Nunez, Olson came up big for A's in 2015

Loaded Double-A infield formed the heart of an experienced system

Matt Olson's 105 walks ranked second in the Minors in 2015 behind only Midland teammate Colin Walsh. (Walter Barnard)

By Alex Kraft / | November 25, 2015 10:30 AM

This offseason, is honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League Baseball.

If the 2015 Minor League season made one thing clear, it's that the Athletics are stacked in the infield. The quartet of Renato Nunez, Chad Pinder, Matt Olson and Colin Walsh helped lead Double-A Midland to a second-straight Texas League title while accounting for three of the four infield spots in the Texas League South's All-Star lineup. Add corner infielder Ryon Healy and top prospect Franklin Barreto to the mix, and Oakland could have a loaded infield for years to come.

The A's front office added key pieces at the trade deadline and oversaw several successful teams, and though the organization was a bit top heavy (the highest three levels posted a combined .526 winning percentage compared to .415 from the bottom three), the not-so-distant future looks bright at Coliseum.

Athletics Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Argenis Raga, Vermont (5 games), Beloit (66 games): Signed as a free agent out of Venezuela on his 16th birthday in 2010, Raga finally made his full-season debut with Class A Beloit in the Midwest League. The 21-year-old backstop initially struggled to get acclimated, but a brief demotion to Class A Short Season Vermont woke up Raga's bat in the second half. He slashed .355/.385/.464 in his final 38 games to raise his average 121 points from .157 to .278 by season's end.

First baseman -- Matt Olson, Midland (133 games): Olson set the California League ablaze in 2014 with 37 homers and a Minor League-leading 117 walks. Though those numbers dipped to 17 and 105 respectively in the less hitter-friendly Texas League this season, the 2012 first-rounder remains a unique blend of power and patience.

"The patience numbers really do lead to power numbers when they're getting their pitch and they're not missing it," said RockHounds manager Ryan Christenson. "Somebody as big and strong as Matt is able to drive the ball and produce power numbers. I think his numbers would have been even better if we're not playing at Midland. A lot of balls, especially hit to right field, die there with the wind blowing in every night with significant force. If he's in another ballpark, I think he has another 10 home runs and really has some eye-popping numbers."

Olson showed the athleticism to make 59 appearances as an outfielder while finishing fourth in the organization in home runs, third in RBIs (75) and second in walks on top of a trip to the Futures Game in Cincinnati.

Second baseman -- Colin Walsh, Midland (134 games): Walsh finally put it all together in his third and longest Texas League stint. The 26-year-old hit .302/.447/.470 while swiping a career-best 17 bases and leading the Minors in walks with 124.

"I think that's what the organization really likes about him and his approach is the control of the strike zone," Christenson said. "It's one of my favorite quotes in the Moneyball movie, when they talk about just a 'war of the strike zone.' That's exactly what these guys do.

"With Colin, I think the knock on him was where he was playing on defense. He showed that he can be a fine defender there at second base, he's gonna make every play hit at him. He doesn't quite have the range of your prototypical big league second baseman at this point, but I think it's something he has addressed and has worked on this offseason."

Third baseman -- Renato Nunez, Midland (93 games): Like Olson, Nunez terrorized California League pitching in 2014 before jumping to Midland. The native of Venezuela finished third in the organization in home runs (18) in 2015 while vastly improving his plate discipline by cutting his strikeout total from 113 to 66 and improving his walk rate.

"I think he's been consciously improving in that area for the last three seasons," said Christenson. "He was a little wild-swinger there in Beloit [in 2013]. I think about halfway through, he kind of figured out a little bit what they were doing with him. ... He just continues to improve."

A trip to the Futures Game in July resulted in a sizzling second half for Nunez, who hit .325/.359/.543 after the All-Star Break. Once signed as an international free agent at age 16, Nunez carried the momentum into the RockHounds' championship run, batting .407 and driving in 12 runs in seven postseason games.

"I think he consciously flipped the switch that these were really important games," Christenson said. "Especially when the postseason started, he was all about it. He was locked in. To see his concentration and focus elevate, and for him to go out and have the performance that he did on a night-to-night basis was probably the most impressive thing."

Honorable mention: Ryon Healy fought for playing time in Midland's corner-infield logjam and still managed to hit .302 with 10 homers and 61 RBIs over 124 games alongside Olson and Nunez in the lineup.

Shortstop -- Chad Pinder, Midland (117 games): Pinder was named the Texas League Player of the Year after he led the circuit with 86 RBIs, the second-highest total among A's farmhands, while establishing career highs in nearly every offensive category.

"He has a lot of ability to allow the ball to travel, which was one of the main things I liked about him," Christenson said. "He's a powerful hitter, he's got pop to all fields, but he can let the ball travel, and he's so good at hitting the ball the other way just by catching it deep. He can take a pitch in the middle and go out to right-center.

"He's consciously working on his approach as well," Christenson continued. "I think his pitch recognition isn't where it needs to be just yet to continue to have success as the pitching gets better. But, you put the fact that he moved to shortstop and played there as a pro for the first time every day after learning second base last year, and I think that made his offensive numbers even more impressive."

Honorable mention: Franklin Barreto skipped right to the California League this season from the Class A Short Season Northwest League and held his own with a .302 average and a career-high 38 extra-base hits over 90 games.


Jason Pridie, Nashville (127 games), Oakland (6 games): In his 13th professional season, Pridie may have put together his best season. The 2002 second-round pick by Tampa Bay signed with Oakland from the Rockies and ranked second in the organization in home runs (20) and RBIs (89), both career highs, while hitting .310/.380/.515 and stealing 20 bases in 23 tries.

Chad Oberacker, Midland (101 games): Like Walsh, Oberacker made the most of his third attempt at the Texas League. Taken in the 25th round of the 2011 Draft, the 26-year-old hit a career-best .294 while giving the RockHounds a veteran presence atop their lineup.

"He could have had a sour attitude about being back in the league for a third time, but he didn't," Christenson said. "He was one of the leaders on the team. Whenever he was healthy, he was out there leading off, getting on base. He played a tremendous center field, and he was a good athlete out there. He just kind of resurrected himself with the offensive year that he had. He's a good player, a fun, solid guy to have around, and I think he kind of opened guys' eyes again to what he can do."

Brett Vertigan, Beloit (26 games), Stockton (111 games): In Vertigan's first season in the California League, the 2012 10th-round pick swiped 30 bases between two levels to lead the organization, while producing career highs in every offensive category.

Though he cooled off a bit late in the season after a sizzling first half, the Long Beach, California, native rediscovered his stroke in the Cal League playoffs with a 5-for-13 showing in the Ports' three-game cameo.

Utility man -- Ryan Roberts, Nashville (114 games): The Sounds deployed Roberts at third base, shortstop, left field, second base and even a third of an inning cameo as a pitcher. He tallied only six errors across those positions.

The 35-year-old veteran was no slouch with the bat either, as his .283/.355/.450 line can attest. Roberts elected to become a free agent following the season.

Right-handed starter -- Dylan Covey, Stockton (26 starts): Covey bounced back from a difficult 2014 campaign this season, his first full year with Class A Advanced Stockton. The 24-year-old finished third among qualified pitchers in the California League in ERA with a career-best 3.59 mark while his 100 strikeouts ranked fourth in the organization.

Covey worked his way up from 27 to 20 on the A's top 30 prospect list and earned Cal League All-Star honors. The only blemish on his resume: a career-worst 43 walks.

Left-handed starter -- Sean Manaea, AZL Royals (1 start), Wilmington (4 starts), Northwest Arkansas (2 starts), Midland (7 starts): We typically shy away from including traded players on these lists, but Manaea's brief time with Midland was dominant enough to earn an exception. The 23-year-old southpaw was sent from the Royals to the A's at the trade deadline for big leaguer Ben Zobrist and proceeded to go 6-0 with a 1.90 ERA and 51 strikeouts in seven regular-season starts for the RockHounds.

"Manaea is awesome. You love the body, you love the stuff," Christenson said. "I think the question was whether he could fill it up consistently enough to be effective, and he showed right away that that wasn't an issue. [Pitching coach John Wasdin] did a great job with him. I think as his command improves he becomes even more dominant.

"I have nothing but positive things to say about what he did for us in his performance on and off the field. He was one of the clubhouse favorites. He's a great kid and I think that's going to go a long way for him as far as how he mixes in with this organization."

Reliever -- Brendan McCurry, Stockton (36 games), Midland (14 games): The A's No. 30 prospect excelled as Stockton's closer before moving to the back end of Midland's bullpen and pitching several crucial games down the stretch, including 1 1/3 perfect frames in the Texas League semis to send the RockHounds to the finals.

"He's got a great attitude for a guy that you like to bring in at the end of the game," Christenson said. "He's all business. He's unfazed ... and he's not afraid of any situation that comes up. He's got an arsenal of a bunch of different pitches, and it's going to be interesting to see if he continues using all his arm slots. ... He's coming from two or three different arm angles throwing all of his pitches, and it's tough. The hitter doesn't really know what to sit on."

Alex Kraft is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @Alex_Kraft21. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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