Twelve games into the 2016 season, and the Midland RockHounds are likely sick of the Arkansas Travelers and Northwest Arkansas Naturals. Through a quirk in the Texas League schedule, the RockHounds began the season with a six-game roadtrip against those two teams, only to return home for a six-game stint against – you guessed it – those same two squads. The result is a 7-5 record and a spot in the middle of the Texas League’s South Division standings.
The RockHounds will face-off against their South Division foes for the first time this season starting on Thursday, when they go to San Antonio for a four-game set. The RockHounds then take on Corpus Christi for four before returning home for – you guessed it – another eight games versus the Missions and Hooks.
Going into their Wednesday off-day, the RockHounds are in the middle of the league offensively with a 695 team OPS. They are third in the league in walks (48), but they lead the league in strike-outs with 113. Midland does lead the league in team OBP with a .335 mark.
On the mound, the RockHounds currently sit at the bottom of the league with a 5.11 team ERA. However, if one removes the 31 runs that were scored against the RockHounds in two games, the team ERA is 2.93. Midland pitchers lead the league in strike-outs with 112, which is a rate better than a batter an inning. They are second in the league in walks, however, with 47. Homeruns have been an issue early on, as Midland pitchers have allowed 16, the most in the league.
Comings and Goings
It has been relatively quiet on the transaction front for the first two weeks of the season. Since Opening Day, only reliever Bobby Wahl has joined the team and no active players have been re-assigned to other clubs or extended spring training.
Wahl spent all of last season with Midland, but his season was cut short when he injured his forearm and had to have surgery. He began the season with High-A Stockton to get some innings under his belt, but Wahl’s stay with the Ports lasted only three appearances and four innings. He struggled some with Stockton – walking five – but threw a good inning in his 2016 Midland debut on April 19. Wahl allowed a hit but walked none and struck-out two in a scoreless frame.
Right-hander Daniel Mengden earned the Texas League’s Pitcher of the Week award for his efforts in two starts versus Arkansas on April 9 and April 15. In those two outings, Mengden didn’t allow a run in 12 innings. He struck-out 16 and walked six while allowing only four hits. Mengden is coming off of an excellent pro debut season during which he had a 3.72 ERA and a 125:36 K:BB in 130.2 innings at High-A and Low-A. He was a standout performer during minor league spring training and will be a starter to watch for the RockHounds this season.
Corner infielder Ryon Healy has been a late-inning magician for the RockHounds. He has been in the middle of four final at-bat, game-winning rallies already this season. Two of those late-inning hits were of the walk-off variety. Healy has hit safely in all but two games thus far this year and is batting .298/.377/.532 with five doubles, two homers and six walks. There isn’t an opening in Nashville for Healy at the moment, but he may force the issue if he continues hitting as he has thus far this year.
Third baseman Matt Chapman is batting only .231, but the rest of his numbers through 12 games are excellent. Chapman had a two-homer game over the weekend and has three homers and nine walks. His overall slashline is .231/.400/.513.
Catcher Carson Blair has received the bulk of the playing time behind the plate in the early going. He leads the team with a .333 BA and was the walk-off hero on Tuesday when he walked with the bases-loaded to drive-in the game-winning run. Blair has only one extra-base hit in eight games (a double), but he has walked five times and he has six RBI.
Like Healy and Blair, outfielder Jaycob Brugman is in his second season with Midland after contributing to the RockHounds’ 2015 title run. Brugman is also off to a good start, hitting for power (two homers and a .439 SLG) and getting on-base at a solid clip (.362). He is six-for-his-last-13 with a walk.
As was the case last season, the Midland bullpen has given the RockHounds a significant advantage in close games in the early going. The RockHounds are 4-0 in one-run games. Relievers Trey Cochran-Gill (8 IP) and Ryan Doolittle (4.1 IP) have yet to allow a run and they have walked one batter total between the two of them. Corey Walter (2 ER in 7.1 IP with 9 Ks), Andres Avila (2 ER in 6.1 IP with 9 Ks) and Aaron Kurcz (2 ER in 6 IP with 9Ks and no walks) are also off to good starts.