The Midland Rockhounds, Double A affiliate of the Oakland A’s have fared somewhat better than their Single A counterparts in Stockton. But Double A is supposed to be the point at which many prospects are separated from those destined to make it to the show and succeed, and those destined to labor in the minor leagues for the bulk or all of their careers. Right now it seems the Rockhounds are full of important pieces of the A’s future who are at or nearing that very crossroads. The Rockhounds played .500 ball during the 70 games of the 1st half of the regular season, and so far are struggling with a 6-11 record in the second half.
There are many more names that would be familiar to those A’s fans who aren’t minor league gurus on the Rockhounds than there are with the Ports, names like James Simmons, Brett Hunter, Josh Horton, and even former A’s starting 3rd baseman Luke Hughes. But names like Sonny Gray, Michael Choice, and Tyler Ladendorf are the ones who still have a chance to be impact players with the A’s on some level.
Michael Choice was the A’s 1st round selection in 2010 and absolutely tore the cover off the ball in his first full professional season with the Stockton Ports last season and earned a promotion to Midland to start this season. Let’s just say Choice is experiencing some adjustment issues. In 2011 with Stockton Choice hit .285/.376/.542, which translated to 30 home runs and 82 RBI in 118 games. In 2012 with Midland though Choice is hitting .265/.333/.380 with just 7 home runs and 48 runs driven in. His raw power that made him such an exciting draft pick in 2010 has seemingly taken a hiatus for 2012 in the Texas League. Choice was on track I believe for an easy 2013 arrival in Oakland, and even an outside shot at a September call up in 2012, but at this point he may not even make it out of Midland until sometime next season.
Shane Peterson had a very successful 48 games in Midland with an impressive .274/.441/.420 line that earned him a promotion to Triple A Sacramento. Peterson is the forgotten name acquired in the faulty attempt to save face by trading Matt Holliday in 2009, but he has a chance to at least net the A’s a solid Major League outfielder. His career OBP numbers indicate that he can be a very useful piece of a winning puzzle. I would expect to see Peterson finish out this season in Sacramento, start there again next year, and if successful he may find himself in Oakland next year at some point.
Sonny Gray dazzled the Texas League in a cameo appearance last season, registering a 0.45 ERA in 20 innings with Midland. This season has been a different story though as he has struggled quite a bit with a 2-7 record and a 5.02 ERA in 16 starts. Gray looked to be on the super fast track to Oakland, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had blown away the scouts during Spring Training this year and broke camp with the A’s. I know that was a far fetched thought, but it seemed possible. At this point Gray’s struggles in Double A most likely have set him back a year or so in his movement through the organization. If he can get himself back on track for the remainder of 2012, perhaps he can still start 2013 in Sacramento and find himself in Oakland by 2014 or even late 2013.
The aforementioned Luke Hughes was demoted to Double A to make room on the Triple A roster, and he hasn’t reacted well since. It’s hard to believe the A’s are a .500 team right now considering they had a guy start at 3rd for them at one point who is now hitting .179 in Double A. Granted it’s an extremely small sample size, but Hughes didn’t really produce in Sacramento either. His future at this point will be struggling to stay afloat in baseball unfortunately.
The man known as @Baseclogger can be found in Midland as well, the incomparable Jeremy Barfield plays right field for the Rockhounds. He’s been productive with a .273/.321/.403 line, but he’ll have to step that production way up if he wants to become anything beyond the 25th man on a MLB roster.
Not to be melodramatic, but right now the future of the Oakland A’s depends on the success of the Midland Rockhounds. Michael Choice and Sonny Gray are supposed to be two cornerstones of the Oakland Athletics for years to come, and right now they’re struggling to a point that makes everyone wonder if they’ll ever make that kind of impact. Let’s hope Steve Scarsone and company have the magic touch to get their careers back on track.