2013 In Review: AZL A's

Justin Higley had a standout season.

Information about the Arizona Summer League can be hard to find. Thankfully, we have Kimberly Contreras on the scene. A regular presence at the AZL A's games this season, Contreras knew the A's Rookie League club better than anyone not officially working for the A's. She brings us a comprehensive review of their 2013 season.

It's been almost 40 days since the last AZL A's game was played (and won) in Tempe against the Angels. I've worked on my Season Review for 36 of those days. I've written/ re-written/ re-re-written and started from scratch again; I make excuses to myself that it's not good enough, needs more information/ less information/ different information, etc. I realized today, however, that none of that is true. Once I finish and submit this review, the season will officially be over. It's an emotional thing. I get emotional about baseball.

Enough of my free therapy session. Let's take a look at the 2013 Arizona Summer League (or AZL.) We'll note the important debuts of the season; review the stat leaders of the team and of the league, and then I will announce my completely subjective season awards, including: Outstanding Performance - Pitching ; Outstanding Performance – Batting; the Best Kept Secret of the Draf; and then cap it off with MVP of the Season.

Ok, let's get started.

If you follow me on Twitter (…and why wouldn't you?), you know that the A's are the only organization in the league with most of its games being live tweeted. The scoreboard on MiLB.com's site (http://www.milb.com/scoreboard/index.jsp?sid=milb&lid=121) is always a valuable option, especially when live Tweeting is not an option, but we like to take it a step further; add some color commentary and even take the step to update on the opposing team, when possible. I try to paint the picture of what's happening on the field; take as many pictures as my phone's battery-life will allow, and hopefully fill the gaps that the numbers leave. But for now…

Let's take a look at all of the cool stuff that happened from June 20th through August 29th, shall we? But first, some fun facts for the stat geeks reading this (and I say that with the utmost respect)…

* 55 – the number of games played (rained out game vs the Reds in late August) between June 20th and August 29th.
* 109 – The mode first pitch temperature: 109 degrees.
* 1 – number of times Marcus Jensen was invited by HP Umpire Kale Rodrigues to leave the game early – 1 time. July 25th at Cubs – 4th inning.
* 1 – also the number of games affected by the summer Monsoon season
* 2:41 – the average length of game
* 3-6 – record in June
* 11-13 – record in July
* 11-11 – record in August
* 15-12 – Home win/ loss record
* 10/ 18 – Away win/ loss record
* 25- 30 – season record
* 5 – number of first 10 draft picks to debut in the AZL
* 21 – of 42 draft picks to debut in the AZL
* 3 – number of Hawaiian-born & raised players on the AZL roster (Iolana Akau, Ben McQuown, & Piikea-Jiro Kitamura)

THE JOIE SECTION

"JOIE" is French for "joy" but it is also an acronym for Journal Of Important Events. (Something I've always kept for each of my kids; hence the name.) The chronology of firsts; one of the best parts of being in Arizona. The professional debut of new draft picks.

Starting with Opening Day (night, actually) at Scottsdale Stadium:

June20th: Opening Day of Arizona Summer League (AZL) Giants won 11 – 8.

Professional debut of:

* #1 draft pick, Billy McKinney , who had a pretty good first day as DH: batting .500 with 3 Hits, a 2B, scored a run and had an RBI.
* 25th round pick, RHP Jonathan Massad, who pitched the bottom of the 8th inning and was tagged with the loss.
* 27th round pick, Ryan Huck (who I quickly, and with good reason, started calling "Hulk"): in the 4th inning, hit a three-run home run off the Giants Juan Nova.
* 30th round pick, Ben McQuown, who entered in the game as a defensive replacement in the bottom half of the 6th inning, replacing a rehabbing Aaron Shipman in centerfield. Top of the 7th inning, Ben drew a walk and showed the plate discipline that became a trademark of Ben's offensive efforts.
* 31st round pick, RHP A.J. Burke, debuted in the bottom of the 7th inning; allowed 1 hit and struck out 1 batter for his 1IP.
* 34th round pick, A.J. Kubala played third base and had a hit and a double and struck out four times
* International prospects making their US debut from the Dominican Summer League:
o - Starting pitcher, RHP Ronald Herrerra
o - RHP Alex Nolasco
o - Catcher Andy Paz
o - 2B Gabriel Santana

21st: Game #2 of the season/ home opener against the Giants. A's won 8-5.

* 13th round pick, Justin Higley, makes his debut in the same way he would spend the rest of the season… H I T T I N G! In the second inning, his first professional at-bat, "H" as he was called, hit a home run off Giants rehabbing Double-A RHP Justin Fitzgerald. This set the tone for Justin's season.
* 16th round pick, RHP Junior Mendez, debuts with a stellar 8th inning performance: 3 up, 3 down, including 2 strike outs
* 18th round pick, RHP Sam Bragg, debuts with a stellar 1, 2, 3 7th inning - 1 strike out.
* 28th round pick, Joe Bennie, played 3B during his first professional game.
* Non-drafted University of Hawaii 3B, P.K. Kitamura debuts at 2B.

26th: Travel to Hohokam Stadium – which will be the spring training home of the big league club in 2015, but for now, is still the home of the Cubs – who won 6-5.

* Highly regarded international prospect from the Dominican Republic, Yairo Muñoz, makes his US debut playing SS.
* A.J. Kubala hit his first home run of the season with a runner on base in the 8th inning.

28th: at Tempe Diablo Stadium, in a 6-5 loss to the Angels.

* 21st round pick, Scott Masik, and his high socks, debuted in left field; he scored a run and struck out.
* The Hulk – Ryan Huck – homered for his 2nd of the season.
* 32nd round pick, RHP Dominique Vattuone, and 33rd round pick, RHP Joe Michaud, both made their professional debuts.

29th: In a home loss (8-6) to the Cubs. First pitch temp of 114 was the hottest of the season.

* 29th round pick, RHP Blake McMullen, pitches 1.2 innings; allows 1 hit and strikes out 2 in his professional debut.

30th: At the Mariners, in Peoria Stadium, on the night of the 2nd hottest first pitch temp of the season (113). Mariners won 12-0.

* Rehabbing 2012 draft pick, RHP Nolan Sanburn, made his AZL debut (went straight to Vermont last season)
* Supplemental round pick, (A's 5th pick overall) LHP Chris Kohler, made his professional debut. He walked a batter, and struck out another. He looked like he was born to pitch.
* Non-drafted RHP Travis Pitcher debuted in the bottom of the 8th inning, with 2-out and 2 runners on-base, and struck out the only batter he faced. Of course he did. He was NAMED to be in this profession.

July

1st: At home, against the same Mariners team, with the same result; lost 9-4. However…

* 15th round pick, Edwin Diaz, made his professional debut with a single, a double; scored a run and also drove one in. Successful night for the SS.
* Another non-drafted RHP debuted: Hunter Adkins, in the 7th inning.

3rd: Out to Goodyear (or…EAST California, compared to the other facilities) to face the Reds and their number one draft pick, Michael Lorenzen: Good Guys beat the Redlegs 4-1.

* 5th-round draft pick, RHP Bobby Wahl, debuted in the first inning.
* Sam Bragg earned his first professional win!
o - Little did we know, but that would be the last we'd see of these two. They were Vermont-bound!

4th: Celebrated the Nation's birthday in a loss, at home, to the D-backs.

* MLB legend, and current D-backs special assistant, 83-year-old Roland Hemond spend his 4th of July at Papago watching his rookie players

5th : a.k.a.; Ronald Herrera's Pitching Clinic against the Padres

* More about this game, later…

8th : Home game against the Rangers who won 10-0.

* 3rd-round pick, Ryon Healy, made his professional debut for 1 inning at 1B.

9th: Against the Angels in Tempe and lost 6-1

* 26th round pick, catcher Kyle Wheeler, debuted as a pinch-hitter for one AB
* Justin Higley homered for the 2nd time

10th: Dodgers come to Papago, and fall 7-1

* Kubala homered for his 2nd home run of the season in the 2nd inning; a grand slam.
o - AJ, a native of Jacksonville, Florida was a bat boy for the Jacksonville Suns when they were the Dodgers AA affiliate. The manager of that team at that time was long time Dodger minor league manager, John Shoemaker. Shoe happens to be on the Dodgers staff in Glendale. Knowing the connection between Kubala and Shoe, I had to watch the expression on Shoe's face as his former bat boy hit a grand slam against the Dodgers. Shoe was very proud. Cool experience.

25th: In Mesa, against the Cubs (and a WIN for the Good Guys, 7-3)

* 20th round pick, catcher Iolana Akau, the 3rd of 3 Hawaiians on the roster, makes his debut.

30th: In Tempe, and a 4-3 loss to the Angels

* Billy McKinney hit his first professional home run.

August

1st:

* 7th round RHP Dustin Driver FINALLY made his professional debut, despite having been in Arizona from the start of the season. After not throwing a ball for 3-months, the 18 year old, pride of the Pacific Northwest, faced 3 Cubs batters in his 1IP – walked one, and struck out one.

24th: Home victory (11-5) over the Diamondbacks:

* Diamondbacks start rehabbing major leaguers who are SHUT DOWN by the A's pitching staff Nolasco, Acevedo, Peralta, Michaud, & Pitcher:
o - Catcher Miguel Montero (0-4, K)
o - 3B Eric Chavez (0-3)
o - DH Willie Bloomquist (Scored a run, walked)

JOSS (Journal Of Season Stats)

Now, let's see how the boys did offensively, shall we:

BATTING - AS A TEAM:

As a whole, out of 13 teams in the Arizona League, the A's finished below the bottom half in all but one category: Home Runs. The A's hit 30 home runs this season, putting them 2nd to the Dodgers, who hit a total of 39.

For the rest of the AZL A's stats and the team ranking out of 13 teams:

55 games played
267 runs scored - 9th place
466 hits - 10th
84 2Bs -10th
20 3Bs - 13th
30 HRs - 2nd
218 RBIs -10th
680 total bases -7th
36 stolen bases - 13th
(Angels and Brewers each stole 103 bases)
OBP: .328 - 9th
SLG: .363 - 7th
AVG: .249 -10th
OPS: .691 - 8th

LEAGUE INDIVIDUAL BATTING / RANK

Justin Higley and Billy McKinney were the common names in the top 20 of most categories…except in Walks. Ben McQuown, the highest-ranking A's player in 12th place, with 22 BBs. This does not surprise those of us who saw him play.

Runs: 31, Higley and McKinney (13th & 14th overall)
Hits: 58, Billy McKinney placed 4th–out of the 46 games played he played
3B: 4, Higley, 17th
HR: 6, Higley, 4th
RBIs: 20, Higley, 8th
TB: 75, Higley and McKinney, 9th & 10th
BBs: 22, Ben McQuown, 12th
OBP: .383, Billy McKinney, 15th
SLG: .490, Higley, 5th
AVG: .320, Billy McKinney, 8th
OPS: .853, Higley, 9th / .798, Billy McKinney 19th

TEAM INDIVIDUAL BATTING: TOP 3

Runs: 31 (Higley & McKinney tied) and 22 (Ben McQuown)
Hits: 58 (Billy McKinney), 43 (Gabriel Santana) and 42 (Higley)
2B: 7 (McKinney, Higley, Shawn Duinkerk – all tied
3B: 4 (Higley), 3 (Duinkerk) and 2 (Jonesy Zarraga)
HR: 5 (Higley), 4 (Kubala) and 3 (Zarraga)
RBI: 29 (Higley), 20 (McKinney & Duinkerk tied)
TB: 75 (Higley & McKinney –tied) and 55 (Santana)
BB: 22 (Ben McQuown) and 21 (Higley & McKinney tied)
SB: 10 (Ben McQuown), 7 (McKInney) and 4 (Higley)
OBP: .417 (Ben McQuown), .415 (Scott Masik) and .383 (McKinney)
SLG: .490 (Higley), .440 (Zarraga) and .423 (Kyle Wheeler)
AVG: .320 (McKinney), .277 (McQuown) and .275 (Higley)
OPS: .853 (Higley), .798 (McKinney) and .751 (Ben McQuown)
Errors: 0 (Scott Masik, 22 games played, and Andy Paz 33 games played)

PITCHING - AS A TEAM

HITS: 487 (5th fewest)
RUNS: 283 (6th fewest)
EARNED: 228 (9th fewest)
HRs: 77 (Most Allowed: Tied with Reds)
HIT BATTERS: 33 (Middle of the pack)
BB: 177 (2nd fewest)
SO: 175 (2nd fewest)
WHIP: 1.39 (5th lowest)

LEAGUE INDIVIDUAL PITCHING / RANK

IP: 70.2 (Ronald Herrera, 1ST)
HITS: 76 (Herrera, 1st)
RUNS: 36 (Herrera, 4th most)
EARNED: 30 (Herrera, 5th most )
HR: 5 (Cristhian Perez, 1ST – most)
HBP: 5 (Carlos Navas & Alex Nolasco)
BB: 33 (Nolasco, Most allowed)
SO: 58 (Herrera, 8th most)
WHIP: 1.23 (Herrera, 12th lowest)

TEAM INDIVIDUAL PITCHING – TOP 3

IP: 70.2 (Herrera), 50.1 (Navas) and 43.2 (Perez)
Hits: 76 (Herrera), 55 (Navas) and 43 (Perez)
Runs: 36 (Herrera), 31 (Navas) and 28 (Nolasco)
Runs (ER): 30 (Herrera), 27 (Navas) and 26 (Nolasco)
HR: 5 (Perez), 4 (Navas) and 3 (Herrera)
HBP: 5 (Nolasco & Navas) and 4 (Massad)
BB: 33 (Nolasco), 14 (Blake McMullen) and 13 (Travis Pitcher)
SO: 58 (Herrera), 36 (Perez) and 32 (Kohler)
WHIP: 1.10 (Perez), 1.18 (Acevedo) and 1.23 (Herrera)

…and, the last stat of the season:

100%: How proud I am to have this organization, and this team, as my summer companions!

Now, for what EVERYONE has been waiting for…

2013 COPPER STATE A'S OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCES – AWARDS TIME!

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE – PITCHING

RHP Ronald Herrera, July 5th, at Padres (Surprise/ Rangers Field 1)

The day after a solid beating by the Diamondbacks on our nation's birthday, the A's traveled to face the Padres at their temporary home field, in Surprise.

Rehabbing LHP Trey Barham started the game with a very quick 1, 2, 3 first inning. If you blinked, you missed it. Barham was fun to watch each time he took the mound.

Then, in the bottom of the 2nd inning, Herrera replaced Barham. It was his 4th outing, including the season opener at Scottsdale Stadium against the Giants. Herrera's record was 1-1 with a no decision. This start would be his first of the season without his parents in attendance…unfortunately for Mom and Dad.

Those of us fortunate to be in Surprise that night, were in for a treat from the 5' 10", 170lb, right-hander from Maracay, Venezuela. We witnessed a 6 inning pitching clinic by newly turned 18-year-old. No two innings were the same except for that they were pitched – not thrown. Herrera's performance was rhythmic, fluid, and as expressive as a ballet. Each pitch was effortlessly delivered with pinpoint accuracy. Herrera had it all: command, location, and velocity. He and catcher, Andy Paz, were in command of the game from the very first pitch until they were done for evening. It was a thing of beauty! I thought about his mother and how she would have loved to have been there.

Herrera's line: 6 IP, 3H, 2BB, 3SO. He faced 22 batters from a Padres offense that consistently produced, which is why the team ranked 2nd and 3rd in most of the offensive categories throughout the season. Their efforts on July 5th didn't contribute much to their rankings.

Nolan Sanburn, in his 2nd of two AZL rehab sessions, came in for the 8th and 9th innings. In his 2IP, gave up 3 hits, allowed 1 run (earned) and struck out 3.

There were 3 great pitching performances this night: but Ronald Herrera's was something special. So happy I was there to enjoy it.

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE – BATTING

Kyle Wheeler, August 16th at Papago vs. Dodgers

In a season when the team hit the 2nd most home runs in the league, my offensive performance of the season is the polar opposite. It's not power or brute strength, or even speed that was most impressive. It was something that I, personally, am not a fan of: bunting. Maybe it's because I have never liked it/never saw executed properly, etc. and, especially given the results it produced (NONE) that even I am surprised that I am naming this as the most outstanding offensive performance of the season…

On August 16th, the A's were at Papago hosting the Dodgers. In the bottom of the 4th inning, the A's are down, 3-1. First batter of the inning is catcher (CATCHER) Kyle Wheeler. In the split-second that I see Wheeler square around to bunt, I can feel my eyes about to roll, and a slight groan of disappointment escape as I exhale (my involuntary response to bunting …in general). Thankfully, I keep my eyes on the batter and I witness, EASILY, the VERY BEST bunt I've seen in a VERY long time at any level, and the best I have EVER seen at this level! The position of Wheeler's bat, waiting for the ball to meet it, and then dribble just out of range of 3 defenders, while staying fair, was perfect, practiced, and not "lucky." We're talking the kind that would make Maury Wills claim he taught Wheeler everything he knows!

For that one, hope-filled split second, I forgot that Kyle was a catcher… until he started for first base. As Ms. Emily Tucker said, Wheeler – the CATCHER, with catcher-sized legs and speed – needed to "unhitch that trailer!" The scorebooks will simply show Kyle being thrown out at 1st (5-3.) I know differently, though. And any time I see Wheeler at-bat, I keep hoping to see it again.

BEST-KEPT SECRET

Ben McQuown – 30th Round Pick

As I've always said, one of my favorite things about the Arizona League is the presence of so many top draft picks. It is expected that the young men in whom an organization has placed much importance – and invested a good deal of money – will be great. And, once again, the Oakland A's amateur scouting staff, and GM Billy Beane, did a great job at the 2013 1st Year Player Draft in June.

The A's #1 pick – 24th overall Billy McKinney was a delight to watch all summer long. Defensively, he was a smooth, poised centerfielder. No worries if anything was hit in the air or on the ground in his direction; it would be almost flawlessly fielded. In the team-leading 46 games in which Billy played, he made only 2 errors. His patience at the plate, combined with his seemingly innate baseball acumen, have a lot to do with why he produced in every offensive category; and proving why he was selected number one.

As anyone who has had the opportunity to speak with Billy can testify, he is a nice, humble, respectful young man who loves his family (and his mama's cooking) very much!

But Billy's not a secret. Neither is 3rd round pick (100 overall) Ryon Healy, who was in the AZL for 11 games before spending the season in Vermont, or supplemental pick (106 overall) LHP Chris Kohler. Kohler, a high school pitcher from Southern California, grew-up with 2012 #2 pick, Daniel Robertson. Watching Chris's debut, I could see why he was selected so early in the draft. I could watch him pitch every day. Definitely not a secret…to anyone.

Moving down the draft list… let's go to the 30th round. The 3rd of 3 Hawaiians on this AZL roster: 23-year-old outfielder from Campbell University, Ben McQuown, is my selection for the Best Kept Secret of the draft!

Why? Well, before we revisit the stats, let me share my impression of Ben from this summer: he was ALWAYS on base! Even if he didn't start the game, I would be writing something and look up to see him at home plate and on his way to 1st. Good heavens! At times it seemed as if there were more than one Ben McQuown on the team!

As it turns out, I was pretty close on my beliefs about Ben: he was always on-base (team leading .417 with 22 BB) almost always crossing home plate (3rd with 22) and always dusting himself off after stealing a base (team-leading 10.) Ben also has a .751 OPS which ranks him 3rd on the team.

Throughout the season, I am so fortunate to hear from and interact with former coaches, supporters, fans, friends, and family members of the young ball players. I love it! There is great insight into the young men by who they bring along with them (in person as well as in social media). Ben has a great and diverse support system. The fun part is that it has increased SINCE he was drafted and now includes many who have never met him. His heart shines through the numbers.

However, watching Ben play – every opportunity, in each of the 33 games he played – makes you wish there were a measurement of heart. His would be off the charts!

And…last, but not least: my AZL 2013 MVP is…..{drum roll…}

Mark Smith – Minor League Video Coordinator – June 20th – August 29th

"Hey Mark… [insert any one of a million questions here]?" This is what Mark Smith heard, several… no, MANY times throughout each game. From me. Every game. Mark is the source of all necessary information (to me) and most importantly, he would SHARE that information with me; helpfully, and thoughtfully! Though it's not been confirmed, I can share that times such when a new pitcher would come to the mound, Mark would ensure I knew who it was by either speaking a little louder, or pointedly telling me, or… whatever. Or when a new player was making his professional debut, or got his first professional hit, etc. Mark was THE BEST!

I'm sure he felt a little (ok, more than a little) relief on the games when I wasn't there… I couldn't blame him, though…if I were him, I would, too.

And, if you think any of his efforts are unimportant, then you, my friend, are A) spoiled, and B) have never been to a game in the Arizona Summer League.

So with the season, and the season review, in the books: we get to enjoy the Instructional League – through mid October – and the Arizona Fall League, which starts Tuesday, October 8th and the A's Fall League team is the Mesa Solar Sox, whose home field is Mesa Hohokam Stadium…the future spring training home of the Oakland A's.

Then, the AFL Championship Game is on Saturday, November 16th and then it's Thanksgiving, then the Winter Meetings, then Christmas and New Years, then the MLB Owners Meetings in Scottsdale, then Valentines' Day and then EARLY REPORTING SPRING TRAINING! Then…before you know it, it's early June, and the 2014 draft takes place, and then June 20th arrives and it's a new season of the Arizona League! Time flies!

One last thing before I end:

- Scott Masik: Please go back to wearing high socks. Thank you.

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