2008 Midland Rockhounds Preview

After two consecutive seasons of playoff appearances - including a Texas League championship in 2005 - the Midland Rockhounds fell short of the post-season in 2007. The Rockhounds will be looking to get back to the promised land in 2008 behind the strength of a roster comprised of a mix of experienced veterans and young talent.

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The Midland Rockhounds' starting rotation will feature a blend of youth and experience. Midland's Opening Day starter will be right-hander Mike Madsen, who was an All-Star for the Rockhounds in 2007. In 11 starts for Midland last season, Madsen had a 2.76 ERA with 69 strike-outs in 65.1 innings. He spent the last few months of the season with Triple-A Sacramento, where he went 5-1 with a 5.09 ERA.

Mazzaro is looking to build off of a strong spring.
Madsen will be joined in the rotation by another member of the 2007 Midland staff: James Simmons. Simmons was the A's top pick in 2007 and Oakland sent the right-hander directly to Double-A from college. He posted a 3.94 ERA in 29.2 innings for the Rockhounds and later participated in the Arizona Fall League. This spring, Simmons was a non-roster invitee to major league spring training.

A trio of young right-handers will round-out the Rockhounds' rotation: Andrew Bailey, Vince Mazzaro and Ryan Webb. Bailey led all A's minor leaguers with 150 strike-outs in 2007 in 125 innings split between Low-A Kane County, High-A Stockton and Triple-A Sacramento (one start). Mazzaro pitched a team-high 153.2 innings for Stockton in 2007. The 21-year-old right-hander is the second-youngest player on the roster (he is two days older than Simmons). He reported to camp in great shape and threw well this spring. Webb is looking to rebound after a difficult 2007 season that saw him post a 6.54 ERA in 20 starts for Stockton and Midland. The 22-year-old right-hander missed the final two months of last season, but he was throwing 93-95 MPH this spring.

The Rockhounds' bullpen will be long on experience. Lefties Danny Borrell, Justin Dowdy and Jay Marshall lead the way. The 29-year-old Borrell is the elder statesman on the staff. He joined the A's organization midway through last season and pitched well for Midland, posting a 2.80 ERA in 64.1 innings. Dowdy signed with the A's as a minor league free agent during the off-season. He has seven years of minor league experience, and he spent the past two years pitching in the independent leagues. Marshall spent all of the 2007 season with the A's as the team's Rule 5 pick. The submarine lefty appeared in 51 games for Oakland last season, posting a 6.43 ERA. In the minor leagues, Marshall has never pitched above A-ball.

From the right-side, Midland's bullpen will feature minor league veterans David Shafer, Andrew Shipman, Jose Rojas, Jesus Silva, Kristian Bell and Scott Tyler. Shafer and Shipman both spent time with the Rockhounds in 2007. Shafer had a 2.28 ERA in 23.2 innings for Midland last season after struggling with Triple-A Sacramento earlier in the year. Shipman was an All-Star for Midland in 2007. He spent the entire season with the Rockhounds and had a 5.81 ERA in 117.2 innings.

Rojas was acquired by the A's in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft this off-season. In 2007, he posted a 3.97 ERA in 70.1 relief innings in A-ball for the Reds organization. Silva and Tyler were signed by Oakland this off-season as minor league free agents after they spent the 2007 season in the Florida organization. Bell was acquired from Toronto in the Marco Scutaro trade.

The Rockhounds' offense will be led by outfielder Javier Herrera, who is the only member of the A's 40-man roster on the Midland squad. Herrera appeared in only 82 games last season as he struggled with hamstring problems. He hit .269 with 12 homers for Stockton and Midland in 2007.

Will Herrera be able to stay healthy this season?
Herrera will be joined in the outfield by Danny Putnam, Myron Leslie and Jon Zeringue. Putnam made his major league debut in 2007, batting .214 in 28 big league at-bats. His season was interrupted by a broken hand and he only appeared in 73 minor league games split between Midland, Sacramento, the A's Rookie League team and Stockton.

Leslie spent all of the 2007 season with Midland and hit .288 with a .386 OBP in 108 games. He can play both corner infield positions, as well as in the outfield. Zeringue signed with the A's as a free agent during last season and he hit .279 with 13 homers in 56 games for the Ports in 2007. He had a big spring in the power department, mashing seven homeruns. Mike Massaro, who spent the past two seasons with Low-A Kane County, rounds out the outfield. Massaro can play centerfield and hit .286 with the Cougars last season.

Midland will have a combination of power and speed in its infield. At first base will be Tom Everidge, who led all A's minor leaguers with 26 homers and 94 RBIs last season, which he spent mostly with High-A Stockton. In 10 late-season games with Midland last season, Everidge hit .361. He will be joined in the power department by middle infielder Jesus Guzman, who hit 25 homers and drove-in 112 runs in the California League last season as part of the Mariners' chain.

The Rockhounds' double-play combination will feature both speed and good leather. The slick-fielding Cliff Pennington and Justin Sellers will share time both at second and shortstop, as they did at the start of the 2007 season when they were with Stockton. Pennington hit .253 with 17 stolen bases in 138 games for Stockton and Midland last season. Sellers spent most of the 2007 season with Stockton, where he hit .274 with 11 stolen bases in 114 games. He hit .156 in a 14-game stint with Midland at the end of the year.

Infielder Brian Snyder will return to Midland for a third year. The A's 2003 first round pick hit .254 with a .379 OBP in 111 games for Midland in 2007. He was a Texas League All-Star for the Rockhounds and can play at both second and third base. Snyder is one of four A's first round picks on the roster along with Simmons, Putnam and Pennington.

Behind the plate will be Anthony Recker, who had a monster first half of the 2007 season in Stockton but struggled with Midland during the second half of the year. Recker established a career-high in homers in 2007 with 17. He was a non-roster invitee to major league spring training this spring.

Backing up Recker will be player-coach Casey Myers and 2007 draft pick Ben Barrone. Myers will serve as the team's hitting coach in addition to his duties as a catcher.

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