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Oakland A’s prospect watch: Draft class starts strong in High-A Stockton

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Logan Shore
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The High-A Stockton Ports are off to the best start of all the Oakland A’s minor league affiliates, at 5-2 through their first week of the 2017 season. That also gives them the best early record in the California League, which is an 8-team league now after losing squads from Bakersfield and High Desert.

The most fun part about following High-A, especially early in the season, is that it’s the destination for the top college draft picks from the previous summer. They make their professional debuts in Rookie Ball and Low-A immediately after the draft, but this is their first foray into serious, full-season pro ball. Let’s have a look back at their first week!

Top pitchers: Lights out

The A’s 2016 draft was particularly strong — they had the No. 6 pick after a last-place finish, and they got an extra one for being low-revenue. That gave them three of the first 50 selections, and they used all of them on college pitchers: lefty A.J. Puk, and righties Daulton Jefferies and Logan Shore. Combined, through their first four appearances:

Puk/Jeff/Shore: 16 ip, 1 run, 19 Ks, 2 BB, 10 hits, 0 HR

That’s an 0.56 ERA so far, and a 9.5 K/BB rate. Shore has pitched twice, and he allowed the sole run. Puk struck out six batters in four frames in his outing. Jefferies retired 12-of-14 batters faced. Keep it up, fellas!

The Ports are employing a tandem system for their starting rotation, so no one is going more than four innings in a game. That means they’re never facing the lineup a third time, and also that they don’t have to test their endurance because their pitch counts never get high. We don’t yet know how this setup will affect their numbers nor to what degree, but we should at least be conscious that the confounding variable exists and keep a mental asterisk next to these stats.

(Side note: I’m already wondering how deep into the season the tandem system might last, or if a few stragglers will be naturally weeded out over time. Perhaps by July the rotation will look more traditional, with the benefit that the remaining starters will have more breathing room ahead of their innings limits because they didn’t blow their wads in April-June?)

The only other Ports pitcher from the 2016 draft is reliever Nolan Blackwood, who has made two quiet appearances so far (no runs yet).

Top hitters: Mixed bag

The Cal League is usually a hitter’s paradise, but so far this year the Ports have been a low-scoring team on both sides of the ball. I imagine some of that has to do with the weather staying unseasonably chilly and rainy through mid-April, but that can’t be the whole reason because other teams are still scoring in bunches. To some extent, Stockton currently has a strong staff and a scuffling lineup.

There are four hitters from last year’s draft (including the round they were picked):

  • Sean Murphy, C (3rd): Best hitter on the team so far. Hit a pair of homers on Monday, so he’s the team leader in that department as well as in OPS, and he also has as many walks as strikeouts (3). Off to a great start!
  • Tyler Ramirez, OF (7th): Leads the team in walks (4).
  • Eli White, SS (11th): Plugging along around average for now.
  • Josh Vidales, IF (28th): So far has 3 BB and 0 Ks. Contact!

Again, the whole lineup is collectively off to a slow start, but these guys were all somewhere between decent and good in their first week.

Other standouts

Here are a few more notables who aren’t from last summer’s draft:

  • The rest of the tandem rotation is also doing great. Brett Graves and Angel Duno have been strong in two games apiece, while Evan Manarino also impressed. Graves in particular did not walk a batter in his first two outings. Only Casey Meisner and Dustin Hurlbutt have been less than awesome so far.
  • The whole staff has a 2.44 ERA through seven games.
  • Skye Bolt and Seth Brown are off to solid starts with the bat, but Chris Iriart is 2-for-24 with 11 Ks (but one of the hits was a HR!).

Thursday’s games

All four teams are playing tonight.

Triple-A Nashville: LIVE, Zach Neal vs. Oklahoma City
Double-A Midland: LIVE, Heath Fillmyer vs. Tulsa
High-A Stockton: 7:00 p.m., Evan Manarino vs. San Jose
Single-A Beloit: LIVE, Matt Milburn vs. Peoria

The three games that already began are going poorly — all three of those starters struggled, and none of their lineups have scored any runs yet. The tandem starters are Joel Seddon (w/ Fillmyer), Daulton Jefferies (w/ Manarino), and Brandon Bailey (w/ Milburn).

Link to box scores