Led by new manager Todd Steverson, the Rockhounds' Opening Day roster features 13 players who spent some time in Midland in 2006. There are also five players on the roster who were with different organizations last season.
The Midland pitching staff has a veteran feel to it. Left-hander Dallas Braden will get the call on Opening Day and he is the youngest pitcher on the roster at 23 years old. However, despite being only 23, Braden has spent parts of the past two seasons with Midland. He will be looking for a strong and healthy season after missing much of last season with a shoulder injury.
Braden will be joined in the rotation by right-hander Brad Knox, who was the Rockhounds' top starter in 2006. Knox won 12 games and posted a 3.67 ERA, numbers that are even more impressive when one considers that Knox got off to a very slow first four weeks of the season. Right-hander Ben Fritz will also be in the rotation. Fritz split the 2006 season between Midland and Sacramento. He had a 3.30 ERA in 12 starts for the Rockhounds.
Michael Rogers, the A's second round pick in 2004, will be starting a season at Double-A for the first time. Rogers had a brief appearance with the Rockhounds in 2006, but spent the majority of the season in High-A Stockton. The 24-year-old won 11 games for the Ports, but struggled during his six starts for Midland. Right-hander Kevin Deaton, a minor league free agent signing, has a lot of experience as a starter and he could round out the Midland rotation. He had been in the Mets organization prior to signing with Oakland. Left-hander Mario Ramos will begin the season on the DL, but he could get some starts for the Rockhounds this season. Ramos was originally drafted by the A's, but he was traded by the A's in 2002 and has spent time in the Rangers, A's and Padres organizations since then.
The Midland bullpen will be deep again this year. Closer Steve Sharpe saved 19 games for Kane County and Stockton last season. He will be making his Double-A debut this season. He will be joined by hard-throwing right-hander Jeff Gray, who has been clocked in the mid-90s at times this spring. Minor league Rule 5 pick Andrew Shipman will also join the bullpen. He spent most of last season in Triple-A Iowa and he had a 3.38 ERA in 72 relief innings overall in 2006.
Brad Ziegler, who has been in the starting rotation for Midland in each of the last two seasons, is back with the Rockhounds, but he will likely play a different role. Ziegler changed his throwing motion from a three-quarter motion to a submarine motion this off-season and is likely to be used as a set-up man, especially against right-handers. Josh Alliston (another Minor League Rule 5 pick), Jeff Coleman (who spent the second half of the 2006 season in Midland) and Kazuhito Tadano round out the Rockhounds bullpen.
Midland also features a mix of veterans and young players among their position players. Shortstop Gregorio Petit is the youngest player on the team at 22 years of age. He hit .256 with eight homers for Stockton last season while dazzling at times with the glove. Petit can also play second in addition to short. He will be joined in the middle infield by John McCurdy and Eddie Cornejo, both of whom spent time in Stockton last season. McCurdy, a 2002 first round pick, is coming off of one of his best offensive seasons as a pro. He hit 12 homers and drove-in 55 runs for the Ports last season. Cornejo began the 2006 season in Midland, but was sent to Stockton after batting only .210 in 47 games. He excelled for the Ports, however, hitting .361 with a .451 OBP in 62 games.
At the corner infield positions will be Vasili Spanos, Brian Snyder, Jeff Baisley and, on occasion, Myron Leslie. Spanos was in Midland for all of the 2006 season and he had a big year, batting .308 with nine homers and 67 RBIs with a .405 OBP. Spanos will likely see the majority of his playing time at first, although he will also get time at third and DH. Snyder, the A's 2003 first round pick, had a strange 2006 season. The third baseman began the year in Midland and hit only .205 in 48 games. However, he posted a .370 OBP. Snyder was sent down to Stockton at that point, where he hit .279 with a .378 OBP. He has been a third baseman throughout his career, but he could see sometime at first for Midland, as well.
Baisley, who was the 2006 Midwest League MVP, is making the jump from Low-A to Double-A. The third baseman hit .298 with 22 homers and 110 RBIs for the Kane County Cougars in 2006. He should see the majority of the reps at third, at least to start the season. Leslie, who was a teammate of Baisley's in college, will be making the move from High-A to Double-A. He drove-in 100 runs for the Stockton Ports in 2006. Leslie had been a third baseman up until last season, when he made the transition to the outfield. The tall switch-hitter saw time at first this spring and should see time at first, in the outfield and at DH this season.
The Rockhounds outfield features two of the A's top outfield prospects. Richie Robnett, the A's first round pick in 2004, started last season in High-A Stockton, where he hit 11 homers in 69 games. After a brief stop in Sacramento, Robnett was sent to Midland, where he got off to a very fast start (five hits in his first 14 at-bats, including a double and a homer) before breaking his hamate bone and missing the rest of the season. Robnett made a brief but impressive appearance at the Arizona Fall League this fall and he looks ready for a big season.
Danny Putnam is another A's 2004 first round pick who looks ready for a big year. The Stanford alum began last season with Midland and was mired in a big slump when he injured his knee in May. That injury cost him the next 12 weeks before he got back on the field in August. Putnam was red-hot for the Rockhounds upon his return in August and he had a very good spring at the plate.
Putnam and Robnett will be joined in the outfield by Vince Faison, who signed a minor league contract with the A's this off-season. Faison, who was a first round pick of the San Diego Padres in 1999, was with the Yankees organization in 2006. He hit .260 with 14 homers for the Trenton Thunder in 2006.
Behind the plate will be another 2004 first round pick, Landon Powell. Powell missed all of the 2005 season with a serious knee injury, but he had a solid year in 2006, hitting 15 homers for the Stockton Ports before being promoted to Midland for the last month of the season. Powell reported to spring camp in the best shape of his career and could be ready for a big season. He will share time with veteran Casey Myers, who was a big part of the Rockhounds' 2005 Texas League championship team. He missed much of last season with injuries.
To view the entire Midland roster, click here.