A significant aspect of the Oakland A's player development philosophy is that winning is an important part of growing as a player. A's prospects have had plenty of practice in that area lately, as all of the team's US affiliates have had strong second halves of the season, positioning most of them for a post-season run. We review those scenarios below.
Sacramento River Cats
Winning is nothing new for the A's Triple-A affiliate. Sacramento has been to the playoffs all but two seasons since becoming an A's affiliate in 1999. However, a post-season run didn't seem likely on June 15th when the team fell to 12.5 games behind the first-place Fresno Grizzlies.
A mere 10 weeks later and the River Cats have turned the tables on their Pacific Coast League rivals. Sacramento took four out of five games in a critical series against the Grizzlies this weekend to move into sole possession of first place. The fourth win came on Sunday when Sacramento eeked out a 2-1 victory, giving the River Cats a one-game lead with eight games to play.
Sacramento has had to rely on a number of unlikely heroes to get back into first place. On Sunday, the hero was outfielder Jermaine Mitchell, who has spent the majority of the season with the High-A Stockton Ports. Mitchell was called up to Sacramento on Saturday when star first-baseman/outfielder Chris Carter was placed on the DL with a sprained left thumb. Mitchell singled in the winning run in the eighth inning of Sunday's game. It was the first Triple-A hit in the career of the A's 2006 fifth-round pick.
Catcher Anthony Recker has also stepped it up in the glare of the pennant chase. Recker has assumed the starting catcher's role for the past month while Josh Donaldson has been on the DL with a sprained knee. Recker homered four times and drove-in nine runs in five games versus Fresno this weekend. He also walked four times and scored five runs. Recker is batting .267 with a 788 OPS in 72 games for the River Cats this season and he may have positioned himself for a September call-up to Oakland if the A's need a third catcher when rosters expand on September 1st.
Starter Bobby Cramer has given the River Cats' rotation a boost. He allowed only one run on five hits and a walk in six innings versus Fresno on Friday. In five starts for Sacramento since joining the team from Mexico, Cramer has allowed no more than two earned runs in any start. He has a 1.55 ERA and a 28:4 K:BB ratio in 29 innings.
Major league veterans Brett Tomko and Jason Jennings are giving the River Cats some experience during the pennant run. Tomko struggled in his first start with Sacramento (six runs in only two-thirds of an inning), but he has since allowed only six runs in 16.1 innings. Jennings has made two starts for the River Cats, and has allowed three runs in eight total innings.
The Midland Rockhounds have played only .500 baseball this second half, but that has been good enough to put them in a strong position to defend their Texas League title this September. Going into Monday, the Rockhounds sat a game ahead of the first-half champion Frisco RoughRiders for the second-half division title. The Rockhounds also hold a three-game lead in the wild card, which would come into effect if Frisco were to win the second-half division title having already won the first half crown.
It has been an up-and-down season for outfielder Shane Peterson, but he has been a big part of the Rockhounds' push to the playoffs. Peterson hit only .230 with a 621 OPS before the All-Star break, but he has hit .330 with an 875 OPS since the break. Over his last 10 games, he is batting .382 with seven walks and six RBIs. Peterson was a big factor in the Rockhounds' 2009 Texas League championship. He hit .433 with six RBIs in eight games during last year's post-season.
Outfielder Matt Sulentic has also overcome a slow start to the year to give the 'Hounds offense a late-season boost. He has a modest four-game hitting streak at the moment and has batted .331 after the All-Star break. He hit .228 before the break. Sulentic hit a walk-off homerun to give the 'Hounds the 2009 second-half division title last year.
The 'Hounds will be relying on mid-season addition Ryan Edell to pace the starting rotation. Since joining the A's in May in a trade with Cleveland, Edell has gone 9-4 with a 3.19 ERA in 118.1 innings. In August, he has a 3.10 ERA in six starts. Edell is tied for the team-lead in wins with starter Carlos Hernandez, who beat a Frisco line-up on Saturday that included rehabbing Texas Rangers Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler and Cristian Guzman. Hernandez allowed only two hits in seven shut-out innings. He has a 2.67 ERA in six August starts.
Veteran Matt Wright will get the start on Monday. He has posted a 2.98 ERA in 13 starts for Midland since joining the team in June. Wright was a non-roster invitee to the A's big league spring training camp, but was let go by the A's so that he could pursue an opportunity in Korea. When injury prevented Wright from staying in Korea, the A's re-signed the 6'4'' righty and assigned him to Midland.
Like the River Cats, the Stockton Ports' playoff chances seemed DOA in July. However, a recent 14-game winning streak has put Stockton in a strong position to make the post-season. Going into Monday, the Ports are holding a four game lead in the second-half division standings over Bakersfield. The Ports are also tied for first in the wild card standings. Stockton has gone 19-7 in August and are 38-24 in the second half.
The Ports' pitching staff has been outstanding during the month of August, posting a 2.95 ERA, an incredible mark considering the generally strong offense of the California League. Ports pitchers have struck-out 208 in 229 innings and have allowed only 202 hits.
Ben Hornbeck (1.17 ERA in four starts, although he was placed on the DL on Sunday), Justin Marks (2.03 ERA in three outings) and Justin Murray (1.11 ERA in six outings) have led the way in August. Shawn Haviland has also been impressive, with a 3.29 ERA and 31 strike-outs in 27.1 innings in August. Paul Smyth has saved 10 games in 10 opportunities this month while posting a 2.63 ERA in 13.2 innings. Trey Barham has done a good job setting up for Smyth, posting a 3.09 ERA in 11.2 innings this month.
Grant Green has gone on a power-splurge in August, blasting seven homeruns and driving in 23 runs in 26 games. Stephen Parker, Jeremy Barfield and Yusuf Carter have also put up good power numbers with five homers a piece. Barfield leads the team in August with a 953 OPS and a .333 batting average. As a team, the Ports have a 794 OPS in August.
Kane County Cougars
The Cougars dropped a thriller on Sunday, losing 11-10 in a four-hour, 11-inning marathon to the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. That loss cut the Kane County lead to one game in the wild card race with eight games left on the Midwest League schedule.
Kane County has gone 33-28 during the second half of the season and is 65-65 overall. In August, the Cougars have gone 13-14. The pitching staff has posted a 3.80 ERA, while the hitters have a .269 average and a 755 OPS.
Conner Crumbliss, Leonardo Gil, Mitchell LeVier and Rashun Dixon have led the team offensively in August. Crumbliss is batting .321 with a 942 OPS and 29 walks this month. He has broken the team record for walks in a season with 116. Gil has hit .361 this month with three homers and 14 RBIs, while LeVier has 17 RBIs and an 897 OPS. Dixon is batting .327 with a .412 OBP in August. Jason Christian has also contributed with a team-best (tied with LeVier) 17 RBIs.
The Cougars lost team ace Ian Krol to a promotion to Stockton and have added 2010 18th round pick Jose Macias to the rotation. Macias is the first member of the 2010 draft class to progress past short-season ball. Murphy Smith (2.67 ERA in five starts) and Jonathan Joseph (2.27 ERA in six starts) have pitched well in the rotation this month. Former starter Robert Gilliam has allowed only one earned run in 7.2 innings since returning from the DL in a relief role. Josh Lansford has struck-out 17 in 10.1 relief innings this month.
The Vancouver Canadians hadn't seen first place in August since 2005 until they reached that milestone this month. The C's have dominated the second half of the season, posting a 22-9 record. Vancouver currently has a five-game lead over Everett for the second-half crown with eight to play.
There is no question that the addition of A's 2010 number one pick Michael Choice has boosted the C's line-up during the second half. Choice has appeared in 21 games for Vancouver and has already hit seven homeruns and has driven in 26 runs. He also has 12 walks, six stolen bases and has scored 20 times.
A.J. Kirby-Jones and Josh Whitaker are tied for second behind Choice in homeruns this August with four apiece. Kirby-Jones has an 875 OPS this month, while Whitaker is sporting an 887 mark. Catcher Ryan Lipkin has a .338 average with an 819 OPS this month.
On the mound, Matt Thomson has continued to be the story. Thomson actually made one start for Stockton this month -- allowing no runs and striking out 10 in five innings -- but he has still managed to make five August starts for Vancouver, posting a 0.64 ERA with 39 strike-outs in 28 innings.
Nathan Long has also impressed out of the rotation, posting a 2.84 ERA in six starts. The C's bullpen has been terrific in August, led by Jake Brown (0.87 ERA in 10.1 innings), A.J. Griffin (2.25 ERA and six saves in seven chances), Daniel McDaniel (1.42 ERA in 12.2 innings), Daniel Tenholder (no runs allowed in nine innings), Zach Thornton (one run allowed in 11.2 innings) and Pedro Vidal (two runs allowed in 15 innings).
The AZL A's are the only A's US affiliate to be eliminated from playoff contention, but they have still had a strong second half. Going into Monday, the AZL A's were 30-26 during the second half of the season.
Outfielder Royce Consigli has been a star for the A's all season and that has carried over into August. Consigli has hit .347 with an 892 OPS this month. Neudy Clime has matched Consigli with a .347 average in 12 August games. He has an 866 OPS this month.
Zhi-Fang Pan, the A's first signing out of Taiwan, has closed out his first US season in impressive fashion. In 19 August games, the shortstop is batting .427 with a 996 OPS.
Starters Argenis Paez and Aaron Larsen have had strong Augusts. Paez has a 3.95 ERA in 27.1 innings, while Larsen has a 2.37 ERA in 19 innings. Out of the bullpen, Omar Duran (1.13 ERA in 16 innings), Sean Murphy (one earned run in 10 innings), Drew Tyson (one earned run in 15.2 innings), Jeff Urlaub (one earned run in 9.1 innings) and J.C. Menna (3.18 ERA in 11.1 innings) have impressed.
A number of A's prospects have taken home hardware for their strong 2010 campaigns.
Three Midland Rockhounds took home post-season Texas League accolades. Corey Brown and Josh Horton were named to the Texas League post-season All-Star team, while hitting coach Webster Garrison was honored with the Coach of the Year award.
Brown is currently second in the league in batting average with a .321 mark. He also has 10 homers, 48 RBIs and 19 stolen bases in 20 chances in 89 games for Midland. Brown's 919 OPS is fourth-best in the league.
Always steady defensively, Horton has contributed offensively to the tune of a .282 average for Midland this season, good for 12th-best in the league. He has hit .284 with a 740 OPS since the All-Star break. Horton missed the first three weeks of the season rehabbing an off-season elbow surgery.
The Stockton Ports are also well-represented on the California League post-season All-Star team. Shortstop Grant Green, third-baseman Stephen Parker and pitcher Shawn Haviland all made the Cal League post-season squad.
Green has been a steady force all season for Stockton. He is batting .313 with 18 homers, 80 RBIs and an 869 OPS. He ranks 10th in the league in OPS and second in the league in doubles (37).
Parker has also had an outstanding first full season with 20 homers, a .292 average and an 896 OPS for Stockton. Parker ranks second in the league in walks (79), ninth in homers, fifth in RBIs (89) and eighth in OPS.
Haviland is 9-6 with a 3.62 ERA in 144.1 innings for Stockton this season. He ranks fourth in the league in ERA, seventh in wins and second in strike-outs (159).
In the Midwest League, Kane County was represented on the post-season All-Star team by starter Ian Krol, who finished his time with the Cougars with a league-best 2.65 ERA in 118.2 innings. He walked only 19 and led the league with a 0.99 WHIP. Krol has since moved up to the Cal League, where he has allowed four earned runs in 9.2 innings over two starts.
Post-season All-Star teams have yet to be announced for the Pacific Coast, Northwest and Arizona Leagues.