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!

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