The Oakland A’s are petering toward a third straight last-place finish in the AL West, but there is postseason glory coming in their minor league system. Three Oakland affiliates have qualified for their leagues’ playoffs:
- Double-A Midland RockHounds (Texas League)
- High-A Stockton Ports (California League)
- Low-A Vermont Lake Monsters (NY-Penn League)
Vermont’s regular season still has a couple games left, but here’s a closer look at the top two clubs on that list.
Double-A Midland RockHounds
It was highly improbable for the Hounds to make the playoffs given their losing record (67-71), but due to a perfect flukestorm here they are. The Texas League splits the season in twain and awards two playoff berths per division — one to the team that wins the first half, and the other to the team that wins the second half. However, the San Antonio Missions (Padres) dominated from wire to wire and led the standings in both halves.
That meant going to the backup plan, which is to give the second playoff berth to the team with the next-best full-season record. That distinction went to ... a tie between Midland and Corpus Christi (Astros). The tiebreaker? Head-to-head record, which favored Midland and mercifully ended the chain of bylaws. As a reminder, these two clubs had a recent doubleheader rained out and canceled by Hurricane Harvey.
Now that the Hounds have sneaked their way into the postseason, we can get to the real story: The chance for a 4-peat. Remember that Midland has won the last three Texas League championships, making them the only team to do so since now-defunct Fort Worth went six in a row from 1920-25 — 20 years before the Double-A classification even existed.
And despite their lackluster win-loss record, this Hounds team has a real chance to make noise in September. The rotation is stacked, with a Top 50 prospect (A.J. Puk), a recent Top 100 guy (Grant Holmes), and another promising arm (Heath Fillmyer), all of them looking sharp lately. The bullpen is largely the same as the one that won rings last year.
The lineup, which began the season as a massive disappointment, has received a thorough makeover thanks to the 2016 draft and the 2017 trade deadline. Max Schrock and Tyler Marincov return from last year’s title run, but now they’re joined by SS Jorge Mateo (Sonny trade), 3B Sheldon Neuse (Doolittle trade), C Sean Murphy (2016, 3rd round), and OF Tyler Ramirez (2016, 7th round). The lineup is a juggernaut from top to bottom.
Extra Mateo facts:
- Stole 13-of-16 bases after joining A’s org, and 24-of-34 overall in Double-A
- Total AA numbers (287 PAs): .296/.357/.521, 140 wRC+, 8 HR, 10 triples, 22.6% Ks
- His 10 triples led all of Double-A in just half a season of at-bats
Over half of Midland’s 2016 playoff roster is back for another run. Among the pitchers, Fillmyer watched last fall from the DL, while James Naile, Joel Seddon, and Brandon Mann made big starts. Sam Bragg, Kyle Finnegan, and Cody Stull were in last year’s pen, though Aaron Kurcz had moved up to Triple-A midseason. Reliever Kris Hall is on the DL right now, but was around for the last two rings. In the lineup, besides Schrock and Marincov, we’ve got the returns of backup catcher Andy Paz, veteran slugger and 2016 playoff hero Viosergy Rosa, and outfielders J.P. Sportman and Brett Vertigan. There’s quite a bit of postseason experience here, to go along with all the new talent that’s been added.
The series opens Wednesday at 5:05 p.m., with A.J. Puk on the mound against San Antonio. His last start of the season came against these same Missions, and he struck out 13 batters over six scoreless innings.
High-A Stockton Ports
The Ports weren’t much better than the Hounds overall this year, with a 71-69 record, but it turned out that .500 ball was just enough to capture the second-half division crown and punch a ticket to the postseason. Stockton last made the playoffs in 2015, last made the finals in 2011, and last won it all in 2008 behind stars Chris Carter, Josh Donaldson, and Tyson Ross.
The 2017 squad lost some top performers to midseason promotions, as is expected in High-A ball, but new names kept stepping up all year to keep the team afloat. The lineup is led by a pair of late-blooming 2015 draft picks — 13th-rounder Brett Siddall (.300, 21 HR) and 19th-rounder Seth Brown (30 HR), plus 22-year-old international slugger Sandber Pimentel. A host of other 2015-16 draftees fill in most of the rest of the roster.
Note: Iriart returned from long-term DL in time to play last three games of season. He homered twice in 10 plate appearances.
On the pitching side, Logan Shore is the remaining big name in the rotation. Last year’s 2nd-round pick missed a couple months to a lat injury, but he’s back in top form. I kept the table short down below, but some other names to look out for despite questionable stats include workhorses Angel Duno and Evan Manarino, who both have great K/BB numbers but awful hit and homer rates, as well as lefty reliever Brandon Marsonek (undrafted in 2017, signed as free agent). Sidewinding closer Nolan Blackwood has converted 19-of-20 saves.
|... Bullpen ...|
The series begins Wednesday at 7:05 p.m., with Logan Shore on the mound against Modesto (Mariners). His last start against the Nuts came on Aug. 24, when he went seven sparkling innings.
Link to box scores (remember the Vermont game is still regular season)