Midland Notebook: Life Without Choice

The Midland Rockhounds have been playing better baseball over the past two-and-a-half weeks, but the team will need to mount its run towards the post-season without one of the top prospects in the Texas League. Edward Isaacs updates us on the state of the Midland nine.

Team Overview

Since starting off the second half of the Texas League at a disappointing 6-11 mark, the Midland Rockhounds have since gone 10-7. Before Sunday's game they were 16-18 overall, good enough for third place in the Texas League South Division (6.5 games back of first place Corpus Christi who is 23-12). Surprisingly, the Rockhounds have struggled in Citibank Ballpark during the second half. The team is 6-12 at home while they are 10-6 on the road. Midland is 14-12 in July with three games remaining in the month.

The ‘Hounds began this stretch of games with a four-game series in San Antonio against the Missions. The Midland offense exploded during this series as the team scored a combined 39 runs in the first three games alone. The Rockhounds took three of four from the Missions. The team then returned home for a four-game set with Corpus Christi and managed to split the series.

After traveling back to San Antonio and claiming three of four, Midland returned to Citibank Ballpark where they faced first half Texas League South Division champ Frisco. The RoughRiders spoiled the ‘Hounds chance at a series victory when they won the final two games of a three-game set.

On Friday the Rockhounds suffered a heartbreaker to the Hooks. Midland led at Whataburger Field 5-2 going into the bottom of the ninth. Corpus Christi mounted a four-run comeback led by designated hitter Adam Bailey. Bailey was two-for-four and doubled in the first run in the ninth. Second baseman Jose Martinez singled in the winning run with two outs to secure the 6-5 walk-off victory. The ‘Hounds defeated the Hooks 8-3 on Saturday.

The improved record has been due in part to the offense. The Rockhounds have raised their team batting average to .252 but it is still the third lowest in the Texas League. Their collective on-base percentage remains one of the best in the division (.341, second to Springfield). The team's run production has remained steady for about two weeks. Midland has scored the third-most runs in the league (497), an average of about 4.8 per game. Although the ‘Hounds have experienced a power outage for most of the season, their home run rate has gone up in the last two weeks. The team has cracked 15 bombs in 16 games (77 total home runs). The Rockhounds' fielding percentage (.973) remains in the bottom tier of the division (tied for seventh).

Pitching has also helped Midland during this stretch. The team ERA has stayed steady at 4.18 since July 13's mark (4.19). The team's staff has allowed the second-fewest home runs (73) but needs to cut down on the walks. They have given up 357 free passes this year, third-highest in the Texas League.

The Rockhounds face the Hooks two more times before traveling to Frisco for a three-game series to begin the month of August.

Comings and Goings

The Midland transaction book has remained relatively quite for two weeks now, with the exception of two major losses due to injuries (more on that later). Pitcher Matt McSwain was assigned to the team last Wednesday. He was released from the Pittsburgh Pirates after struggling with their Double-A affiliate and later signed by Oakland as a free agent. McSwain had a 4.88 ERA and a 4-2 record in 55.1 innings pitched with the Altoona Curve. He struck out 41 batters.

Infielder Leonardo Gil was assigned to the Rockhounds from the Stockton Ports on Monday. He began the season with Midland but was sent down after serving as a backup to Miles Head. Gil only played six games for the Ports and did not have a hit in 16 at-bats. He has a .295 average and 139 at-bats with the ‘Hounds this season. Center fielder Eliezer Mesa was promoted to Midland from the Burlington Bees this weekend. He had a .294 average, four home runs and 33 RBI as a Bee. Mesa also played 13 games for Stockton where he hit .130.

The 2012 season ended early for outfielder and top prospect Michael Choice and reliever Trey Barham, who was voted the team's top reliever in 2011. Choice was having a terrific second half (including a 16-game hitting streak). He suffered a broken hand last Saturday night after being hit by a pitch in San Antonio. Barham has been out for much of 2012, appearing in just 13 games for the Rockhounds. He is scheduled for Tommy John surgery.

Who's Hot

Recently acquired first baseman Matt Rizzotti immediately got hot after joining the A's organization. He is leading the team in batting average through 12 games played (.326). He has two bombs and seven RBI. Rizzotti is performing even better in his last 10 games. He is batting .351 and went three-for-four with a home run on July 21 against the Missions.

Catcher Beau Taylor did not slow down once he was called up from Stockton. He is currently batting .302 in 43 at-bats. He has a .375 on-base percentage and a 701 OPS. Perhaps no one was better than Choice before he was injured. He had a .486 average in his last 10 games, including 10 RBI and three home runs. Choice also had a 16-game hitting streak. For the season, he hit .287 with 10 home runs, 58 RBI (currently sixth-best in the Texas League), a .356 on-base percentage and a .423 slugging.

Jeremy Barfield has caught fire again in his last 10 games. He is batting .308 with 12 hits in 39 plate appearances. He has a .277 average this year and has the third-highest RBI total on the team (50). Barfield is second on the team in doubles (20), fourth in runs scored (51) and second in hits (101).

Shortstop Dusty Coleman is leading the Rockhounds in home runs (12). He has four in his last 10 games. Coleman is batting .294 during that span with a .333 on-base percentage (1039 OPS).

Starting pitcher Sonny Gray had two stellar outings on July 13 and July 18. He went a combined 12.1 innings while allowing no runs. Gray struck out eight batters combined in both games. On July 23 he was perfect through 5.0 innings against San Antonio. The former first round pick is 5-7 on the season with 70 strikeouts and a 4.28 ERA.

Swingman Shawn Haviland has been more than effective in his last 19.0 innings. He has given up just three earned runs while striking out 11. Haviland has six wins this year and is holding opponents to a .263 average.

Fabio Castro was lights out in his last two starts. He went a combined 13.0 innings against San Antonio and Frisco and allowed no earned runs. Castro fanned eight batters but did not get a win in either start.

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