Midland Notebook: New Beginnings

The first half of the 2012 Texas League season is in the books. With a disappointing third-place finish, the Midland Rockhounds are entering the second half of the season hungry for a shot at the post-season. Edward Isaacs updates us on the Oakland A's Double-A affiliate.

Note: Stats through Friday, June 22

Team Overview

The Midland Rockhounds had a great opportunity to overtake the Frisco RoughRiders in the last few weeks of the first half of the season. Instead, the Rockhounds finished with a 4-9 record and went 3-3 against Frisco. The ‘Hounds dropped a spot in the Texas League South Division standings, finishing third behind the RoughRiders (1st) and the Corpus Christi Hooks (2nd) with a 35-35 record (6.0 games back of first).

This tough stretch of games began with the Hooks taking three of four in Corpus Christi. Next Midland traveled to Frisco where the team split a four-game series. The Rockhounds then returned home for the longest home-stand of the season so far. San Antonio came into town and allowed the ‘Hounds to claim only one win in four chances. Midland closed out the first half with a 7-6 victory over the RoughRiders on Monday followed by a 5-1 defeat on Tuesday. Overall, the team was very good at home throughout the first half of the season (21-13) but struggled on the road (14-22).

The second half of the season kicked off on Wednesday with Midland finishing up their final two games of a four-game set against Frisco. The ‘Hounds lost 6-3 Wednesday and won 5-4 on Thursday. On Friday, the squad welcomed the Missions to Citibank Ballpark for a four-game series, which is the final series before the North vs. South Texas League All-Star Game this Thursday. The ‘Hounds have dropped the first three games of the series to San Antonio.

Midland's batting average has continued to drop over the last month. Before Saturday, the team was hitting .249, second lowest in the Texas League. However, they have a .342 collective on-base percentage, ranked first in the league. The Rockhounds have scored the second-most runs in the division: 364 (an average of about five per game). The team is third from the bottom in power with 57 home runs. Defense has been Midland's Achilles heel all year. They have committed 66 errors in 73 games.

Similar to their offense, the ‘Hounds pitching staff has seen its share of tough outings. The team ERA ballooned to 4.41 after Friday's match-up. That mark is the second highest in the league. Midland pitchers have allowed 361 runs (318 earned), also the second-highest total. Midland pitchers have recorded a fare share of strikeouts and walks with 555 and 254, respectively.

Comings and Goings

Some of the pitching struggles could be a result of recent key moves with the staff. After losing Opening Day starter A.J. Griffin to Triple-A Sacramento earlier in the season, the Rockhounds lost another ace last week. Starter Dan Straily was called up to Triple-A. He was 3-4 with a 3.38 ERA in 14 starts and led the Texas League in strike-outs at the time of his promotion (after one start in Triple-A, he leads all of the minor leagues in strike-outs). Midland also lost reliever Arnold Leon to a promotion to Triple-A on Sunday. Leon had a 2.30 ERA and an 18:3 K:BB ratio in 15.2 innings for the 'Hounds.

Trey Barham was sent back down to Double-A after a short stint with Sacramento. He had a 13.97 ERA in six games with the River Cats. Reliever A.J. Huttenlocker was assigned to the Stockton Ports after posting a 5.74 ERA in 21 appearances with the ‘Hounds. Left-handed hurler Fabio Castro was sent down from the River Cats to replace Straily's spot in the rotation. Castro was 3-7 with a 6.92 ERA in Sacramento.

Second baseman Michael Fabiaschi was demoted to the Vermont Lake Monsters after only three at-bats in Midland to make room for Tyler Ladendorf, who was activated from the 7-Day disabled list. Ladendorf had been sidelined with a heel injury. Third baseman Luke Hughes was assigned to Triple-A despite only batting .179 in 28 at-bats with Midland. The Rockhounds' offense received a boost when Cal League All-Star Miles Head was called up from High-A Stockton. The corner infielder was crushing the ball at a .382 clip with 18 home runs and 56 RBI in 67 games for the Ports at the time of his promotion.

Who's Hot

Leonardo Gil is the only Midland player with a current batting average of .300 and at least 100 at-bats. He has a current on-base percentage of .374 and a slugging percentage of .354.

Jeremy Barfield, Shane Peterson, Anthony Aliotti and Conner Crumbliss were all named to the Texas League All-Star team. Barfield is tied for the team lead in slugging percentage with Ladendorf and Peterson (.437). He has a batting average of .286, leads the team in home runs (eight) and is second in RBI (40). Peterson has a .285 average and leads the team with a .449 on-base percentage and an 886 OPS, although he has been sidelined with a leg injury for the entire month of June.

Aliotti has emerged as a top first base prospect this year. He is hitting .289, is third on the team in on-base percentage (.403) and is fourth in OPS (811). Crumbliss has been successful at the top of the club's batting order. He leads the league in runs (51) and walks (58) and is first on the team and fourth in the Texas League in stolen bases (17). He is also second on the Rockhounds in hits (67) and doubles (14).

Before his promotion, Dan Straily was as hot as any pitcher in the league. He was named Texas League Pitcher of the Week for the week of June 11 and was named to the Texas League All-Star team, although he won't participate in the game now that he has been promoted. Straily had 108 strike-outs and only 23 walks in 85.1 innings for Midland. Opponents hit only .224 off of the right-hander. He won his first start in Triple-A, tossing seven shutout innings for the River Cats.

Starter Gary Daley has been almost un-hittable in his last two starts. He has thrown 12.0 innings and allowed just two earned runs. On June 19, he gave up one earned run in 5.2 innings pitched and struck out seven against Frisco. Daley leads the staff in wins (7-4).

Relievers James Simmons and Paul Smyth are riding hot streaks in their last 10 games. Simmons has pitched 17.0 innings, allowed two earned runs and struck out 10. He has given up no home runs and opponents are batting .190 against him during this stretch. For the season, he has a 3.18 ERA and has been the victim of only two home runs in 34.0 innings. Smyth has a 2.63 ERA in his last 10 appearances. The University of Kansas attendee has fanned 11 in 13.2 innings and has given up no long balls.

Starter Murphy Smith and reliever Jonathan Ortiz were selected to the Texas League All-Star team. Smith is tied for second on the team in wins with four and leads Midland's current starters with a 4.58 ERA. Ortiz has served as the team's closer in 2012. He is second in the league in games finished (25) and tied for sixth in saves (9). Ortiz currently has a 2.4 strikeout-walk ratio.

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