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!