Midland Notebook: Early May Stumble

The Midland RockHounds have been a bit up-and-down over the past two weeks and find themselves at the bottom of the standings in the Texas League's Southern Division. However, only a handful of games separate them from first place and they have a chance to make-up ground later this week. We check-in with the Oakland A's Double-A club.

Stats through May 13

Team Overview

After a solid start, the Midland Rockhounds have stumbled a bit of late. Losers of their last three games, the RockHounds have slipped under .500 and are currently last in the Texas League's Southern Division. Only five games separate the RockHounds and the first-place Corpus Christi Hooks, however, so Midland is still very much in the hunt for a first-half division title.

The RockHounds have hit well as a team relative to league average. Midland's team batting average of .253 is second-best in the league and their 708 team OPS is fourth. The RockHounds are second in the league in team OBP with a .332 mark, and they are second in the league in stolen bases with 39 (in 51 chances). The RockHounds lead the league in doubles with 72, but they are second-to-last in homers with 23. Midland is currently averaging 4.3 runs per game.

Midland's offense has been led by first-baseman Anthony Aliotti, who was named the Texas League's Player of the Week on Monday. Aliotti has a .367/.470/.540 line over his first 37 games. He leads the league in batting average and is among the top-five in OBP, doubles, walks and OPS (he is sixth in the league in slugging). If Daric Barton remains with Oakland long-term, Aliotti could see a mid-season promotion to Triple-A Sacramento.

On the mound, the RockHounds are fourth in the league in team ERA with a 3.36 mark. They haven't struck out a lot of batters (255 in 327 innings). They have walked 105, fourth-fewest in the league. Midland's staff has excelled at keeping other teams in the ballpark. Their pitchers have allowed just 20 homeruns this season, the fewest number in the league (the next closest team has allowed 27).

On Tuesday, the RockHounds will play the first of two 11am games at Frisco. After a 7pm game at the RoughRiders on Thursday, Midland will head home for an important four-game set against first-place Corpus Christi.

Comings and Goings

Last week, the RockHounds said good-bye to longtime outfielder Jeremy Barfield, who was in his third season in Midland. Barfield earned his first crack at the Triple-A level by getting off to a fast start with the RockHounds. In 99 at-bats, he homered eight times and walked 14 times en route to posting an 848 OPS. At the time of his promotion, Barfield was second on the team in RBI with 18.

Replacing Barfield in Midland is outfielder Josh Whitaker, who earned a promotion from High-A Stockton. He debuted with the RockHounds on Saturday and is still looking for his first hit at the Double-A level. Whitaker had an 851 OPS and six homers in 113 at-bats for Stockton at the time of his promotion.

The RockHounds had a rare major league rehab assignment when Brett Anderson made a start for Midland over the weekend. It was a rough outing for the A's right-hander, who allowed six runs in 3.2 innings. Anderson is a native of Texas and his father is currently coaching at the University of Houston.

Infielder Michael Fabiaschi briefly came off of the disabled list last week, only to be added back on the list over the weekend. He hasn't played since April 23. Ryan Lipkin was also activated off of the DL. The backstop hasn't appeared in a game since his activation, however. He has been sharing time behind the plate with David Freitas and Beau Taylor.

Infielder Jefry Marte landed on the DL last week with a leg injury. The former Mets prospect has a .258/.368/.337 line in 89 at-bats this season.

On May 2, right-hander Arnold Leon was activated from the disabled list. He missed two weeks with blisters on his pitching hand.

Who's Hot

Aliotti has a .457 average and a 1296 OPS over his last 10 games. The East Bay native has killed right-handed pitching all season (1042 OPS), but he has also hit well against left-handers (893), something that was a historical weakness for Aliotti. If he remains with the RockHounds long enough, he is likely to be making a return appearance to the Texas League All-Star game. Aliotti is currently maintaining his career pattern of improving his offensive stats every season.

OF Chad Oberacker has been swinging the bat well of late. Going into Tuesday, he was 11 for his last 35 with his first homerun of the season and six RBI. Oberacker has seven stolen bases in eight attempts this year and a .246/.319/.394 overall line.

IF Miles Head has had a very slow start to his season, but he is batting .300 with four walks over his last 10 games. Head's power has been absent, however. He has no extra-base hits during that 10-game stretch and only five in 116 at-bats this season.

IF Darwin Perez had a nice stint in big league camp, especially at the plate, but he got off to a slow start offensively with Midland. He has picked up the pace lately, however, batting .281 over his last 10 games.

Starter Murphy Smith has continued to put up impressive numbers in his second season at the Double-A level. The right-hander has allowed three earned runs over his last two starts (12 innings) and he has a 2.09 ERA in 47.1 innings overall. Smith has allowed more than two earned runs in a start just once this season.

RHP Zach Neal took the loss on Monday, his first of the year, but he still pitched into the seventh inning before allowing two runs in the seventh without recording an out. Before Monday, Neal had allowed three runs over his last two starts (14 innings). He has walked only 10 in 48 innings this season and has allowed just four homeruns.

Fellow starter Sean Murphy has been the model of consistency since his promotion to Double-A in late April. He has yet to allow more than two runs in any of his four starts and he has a 2.74 ERA in 23 innings for the RockHounds. Murphy has a 20:8 K:BB ratio and a 39:12 K:BB ratio in 41.2 innings between Midland and Stockton.

After tossing 19 innings in April, reliever Paul Smyth has had a lighter workload in May. He has made just two appearances (May 6 and May 11), but he has yet to allow a run in three innings of work. Smyth has a 2.45 ERA and a 22:4 K:BB ratio in 22 innings this season.

Left-hander Jeff Urlaub has allowed just one base-runner in 2.2 innings over three appearances this month. Urlaub has yet to walk a batter this season, spanning 13 innings, and he has nine strike-outs and a 0.92 WHIP.

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