A Title Season In Review: Midland

After having three league champions in 2004, the only Oakland A's affiliate to make the final round of a league playoffs in 2005 was the Midland Rockhounds. The Rockhounds made certain that the A's would have at least one champion amongst their ranks on Saturday when they captured the Texas League title. Midland's powerful offense and steadfast elief corps gave the Rockhounds their first Texas League title in twenty years.

When closer Alex Santos struck out Arkansas's Jason Aspito to secure the Rockhounds' 6-5 victory over the Travelers, it capped a stellar season for the A's AA affiliate. Despite battling the typical assortment of roster changes and injuries, the Rockhounds were remarkably consistent all season. They secured their first trip to the post-season in ten years when they captured the first half division title with a 39-31 record. Midland followed up that performance by winning the second half division title with an identical 39-31 record. Midland then marched to the playoffs and took six of eight games to secure the league championship.

From the outset, the Rockhounds relied on a stout bullpen to guide their pitching staff. In April, closer Jairo Garcia anchored the bullpen, collecting six saves in 10 appearances. He struck out 30 in only 16.2 innings of work and was promoted to AAA-Sacramento on May 9. Alex Santos was promoted to Midland from A-Stockton to replace Garcia and he picked up right where Garcia left off. The former Miami Hurricane was light's out much of the season, collecting 19 saves and striking out 46 in 42.2 innings.

Bridging the gap between the starters and closers Garcia and Santos was a team of outstanding middle relievers and set-up men. Shawn Kohn was arguably the Rockhounds' most valuable reliever. He led the team with 55 appearances, and he threw a bullpen-high 84 innings. Kohn would occasionally work as a long reliever and he filled in as a closer when Santos was serving a suspension for steroids. Kohn went 4-3 with a 2.89 ERA with eight saves and 92 strikeouts against only 20 walks.

Nick Mattioni, Kyle Crowell and Evan Fahrner were also light's out this season. Mattioni made 42 appearances for the Rockhounds and compiled a 2.58 ERA with four saves and 71 strikeouts in 69.2 innings. Crowell was often the Rockhounds' long-man in middle relief, and he posted a 3.44 ERA in 65.1 innings. Fahrner was a Texas League All-Star, and he won a bullpen-high seven games. He had a 2.48 ERA in 76 innings and was the winning pitcher in the Texas League All-Star game.

The Rockhounds' starting pitching staff was inconsistent much of the season. Steven Bondurant won a team-high 12 games, but he had an up and down season. He allowed 20 homeruns in 165 innings, but struck out 128 batters against only 59 walks. Dallas Braden was arguably the Rockhounds' best starting pitcher after being promoted from A-Stockton on May 16. After going 6-0 with a 2.68 ERA for the Ports, Braden went 9-5 with a 3.90 ERA for Midland. He struck out 71 batters in 97 innings for the Rockhounds before being shut-down with a sore arm in early August. Starter Shane Komine joined the team in August after recovering from Tommy John surgery. Komine gave the starting staff a boost by going 2-1 with a 3.16 ERA in five starts. He struck out 33 batters in 31.1 innings and then pitched extremely well for the Rockhounds in the playoffs.

The Midland pitching staff was helped along by a potent batting order that scored a Texas League-high 773 runs and reached base at a league-high .355 clip. Early in the season, the Rockhounds's offense was led by the middle of the order tandem of Brant Colamarino and Andre Ethier. Colamarino hit .321 with 10 homers and 45 RBIs in only 46 games before being promoted to AAA. Ethier began the season at or near the top in all of the Texas League Triple Crown categories. He eventually cooled off from that pace, but he still played well enough throughout the season to win the Texas League MVP award. The outfielder hit .319 with 18 homers and 80 RBIs for the Rockhounds. He was promoted to AAA for the playoffs and will be representing the A's in the Arizona Fall League this October.

The Rockhounds received outstanding offensive contributions from Brian Stavisky, Casey Myers, Jason Perry and Jeremy Brown. Stavisky, the 2004 California League MVP, hit .316 with a team-leading 88 RBIs. Myers only appeared in 57 games, but the back-up catcher and sometimes DH made his presence felt in those appearances. He hit .340 with 7 homers and 42 RBIs in only 203 at-bats. Myers walked 14 times and struck out only 11 times. Outfielder Jason Perry struggled with strikeouts and his batting average was lower then he would have liked (.257), but he was arguably the Rockhounds' best power-hitter much of the season. The post-season Texas League All-Star hit a team-high 22 homers and he drove in 77 runs in 124 games. He also displayed a strong arm in the outfield. Catcher Jeremy Brown wasn't his normal ultra-patient self, but that new-found aggressiveness may have helped him hit for more power. He crushed a career-high 20 homeruns and collected 27 doubles. Brown hit four homers and drove in 15 during the post-season for the Rockhounds.

The Rockhounds received some late-season help from two call-ups from the Stockton Ports. Daric Barton was promoted to Midland on July 4 after hitting .318 with a 907 OPS for the Ports. He almost duplicated those numbers for the Rockhounds, as he compiled a .316 batting average with a 901 OPS. He will be joining Ethier in the Arizona Fall League. Second baseman Kevin Melillo also made a strong contribution to the Rockhounds after an early August promotion from Stockton. The South Carolina alum began the year in low-A Kane County and pushed his way up to AA with an outstanding offensive campaign. In 35 games for the Rockhounds, Melillo crushed seven homeruns and 10 doubles (a .519 slugging percentage) and drove in 34 runs. He also stole nine bases, which put him in the team-lead, tied with Mark Kiger.

Midland's title was the franchise's first since 1975 and its first outright championship ever. The 1975 title was shared when inclement weather cut short the championship series. The Rockhounds had a number of top prospects amongst their ranks in 2005 and five of their players will be heading to the desert to play in the Arizona Fall League. Ethier and Barton will be joined by pitchers Komine, Bondurant and Matt Lynch. Lynch, a lefty from Florida State University, was a starter at the start of the season, but was switched to relief mid-year. He was much more effective as a reliever and could have a future as a lefty specialist down the road. Stockton catcher Kurt Suzuki will join the Midland contingent in the prospect All-Star League in Arizona this October.

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