The Oakland Athletics didn't play as late into October as they hoped, but the A's captured their second consecutive American League West championship and met the Detroit Tigers in a dramatic American League Division Series.
Oakland's roster for the ALDS included eight former RockHounds:
Brett Anderson (2008), Daric Barton (2005), Jerry Blevins (2007), Sean Doolittle (2008, 12), Josh Donaldson (2009), Sonny Gray (2011,12), Dan Straily (2012), Kurt Suzuki (2006)
While an injury cost him a spot on Oakland's post-season roster, A.J. Griffin won 14 games for the A's in the regular season (14-10, 3.83), second on the club only to Bartolo Colon (18).
Adding Griffin to the eight alums on the ALDS roster … four-of-the-nine played here in 2012 (Griffin, Doolittle, Gray, and Straily). A fifth member of the 2012 RockHounds, Michael Choice, also appeared for the A's at the big league level in 2013. The former UT-Arlington star was a September call-up and is Oakland's top outfield prospect.
Two other 'Hounds alums also appeared in the playoffs. Vin Mazzaro had an outstanding season in Pittsburgh's bullpen, helping the Pirates reach the playoffs for the first time since 1992 (one of baseball's great stories), while Andre Ethier and the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Atlanta Braves before falling to St. Louis in the National League Championship Series. Mazzaro pitched for the RockHounds in 2008, posting a 12-3 mark with a franchise-record 1.90 earned run average. He is the only Cubs, Angels, or RockHounds pitcher to be named Texas League Pitcher of the Year. Ethier, the 2005 Texas League Player of the Year, had a breakout season with the 'Hounds, one which led almost directly to The Show. Andre was traded from the A's to Los Angeles in the off-season and made his big league debut with the Dodgers in '06.
Each of the five former RockHounds who saw significant playing time with Oakland made a major impact with the A's:
Sean Doolittle, in just his second full season as a pitcher, had a 3.30 ERA in 70 relief appearances for Oakland, emerging as one of the American League's top late-inning relievers. Remarkably, the left-hander was drafted out of the University of Virginia as a position player (he was a two-way star with the Cavaliers) and began pitching at the professional level only after being sidelined by a series of injuries. He made his Major League debut on the mound after just 17 minor league appearances (eight of those with the RockHounds).
Sean is also one of just 10 players to be nominated for the 2013 Hutch Award. One of MLB's most prestigious off-the-diamond honors, the annual award (established in 1975) goes to a player who has overcome adversity in his personal and/or professional life, and also recognizes a player's humanitarian service. Three RockHounds alums have been named Hutch Award winners - - - Mark Teahen (2009), Tim Hudson (2010) and Barry Zito (2012). Tim and Barry were members of the 1999 RockHounds; Mark played here in 2004.
Josh Donaldson's emergence as an all-star caliber third baseman might be considered as remarkable a story as Doolittle's transformation. A .232 hitter as a big leaguer entering the season, and a catcher throughout most of his minor league career (including 2009 with the 'Hounds), Josh broke through in 2013. He hit .301, with 24 home runs and 93 RBI, earning both All-Star and MVP consideration (ESPN's David Schoenfield, among many others, ranked Josh among the top five AL MVP candidates).
Sonny Gray was a mid-season call-up, making his Major League debut on July 10 and finishing the regular season at 5-3, 2.67 in 12 games (10 starts) for the A's. Perhaps the best perspective on his season - - - Sonny's first start of 2013 came at (Triple-A) Sacramento against the Las Vegas 51s (six shutout innings). His last two starts came in the ALDS, facing Justin Verlander in both games, and matching one of the great pitchers of this era, virtually pitch-for-pitch. Oakland's top draft choice just two years ago (the 18th player selected overall in 2011) out of Vanderbilt, Sonny suffered a thumb injury (to his non-pitching hand) in Game 5 of the ALDS, and has undergone successful surgery. He is expected to be back … as a top-of-the-rotation candidate … for the Athletics in 2014.
A.J. Griffin's path to the big leagues was similar to Gray's. In 2012, A.J. was the RockHounds' opening night starter at North Little Rock, Arkansas. His last start of that season was in the ALDS, against the Tigers, at Comerica Park in Detroit. In 2013, A.J. picked up where here left off, recording 14 wins (tied for eighth in the AL) and ranking 24th among all eligible AL starters with a 3.83 ERA.
Dan Straily's career has rocketed, beginning with his 2012 breakout campaign. Pitching for the Double-A RockHounds and the Triple-A Sacramento RiverCats, Dan led all of Minor League Baseball in strikeouts (190). In 2013, despite shuttling between the RiverCats and Oakland, he was a 10-game winner for the A's (10-8. 3.96 in 27 starts). He started Game 5 of the ALDS, opposing the Tigers' Doug Fister, going six innings and allowing three runs on four hits, with no walks and eight strikeouts in a no-decision.
Last Word: Congratulations To Three More Texas League Alums … The Boys In Blue
The odds of reaching the Major Leagues as an umpire are far "longer" than those of a player. To then be selected as a member of the World Series umpiring crew is a remarkable achievement and honor. Half of the six-man crew named to work the 2013 Fall Classic is made up of Texas League alums: Dana DeMuth (1979-80), Jim Joyce (1980) and Bill Miller (1993-94). This is DeMuth's fifth Series, tying him for most among active big league umpires. It is the third assignment for Joyce (Dana and Jim also serve as crew chiefs in the regular season) and the second for Miller.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.