Midland Rockhounds Pitching At A Glance
Team ERA: 4.92 (sixth out of eight teams)
Strike-outs/Walks: 989/480 (fifth-most out of eight teams/fourth-most of eight teams)
Team WHIP: 1.51 (second-worst in the league)
Note: this article covers all pitchers who threw at least 35 innings for the Midland Rockhounds in 2011.
It was a down year for the Oakland A's Double-A affiliate. The Rockhounds never really got on-track in 2011 and despite having a talented roster, finished with the third-worst record in the league at 14 games under .500. The pitching staff struggled for much of the year, especially the team's starting rotation. A number of the Rockhounds' starters were pitching full seasons in Double-A for the first time and a number of them struggled with what many believe is the most difficult transition in minor league baseball (from Single-A to Double-A).
One of the pitchers who struggled with the transition to Double-A was right-hander Shawn Haviland. Haviland had a solid 2010 season with High-A Stockton during which he led all A's minor leaguers in strike-outs and posted a 3.65 ERA in 150.1 innings. Haviland was a workhorse again in 2011, leading the team with 143.2 innings, but he struggled to duplicate his California League success. In 27 starts, he posted a 7.08 ERA. Haviland walked only 42, but he was too frequently in the middle of the strike-zone and he allowed 205 hits and 24 homeruns. His strike-out totals dipped, as well, dropping to 110. The A's believe Haviland will have a better showing during a second tour of the Texas League in 2012. His last two starts of the season were solid, so perhaps he is already starting to make that adjustment to the league.
The pitcher with the second-most innings on the staff was right-hander Gary Daley, who managed to throw 106 innings for the Rockhounds despite spending time with High-A Stockton and Triple-A Sacramento during the year. Daley had an inconsistent season with the Rockhounds. In June, he was outstanding, posting a 1.86 ERA in 38.2 innings with a 32:14 K:BB ratio. He fell off in July, however, posting an 8.31 ERA in 26 innings with a 27:14 K:BB ratio. In August, he had a 4.50 ERA, but he walked 13 while striking out only 13 in 28 innings. Overall, his ERA was 5.18 for Midland. Daley, a former third-round pick of St. Louis in 2006, has been a project for A's minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson. Daley has good stuff, but his command has been awful for much of his professional career. He saw some improvements in that area in 2011 and he will continue to work with Patterson in 2012, as the A's re-signed the potential minor league free agent.
Another pitcher whose command has been a project for the A's coaching staff is left-hander Anthony Capra. Capra's command issues with Midland were so bad at one point during the season that the A's sent their 2008 fourth-round pick back to Arizona for a few weeks to work with minor league rehab pitching coordinator Garvin Alston. Alston's work seemed to help Capra, although he still hasn't gotten back to being the pitcher he was in 2008 when he was among the top five pitchers in minor league baseball in strike-outs. He is currently pitching in the Arizona Fall League, where he has continued to have command issues. Capra has been a starter since turning pro, but he has been in the bullpen in Arizona and that may be where the southpaw finds his permanent home. He could be in-line for a third season with Midland.
Right-hander Ethan Hollingsworth was arguably the team's best starter in 2011. Acquired before the season from Colorado for Clayton Mortensen, Hollingsworth was the only Midland starter to post an ERA under 4.00. In 94.2 innings, he had a 3.61 ERA and a 66:23 K:BB ratio. Hollingsworth was promoted to Triple-A for the final week of the season and looked poised to lead the River Cats' staff in 2012 before the A's traded him to Kansas City for Kila Ka'aihue. Hollingsworth, who has had impeccable command throughout his professional career, could factor into the Royals' plans by the end of the 2012 season.
Left-hander Carlos Hernandez began the season in the Midland rotation, but was promoted to Triple-A after eight starts and never returned to the Rockhounds. Hernandez had a 5.27 ERA with the Rockhounds, but his 37:10 K:BB ratio was solid. He was hittable with Midland, however, allowing 47 hits in 42.2 innings. He would go on to post similar numbers with the River Cats. Hernandez is currently pitching well in the Mexican Winter League. He should start next year in Triple-A. The biggest question will be whether the A's decide to leave him in the starting rotation – where he has spent most of his career – or move him to the bullpen – where many scouts believe he will find the most success in the big leagues.
Veteran Jason Bergmann was signed by the A's as a minor league free agent during the season. The former Washington National struggled despite his experience. In 78 innings, he had a 5.65 ERA for Midland. Bergmann did improve as the season progressed, however, posting an ERA of 4.88 in July and 3.60 in August. He is currently a minor league free agent.
Left-hander Polin Trinidad was also brought in mid-season on a minor league free agent deal. Trinidad, a longtime Astros' farmhand, had been pitching in the Cubs' organization before being released and later signed by Oakland. He split his time with Midland between the rotation and the bullpen. In 56 innings, he posted a 6.91 ERA with a 32:19 K:BB ratio. He also allowed 70 hits. Trinidad is currently a minor league free agent and is pitching for the Estrellas in the Dominican Winter League.
Reliever Jared Lansford is also on the free agent market. The A's 2005 second-round pick is a free agent for the first time in his career. The right-hander was once one of the A's top relief prospects, but a lack of strike-out stuff has stalled his career. Lansford tossed 79.1 innings for the Rockhounds in 2011, posting a 4.54 ERA with a 48:27 K:BB ratio. He has pitched in parts of four seasons for Midland and the 2011 campaign was his worst statistically for the Rockhounds in terms of ERA and homeruns allowed. He did cut down on his walks per innings pitched, however. Lansford has always been an extreme groundball pitcher and his sinker can be a special pitch at times. At 25-years-old, he should receive plenty of interest on the open market.
Lansford led the Rockhounds' relief corps in innings pitched, but Paul Smyth (65 IP), Jonathan Ortiz (65 IP) and Trey Barham (61 IP) weren't far behind. For the first time in his professional career, Smyth struggled. He posted a 4.85 ERA with Midland after posting an ERA of 0.00 in 2009 for Vancouver and Kane County and an ERA of 3.01 in 2010 with Stockton. The biggest drop-off in Smyth's numbers with the Rockhounds was with his strikeout total. He K'd only 59 with Midland after striking out 94 in 77.2 innings with Stockton the year before. Smyth also allowed double the number of homeruns and more hits per innings pitched. Smyth really struggled after the All-Star break and may have been suffering from fatigue. The A's still like the sidearm specialist. He will likely start the 2012 season back in Midland but could jump to Triple-A with a strong start to his season.
Ortiz joined the A's as a minor league free agent from the Yankees' organization before the 2011 season and he had a solid first year in the A's chain. The Dominican native, pitching at the Double-A level for the first time, posted a 4.02 ERA with a 60:24 K:BB ratio. The A's liked what they saw from Ortiz and re-signed him for the 2012 season. He is currently pitching for Licey in the Dominican Winter League.
Barham, in his first year in Double-A, posted the best ERA of any reliever with more than 30 innings on the Rockhounds' staff at 2.95. The left-hander's K/IP ratio dropped from his ratio with High-A Stockton in 2010, but he allowed fewer hits per inning. He also did an excellent job of keeping the ball on the ground. Despite not having overpowering stuff, Barham has continued to get outs at every level he has pitched at. He has a shot at beginning next season in Triple-A.
Neil Wagner was on pace to throw 60+ innings for Midland before he was promoted to Triple-A Sacramento in late June. Wagner, who was the Rockhounds' hardest throwing reliever, posted a 3.38 ERA with four saves in 37.1 innings. He didn't allow a homer and he struck-out 53 while walking only 13. Wagner, who can touch triple digits with his fastball, also pitched well for Sacramento and went on to make his major league debut with the A's in September.
Mickey Storey was also a workhorse for the Rockhounds before a mid-season transaction removed him from the roster. Storey was traded by the A's to the Houston Astros' organization in July. The right-hander got an opportunity at the Triple-A level with the Astros and pitched well for Oklahoma City. For Midland, he had a 4.03 ERA in 38 innings with a 31:13 K:BB ratio and he posted similar numbers for the Triple-A RedHawks. It wouldn't be surprising to see Storey surface at the major league level with the Astros in the next year.
Although he didn't make the innings cut-off for this article, A's 2011 first-round pick Sonny Gray had a large impact on the Rockhounds late in the season. He made five starts for Midland in August and September and didn't allow a run until his final outing. He finished with one run allowed in 20 innings of work and an 18:6 K:BB ratio. He also held opposing batters to a .214 average. Gray worked extensively on his change-up during the A's Instructional League season and many believe that as soon as he masters that pitch, he will be ready for the big leagues. It is up in the air whether the A's send Gray back to Midland to start the 2012 season or keep him close to their front office with Triple-A Sacramento.