Now in his third year with the Athletics organization, Stockton Ports first baseman A.J. Kirby-Jones
is focused on refining his eye at the plate while improving his power. He's seeing pitches better, leading to an increase in his walk rate and a substantially higher batting average compared to previous seasons.
"I try to put myself in good hitters' counts," said Kirby-Jones, a ninth-round pick in 2010. "I take those pitches rather than swinging early and grounding out. [It] increases my chances of getting one over the plate. And that's how I get my walks."
Kirby-Jones is hitting .287 with 13 homers and 46 RBIs. Along with a batting average more than 40 points higher than last season at Class A Burlington, he already has as many home runs as he had all of last year. He's on pace for more walks as well, though reducing his strikeouts remains a work in progress. He has 47 walks and 76 strikeouts in 67 games with the Ports, as opposed to a 56-to-101 ratio in 94 games last year.
Along with a more patient approach, Kirby-Jones benefited from having a big bat in front of him in the lineup during the first half. All-Star Miles Head, usually a first baseman, was moved to third with Kirby-Jones at first, and it worked out for both sluggers. Head was promoted to Double-A Midland to start the second half after hitting .382 with a .715 slugging percentage in Stockton.
"He can do damage with each swing," Kirby-Jones said of Head. "Sometimes they don't want to pitch to him, and I get good pitches hitting behind him."
Kirby-Jones acknowledged that as he improves as a hitter, it's still difficult to hit against California League pitchers. He said the pitching in the league is better than anything he's seen before, and each pitcher's expanded repertoire keeps him on his toes.
"Every team has at least three or four good starters, so we see tough pitching every night," he said. "It helps you more as a hitter to learn about hitting and make the adjustments you need to move up."
Stockton had the worst first-half record in the league at 28-42. They're off to a slow start with a 1-4 record in the second half, although they walloped San Jose on Monday night, 15-4, to earn their first win since June 16.
Kirby-Jones doesn't let the Ports' struggles affect him, however.
"Nobody likes losing," he said. "You can't push yourself too much and try to win games by yourself. You can just control what you can and everyone has to play together as a team to win more games."
Oropesa on the offensive: San Jose first baseman Ricky Oropesa has started the second half on the right foot. He smacked four doubles in his first four games and had a three-hit night against Visalia on June 23, including a home run. A third-round pick in 2011 out of USC, Oropesa is hitting .329 this month. He leads the club with 56 RBIs, has the second highest batting average among San Jose starters at .277 and is second in home runs with eight.
Big night: Visalia outfielder Wagner Mateo, an international signee out of the Dominican Republic for the Diamondbacks in 2010, enjoyed his best night at the plate this year with a 3-for-5 game against Bakersfield on June 25. In his fifth game of 2012, Mateo knocked in two runs and scored once. This is Mateo's first shot above rookie ball, an aggressive promotion after he had 206 at-bats with the AZL Diamondbacks in 2011.