2008 Awards: Sacramento and Midland

With the 2008 season finally in the books, it is time for us to bestow our awards on the best individual performances for the 2008 season. In the third of our series, we hand out the awards for the top players and pitchers for the Oakland A's Double-A and Triple-A affiliates.

Sacramento River Cats

For the second year in a row, the Sacramento River Cats got to stake their claim to the title of best team in the minor leagues when they captured both the PCL and Triple-A crowns. As in 2007, the 2008 River Cats squad won it all with an army of players thanks to injuries and trades on the Oakland A's major league roster. Despite having to piece together a roster on many days, Todd Steverson's Sacramento ballclub went 83-61 during the regular season and cruised through the post-season to capture their fourth PCL title and second Triple-A crown. The River Cats finished in the middle-of-the-pack in team OPS (ninth out of 16 teams) with a 793 mark and seventh in runs scored. Sacramento's pitching staff was second in the league in team ERA with a 4.41 mark and tied for second in WHIP at 1.40.

Top Position Player: Brooks Conrad

The longtime Houston Astros farmhand made his debut in the Oakland A's chain this season looking for a comeback year after posting only a 725 OPS at Triple-A Round Rock last season. The infielder got off to a good start this spring, earning a non-roster spot on the A's travel team in Japan. That carried over into the regular season, during which Conrad hit a team-leading 28 homers and drove-in 91 runs. Although he hit only .243, Conrad had an 820 OPS. He also made his major league debut this season, collecting three hits and two RBIs in 19 at-bats. Conrad earned the River Cats' team awards for Best Teammate and Most Versatile Player and he got high praise from coaches for his ability to grind out at-bats and wear-down opposing pitchers.

Other Players Considered: Casey Rogowski, Wes Bankston, Danny Putnam, Jeff Baisley

Rogowski tied with Conrad for the most number of games played for Sacramento this season with 117. The first baseman/outfielder did a little bit of everything for the River Cats, playing in the infield and the outfield, hitting for power and even stealing a team-best 16 bases. In total, Rogowski batted .277 with 14 homers, 64 RBIs, a .357 OBP and an 802 OPS. Bankston also provided the team with good power, finishing with 20 homers and 73 RBIs to go along with a .280 average in 97 games. He also made his big league debut in 2008. Putnam managed to put together an 877 OPS (best on the team among players with at least 250 at-bats) and hit 15 homeruns despite having inconsistent playing time when the A's sent Travis Buck, Chris Denorfia and Carlos Gonzalez down to Triple-A. Putnam posted an impressive .384 OBP in a comeback season for the former A's supplemental first round pick. Baisley missed more than two months with a stress fracture in his foot, but he was extremely productive when he was out on the field. In addition to playing great defense at third, Baisley hit .298 with nine homers and an 852 OPS in 81 games. His 32:43 BB:K ratio was much improved over past seasons. Baisley made his big league debut in September and hit .256 in 14 games with the A's.

Top Pitcher: Gio Gonzalez

It was an up-and-down season for Gonzalez, but when he was on, there were few pitchers in the PCL who were better than Gonzalez this season. Despite spending the last eight weeks in the big leagues, Gonzalez lead the River Cats in strike-outs (128) and finishing third in innings pitched (123). He also threw one of the team's three complete games and held opposing PCL hitters to a .233 average. Gonzalez struggled with pitch count and command early in the season with Sacramento, but in his final six starts (excluding one rain-shortened outing), Gonzalez threw at least six innings in all but one of them and reached the eighth inning in three. His ERA for the month of July was 2.30 in 27.1 innings. Gonzalez struggled with nerves at the start of his Triple-A season and again when he got to the big leagues, but he showed his PCL form in his final three appearances with the A's in relief, tossing six shut-out innings and walking only one. Despite his shaky command in the big leagues, Gonzalez still was tough to hit, allowing less than a hit per inning.

Other Pitchers Considered: Kirk Saarloos, Chris Gissell, Brad Kilby, Ryan Wing

Saarloos was a strong veteran presence on the River Cats' staff for much of the season, tossing a team-high 140.2 innings over 22 starts. He walked only 36 over that stretch and posted a respectable 4.22 ERA in a hitter-friendly league. Saarloos also threw 26.1 innings for the A's. Gissell began the year on the DL, but he became one of the River Cats' most valuable pitchers once he was healthy. In 81.1 innings, Gissell had a 3.43 ERA and a 7-3 record. He worked as both a starter and as a long reliever, allowing fewer than one hit per inning and posting a 67:19 K:BB ratio. He was the winning pitcher in the Bricktown Showdown. Kilby was the River Cats' workhorse reliever. The lefty had a 7-2 record and a 3.47 ERA with two saves in 70 innings over 51 outings. He struck-out 66 and allowed only 51 hits. Wing was dominant for Sacramento before an injury slowed him down. Still, in 54 innings pitched, Wing had a 2.33 ERA and allowed only 44 hits.

Midland Rockhounds

A talented Midland squad fell one game short of the playoffs despite a 41-29 record in the second half of the season and a 75-65 overall mark. Midland swept the Texas League titles for batting average (Jesus Guzman) and ERA (Vince Mazzaro) for the first time in franchise history. The Rockhounds' offense finished second in the league with a 774 OPS and third in homeruns with 127. The pitching staff ranked fifth out of eight teams in ERA with a 4.39 mark, but was second in the league in strike-outs with 1053. Rockhounds' pitchers did lead the league in walks (574), an area that was a problem for the pitching staff most acutely early in the season.

Top Position Player: Tom Everidge

There are a number of players who could make strong claims for this award, but none of them was as consistent a force all season for the Rockhounds as Everidge. The first baseman led the league in RBIs with 115 and was second on the team in homeruns with 22. He also led the team in doubles with 34, hits with 148 and games played with 136. This season was Everidge's first with more than 100 RBIs after collecting 94 in 2007, 83 in 2006 and 66 in 2005. He hit .329 with runners in scoring position and he had a .313 average with an 851 OPS after the All-Star break.

Other Players Considered: Jesus Guzman, Aaron Cunningham, Anthony Recker, Jon Zeringue

Guzman and Cunningham both would have had stronger claims for the award had each of them not missed time with injury and promotions. Guzman was the Texas League batting champion despite playing in only 80 games for the Rockhounds. He hit .364 with 14 homers and 76 RBIs in those 80 games, posting a 979 OPS. Cunningham was nearly as good, hitting .317 with 12 homers, 52 RBIs and an 894 OPS in 87 games for Midland. Recker played in 117 games as the team's primary catcher and posted good numbers despite the demanding defensive position and the long Texas summer, hitting .274 with 11 homers and 64 RBIs. Zeringue led the team with 23 homers and had 89 RBIs and an 805 OPS in 126 games.

Top Pitcher: Vince Mazzaro

Mazzaro was named as the Texas League Pitcher of the Year after an eye-opening campaign with the Rockhounds. The 21-year-old right-hander went 12-3 with a league-best 1.90 ERA in 22 starts for Midland before being promoted to Sacramento for the final month of the season. He led the team in innings pitched, ERA, WHIP and HR/9 (Mazzaro gave up only three homers all season). He also allowed only 115 hits in 137.1 innings and he walked only 36. Mazzaro was a starter in the Texas League All-Star game, a post-season league All-Star, a two-time league Pitcher of the Week and earned MiLB.com's "Most Spectacular Pitcher Award" for Double-A.

Other Pitchers Considered: James Simmons, Andrew Carignan

Simmons was the team's number two ace behind Mazzaro, posting a 3.51 ERA and striking out a team-best 120 batters in 136 innings. He walked only 32 batters and was strong down-the-stretch, posting a 3.14 ERA after the All-Star break. Simmons had to overcome sleep apnea, which cost him a few weeks of the season, as well. Carignan was promoted from Stockton after the first three weeks of the season, and he acted as the Rockhounds' closer for the rest of the year. Although he struggled with his command (39 walks in 52.2 innings), Carignan converted 24 saves and posted a 2.22 ERA. He held Texas League batters to a .198 average and struck-out 67. He didn't allow a run over his last 12.2 innings pitched while Midland was making a strong push for the post-season.

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