One year ago, Stockton catcher Max Stassi
was a top-rated prospect in the Oakland Athletics organization. He showed hitting prowess, strong leadership behind the plate and enthusiasm for the game he grew up with thanks to the pro careers of his father, Jim, and great-great uncle Myril Hoag.
But a lingering shoulder injury derailed Stassi's early success. Oakland shut him down last May for surgery, and it's been a long road back for the kid the A's selected in the fourth round of the 2009 Draft out of Yuba City, Calif.
It took almost a full year for Stassi, still ranked as the No. 19 prospect in the A's system, to return to catching. His recovery began with a strengthening program that included long toss and tireless work with Athletics trainers at the team's facility in Phoenix.
Stassi's recovery also required mental toughness. The injury impacted his game at the end of Spring Training in 2011, forcing him to begin his year in Stockton as a designated hitter. After 31 games, the shoulder gave out.
"You can drive yourself crazy looking back and thinking you wasted a whole year," he said. "As long as you're looking to the future and being in the present, you'll have a bright future."
He was tested again when he suffered a minor ankle injury during the first week of this season and was shelved after catching five games. He returned to the Ports lineup last Thursday and has a hit in each of his last four games, including a home run May 4 in his first home game since going on the disabled list.
Stassi's passion for catching has helped him through the trials. It all began when Santa Claus left catching gear under the family Christmas tree when Stassi was five years old. He has since grown into a bona fide leader who strives for success for his pitching staff and his teammates.
"I get as excited as the pitchers do over a good outing," he said. "I know that I helped them succeed. Seeing guys move up makes me happy because we worked together."
He also remembers the sting of not playing the position he feels he was born to play.
"I'm used to catching and being involved with all aspects of the game -- controlling the running game and the pitching staff," he said. "[Being a DH] was a big blow for me."
Though Stassi prefers to look to the future, he appreciates the benefits of his decision to sign with the A's rather than take the offer UCLA gave him out of high school.
"I'd be going into my junior year at UCLA and the Draft with a shoulder injury," he said. "I think I made the right decision. The experience and learning I've had with the player development staff here in Oakland is second to none."
Running the numbers: Lake Elsinore second baseman Cody Spangenberg banged out 11 hits last week and is hitting .379 in May. He has stolen 10 bases, third best in the league. Spangenberg and teammate Rico Noel are running behind the Cal League stolen bases leader, Bakersfield shortstop Billy Hamilton, and have a combined 27 steals. Hamilton has 31 thefts.
Jack of all trades: San Jose left-hander Jack Snodgrass is near the top of the league with a 1.29 ERA. He has allowed two runs over his last 31 2/3 innings. Snodgrass currently is second among San Jose pitchers with 25 strikeouts. The Giants pitching staff is in good shape with lefty Ryan Bradley and right-hander Taylor Rogers sporting ERAs under 3.00.
Hot Head: Stockton first baseman Miles Head is hitting .347 on the year, and his 25 RBIs are second best in the league. Head has 13 hits in his last 10 games, keeping up his hot April pace. The slugging first baseman had 35 hits last month.