hand Meisner quickly showed that doing so isn't directly correlated with future success.
Speaking of Meisner, his voyage to the pen and back seems to have helped. He returned to the rotation in mid-July (with a couple long relief outings mixed in), and in his seven games since he's posted 33 Ks to 7 BB -- he's cut his walk rate in half from his season-opening stint as a starter. It's still been a disappointing campaign, but he's young enough that he can afford to spend a year treading water, and at least he seems to be figuring things out at the end here.
As for the three 2015 draftees, we've talked a lot about them all year. Friedrichs has bounced between a stretch of brilliance (2.20 ERA, 8 starts) and one of awfulness (5.87 ERA, 7 starts), but the common theme has been that he's only walked eight batters in 89 innings for Stockton. Manarino has mostly gotten the shorter four-inning segment of his partnership with Meisner, but so far he's still keeping runs off the board (1.76 ERA, 4 games). And Naile might just be the best of the three, with 42 Ks in 36⅔ innings.
It's been a long year for Stockton's rotation, but having two guys make the jump to the upper minors is actually a pretty good result. Watching them get replaced immediately by a few new, surprisingly intriguing names from last year's draft is just icing on the cake.
A lot has changed on Stockton's roster since we last checked in a couple weeks ago. A few guys have moved up, and new ones have taken their places.
Outfielders James Harris and B.J. Boyd are getting their chances in the upper minors. Harris was promoted to Double-A as part of the Chad Pinder domino effect, whereas Boyd is getting a turn in Triple-A while Nashville's roster is a bit depleted covering for A's injuries. Right-handed reliever Carlos Navas joined Boyd on the trip to Nashville. We'll talk more about those guys when we update their new teams in the next couple days.
Harris, A+: .303/.379/.423, 7 HR, 9.7% BB, 21.1% Ks, 21-30 SB, 121 wRC+ (559 PAs)
Boyd, A+: .288/.346/.395, 8 HR, 7.4% BB, 16.2% Ks, 8-for-14 SB, 101 wRC+ (458 PAs)
Navas, A+: 40 games, 4.08 ERA, 53 ip, 67 Ks, 22 BB, 5 HR, 3.85 FIP
The first new guy who came up was first baseman Chris Iriart, another player we've talked about a lot in this series. He had been the best hitter for Single-A Beloit this year (126 wRC+), and he's bringing his power to Stockton while hoping to leave his strikeouts behind. It's great to see him make this progress even after missing six weeks to a head injury this summer.
The next two are guys we haven't covered much here. Lefty reliever Jared Lyons was the A's 9th-round pick last year, and his numbers in Single-A Beloit were dominant (1.72 ERA, 10.5 K/9, 3.81 K/BB). There are now eight members of last year's draft playing regular roles in High-A, which seems like a lot (four lineup, three rotation, one bullpen).
Outfielder Justin Higley is a player I don't think I've ever mentioned before, drafted in 2013 (13th round). He came from Sacramento State, which is cool, though obviously not as cool as UC Davis. The 23-year-old was only decent in Single-A, with an average-ish 98 wRC+ backed up by a whopping 33.3% strikeout rate. He's been a solid basestealer, though, going 18-for-23 this year.
I'm excited about Iriart and Lyons, but I figure Higley is just here filling up space on a team that has lost an entire outfield to promotions (Marincov, Harris, Boyd). He'll have his chance to prove otherwise.
Cal League news
Last Sunday, news broke that the Cal League will officially lose two teams next season: the Bakersfield Blaze (Mariners), and the High Desert Mavericks (Rangers). Check out Zach Ewing of Bakersfield.com for more details.
The part of this that affects the Ports is that the league will not be replacing these departures, and will instead reduce from 10 teams to eight. The Carolina League will instead add two new clubs. That's a bummer because it means slightly less competition and variety for our prospects as they develop, but on the other hand they don't have to go to Bakersfield anymore, so, silver linings. Life is a balance.
Hitters (thru 128 games)
Those are raw numbers for Iriart instead of rate stats, since he's only just getting started. Martin has recovered from his awful slump, with an .878 OPS in August.
|... Bullpen ...|
Lyons hasn't pitched yet, but now the Ports have two nasty lefties in their pen. The pipeline of intriguing relief talent is still up and running.
All five affiliates are in action.
Triple-A Nashville: 4:35 p.m., Raul Alcantara vs. Memphis
Double-A Midland: 5:05 p.m., Ben Bracewell vs. Corpus Christi
High-A Stockton: 7:05 p.m., Kyle Friedrichs vs. Inland Empire
Single-A Beloit: 5:00 p.m., Boomer Biegalski vs. Clinton
Low-A Vermont: 4:05 p.m. Logan Shore vs. Lowell
Pretty good slate overall. Alcantara has a 1.01 ERA through six starts. Biegalski will surely be part of the next Stockton rotation when spring rolls around. Shore is just throwing 2-3 innings at a time after a long college season.