A's MLN: First Place Rockhounds Best In A's System

While the other Oakland A's affiliates are off to slow starts, the Midland Rockhounds have been the best team in the A's chain through the first three weeks of the season. The Texas League AA team was the only A's affiliate not to make the playoffs last season. This season, the Rockhounds' roster is stocked with talented players, and through the first 16 games, they appear to be on the way to a strong season.

Although Midland dropped a one-run decision on Saturday, the Rockhounds are in first place by two games with an 11-5 record. The Rockhounds have been playing good baseball on both sides of the ball. Their bullpen has been especially impressive, led by the trio of Nick Brannon, Shawn Kohn and Jairo Garcia. Brannon, the former Independent League reliever, has been unhittable this season. He has appeared in five games, posting a 1-0 record and has allowed no runs over 10.2 innings pitched. Brannon has struck out 13 against only three walks.

No one has displayed better control than University of Washington alum Shawn Kohn. Kohn, who has been a control specialist throughout his minor league career, has yet to walk a batter through 8.2 innings pitched. The right-hander has struck out 14 batters over that span, while allowing only two runs and saving one game. He has joined with fireballer Jairo Garcia to dominate the late innings for the Rockhounds. Garcia, who had struggled with his control at the tail-end of the 2004 season and over the winter, appears to be back on track. Garcia has allowed only one run in five appearances and has struck out 12 batters in 7.2 innings pitched. He has walked five, but three of those walks came in his first two appearances. Garcia has converted all three save opportunities so far this season.

The Rockhounds' starting pitching has struggled a bit this season, but Steven Bondurant has been solid at the top of the Midland rotation. The left-handed pitcher is 2-0 on the season with 3.50 ERA in 18 innings pitched. He has struck out 13 and walked five. Bondurant struck out 161 batters and walked only 41 last season, a campaign that was split between Kane County and Midland.

The stars for the Rockhounds have not been limited to the mound this season, however. There has been plenty of scoring, as well, led by the hot-hitting duo of left-fielder Andre Ethier and first baseman Brant Colamarino. Ethier has been dominating Texas League pitching so far this season and finds himself amongst the league leaders in virtually every positive offensive category. Through Saturday, Ethier leads the Texas League in batting average, slugging percentage and total bases. He is tied for first in on-base percentage and is second in the league in hits. The Arizona State alum and 2003 first round pick has added power to his already impressive hitting game this season. He has smacked a team-leading four homeruns and has also thrown in five doubles and one triple. Over the past seven games, Ethier is hitting .461 with two homers, nine runs batted in, seven runs scored, two doubles, one triple and four walks. For the season, Ethier is batting .446.

Colamarino, a 2002 draft pick, has been a steady performer all season long. After getting off to a red-hot start, Colamarino has maintained a steadily excellent pace. Over the past week, Colamarino hit .308 with four runs scored and three runs batted in. On the season, the lefty is hitting .387 with 10 runs batted in and an on-base percentage over .400. Colamarino has also been strong defensively at first base.

Catcher Jeremy Brown has been an offensive star for the Rockhounds' this season, as well. Brown has homered in each of his last two games and he has driven in five runs over the past three games. The famously patient Brown has gotten on-base at a steady pace, posting an on-base percentage in the .420s. He has also driven in 11 runs in the first 16 games and is hitting a solid .289. Infielder Andrew Beattie has been a surprise contributor to the Rockhounds' offense. Beattie was a late signing this off-season, after having spent his entire career in the Cincinnati organization. The minor league veteran is leading the team with 12 walks and has three homers and 11 runs batted in on the season. Beattie has split time between third and short.

The Rockhounds have been competitive despite slow starts from some of their best prospects. Centerfielder Steve Stanley was stone cold before a mid-week surge got him back on track. The speedy Stanley is being counted on to jump-start the Rockhounds' offense at the top of the order. Stanley's batting average was stuck in the low-.100s before a big week that saw him hit .310 (9-29) and score four runs. Stanley saw a jump in power this week, as he hit his first homer and also doubled and tripled.

Middle infielder Omar Quintanilla entered the season riding a wave of optimism after a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League and an outstanding performance in major league spring training camp. However, Quintanilla has yet to find his stroke or his fielding groove for the Rockhounds. The A's top middle infield prospect is hitting only .224 with no homers and two runs batted in. He has also committed six errors in 14 games played. Outfielder Matt Allegra is also scuffling at the plate. After an 0-4 with four strikeouts night on Saturday, Allegra is now hitting .143 with 16 strikeouts in only 11 games this season.

Other Notes:

- Saturday was a tough day for the Oakland A's organization. The A's and all four of their minor league affiliates absorbed losses. The Sacramento River Cats were shut-out 5-0 by Dodgers' prospect Edwin Jackson and the Las Vegas 51's. Old friends Mike Edwards, Mike Neu and Mike Venafro (all ex-Oakland A's) contributed to the 51's victory, as Edwards homered and Venafro and Neu combined to close out the shutout win for the 51's. The River Cats are now 8-9 on the season and are just 3-7 in their last ten games. Emergency starter Britt Reames absorbed the loss filling in for injured starter Seth Etherton. Etherton went on the DL this week with a pinched nerve in his neck.

- Midland dropped a close game, 6-5. Starter Drew Dickinson was hung with the loss. Stockton dropped their contest against Visalia, 7-3, to fall one game under .500. Stockton is on an extended road trip, as their home opener was delayed to ensure that construction on the new Banner Island Ballpark could be completed. Ports' starter Jason Windsor was touched up for four runs (two earned) in five innings pitched and allowed two homers. The Ports committed three errors in the game. Catcher Kurt Suzuki had a big game at the plate, as the Fullerton alum went 4-4 to raise his batting average to .333. Outfielder Danny Putnam continued his strong early season showing, going 2-4 to up his average to a team-leading .339. Daric Barton made the start at first base and chipped in with two runs batted in.

- Kane County's struggles continued, as they dropped their fourth straight contest, 4-3. The Cougars scored two in the ninth, but were unable to plate the tying run and have now lost all seven of their home games this season. Right-fielder Javier Herrera's Cougar debut was a relatively quiet one, as the top prospect went 1-5 on the day and made the final out with the tying run at second. The Cougars are 5-10 on the season and are sitting in last place. They have lost a number of their games by one run and have been struggling on offense. The addition of Herrera to the line-up could change the team's fortunes dramatically. Youngster Ryan Webb had an excellent outing, throwing six innings and allowing only two hits and one unearned run. He struck out six batters. The teenager received a no-decision. He has a stellar 2.51 ERA on the season. Webb was drafted in the fourth round in 2004 and was the highest high school pitcher taken by the A's in the draft since the A's took Jeremy Bonderman in the first round in 2001.


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