MIDLAND, TX --- It has often been said that "catchers make the best managers" and, in fact, 11 current Major League managers once wore the "tools of ignorance." The RockHounds' new field boss, and a former catcher for the 'Hounds, is hoping to someday join that fraternity.
The Oakland A's, Major League parent club of the RockHounds, today announced that Aaron Nieckula (nih-KOO-luh) will lead the Athletics' Double-A affiliate in the 2013 Texas League season, becoming the team's new field manager. Joining Nieckula on the 'Hounds' field staff are pitching coach Don Schulze, hitting coach Brian McArn and Athletic Trainer Justin Whitehouse.
Nieckula succeeds Stave Scarsone, who moves up to Triple-A Sacramento after two seasons managing the RockHounds. The vacancy at AAA was created when former RockHounds manager Darren Bush (2009-10) was promoted to Oakland for the 2013 season (see page two).
AARON NIECKULA - MANAGER
Oakland's 22nd round selection in the 1998 draft out of the University of Illinois, Aaron spent four seasons on Oakland's "farm" (1998-2001) before concluding his playing career with the San Francisco Giants organization in 2002. His playing career with the A's included a brief stop (12 games) with the RockHounds in 2001.
He rejoined the A's system in 2004 as hitting coach for Kane County of the (Single-A) Midwest League and, after two seasons in that capacity, was named the Cougars' field manager in 2006. He now enters his eighth season as a minor league manager in the Oakland organization. Of Nieckula's 15 seasons in professional baseball, 14 have been with the A's (the first four as a player) with 2013 representing his 10th season as a coach or manager.
Six of his seven managerial assignments have been in the Midwest League (Kane County and Burlington), and each of those six clubs reached the playoffs, with Nieckula twice guiding his team to the league championship series (2006 and 2010). He also managed one season (2009) in the (Advanced-A) California League with the Stockton Ports.
The Illinois native (he was born in Berwyn and makes his home in Aurora) was an All-Big 10 selection in his senior season (1998) at the University of Illinois, hitting .331 with five home runs, 44 RBI and 17 stolen bases for the Illini.
His best season as a pro came in 2000, when he hit .262 with 34 RBI for Oakland's two clubs, Visalia and Modesto, in the California League. He spent most of 2001 with the same two clubs and also appeared in a dozen games with the RockHounds, He was subsequently selected by San Francisco in the 2001 Rule 5 minor league draft and reached the Double-A and Triple-A levels with the Giants in 2002, the final season of his playing career.
DON SCHULZE - PITCHING COACH
Don returns for his third season as RockHounds pitching coach after a remarkable 2012 season in which three members of his staff went on to reach the Major Leagues. A.J. Griffin was the 'Hounds' opening night starter but finished the year in Oakland's rotation (he was the A's starter in game four of the American League Division Series versus the World Series champion Detroit Tigers). Dan Straily enjoyed a breakout year, leading all of Minor League Baseball in strikeouts and making three starts in The Show. Reliever Sean Doolittle, a converted position player, provided one of the season's best storylines. In his first full season as a pitcher, the lefty dominated in the minors and, like Griffin, was with Oakland throughout the drive to the American League West pennant and on into the playoffs, striking out 60 big league batters in 47.1 innings (regular season). Doolittle's Major League debut came in his 18th professional appearance on the mound.
A former first round draft choice of the Chicago Cubs, Schulze enters his eighth season as a pitching coach in the Oakland organization.
He joined the A's in 2006, serving as pitching coach for the organization's Arizona Rookie League club. Don spent the next two seasons with Kane County of the (Single-A) Midwest League before joining the staff of the (Advanced-A California League) Stockton Ports in 2009.
Selected 11th overall by Chicago in the 1980 draft, Don spent parts of five seasons (1983-89) in the big leagues, pitching for the Cubs, Indians, Mets, Yankees and Padres (he also pitched for the Orix Blue Wave in Japan's major leagues). Ironically, he never pitched at the Double-A level for Chicago, whose AA club during that time was the Midland Cubs. An Illinois native, born in Roselle, Don now makes his home in Dixon.
BRIAN MCARN - HITTING COACH
Now in his 16th season with the A's organization, "Mac" returns to the RockHounds for a second tour of duty as Oakland's Double-A hitting coach after serving in the same capacity with the 'Hounds in 2004.
His extensive résumé with the A's also includes six seasons as the hitting coach for the (Triple-A) Sacramento RiverCats (2005-10) and eight seasons in two stints at the Advanced-A level with Oakland's California League clubs in Modesto (1998-2003) and Stockton (2011-12).
Brian was Oakland's 26th round draft choice in 1991, following an outstanding career at the University of Nebraska. He was the Cornhuskers' top hitter in both 1990 (.354) and 1991 (.393) and ranks eighth all-time in school history with a career .369 mark (coincidentally, former RockHounds Jed Morris and Dan Johnson rank ninth and tenth in Huskers' history). Brian's pro career lasted just two seasons before being cut short due to injuries.
Before joining the A's organization, the California native (born in Davis and makes his home in Elk Grove) coached at American River Junior College in Sacramento and with the Vermont Expos, (at that time) Montreal's Short-A club in the New York-Penn League.
JUSTIN WHITEHOUSE - ATHLETIC TRAINER
The "senior" member of the field staff, Justin returns for his sixth season with the RockHounds and his 13th as an Athletic Trainer with Oakland.
He was named RockHounds Athletic Trainer in 2008 and was also selected to work the Arizona Fall League that season. He joined the A's in 2001 and spent his first two seasons in the (Advanced-A) California League with Visalia. Oakland then moved one of its Single-A affiliates to the Midwest League, and he spent the next five seasons (2003-07) with the Kane County Cougars, where he was named 2007 Midwest League Athletic Trainer of the Year in his final season with the club.
A native of Stockton, California, Justin is a graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno (where his wife, Susan, is an Athletic Hall of Fame member and is now a member of the Wolf Pack's swimming and diving team's coaching staff) and earned his Master's Degree at San Diego State University.
ROCKHOUNDS ALUMNI NOTES
After enjoying remarkable success as a minor league manager, "Bushy" has been named Oakland's bullpen coach for the 2013 season. Between 2008 and 2012, each of his clubs reached the playoffs, the first two winning league championships - - - Stockton (Advanced-A California League) in 2008 and the RockHounds (Double-A Texas League) in '09. He took the 'Hounds back to the Texas League Championship Series (a franchise first back-to-back trips to the title series) before winning division titles with Sacramento in the (Triple-A) Pacific Coast League each of the last two seasons.
Curt Young returned to Oakland as Major League pitching coach last season after one season in Boston. His return certainly can be considered a key factor in the A's capturing the AL West crown. Oakland posted the second-best ERA in the American League in 2012 (3.48, trailing only Tampa Bay's 3.17 and 27 points lower than World Series champion Detroit). During Curt's first stint with Oakland (2004-2010), A's pitchers had the lowest collective ERA (4.03) and the lowest opponent batting average (.257) of any American League club. Curt served as RockHounds pitching coach for three seasons (2000-2002) as part of Tony DeFrancesco's staff. His first 'Hounds staff (2000) posted the franchise's lowest ERA in 15 years (4.60) and lowered that figure by 20 points (4.40) in 2001, both of those seasons at the "old" ballpark (Christensen Stadium). In the first season at (then) First American Bank Ballpark, 'Hounds pitchers posted a 3.38 team ERA. Curt pitched for 11 seasons in the big leagues (1983-93), most of that time with Oakland.
A familiar face will likely return to Citibank Ballpark in 2013. "Emo" is among the longest-tenured pitching coaches in franchise history, serving in that role for four seasons with the RockHounds (2007-10). He has been named Oakland's Minor League Roving Pitching Instructor for the 2013 season after two years on Darren Bush's staff in Sacramento.
"Webby" returns to Stockton for his third season as field manager for the Ports of the (Advanced-A) California League. The Ports struggled to a 56-84 mark in 2012 after reaching the playoffs in Webby's first season. He was a member of the 'Hounds as a player, coach, or manager in nine of the team's first 13 seasons, managing the club in 2004 and 2008, and served as hitting coach for each of the 'Hounds' four playoff clubs between 2005 and 2010.
"Casey At The Bat" played parts of four seasons with the RockHounds between 2004 and 2008, and was a key member of the 2005 Texas League championship club, batting .348 in the playoffs. Now in his fifth season as a hitting instructor with Oakland, Casey moves up to full-season Single-A after four seasons at the Short-Season A level. He will serve as hitting coach for the Beloit (Wisconsin) Snappers, Oakland's new Midwest League affiliate.