It was another good month of offense in the A's minor league system in July, but Rickles' work at the plate for Beloit stood out for several reasons. The backstop managed 34 hits in 85 at-bats despite catching more in July than any other month this season. The month was a dramatic turnaround for Rickles, who was hitting below .200 before the start of July. He left the month with his season batting average in the .260s. Another good night on August 1st left Rickels with a .274 average on the year.
This kind of hot streak has been a longtime coming for Rickles, who was one of the A's rising prospects heading into last year. The A's 14th-round pick out of Stetson in 2011, Rickles hit .310 in his pro debut season and posted an 829 OPS. It was a struggle offensively for Rickles in 2012 with Low-A Burlington, as he hit just .220 in 95 games. Rickles' offensive struggles carried over into 2013 until his breakthrough month of July. Part of Rickles' struggles was bad luck. In 2012, his BABIP was .260, a mark well-below the league average of .305. His BABIP continued to be low until July this year, but after the hot month, it is up to .307, one point lower than league average. Rickles is one of the better defensive catchers in the A's system, so if his offensive game can continue to grow, his prospect status will improve along with it.
July was another tough month to choose a single winner. All of the players below would have had a strong argument for the award.
Michael Choice, Sacramento (.355/.431/.551 in 107 at-bats)
Choice has very quietly put together a standout first season at the Triple-A level and it was another excellent month for the A's 2010 top-pick. For July, he hit a season-best .355 and drove-in 20 runs in 27 games. Choice was also a starter for the PCL in the Triple-A All-Star game. Usually a slow starter, Choice has been the model of consistency this season, never posting an average lower than .280 in any month this year. His K-rate is down 1.5% over last year and his BB-rate has increased by nearly 4%. Over the past two months, he has hit better than .330 and could be in-line for a big finish and a major-league debut in September.
Addison Russell, Stockton (.344/.440/.609 in 64 at-bats)
Russell missed time to participate in the MLB All-Star Futures Game and with a bruised thumb, but he dominated the Cal League when he was on the field. He only appeared in 16 games, but Russell hit for the highest average of any month this season and collected 11 extra-base hits. He has a 987 OPS since the Cal League All-Star break and is a triple away from having double-digits in doubles, triples, homeruns and stolen bases. For the year, Russell is up to a .271/.352/.506 line despite a slow first six weeks.
Aaron Shipman, Beloit (.362/.474/.415 in 94 at-bats)
The A's were very high on Shipman when they selected him in the third round out of a Georgia high school in 2010. Until recently, Shipman struggled to translate his talents to the field, walking at a decent rate but not contributing much else offensively. Last season, Shipman hit just .206 in a full year with the Low-A Burlington Bees. He got off to a slow start with Low-A Beloit against this season, hitting just .140 in 17 April games before going down with an injury. The time off did Shipman some good, as he re-tooled his swing in Arizona. He has been a different player since returning from the DL. In 25 July games, he hit .362 and walked 20 times. He also stole six bases. Shipman hasn't shown any homerun power yet, but with his speed and ability to work a walk, Shipman can be a force at the top of the order if he is making solid contact as he is right now.
Boog Powell, Vermont (.349/.430/.415 in 106 at-bats)
Powell is another potential top-of-the-order prospect for the A's. A junior college pick last year, the Southern California native has been on a roll out of the leadoff spot for the Lake Monsters. In July, he hit .349 and walked 14 times in 30 games in a pitcher-friendly league. Powell also stole 11 bases in 14 chances. The left-handed hitter has struggled against southpaws thus far this year, but he is batting .386 versus righties.
B.J. Boyd, Vermont (.299/.373/.546 in 97 at-bats)
Powell's teammate Boyd is emerging as a top prospect for the A's with his continued success in the New York-Penn League. The Palo Alto native actually hit better in June than he did in July, but his July was still outstanding, especially when one considers the nature of the league. Boyd has shown power to go along with his plus speed and he could be a weapon in a lot of different spots in the line-up.
Billy McKinney, AZL A's (.366/.419/.476 in 82 at-bats)
The A's top pick from this year's draft lived up to his advanced billing this month after a slow start in June to his pro career. In 22 games, he hit .366 and connected on his first pro homer and first pro triple. He also swiped three bases in three chances and walked nine times against 11 strike-outs.
Ryan Huck, AZL A's/Vermont (.320/.433/.560 in 75 at-bats)
Huck had a record-breaking senior season at Western Kentucky and that success has carried over into his first taste of professional baseball. The first baseman quickly hit his way out of the Arizona Rookie League and was similarly dominating the New York-Penn League before a minor injury sidelined him on July 25. Huck hit three homers and maintained a 15:19 BB:K between the two leagues in July. He also collected seven doubles and a triple in just 75 at-bats.
Bobby Crocker, Stockton (.294/.372/.515 in 68 at-bats)
Crocker missed some time with injury, but he had another solid month for Stockton. His .294 average was the best of any month this season and he had nine extra-base hits in 68 at-bats. Crocker's strike-out numbers are still too high (25 Ks in July), but he did improve his BB-rate by 4% over his June numbers. Crocker has all of the tools to be a solid centerfield prospect, but he will need to continue to improve his K:BB and his overall K% to find success at the higher levels.
Stephen Vogt, Sacramento (.323/.413/.569 in 65 at-bats)
Vogt finished the month in the big leagues, replacing John Jaso, who landed on the seven-day concussion disabled list for Oakland. Before the promotion, Vogt was one of the hottest hitters in the PCL, hitting .381 with a 1184 OPS over his last 10 games. Vogt has put together the best season of his professional career in his first year with the A's and has positioned himself as the team's first option behind the plate when one of their big league catchers goes down with injury.