The Oakland Athletics announced their 2014 minor league field staff lineup, with Aaron Nieckula set to return for a second season as manager of the RockHounds (Oakland's class Double-A affiliate).
"Nuke" will be joined by an experienced field staff - - - pitching coach Don Schulze, hitting coach Webster Garrison and Athletic Trainer Justin Whitehouse. Schulze enters his fourth season as the team's pitching coach, and Whitehouse begins his seventh season with the club. Garrison joins the 'Hounds as the team's hitting coach after spending the last three seasons managing the Stockton Ports (Oakland's affiliate in the Advanced-A California League). "Webby's" return marks his third tour of duty with the RockHounds, continuing perhaps the most unique individual association of the A's era (see page two).
The RockHounds open the Texas League season (the 43rd in franchise history and 16th as an A's affiliate) on April 3, 2014, at Security Bank Ballpark.
Aaron Nieckula - Manager
The 2014 season will be Nieckula's ninth as a manager on the A's "farm." While the 'Hounds struggled to a fourth-place finish in both halves of the 2013 Texas League season, finishing at 62-78, it marked just the third time in which his club did not qualify for the postseason.
Prior to his promotion to Double-A in 2013, six of Nuke's first seven managerial assignments came in the (Single-A) Midwest League (he also managed one season at the Advanced-A level with the Stockton Ports of the California League). In those six seasons his teams (Kane County and Burlington) reached the playoffs five times, including the 2006 Midwest League championship series.
Of Nieckula's 16 seasons in professional baseball, 15 have been spent with the A's (the first four as a player), with 2014 representing his 11th season as a coach or manager in the Athletics organization.
Oakland's 22nd round selection in the 1998 draft out of the University of Illinois, Aaron played four seasons on Oakland's farm (1998-2001), including a brief stint (12 games) with the RockHounds in 2001. 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.
Nieckula rejoined the A's organization in 2004 as a member of the Kane County Cougars' field staff. After two seasons as the team's hitting coach, he was named field manager of the Midwest League club in 2006.
The Illinois native (born in Berwyn and makes his home in Aurora) was an All-Big Ten 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.
Nuke's best season as a pro came in 2000, when he hit .262 with 34 RBI for Oakland's two clubs in the California League (Visalia and Modesto). He spent most of 2001 with the same two clubs (in addition to a dozen games with the RockHounds).
|Year||Team||League||Class||1st H||2nd H||W-L||Pct.||Div. Finsh||Overall||Playoffs|
|2006||Kane County||Midwest||A||40-29||39-31||79-60||.568||2nd / T-2||2nd (14)||Reached MWL Champ. Series|
|2007||Kane County||Midwest||A||24-45||39-31||63-76||.453||7th / 4th||10th (14)||Did Not Qualify|
|2008||Kane County||Midwest||A||39-29||33-37||72-66||.522||2nd / 6th||T-6 (14)||Reached First Round|
|2009||Stockton||Cal||Adv-A||25-45||36-34||61-79||.436||5th / 3rd||T-7 (10)||Did Not Qualify|
|2010||Kane County||Midwest||A||32-37||39-30||71-67||.515||6th / 2nd||9 (16)||Reached MWL Semi-Finals|
|2011||Burlington||Midwest||A||45-25||31-37||76-62||.551||1st / 5th||T-4 (16)||Reached first round|
|2012||Burlington||Midwest||A||32-37||35-35||67-72||.482||6th / 3rd||11 (16)||Reached first round|
|2013||RockHounds||Texas||AA||33-37||29-41||62-78||.443||4th / 4th||8 (8)||Did Not Qualify|
"I am extremely excited to be managing the RockHounds again and look forward to working with my staff, the players, and the front office in our quest to have a successful 2014 season. The people of West Texas have tremendous appreciation for this game, and it shows through the support they offer us. It is a true blessing to be able to manage in such a great community, in one of the finest ballparks in the minor leagues!" - - - Aaron Nieckula
Don Schulze - Pitching Coach
Don enters his ninth season as a pitching coach in the A's organization and his fourth with the RockHounds, second in tenure during the A's affiliation behind Scott Emerson's five seasons (see below). While serving as the 'Hounds' pitching coach, and in the past two seasons in particular, Schulze has been instrumental in a remarkable progression of young pitchers who have made a rapid ascent to the Major Leagues. Four members of the 2012 RockHounds pitching staff have not only reached the big leagues, but have become key components of the A's back-to-back American League West division titles. A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily and Sonny Gray have won a combined 38 games for the A's (Griffin was a 14-game winner in 2013, and Straily won 10 games for Oakland), while Sean Doolittle has (in just two seasons as a pitcher) become one of the top relievers in the American League.
A former first round draft choice of the Chicago Cubs, Don joined the A's organization in 2006, serving as pitching coach for the organization's Arizona Rookie League club. He spent the next two seasons with Kane County of the (Single-A) Midwest League before being promoted to the Stockton Ports of the (Advanced-A) California League (2009-10).
Selected 11th overall by Chicago in the 1980 draft, Schulze 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 makes his home in Dixon, IL.
Webster Garrison - Hitting Coach
This will be "Webby's" 10th season as a member of the RockHounds. The association dates back to 1999, the inaugural season of the A's affiliation (and the RockHounds era), when he served as a player-coach (he became the team's full-time hitting coach in 2000). After managing at the Single-A level for three seasons, Garrison returned in 2004 as the 'Hounds' field manager, the first of seven consecutive seasons with the club. In that time, he managed twice (2004 and 2008) and served as hitting coach for five seasons. Four of those clubs reached the playoffs, including the franchise's only two outright Texas League championship teams (2005 and 2009).
Including his two seasons leading the RockHounds, Garrison has been a field manager in eight of his 16 seasons as a member of Oakland's minor league staff (including his 1999 season as a player-coach). He managed at the Short-A and Single-A levels from 2001-2003 and spent the last three seasons guiding the Stockton Ports of the (Advanced-A) California League. In two seasons managing the 'Hounds, Webby's clubs went 147-133 (the sixth-best winning percentage in franchise history), narrowly missing a playoff berth in 2008.
Originally selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the second round of the 1983 draft, Garrison's playing career spanned 16 seasons, including five games for the Oakland A's in the Major Leagues in 1996.
A Louisiana native, Webby was born (and continues to make his home) in Marrero, LA.
Justin Whitehouse - Athletic Trainer
The "senior" member of the field staff, Justin returns for his seventh season with the RockHounds and his 14th as an athletic trainer with Oakland.
He joined the A's minor league training staff in 2001 and spent his first two seasons in the (Advanced-A) California League with the Visalia Oaks. When Oakland moved one of its Single-A affiliates to the Midwest League, Justin made the move as well, spending the next five seasons (2003-07) with the Kane County Cougars, where he was named Midwest League Athletic Trainer of the Year in his final season with the club. A promotion to the Double-A RockHounds followed in 2008, a season in which he was also selected to work the prestigious Arizona Fall League.
A native of Stockton, California, Justin is a graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno, where his wife, Susan, is a member of the Wolfpack's Athletic Hall of Fame (swimming & diving). A Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC), Justin earned his master's degree at San Diego State University.
RockHounds Alumni Notes
Curt Young and Darren Bush are members of Oakland's Major League staff. Curt, recognized as one of the finest pitching coaches in Major League Baseball, returned to Oakland last season after spending one season in Boston, guiding Oakland's staff to the American League's second-best team ERA in 2013 (3.56). The former Major Leaguer (1983-1993, most of that time with Oakland) served as RockHounds pitching coach for three seasons (2000-2002). The most successful manager in franchise history, "Bushy" guided the RockHounds to (franchise first) back-to-back appearances in the Texas League Championship Series, winning the title in the first of those appearances (2009). Darren was named A's bullpen coach last season.
Scott Emerson was the RockHounds' pitching coach for five seasons (2007-2011), the longest tenure in that position during the A's affiliation. "Emo" now enters his second season as Oakland's Minor League Roving Pitching Instructor.
Former RockHounds manager (2007) Todd Steverson was named the Chicago White Sox' new hitting coach on October 31.
Steve Scarsone, who managed the RockHounds in 2011 and 2012, returns for his second season as Oakland's Triple-A manager (Sacramento). His staff includes another former 'Hounds manager (2003), Greg Sparks, who returns as hitting coach for the Pacific Coast League RiverCats,
After serving as the 'Hounds' hitting coach last season, Brian McArn assumes the same role with Oakland's Advanced-A club, the Stockton Ports.
Tommy Everidge joins pitching coach Craig Lefferts on the field staff of Oakland's Short-A club, the Vermont Lake Monsters (New York-Penn League). Tommy played parts of three seasons with the 'Hounds (2007-2009), belting 22 home runs with 115 RBI in 2008, including a 10-RBI game at Tulsa (he is one of only seven players in the Texas League's 125-year history to collect 10 or more RBI in a single game). "Lefty" not only served as pitching coach for the RockHounds (2003), he also pitched for the franchise as a member of the Cubs in 1981 on the way to a 12-year big league career.
Two other 'Hounds alums are now serving as hitting coaches for Oakland. Lloyd Turner, who played for Von Hayes' 2005 Texas League championship team, is in his second year with the (Single-A) Beloit Snappers, and Gabriel Ortiz (remarkably popular despite seeing only limited action as a back-up catcher in 2009 and 2010) will begin his coaching career with Oakland's club in the Arizona Rookie League.