The Stockton Ports have been on the upswing over their previous few games, recovering somewhat from a disastrous skid of 16 consecutive losses that derailed their aspirations of being crowned first-half California League Northern Division champions. In the aftermath of the Ports' losing streak, the Oakland A's made several roster moves, including sending high-profile prospects A.J. Cole and Rashun Dixon to Burlington, Iowa, to sharpen their skills against Midwest League competition. The spots on the roster vacated by Cole and Dixon would be filled by right-hander Sean Murphy and outfielder Dusty Robinson, respectively. Murphy has dazzled in his first two California League starts of 2012, taking a perfect game 6.1 innings in his 2012 Stockton debut and go eight innings and earning his first victory while dealing with a formidable High Desert ballclub in his second outing.
Robinson has had a similar positive impact on the Ports since arriving from Burlington. The A's 2011 10th round selection has helped jumpstart a previously moribund Stockton offense. Following Robinson's arrival, Stockton has been on an offensive tear, scoring 77 runs in the 13 games he has participated in. The Ports have won six out of their previous nine contests, including two consecutive series victories versus Visalia and High Desert.
A Bakersfield native, Robinson garnered notoriety at Centennial High School for his talents on the diamond, smacking 16 HRs his senior season en route to an All-league selection. That followed a junior campaign that earned him Player of the Year honors. His prep career would allow him to remain in the Central Valley with collegiate baseball powerhouse Fresno State, where he would play for three seasons.
Joining the Ports gave Robinson the opportunity to return to the Valley.
"It was an awesome feeling," Robinson said of playing in front of friends and family in the Central Valley."I got the call from [Aaron Nieckula, Burlington Bees' manager] the day after our game in Wisconsin and it's been great. Got to see the family and everybody else down here."
Playing well in the Central Valley is nothing new for Robinson. As a freshman with Fresno State, he would play in 60 contests for the Bulldogs and he hit 12 doubles, a triple, and plated 52 runs while sustaining a .319 average. This performance would slot him on the First Team in the WAC and named a unanimous freshman all-American by multiple publications. He'd have an encore as a polished sophomore, starting every contest of the 2010 season that resulted in him producing 11 doubles, four triples, 16 homers and seven stolen bases. Robinson yet again exceeded the .300 mark with a .308 average and received All-WAC honors for the second consecutive season.
As his upperclassman campaign loomed in 2011, Robinson was arrested for driving under the influence with a 0.14 blood-alcohol level. The arrest resulted in a suspension for Robinson for the initial few series of 2011 and ultimately would leave the Bulldogs without their most consistent slugger. However, upon his reinstatement, Robinson's performance was not the least bit hampered. He earned WAC Player of the Year honors, hitting .326 in conference play, and hitting 14 homers, 19 doubles, 123 total bases, and notching an impressive .658 slugging percentage. Robinson's WAC accolades would alert major league scouts to his potential, and Oakland would reel him into the organization with their 10th round selection.
"I was just happy to go in any round," Robinson said of his draft expectations. "It didn't really matter where I went. I was just happy to be picked up out of all the people in the draft."
After signing with the A's, Robinson would split his 2011 campaign between the A's Rookie League team and short-season Vermont. In 48 games, he hit .224/.286/.425 with eight homeruns. Robinson spent the off-season preparing for his first full professional campaign, tweaking his approach at the plate.
"[I worked on] being more comfortable at the plate and getting the right pitch and just hopefully not missing it," Robinson said of his biggest off-season achievement.
Thus far, his refined approach has paid dividends. He zipped through Midwest League, hitting .262/.348/.560 with the Bees and slugging seven doubles, four triples and nine homers while scooping up two Midwest League Player of the Week awards in a three-week span. In his Stockton debut, Robinson hit a 9th inning home run.
"It was amazing," Robinson said of his first Cal League homer. "I just tried to put a good swing on the ball and it just happened to go out."
Following his two-game Cal League debut in Modesto, Robinson would return to home to Stockton to visit Banner Island Ballpark for the first time as a player and not a spectator.
"I came up to [Stockton for] a couple games when I was younger and the stadium is unreal," Robinson said of Banner Island Ballpark.
"It's a great place and I can't wait to get out there and play."
Robinson didn't disappoint, going 4-5 with a homer in what was ultimately a losing effort versus San Jose in his Stockton home debut. The 22-year-old prospect has leveled off a bit since then, with his line evening to .235/.304/.392 through his 13 contests with Stockton, but the Ports have thrived offensively in his presence, recording five consecutive games with 10 or more hits and have met that mark in nine out of their previous 11. It seems only a matter of time before Robinson's Cal League numbers pick up once again. He could be a big factor in the Ports' efforts to make the post-season during the second half of the year.