Midland Notebook: 'Hounds Off To Strong Start

The 2013 Midland RockHounds' roster is laden with veterans and they are playing like a team with experience in the early going. We catch-up with the Oakland A's Double-A affiliate in this team notebook.

Team Overview

It has been a strong start to the 2013 season for the Midland Rockhounds. Despite playing 10 of their first 16 games on the road, the RockHounds are 10-6 through Sunday and are tied for the best record in the Texas League.

The road has been kind to the ‘Hounds thus far, as they sport an 8-2 road record and are currently riding a two-game winning streak after taking three-of-four in San Antonio last week. Midland returns home on Monday to face the Corpus Christi Hooks. Midland will be looking to get back over .500 at Citibank Ballpark (the ‘Hounds are currently 2-4 at home).

Pitching all around the Texas League has been strong in the early going, and the RockHounds' staff has been no exception. Midland hurlers carry a combined 3.10 ERA through their first 145 innings. Midland has allowed the fewest homers in the league (six) and the RockHounds have walked the third-fewest batters (40). Their 1.17 team WHIP is fourth-best in the eight-team league.

At the plate, Midland is third in the league in team OPS with a 691 mark. They have hit only eight homeruns, but they lead the league in doubles with 36. Midland has also been good on the basepaths. They are second in the league with 23 stolen bases and they have been very efficient, having been caught only five times. As is often the case with A's farm clubs, Midland has done a good job getting on base. They lead the league in walks with 71 and have the second-best team OBP at .332.

First baseman Anthony Aliotti and shortstop Dusty Coleman have led the way for the RockHounds offensively. Aliotti ranks third in the league in batting average with a .367 mark and he has a 986 OPS (also third-best in the league). Aliotti and teammate Jefry Marte are one-two in the league in walks with 14 and 11, respectively. Coleman is also in the top-10 in walks (9), OBP (.429, Aliotti leads in this category at .486) and BA (.344).

On the mound, reliever Kyler Newby leads the league with four saves. He has an 0.68 WHIP in 10.1 innings and could be closing in on a call-up to Triple-A. Starter Zach Neal, acquired late in the spring from the Marlins, has been the ‘Hounds' top starter in the early-going. He has a 1.33 ERA and a 16:4 K:BB ratio in 20.1 innings over his first four starts.

Comings and Goings

There have been a handful of transactions that have impacted the Midland roster already this season. Starter Arnold Leon was placed on the seven-day disabled list over the weekend with a blister on his throwing hand. He has been replaced in the Midland rotation by right-hander Sean Murphy, who was promoted from High-A Stockton. Murphy will be making his Double-A debut on Monday night at Citibank Ballpark. He had a 2.89 ERA and a 19:4 K:BB ratio in 18.2 innings in his first three starts for Stockton this season.

On April 14, infielder Tyler Ladendorf was promoted from Midland to Sacramento to take Michael Taylor's spot on the River Cats' roster (Taylor was promoted to the big leagues). Replacing Ladendorf on the roster was catcher Beau Taylor, who began the year at extended spring training rehabbing a minor injury. Taylor has appeared in two games since joining Midland and he has two hits (both doubles) and two walks in six official plate appearances.

Taylor is sharing the catching duties with Ryan Lipkin, who began the year on the Midland roster, and David Freitas, who started the year in Sacramento but was sent to Midland on April 6 when the A's acquired Stephen Vogt.

Replacing Ladendorf from a versatility perspective on the Midland roster is infielder Michael Fabiaschi. Fabiaschi began the year with Stockton and he got off to a hot start, collecting two homers in 18 at-bats (986 OPS). He has appeared in one game with the RockHounds since he was added to their roster on April 13 and he went 0-for-4.

Reliever Darren Byrd was promoted to Triple-A Sacramento after three strong outings for Midland. In 6.2 innings, he allowed two hits and two walks and he struck-out four while giving up one run. Since his promotion to Sacramento on April 14, Byrd has worked one scoreless inning. He was placed on the temporarily inactive list by the River Cats this weekend. Mike DeMark replaced Byrd on the Midland roster. He began the year at extended spring training after signing a minor league free agent contract with the A's late in the spring.

Veteran right-hander Sergio Perez landed on the seven-day disabled list on April 6 and he has yet to return. Midland also lost veteran infielder Tommy Mendonca during the first week of the season when he was released by the A's organization. Outfielder Jake Goebbert joined the RockHounds on April 6. He was acquired by the A's from Houston in the deal that sent Travis Blackley to the Astros. Goebbert has been an everyday player for Midland, and he has a 794 OPS and two homers in 13 games.

Who's Hot?

The aforementioned Aliotti and Coleman have set the pace for the RockHounds at the plate thus far this year. The always patient Aliotti is reaching base at a nearly .500 clip (.486) and he has five doubles and a homer. Aliotti has scored only four runs thus far this year (once on a homer), a demonstration of the struggles of some of his teammates hitting in the second half of the order. Aliotti is second on the team in RBI with 10 and first in hits with 22.

Coleman has a strong OBP (.429), but Midland's 2012 homerun leader is still looking for his first longball of the 2013 season. If he can find his homerun stroke while maintaining his new-found patience, Coleman could be in for a big season. He also leads the team in stolen bases with five in five chances.

Outfielder D'Arby Myers also has five stolen bases (seven opportunities) and he currently sports a .319/.347/.447 slash line. Myers has homered once.

Goebbert is tied for the team-lead in homers with two and he is batting .265/.345/.449. Chad Oberacker is four-for-four in successful stolen bases and he leads the team in RBI with 11 despite batting mostly lead-off. He has six doubles and two triples and a 773 OPS.

The aforementioned Neal and Newby been excellent for the RockHounds, but they aren't the only Midland pitchers off to a good start. Paul Smyth is back to filing up the strike-zone and he is looking like the pitcher who dominated the lower levels of the A's system in 2009 and 2010. Smyth has 15 strike-outs and no walks in 11.2 innings for the RockHounds thus far this season and a 2.31 ERA.

Murphy Smith has been solid in his first four starts of the season. He has a 2.78 ERA and a 16:6 K:BB ratio in 22.2 innings. Smith has allowed just one homerun. Josh Bowman's K:BB ratio hasn't been pretty (5:7), but he has a 2.40 ERA in 15 innings over his first three starts.

Carlos Fisher has gotten off to a good start in his first season in the A's chain. He has a stellar 16:3 K:BB ratio and a 2.79 ERA in 9.2 innings pitched.

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