2011 Midland Rockhounds Preview

It has been a successful two-year run for the Oakland A's Double-A affiliate, the Midland Rockhounds. Texas League champions in 2009, the Rockhounds finished as the league's runner-up in 2010. Although the coaching staff will be new for 2011, the ‘Hounds Opening Day roster has a familiar look. We review the 2011 Midland Rockhounds inside…

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Of the 25 players currently listed on the Midland Rockhounds' roster, 13 spent a significant part of last season with the ‘Hounds. A veteran group, outfielder Jeremy Barfield, 22, is the youngest player on the roster, followed by Tyler Ladendorf and Shane Peterson. Peterson, who turned 23 on February 11, will be returning for his third season with Midland, as will Matt Sulentic.

After two years under the stewardship of manager Darren Bush, pitching coach Scott Emerson and hitting coach Webster Garrison, the ‘Hounds will have an entirely new coaching staff for 2011. Manager Steve Scarsone was the High-A Stockton Ports' manager last year and he will be reprising that role with Midland. He is bringing with him his entire 2010 Stockton coaching staff: pitching coach Don Schulze and hitting coach Tim Garland.

Garland will have a number of familiar faces to work with on the offensive-side of the ball. Of the position players on the Midland roster, only two (newcomer Mitch Canham and Peterson) never worked with Garland during his four seasons as the Ports' hitting coach.

The Rockhounds' offense is headlined by Grant Green and Stephen Parker, who tore through the California League with Stockton in 2010 and were both named Cal League Post-Season All-Stars and Topps Class A All-Stars. Green, who was named the A's Organizational Player of the Year, hit .318 with an 883 OPS in 131 games for the Ports. Parker hit .296 with a 900 OPS in 139 games. Both players will be looking to improve their defense (Green at shortstop and Parker at third base), but offensively they should anchor the middle of the Midland line-up.

Joining Green and Parker in the middle of the line-up will be first baseman Michael Spina and outfielder Jeremy Barfield, both of whom put up prolific RBI totals last season with Stockton (Spina had 88 and Barfield had 92). Spina led the Ports with 23 homeruns, while Barfield led all California League outfielders with 24 assists, all from right field. Spina will be in his second season as a first baseman after making the conversation from third base in 2010. Barfield will be looking to have a healthy season after battling knee soreness for each of the past two years.

Peterson, who has played for Midland in each of the past two seasons, looks poised for a big year. The outfielder/first baseman hit only .265 with a 722 OPS in 128 games for the Rockhounds last season, but he hit .307 with an 837 OPS after the All-Star break. Peterson is a versatile player and will see time at all three outfield positions, as well as first base. Peterson, like many of his Rockhounds' mates, is an efficient base-stealer. In his minor league career, Peterson has stolen 30 bases in 35 chances and he was 11-for-13 last season.

Another good base-runner on the Midland roster is utilityman Tyler Ladendorf, who swiped 20 bases in 24 chances for Stockton last season. The best defensive player on the Midland roster, Ladendorf can play all over the infield and outfield, but with the way the Rockhounds' roster is currently constructed, he is likely to see most of his time at second base.

Jason Christian is another versatile infielder and he figures to move around some during the season. The A's fifth-round pick in 2008, Christian has been limited to only 159 games over the past two seasons because of injuries. He hit .256 with a 688 OPS in 73 games for Low-A Kane County and Stockton last season, but, like Peterson, he finished up the year on a strong note. Over the last four weeks of the season, he hit .294 with an OPS above 800. Christian is a natural shortstop, but he has seen significant time at third base and has played some second base, as well. Like Ladendorf and Peterson, Christian is an efficient base-stealer, having swiped 55 in 62 chances over his two-and-a-half year career.

Outfielders Jermaine Mitchell and Matt Sulentic also run well. Mitchell has stolen at least 14 bases in each of his four-and-a-half seasons in the minor leagues. He stole 24 bases, but was caught 15 times, last year. This is the first season that Mitchell hasn't been on the Stockton Ports' Opening Day roster since 2007. Mitchell is a natural centerfielder, but he will see time in all three outfield spots. Sulentic swiped 11 bases in 16 chances last season for the Rockhounds, but was 21-for-30 for Midland in 2009. Like Peterson, Sulentic had a strong finish to his 2010 season, batting .327 after the All-Star break. Sulentic will be looking to recapture the power he displayed in 2009 (.414 SLG) and 2008 (.481), as he homered only once last year and posted a .336 SLG. Sulentic is a strong defensive outfielder who can play in all three outfield spots.

The Rockhounds are currently carrying three catchers: Petey Paramore, Yusuf Carter and Mitch Canham. Paramore and Carter played for Midland during different stretches last season. In fact, it was an injury to Carter that created an opening for Paramore with the Rockhounds. Paramore, a switch-hitter who was the A's third-round pick in 2008, hit .260 with a 733 OPS in 111 games for Midland and Stockton last season. He had a .380 OBP, but managed only a .353 SLG. Paramore is a strong defensive catcher and he figures to get the bulk of the starts behind the plate.

Carter, an outfielder for the first part of his minor league career, has primarily been a catcher since joining the A's organization in 2009. In 2011, he is likely to play more of a utility role, starting games at catcher, first base and in the corner outfield. One of the ‘Hounds biggest power hitters, Carter has reached double-digits in homeruns in each of his five full minor league seasons. He began last season with Midland, but he was injured after 41 games and played the final 48 games with Stockton after returning from injury. He homered 13 times in those 48 games for the Ports.

Canham is new to the A's organization, having been signed as a minor league free agent at the end of spring training. A former College World Series hero with Oregon State, Canham was a top prospect with the San Diego Padres after the 2008 season, when he posted an 816 OPS in High-A. He has slumped at the plate the past two seasons. Ironically, Canham was likely signed because another Oregon State alum, Ryan Ortiz, wasn't healthy enough to catch everyday. The A's are keeping Ortiz in Arizona at extended spring training while he rehabs a right shoulder injury. Ortiz could join the Rockhounds once he is healthy and would be a significant offensive addition, as he hit .277 with an 873 OPS for Stockton last season.

The Rockhounds' pitching staff is even more seasoned than its offensive counterparts. All but four pitchers have at least some experience at the Double-A level and three-fifths of the starting rotation has pitched at least one full season with Midland. The rotation will be led by Graham Godfrey, who was the Midland ace during the 2009 championship season. Godfrey spent the majority of last year with Triple-A Sacramento and he had a 5.59 ERA in 106.1 innings before he was sent back to Midland, where he posted a 3.86 ERA in 18.2 innings. The 2009 Texas League Post-Season All-Star could be one of the first pitchers promoted to Triple-A when the River Cats have an opening.

Lefty Carlos Hernandez returns after spending the last year-and-a-half with Midland. Over that time, he has gone 15-4 in 168.2 innings for the Rockhounds. Last season, Hernandez went 9-3 with a 4.37 ERA in 129.2 innings and he was a mid-season Texas League All-Star. Fellow southpaw Anthony Capra spent all of 2010 with Midland, as well. He had an up-and-down season, finishing with a 4.27 ERA and a 6-13 record. Capra struck-out 118 in 130.2 innings and allowed only 120 hits, but he walked 89 batters. In 2009, Capra struck-out 170 in 152 innings with Stockton and Kane County.

Shawn Haviland led the A's minor leaguers in strike-outs last season with 169 in 153.2 innings for Stockton and Sacramento (he had one appearance for Sacramento). Haviland had a 3.69 ERA and a 9-6 record. Right-hander Ethan Hollingsworth joins Haviland as the other Midland starter to have never suited up for the team in previous seasons. Hollingsworth was acquired by the A's for Clayton Mortensen just before the start of spring training. The right-hander went 12-8 with a 3.69 ERA in 170.2 innings in the Colorado Rockies' chain last year. He struck-out 162 and walked 38. Hollingsworth spent most of the past two seasons with High-A Modesto, but he did have a brief stint with Double-A Tulsa last year.

The Rockhounds' bullpen will lean heavily to the right side. Midland will carry only two left-handers in the bullpen at the outset, Lance Sewell and Trey Barham. Sewell split last season between Stockton and Midland and the deceptive southpaw had a 7-0 record and a 2.32 ERA in 62 innings. He walked only 14 after walking 27 in 43.1 innings the year before. Barham spent all of last season with Stockton. He had a 2.77 ERA in 68.1 innings with 56 strike-outs and 19 walks.

The Rockhounds will have a number of candidates for save opportunities. Right-hander Paul Smyth saved 28 games for the Ports last season while posting a 3.01 ERA and striking out 94 in 77.2 innings. Jared Lansford also has extensive experience in the ninth inning, having saved 29 games for Midland over the past three seasons. Both Smyth and Lansford are groundball specialists and can be used mid-inning or to start a frame.

Flame-thrower Fautino De Los Santos is the only member of the A's 40-man roster with Midland. De Los Santos had his first mostly healthy season since 2007 last year. He had a 5.13 ERA, but struck-out 73 while walking 19 in 47.1 innings. De Los Santos could be on the fast-track to Triple-A if he gets off to a quick start to the season. The A's are looking for him to show improved command. De Los Santos is easily the hardest thrower on the team, as he is regularly clocked in the mid- to upper-90s.

Neil Wagner joined the A's organization mid-season last year from Cleveland. He appeared in 33 games for the Rockhounds in 2010 and had a 3.70 ERA and 45 strike-outs against 27 walks in 48.2 innings. He was a closer in the Cleveland chain earlier in his minor league career. Jonathan Ortiz rounds out the bullpen. He is an intriguing talent, having been picked up during the off-season from the New York Yankees. The Dominican right-hander has never pitched above High-A, but he has 278 strike-outs and only 43 walks in 158 career minor league innings.

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