2010 Year In Review: Midland Pitching

In our next "Year in Review" article, we take a closer look at the 2010 pitching staff of the Texas League's Midland Rockhounds.

Midland Rockhounds Pitching At A Glance
Team ERA: 4.10 (fifth out of eight teams in the league)
Strike-outs/Walks: 997/534 (fourth-most and second-most, respectively)
Team WHIP: 1.46 (seventh)

Note: this article covers all pitchers who threw at least 20 innings for the Midland Rockhounds this season.

It was a strong year for the Rockhounds as a team. For a second straight season, Darren Bush's squad made it to the league championship series. In 2009, the team brought home the title. In 2010, Midland fell short after running into a stacked Northwest Arkansas Naturals team that featured several of the top prospects in all of baseball.

Although it wasn't a statistically dominant season for the Midland pitching staff, it was still a solid showing, especially when one considers the number of injuries pitching coach Scott Emerson had to overcome this season. Top prospects Pedro Figueroa and Arnold Leon both succumbed to Tommy John surgery (Leon missed virtually the entire season, one year after being one of the most valuable pitchers on the team's 2009 championship squad), while relievers such as Justin Friend, Justin Souza and Jason Ray missed significant time with ailments. As with every season, the Midland staff also had to overcome various promotions and the growing pains of young pitchers tackling the Double-A level for the first time.

One such pitcher tackling a new level was left-hander Anthony Capra, who led the team with 28 starts and 130.2 innings pitched. The A's fourth-round pick in 2008, Capra was coming off of a stellar 2009 campaign that saw him post a 3.20 ERA and strike-out 170 in 152 innings for Low-A Kane County and High-A Stockton. Capra found the Double-A level to be a bit more challenging than Single-A. At times, he was dominant, but he also struggled with the big inning and saw his walk total jump from 61 to 89 while his strike-out total fell to 118. He finished the year with a 4.27 ERA, although his post-All-Star break mark was 4.02. He held opposing batters to a .249 average and lowered his homerun total from 15 in 2009 to nine while also improving his groundball rates, so there were several positives for the southpaw to take into the 2011 campaign.

Another heralded left-hander making his Double-A debut in 2010 was Figueroa. The hard-throwing Figueroa struck-out 145 in 152 innings for Kane County and Stockton in 2009 and was added to the A's 40-man roster during the off-season. After a solid April, Figueroa struggled in nine starts in May and June, perhaps an indication that he was battling elbow soreness for much of the early season. He was placed on the DL in mid-June and had Tommy John surgery in July. He will miss at least the first part of the 2011 season, and could miss the entire year. Figueroa, who turns 25 next month, is a candidate to be moved to the bullpen when he returns from surgery. He had a 5.30 ERA and a 57:29 K:BB in 71.1 innings before the injury.

Carlos Hernandez returned to Midland after making nine appearances (six starts) for the ‘Hounds in 2009. He won 15 games for the ‘Hounds and Ports in 2009 and he followed that effort up with a 9-3 season for Midland in 2010. Like Capra, Hernandez's season was a mix of positive signs and things to work on. His ERA was a mediocre 4.37, but he improved his Double-A K:BB ratio from nearly 1:1 in 2009 to 2:1 in 2010 (96:48). Although Hernandez's ERA was better before the All-Star break (3.98 to 4.87), he actually improved his groundball rates and his K:BB rates after the break, suggesting that he ran into some bad luck over the final months of the season. Hernandez was sent to the Arizona Fall League, but came down with bicep tendinitis after two appearances and was shut-down. If healthy, he should have a shot at Triple-A in 2011.

One pitcher who made the jump from Double-A to Triple-A in 2010 was Travis Banwart, who was the ‘Hounds ace early in the season. The right-hander had a 2.92 ERA in 83.1 innings before being promoted to Sacramento midway through the season. Banwart's numbers in Double-A were improved over his efforts there in 2009, when he had a 4.89 ERA and only 77 strike-outs in 140 innings. In 2010, he struck-out 59 in those 83.1 innings and he held opposing batters to a .231 average. His walk rates increased slightly, but his homer rates decreased slightly. Banwart finished the season on a positive note with Sacramento, striking out 71 in 73 innings and posting a 3.88 ERA over his final 11 appearances. He is currently pitching in the Arizona Fall League.

If Banwart was the team's ace early in the season, Ryan Edell assumed that mantle for the rest of the year. Acquired in an early season trade with Cleveland, Edell had an instant impact for the ‘Hounds, allowing only one run over his first 13.1 innings. He would go on to win 10 games and post a 3.17 ERA in 125 innings. More of a control pitcher than an overpowering one, Edell struck-out 92, but he walked only 20. The Indians took Edell with their eighth-round pick in 2005 and he reached Triple-A in 2009, but struggled in his first go-around at that level. Edell can be a minor league free agent this off-season and it seems likely that the A's will try to keep him for 2011 after his performance with Midland.

Matt Wright was another veteran addition to the ‘Hounds staff who helped get Midland into the post-season. Signed initially by the A's as a minor league free agent in the off-season, Wright pitched in the A's big league spring training camp, but he didn't break camp with the organization, as he asked for his release to pursue an opportunity in Korea. When that opportunity came to an early end, Wright was re-signed by the A's and sent to Double-A. The veteran made 15 starts for Midland, posting a 7-3 record and a 3.20 ERA. Like Edell, he displayed an excellent command of the strike-zone, walking only 12 in 78.2 innings. Wright, who began his professional career in 2000, will be a minor league free agent again this winter.

In addition to the aforementioned starters, only Jeff Lyman and Ben Hornbeck made more than four starts for Midland this season. Lyman was claimed off of waivers by the A's mid-season when he was cut by the Atlanta Braves. Atlanta's second-round pick in 2005 has never reached his potential in the pros after being drafted out of Monte Vista High School in Danville, CA. Lyman struggled badly for Midland, posting an 8.58 ERA in eight starts and two relief appearances. He struck-out 25 in 28.1 innings, but he walked 15 and allowed 40 hits and five homers. He was cut off of the A's 40-man roster in the off-season and is a free agent.

Hornbeck began the season in the ‘Hounds starting rotation a year after striking out 159 in 116.1 innings, mostly for Stockton and Kane County. Like Capra, he struggled with the big inning and his command was poor at Double-A. In seven starts and one relief appearance, Hornbeck had a 5.87 ERA and a 26:19 K:BB ratio in 38.1 innings. He was sent back to Stockton in late May and spent the rest of the season in the Ports' rotation.

The ‘Hounds had a couple of workhorses in their bullpen who helped to bolster the starting rotation in left-hander Derrick Gordon and right-hander Mickey Storey. Both appeared in at least 40 games for the ‘Hounds and pitched 71 innings (Gordon actually had 71.1 IP). Storey led the team with 43 appearances and was second in saves with eight. Although he wasn't quite as dominant as he was in 2009 when he had a 1.22 ERA and a 71:8 K:BB ratio in 51.2 innings for all four of the A's full-season affiliates, Storey still pitched well for Midland, posting a 3.30 ERA and a 63:22 K:BB ratio. He used his devastating breaking pitches to limit batters to a .222 average. Storey did struggle in a short stint with Sacramento, however, allowing eight runs in 13 innings. He was pitching in the Venezuela Winter League this month, but was shut-down after three appearances with elbow soreness.

In four full seasons in the A's system, Gordon has pitched no fewer than 51.1 innings and he has pitched at least 71 innings in each of the past three seasons. The 2010 campaign was his first at Double-A after spending two years with Stockton. Gordon had a 5.43 ERA and a 63:35 K:BB ratio in 2010. The southpaw was most effective against his fellow lefties, limiting them to a .234 average.

Justin Friend, Daniel Sattler and Neil Wagner also threw valuable innings for the ‘Hounds out of the bullpen. Despite missing a month with elbow soreness midway through the season, Friend managed to pitch 56 innings for Midland. His command betrayed him at times, as he walked 38, but he struck-out 50 and posted a respectable 3.70 ERA. He was helped by a strong groundball rate and by allowing only one homerun all season. Sattler began the year in Stockton, but he was quickly promoted to Midland and spent the majority of the season with the ‘Hounds. He tossed 45.1 innings for Midland despite also missing some time midseason with injury. He posted a 4.17 ERA and struck-out 38 while walking 24, although, like Friend, his groundball rates were excellent. Wagner was an early season pick-up by the A's, as he was signed as a minor league free agent after being released by the Cleveland Indians in May. He appeared in 33 games for the ‘Hounds, posting a 3.70 ERA in 48.2 innings. The right-hander had a 45:27 K:BB ratio and he allowed only one homerun while inducing 1.62 groundouts for every flyout.

Three of the more well-known arms in the Midland bullpen this season were Fautino De Los Santos, Jared Lansford and Souza, all of whom spent significant portions of their year with Midland. De Los Santos joined the ‘Hounds in June after starting the season with Stockton. It was the right-hander's first full season back from 2008 Tommy John surgery and it was also his first season in the bullpen. De Los Santos' ERA with Midland was an unsightly 6.54, but he actually pitched much better than that number in his 31.2 innings. He struck-out 51 batters and allowed only one homerun while maintaining an excellent groundball rate. He did walk 16, but batters hit only .250 against him, so his ERA was likely a product of some bad luck. "DLS", who was throwing in the mid-90s during the A's recently completed Instructional League, is on the A's 40-man roster and could win a spot in the A's bullpen this spring.

Lansford's stint with Midland was, in many ways, the opposite of De Los Santos'. The A's 2005 second-round pick had an excellent ERA (2.43 in 37 innings) and he saved 12 games, but his secondary numbers were mediocre. He struck-out 29, but walked 19, marking a second straight year of control problems for the Bay Area native. He did continue to rack-up well above-average groundball rates (he induced nine double-plays) and he didn't allow a homer. Lansford was promoted to Sacramento in August and saw his groundball rates dip and his ERA rise to 7.94. He will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft for a second year if not protected by the A's this off-season.

Souza, like De Los Santos, is on the A's 40-man roster. The Stockton native had a rough season, as his brother struggled with illness and he dealt with injuries. The hard-throwing right-hander was placed on the DL in early August with what turned out to be a stress fracture in his pitching elbow. It ended his season after 49 innings pitched, 40 of them with Midland. In those 40 innings, Souza had a 3.38 ERA with 38 strike-outs against 20 walks. He allowed only one homer. Souza may not be ready in time for spring training, but the A's are hopeful he will pitch in 2011.

Early in the season veteran Beau Vaughan served as the main closer for the Midland bullpen. Signed to a minor league deal as a free agent last off-season, the former Rangers and Red Sox prospect had a 1.95 ERA and six saves in 32.1 innings for the ‘Hounds before being promoted to Sacramento. He didn't fare as well with the River Cats, however, allowing six runs in 7.2 innings before being released.

Ray was also released by the organization before the end of the year. The A's 2005 eighth-round pick appeared in 24 games for the ‘Hounds, posting a 4.41 ERA. He struggled with injuries and command issues, walking 21 and striking out only 17 in 34.2 innings. Over his final three appearances, Ray allowed eight runs in four innings of work.

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