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Midland RockHounds

Midland Notebook: RockHounds in contention

The Midland RockHounds have kept their heads above water despite injury issues and remain firmly in contention for a first-half division title. We check-in with the Oakland A’s Double-A affiliate.

Yairo Munoz / Photo by Chris Lockard
Yairo Munoz has been hot at the plate. / Photo by Chris Lockard

Overview

The Midland RockHounds treaded water for most of the month of May and find themselves two games over .500 (29-27) and two games back of the first-place San Antonio Missions as of Monday.

The RockHounds continue to be among the league leaders in several offensive categories. Midland ranks first in the Texas League in team batting (.274), team OBP (.350), hits (525), triples (21) and runs scored (288, or 5.14 per game). Midland is second in the league in SLG (.418), tied for first in doubles (107) and is second in walks (215). The RockHounds are in the middle of the pack in homers (42), strike-outs (423) and stolen bases (44).

On the mound, the RockHounds have struggled at times. Midland is third-to-last in team ERA with a 4.16 mark. Midland pitchers are second-to-last in strike-outs with 412 and have issued the second-most walks (177). Midland is dead last in WHIP with a 1.45 mark. They have allowed the second-fewest number of homeruns, however, and RockHounds’ relievers lead the league in saves with 17.

Monday is a league-wide off-day and Midland travels to San Antonio to begin an important four-game set with the Missions starting on Tuesday. They then return to Midland on Friday to begin an eight-game homestand.

Comings and Goings

After a relatively quiet month for transactions in April, the RockHounds were busy in May.

The transactions began on May 2, when utilityman Melvin Mercedes returned from Triple-A Nashville. His stay with the RockHounds was brief, as he returned to Nashville four days later. On May 3, Midland’s offense and infield defense received a boost with the arrival of Yairo Munoz from Extended Spring Training, where he had been rehabbing a hamstring injury. Then on May 6, the RockHounds welcomed starter Brett Graves into the rotation from High-A Stockton.

Things were relatively quiet for the next 10 days, with the only roster change coming when Joe Bennie asked for and was granted his release on May 13. On May 18, reliever Jake Sanchez returned from the disabled list after missing roughly three weeks recovering from a line-drive that hit him in the head.

The roster really started to change on May 20. On that day, reliever Carlos Navas joined the team from Stockton and left-hander Cody Stull was sent to Stockton in Navas’ place. On May 25, right-hander Chris Jensen made a brief appearance with the team, staying with Midland for two days before returning to Nashville. Jensen had a crazy two weeks in May when he went from Nashville to Stockton to Midland and back to Nashville again. Also on May 25, Midland bid adieu to two key members of their 2016 championship squad: Corey Walter and Sanchez. Both earned long-overdue promotions to Nashville.

Evan Manarino was added to the Midland roster from Stockton on May 29 to take a spot in the rotation. Joel Seddon left Midland to make a spot start for Nashville and later returned to the RockHounds’ roster on June 3.

Injuries hit the Midland roster hard the final week of May. Starter James Naile suffered an oblique strain on May 20, but he wasn’t officially placed on the DL until May 31. The RockHounds then lost their entire starting middle infield to injury on May 30, when Richie Martin (broken nose) and Max Schrock (hamstring/Achillies) were both hurt. Replacing Naile, Martin and Schrock on the Midland roster were a trio of veterans: Beau Taylor, Jermaine Curtis and Kenny Wilson. Taylor and Curtis came from Extended Spring Training, while Wilson was sent down from Nashville.

Who’s Hot

Twelve days after arriving in Midland from Extended Spring Training, Yairo Munoz was batting .186. He put together two two-hit games in a row on May 15 and 16 and hasn’t looked back since. Through Sunday, Munoz was hitting .308/.336/.550 with four homers and seven stolen bases in 29 games played. One of the most well-rounded talents in the A’s system, Munoz is in his second season with Midland. Now 22 years old, he may be putting together a breakthrough season. He was named to MLB Pipeline’s Prospect Team of the Week on Monday.

Outfielder Tyler Marincov continues to be a consistent force in the middle of the Midland line-up. He is batting .325 with three homers and 12 RBI over his last 10 games and is sitting on a seven-game hitting streak. For the season, Marincov has a .277/.371/.511 line with nine homeruns. He has already walked 28 times in 52 games after walking only 55 times in 137 games last season.

First baseman Viosergy Rosa has a five-game hitting streak and he has upped his OPS from 630 at the end of April to 780 as of Sunday. Rosa hit .284 in May and is batting .313 in the early going in June. His nine homeruns already match his season total from last year.

Before injuring his leg initially on May 24 and then aggravating it on May 30, Max Schrock was one of the hottest hitters in the Texas League. When he returns from the DL, he will be riding a nine-game hitting streak. In the game on May 30, Schrock had four hits despite the leg injury. He hit .371 in 22 games in May to up his season average to .304.

Outfielder Brett Vertigan has been the RockHounds’ most consistent hitter all season. He is batting .282 over his last 10 games and .299 on the year. Vertigan leads all Midland regulars with a .390 OBP and he is fifth in the league in that category. Rosa, Vertigan and Marincov are third, fourth and fifth, respectively, in the league in walks.

Catcher Beau Taylor has given the RockHounds an instant boost since arriving on May 31. He has hit safely in all five games he has played and has eight hits and a walk in 16 official at-bats. Three of those hits have gone for extra bases. Kenny Wilson (six hits and three walks in 19 official at-bats) and Jermaine Curtis (three extra-base hits and three walks in five games) have also contributed since joining the roster.

Reliever Lou Trivino continues to have a strong season at the backend of the Midland bullpen. Trivino is 6-0 and has a 1.42 ERA. He hasn’t allowed a run over his last 6.1 innings and he has a 26:7 K:BB this year.

With Sanchez off to Nashville, Kyle Finnegan has taken over as closer for the RockHounds, a role he performed in admirably while Sanchez was on the DL. He has allowed just one run over his last 8.2 innings and he hasn’t walked a batter during that stretch. Finnegan’s walks are way down in general this season. He has walked just six in 24.2 innings after walking 32 in 63.2 innings last year. Finnegan has already matched is career-high in saves with seven and he has a 2.55 ERA.

As he was last season, Sam Bragg continues to be a steady force in the Midland bullpen. Bragg has a 2.87 ERA over his last 15.2 innings and a 2.33 ERA in 27 innings for the season. He has a 25:6 K:BB and he has allowed just two homeruns.

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