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.

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