2010 Midland Rockhounds Preview

The Midland Rockhounds featured a Murderer's Row in 2009, as they pounded their way to a Texas League crown. The team will have a different look in 2010 as they aim to defend their title.

2009 In Review

It was a dream season for the Midland Rockhounds in 2009, as the team captured the Texas League title. The Rockhounds led the league in offense, outscoring the next closest team by more than 100 runs. Midland was led by Texas League MVP Chris Carter, who challenged for the league Triple Crown before being promoted to Triple-A late in the season. The Rockhounds were actually last in the league in team ERA, but the offense allowed them to lead the league in regular season wins with 78. It was the Rockhounds' second league title as an Oakland A's affiliate. The last title was in 2005 and that team was led by another league MVP, Andre Ethier.

Offense

The Rockhounds' offense was merciless last season, with Carter, Tom Everidge, Josh Donaldson, Matt Spencer and Adrian Cardenas leading the way. Midland's offense doesn't figure to be quite as potent in 2010.

Jemile Weeks should lead the way for Midland from the top of the order. The switch-hitting second baseman split his 2009 season between High-A Stockton and Midland. He starred with Stockton, but struggled to get on track with Midland until the post-season, when he swung the bat well. Weeks was limited on the base-paths last season because of a hip injury he sustained in 2008 that lingered into the 2009 season, but he is healthy in 2010 and he should rack up a significant number of steals.

Outfielder Archie Gilbert should also bring some speed to the Midland order. The East Bay native stole 29 bases last season for Midland, although he was caught 15 times. Gilbert has the best eye of any player on the Rockhounds' roster and has ability to play all three outfield positions.

Shortstop Michael Richard is another speedster on the Rockhounds' roster. He had a down season in 2009 with Stockton, batting only .267 with 24 stolen bases in 95 games. However, in 2008, he hit .287 with 35 stolen bases in only 85 games for Kane County. Richard also has a good eye, having walked 127 times against 129 strike-outs in his career.

Infielder Alexander Valdez could be in for a breakout season. The switch-hitter had a strong 2009 campaign, batting .273 with a career-high 65 RBIs for Stockton and Midland. Valdez then followed that up by winning the Dominican Winter League's Rookie of the Year award.

Shane Peterson joined the Rockhounds' in the middle of last season after being acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals. He was the youngest position player on the Midland roster at 21-years-old and he handled himself well against the older competition, batting .276 in 57 games. Peterson really came alive during the playoffs, batting .433 with two homers, six RBIs and four walks in eight games. Peterson brings a lot of defensive versatility to the Rockhounds, as he can play at all three outfield positions and first base.

Outfielder Matt Sulentic, after missing the first three weeks of the year, spent the entire 2009 season with Midland. The Texas native hit .288 with a 759 OPS in 113 games as a 22-year-old. Sulentic is a strong defensive right-fielder and he has shown the ability to hit for average during his minor league career. He has also increased his footspeed every year as a professional and he stole a career-high 21 bases last season. To improve on his 2009 numbers with Midland, Sulentic will need to improve his plate patience this year.

Rounding out the Midland outfield will be David Thomas. Thomas had an up-and-down 2009 season. He played well for Low-A Kane County, but struggled with Stockton. Thomas also played only 82 games, as his season ended early thanks to injury. Thomas is a switch-hitter and a good defensive outfielder with decent speed.

The Rockhounds should get a lot of offensive production from their catcher/DH positions. Anthony Recker and Yusuf Carter will begin the year as the Rockhounds' backstops and both should also see time at DH. Recker, for all intents and purposes, should be at Triple-A, but he is back with Midland, a victim of the A's decision to send Landon Powell down to Triple-A. Recker spent most of the 2009 season with Sacramento, where he hit .261 with 12 homers. In 16 games with the Rockhounds last year, Recker had a 911 OPS and three homers. Recker had an outstanding stint in big league camp this spring, but he may need an opportunity in another organization, as he is stuck behind Powell, Donaldson and A's starter Kurt Suzuki.

Carter is coming off of a big offensive season. He hit .318 with 14 homers and an 867 OPS in 91 games for Stockton. Carter struggled defensively, but it was his first season as a catcher after spending most of his professional career in the outfield, so the A's are expecting improvement from Carter with the glove in 2010.

Yung-Chi Chen will be looking to stay healthy in 2010 after leg injuries have limited him the past few seasons. Last season Chen hit .324 in 17 games with the Rockhounds and .283 in 27 games with Sacramento, but knee injuries prevented him from being an everyday player. He was once a top prospect and, at age 26, he is looking to re-establish himself as a candidate for the big leagues.

Infielder Mike Affronti returns for his second with the Rockhounds. In 52 games with the Rockhounds last season, Affronti hit .243 with three homers. Affronti can play all over the infield, but is naturally a shortstop. He has often served as a table-setter, both at the top of the line-up or from the bottom of the line-up, setting up the lead-off hitter.

Infielder/outfielder Steve Kleen was barely hanging onto his professional career at this time last year, but a big 2009 season has reignited Kleen's career. He hit .312 with an 856 OPS in 140 games for Low-A Kane County and for Stockton in 2009. Kleen was particularly good with Stockton, batting .342 in 70 games. This offensive outburst came a year after he missed the entire season with a shoulder injury. Kleen is naturally a first baseman, but he can also play some third base and right field. A former college pitcher, Kleen has a strong arm.

Pitching

When the rosters were originally announced, Midland's rotation included 2009 Texas League All-Star Graham Godfrey, who was penciled in to be the team's Opening Day starter. Godfrey was promoted to Sacramento on Tuesday, leaving Travis Banwart with the honor of having the Opening Day start. Banwart is a returning member of the Rockhounds' rotation, having made 27 starts for Midland last season. He won 10 games for Midland, but he was inconsistent, something that was reflected in his 4.89 ERA. Banwart was the A's fourth round pick in 2007 out of Wichita State, where he was teammates with fellow Rockhounds' rotation member Anthony Capra (more on him later).

Carlos Hernandez is also returning member of the Rockhounds' rotation. Hernandez won 15 games in 2009, pitching for Stockton, Midland and Sacramento. The southpaw had a 9-7 record with a 3.99 ERA for Stockton and a 6-1 record with a 4.62 ERA with Midland (he made only one appearance for Sacramento). The South Bay native lives on his ability to change speeds. He is one of four lefties in the Midland rotation.

The three newcomers to the Rockhounds' rotation have two things in common: they are all left-handed and they all rack up strike-outs at a prodigious rate. Capra (170), Ben Hornbeck (159) and Pedro Figueroa (145) were among the leaders in strike-outs in all of the minor leagues in 2009. Hornbeck and Capra both feature above-average change-ups that serve as their out-pitches, while Figueroa has a mid-90s fastball and an above-average slider. Figueroa joins reliever Justin Souza as the only two members of the A's 40-man roster on the Rockhounds.

It appears that Souza will be transitioning from the starting rotation to the bullpen this season, at least initially. The right-hander was acquired by the A's mid-season from the Seattle organization and he struggled in five starts, posting a 10.35 ERA. He starred during the A's Instructional League, however, and was added to the A's 40-man roster during the off-season. Souza's mid-90s fastball should be effective in a relief role.

Joining Souza in the bullpen will be Mickey Storey, who had, for lack of a better term, a storybook season in 2009. Storey pitched for all four of the A's full-season affiliates and was brilliant at every stop, posting a 1.22 ERA and striking out 71 while walking eight in 51.2 innings. He saved 18 games during the regular season and then pitched well for Midland during the post-season. Storey also pitched well during the Arizona Fall League. This will be Storey's first Opening Day as a professional. The 2008 31st round pick was at extended spring training at this time last year.

Storey will be joined in the late innings by Jared Lansford, who served as the Rockhounds' closer for much of last season. Lansford struggled with his command for most of last season, but he was able to use his heavy sinker to work his way out of a lot of tight spots. Lansford had a 2.36 ERA and 12 saves for Midland despite having a 29:20 K:BB ratio.

Justin Friend pitched alongside Storey in the Arizona Fall League last October and acquitted himself well. The Tracy native spent most of last season pitching near home in Stockton, but he did finish the year with Midland. Friend struggled with the Rockhounds in his first taste of Double-A, posting a 7.71 ERA in nine innings, but he struck-out 11 and the A's are expecting better results from Friend in Midland in 2010.

Returning to Midland for a second year is Arnold Leon, who posted a 3.51 ERA in 74.1 innings for the Rockhounds as a 20-year-old last season. Leon actually had more success as a starter last season than as a reliever, but the A's are starting Leon back in the bullpen in order to prevent over-working the Mexican native. Leon has pitched in the winter leagues for each of the past three off-seasons, and the A's want to ensure that he doesn't throw too many innings at a young age. Look for him to move into the starting rotation at some point during the season.

Jason Ray and Derrick Gordon join Midland after spending most of last season in Stockton's bullpen. Ray posted a 2.25 ERA for Kane County and Stockton in his first full season back on the mound after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2007. Ray was dominant, allowing only 29 hits in 44 innings. Gordon gets the promotion to Midland after two years as a workhorse in the Stockton bullpen. The only lefty in the Midland bullpen, Gordon had a 3.78 ERA and 90 strike-outs in 85.2 innings last season. He was also one of the leaders in the Stockton clubhouse.

Completing the Midland bullpen will be right-hander Beau Vaughan, who signed with the A's this off-season as a minor league free agent. Vaughan was in the Texas Rangers' chain last season and he had a 3.77 ERA in 62 innings for Triple-A Oklahoma City and Double-A Frisco. Vaughan is also the author of a popular blog, "Beau knows diddy," on the MLBlogs network.

Coaching Staff

The Rockhounds return their entire coaching staff from the 2009 championship squad. Manager Darren Bush leads the way. Bush is quickly becoming a hot managerial prospect, having won league championships in each of the past two years (he won with Stockton in 2008). Bush, a former minor league catcher, managed in the independent leagues before joining the A's organization as a hitting coach in 2005 and 2006 with Stockton. Bush took the helm as the manager of the Ports in 2007 and is 218-202 over the last three seasons.

Bush's hitting coach is Webster Garrison, who is a longtime coach in the A's system. Garrison has served as a hitting coach or manager in the A's system every year since 1999. Garrison had a 13-year minor league playing career and he played in five games for the A's in 1996. Garrison has coached three Texas League MVPs while with Midland, Adam Piatt, Andre Ethier and Chris Carter.

Scott Emerson begins his fourth season as the pitching coach for Midland. Emerson has coached in the A's system since 2003, when he was the pitching coach for the Modesto A's. He spent two seasons with Modesto and two with Stockton before joining Midland. Emerson has coached a number of top young pitchers during his time with the A's, including most recently Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill and Henry Rodriguez.


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