When the RockHounds open their 2015 Texas League season (April 9), the team's roster will, quite probably, look very different than the one that captured the third outright league championship in franchise history last September. The club's five-man field staff, too, will undergo a major change with four new members.
The Oakland Athletics today announced that Ryan Christenson will manage the RockHounds in 2015. The former major league outfielder was named the California League Manager of the Year last season after guiding the (Advanced-A) Stockton Ports to an 85-55 record, the league's best mark by a margin of seven games.
Joining Christenson on the RockHounds field staff are pitching coach (and former Major Leaguer) John Wasdin, hitting coach Eric Martins, Athletic Trainer Justin Whitehouse and strength and conditioning coach AJ Seeliger. Entering his eighth season with the club (and his 15th with the Oakland organization), Whitehouse is the only returning member of the 2014 'Hounds field staff.
In just two seasons as a minor league manager (both with the A's), Christenson has put together an outstanding resume, taking both of his clubs to the postseason. In 2013, he led the (Single-A) Beloit Snappers to the Midwest League playoffs with a 77-62 overall record, winning the Western Division first half title with a 43-27 mark.
Stockton opened last season with a second-place finish in the California League's North Division, going 37-33 and finishing eight games behind the Bakersfield Blaze. The Ports then dominated the second half pennant race, winning the North by nine games with a 48-22 record. Among the seven minor leagues employing the split-season format, only the Asheville Tourists of the (Single-A) South Atlantic League had a better half-season record (first or second half) in 2014 (48-21).
The Ports' infield was comprised of four of Oakland's top prospects: (1B) Matt Olsen, (2B) Chad Pinder, (3B) Renato Nunez and (SS) Daniel Robertson (who joined the RockHounds for the Texas League playoffs). Olson, Nunez and Robertson played for Christenson in Beloit in 2013 and Pinder (drafted by Oakland in 2013) joined them in Stockton last season. It now seems very likely they'll make the jump to Double-A with the RockHounds together.
Major League Baseball's web site rates each of the four infielders among Oakland's top six prospects - - - Robertson (#1), Olson (#2), Nunez (#3) and Pinder (#6). Matt Chapman, who appeared with the 'Hounds in the postseason and was named Texas League Playoff MVP by Minor League Baseball, could also be in the "mix" in 2015. The third baseman, Oakland's first round draft choice in 2014, is rated the A's # 4 prospect by MLB.com.
Christenson's role in the development of Oakland's "all-prospect infield" has been significant, to say the least, and their collective "arrival" at Double-A with the 'Hounds should provide a remarkable storyline to open the 2015 season.
The RockHounds begin defense of their Texas League title on April 9, 2015, at Security Bank Ballpark. The season marks the franchise's 44th year overall (beginning in 1972) and its 17th as Oakland's Double-A affiliate, the longest-tenured affiliation in franchise history.
RYAN CHRISTENSON - MANAGER
The 40-year-old native of Redlands, California (he now makes his home in Tyrone, Georgia), was selected by Oakland in the 10th round of the 1998 draft out of Pepperdine University (Malibu, CA) and spent parts of six seasons (1998-2003) in the Major Leagues (452 games). He spent the majority of his career with Oakland, appearing in 351 games with the A's between 1998 and 2001. The centerfielder also played for the Arizona Diamondbacks (2001) and Milwaukee Brewers (2002) before finishing his big league playing career with the Texas Rangers in 2003.
He was a member of Oakland's American League West championship club in 2000 and appeared in two games in the AL Division Series versus the New York Yankees (Ryan went 1-for-2 with an RBI single off Dwight Gooden in Game 4). The following year, he was traded from the A's to Arizona in mid-June and spent the rest of the season with the Diamondbacks, who went on to win the 2001 World Series (he was not on the postseason roster).
Ryan Christenson: Minor League Managerial Record (162-117)
||1st / 3rd
Lost to Quad Cities 2-1, in semifinals
||2nd / 1st
||Lost to Visalia 2-0, in first round
JOHN WASDIN - PITCHING COACH
The former Major Leaguer enters his fifth season as a pitching coach in the A's organization. He spent two seasons (2011-12) at the Short Season Single-A level before moving up to the (Single-A) Midwest League with the Beloit Snappers in 2013 and the Advanced-A (California League) Stockton Ports in 2014, working with new RockHounds manager Ryan Christenson in each of the last two seasons.
The return to the A's was a "homecoming" for the 42-year-old native of Fort Belvoir, Virginia (John now makes his home in Jacksonville, Florida). He was Oakland's first round draft choice in 1993, selected 25th overall after his junior season at Florida State University. The right-hander went on to a 12-year career in the Major Leagues (1995-2007), pitching for seven clubs (primarily Boston and the Texas Rangers). His career record was 39-39 and a 5.28 earned run average, with 19 of his wins coming in a Red Sox uniform (he also appeared in the 1998 and 1999 ALDS, both versus Cleveland, with Boston). He went to the Red Sox in 1997 in a one-for-one (plus cash) trade that sent Jose Canseco back to the A's. In addition to his time in "the Show," Wasdin spent two seasons (2002 and 2009) in Japan's major leagues and fashioned a perfect game with (Triple-A) Nashville in 2003.
ERIC MARTINS - HITTING COACH
While entering his first season as a hitting coach for the A's, Martins' connection with the organization dates back two decades. He was Oakland's 17th round draft choice in 1994 out of Long Beach State University and spent seven seasons as a player on the A's farm, reaching the Triple-A level. He spent parts of three seasons at the Double-A level (with Huntsville of the Southern League), the last of those seasons being 1998, the year before the RockHounds became the A's Double-A affiliate. Eric completed his playing career with three seasons at the independent level and one in Italy (2004).
Martins joins the 'Hounds field staff after serving as a territorial scout for Oakland, covering the Southern California region, one of the most talent-rich and important geographical areas in the country. The 42-year-old California native makes his home in Diamond Bar, CA.
JUSTIN WHITEHOUSE - ATHLETIC TRAINER
The "senior" member of the field staff, Justin returns for his eighth season with the RockHounds and his 15th 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.
A J SEELIGER - STRENGTH & CONDITIONING COACH
This is Seeliger's third season with the A's organization and his third as a member of Ryan Christenson's staff. He was with Beloit in 2013, Stockton in 2014, and now joins Ryan (and John Wasdin) in moving up to the Double-A level with the RockHounds.
A J is a graduate of Washington State University (Pullman, WA) and earned his masters degree at A.T. Still University (Kirksville, Missouri).
ROCKHOUNDS FIELD STAFF ALUMNI NOTES
OAKLAND: There are now three field staff alums in "the Show" with Oakland, with former RockHounds pitching coach Scott Emerson named to the A's big league staff as the club's bullpen coach in October. He replaces Darren Bush, who has been promoted to the position of hitting coach. "Bushy," now in his third season at the Major League level, guided the RockHounds to back-to-back appearances in the Texas League Championship Series (a franchise first), winning the title in the first of those appearances (2009). Curt Young, who served as RockHounds pitching coach for three seasons (2000-2002), returns for his 11th season (in two stints) on Oakland's staff and is recognized as one of Major League Baseball's finest pitching coaches.
NASHVILLE (Triple-A): Steve Scarsone, who managed the RockHounds in 2011 and 2012, returns for his third season at the Triple-A level, with the A's affiliation moving to Nashville after 15 seasons in Sacramento. Joining "Scars" on the Sounds' staff are pitching coach Don Schulze and hitting coach Webster Garrison. Don's promotion follows four seasons with the RockHounds, second only to Scott Emerson's five-season stint as the longest for a pitching coach in the Oakland era. "Webby," meanwhile, departs with arguably the most remarkable resume of the A's / RockHounds era, dating back to 1999 (the first year of the affiliation). Since 2005, he served as the club's hitting coach in five different seasons. Each of those teams reached the playoffs … four advanced to the Texas League Championship Series … and three won the league title (the only three outright titles in franchise history). Also moving up to Triple-A is strength & conditioning coach Terence Brannic, who served in that same capacity with the RockHounds in 2014.
ADVANCED-A (Stockton): Brian McArn, RockHounds hitting coach in 2004 and 2013, returns for his 10th season (in two stints) with the Ports.
SINGLE-A (Beloit): Lloyd Turner, who played for Von Hayes' 2005 Texas League championship team, is in his second year with the (Single-A) Beloit Snappers, and his third overall, as a hitting coach on the A's farm. Also on the Snappers' staff is former 'Hounds Athletic Trainer Brian "Doc" Thorson.
"NUKE": Aaron Nieckula, who guided the RockHounds to the 2014 Texas League championship in his second year as manager of the club, is now Oakland's Minor League Field Coordinator. He will work with A's farmhands in spring training and as a "rover" (visiting each of the full-season clubs) for the first half of the season, then manage the Vermont Lake Monsters, Oakland's affiliate in the Short-A New York-Penn League (season begins after the June draft). Nuke's hitting coach with the Lake Monsters will be Tommy Everidge, now in his second season in that role on the A's farm. Tommy, who played parts of three seasons with the 'Hounds (2007-2009), belted 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). Also coaching at the short-season level for the A's is Gabriel Ortiz (with the RockHounds in parts of 2009-10), who enters his second season with Oakland's club in the Arizona Rookie League.