On Saturday, the Oakland A's farm system produced an extra bit of intrigue when utilityman Melvin Mercedes played all nine positions in a single game, Campaneris-style. It hadn't happened in the minors for a couple years, nor in MLB since 2000 (Shane Halter, Tigers), so the feat was quite rare. Or so it seemed, at least, because just two days later another minor leaguer in Oakland's system matched it. This time it was infielder Wade Kirkland of Double-A Midland.
Like Mercedes, Kirkland is not a prospect. He's 27 years old, drafted in the 10th round back in 2010, and he's never posted even a league-average batting line at any level of the minors -- last year in Double-A his wRC+ was 78, and this year it's down to 52. But he does have a Texas League championship on his resume from last year's RockHounds team, and on Monday he got to be the belle of the (base)ball.
Kirkland used a different game plan than the one Mercedes followed. He started behind the plate, while regular catcher Beau Taylor played the first inning at 3B. He then worked his way around the infield, with the other middle infielders shuffling to make space, before doing the same thing in the three outfield spots (which eventually cost Midland its DH spot in the 6th). Kirkland shifted to the mound in the 8th, but this is where his day falls short of Mercedes' performance. Kirkland faced only one batter, Joe Jackson, who hit a double -- and to answer the question you just asked out loud, yes, he is the great-great-great-nephew of Shoeless Joe. Kirkland was then pulled to play 1B the rest of the way, and on the bright side his runner was left stranded.
Aside: Kirkland reportedly threw high-80s, in his fourth pitching appearance of the year and 10th of his pro career.
In Kirkland's defense, there is a reason he didn't get to pitch more. This was a road game for Midland, and they were trailing the whole way in an eventual 5-1 loss, so there were only eight defensive innings for him to play nine positions. You might argue that makes it more impressive, since he played an average of 1.1 positions per inning (to Mercedes' 1.0 average), but really the answer is probably just to only do this at a home game so the score doesn't affect things.
Kirkland also fell a bit short at the plate. He singled in his first trip and later reached on an error as well, but he didn't factor into Midland's only run.
Mercedes' big day was augmented by the fact that he also hit well and pitched well amid a team victory, but the fact that Kirkland didn't really contribute much in this one shouldn't affect our enjoyment of it. He still set a difficult goal that requires a level of versatility most ballplayers simply don't have, then he went out and did it. Congrats to Kirkland on putting on a fun show on Monday, and best of luck to him in the playoffs. Dude can ball.
My gut reaction to the Kirkland story was that now Triple-A Nashville needs to follow suit with their own utility performance. My pick was Josh Rodriguez, a 31-year-old infielder who has played every position except catcher this year, or if not him then maybe Colin Walsh. But then I realized that Monday was the last day of the minor league regular season, so, oh well too late. Or they could be particularly bold and go for it in a playoff game!
It just never ends. The A's keep losing players, then they call up new ones from Triple-A, and the whole system is affected. This time, the new addition is pitcher Kyle Friedrichs, the 7th-round pick from 2015. The right-hander was dominant in the rotation for Single-A Beloit, then carried his success up to High-A Stockton. He got crushed in his Ports debut, but if you cut that one off and just look at his subsequent 17 starts then his numbers look like this: 3.55 ERA, 99 ip, 83 Ks, 9 BB, 9 HR. He made his Double-A debut in Midland's season finale on Monday, posting a line of 2 ip, 2 runs, 2 Ks, 0 BB, 4 hits. Here are his final Stockton numbers:
Friedrichs, A+: 18 starts, 4.29 ERA, 100⅔ ip, 86 Ks, 10 BB, 10 HR, 3.65 FIP
It doesn't appear that Friedrichs replaced another outgoing player, so here is my speculative theory. Heath Fillmyer is still listed on the DL, and I'm yet to find out why, so perhaps the team now knows they aren't getting him back for the postseason? And Friedrichs is here to help cover those innings, whether that comes as a starter or a multi-inning reliever?
Right now the rotation appears to include some combination of James Naile, Joel Seddon, Corey Walter, Ben Bracewell, and Brandon Mann -- that group features two guys who entered the year as relievers, and one 32-year-old org filler. I love Naile and Seddon, but if they're the top two guys then this rotation did indeed need help for the postseason.
Texas League playoffs
The postseason begins on Wednesday! Here is the schedule for the best-of-5 Divisional Round, in which the Hounds will play the Corpus Christi Hooks (Astros):
Wed. 9/7: 4:05 p.m., at Corpus Christi
Thu. 9/8: 4:05 p.m., at Corpus Christi
Fri. 9/9: 4:00 p.m., at Midland
Sat. 9/10: 4:00 p.m., at Midland
Sun. 9/11: 11:00 a.m., at Midland
If you feel like getting in the spirit, here is our coverage of last year's MiLB postseason. Spoiler alert: The Hounds won their second straight league championship.
Hitters (final 2016 numbers)
|... Newcomers ...|
That's most of the lineup Midland will take to the playoffs, so despite having lost a lot of talent to promotions they still have some quality names. They also feature a catching platoon between Beau Taylor and the quietly intriguing Andy Paz, plus a few veteran org filler guys plugging any remaining holes.
|... Bullpen ...|
It's not the pitching staff we expected the Hounds to take to the playoffs, but this motley crew could yet get the job done. Seddon has been hot, Naile is the guy I added to my personal Top 20 list the other day when Daniel Mengden officially graduated to MLB, and Walter has been quietly excellent all year.
Ben Bracewell has virtually the same numbers as Walter after serving similarly as a swingman. Why isn't he on my list? Compared with Walter, Bracewell is two years old, his walk rate was twice as high, and he made barely half as many starts so the vast majority of his work came in the pen (whereas Walter spent the majority of time starting). Walter is already the definition of a fringe prospect, so being a less interesting version of him is not a path to my watch list.
Final installment of Bragg Watch, removing his first two games of the season ...
Bragg: 34 games, 2.52 ERA, 60⅔ ip, 67 Ks, 14 BB, 4 HR, 2.57 FIP
Remember him next year, when he's in Triple-A Nashville and sitting on the list of MLB reliever depth.
NOPE. Regular season is over, and playoffs haven't started yet.