Monday, June 2, 2008

Players of May

Welcome to the David Coleman Minor League Player of the Month Awards, given to one hitter and one pitcher at each level of the Astros farm system.

Round Rock Express (Triple-A)

Pitcher: Josh Muecke - You may be familiar with Muecke from my previous posts. I won't say much else here about him, besides pointing out that he has a 57-26 ground ball/fly ball ratio and had a WHIP of 1.19. At 26, he SHOULD be dominating Triple-A competition, but he probably deserves a look in the revolving-door pitching staff the Astros have.

Player: Mark Saccomanno, 3B - I mention Bob, er, Mark Saccomanno every other blog entry, it seems. What he's done this month is pretty incredible, though. Sixteen extra-base hits, 40 total hits, 26 RBIs and 18 runs scored. Not bad for the former Baylor Bear. If the Astros ever need a solid infield bat, Saccomanno may be the guy they call up.

Corpus Christi Hooks (Double-A)

Pitcher: Sergio Perez - One of two players picked for this who were returning from injury, Perez has been solid in May. He's started four games and pitched at least three innings in all of them. Perez has also shown great control, with 16 strikeouts and only 3 walks in 18 1/3 innings. His 2-2 record isn't great, but Corpus has been struggling to score runs lately.

Player: Chris Johnson, 3B - Johnson hit well all month long. He finished the month 31 for 95 with seven doubles and three home runs. His 16 RBI tied him with Mitch Einertson for second on the team, one behind Tommy Manzella. Sidenote: Manzella had one of the coolest stat lines I've seen in the past two months. In May, Manzella never struck out more than once in a game. So, he collected all 16 of his strikeouts in 16 different games. On the season, he's only struck out more than once in two games. Pretty cool, no? (I digress because I don't really have anythign meaningful to say about Johnson. He cooled off considerably in the middle of the month before heating up late, much like the rest of the Hooks team).

Salem Avalanche (High-A)

Pitcher: Casey Hudspeth - Hudspeth started six games for Salem, going 2-3 in 39 1/3 innings. His 17 strikeouts aren't inspiring but his seven walks and 1.09 WHIP is encouraging. He looks like a flyball pitcher at this point, so may not have as much success in Corpus, since Salem is such a good pitchers park. Hudspeth is 23, but needs to show continual signs of improvement before being considered a "good" prospect.

Player: James Van Ostrand, 1B/OF - We talked a little about Van Ostrand last week, but he really had a solid May. He hit 4 home runs and 9 doubles, while leading the farm in RBIs with 28 and was second in hits with 37. Plus, as an even bigger bonus, Van Ostrand only struck out 11 times, giving hope that maybe not every Astros prospect is hack-happy.

Lexington Legends (Low-A)

Pitcher: Jeff Icenogle - Icenogle wins the award justifiably, though is probably the weakest winning pitcher on this list. Icenogle came back from injury to start six games in May. He progressively pitched more innings, starting with 1 and ending with 5 1/3. Take away a 6 run outing in the middle and his ERA is much less than the 4.05 it currently sits at. Icenogle has also managed to strike out 21 in his 20 innings and seems to be getting stronger every time out.

Player: Matt Cusick, 3B - The weird thing about Lexington this month? No hitter created more than 16 runs in May for the Legends. Cusick was on top with 16 RC, followed by first baseman Eric Taylor with 14 RC and Collin DeLome with 13. Russell Dixon was excluded from the list after striking out 33 times in 91 at-bats. Cusick only had 78 at-bats this month to create runs with, else his number would have been higher. He apparently took the last week off to learn how to play third base. I'm assuming he left the team to head down to Kissimmee and work with the Astros minor league instructors on the nuances of the hot corner. Maybe the Legends staff tutored him on it, but since he didn't play in a game until Sunday, I'm of the opinion he left for other instructors. At any rate, his return was marked by sounds of trumpets here at Minor Musings, before we saw his stat line: 0 for 4 with FOUR strikeouts. The Golden Sombrero. Considering Cusick had only struck out 11 times previously this season, that game was shocking. Hopefully the stress of learning a new position won't adversely affect his offense.

General Awards

Best Minor League Reliever: Chris Blazek, Corpus Christi - Blazek has been solid in May. In 11 innings, he struck out 16 and walked just one. His ERA of 2.45 was a bit unlucky, as his BABiP was .346 and his FIP came in at a sterling 0.56. I don't trust minor league relievers or, for that matter, college relievers. They've been notoriously streaky in the past decade, but Blazek looks like a solid prospect. At 24, he should probably be bumped up to Triple-A soon and see if he can hang with the big boys.

Most Disappointing May: Yordanny Ramirez, OF, Round Rock - Ramirez should be better. At 24, he's the Astros youngest every day player in Triple-A. While his defense is supposedly incredible, we can only see his offensive statistics and in May, they were truly offensive. In 91 at-bats, he hit .209/.215/.341 while hitting out of the 8-spot in the batting order. He also grounded into four double plays and was caught stealing twice, completely erasing the good of his one successful steal. Oh, he also only walked once in 91 at-bats and only has 3 walks this season. Ugh. No wonder we were able to sign him in the off-season.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Fun in Venezuela

Every weekday, I go through box scores for all the Astros minor league teams to compile stats in my database. The other day, I clicked on the four Astros minor league teams that (I thought) hadn't started play yet. Turns out, of the four (Short Season, Rookie Ball, Dominican Summer League), the Venezuelan Summer League has actually started. In fact, they've been playing since May 16. So, being the intrepid minor league sleuth I am, I looked into the Astros team.

Baseball is much different in Venezuela apparently. The oldest player on the Astros team is 20. He also may be their best prospect, but it's just weird to see so many 17 and 18-year old kids on a team together. Then, I found a 16-year old kid playing professional baseball!! You hear about this all the time, kids signing when they turn 16 or 17 in Latin America, but I'd never seen it like this. Pedro Gomez, 16, is a pitcher who's made one start and four relief appearances. He's been okay, not spectacular, but is only 16! My cousin is 16 and he's a junior in high school. Of course, this used to be more common, signing players young and bringing them to the big leagues when they're 19 or 20. It still blows my mind sometimes, though.

At any rate, let's quickly discuss the three prospects on the team. The three best players on the team are second baseman Ricardo Garcia, 19, first baseman/catcher Luis Alvarez, 18, and pitcher Carlos Quevedo, 18. Garcia is hitting .429 in 35 at-bats this season, with a triple and four doubles to his credit. Alvarez leads the team with two home runs and has a batting average of .349. Quevedo has struck out 10 in 13 1/3 innings with an ERA of 0.66. Obviously, this isn't much to go on yet, but these names are at least interesting to keep in mind. I'll keep updating their stats as the season rumbles along.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Around the Minors

Well, apparently, the Astros are giving Jack Cassel another shot with the big club. Given his numbers pre- and post-promotion at Round Rock, it seems more than fair. With Wandy Rodriguez coming back and Geoff Geary right behind him, it'll make for an interesting roster crunch later this week. Will Cooper consider putting Cassel in the bullpen or moving Brian Moehler back there and putting Cassel in the rotation? I'd hope Cooper is smart enough to give Cassel another shot at the rotation. Maybe the club will send Chris Sampson down to get his head right. He's been much too inconsistent to pitch every fifth day for a team in playoff contention.
(It seems Coop and Wade are going with Cassel in the 'pen. He looked good last night, and I chuckled when the TV guys compared him to Jeremy Piven).

Let's go through some of the leader boards in the minors right now. Jordan Parraz is sixth in walks in the Carolina League and Koby Clemens is sixth in OPS. Orioles first-round pick Matt Wieters leads the Carolina League in OPS right now, noteworthy only because the catcher was chosen 5th overall in the 2007 draft. Chosen 10th (a.k.a when the Astros draft this year)? Giants new pitcher Madison Bumgarner, who shut down Lexington earlier this year.

Staying with the leaders, Matt Cusick is second in OPS and OBP in the South Atlantic League, while Mitch Einertson is third in doubles in the Texas League. Former Texas A&M player Cliff Pennington leads the Texas League in walks with 35 and is second in steals with 19 (no real reason to list that other than alma mater pride). Corpus Christi's Drew Sutton is second in walks with 35 and we'll discuss him more in a bit. Last, but not least, Reggie Abercrombie is third in strikeouts in the Pacific Coast League with 62 (!!!), after an epic 4-strikeout night Wednesday against the immortal Tony Armas Jr.

Now, about Sutton...I didn't include him in my initial look at Astros prospects simply because he's a bit too old to be considered a good prospect. He's 25, but in his Age 24 season and was drafted back in 2004. This season, Sutton is batting .315/.422/.490 and is +4 in steals. These are great numbers, if he were two years younger. The fact that he's making his second trip through the Texas League also contributes to his lack of "prospect" sheen. There are a couple other players I'm looking at in his age range, but it's mainly because the other players are at positions the Astros simply don't have, like catcher and shortstop. I will say that Sutton has been great this year, solidifying the leadoff spot for the Astros. But, if you look at it, if he's going to contribute to the big league club, shouldn't he be leading off for Round Rock by now?

Now it's time for the Airing of Grievances...even though it's not Festivus yet. There are a number of players and situations that I'm either disappointed or frustrated in right now. First, let's talk about Einertson. At 22, he's should be showing signs of power and/or hitting prowess. While he's a great doubles hitter, he never has duplicated the power he showed off in his first trip through the South Atlantic League in 2004. Now, he's hitting .224 with a sub-.300 OBP, which is very disappointing...Staying with Corpus, I'm disappointed the Astros promoted Wladimir Sutil to let him languish on the bench. He's just gone 14 for 36 in limited playing time without a strikeout and one steal. Meanwhile, Tommy Manzella has cooled off considerably as May has stretched on. Maybe Sutil should be starting a few more games at short to rest Manzella (who, it should be noted, only has four errors on the season)...Did Russell Dixon meet up with Reggie Abercrombie early this month or something? Lexington's Dixon is the only Astro within three strikeouts of Reggie's month-leading 31. I blame Brian McTaggart for listing Dixon as a player on the rise in the Astros system. After that, he started flailing around like a man possessed...Corpus Christi's Eli Iorg really had a disappointing May, batting only .235 for the month. At 25, he's a little too old to be considered a good prospect, but has moved up quickly through the system. He needs to keep hitting and maybe play adequately in Round Rock later this summer to have a shot at making the team next spring...Can we talk about Craig Corrado? I mentioned him in my last post about mvoing Cusick to third, but he's a giant enigma right now. For a guy who's got 17 steals on the year, his 10 GIDP is startling. This month, he's grounded into 9 of the 10 double plays and managed only 6 steals. That's not a good ratio...Finally, Brian Bogusevic drives me crazy. McTaggart mentioned his only good start of the year in his column earlier this week, but I'm not so sure you can even call that start good. Sure, he only allowed two hits in eight innings while striking out three and walking one. So, in eight innings, he has as many strikeouts as baserunners allowed. The bad part for Bogusevic is his three strikeouts doubled his total in five starts this May. On the season, he's got a K/9 inning rate of 3.02. For reference, pitchers struggle to be successful in the majors when their K/9 rate is below 5. In exceptional cases, such as Chien-Ming Wang, the pitcher finds success because he has one great pitch like a sinker. Bogey doesn't seem to have that though and the Astros should probably look at switching him to an outfielder.

Let's finish on a high note, giving out kudos to a couple players I haven't said much about. Edwin Maysonet is a guy that's been in the Astros farm system since 2003 when he was drafted out of Delta State. Maysonet is a solid defensive player who has shown flashes of being good offensively. He's gotten more at-bats in May than in April, playing short instead of Tomas Perez lately and has more Runs Created than anyone on the team not named Saccomanno. While Maysonet is older than you'd like at 26, he's probably a better player than Mark Loretta right now and a much better defender. He might not see any time this year, but look for him to make the team in 2009 as a backup infielder, sort of like Eric Bruntlett. Another guy who hasn't gotten a lot of mention here is Jimmy Van Ostrand. Of course, you might already be familiar with him since he played in the MLB Futures Game during last year's All-Star Weekend and hit a pinch-hit home run in his only plate appearance. Drafted in 2006, the Canadian has an OPS of .909 in Salem right now and has only struck out 21 times in 181 at-bats. Van Ostrand has bounced between the outfield and first base with Salem, but looks to be a decent power prospect, especially if he can hit home runs in Salem, one of the toughest hitters parks in the minor leagues.

Well, that's all for this post. Tune in next week when we'll name our Players of the Month and name the best pitcher and position player for each minor league team.

Matt Cusick Hitting Profile

Good afternoon one and all! I am proud to present the first in a series of hitting profiles on Astros minor leaguers. Today, we look at Lexington Legends infielder Matt Cusick. Cusick was drafted out of the University of Southern California and has already garnered numerous mentions on this humble blogspace. One of the reasons for this is Cusick came within a pair of 1 for 5 games of hitting .400 for the month of April.

His hitting fell off somewhat in May and he's currently sitting at .339 but has one of the highest walk rates on the farm. As we look at his numbers in a more in-depth way, I hope to see just how good a leadoff hitter Cusick's been. Without further ado...

Here is the table showing Cusick's hitting chart for the past two months:

Total Outs Hits AVG 1B 2B 3B HR
Ground Balls to Left 13 9 4 0.308 3 1 0 0
Ground Balls to Center 11 5 6 0.545 6 0 0 0
Ground Balls to Right 55 42 13 0.236 12 1 0 0

Line Drives to Left 7 2 5 0.714 3 2 0 0
Line Drives to Center 3 0 3 1.000 1 2 0 0
Line Drives to Right 14 5 9 0.643 4 2 2 1

Fly Balls to Left 20 16 4 0.200 1 3 0 0
Fly Balls to Center 17 14 3 0.176 1 1 0 1
Fly Balls to Right 14 6 8 0.571 2 2 1 3

Total on Ground Balls 79 56 23 0.291 21 2 0 0
Total on Line Drives 24 7 17 0.708 8 6 2 1
Total on Fly Balls 51 36 15 0.294 4 6 1 4

Total Hit to Left 40 27 13 0.325 7 6 0 0
Total Hit to Center 31 19 12 0.387 8 3 0 1
Total Hit to Right 83 53 30 0.361 18 5 3 4

All Balls in Play 154 99 55 0.357 33 14 3 5

Without knowing anything about him or his vital statistics, you can easily tell Cusick is a left-handed hitter by the number of ground balls he's hit to the right side of the infield. On the other hand, Cusick shows a good batting makeup in using all fields and not just focusing on one area. In the early parts of April, he was hitting a lot of balls to left, but I can't tell whether this was a conscious effort or not. While I expected to see him hitting more line drives in April than in May to explain his fall in average, I was pleasantly surprised to find that wasn't the case. The main difference in his performance between April and May came in two categories:

Total Outs Hits AVG 1B 2B 3B HR
Ground Balls to Right-May 28 23 5 0.179 5 0 0 0

Ground Balls to Right-April 27 19 8 0.296 7 1 0 0

Total on Fly Balls-May 19 13 6 0.316 1 3 1 1

Total on Fly Balls-April 32 23 9 0.281 3 3 0 3

Cusick was just a little more unlucky in May, with more of those ground balls to second and first base finding a fielder's glove instead of the outfield grass. Another possibility for this shift is THE shift; teams may have gotten a better scouting report on him after the first month and opponents may have started playing him with a shift to the right. I have no proof of this, of course, because I have no eyewitness accounts of the games in this manner. Still, it's a good possibility to explain the data we're seeing.

The other striking statistic were just number of flyballs. Cusick hit a ton more in the air in April, many finding holes in the defense or dropping in front of the outfielders. In May, he stopped hitting fly balls to left and hit the majority of his flies (12 in all) to center field. I'm not sure what this means, but the sample size is small enough that this is probably just a random statistical blip. Still, it's worth noting in case pitchers have started approaching Cusick's at-bats differently.

Another interesting look is seeing what he did at home and on the road. Here are his season splits:

2B 3B HR
Home Games 78 30 9 5 17 10 9 3 2 0 0 51 .385 .448 .654 1.102
Road Games 87 26 16 6 16 12 5 0 3 1 1 40 .299 .410 .460 .869

The friendly confines of Applebee Field have been kind to Cusick, yet the park factor for Lexington is right around 1 for singles, doubles and home runs, meaning he's not getting the "Coors Effect." Maybe he's just got a Serta Pillowtop mattress at home...While he has hit for a substantially higher average at home, his splits in May have been more normal:

Home Games 28 8 5 3 5 1 4 1 0 0 0 14 .286 .394 .500 .894
Road Games 50 15 11 4 9 7 3 0 1 1 0 21 .300 .435 .420 .855

This is probably just too small a sample size to talk about real trends yet, but we can also surmise that a lack of home games in May have led to his batting average drops.

Okay, so we've looked at the data and have a handle on two things: Cusick pulls the ball in the infield but stays pretty disciplined when hitting the ball well and Cusick hits well in Lexington. How does he hit in the order? (It's important to remember Cusick has just recently been dropped to third in the batting order by his manager.) By spot in batting order:

Hitting by Batting Order AB H BB K R RBI

1st 137 49 19 8 28 20 13 3 4 1 1 80 .358 .437 .584 1.021
2nd 3 1 1 0 1 1 0 0 1 0 0 4 .333 .500 1.333 1.833
3rd 25 6 5 3 4 1 1 0 0 0 0 7 .240 .367 .280 .647

Again, we get into sample sizes. But, coupled with this next look at team performance based on where Cusick bats in the inning, we see batting him third may not be the best idea ever.

Impact by Position in Inning Innings Runs Runs/ Inning R RBI

Leading Off 71 41 0.58 18 5

Batting Second 40 22 0.55 5 0

Batting Third 39 10 0.26 3 4

Batting Fourth 23 19 0.83 2 5

Batting 5th or later 20 44 2.20 5 8

193 136 0.70 33 22

Clearly, Cusick is not cut out to hit in the middle of the order. I'm not sure if this is an attempt by Ed Wade to make Cusick into a power-hitting, run-producing middle-of-the-order bat (hyphenate much?), or if he just hasn't gotten time enough to feel comfortable hitting down in the order. It's telling that the Legends have scored the fewest runs when Cusick bats third in an inning. With his on-base percentage and speed, it would seem Cusick is tailor made to lead off or bat second. Whether he does, though, is anyone's guess. I hope the Legends and the Astros player development people can look at the same numbers I do and see Cusick is much more valuable hitting 1 or 2.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Wandy's Back and Other Musings

Astros starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez made his first rehab start since injuring his groin in a game on April 19. In six innings, Rodriguez allowed four hits and one run with one walk and no strikeouts. Wandy threw 78 pitches and saw 22 batters, so he didn't have to stretch himself out too much but still pitched effectively, with a fifth inning solo home run being the only extra base hit he gave up. The real test will be in five days when he makes his next start. If he doesn't suffer any setbacks, he should be rejoining the rotation next weekend (optimistically).

Jack Cassel has thrown at least 100 pitches in each of his four starts for Round Rock this month. What's surprising about this is Cecil Cooper didn't let him throw more than 70 in either of his starts with the big club. Cassel still has a great ground out-flyout ratio, which he maintained in his brief stint with the Astros. Oh, and he hasn't allowed more than three runs in a game this season. Methinks we didn't give him enough of a shot the first time around.

Some great information in this week's Minor League Notebook by the Chronicle's Brian McTaggart. Disappointing to hear about Moresi getting hurt. He was really hitting the ball well this month before that. I knew he'd been out for a while and was most likely injured, but that's one of the limitations bloggers often have (though Buzz Bissinger will vehemently disagree); I simply didn't have access to people who knew about these things. None of the Astros minor league teams are near enough to major newspapers to carry useful information about injuries and the like. I've looked at the game stories after Moresi was out of the lineup for two or three games, but it mentioned nothing about an injury either, even though the box score listed him getting hit by a pitch then leaving the game for a pinch hitter. It's these little things that can frustrate bloggers. Were I on the ground following one of these teams, I'd have better access, but I also wouldn't be able to look as comprehensively at all the teams. I guess I just get frustrated about the limitations I deal with sometimes...sorry for the digression.

The other interesting note from McTaggart was about Cusick moving to third. He lists Chris Johnson as the only solid third base prospect on the farm. Considering Johnson has 17 errors already at third, I'm not sure how good he's going to be at the hot corner. There's not really anyone promising at Round Rock or Salem, though I really like the red-hot Mark Saccomanno for the Express, but he's also 28...not exactly a prospect. The other interesting thing about this move is Lexington already has a productive third baseman in Craig Corrado. I'm working on a new feature profiling a specific hitter each week. The first one will be Cusick, followed by some of my other favorite guys. Keep your eyes peeled!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Wheel of Transactions

The Astros called up Fernando Nieve to pitch in the bullpen last night after Geoff Geary was placed on the 15-day DL. The hole on Round Rock's roster was filled when the Astros called up 24-year old Chance Douglass from Corpus Christi. Douglass was anything but impressive in May with a 7.28 ERA and a WHIP of 1.82.

Of course, this caused a hole in the Hooks' rotation, so in Monday night's game, Corpus threw four relievers for two innings apiece instead of having a starter. No signs yet that anyone is getting called up from Salem to fill the spot in Double-A, but it could be a sign that Tip Fairchild is ready to come off the disabled list. (In fact, the game story on last night actually had some helpful information. Fairchild is scheduled to make his season debut Tuesday night). Fairchild is a former 12th-round pick in the 2005 draft out of Southern Maine, that hotbed of baseball prospects. In 2006, Fairchild led all Astros farmhands in strikeouts with 142, but missed most of last season with an arm injury.

In other call-up news, David Qualben was sent down to Lexington from Salem after posting a 5.14 ERA in May. Qualben threw in Monday's game for the Legends, pitching 2 2/3 innings of hitless, scoreless ball while striking out one and walking one. Wladimir Sutil was called up a couple weeks ago from Salem to Corpus and has gone 13 of 29 with two doubles and six runs scored while not striking out at all. Sutil has gotten sporadic playing time in relief of Tommy Manzella at short, Drew Sutton at second base and all around the outfield.

I'm actually surprised that Ed Wade is pulling the trigger on so many aggressive minor league moves. Maybe I just got used to the pondorously slow pace of the Tim Purpura Regime, but it's refreshing to see the organization push players for better (Nick Moresi) or worse (Brian Bogusevic).

Monday, May 19, 2008

Roy's Replacement

I know Oswalt's strained groin is a "day-to-day" injury, but it sounds like he's going to be out quite a while. Who will replace him? My money is on a guy we've only mentioned briefly in previous minor league posts, but who's quietly having a great start to the season.

Josh Muecke, a left-hander out of Loyola Marymount, was drafted in the fifth round (149th overall) in 2003. He took his time getting up to Triple-A, spending 2006-2007 in Corpus Christi bouncing between the bullpen and spot starts. This season, he's started all nine games he's appeared in, going 3-2 with a 3.06 ERA, 35 strikeouts and 11 walks. Muecke has given up six homeruns, but only one of those has come in May, a month that's seen him go 2-0 with an even lower ERA of 2.37 with a WHIP of 0.89. While his low BABiP of .231 in May means his ERA may tick up, he's been very good especially given the fact the Pacific Coast League has played very hitter-friendly so far.

Muecke may not be a long-term solution at 26-years old, but is an intriguing option to call up should Mr. Oswalt indeed be hurt far worse than anyone believes. After all, with this offense and our sometimes strong bullpen, the starting pitcher just needs to give you five to six strong innings. Why not give Muecke a shot?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Around the Minors - Mid-May

Another week's gone by and it's time for another round of the Minor League Report!

Round Rock pitcher Fernando Nieve was moved into the bullpen after lasting just one inning on May 8th and giving up two runs on two hits and walking two. Nieve has been effective in his short relief stint so far, allowing two hits and no runs in 3 2/3 innings. Back in 2006, Nieve pitched in 29 games in relief for the Astros. After surgery on his throwing arm after the season (I believe it was Tommy John surgery), Nieve was probably put into the starting rotation to build his arm strength before heading back to the 'pen. Certainly, the Astros don't need another effective reliever right now, but Nieve may provide more value long-term than someone like Dave Borkowski.
In the craziest play seen in a box score this season, here's a play from Corpus Christi and San Antonio from May 12:

Drew Macias flies into sacrifice double play, left fielder Ray Sadler to third baseman Chris Johnson to shortstop Tommy Manzella. Craig Cooper scores.Sean Kazmar out at 3rd.

I don't know about you, but I haven't seen many sacrifice double plays! This is probably the only time a player gets credit for an RBI for hitting into a double play, but I may be wrong. Still pretty neat!
My favorite player so far, second baseman Matthew Cusick, is one hit and one walk away from having 50-20 already. He's currently hitting .386/.466/.630 with a farm-best 28 runs scored. He's entrenched himself in the leadoff spot in Lexington and is currently riding a 6-game hitting streak (until, of course, this post forced him to go 0-5 last night). So far in May, he's got three two-hit games and two three-hit games. The most impressive things to me is he also has the most walks in May with 9. If he can pick up his steals a bit, he's got an offensive skill-set comparable to Ichiro (probably overstatement, but what the heck!).
On the other end of the spectrum is Yordanny Ramirez. The 23-year old outfielder for Round Rock is currently hitting .178/.188/.256 for the season. He's supposedly been stellar with the glove, but still...One of Ed Wade's more intriguing pick-ups this off-season doesn't seem to be panning out yet. Maybe he just needs to wait till June to pick up his hitting. Hopefully he can get over the Mendoza Line by then.
Round Rock teammate Mark Saccomanno HAS been on fire, though. He's got the most hits on the farm in May with 20 for a .345 average. Saccomanno also has 12 RBIs and four home runs so far, while playing both third and first base. Reggie Abercrombie has also been great in May, hitting .327 with four doubles and one home run. Of course, both players have combined for 29 strikeouts so far, giving Abercrombie 46 strikeouts in 141 at-bats so far. That is a shockingly low amount of contact. Guess there's a reason he's in Triple-A.
Corpus Christi's Chris Johnson has been fantastic this month. We talked about him in the last post, but he's tied with Saccomanno with 20 hits so far in May, batting .392 with an OPS of 1.025 and 11 RBIs. Other hot hitters for Corpus Christi include recently called up Wladimir Sutil (9 for 19) and Eli Iorg (.317 BA in May).
Down in Lexington, catcher Max Sapp is finally back from a groin injury. He's been alternating between the DH spot and catching duties, playing three games behind the plate since he came back from the DL. Sapp has gone 5 for 15 since his return, with two doubles and four RBIs. Another surging Legend is first baseman Eric Taylor, who is hitting .350 this month with one home run and four doubles. Taylor has also stolen two bases and is getting on base at a .469 clip.

On the mound, most of the farmhands have been disappointing this month. Bud Norris has been blown up in May, with a 10.22 ERA in 12 1/3 innings. He's got a BABiP of .409 this month, so he's been pretty unlucky, but his strikeout numbers are also way down, as he's got 9 strikeouts and 8 walks in three starts and has given up three home runs already. Teammate Brian Bogusevic has also had a rough second month, with a 6.60 ERA in 15 innings and only one strikeout with seven walks. Other disappointments are Leandro Cespedes (6.59 ERA, 1-1 in 3 starts), David Qualben (0-2, 1.92 WHIP), and Chad Reineke (20 hits in 14 2/3 innings).

Hooks pitcher Brad James has bounced back this month, going 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA. He still pitches to contact too much, giving up 14 hits in 11 innings and getting 14 ground outs to 7 fly outs, but he had seven strikeouts in his last outing. To be successful, James needs to be able to strike batters out or have a sinker like Brandon Webb or Chien-Ming Wang.
At Salem, the Astros friendliest pitcher's park, both Polin Trinidad and Douglas Arguello have been solid. Trinidad has started three games with a 1.80 ERA and a WHIP of 0.95. He's been pretty lucky, allowing a BABiP of .233, but is getting a 2-1 ground out/flyout ratio while striking out 11 in 20 innings. Arguello has started one game and pitched in two others for a 0.64 ERA. He's also struck out 13 batters. It'll be interesting to see if either get called up to Corpus after Norris or James get moved to Round Rock.

One thing I've been wanting to do is look at defensive ratings for the minor leaguers. It's nearly impossible to pull some of the more complicated defensive metrics for fielders in the minors because much of these stats are based on reviewing players on tape to chart their zone ratings, etc. But, I do have the data to analyze the Astros catchers in the minors. By simply looking at box scores, I can pull stolen base attempts, caught stealing percentage, number of wild pitches and passed balls per game, as well as develop a Range Factor for them. Of course, Range Factor is slightly less effective for catchers since they get credit for a putout with every strikeout they catch. But, it's still better than nothing.

After compiling the stats for the catching prospects I'm currently charting offensively, I saw some interesting results. First off, it appears Koby Clemens has an outstanding arm behind the plate but does not have the reputation yet of a catcher not to run on. In a hundred innings less than Hooks catcher Lou Santangelo, Clemens saw the same number of stolen base attempts and threw out four more runners. Clemens the Younger is actually gunning down base stealers 44.7% of the time, tops on the farm. Clemens' problem stems from his recent transition to catcher. In 21 games, Clemens has given up 10 passed balls and seen 16 wild pitches. He's also got four error, three of which were fielding gaffes, including a catcher interference call. While his stolen base attempts have dwindled lately, he's still got some work to do behind the dish.

Santangelo, meanwhile, looks like a pretty polished receiver behind the plate. While only throwing out 34% of baserunners, Santangelo has allowed just 6 passed balls in 31 games and been part of 4 double plays. The 25-year old is also above league average on Caught Stealing percentage, as Texas League catchers are only gunning down 29.8 percent of thieves. Clemens, by comparison, is under the Carolina League average at 49%. While Santangelo might not have the best arm around, he appears to be a solid catcher defensively.

Young Max Sapp is the biggest enigma of all the minor league catchers. He's only thrown out 3 of 15 base stealers but allowed just one passed ball in eight games. Since he also has two throwing errors, Sapp may not have the arm for the position and may be better suited moving to first base or left field.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

My New Perspective

I've watched quite a bit of softball over the past three days, and really, the past three years. Something hit me today, though. The way the game of softball is played is remarkably similar to the stories I've heard about Deadball Era baseball.

Think about it.

Players can thrive by simply slapping the ball. You live and die by the steal and the sacrifice bunt. Pitchers throw an ungodly number of innings, racking up tons and tons of wins. Home runs are few and far between, but the good players hit plenty of them. Really, the only difference between the two "styles" is number of games played.

What made this click into place for me today was merely coincidence. As I was driving home last night, I tuned into the Astros-Dodgers game on my satellite radio. The game broadcast was from the Dodgers affiliate, but I was surprisingly not disgusted with blatant homerism and surprised to figure out Charlier Steiner, the old ESPN SportsCenter anchor, is LA's play-by-play guy. At any rate, he mentioned an idea for Michael Bourn to choke up on the bat to get more slap-type hits. He and his color guy (didn't figure out his identity) both discounted the strategy, but did talk about how guys like Nellie Fox and Rogers Hornsby made careers of those slap-type hits.

While softball is very different, because they use an aluminum bat and throw underhand, it's not that far-fetched a comparison. In fact, in the late 1800's, some pitchers DID throw underhand. I remember reading about Alexander Spaulding throwing underhanded in his goodwill tour around the world (maybe).

At any rate, it was a cool realization today. I've always enjoyed softball. But tying it together with baseball history (another one of my faves) was very neat.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

May Update

Seven days into May and we've got big movings and shakings. Let's get right into it!

Centerfielder Nick Moresi, drafted out of Fresno State two years ago, was moved up to High A Salem on May 4. Moresi has gotten a hit in all three of his starts with the Avalanche and continue his hot start to the month, batting .316/.350/.474 in May so far to bring his season average up to .229. Moresi has also scored five runs of his 12 runs in May.

Corpus Christi's POTM Tommy Manzella is slumping in the first week of the month. Manzella has been all over the board. He's gone 4 for 20 with two doubles, a stolen base, two sacrifice hits, two sacrifice flys, grounded into one double play and struck out four times. Still, Manzella has managed to get on base, walking four times.
Passing Manzella in Runs Created this month are Lexington's Collin DeLome and Salem's Jordan Parraz. DeLome is only hitting .240 in May but he already has three triples and two doubles. Parraz has walked seven times to off-set a .227 batting average so far. Salem teammate Tim Torres is also nipping on Manzella's heels, putting up a .304/.407/.522 May.

As Baseball America reported in its Transactions blog, former first-round draft pick Max Sapp has been placed on the 7-day DL with a strained hamstring. Sapp hasn't played in a couple weeks now but wasn't exactly lighting it up in 28 at-bats previously this season. Maybe the time off will help him refocus. Two other injury notes from Felipe Paulino is working out in Florida but hasn't picked up a ball yet and is on pace to be back with some team by the All-Star break. Paul Estrada is also throwing in extended spring training, but according to Brian McTaggart, tweaked his shoulder last time out and will need more time before he's activated.

Lexington's Jeff Icenogle and Corpus Christi's Sergio Perez both made successful comebacks from offseason injuries. Icenogle tossed two scoreless innings earlier this month, giving up just one hit while striking out one and walking one. Perez picked up the win May 7 in his first game back, pitching 5 innings and giving up just one unearned run, while striking out four and walking one.

Looking at the Astros farm clubs, Salem is the best offensive team right now, as the Avalanche are in first or second in every offensive category except home runs. As we mentioned in a previous post, Salem's ballpark is one of the worst in the minors for hitting home runs. Unfortunately, the offensive success hasn't translated in the ole won-loss column, as the Avalanche are sitting at 13-19 and have dropped five straight games. Corpus Christi has the second best record in the Texas League at 19-14, but is still 3 1/2 games behind division leading Frisco. Round Rock is off to a terrible start, tied for the second-worst record in the PCL at 12-20. The Express are also last in hits and total bases. Rounding out the fun is Lexington at 10-22, good for last place in the South Atlantic League. Before losing their last three, the Legends went 4-3 to look respectable. Unfortunately, inconsistent pitching and a strikeout-prone lineup have meant few wins.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Minor League Report for April

Good afternoon everyone!
We’re back to talk about the Players of the Month for April. I know, I know, you were waiting with baited breath. Well, we won’t disappoint. I started figuring two new stats for the minor leaguers last week – Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABiP) and a composite ERA, both of which try to determine how successful a pitcher is in things he can control and how lucky he is on things he can’t. For instance, after many smarter people than me crunched numbers, they figured out that the average BABiP is right around .280. So, anything above that means a pitcher is unlucky. Since the defense in the minors isn’t always as good, I think this is an important stat to rate how good/lucky pitchers have been.

Anyway, without further ado, let’s get to this month’s player awards:

  • Hitter of the Month: Tommy Manzella, SS, Corpus Christi (Double A) – Remember a couple years ago when Tulane made its run for the College World Series? Well, the Astros drafted pitcher Brian Bogusevic in the first round that year out of Tulane. While Bogusevic hasn’t shown any great potential yet, Manzella has steadily climbed the organizational rungs. This month, he hit .319/.358/.434 with 36 hits, eight walks, six doubles, two steals, 16 runs scored and 17 RBIs. Manzella’s claim to fame right now is his defense; that’s why he’s moved so steadily up the system. Much like Adam Everett, the questions have always been about his glove, but if he keeps up this pace for the entire season, he’ll go a long way to proving he’s got the potential to be a good pro.

  • Pitcher of the Month: Bud Norris, SP, Corpus Christi – One of the first lessons I learned writing for the newspaper was adjectives act as roadblocks in sentences. So, when in doubt, leave them out. That’s why when I tell you Norris has been incredible this year, it’s for cause. So far, Norris has been lights out, allowing just 22 hits in 25 innings, striking out 35 while walking 6 and allowing zero homeruns. He’s throwing just a shade under 4 pitches per plate appearance, which isn’t great, and his ground ball/fly ball ratio also could be better, but when he’s striking out almost half his outs, he can give up some fly balls every now and then. Oh, and did I mention his BABiP is .379? Which means he’s actually been unlucky to this point. I shudder to think… (ed. Note – Norris did get lit up in his first start of May, so I may have jinxed him).

Around the Leagues

  • Second baseman Wladimir Sutil went 55 at-bats this season before drawing his first walk. He’s currently sitting at 82 at-bats with the lone walk, and is the only Astros prospect who had only one free pass in April in at least 75 at-bats. Brian McTaggart of The Chronicle reported in his blog last week that Sutil got called up to Double-A last week. Maybe the Astros are not looking at his .268/.286/.341 splits and worried more about his defense, which is supposedly his strong suit.

  • Lexington’s Collin DeLome, a former Lamar outfielder, led all Astros prospects in home runs last month with 7. He also was first in RBIs with 18. Teammate Craig Corrado had 11 steals to lead the farm system while Salem’s Tim Torres was tops in walks at 14.

  • Matthew Cusick was narrowly edged out by Manzella for POTM honors and put up exceptional numbers in April. Going into the final weekend of the month, Cusick pushed his average above .400 but by month’s end it had dropped to a still-respectable .379. He trailed only Manzella in hits with 33, but had 26 fewer at-bats. Cusick had the most total bases of all Astros farmhands with 56 on 4 home runs, 2 triples and 7 doubles.

  • Two other hitters who have caught fire recently are Corpus Christi’s third baseman Chris Johnson and Salem’s centerfielder Jordan Parraz. Johnson returned from an injury in the middle of the month and has been on fire since. In his return, he hit .297 with four doubles, a home run and two steals. Parraz, playing in the Astros most pitcher-friendly park, still managed to hit three home runs, a triple and six doubles with averages of .259/.370/.459. Parraz also stole 6 bases.

  • After his father clothed himself in such disgrace this week, it’s a wonder Koby Clemens has been performing as well as he has. Going from playing every third day at catcher to starting almost every game at either catcher or designated hitter, Clemens pulled his average above .300 with two multi-hit games in the past week. The 21-year old is also getting on base at a .380 clip and has the highest slugging percentage on his team.

  • On the other side of the coin is 2005 draft pick Brandon Barnes, the only other Astro minor leaguer to join Reggie Abercrombie in the '30 strikeouts in 30 days' club. Barnes is batting a mind-boggling .098 in 61 at-bats. The left fielder does have a couple outfield assists to his credit, but his hitting has been truly atrocious. Barnes is a former football player who went to junior college before being drafted by Houston. He apparently continues to struggle with the transition.

  • Pitchers of note for the Astros: Brad James finished April with a so-so ERA of 4.41 and only 13 strikeouts in 32 2/3 innings, but did manage to get 53 ground balls to 28 flyouts, easily the best ratio of any Astros pitcher…Josh Muecke led the Round Rock staff in strikeouts with 24…Salem’s Polin Trinidad struck out 19 and had a 1.74 ERA in 31 innings, but had a composite ERA nearly a run higher and a BABiP of .207, meaning his success is a bit of a mirage right now…Lexington’s Colt Adams, however, has a 7.15 ERA for April, but a composite ERA of 2.49. His BABiP is at an unreal .547, largely due to his 16 strikeouts and only one walk….Corpus Christi’s Sammy Gervacio was the Astros best reliever, striking out batters at a 12.60 per nine innings clip.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ty Wigginton Memorial All-Stars

A few years ago (when Ty was a rookie), I came up with my own award, given to the new player in MLB with the coolest name. Some of the past winners include: Ambiorix Burgos-2005, Angel Pagan-2006, Kiko Calero-2003 and Wigginton himself in 2002.

This year we have a good crop of choices. Evan Longoria (Tampa Bay) is fun to say, but not really that different since Tony Parker's wife made it so well-known. Callix Crabbe (San Diego) is really weird and fun, but it's a little too harsh. Don't be Crabbe that I didn't pick him (oh, yes he did). Yasuhiko Yabuta (Kansas City) had some real potential. Yabuta he has potential! His last name is almost an adjective...but sadly, he fell short of the award. Ramon Troncoso (Los Angeles Dodgers) and Clete Thomas (Detroit) both almost won because of their last name and first name, respectively, but couldn't pull it all together. Clete Troncoso, though?? A virtual lock. So get on that, whoever is naming babies!

Now that we've gotten through the contenders, let's unveil the 2008 Ty Wigginton Memorial All Star:
Burke Badenhop, Florida
Burke Badenhop. Just say his name. Feel how it rolls off the tongue. Is he a pitcher? Is he a yuppie from an 80's movie played by James Spader? No, he's simply the 2008 Ty Wigginton All-Star. Boo-ya Badenhop, boo-ya.

The Incredible Mr. Bourn

13 for 13
Last time I had a blog for any significant length of time, the Astros centerfielder was a speed demon named Willy Taveras, who ended up with 34 stolen bases. Taveras is the only Astros this decade (!!!) to steal 30 bases. Michael Bourn is almost halfway there and he's still got a week to go in APRIL!

Okay, so I don't think Bourn is as fast as Taveras, even though Bourn stole a base on a freakin' pitch out against Colorado Sunday. The thing that separates the two is Bourn's baserunning instincts. Taveras still got thrown out 25% of the time...a great rate, but not anywhere close to Bourn's 1 CS in 31 attempts over the past two seasons.

To put his April in perspective, Bourn is currently on pace to steal 91 bases. If he averages 9 steals per month for the rest of the season, he should easily finish with 50, possibly 60 steals. The Astros franchise record is 65 by Gerald Young in 1988. Last year's team steals leader was Mr. Hunter Pence with 11.

Bourn has been criticized a little so far for not being a good leadoff hitter, slumping some. Right now, he's on pace for 71 walks, which is just 45 more than Pence had last season...leadoff hitters do need to take a pitch now and again. While Bourn strikes out some, (on pace for 114) I think that rate falls once he gets used to playing every day and starts getting more base hits.

I will concede that he's only got 84 plate appearances, and projecting him across 600 PAs is a stretch. Still, you HAVE to be excited about this kid.

13 for 13.

Just WOW.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Fantasy Update

Hey everyone!
First off, I'd just like to say the published reports about me are untrue...I am NOT three years older than the media guides listed me. I really am 25. Seriously, stop looking at my driver's license and green card. I'm 25. Until I'm traded to Houston. Since the football newsletters were popular but not exactly consistent, I thought I'd try to set up a blog to update this stuff. Maybe make it more fun and more reliably updated. So, without further ado, let's get this thing started!

I'd like to give out two individual awards, Hitter and Pitcher of the Week.

* 1B Lance Berkman, Devil Dogs (Kristen F.) - 3 HR, 8 R, 7 RBI, 1 SB, .391 avg, 1.418 OPS: Berkman narrowly edged out Albert Puhols for the honor, thanks to his edge in runs, stolen bases (!!!) and OPS. Plus, Puhols is dead to me and I'd rather put Greg Maddux here than him. But my irrational hatred nonwithstanding, Berkman had an excellent week. Who knew the Big Puma could be so nimble on the basepaths?? Three steals already? Puma must've learned something from Bagwell after all, since all his thefts have been smart plays, catching the defense off-guard. Good call, sister-o-mine. Might even make up for that Chris Burke-Clemens-Pettitte grab-bag you took in the middle rounds...Did you know this is 2008 and not 2004?

* SP Javier Vazquez, Slimy Sluggers (Cole & Co.) - 2 wins, 17 K, 1.93 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 10.93 K/9: I don't know what's more impressive, that Vazquez got two wins or that he did it with the White Sox supplying his run support. That's just not a good team. Was there a curse put on the participants of that 2005 World Series? Neither were very good last year. I've liked Javy since he was a Montreal Expo, but he struggled last year along with the rest of that team. Of the White Sox pitchers, I still think he's the best bet to have a good year. Plus, life and your fantasy team are just more entertaining when Ozzie Guillen is prominently involved.

Honorable Mention: Matt Holliday, 10 RBI; Cole Hamels, 2 W, 0.60 ERA, 0.73 WHIP: Holliday put up crazy numbers and was the only hitter with double figure stats last week. Hamels is solid, young, but has never started more than 30 games in a season. Shouldn't be a problem...

Now, onto my Top Hitting and Pitching Fantasy Team of the Week award (THFTW and TPFTW): Stealin' Squirrels, Krissy Coleman nee Vogel. Believe me, I tried. I really did. Can you imagine how unbearable it'll be in the Coleman-Vogel household now that I've named Krissy the best hitting AND pitching team last week?? I'm already tired of hearing about it and it hasn't even posted yet. Good thing we're playing each other this week. Maybe I can knock her down a peg...Seriously, though, Krissy's team was very impressive last week. Dad may have won more games, but Krissy had the most RBIs, the most stolen bases, second most in homers, batting average, OPS, wins, strikeouts, saves, and on top of that, third in runs, ERA and WHIP. That's a pretty good week, not even taking into account her top draft pick, David Wright, hit .227 last week.

We'd like to roll out a Rookie of the Week, but alas, it's a little too early for that. Maybe next post...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Minor League Report for Mid-April

Well, two weeks have come and gone, while the Astros minor leagues play on...I've been tracking some of the top prospects not from any of the lists compiled by Baseball Prospectus or others, but the players who are regulars at an age not too old for their level (i.e. a 25-year old is not a prospect if he's still at High-A ball).

Without further ado, here are my choices for Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Half-Month:

  • 2B Matthew Cusick, Lexington Legends (Low A): Cusick is hitting .378/.442/.756 with an OPS+ of 250*. He has also scored 11 runs and has 8 RBIs with 3 home runs, 2 triples and 4 doubles. Even more impressive, he has struck out just four times in 45 at-bats; for comparision, his team has struck out 122 times and averages a strikeout every four at-bats. Cusick was also named Defensive Player of the Month last June at short-season Tri-City.
  • P Bud Norris, Corpus Christi Hooks (Double A): Norris has started two games, compiling a 0.90 ERA with 16 strikeouts and 3 walks in 10 innings. His 14.40 K/9 innings is the best rate in the Astros farm system. He also throws just above 65% strikes, also one of the highest rates, meaning his control is solid. His ERA+* of 444 is second highest next to former big-leaguer Fernando Nieve.
* ERA+ and OPS+ is simply a way to compare the numbers to league averages. This isn't adjusted for park factors at all, so it's not as good a comparison as it could be, but it does illustrate who may play in a hitter's league, etc.

Cusick is 22 while Norris is 23 years old. At this point, Norris probably has the higher ceiling as he is at a higher level and performing well. Cusick is a former USC Trojan that the Astros drafted last June, so he's very new to the system and the Astros historically have taken a very slow, conservative approach with college players, allowing them to play longer at lower levels than other clubs. This creates older prospects who really press the meaning of the term.

Other news & notes from the minors:
  • Mitch Einertson is the youngest regular player in Double- or Triple-A at 22. He's had some up and down years in the minors, but looks like he could be a solid prospect. He's off to a slow start this year, hitting .171 in 41 at-bats, but 4 of his 7 hits have been doubles.
  • Reggie Abercrombie (AAA) and former Lamar outfielder Colin DeLome (Low A) are tied for the farm lead in home runs with 4. Neither, however, are hitting better than .220. Abercrombie has stolen 7 bases so far this season, by far the most in the farm system.
  • Nick Gorneault, a free-agent signee this winter from the Angels, looks like he could be a capable fill-in on the outfield corners or at first base if the Astros suffer any major injuries. The 29-year old is hitting .310/.356/.571 in 42 at-bats with 3 home runs, 2 doubles, 10 runs scored, 8 RBIs and 3 stolen bases.
  • Catchers performing well right now are Lou Santangelo (AA), Koby Clemens (High A) and Max Sapp (Low A). Santangelo, you may remember, was suspended 50 games last season for testing positive on a PED-drug test. The 25-year old has an OPS+ of 125 and has 3 extra-base hits in 38 at-bats. Clemens is hitting .267 with 6 RBIs on a triple and 2 doubles. Sapp, at 20 years old, is the youngest regular in all four levels right now. While he's hitting just .179 right now, his OBP is at .303 because he's had as many walks as hits in 28 at-bats.
  • Potential Astros late-season call-up Brad James (1-1) has thrown 17 innings over three starts, with 6 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.59. James has the lowest Pitches per Batter rate on the farm with 3.36. He's also got the most ground ball outs so far with 31 and a GB/Flyball Ratio of 2.33.
  • 23-year old Sammy Gervacio has struck out 13 batters in eight innings with only two walks. He has the highest strikeout per 9 inning rate on the farm at 14.63 and has two holds this season.
  • Salem's Polin Trinidad (1-0) has the lowest WHIP for a starter in the system at 0.76 in three starts. In 17 innings, Trinidad has struck out 10 and walked just three while giving up 10 hits for an ERA+ of 133.
  • At Lexington, a pair of pitchers have held down the rotation. Leandro Cespedes (1-1) and Sergio Severino (1-0) have both made three starts. Severino leads the farm in strikeouts with 19 and has given up 6 hits in 15 innings for a 0.60 ERA. Cespedes comes in with a 1.29 ERA and 12 strikeouts, but both he and Severino are extreme fly ball pitchers. It's unclear whether this is because of the ballpark they're pitching in (Applebee's Park) or just their tendencies as pitchers.

That's all for now, folks. Tune in May 1st for the next update!