It is not easy to project a minor league roster, and even tougher in a year with a shortened Spring Training and undetermined start date. But while we wait for baseball return, I had some fun in taking my best shot at the hypothetical Opening Day roster for the 2020 Stockton Ports:
Tyler Baum, RHP: A 2nd-round pick in 2019 out of North Carolina, Baum is the type of polished college pitcher the A’s have sent to the California League in his first full season, a la AJ Puk and Daulton Jefferies. While his record (0-3) and ERA (4.70) over 11 starts at Vermont in 2019 weren’t eye-popping, his peripherals were solid, with a 34:7 K:BB ratio in just 30.2 innings. With his combination of command and stuff, Baum has a chance to anchor the Ports rotation and possibly move through the system quickly.
Hogan Harris, LHP: Staying healthy will the key for Harris, who didn’t make his professional debut until over a year after the A’s drafted him in the 3rd round in 2018 out of Louisiana-Lafayette. When he did get back on the mound in 2019 though, he was dominant, holding batters to a .169 batting average over 54.2 innings between Vermont and Stockton. After starting seven games for the Ports down the stretch in 2019, Harris begins the year in Stockton but could move up to Double-A Midland quickly if he gets off to a good start.
Gus Varland, RHP: After an injury plagued 2019 season, Varland will look to pick up where he left off after an impressive start to his pro career. A 14th-round pick in 2018 out of DII Concordia University in Minnesota, Varland has put up numbers at every stop, including a 2-1 record with a 2.39 ERA over five appearances (four starts) in Stockton in 2019 before being shut down in July. If he gets off to a good start, Varland is another candidate to move up to Midland midseason.
Bryce Conley, RHP: After a midseason call-up to the Cal League in 2019, Conley posted quality numbers allowing just 20 hits while holding a 2.78 ERA in 32.1 innings pitched. He still has some work to do with his control, but the right-hander has improved every season and will look to take another step forward in 2020.
Richard Guasch RHP: While he’s still got some work to do with his command, Guasch possesses a high ceiling thanks in part to a slider that was ranked best in the A’s system by Baseball America. The Cuban right-hander struck out 77 batters in just 59.2 innings at Beloit in 2019.
Reid Birlingmair, RHP: Birlingmair was a workhorse for the Snappers last season, firing 123 innings over 24 appearances including 21 starts. The former UIC Flame will give the Ports some versatility with the ability to start or pitch out of the bullpen.
Aiden McIntyre, RHP: McIntyre can fill a similar role to Birlingmair on this staff, as he started 22 games for Beloit in 2019, while also appearing in five contests out of the bullpen. The Davis, CA native has posted good strikeout numbers in his pro career, whiffing 196 batters in 146 innings.
Michael Danielak, RHP: After a midseason callup to Stockton in 2019, Danielak posted solid numbers in his first exposure to the Cal League including a 40:8 K:BB ratio in 29 innings. The Dartmouth grad gives the Ports a multi-inning option out of the bullpen.
Nick Highberger, RHP: Highberger was a reliable arm out of the bullpen for the Ports in 2019, leading the club in saves (6) and appearances (44). He begins 2020 with Stockton in the same role – a veteran with the capability to finish games.
Jared Koenig, LHP: A veteran on the independent league circuit, this will be the Aptos, CA native’s first exposure to affiliated pro ball after being signed by the A’s in January. A year after striking out 133 hitters over 104.1 innings for Lake Erie of the Frontier League, the 26-year-old gets a look in Stockton to begin the 2020 campaign.
Deivy Mendez, RHP: Acquired from the Padres in the minor-league phase of the Rule 5 draft during the Winter Meetings, Mendez has flashed strikeout stuff over his 7-year career with 301 K’s in 255.2 innings. The Dominican native gives the Ports an option at the end of games after picking up six saves in the Northwest League last season.
Jhenderson Hurtado, LHP: Although he pitched across four levels last season, Hurtado spent most of 2019 at Vermont and Beloit where opponents hit under .200 against him. The 24-year-old Venezuelan can also start in a pinch; he did so seven times last season. This pitching staff needs another lefty and Hurtado fits that bill.
Kyle McCann: This spot came down to two high draft picks from the A’s 2019 class: the 4th-rounder McCann and 7th-rounder Drew Millas. For now I’ll go with McCann, whose calling card is his left-handed power bat and also offers some versatility with his ability to play first base. Even though he struggled with Vermont last season, McCann will get the opportunity in the more hitter-friendly Cal League.
J.J. Schwarz: Another power hitting catcher, the A’s made the former Florida Gator their 8th-round pick in 2018 and he began the last season as the Ports opening day catcher. But after suffering a shoulder injury and struggling to the tune of a .109 batting average through 24 games, he was sent down to Class-A Beloit where he was later shut down for the season in June. The 24-year-old, who can also play 1B, starts the season splitting catching duties with McCann.
Skyler Weber: Weber caught the majority of games for Beloit in 2019, starting 83 games behind the dish. Although he hit just .195 with the Snappers last season, the left-handed hitter offers durability and the ability to play a corner outfield spot if needed.
Jeremy Eierman (SS/2B): A good defender with a power bat, Eierman has a ton of potential. The Missouri State product had mixed results in 2019, finishing with 13 home runs, but also striking out 177 times – 2nd-most in the Cal League. While his tools seem ready for a move up to the Texas League, the trickle down of infielders from Triple-A after minor league free agent acquisitions might allow the A’s to give Eierman another chance to iron out his swing in the Cal League. But the 23-year-old could move up to Double-A midseason if he improves his contact rate.
Logan Davidson (SS): Last year’s first-round pick out of Clemson impressed during Spring Training, showing the ability to play a good shortstop while hitting for power and drawing rave reviews from Bob Melvin. Davidson struggled at short-season Vermont after signing but rebounded to hit .301 in August and is almost assured to skip the Midwest League and wear a Ports uniform in 2020.
Ryan Gridley (2B/Util): Theoretically, Gridley’s 2020 could mirror his 2019. The former 11th-round pick opened last season with a second go-around at Class-A Beloit and was promoted to Stockton midseason. With a .344 career OBP, Gridley has always gotten on base and hit well (.274) in 59 games with the Ports last season. Similar numbers to start the year could result in a promotion to Midland in 2020.
Payton Squier (1B): A first baseman who hits for more average than power, Squier hit just .176 in 21 games with the Ports down the stretch in 2019. The 24-year-old hit .315 with a .787 OPS with the Snappers in the Midwest League, and he’ll get a shot to carry that performance over to the Cal League in 2020.
Cobie Vance (3B/Util): With Jonah Bride almost certainly graduating to Double-A Midland, this club needs a third baseman. Enter Vance, the A’s 18th-round pick in 2018, who is solid with the glove as evidenced by his .953 career fielding percentage in 894 innings at the position. The Alabama product did get a look in Stockton in his draft year of 2018, hitting .229 in 27 games.
Austin Beck: There’s a very realistic scenario that with a good Spring Training, Beck would be ticketed for Double-A Midland out of the gates in 2020. But after a 2019 season that was interrupted by a quad injury that sent Beck to the injured list twice, we’ll start him in Stockton for now. The 6th overall pick in 2017 showed flashes of his five tools and the ability to adjust before the first quad injury, hitting four home runs posting an OPS of .849 in May after a rough April. A good start plus health should equal a promotion to Midland for the 21-year-old before season’s end.
Lazaro Armenteros: Signed by the A’s in 2016 for $3 million, Armenteros is certainly not short on talent. After an injury-plagued 2018 in Beloit, Armenteros set career highs and led the Ports in 2019 in home runs (17), stolen bases (22), and walks (73). The problem for Lazarito was the strikeout, leading all of the minor leagues in the category with 227. With an eye on that adjustment, Armenteros provides an imposing presence in the middle of the Ports lineup in 2020.
Devin Boyle: The former Kansas Jayhawk has moved a rung up the A’s organizational ladder every year since being drafted in the 17th round in 2018, and this season is no different. The switch-hitter has the ability to play all three outfield positions and showed some power and speed with 6 home runs and 16 stolen bases at Beloit in 2019.
Dustin Harris: Let’s have some fun with a wild card candidate for the 2020 Stockton Ports. Harris turns 21 in July and hasn’t played above short-season Vermont yet, but after being drafted out of St. Petersburg JC in the 11th round in 2019, all he did was hit. Harris hit over .320 at both stops last season, and although his position isn’t quite determined yet (he was drafted as a third baseman) we’ll give him a shot in the Cal League.
Max Schuemann (Util): Versatility is the name of the game when it comes to Schuemann. While most of his time in pro ball has come on the left side of the infield, Schuemann is capable of plugging in just about anywhere, as he has played every position but catcher, centerfield, and pitcher. Schuemann also offers some offensive tools, leading Beloit in hitting in 2018 while also clubbing 29 doubles and getting on base at a .339 clip.