It was a tough season for the 2013 Midland Rockhounds. The RockHounds finished the first half just four games under the .500 mark, but they slumped to a 29-41 second-half record and finished the season in last place with a 62-78 record. One interesting tidbit about their season is that the RockHounds finished with an identical 31-39 record at home and on the road.
Midland's Citibank Ballpark is one of the more difficult parks to hit in in the Texas League, but that didn't prevent the RockHounds from finishing the year second in the league in team OPS with a 726 mark. The RockHounds were second-to-last in homeruns (99), but they finished first in doubles (270), triples (42) and walks (534). The RockHounds' .335 team OBP tied Springfield for best in the league and their .391 SLG was second-best. The RockHounds didn't do a lot of running relative to the league, but when they did, they were generally successful, swiping 111 bags in 150 chances.
The RockHounds had several notable offensive performances. First baseman Anthony Aliotti led the league in hitting (.350 BA) and OBP (.452), while outfielder D'Arby Myers had the league's longest hitting streak (33 games). Conner Crumbliss and Jake Goebbert also had notable seasons at the plate.
On the mound, the RockHounds didn't find quite as much success. Their team ERA was a solid 3.94, but that was only good for third-worst in the league of eight teams. They finished in the middle of the pack in strike-outs and walks, but the RockHounds' staff allowed the second-most hits in the league and had the second-highest WHIP.
Left-hander Carlos Hernandez had a season to remember, finishing second in the league in ERA with a 2.18 mark. Murphy Smith finished sixth in the league in ERA, while Sean Murphy was sixth in the league in strike-outs.
Note: Only hitters with at least 125 at-bats were considered for this article.
Although he finished the season with Triple-A Sacramento, Anthony Aliotti undoubtedly had the biggest impact of any Midland hitter this season. The East Bay native had a solid first season in the Texas League in 2012, but he blew those numbers out of the water in his return trip through the league this year. In 91 games, Aliotti posted a league-best 993 OPS. He hit 12 homers during his time with Midland. His previous career-high for an entire season was 11 (he would finish the year with 14). Aliotti also had 66 walks and 29 doubles in 340 at-bats.
Utilityman Conner Crumbliss spent the first six weeks of the season with Sacramento, but he struggled in limited appearances with the River Cats and was sent to Midland in mid-May. Crumbliss would put together his best offensive season as a pro with the RockHounds. In 92 games, he posted a .280/.405/.432 line with 10 homers and a 69:57 K:BB. Crumbliss had three homeruns with Sacramento, giving him a career-high 13 for the year. Because of his limited playing time with Sacramento early in the season, however, this was the first year since his pro debut season in 2009 that Crumbliss finished with fewer than 95 walks (he had 81). Still, he kept his streak of seasons with more walks than strike-outs alive at five.
Acquired just before the start of the season from the Houston Astros in exchange for Travis Blackley, outfielder Jake Goebbert was a steady presence in the RockHounds' line-up for most of the season. In 105 games, he posted a .268/.352/.480 line before he was promoted to Triple-A Sacramento for the final month of the year. Goebbert hit 18 homeruns with Midland and added four more with Sacramento, giving him a career-high 22 for the year. Goebbert's previous career-high was 12. Goebbert will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft if the A's don't add him to the 40-man roster this off-season.
Outfielder D'Arby Myers signed with the A's as a minor league free agent before the season and he had a solid first year in the organization. The Los Angeles native led the team in at-bats and finished the year with a .285 BA and as the owner of a 33-game hitting streak. Myers, a right-handed hitter, destroyed left-handed pitching, batting .400/.448/.522 in 115 at-bats. Myers hit .300 or better in May, July and August and never hit lower than .250 in any one month. He led the team in stolen bases with 20 (in 30 opportunities). The A's have indicated a desire to bring Myers back to the organization on another minor league free agent deal this winter.
Shortstop Dusty Coleman struggled with injuries early in his pro career, but he was an ironman in 2013, playing in a team-high 130 games for the RockHounds before a late-season promotion landed him in Sacramento. This was Coleman's second season with Midland. The talented middle infielder hit for less power in 2013 than he did in 2012, but he improved dramatically in every other category. Coleman increased his batting average from .201 to .260, his OBP from .284 to .344 and he whittled down his strike-outs from 182 in 128 games to 155 in 130 games. Coleman hit only three homeruns, but he finished second on the team in triples (10) and first in doubles (34). He stole 17 bases in 27 chances.
Centerfielder Chad Oberacker was also an everyday fixture in the RockHounds' line-up. In his first season at the Double-A level, Oberacker player in 120 games. He showed his speed throughout the season, covering ground in centerfield and leading the team in triples (12) and swiping 17 bases in 18 chances. Oberacker had a 770 OPS against right-handed pitching, but the left-handed hitter managed only a 362 OPS versus southpaws. His overall line was .237/.305/.388.
Infielder Darwin Perez posted a very similar line to Oberacker (.237/.326/.333). The former Angels' prospect contributed on the basepaths, swiping 19 bases in 23 opportunities. The switch-hitter batted .317 with an 846 OPS at home, but he hit only .162 with a 488 OPS on the road. This was Perez's third straight season in the Texas League (the previous two came when he was with the Angels). The 24-year-old will be a minor league free agent again this season.
Utilityman Tyler Ladendorf knows all about the Texas League, as well. Ladendorf returned to Midland this season for the third consecutive year. Hampered by injuries, Ladendorf appeared in only 83 games for the RockHounds this season (91 on the year in total). It was his lowest games played total since 2009. Ladendorf had his best year at the plate in the Texas League in 2013, posting a .263/.340/.398 line. He cut his strike-out rate by more than 4% and increased his walk rate slightly. Ladendorf will be competing for a spot in Sacramento next spring. He is eligble for minor league free agency after the 2014 season.
One prospect to watch going into next season is third baseman Jefry Marte. Marte spent much of the 2013 season injured, but he was healthy in August and put together a huge month. After playing in only 38 games leading into August, Marte played in 24 and hit .374/.406/.538 with his only two homers of the season. Marte was acquired by the A's for Colin Cowgill late in the off-season. Although he was repeating at the Double-A level, Marte is still just 22-years-old. All of the time he missed may make it easier for the A's to sneak him through the Rule 5 draft should they decide not to protect him this winter.
Two of the A's top catching prospects split the majority of the playing time behind the plate for the RockHounds this season. Both Beau Taylor and David Freitas struggled at the plate in 2013, although the A's remain high on both of them. Taylor hit .292 with a 752 OPS last season for High-A Stockton and Double-A Midland, but he managed only a 548 OPS with the RockHounds in 2013. Taylor's struggles with Midland were a carry-over from the final month of the 2012 season, when he struggled badly at the plate.
Freitas spent six weeks of the season with Sacramento, but he still collected 224 at-bats with the RockHounds. He had a strange season at the plate, hitting nine homeruns but posting a meager .214/.285/.362 line. Freitas hit better with Sacramento and he will get an opportunity to show improvement this fall in the Arizona Fall League.
Corner infielder Miles Head also had a disappointing season at the plate. Head hit .333 with a 968 OPS during his first season in the A's organization in 2012, but he never got on-track in 2013. Head injured his shoulder during the first game of the Arizona Fall League schedule in 2012 and that injury lingered into 2013. He reported to spring training out of shape after not being able to do his normal workouts thanks to the injury, and he never recovered. Head appeared in just 40 games and he hit only .196/.264/.264 before the A's shut him down for the season. It was a lost season for the 22-year-old, but he is still young enough to redeem himself next year.
Thanks in large part to the injuries to Head and Marte, the A's claimed third baseman Vinnie Catricala off of waivers from the Seattle Mariners midway through the season. Catricala was the Mariners minor league player of the year in 2011, but he has struggled the past two seasons. The change of scenery didn't help him in 2013, as Catricala posted a 584 OPS in 61 games with Midland. He earned some notoriety around the web when he was called out on strikes after one pitch (he didn't get back into the batter's box fast enough after strike one and umpire Ron Teague rung him up. He would then throw Catricala out of the game).
First baseman Max Muncy destroyed California League pitching for the first half of the season, posting a 907 OPS and hitting 21 homers in just 93 games played. That earned Muncy a promotion to Midland. The Texas native took awhile to adjust to the new level, but he showed his California League form during the final month of the season. In his first 18 games with the RockHounds, Muncy hit .182 with a 507 OPS. However, in August he posted an 876 OPS and he hit two homers in two games in September. He finished his stint with Midland with a respectable .250/.340/.413 line. For the season, he hit 25 homers and had 100 RBI. Muncy was the first member of his 2012 A's draft class to make it to Double-A. He will be participating in the Arizona Fall League this month and the 23-year-old will enter next season as one of the A's top position player prospects.
Outfielder Josh Whitaker began the season with High-A Stockton, but it appeared he was on his way to spending the bulk of the year with Midland when he was promoted to Double-A in May. Five games into his stint with the RockHounds, Whitaker broke his wrist and he missed two months of the season. After rehab in Arizona and a return to Stockton, Whitaker finished the year with Midland. In 32 games with the RockHounds, he hit .240/.304/.424. He is a favorite to return to the RockHounds in 2014.
Note: Only pitchers with at least 40 innings were considered for this article.
For most of the year, four of the RockHounds' five starting pitching slots were filled by just four men: Zach Neal, Murphy Smith, Carlos Hernandez and Sean Murphy. All four threw more than 130 innings for the RockHounds and all four made at least 20 starts. It was a veteran group, with only Murphy making his Double-A debut in 2013.
Hernandez has pitched for Midland in parts of every season since 2009. He put together his best year in the Texas League yet in 2013, posting a league-best 2.18 ERA in 132 innings. The South Bay native did an excellent job of keeping the ball on the ground and he walked just 38 and allowed just five homeruns. Hernandez spent the final month of the season in the Sacramento rotation. The southpaw will be a minor league free agent this winter and he is slated to pitch in the Venezuelan Winter League.
Neal was signed to a minor league free agent deal just before the start of the 2013 season, and he pitched well in his first year in the A's organization. The right-hander pitched his junior college ball in the Midland area and he was a fan favorite all season. The Oklahoma alum led the staff with 165.2 innings pitched. He had a 4.35 ERA and a 96:36 K:BB. The coaches raved about Neal's competiveness on the mound and his willingness to learn.
Smith returned to the Texas League after a 2012 season that saw him pitch very well during the first half and struggled during the second half. The right-hander had a much more consistent season for Midland in 2013, posting a 3.46 ERA in 150 innings. He induced plenty of groundballs and cut his walk rate over the previous season. Smith is the hardest thrower of the aforementioned group of four (he can touch 95 MPH) and he added some deception to his delivery this season. Smith has the raw stuff to pitch in the big leagues. Next season will be a big year for the 26-year-old, as he is likely to get a shot in Triple-A.
Murphy (Sean) made three starts in the Cal League at the beginning of the season before he was bumped up to Double-A. He would spend the rest of the year in the RockHounds' rotation, racking up 136.2 innings. Murphy led the RockHounds in strike-outs with 121 and he allowed just nine homeruns. The right-hander improved his command in 2013 and mixed his pitches well. He will also be competing for a spot in the Sacramento rotation next season.
Right-handers Arnold Leon and Drew Granier got the bulk of the remaining starts for the RockHounds. Leon returned to the starting rotation in 2013 after pitching as a reliever in 2012. The native of Mexico missed nearly all of the 2010 and 2011 seasons after injuring his elbow in April 2010. That injury would require Tommy John surgery, but he is back to his pre-injury form now. A member of the A's 40-man roster, Leon showed impressive command with Midland, walking only 11 in 72.2 innings (13 starts). He posted a 3.84 ERA. Leon would spend the final two months of the season in Triple-A, where he found similar success with the River Cats.
Granier was a standout performer for the Stockton Ports during the first half of the year. He was leading the minor leagues in strike-outs when he was promoted to Double-A just after pitching in the Cal League-Carolina League All-Star game. Granier's command betrayed him in Double-A, however, and he struggled with walks. In 72.1 innings, Granier walked 42 and that led to a 5.23 ERA. Despite the poor numbers with Midland, Granier did make progress with his change-up, which will be an important pitch for him going forward. He is likely to return to Midland to start the 2014 season, but he will be on a fast-track if he can show improved command of all of his pitches.
The RockHounds also had a lot of stability in their bullpen, as Nate Long, Frank Gailey, Carlos Fisher and Jeff Urlaub threw the majority of the relief innings in 2013. Long led the relievers with 63 innings pitched. The UT-Arlington alum allowed just two homeruns all season and he posted a 57:20 K:BB. Long had a 3.86 ERA overall, but his post-All-Star break ERA was 2.70.
Gailey was a minor league free agent signing over the off-season, and he acquitted himself well in his first year with the A's. The 5'9'' left-hander had a 2.61 ERA and a 54:11 K:BB in 62 innings. Gailey allowed only three homeruns.
Fisher was also a minor league free agent acquisition by the A's. The right-hander was the most veteran of the pitchers on the Midland staff this year, and he brought major league experience to the team, having pitched for the Reds in 2010 and 2011. Fisher pitched well in 48.2 innings with the RockHounds, striking out nearly two per inning (71 strike-outs), although he did walk 33. Fisher was released so he could pursue other opportunities late in the year and he finished the season in the Tampa Bay organization.
Urlaub put together another fine season in the A's chain. The soft-tossing left-hander has thus far defied expectations at every level at which he has pitched, and he will get another opportunity to do that this fall in the Arizona Fall League. With Midland, Urlaub posted a 3.86 ERA in 46.2 innings. He had a 40:13 K:BB and he allowed just two homeruns. In his career, Urlaub has walked 35 in 194 innings.