Every few years, it seems the Oakland A's have an almost entirely new cast of characters in their green and gold jerseys with white cleats.
Josh Donaldson, Sonny Gray and Sean Doolittle are among those leading the charge at the Coliseum at the moment, but who knows in a few years from now? Oakland's front office, led by longtime general manager Billy Beane, has been able to overcome a small budget by developing its own players throughout the years. This season is no different.
Go to a Stockton Ports game and you'll see a roster stacked with young talent, one that has Oakland's management excited for the future of the franchise, particularly in the infield.
"Obviously they're learning and growing as they're going through the system," A's director of player development Keith Lieppman said, "but we look at that as being, we hope, the A's future infield and a majority of the makeup of that ballclub."
But that reality is still at least a couple years off, since many Ports players aren't even of legal drinking age just yet. But as Lieppman noted, some of the team's most high-profile prospects are playing together in Stockton.
Just go around the horn -- at first base there's Matt Olson (No. 5 prospect), at second is Chad Pinder (No. 19), Daniel Robertson (No. 3) is at shortstop, Renato Nunez (No. 6) is at third and catcher Bruce Maxwell is the organization's No. 17 prospect. Not to mention No. 2 farmhand and 2013 first-round pick Billy McKinney is in center field.
Given the quality of Stockton's roster, Lieppman and Co. expect big things from this club. Through 38 games the Ports held a 19-19 record, but Lieppman thinks they'll get hot in the second half once they get settled in.
"Winning is important," Lieppman said. "It's infectious, it helps guys perform better and it is a goal to make a winning product. Not only for the city of Stockton and the local people, but it helps guys perform better in a sense of just helping Oakland.
"Over the last couple of years, it's been a never-quit kind of team. It's an attitude that's displayed on a daily basis -- that you grind out at-bats and you never give in -- that you try to teach at the lower levels."
The Ports recently swept the Modesto Nuts as part of a five-game winning streak to bring them back to .500 with Robertson leading the way. The 20-year-old put together a six-game hitting streak to finish the week, during which he went 11-for-26 (.423) with a homer, two doubles and five RBIs.
The No. 34 overall selection in 2012 had a .293/.386/.422 slash line with three homers, 11 RBIs, 20 walks and 22 strikeouts through Monday, but it's his defense and baseball IQ that has Lieppman beaming.
"For a player to come out of a high school and have that type of success so quickly, especially defensively," Lieppman said, referring to Robertson. "He's fundamental, he knows how to play the position, he's very observant and recognizes how to play hitters. He does a lot of things, maturity-wise, that you don't even see from Triple-A players."
With Robertson at short and No. 1 organizational prospect Addison Russell (currently on the DL) manning that same position at Midland, the team is taking the opportunity to show Pinder a new role. The 22-year-old, a 2013 second-rounder out of Virginia Tech, leads the team in the Triple Crown categories with a .327 average, seven homers and 21 RBIs through 38 contests.
"Pinder is a really good shortstop, too," Lieppman said, "but if you can teach him how to play second and short, it increases his versatility and our flexibility with the Major League club. Like we do with [Eric] Sogard or [Alberto] Callaspo, or [Nick] Punto -- people who can play multiple positions."
As for McKinney, Lieppman doesn't sound too concerned about his .224 batting average to start the year. It's all part of the bigger picture.
Back in Spring Training, Lieppman and the rest of the front office had their annual meeting on where to assign Minor Leaguers, and McKinney's name came up in the conversation.
"To a man, everybody raised their hand to say he should go to Stockton," Lieppman said. "They felt that for a high school kid he was very mature, his approach was sound and he may not have the greatest results to start with. But we felt he was the type of person who wouldn't be intimidated and would be able to handle the adversity that came to him."
Kivlehan called up: Patrick Kivlehan, the No. 18 Mariners prospect, has been promoted from High Desert to Double-A Jackson. The 2012 fourth-rounder hit a California League-high nine homers before the move, to go along with a .282/.331/.563 slash line and 35 RBIs in 34 games.
Scorching Seager: Top Dodgers prospect Corey Seager has been tearing up the Cal League since returning from a hamstring injury May 3. Following his second straight three-hit game Sunday, in a 4-2 win over Lake Elsinore, Seager is batting .429 (15-for-35) in nine contests for Rancho Cucamonga.
Can't stop Correa: Lancaster shortstop and No. 1 Astros farmhand Carlos Correa finished the weekend on a nine-game hitting streak. On Saturday he went 5-for-6 with a double and a career-high six RBIs in a 12-5 victory over High Desert to raise his average to .322.