Best Player: It would have been easy for righthander Clay Mortensen to hang his head when he was sent back to Triple-A Sacramento at the end of spring training. Instead, the 25-year-old put together one of the best first halves in an organization badly battered by injuries and downslides. Mortensen went 10-2, 3.58 in 15 starts, notching 77 strikeouts and 31 walks over 98 innings.
"He worked really hard on improving his breaking ball," farm director Keith Lieppman said. Mortensen mixes his improved curve with a power sinker, and he had been pitching to contact and getting groundball outs. He has put himself in a position to receive another shot at the big leagues, either as a starter or a reliever.
Biggest Leap Forward: After batting .211 for high Class A Stockton in May, catcher Ryan Ortiz quietly emerged as one of the best hitters on the team, pushing his line to .302/.405/.547 with seven homers through 139 at-bats. Faced with a playing-time decision in spring training, the Athletics opted to send Max Stassi to low Class A while pushing Ortiz, a sixth-rounder from Oregon State in 2009, to Stockton.
"He had to adjust to the competition," Lieppman said. "He's really improved his swing. It's a whole lot more compact. He's using the whole field and getting quality at-bats." What also has impressed the A's is how well Ortiz has handled early season struggles and the advanced competition. "Once he started to get hot, his confidence soared," Lieppman said.
Biggest Disappointment: The A's had hopes that by midseason, Michael Taylor would be ready to move into a starting corner outfield job. Check that. Taylor struggled through April and May at Sacramento, batting an empty .230 before a hot streak in June pushed him up to .249/.318/.384 with three homers and 38 RBIs through 229 at-bats.
Oakland thinks Taylor, 24, felt the pressure of the high expectations and pushed himself to perform, which resulted in the struggles.
• The A's converted 19-year-old Dominican outfielder Robin Rosario into a righthanded pitcher. He batted .230 in 226 at-bats at the Rookie level in 2008-09. Lieppman said Rosario's impressive arm strength always had argued for the switch.
• Double-A Midland lefty Pedro Figueroa went down with a left elbow strain and was being evaluated for medical treatment. He went 1-6, 5.30 in 13 starts prior to the injury.