Photo by Chris Lockard/OaklandClubhouse.com

Midland RockHounds Notebook: An up-and-down start

The Midland RockHounds are two games out of first place and one game under .500 through the first 17 games of the 2017 season. We go in-depth on the three-time defending Texas League champions.

Overview

The first three weeks of the Texas League season have produced uneven results for the three-time defending champion Midland RockHounds. Through Monday, the RockHounds are 8-9 and in last place in the Texas League South, but only two games back of first-place Corpus Christi.

The RockHounds offense is off to a strong start. Midland leads the league in runs scored with 89 and are tied for the league lead in batting with a team average of .267. The RockHounds are second in walks and first in OBP (.353). Midland hasn’t hit for a lot of power yet, however, as they are third-to-last in team SLG (.372) and second-to-last in homeruns.

Midland’s pitching staff is third in the league in team ERA with a 3.99 mark, but they have been hurt by their defense. The RockHounds have allowed 11 unearned runs (third-most in the league). Midland has walked the fewest number of batters of any Texas League staff (60 in 149 innings), but they are third-to-last in strike-outs (137) and team WHIP (1.40).

The RockHounds are currently working on a three-game winning streak after winning the first of a four-game set against first-place Corpus Christi on Monday. After finishing their series with the Hooks, Midland travels to San Antonio to wrap up the month of April.

Comings and Goings

The RockHounds haven’t seen a lot of roster movement in the early going. They are still waiting on the recoveries of outfielder James Harris and infielder Yairo Munoz from injuries sustained during spring training. Both are currently rehabbing at extended spring training.

Midland lost infielder Melvin Mercedes to promotion on April 16. Mercedes replaced infielder Chad Pinder on the Nashville roster. Pinder earned a promotion to Oakland to replace the injured Marcus Semien. Joining the Midland roster in Mercedes’ stead was infielder Jean Carlo Rodriguez, who played for Low-A Beloit in 2016. The native of Panama turned 21 in January and is the youngest position player on the Midland roster.

The RockHounds’ pitching staff has, for the most part, remained stable. RHP Corey Walter made a spot start for Nashville last week, taking the rotation turn of Cesar Valdez, who made a spot start for the A’s last Thursday. Walter returned to Midland on Monday. While Walter was in Nashville, left-hander Kyle Twomey filled his roster spot as a reliever. Twomey made one appearance and returned to extended spring training upon Walter’s return to Midland.

On Sunday, closer Jake Sanchez was struck in the head by a line-drive clocked at more than 100 MPH. Sanchez suffered a burst ear drum and remained back in Midland for further evaluation. He has yet to be placed on the disabled list but that could happen in the coming days.

Who’s Hot

Outfielders B.J. Boyd, J.P. Sportman and Brett Vertigan are off to strong starts for Midland. Boyd and Vertigan currently sit 1-2 atop the Texas League leaderboards for batting and they are second and third, respectively, in OBP. Boyd has a 12-game hitting streak going into Tuesday and a 13-game on-base streak. He also has RBI in six straight games. Vertigan has a five-game hitting streak. He has seven walks in 14 games played.

Sportman is batting .314 through 16 games this season and he has hit safely in 15 of those games played. He homered on Monday and has five hits over his last 15 at-bats. Sportman has seen time in left field, centerfield and second base in the early going.

Outfielder Tyler Marincov has also been productive for Midland. He has walked 12 times in 16 games and carries a .397 OBP. He has also homered twice and has a .456 SLG. Argenis Raga, the 22-year-old catcher, has only appeared in seven games thus far, but he has been productive when he has had his opportunities. He is batting .280/.357/.400 in 25 at-bats.

Utilityman Joe Bennie got off to a slow start, but he has hit safely in six of his last eight games and has a 10:13 BB:K on the year. Bennie’s OBP is .382. Richie Martin’s overall statline isn’t where he’d like it to be just yet (.217/.309/.350), but he has a six-game hitting streak and has walked eight times in 17 games.

On the pitching side, Corey Walter is once again leading the way for the starting rotation. Walter allowed three runs (two earned) in 2.2 innings for Nashville in his Triple-A debut, but he has allowed only one run in 16 innings for the RockHounds this season. Ironically, Walter struck-out six for Nashville and has just seven strike-outs on the year for Midland, but Walter has a 2.36 GO/AO for the RockHounds and he has allowed just 13 base-runners in 16 innings.

The rest of the tandem starting rotation has met with mixed results thus far, although right-hander James Naile is off to a solid start. In 15.2 innings, he leads the RockHounds with 16 strike-outs and he has a 2.30 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP.

The Midland bullpen, as expected, has been dominant. Jake Sanchez, Sam Bragg, Kyle Finnegan, Lou Trivino and Cody Stull have combined to allow three runs in 33.1 innings. That group has struck-out 38 and walked 13 over that stretch.


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