The short-season A-ball Vancouver Canadians have, thus far, enjoyed the kind of Northwest League season that comes around only once in a long time. The Oakland A's affiliate started the season as incumbent Western Division champs, and they hit the ground running, going on a winning streak that now sees them currently leading the league by 5 games after only 25 games have been played. The heart of that winning streak has come from the pitching staff, and the heart of that pitching staff, who at one stage boasted a combined team ERA of 2.30, is made up of Oakland’s 2005 draft class.
So with this, our inaugural Vancouver notebook, let’s run the rule down this year’s Vancouver-based Oakland draft crop and see who is delivering on their promise.
1st round (consolation pick) – Travis Buck (OF, Jr, Arizona State)
Stats: Yet to play
Buck has only just been placed with Vancouver, and thus is reportedly hurrying for Tri-City Oregon to catch up with the team in the middle of a road trip. The young outfielder won’t be traveling far from home, being a native of Richland, Washington, and his signing means there are only three hold-outs left among Oakland’s top 33 picks from this draft.
4th round – James Shull (RHP, Sr, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo)
Stats: 1-0, 1.84 ERA, 3GS, 14.2IP, 3ER, 17H, 1BB, 20K
Jimmy Shull has been serving up a healthy dose of Shull-Shock around the NWL, dominating hitters with an incredible 20:1 strikeout to walk ratio. The Shull-acker is a 6’2”, 175 lb stringbean who tops out at 91 on his fastball and uses both sides of the plate to fool hitters. He has a nasty hard slider that bites in late, and his change-up has a little sink in it that just has batters at this level baffled. With stats like these, I can’t imagine Oakland will keep him in short-season ball for long.
6th round – Justin Sellers (SS, HS, Marina High School)
Stats: .414 OBP, .289 SLG, .244 AVG, 45AB, 0HR, 8R, 3RBI, 8BBs, 7Ks.
Weighing in at only 155 lbs, Spanky Sellers is hardly a dominating figure at the plate for Vancouver, but the kid has heart, and a healthy bat. Sellers had a few nervous weeks as he got used to having heavy projectiles thrown at him for a living, but in the last couple of weeks, he’s really come in to his own. No threat to go long for the most part, Sellers’ short, quick swing is built for liners, though he will test the outfield if they dare move in short on him. Hard to judge a kid this young, but he’s showing maturity beyond his years and keeping up with his teammates in the stats.
8th round – Jason Ray (RHP, Jr, Azusa Pacific)
Stats: 0-0, 2.00 ERA, 5G, 9.0IP, 2ER, 2H, 15BB, 15K
The man they call ‘Death’ Ray has taken some time to settle in professional ball, though he is one of the most genuinely feared pitchers in the NWL right now. Ray’s fastball has regularly been clocked at 94 MPH, and his curveball is an absolute knock-out pitch that comes down like a mallet. What is possibly hurting Ray at the moment (though when you walk two and then strike out the side, it could hardly be accurately termed ‘hurting’) is that he likes to pitch inside and intimidate the hitters, and it works, since in among those 15 walks and 15 strike-outs, Ray has only given up two hits thus far. Yikes.
9th round – William (Trey) Shields (RHP, Jr, Alabama)
0-0, 4.15 ERA, 2GS, 13.0IP, 13H, 6ER, 5BB, 14K
Trey Shields recently moved from the pen -- where he’d been throwing 3.60 ERA ball -- to the mound, but the shift hasn’t helped him much. The 6’7”, 230 lb righty struggles with the bunt, he looks tired on the mound, and he hasn’t lasted long in his outings to date. Though there’s a lot of season left before you start calling anyone’s season a failure, in this stellar pitching line-up, a 4.15 ERA looks far worse than it otherwise would.
10th round – John Herrera (RHP, Jr, Lubbock Christian)
0-0, 8.10 ERA, 3G, 6.2IP, 10H, 6ER, 4BB, 5K
Herrera suffered from Vancouver’s massive roster early in the season and has only seen three games of work to date. Early impressions are that he’s decent, but definitely rusty. Now that the roster has been thinned, we should see Herrera get more face time.
11th round – Steve Kleen (1B, Sr, Pepperdine)
.340 OBP, .354 SLG, .271 AVG, 48AB, 0HR, 1RBI, 9R, 4BB, 5K
‘Squeaky’ Kleen hit the ground running at the beginning of this NWL season, cracking along at a .346 average before the effect of having to platoon at 1B hampered his timing. Kleen is your typical one-bagger: tall, well built, and handier with the bat than the glove. At present, he’s stuck behind regular first baseman Haas Pratt, who is in the top 10 of the league for homeruns, RBI and slugging, so it could be a long season for Mr. Kleen as he grabs spot starts at DH and the occasional day at third base.
12th round – Jeff Baisley (3B, Sr, South Florida)
.368 OBP, .411 SLG, .232 AVG, 56AB, 13H, 2HR, 6R, 12RBI, 8BB, 6K
From Land O’ Lakes, Florida, ‘Buttah’ Baisely has been the quintessential enigma this season. His average has drifted around the .200-.250 mark, but he’ll occasionally explode in a game and hit everything pitched at him, before dropping back into groundball hell for a few games afterwards. Recently, Baisley hit a bottom of the 11th homer at Nat Bailey Stadium (which is hard to do) to keep his team in an extra innings game, then drew a bases loaded, two-out, full count walk to win the game in 13th. A clutch player to be sure, but it’s the non-clutch at bats that get a guy to the bigs.
13th round – Michael Massaro (CF, Jr, Colorado State Pueblo)
.359 OBP, .273 SLG, .273 AVG, 33 AB, 0HR, 10R, 3RBI, 5BB, 10K
Another 155 lb weakling, Mike Massaro actually makes his lack of size work for him with slap-hitting, demonic speed on the basepaths, and tremendous patience at the plate. Of course, his stats belie that supposed plate patience, but considering Massaro hasn’t started more than a handful of times over the first three weeks of the season, it’s hardly surprising that he was a little eager to swing when he allowed up to bat. Since the recent roster shake-out, Massaro has taken over the CF role and has shown great aplomb with the bat, turning in to a genuine lead-off guy.
14th round – Bradley Davis (LHP, Sr, Lewis & Clark)
3-1, 0.00 ERA, 7G, 11.2IP, 7H, 0ER, 4BB, 19K
Filthily dominant, Brad Davis finds himself in the odd position of not having given up an earned run in 11.2 innings of work, yet having a loss to his name. Just goes to show you the damage a couple of walks and an error can do, huh? Davis is sick on the mound, throwing perfectly placed heaters and ungodly breaking stuff, and when he actually does let a hitter or two on the bases, he knuckles down and pitches high percentage groundball-inducers. All the nastiness of Jason Ray with none of the command issues, Brad Davis is one who will not be long for this level of baseball.
15th round – Jeff Bieker (OF, Jr, Fort Hayes State)
.381 OBP, .212 SLG, .212 AVG, 33AB, 0HR, 1R, 3RBI, 7BB, 9K
If you’re wondering why the draftee hitters in this list have shown such ordinary results thus far, you’re not alone. Some put it down to the massive pitcher’s park that is their home stadium, others to the transition from aluminum to wood bats, but the bulk of the blame has to go on the roster logjam the players found themselves in. ‘The Beak’ has only participated in 11 games out of 25 played thus far, and a large number of those have been at DH, so take his stats with a grain of salt, and credit the kid with having brought that average up from an early season mark of .138.
17th round – Isaac Omura (2b, Jr, Hawaii)
.262 OBP, .162 SLG, .162 AVG, 0HR, 3R, 4RBI, 5BB, 11K
Omura may well be overmatched at this level, and that’s a worry. He’s having trouble avoiding K’s, he’s not hitting for power or average, and defensively he’s had a case of the dropsies. Unlike last year’s Vancouver second base pairing of Ryan Ruiz and Kevin Melillo, there’s just nothing dominant about Omura at the plate. Pitchers seem to enjoy seeing him coming, and the more he platoons at 2B, the less confidence he seems to have. Maybe a season in Arizona would give him the bulk, confidence, and patience he needs, because right now he’s struggling.
18th round – Anthony Recker (C, Sr, Alvernia College)
.333 OBP, .333 SLG, .222 AVG, 36AB, 1HR, 3R, 5RBI, 5BB, 12K
Now this is a guy I like. Vancouver has three catchers vying for time behind the plate -- a situation that could rattle most players -- but Recker is the one out of the three who has taken charge in a big way. Recker has a frame that mildly resembles an Incredible Hulk era Lou Ferrigno, and whether he’s behind the plate or at the plate, he dominates the spot. With bat in hand, he has overcome a slow start to find a solid groove, working his average up from the .150 range to the .225-.250 arena, while hitting consistent line shots rather than the booming long bombs you’d expect from a guy as big as he is. But it’s leadership that really sets him apart – Recker works his pitchers well, frames every pitch, blocks the wild stuff, and he guns down base-runners with monotonous regularity (four in one game, recently). If a catching spot opens up in Kane County, expect the Carlton Fisk-like Recker to be the first one promoted. And watch him go from there.
20th round - Steven Bryant (RHP, Sr, Hawaii)
1-0, 0.93 ERA, 5G, 1SV, 9.2IP, 6H, 1ER, 1BB, 11K
A compact, tidy thrower, Bryant seems to come to the mound filled with nerves… for about ten seconds. Then he settles in and throws a nice combo of 89 MPH heaters, 81 MPH curves, and 71 MPH change-ups to keep hitters guessing. Sure, that sort of stuff won’t fly in the Majors, but this kid has at least as much stuff (and enough determination) as is needed to warrant a few years of patience as he looks to find another couple of miles per hour on his fastball and work his way up the system… especially if he maintains that 11:1 strikeout to walk ratio.
21st round - Michael Madsen (RHP, Sr, Ohio State)
2-0, 0.39 ERA, 3GS, 23.0IP, 10H, 1ER, 3BB, 18K
‘Mr. Blonde’ has great stuff. Relying on a 90-91 MPH fastball, a filthy curveball, a slider and a change-up, Madsen keeps the ball on a string and has consistently bothered NWL hitters with his location and command. A 6’0”, 160 lber, this gangly kid has true drive on the mound and is throwing at a level that makes nonsense of his 21st round draft position. You read it here first – he’ll be in Kane County within two weeks, and Stockton by this time next year.
22nd round – Shawn Callahan (C, Sr, Central Missouri State)
.324 OBP, .222 SLG, .185 AVG, 27 AB, 0HR, 4R, 1RBI, 4BB, 7K
Some kids step into the professional realm and you can see in their step that they belong there. Others take a little time to get over the fear that they have to prove themselves at every step. Callahan is a catcher who just seems to feel like he’s #3 on the backstop roster, and despite the management of the Canadians team sending him out there on back-to-back days to get his confidence up, he’s just not attacking the ball at all. A definite candidate for Arizona fine-tuning, Callahan has the frame, the ability, and the know-how to make it. He just isn’t confident enough at this level to excel right now, and Recker and hold-over catcher Ty Bubalo could certainly use more plate time if he was sent down.
26th round – Ronald Madej (LHP, Jr, Bellevue)
0-0, 1.29 ERA, 5G, 7.0IP, 5H, 1ER, 4BB, 9K
Ron Madej was another victim of the early season Vancouver roster crunch, getting barely any time on the mound as 20 or so pitchers scrapped for position. But once Madej was allowed to settle in, he has showed plenty of spark, pitching strongly if unspectacularly, and making his own the role of lefty middle reliever. It’ll take a few more games, and perhaps a start or two, to know for sure if he has good stuff or not, but so far MayDay has demonstrated 5th rounder poise and 10th rounder results.
29th round – Brad Kilby (LHP, Sr, San Jose State)
1-0, 0.82, 9G, 5SV, 11.0IP, 6H, 1ER, 1BB, 13K
Killer Kilby is lights out right now, and for a 29th round draftee, that’s got to be considered a massive result for Oakland’s draft researchers. Kilby came into the league with no big rep, yet he has rapidly settled in to show that when the game is on the line, he’s the man you want to go to, and in a line-up with a team ERA of 2.78, that’s quite the achievement. Kilby doesn’t throw filthy fastballs, instead relying on stuff in the 87-90 MPH range, with curveballs and change-ups coming in around 75-77 MPH. On paper, he’s pedestrian, the sort of pitcher you expect to get cut after a season, but in practice, Kilby is hitting his spots, painting corners, enticing hitters into K’s and coming second in the league in saves – all this despite sharing the closing role with the recently promoted Mike Mitchell. Keep an eye on the Killer…
The Vancouver Canadians are currently 19-7, and at the beginning of every week, we’ll look at the previous seven days here at Oakland Clubhouse with news, interviews and game reviews, so mark Scout.com down on your bookmarks today!
Chris Parry is a Canadian-based writer and journalist for Unreel Media, who covers the Northwest League for Oakland Clubhouse. He can be heard on CJSF 90.1FM Vancouver every Sunday morning from 11am-1pm… as long as the Canadians aren’t playing at home.