The talk around the High-A Stockton Ports this year has centered on their pitching staff, which features the Oakland A’s top three picks from the 2016 draft: lefty A.J. Puk, and righties Daulton Jefferies and Logan Shore. But not all is well in that department, as Jefferies is already out for Tommy John surgery and Shore has now landed on the disabled list with a lat strain.
So let’s focus on the hitters this time. The lineup features no one who ranks above No. 25 on our Community Prospect List*, but it’s packed with fun sleepers. Sticking with the 2016 draft for now, there are two players who are standing out as table-setters toward the top of the lineup.
* CPL members: C Sean Murphy (25), 1B Chris Iriart (27), OF Skye Bolt (29)
The first is OF Tyler Ramirez, the A’s 7th-round pick last summer. His .402 OBP is the highest on the club, stemming from a good batting average and a team-high walk rate. He’s been consistent, as well; he’s reached base in 16 of 17 games in May, and 37-of-41 overall this season. There are some downsides — he doesn’t bring a lot of power, his .402 BABIP is due to come down at least a bit, and despite being drafted as a CF he’s been pushed to a corner position for now by teammate Skye Bolt. But he’s established himself in the early going as a sleeper to watch.
Right alongside him is SS Eli White, last year’s 11th-round pick. His OBP is a tick lower (.391) but he’s still showing a nose for getting on base, both via hits and a big walk rate. He’s shown a particular ability to make contact (6.3% swinging strike rate), which has helped him keep his strikeouts relatively low despite working all those long counts for his walks. He brings even less power than Ramirez and hasn’t hit a single homer yet, but he’s another newbie showing a knack for getting on base.
One other table setter who isn’t as hot is 2B Josh Vidales, the 28th-round pick. The 5’8 switch-hitter is managing only a .315 OBP and seeing his strikeouts rise in May. One potential flaw in his numbers is his 5.7% line drive rate; there can be a lot of gray area in that metric, but that seems awfully low no matter how it’s measured. He also generally hits the ball in the air a lot and pulls it a lot despite not showing any power, all of which seems like a bad combo.
Wrapping up the Class of 2016, C Sean Murphy, the 3rd-round pick, has returned from the DL after missing four weeks. He’s gone 3-for-10 with a double in his first two games back.
Rest of the lineup
And what about the 2015 draft? Two top picks from that class are finally waking up after disappointing campaigns last year, and two others are serving as solid supporting sluggers.
We’ll start with OF Skye Bolt (4th round), who’s been leading off and playing in center. Everything about his profile looks good — he’s getting on base, displaying impressive plate discipline, making contact, spraying the ball to all fields, and mixing in a bit of power. Is the toolsy lotto ticket starting to click?
Meanwhile, the top wRC+ on the Ports (136) belongs to IF Mikey White (2nd round). He didn’t hit much in his first year in Stockton, though he did improve as the season went on — from April-June he sported a 57 wRC+, and from July-Sept a 109. He’s built on that momentum in 2017, combining a strong walk rate, a reasonable strikeout rate, and the highest isolated slugging percentage on the team (.224). I’m more interested now in what he can do at Double-A once space finally opens for him on the crowded depth chart, but if he’s going to repeat his level then at least he’s showing improvement.
One of AN’s favorite sleepers is 1B Chris Iriart (12th round). He’s hovering around league average overall and flashing some of the power he’s known for, but right now it’s impossible to ignore his 36.9% strikeout rate or his 19.6% swinging strike rate. Dude’s gonna have to make more contact if he wants to move up the ladder. There might be a more pressing concern, though, after Stockton’s 12-inning loss Friday night:
1B Chris Iriart replaced 2B Josh Vidales on mound. Trainer just came out & now Iriart leaving. I have a yellow A's towel. Can I throw it in?— Paul (@ThatsAnError) May 20, 2017
But wait. There is another. 1B/OF Seth Brown (19th round) was one of the early sleepers of the 2015 draft and quickly jumped to High-A, but he couldn’t quite get over league average at the plate last year (94 wRC+). He’s still hovering around that same level this year (99 wRC+), but now he’s found his power stroke. He’s already tied last year’s total of 8 HR in just one-third the plate appearances, and in general he’s hitting the ball in the air more.
Here’s a roundup of these eight intriguing prospects, four each from the 2015 and 2016 drafts. (Numbers do not count Saturday’s game.)
You’d like to see some higher batting averages and lower strikeout rates this low in the minors, since those numbers aren’t likely improve as they move up the system, but let’s see how this group develops over the course of the year.
The Ports’ hot rotation has cooled down a bit, especially with the loss of Shore. Here are some notes:
- RHP Casey Meisner is finally heating up, after never quite putting it together in 2016. Over his last four games, he’s got a line of: 2.04 ERA, 17⅔ ip, 23 Ks, 4 BB, 1 HR.
- LHP Evan Manarino got roughed up a bit over his last three starts (11⅔ ip, 13 runs, 22 hits, 3 HR), but he’s maintaining a phenomenal K/BB rate (season: 32 Ks, 3 BB, 10.67 K/BB). (Update: He bounced back Saturday after this was posted, with a line of: 6 ip, 0 runs, 3 Ks, 0 BB, 1 hit.)
- LHP A.J. Puk saw his pitch count rise a bit in his last two outings, but at least he still fanned 12 batters over nine innings.
- RHP Carlos Navas has struck out 43% of the batters he’s faced, for a total of 28 in 18 innings. This month he’s had games in which he struck out six batters over three innings, and seven over 2⅔ innings. He’s allowed six hits and four walks, with a 0.50 ERA. I don’t really understand why the 24-year-old isn’t in Double-A yet.
- RHP Trey Cochran-Gill opened the year on the disabled list but has been activated and sent to Stockton (from Double-A Midland).
Numbers below do not include Saturday’s game.
We’ll find out which metric wins out in the long run — their shaky ERAs, or their awesome FIPs!
Triple-A Nashville: LIVE, Chris Bassitt vs. Sacramento
Double-A Midland: Lost 6-0, Grant Holmes vs. San Antonio
High-A Stockton: LIVE, Evan Manarino vs. Lake Elsinore
Single-A Beloit: Lost 1-0, Mitchell Jordan vs. Peoria
Manarino is bouncing back well, with four scoreless innings so far and no walks.