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Midland Notebook: RockHounds swinging big bats

The Midland RockHounds are above .500 but need a late month surge to push into the playoff race in the Texas League's competitive South Division.

Overview

In a highly competitive Texas League South, the Midland RockHounds are two games over .500, but find themselves third out of four teams and six games back of first-place Frisco going into Friday night. The same record in the North division would put the RockHounds a mere half-game out of first place. Midland has won four of their last six games, as they look to finish the month on a positive note.

The RockHounds currently lead the Texas League in several offensive categories: team OPS (750), SLG (.411), doubles (84), hits (425), OBP (.340) and runs scored (227). The RockHounds are second in the league in walks (178) and third in stolen bases (41). They are also third in caught stealing (22) and second in strike-outs (409).

All of that offense hasn’t led to a dominating start to the season in large part because the pitching staff has struggled to match the offense’s production. The starting rotation lost its two best starters early this month (Daniel Mengden was promoted to Triple-A and Dylan Covey landed on the DL with an oblique strain) and those spots have been filled by pitchers that have more traditionally been used as relievers. The staff ERA of 4.20 is second-highest in the Texas League. Midland hurlers have struck-out the second-fewest batters (335) and have walked the second most (166).

Midland recently took two-of-three in a road series against the Springfield Cardinals and they now begin a three-game set with the Tulsa Drillers before returning home on Monday for a three-game series against the Cardinals.

Comings and Goings

The RockHounds’ roster still contains plenty of top prospects, but Midland lost some big name players in May to promotion and injury. As was mentioned earlier, starters Daniel Mengden and Dylan Covey were removed from the Midland roster early in the month after stellar Aprils. Mengden earned a well-deserved promotion to Triple-A, while Covey had his productive season interrupted with an ill-timed injury.

The RockHounds also lost infielder Ryon Healy to promotion on May 17. Healy had been one of the Texas League’s top hitters since last year’s All-Star break and he was terrorizing Texas League pitching at the time of his promotion. He hasn’t slowed down in his 10 days in the Pacific Coast League either. Midland also lost two key members of their 2015 championship team when outfielder Jaycob Brugman and reliever Ryan Doolittle were promoted to Nashville on May 21. Earlier in the month, reliever Aaron Kurcz (who dominated in April) was also promoted to Nashville. 

The Stockton Ports sent several players to Midland to serve as reinforcements. Outfielder Tyler Marincov and first baseman John Nogowski both made the jump to Double-A after strong starts in High-A that came on the heels of solid 2015 seasons with the Ports. Right-hander Kyle Finnegan – who was also repeating at High-A – got the chance to pitch in his home state with a May 22 promotion to Midland. Joey Wagman made the jump from the Stockton bullpen to the Midland rotation on May 16. Ryan Gorton pitched out of the Midland bullpen for 10 days before being re-assigned to Stockton on May 19. The RockHounds also got back Kris Hall from a DL stint on May 1.

Who’s Hot

Although he had a rough start on Thursday, starter Raul Alcantara is still putting together a fine month of May after a rocky April. Alcantara allowed six runs in six innings on Thursday. That broke a streak of five straight starts in which he had pitched into the sixth inning and allowed two or fewer runs. Even with Thursday’s start, Alcantara’s ERA for May is 2.35 in 30.2 innings. He threw six no-hit innings on May 6 and hasn’t walked more than two batters in a start since April 25. He has only struck-out 17, but he has cut his walk rate from 12.38% in April to 4.76% in May.

Corey Walter is one of the relievers who have been forced into the Midland starting rotation due to vacancies left by injuries and promotions. Thus far, Walter has taken to the starting role like a fish to water. The big right-hander has a 1.57 ERA in five starts (23 innings). Batters are hitting just .238 against him as a starter and he has yet to allow a homerun in that role (or in any role this season, for that matter). Walter isn’t a strike-out pitcher (he has only 10 in those 23 innings), but he has walked only three batters as a starter and has a 2.73 GO/AO. 

Reliever Ben Bracewell joined the RockHounds in late April and he has done a solid job for Midland this month. The right-hander has a 2.30 ERA in 15.2 innings for Midland in May. He has 11 strike-outs and has issued just four walks. Bracewell has recently moved into a late-innings role and has converted both of his save opportunities.

After a rough April, reliever Bobby Wahl has righted the ship in May. In 12.2 innings, he has a 1.42 ERA. He is striking out a batter an inning and has allowed just seven hits and five walks. He also has a 1.33 GO/AO.

It has been a good month offensively for several Midland hitters, including the recently promoted Ryon Healy and Jaycob Brugman. Healy hit .321/.419/.585 with three homers, 10 RBI and nine walks in 53 at-bats before his promotion to Triple-A, while Brugman drew 11 walks in 18 games and hit .268/.369/.479 for Midland in May before heading to Nashville.

Slugger Matt Chapman has had a strong month, as well. He homered twice in one game earlier this week and has six for the month so far. Overall, he is batting .274/.355/.505 in 95 at-bats. Chapman has struck-out 39 times (most in the organization for the month), but he has walked 12 times. 

After two years of struggling to hit in Double-A, Beau Taylor may finally be finding his stride at the plate with Midland. He has drawn 12 walks in 72 plate appearances this month. He hasn’t hit for a lot of power this month, but his batting line is .267/.392/.350 and he has continued to play well behind the plate.

Infielder Wade Kirkland has starred this month when he has had a chance to play. In 35 at-bats, he has a hit .343/.395/.486 with a homer. Catcher Andy Paz has also been effective in limited at-bats. He is batting .304/.385/.478 with a homer and a 5:7 BB:K in 23 at-bats.


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