Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Jason Castro in the AFL Rising Stars Game

So I finally got around to watching the Arizona Fall League's Rising Stars Game (the All-Star game for the AFL). Jason Castro played 5 1/2 innings and came up to bat twice. Here are my impressions of a VERY small sample size.
  • First at-bat: Castro swings at the first pitch he sees, a slow curve down in the zone. Castro hits a weak grounder to second for the second out of the inning. His bat looked very slow going through the zone, almost a little heavy.
  • Third inning: Castro hosed Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown at second, popping up quickly, making a clean transfer and putting the throw in a good spot for shortstop Triunfel. Just showed why Castro is considered such a good defensive player, especially since Brown is one of the faster players in the AFL.
  • Second at-bat: Castro sees four pitches, swinging at an inside slider on a 1-2 count that he hits to the second baseman again. Castro's swing didn't seem as long as in his first at-bat, but it definitely didn't have any speed getting through the zone.
  • Fourth inning: Castro blocks a breaking pitch nicely in the dirt, but the Cub's Starlin Castro took off for second base. Castro had to get the ball and make a quick throw, which was not good. The ball sailed on Castro too far to the right of the second baseman and skittering into center field.
  • Sixth inning: A's speedster Jemile Weeks led a double steal. Castro took a fastball down in the zone and fired a laser to third but Weeks beat it by a hair. It was definitely a bang-bang play.
And that's it. Castro was supposed to come up in the bottom of the sixth, but was lifted for pinch-hitter Travis McBride, a catcher from the Cleveland organization.

All in all, it was a mixed bag for the Astros top prospect. Castro did not look good at all at the plate, showing a heavy swing and topping both balls he made contact with to the right side of the infield. His defensive play was spot on, making a good throw for one caught stealing and one bad throw on the Starlin Castro play. The third was kind of a toss-up, as it wasn't Castro's fault the pitcher didn't hold the runner on second better.

I put up this little study on The Crawfish Boxes the other day, noting how many innings Castro has played in the past few years. He was sent home shortly after this all-star game due to fatigue, but should be ready to go for spring training in February. Here's what I put at TCB:

The following are rough estimates on the number of innings played for Castro in the past five seasons. You can see the huge spike in the season he got drafted. It's also worth noting that for the first few years there, those innings were spread out through the entire year, as Castro played in the Alaska Baseball League, the Area Code Games, the Cape Cod League and other events throughout his career that made playing baseball year-round a possibility.

2005 - ~500 (mostly infield)

2006 - 673 (mostly first base)

2007 - 536 (mostly first base)

2008 - 900 (first season full-time at catcher)

2009 - 1,100 (including spring training, minors, World Cup and AFL)

Castro is used to playing year-round, but tired out right around the time he hit the 1,000 inning mark. The Astros top two catchers last season combined to catch 1,175 innings. Maybe Castro just needs to get his legs underneath him. He's only caught for two seasons now, much like Posey and should be fresher than someone who caught all through high school and college. Still, if we're thinking of using Castro at some point next season, it's worth asking if he'll have anything in the tank when he is called up.

No other Astros were in the AFL Rising Stars, but one former Aggie did play. Atlanta Braves shortstop prospect Brandon Hicks was inserted in the game in the sixth inning. Hicks made a couple sterling defensive plays, but struck out and hit a grounder to third in two at-bats. This was pretty much what he did at A&M, so it's no surprise. The scouts are still split on whether he'll ever have enough bat to make the majors, but man, can he throw the leather around.

One final note: I realize this blog hasn't bee updated much since September. That's mostly because I've been working a LOT for the Eagle and have been bumped up to a regular writer for The Crawfish Boxes. In addition to my regular job and the new gig of being a dad, I just haven't had the time to do proper analyses of prospects here. My schedule will thin out some and you will get more posts on the minor leagues. Just bear with me.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Money, Wins and the Draft

I've posted before about how I thought the Astros were fooling people by telling them they've committed to the farm system, when this year's draft class came in at 96% of the recommended slot prices and the Astros spent less than all but a handful of teams in the 2009 draft. Well, I've done some more research. Using data from Baseball America's draft databases and from Cot's Baseball Contracts, I've put together a couple of spreadsheets to analyze team spending and number of wins. The first spreadsheet (here) looks at the amount teams have spent on their opening day payrolls for the past decade and how many victories they have gotten for their money. I've averaged the payrolls to get a sense of how much money each team has spent and then looked at how much each team has spent per victory.

Then, in another spreadsheet (here) I tracked all the team's signing bonuses for players in the draft from 2009 through 2006, with 2003 added to round out the group. I had intended to include 2004 and 2005, but that data was not available on Baseball America's site and I haven't been able to find it anywhere else.

So, what did I learn?

The Astros haven't changed.

Out of those five seasons, the Astros have spent the least amount of money on draft picks of any team. That's dead last. I took the average of the median bonus spending in each of those five drafts and the Astros aren't even within a million dollars of that average. In fact, there are only four teams that are over 1 million short of the league average for slot spending: the Angels, the Mets, the White Sox and the Astros. It's not all about position in the draft either. Among the highest spending teams are Boston, San Francisco, the Yankees, Atlanta; all are teams that regularly contend for the playoffs. Oakland is under that average of $4,900,000, but that's including a 2006 draft where they spent just $1,910,000. If you exclude that year, the A's have averaged $5,481,700 in bonuses each year.

It's not just about the money either. Looking at the Organizational Rankings that Baseball America puts out, the Astros rank last over the past four seasons and third to last since 2001. That's how bad the organization has been. Granted, that doesn't take into account the work that has been done the past two seasons, but it shows the general trend to which this lack of spending can lead.

I'm also not trying to show that spending money is the answer. I will point out, however, that of the top 15 teams in talent ranking from 2006 to 2009, only three spent below the league average on bonuses. On the other hand, five teams spent more than 6 million per year and are still in the bottom half of the organizational rankings.

It's not about the gross total of money, it's how you spend it. The Astros don't need to give Scott Boras a blank check for prospects, but good organizations take shots on players late in the draft. For instance, the Astros picked Chad Jones in the 13th round of the 2007 draft, even though Jones was committed to LSU and was a good cornerback prospect. In that disastrous draft, the Astros had already failed to sign their top two picks (a third- and fourth-rounder). Instead of channeling that money into Jones to get a top talent signed no matter when he was drafted, the Astros let him go. Good teams will take advantage of the system that is in place, which leaves talented players dropping into the middle of the draft because of bonus demands. The Red Sox do this, the winningest team this decade does this (the Yankees); hell, even the Pirates do this.

Yes, the Astros did go above and beyond last season to sign Ross Seaton, Brad Dydalewicz and Luis Cruz. They did what was necessary and took some chances. This season, though? Where was the risk? Where were the interesting signings late in the draft? As I said, the Astros paid less than recommended slot price for their draft in 2009. In all the hype that they got 16 of the top 17 signed so early, let's not forget WHY they got them signed. They didn't take anyone as talented as some of the harder signs.

I believe in Bobby Heck. I think Ed Wade is doing a good job of not rushing the farm system guys. I don't like the organization feeding me chicken feathers and calling it chicken salad. If Wade does get fired after this disappointing campaign is done and if Heck loses his job, I wonder if they'll be relieved. I have a suspicion that they found the wallet closed a little tighter this season as people forgot the 2007 draft disaster. If we gave them truth serum, they might tell us that 2008 was the abberation and that 2009 is the way it's going to be. Living at the bottom of the league in money spent but expecting results like you're at the top.


Some other thoughts:
  • Teams like the Yankees and Red Sox always outspend the competition, both with their MLB payrolls and in the draft. I'm not saying the Astros need to spend 10 million a year in the draft, but the Yankees consistently find bargains in the draft, paying a little more here and there but still spending only 2 million more than the Astros on average. You'll also note that since the Yankees averaged nearly 95 victories per season this decade, they've usually finished behind the Astros in the draft order.
  • The Red Sox have also had success, but here's an example of how money doesn't provide everything. In 2006, the Red Sox drafted Matt LaPorta late, but couldn't get him signed, even though they were willing to offer him big money for that late in the draft. LaPorta signed with Cleveland for 2 million after the Indians drafted him in the first round of the 2007 draft.
  • The Astros 2007 class was disastrous on a number of levels, but the most damning evidence is this: Out of 150 possible draft classes, the Astros spent the least money of any team in any season over that time span.
  • Even though the Washington Nationals doled out a 7.5 million dollar bonus and 15 million in total money to top 2009 draft pick Stephen Strasberg, they still found the money to sign two draft picks outside the first 10 rounds for over-slot money. It only came out to an extra $350,000 dollars, but sometimes that's the difference from having a productive farm system and being barren as the desert.
  • Following that same line of thought, the Pittsburg Pirates, who picked Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez fifth overall because of his signability, signed two late-round picks for a total of half a million dollars. As I said, I'm not advocating spending money wantonly, but there is a way to spend money smartly in the draft. It just appears the Astros cannot do this.
  • The median draft value for 2009 should also rise a bit once Kansas City and Texas come to terms with Aaron Crow and Tanner Scheppers, respectively. Each will get deals worth a couple million dollars, which will skew that $5,066,450 number upwards.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Trade Review: Astros-Padres Megaswap

I know I haven't been my usually prolific blogging self lately, but both jobs have been slamming me with work, giving me very little time to update my spreadsheets and track the end of the minor league season. Never fear, though, because I have been doing some work. You should get two blog posts today, this trade review and then a pitching profile on Chris Hicks. So, without further ado, let's jump into this trade.

When it happened, I was 12 and Ken Caminiti was one of my favorite players, but I don't remember getting terribly upset when he was shipped off to the Padres. If anything, I was angry that he was going to San Diego, which was the favorite team of a good, but obnoxious friend. Of course, I had to dislike any team from San Diego because of it. Still, I wasn't sure what I'd find when looking at this trade, since Derek Bell did have some good seasons and the Astros went to the playoffs with him. With that as your context, here's the analysis of the Padres and Astros mega-deal.

On December 28, 1994, the Houston Astros sent five players to the San Diego Padres for Derek Bell and five other players. The 1994 baseball strike was still chugging along, though Astros General Manager Bob Watson and Padres GM Randy Smith (son of current Astros president Tal Smith) decided to swap the meat of their roster in the kind of high-volume trade that just doesn't happen anymore. The Astros were coming off a shortened 1994 season where they won 66 games and finished a half-game behind the Reds in the NL Central. The Padres, however, struggled to win 47 games and allowed more runs than they scored. Here are the players involved:
    From the Astros
  • Ken Caminiti, a 32-year old third baseman

  • Steve Finley, a 30-year old center fielder

  • Andujar Cedeno, a 25-year old shortstop

  • Roberto Petagine, a 24-year old first baseman

  • Brian Williams, a 25-year old right-handed pitcher


    From the Padres
  • Derek Bell, a 26-year old center fielder

  • Doug Brocail, a 27-year old right-handed reliever

  • Ricky Gutierrez, a 24-year old shortstop

  • Phil Plantier, a 26-year old left fielder

  • Craig Shipley, a 32-year old utility infielder

  • Pedro A. Martinez, a 26-year old right-fielder reliever


With this many players changing hands, let's look at how many seasons each team got out of their haul. The Padres controlled their players for 11 1/2 seasons and paid $30.337 million in salary to their players. The Astros got 13 1/2 seasons of control out of their side and had to pay $21,077,500 to them. On the surface, this appears to be a straight salary dump. The Astros paid out $4.3775 million in 1995 to their players while the Padres paid $10.64 million. It also appears that the Astros were getting the 'prospects' in the deal as three of the six players were drafted in the first or second round, while two of the Padres' new players were in the final season of their contracts and needed pricy extensions after the season. Part of the Astros' 4 million came from Plantier, who was traded back to the Padres in July of 1995 for two pitchers (Jeff Tabaka and Rich Loiselle). Plantier had the highest salary of all six players the Astros received at $2 million, but I'm not sure how much the team assumed of that in the trade.

Clearly, the Astros gave up quite a bit of salary for a couple of young guys in Bell and Gutierrez. Bell was a star player for Houston, finishing 14th in MVP voting in 1995 and leading the team to three straight playoff appearances at the end of the decade. Gutierrez was a decent player, but never won the starting job from either Orlando Miller or Tim Bogar. On the other hand, the Padres picked up the 1996 MVP in Caminiti and an all-star center fielder in Finley. Caminiti also won Gold Gloves in 1995, 1996 and 1997. Both players helped get the Padres into the playoffs in 1996 and into the World Series in 1998.

The other interesting part of this trade is both teams played in pitcher's parks, but only three of the 11 players included in the deal were pitchers. Houston's Astrodome had a park factor of 93, 92, and 93 from 1995 to 1997, while San Diego's Jack Murphy Stadium had park factors 97, 95 and 94 over that same time frame. The Astros logic probably went something like this: we want a high-average hitter who can take advantage of those gaps in the outfield, but can also play one of the corner outfield spots and cover a ton of AstroTurf (which is exactly what they got in Bell, a center fielder until joining Houston). They also picked up a former first round pick in shortstop Gutierrez to shore up their infield defense. For the Padres, they fought their pitcher's park by improving their infield and outfield defenses while gaining some power for the lineup.

Speaking of power, we should discuss the elephant in the room with Cammy. His life and death was one of the saddest and most cautionary tales you can find in professional sports. He admitted before his unfortunate demise that he was a steroid user in 1996 when he had 41 Win Shares and won the MVP. Caminiti did see a power jump after the trade, hitting 66 home runs in two years, but part of that could be attributed to leaving the 'Dome. Current Padres GM Kevin Towers, who was the team's scouting director in 1994, said he suspected Caminiti was using performance-enhancers at the time, and now feels guilty about what happened to him. Towers had a ton of respect for Cammy and since the team was winning, didn't say anything. For Caminiti, the steroids may have helped him overcome the injuries that constantly plagued him, or caused more injuries. One thing is sure: Caminiti was a tough, tough man. My favorite story was during a two-game series the Padres and Mets were playing in Monterrey, Mexico, Caminiti was attached to an IV due to dehydration, diarrhea and nausea, but all he needed was two bags of fluid and a Snicker's bar before hitting two home runs in the second game to key a Padres victory.

So, who were the winners in this trade? On the player side, Caminiti, Finley and Bell all got long-term contracts, which is definitely a victory for them. On the team side, the Astros did win 32 more games over the next five years, but that included 102 and 97 win seasons in 1998 and 1999. Houston improved their win total every season until 1999, while the Padres see-sawed above and below .500 over that same time, with two 90-win seasons and three 70-win seasons. Both teams increased their runs scored totals over the next three seasons and each one outperformed their actual records by a bit. The Padres, though, jumped from 479 runs scored in 1994 to 668 runs scored in 1995. Granted, they played 27 more games in '95, but it's still a significant jump, from 4.09 runs a game to 4.63. The Astros, on the other hand, went from 5.14 runs scored to 5.18.

In the short term, the Padres had a higher winning percentage at .526, compared to the Astros .516 clip over the next two seasons following this deal. The Padres total was also due to a 91-win season in 1996. The Astros won in the long-term with a .557 winning percentage in the five years following the trade compared to the Padres' .516 winning percentage. The Padres made the playoffs twice and the World Series once while the Astros made the playoffs three times. I also calculated a rough Win Share total for 1995 and 1996 with these two teams and the advantage was hugely in the Padres favor. San Diego had an edge of 120 Win Shares to 74, led by almost 70 from Caminiti himself. The Astros, of course, struggled to find a third baseman after trading him away. Over the next ten seasons, Dave Magadan, Sean Berry, Bill Spiers, Caminiti himself, Chris Truby, Vinny Castilla and Morgan Ensberg all started games at the hot corner, with no player starting more than two consecutive seasons.

In the end, this trade was a salary dump through and through. Yes, the Astros did get better, but that was also due to a young rotation emerging and a couple of smart trades by new GM Gerry Hunsicker. The Astros got rid of a couple older, more expensive players but basically just got Bell in return. They got two good years out of Doug Brocail, but shipped him off to Randy Smith, who was then the GM in Detroit. The Padres got an MVP and a World Series loss out of it, so it's safe to say they got the better end of things. It's also telling that two years later, both GMs were looking for new jobs.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Links, Thoughts and a Trade Review

I just wanted to let you all know I haven't abandoned the gig just yet. I churned out four stories for the paper this week, had a doctor's appointment and a Meet the Teacher night for the Son of the Blog, and went through my busiest time with the day job by kicking a moderate number of kids out of school. Thus, the blog darkness for much of the week. Fear not, fair citizens: I shall be back with more goodness for you. Unfortunately, some of that contains more whining by me about the Astros commitment to the farm system.

First off, some links culled from the past few days that I thought you should read:

This one is brought to you by commenter baseballnerd, and is a really interesting read: http://montgomerynews.com/articles/2009/08/20/souderton_independent/sports
-Did you see the part when Greenwalt mentioned the Astros want to jump the whole rotation up to Double-A next season? Or the part where he mentioned the pitching coordinator wants the guys to throw strikes and give up hits instead of being too fine with their pitches. Could explain some of the lower strikeout rates for Greenwalt, Dydalewicz and Seaton.

If you haven't checked out Farmstros lately, you really should. He's been on a roll the past couple of weeks, being on top of the Mitch Einertson and Gabriel Garcia suspensions, blogging about the Alaniz signing and posting a truly comprehensive database of every player in the Astros system with biographical information and data on when and how they were signed. It's pretty spectactular and a credit to all the work he puts in over there and for the Crawfish Boxes.

Here's a really nice scouting video breaking down Albert Pujol's swing. I don't see this kind of analysis very often, but it's exactly what I'd like to do more of with the kids in the farm system.
Finally, here's a link to an article by MLBTradeRumors where they mention that Padres GM Kevin Towers admitted his team spent 10 million on amateur talent this season (including the draft and international signings). This is what I wanted to touch on before my trade review.

In my post on Wednesday, I talked about whether the Astros are really committed to rebuilding the farm system, or if Drayton is still not committing the money he should be. Now, the signing total laid out was just for draft picks. It didn't include the money for A.J. Alaniz, Kirk Clark, or any of the international free agents. Still, that's a little less than a million total for all the non-draft signings, which leaves the total player development budget at around 4.5 million. The Padres more than doubled that. Of course, San Diego is also in rebuilding mode right now and traded away their most valuable asset at the July 31st deadline in Jake Peavey.

Why should I care if a team that has 52 wins and a 43 million dollar payroll outspends the Astros? At that salary, they're on pace to pay $641,000 per victory this season. They are not making the playoffs, so that seems a reasonable figure. The Astros are also not making the playoffs this season, but with a 103 million dollar payroll, they are on pace to pay 1.275 million per victory in 2009. That's a heck of a lot of money for a sub-.500 team.

The main problem with this comparison is team outlook. The Padres know they are not competing this season, so they shaved payroll, let team icon Trevor Hoffman walk as a free agent, traded away their most expensive players and are stocking up on talented kids to throw against the wall and see who sticks. The Astros, on the other hand, have an entirely different philosophy. As has been chronicled in many, many places, owner Drayton McClain wants to win now and build for the future, so the Astros have to invest in high priced free agents as well as make good decisions in the draft. All this does is slow down the inevitable rebuilding process, which should have begun a couple of years ago.

I know, I know, I'm beating a dead horse. Everyone knows what an uphill battle it is for the Astros to ever invest the kind of money they need to into the farm. I guess we should be happy they are doing as well as they can and not worry about what might have been.

Let's end this post with a quick review of another trade. Since former Astro Billy Wagner is making news in the rumor mill by being placed on waivers, let's look back at the 2003 trade that sent him to the Philadelphia Phillies for Ezequiel Astacio, Brandon Duckworth and Taylor Buchholz.

Like many of the Gerry Hunsicker trades, he got value outside of the trade's jewel in Buchholz. At the time, the then-21-year old was considered one of the better pitching prospects in baseball. Pitching for Double-A Reading that season, Buchholz went 9-11 with a 3.55 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP. He also struck out 119 and walked 33. His numbers were sparkling, and would have placed in among the top 50 pitching prospects in the game.

Duckworth was 27 at the time and coming off a season where he went 4-7 in 24 games and 18 starts with an ERA of 4.94 and 68 strikeouts to 44 walks. Astacio was the least well-known at the time and had pitched in the High-A Florida State League in 2003, going 15-5 with a 3.29 ERA and an 83/29 K/BB ratio. Both were viewed more as filler than anything, but the club did control both Astacio and Buchholz for the next six seasons.

Wagner, on the other hand, was a proven commodity. He was coming off a season where he picked up 44 saves in a league-high 67 appearances with an ERA of 1.78 and a 88/22 K/BB ratio. Wagner was due to make 17 million over the next two seasons, which wasn't a problem for the Astros payroll at the time, which went from 71 million to 75 millon from 2003 to 2004. The problem with Wagner were comments he made right after the Astros were eliminated from the playoff race for the second straight season. Wagner was critical of owner Drayton McClain's willingness to spend money, which angered the owner a great deal. Drayton then allegedly ordered GM Gerry Hunsicker to trade Wagner.

It's impressive that Hunsicker was able to get as much as he did for the best closer in Astros history. With a bullpen that contained Wagner, Octavio Dotel and Brad Lidge, the Astros certainly didn't lack for closer options. Still, it's hard to get value for someone when other teams know you need to trade him.

Now, let's look at what kind of value the teams got from these players. Wagner was worth 6.7 million in 2003 and earned 8 million. In 2004 and 2005, the closer was worth 4.6 million and 7.1 million, meaning he underperformed his contract by 5.2 million dollars. The Astros got negative value for both Astacio and Duckworth. Astacio cost the Astros 2.7 million over the course of two seasons starting in 2005. He made the minimum each season, so he cost the Astros around 3.35 million. Duckworth cost the Astros 2.7 million while earning $900,000 over two seasons before being released after the 2006 campaign.

That just leaves us with Buchholz as the only player in this deal who stood as a possible positive investment. the Astros had already lost around 7 million in value while the Phillies lost 5.2 million, meaning the Astros needed to make up about 2 million in value with the 21-year old. As I said, a young pitcher like him should net the Astros around 16 million in value. Buchholz didn't make a big league appearance until 2006, when he went 6-10 in 22 games and 19 starts with the Astros. His ERA was 5.89 and his WHIP was at 1.25 while striking out 77 and walking 34. He was worth about 1.7 million that season, earning $325,00, meaning the Astros netted about 1.3 million in value for him in 2006.

Of course, new GM Tim Purpura used Buchholz as part of a package of players to get Jason Jennings from the Rockies. Jennings pitched 19 games, including 18 starts for the Astros in 2007, going 2-9 with a 6.45 ERA. Jennings was not offered a contract at the end of the season, so the Astros got one season out of him, but gave up on 7.3 and 5.4 million in value from Buchholz alone. We will revisit that Jennings trade later on, but for now, it's easy to say that Buchholz could have given the Astros another 12.7 million in value if they had held onto him.

So, who were the winners here? I don't know if there were any. The Astros did not get much value in return for their closer, gaining only 8 million in future value for the prospects while the Phillies not only lost 5.2 million in value on Wagner's contract, they also didn't make the playoffs either season. As for Wagner, he talked himself out of a two-year run to the postseason with the Astros, including the franchise's only trip to the World Series. Buchholz was shipped to the pitching wasteland that is Colorado while Astacio was picked up by the Rangers in 2007 and Duckworth was signed by the Royals in 2006. As I said, neither the players, nor the teams really won this trade, which just goes to show you: decisions made based on high emotions, such as anger at your closer for critical comments of you, never work out. Remember that, Drayton, when Roy Oswalt pops off in the offseason about this team.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ross Seaton Updated Pitching Profile

As I did with Jordan Lyles, I'm setting out to do a better analysis of Ross Seaton's first full season in professional baseball. Last time we looked at him, he had pitched in five games and won quite a few despite having average statistics. His season has been up and down since then, but the fact is he hasn't jumped out at me as being the kind of can't-miss prospect the Astros saw when they drafted him. Here's a brief recap of his background from my first post:

Seaton is a 19-year old right-handed pitcher from Second Baptist High School in Houston and was selected in the supplemental portion of the third round in 2008. At 6-foot-4 and 190 lbs., the Sugar Land native has definitely got the frame to be a power pitcher. His arm slot is definitely overhand and from what I could tell, it didn't look like his elbow was flying forward before his hand. The scouting report on him mentioned three good pitches, with the possibility of his changeup becoming an average pitch.
I was pretty high on Seaton back then, but my opinion has dropped steadily as the season has gone on. One of the reasons Seaton lasted until the third round was teams didn't think he could be signed away from Tulane and weren't ready to give him first-round money when his fastball velocity dipped due to an injury in the spring. The main reason he was projected to be a good prospect is that his velocity jumped up to around 95 once he was healthy and pitching professionally last season.

I'm not sure what his velocities have been in 2009, but he's been missing bats, as most of his strikeouts have been swinging. I mentioned Seaton was giving up hits to the opposite field when batters did make contact. He's sort of continued that trend, but it's much more subtle now. Instead, the problem Seaton has had with batted balls is giving up too many line drives. In his worst start of the season, back on May 21st, Seaton gave up 11 line drives and only had three of those caught for outs. That's a whole lot of hits falling in, as the 10 hits he gave up in 5 1/3 innings was around 8% of the total number of hits he's given up this season. Now, as I've said before, a pitcher can't control his line drive rate, but that many people knocking the crap out of the ball suggests something was amiss.

In fact, May and July have been the only two months where Seaton gave up more hits than innings pitched. His WHIP this season sits at 1.25, which is very respectable, as is his BB/9 rate of 2.45. Still, Seaton hasn't been overpowering hitters in the Sally League as much as you'd like to see. The South Atlantic League is dominated by pitchers and there are only six hitters in the entire league who are batting over .300. This is the polar opposite of the Astros other Class A affiliate in Lancaster, but Seaton hasn't dominated like you'd expect a Top 5 prospect in your organization to do.

One of the thing that has concerned me all season is the lack of strikeouts from Seaton. In April and May, Seaton totaled 24 strikeouts over nine starts. His numbers improved in June, July and August, as he's struck out 52 in 12 starts since. His K/9 rate has climbed every month until August (which hasn't finished yet) from 5.70 in April, 3.07 in May, 6.40 in June, 7.04 in July and 6.18 in August. His overall K/9 rate of 5.64 is almost two strikeouts lower than the league average of 7.93 K/9. Lexington as a team has a K/9 rate of 7.25. It's a little unfair to compare him to team totals, but I just wanted to underscore why his strikeout totals worry me.

I think the evidence is that he's getting better, though. His G/F ratio is climbing closer to 1.00 each month and he has thrown better since Lexington started using six starters with the addition of David Duncan to the rotation. Seaton has gotten bumped from time to time and missed almost two weeks around the SAL All-Star Break, but has made progress. His best start of the season came on June 1st, when he threw a complete game shutout. Seaton struck out five and walked none, while giving up five line drives. He only allowed one extra base hit, a double with one out in the fifth inning on a line drive to center field. Seaton got a fly ball to left field for the second out before inducing a grounder to second base to end the inning. In none of the nine innings did Seaton allow more than one base runner and the double was the only time an opposing player reached scoring position. His game score of 89 is the highest I've seen this season.

The last point I'd like to touch upon before finishing this up is his workload. As I mentioned, the Astros did insert a new pitcher into that rotation to take some of the stress of the young arms. Lyles and Seaton are already at innings thresholds that I'm not terribly excited about for young guys. Seaton has thrown 121 1/3 innings this season after getting hardly any experience in pro ball last season. In the past two months, he's only started seven games out of 48, so in the remaining 18 on Lexington's schedule, he may start two or three more, which puts him right around 130 innings. While the Astros have limited his number of pitches (I'm assuming) and number of batters faced (I know), it's still a lot of stress to put on young arms. I like what Dewey Robinson and the rest of the Astros pitching coaches have done the past couple of years, but this concerns me. Out of the five Lexington starts at the beginning of the season, odds are one will blow out their arm. You'd hate for it to be Lyles or Seaton.

So, that's the profile right now. Let's chalk up my concerns more to Seaton being young and needing to learn how to pitch. Maybe he can figure out his BABiP and talk with Brian Bannister about how to use your brain in pitching (Seaton's apparently a bright guy). I'd settle for him making it to the Astros rotation healthy and pitching effectively, no matter how he got there. I think he's got a good shot to do that, too.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Draft Pick Signings and More

Lots going on over the weekend in the minors, including two updates by Bobby Heck on draft pick signings and the Astros adding another undrafted free agent, A.J. Alaniz. Here is a link to Brian McTaggart's blog post about the Alaniz signing. Heck was much more positive there than in this blog post by Zachary Levine. They ultimately didn't get anything done but judging by the performance thus far, had a pretty solid draft. It was the kind of restocking-type draft this farm system needs, as they added durable, dependable and most importantly young players at many different positions.

Still, I'm a little troubled by this article by Baseball America talking about the amount of money all the teams spent on draft picks through Round 10. The Astros clocked in at $3,426,500, which was the sixth-lowest figure in MLB this season. Sure, there were only nine teams that signed as many draft picks as the Astros did, and 14 of the 30 teams spent $4,250,000 or less, so it's not like the Astros were big cheapskates. I just wonder if the Astros went for signability picks instead of the best talent. Since Shelby Miller was picked by the Cardinals right before the Astros had a shot at him, we'll never know whether he would have been the pick over Mier.

Now, I'm also not arguing with the top pick. I like Mier a lot. His glove has been solid and his bat has been a surprise. He's missed some time with injuries to this point, but he is already off to a better start than Jay Austin got off to last season and than third-rounder Telvin Nash is off to this season. Would toolsy outfielder Jared Mitchell have been a better pick, though? Would he have provided an instant impact to the system like Jason Castro has done? I don't have answers. All I can see is that examples like the Colorado Rockies, who portray themselves as a smaller market team. Thus, they rely on prospects to restock their system. This draft, they chose RHP Tyler Matzek despite his very real commitment to Oregon State. It went down to the wire, but Matzek signed and the Rockies got a top-5 talent at the 11th pick in the first round.

This may not even be Bobby Heck's fault. In fact, I'm sure it's not, because he drafted and signed guys last season who commanded big bonuses and got them. So, if it's not Heck, is it Drayton? Did we get one draft class where he spent money to allay the fears that the 2007 draft class brought up, with the top two picks not signing? The consensus is that owners will lobby hard for a slotting system in the next round of collective bargaining, so next year's draft may be entirely different financially. Does Drayton know more than he's letting on and held back the purse strings a little this season, knowing that next year will be different? Publicly, we heard nothing from Heck or Ed Wade which implied they didn't have the money to get deals done.

My gut reaction is this: the Astros are telling us they have changed. They value scouting now. They value their draft picks. That's why lists like the one I linked to above bother me. We're hearing one thing and seeing another. I can come up with plausible explanations, like the payroll being up over 100 million and the Astros needed to trim costs by getting a bunch of slot signings this year in the draft, while next year there will be some more payroll flexibility. It's great the Astros signed 36 of 51 draft picks and I hope they were just thrifty shoppers. I'm just not convinced.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday's Trip to the Minors

Before our brief foray into the top four levels of the minors, here's an update on the Tri-City team:
Left-hander Dallas Keuchel has pitched very well this month. In three games, Keuchel has given up three earned runs in 20 innings while striking out 15 and walking one. He has given up two home runs and has only gotten three runs in support, explaining his three no-decisions. Still, the former Arkansas star couldn't be having a better start to his big-league career and should start next season at Lancaster at least, possibly even Corpus.

Right-hander Wander Alvino has not been as good this month, giving up eight earned runs in 11 innings while striking out six and walking two. Alvino has lost both of his starts and has barely a 1/1 G/F ratio this month. Considering his K/9 rate has not been strong this season, the 22-year old may just not be that good a prospect. It'll be interesting to see if he gets a promotion to Lexington next season.

Outfielder Jacob Goebbert had a rough start to the season, but has bounced back in a big way this month. The 21-year old is 11 for 35 with eight doubles, six RBIs, four runs scored, three walks and five strikeouts. His 6.8 runs created is good for third on the team, behind J.D. Martinez and Barry Butera. Goebbert is also 4 for his last 9 and leads the organization in doubles this month.

Center fielder Brian Kemp has been struggling this month and saw his average drop all the way down to .274/.382/.318 on the season. Kemp is 8 for 37 with two walks, six runs scored and three RBIs and has just one extra-base hit, a triple. The 20-year old has also struck out six times, which is high for him. His lack of plate discipline may have also led to his demotion from the leadoff spot earlier this week.

First baseman/left fielder J.D. Martinez continues to mash, with a line of .405/.435/.643 this month. The 21-year old is 17 for 42 with five doubles, one triple and a home run, driving in a team-high eight runs while scoring another six. Martinez has created 11 runs this month and has created 24 total runs in 119 plate appearances with Tri-City in July and August.

Middle infielder Barry Butera also has been hot this month, since gaining playing time after Brandon Wikoff was promoted to Lexington. Butera is 7 for 17 in his last four games and has hit four doubles and stolen four bases this month. His line of .356/.396/.444 is second only to Martinez on the team, as his his 9 runs created. Butera's season line is a bit low at .246/.331/.299, but since he became a regular, his hitting has improved markedly.

Diminutive second baseman Jose Altuve was called up to Tri-City earlier this week and responded by going 3 for 12 in three games. The 19-year old is the second-youngest position player on the team behind Rene Garcia. It will be interesting to see if Altuve can still hit for power in the higher levels, but he's already hit a double in those three games.
Now for the rest of the minor leagues:
Left-hander Douglas Arguello pitched well for Corpus on Thursday in his return from the DL. Arguello made a few appearances with the GCL Astros and Tri-City before starting for Corpus and has immediately helped their pitching staff. Arguello lasted five innings, giving up three hits and one earned run while striking out three and walking none. The 24-year old did give up one home run and threw 72 pitches total in his return. Pitcher Brad James was thrust into a reliever's role, but he blew the victory for Arguello by giving up two runs in two innings of work for his first blown save. Ryan McKeller picked up his second victory with Corpus by tossing three shutout innings to end the game.

Catcher Jason Castro did not fare as well, going 0 for 5 with two strikeouts to drop his average down to .304....Outfielder Drew Locke, on the other hand, was 4 for 4 with an RBI, raising his average up to .330....Jimmy Van Ostrand and Nick Moresi each hit home runs, while Van Ostrand drove in the winning run on a fly ball single in the bottom of the 10th.

In Lancaster, Koby Clemens extended his hitting streak to 11 games by hitting a home run in the bottom of the first inning. It was Clemens' 16th home run of the season and the two RBIs gave him 102 for the season. Clemens finished the night 1 for 4 with a strikeout.

Right-hander Tip Fairchild tossed a gem of a start at Clear Channel Field, lasting eight innings while giving up eight hits and two earned runs. The 25-year old struck out nine and walked one to pick up his first victory of the 2009 season.

Lexington outfielder Steve Brown continued his torrid pace this month by going 3 for 5 with a double and two runs scored on Thursday. Brown is now hitting .257/.301/.422 and the double was his 16th of the season.

Lexington starter Robert Bono got hit pretty hard, giving up seven runs (four earned) in 5 1/3 innings of work while striking out three and walking none. Reliever Henry Villar followed by giving up four unearned runs in two-thirds of an inning, allowing two hits and one walk while striking out none. Even recently promoted Tri-City pitcher Anthony Noguera got hit some, giving up his first run in Lexington during his fourth appearance. Noguera lasted 2 2/3 innings while giving up three hits and one run, striking out one and walking two.
That's all for now, but I should be caught up now, so next week we'll be on a more normal posting schedule. Until then...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thursday's Thoughts

We're going to run through the top of the Astros system first before we get to the short-season teams with Tri-City (a day late) and possibly Greeneville. Without further ado, here are all the news and notes from the Astros minor league system:

Right-hander Polin Trinidad had another good start on Wednesday for Round Rock, pitching seven innings for the third straight game and allowing four hits and two earned runs. The 23-year old struck out four and walked two, giving up one home run. Trinidad has given up a ton of home runs since moving up with the Express, but has averaged a game score of 52 over eight starts in Triple-A. Trinidad is 4-3 over those starts but has not had a FIP under 4.00 since his second start with Round Rock. He's been very good this season, but obviously needs a little more work at this level.

Outfielder Yordany Ramirez has a five-game hitting streak going currently after a 1 for 4 night on Wednesday. Ramirez had another five game streak to start the month, giving him hits in 10 of 11 games in August. The 25-year old has a line of .317/.317/.341 this month with three runs scored, four RBIs, one double and three stolen bases. I still think Ramirez is a good bet to be called up in September as a fifth outfielder.

Third baseman Chris Johnson continues to swing a hot bat in August, going 6 for 12 in his last three games with two home runs and a triple. Johnson now has four home runs and 10 RBIs this month and is hititng .341/.386/.707 with seven runs scored and five strikeouts in 45 plate appearances. He's slightly leading Tommy Manzella in runs created with 10 and has a wOBA of .405. The four home runs this month is his highest total in a single month this season (and he has 18 days left).

Catcher Jason Castro had another 1 for 3 day on Wednesday, walking once and raising his averages to .351/.429/.405 this month. The 22-year old has five walks in August with seven runs scored, five RBIs and two doubles. One of the blogs over at FanGraphs noted that his ISO average has fallen since moving from Lancaster, but this was to be expected. Castro will be a gap hitter and should hit for a pretty good average.

Outfielder Collin DeLome is still slumping pretty hard, going 1 for 11 in his last four games. DeLome did steal a base on Wednesday and has now struck out 10 times. The 22-year old has a line of .154/.241/.154, which is not very good, but he has walked three times already and has scored two runs. Unfortunately, his power has completely disappeared this month and, because his playing time has been spotty, I have to wonder if he's playing through an injury right now.

Outfielder Drew Locke hit another home run on Wednesday, raising his monthly averages to .333/.373/.646 with three home runs, a triple and four doubles. Locke also has nine runs scored and seven RBIs in August with seven strikeouts and three walks. At Locke's age, you expect him to do this, but he's definitely been the best player in Corpus all season and now leads the organziation in RBIs with 102.

Right-hander Leandro Cespedes continued his streak of above-average starts by going seven innings and allowing four hits and one earned run on Wednesday. His K/BB ratio was off a bit as he struck out four and walked five but the 22-year old now has 82 strikeouts in 97 1/3 innings this season. His FIP was 6.06 in this game but his G/F ratio was 12/3 and Cespedes had double-digit ground ball outs for the second straight game.

Catcher/left fielder Koby Clemens has now been hot for going on five straight weeks, extending his hitting streak to 10 games on Wednesday. The 22-year old is 16 for 40 with five walks, eight runs scored, 15 RBIs, three doubles, two home runs and 10 strikeouts in August. His 15 RBIs leads the team and is the most in the organization this month. As farmstros noted, Clemens now has 100 RBIs this season and has created 12 runs this month.

Outfielder Brandon Barnes was recently named Player of the Week by the California League and has gone 15 for 42 this month with seven runs scored, nine RBIs, two doubles, one triple and two home runs. The 23-year old struck out six times in 44 plate appearances but hasn't walked yet and has a line of .357/.372/.619 in August. Barnes also has created 9.7 runs this month with a wOBA of .441, which is the highest on the team.

Second baseman Craig Corrado has struggled this season with a line of .247/.276/.324, but is having a nice August so far. In nine games, the 23-year old is hitting 13 for 37 with one walk, five runs scored, five RBIs, two doubles and six strikeouts. Corrado's line of .351/.368/.405 is one of the best on the team this month. His playing time is cut into by Marco Cabral and now Andrew Simunic but is still getting good at-bats this month.

Left-hander Brad Dydalewicz had a second straight bad start on Wednesday, but didn't get bailed out by his offense and took his fifth loss of the season. The 19-year old gave up seven earned runs and five hits in four innings while walking four and striking out two. Dydalewicz also hit three batters and had a game score of 22. His G/F ratio has been very solid all season at almost 2/1 but has barely been at 1/1 for the past two starts at 11/9. What's also been surprising is that his Power/Finesse Ratio is up to 1.14 overall and hasn't been under 1.00 in three starts. I don't think of Dydalewicz as a power pitcher, especially with 62 strikeouts in 90 innings, but could develop into a power arm.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Road Trip to Lexington

A rare three post day yesterday, which should be followed by at least two posts today. I'm planning on getting through rundowns of Lexington and Tri-City today before finishing up with Greeneville and the GCL Astros on Thursday. So, without further ado, let's get to Applebee's Park for all the news and notes on Lexington:

Right-hander Ross Seaton continues to do some good things in Lexington, but overall hasn't been as impressive as some make him out to be. Take his two August starts, for instance. In the first, the 18-year old threw six shutout innings, allowing five hits and striking out four. In the second, he lasted just four innings, giving up four hits and six runs (four earned) while striking out three and walking two. His average game score this season is 52 over 20 games and he has amassed 72 strikeouts against 33 walks in 115 1/3 innings. His FIP of 4.14 is a little high, but his HR/9 rate is strong at 0.72.

Right-hander Jordan Lyles has gotten over his mid-July bump in admirable fashion, allowing just three runs in the past 19 innings, striking out 21 and walking four over that stretch. His game scores in his last three have been 72, 57 and 75, though he's gotten just one victory out of this stretch. Lexington has scored one run total in his last two starts, but Lyles maintains an excellent K/9 rate and a Power/Finesse Ratio, while his Defense Efficiency Ratio is a bit low at .660.

Right-hander Kyle Greenwalt has also made two starts in the past 12 days and has a better FIP (3.13) than his ERA (3.97). Greenwalt has thrown 11 1/3 innings, allowing 11 hits and five earned runs while striking out eight and walking four. Greenwalt lost both games, but still has a good G/F rate of 15/10. His BABiP of .314 is right in line with where it should be, so he's pitching close to his true level. Greenwalt didn't make Baseball America's Top 30 list, but has been almost as valuable as Seaton has this season with a Pitching Runs Created total of 36.6.

Left-hander Brad Dydalewicz started two games as well over this stretch of games and had arguably the best streak of the four. The 19-year old threw 11 innings, giving up nine hits and four earned runs while striking out eight and walking four. His ERA of 3.27 was higher than his FIP of 2.84. His G/F ratio of 16/9 is also very good and Dydalewicz continues to avoid line drives, having just one in his past four starts.

Right-hander Kyle Godfrey has been a reliever this season, but is putting a solid season together. In four appearances this month, Godfrey has thrown 8 2/3 innings while giving up six hits and one earned run while striking out five and walking one. The 23-year old has one hold and a sterling G/F ratio of 17/4. His FIP is a bit high at 3.89, especially considering his ERA sits at 1.04, but he doesn't miss many bats. Godfrey has been good all season, starting out in Tri-City and earning a promotion last month.

Second baseman Albert Cartwright leads the Legends with 6.9 runs created in August after going 12 for 43 with four walks, eight runs scored, four RBIs, and three doubles. The 21-year old also stole seven bases in nine attempts, making up for his lack of power. Cartwright has struck out seven times in 49 plate appearances, which is a bit high. Still, it's encouraging to see Cartwright shake off the rust after his hand injury and finally get back on track offensively.

Center fielder Jay Austin has only appeared in five games in the past 12 days and was removed from a game two days ago in his only appearance since last week. Austin is 4 for 16 with three walks, three rusn scored and a triple while striking out once. Austin also stole one base but also was caught stealing once. His season average is hovering around .260, which is much better than what it has been earlier in the season.

Shortstop Brandon Wikoff started out the month strong, but a 1 for 16 stretch over the past four games has dropped his average down to .225/.311/.225 for the month. Wikoff is hitting .321/.387/.321 in 15 games with Lexington and has an average of .299 overall since being drafted out of Illinois-Champagne.

Outfielder Steve Brown was selected as one of farmstros players of the week last period. Indeed, the 22-year old is having a good month, going 13 for 39 with one double, one triple, three home runs, nine runs scored and 11 RBIs. Brown has a couple black marks on his resume, though, as he hasn't walked yet this month and has been caught stealing or picked off five times without a successful stolen base. In fact, Brown has only walked 12 times in 241 at-bats this season. Still, home runs are hard to come by in Lexington and to hit three in one week is impressive. One other note I hadn't realized about Brown...he was signed as an undrafted free agent back in 2003, which means he decided to sign for the minimum possible and play baseball professionally than go to college. Think about that next time you hear that Aaron Crow won't take 3 million from the Royals or that Stephen Strasburg may not sign.

Right fielder Eric Suttle may not have an impressive batting average at .207, but he does manage to walk quite a bit. In fact, he has more walks (8) than hits (6) this monht. Suttle has cooled off some after his hot start in Lexington, but has still been a valuable, and consistent, outfielder after guys like Russell Dixon were sent down and Marquis Williams battled injuries.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Trade Review: Jose Valverde

Every now and then, I think back on a trade the Astros made in the past few years and it either makes me angry, sad or depressed. To torture myself more, sometimes I comb through the archives to come up with an analysis on exactly how badly a particular trade hurt. This is the first in what may become a recurring series of Trade Reviews. First up, the December 14, 2007 trade of Chris Burke, Juan Gutierrez and Chad Qualls for Jose 'El Papa Grande' Valverde.

I want to be up front about this. I like Valverde. I like the nickname, I like his antics on the mound and I like his stuff. I think he's a good closer. He helps the Astros win games, which is all you want. What bothers me about this swap is how much we gave up for a ninth-inning pitcher on a team that had just a marginal chance of making the playoffs. So, what did we give up?

Chad Qualls, 30-year old right-hander, drafted in the second round in 2000 out of the University of Nevada, Reno. Pitched in 119 1/3 innings in two seasons, striking out 111 while walking 23 and earning 30 saves with an ERA of 3.16.

Juan Gutierrez, 25-year old right-hander from the Dominican Republic, signed in 2000. Pitched in the minors in 2008, but has thrown 51 2/3 innings in 46 games this season, striking out 53 while walking 25 with a 4.53 ERA.

Chris Burke, 29-year old middle infielder, drafted 10th overall in 2000 out of Tennessee. Got 199 plate appearances in 2008 with Arizona and had a line of .194/.310/.273. Was released in the off-season and signed with San Diego.

What did El Papa Grande do? In 105 1/3 innings over the past two seasons, Valverde has picked up 59 saves, striking out 120 while walking 35 with an ERA of 3.16. That may look familiar, since it's exactly the same ERA Qualls had in more innings. Of course, Valverde suffers because he lost time in 2009 to an injury, but let's look closer at the player values.

Valverde earned 4.7 million in 2008 and will earn 8 million in 2009. After this season, he is a free agent and can sign with any team he wishes. Qualls earned 1.31 milllion in 2008 and 2.53 million in 2009 and still has one year of abitration left. Burke earned 955,000 in 2008 and Gutierrez is earning 401,000 in 2009.

That's 5.2 million in salary going out the door and 12.7 million in salary being added to a team that was already top-heavy with a few big contracts. To look at it from another angle, that's eight seasons of pitching the Astros traded away for two seasons of a closer. But, you say, those 59 saves Valverde picked up have to be valuable. Who would have closed if he had not been acquired?

Fan Graphs has assigned a monetary value based on player performance for each guy involved in the trade, so we can break this down even further. Valverde has been worth 4.6 million over the past two seasons, while Qualls has been worth 14.6 million and Gutierrez worth 5.4 million. Even if you count the negative 100,000 Burke was worth in 2008, the Astros still handed away some very valuable seasons of bullpen help that would have cost them less than they are paying for now.

Another knock on Qualls when he was with the Astros is that he gave up too many home runs. In a more hitter friendly park than Minute Maid, Qualls has given up eight home runs in the past two seasons while Valverde has given up 15. The only significant difference between the two is that Valverde can miss more bats, giving him a higher strikeout total.

Granted, we don't know if Gutierrez will pan out past this season, but he was one of the top 30 Astros prospects in 2007. Qualls also was a playoff-tested reliever heading into the 2008 season, so he could have been counted on to close as well. This trade was a classic over-reaction by the new General Manager Ed Wade, hired three months before this move. Wade has made some good pickups in LaTroy Hawkins, Alberto Arias and Darin Erstad, but whiffing on Valverde left him tied up financially and unable to make any significant moves last winter and this summer. Some GMs realize you can't give up multiple seasons of cheap players for expensive veterans; I just wish the Astros could get with the program.

Road Trip to Lancaster

And now for a quick rundown of Lancaster's last 10 days:
Right-handed starter Chris Hicks has been just as enigmatic as usual in the past 10 days. Hicks had a good start last week, with a game score of 57 and then lasted just 1 2/3 innings in his next start. The 22-year old has struck out eight and walked five in 7 2/3 innings, giving up 11 hits and 10 earned runs, one of which was on a home run. Hicks has a 8/7 G/F ratio and a FIP of 4.77, much lower than his ERA of 11.74 this month. His K/9 rate of 9.39 is excellent as always and his BABiP of .400 suggests his numbers will fall.

Right-hander Leandro Cespedes started just one game this month, but it was a doozy. The 22-year old put up a game score of 79, his highest this season after lasting nine innings in an extra-innings loss. Cespedes gave up five hits and two unearned runs, striking out seven and walking one to get a no-decision. He also had a good G/F ratio of 12/7 and a FIP of 1.98.

Catcher/left fielder Koby Clemens is following up his excellent month of July with a good start in August. Clemens has an eight-game hitting streak currently and is hitting .406/.459/.594 this month. The 22-year old has hit one home run and three doubles, scoring six runs and driving in 11 more. Clemens has struck out nine times but has also walked four times in 36 plate appearances. His 9.6 runs created this month are second on the team.

Center fielder J.B. Shuck is also batting .400 this month, and has created 10 runs so far. In eight games, Shuck is 16 for 39 with two walks, four doubles, one triple, seven runs scored and four RBIs. His line of .410/.439/.564 is the highest on the team and his wOBA of .423 is second only to Brandon Barnes. Shuck also stole his 18th base of the season in his only attempt.

Right fielder Jon Gaston is still struggling a bit this month, going 7 for 30 with two doubles, a triple and a home run. He's driven in just three runs this month and has struck out 12 times. How he was named Astros player of the month for July over Clemens, I don't have a clue; all I know is he's not been as good as his press clippings lately.

First baseman Matt Weston has seen his average stay high this August, but his power has dipped in the past eight games. The 24-year old former University of Houston player is 9 for 31 with five walks and 11 strikeouts but has hit just three doubles. Compared to his July, when Weston hit 21 XBH, this month's total is lagging a bit one-third of the way through the month.

Catcher Jordan Comadena has played more in the past eight games than he has in two months, starting three games and picking up two at-bats in another. Comadena is the backup catcher when Clemens is not starting, but is just 2 for 9 in four games with two walks and one strikeout.

Second baseman Andrew Simunic was promoted from Lexington and promptly went 1 for 3 with an RBI in his first start. The 23-year old undrafted free agent out of Tennessee is hitting .288/.404/.306 in 56 games this season, mostly with Lexington.

Third baseman Ebert Rosario has also thrived once freed from Lexington, going 9 for 31 with a home run, eight runs scored and five RBIs. Rosario has been primarily batting out of two two-hole in the lineup, explaining all the runs and the relative lack of RBIs. Still, Rosario has only struck out three times in 40 plate appearances, which is a talent in rare commodity in Lancaster. His usefulness at the top of the order makes the 22-year old more valuable even though his power has yet to show itself.

Road Trip to Corpus Christ

This week, I think it will work better if we break each roundup into minor league levels. So, today, we'll visit Corpus Christi and Lancaster to see what's been going on in the last 10 days. Of course, news broke over the weekend that Mitch Einertson has been suspended for 50 games after a second positive drug test. According to farmstros, Einertson did not test positive for performance enhancers, but for recreational drugs. The Astros signed former Hooks outfielder Ray Sadler to take his spot, rather than make a late-season call-up from Lancaster. With that, let's get to all the news and notes you can handle from the city by the Bay:

Right-handed pitcher Brad James lost his ninth and tenth games of the season last week. The 23-year old pitched seven total innings over the two starts, lasting one inning in the first and six in the second. James gave up 11 hits and 11 earned runs, striking out five and walking four. More distressing is that James, a sinkerballer with a high ground ball rate, has given up two home runs and has a 5/10 G/F ratio. James also hit four batters, indicating he may be having control problems, though he actually has more strikeouts than walks for the first time in a while.

Right-handed pitcher Sergio Perez has been better, going 1-1 in two starts, lasting 11 total innings while getting 12 hits and six earned runs. The 23-year old struck out eight and walked two, giving up two home runs in his second start. His FIP of 4.65 is just south of his ERA of 4.91, though his WHIP is a very good 1.27. I still lean towards Perez being better in the bullpen long-term, but keeping him in the rotation right now can't hurt anything.

Right-handed pitcher Chia-Jen Lo has appeared in just three games this month, striking out three and walking one in 4 2/3 innings. The 23-year old allowed two hits and one earned run without picking up any decisions. Lo's averages (1.93 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 2.56 FIP) are excellent, but his BABiP of .154 suggests this hot streak won't continue for long.

Outfielder Drew Locke started out hot in August, going 15 for 44 with four doubles, one triple, two home runs, eight runs scored, six RBIs, three walks and six strikeouts. Locke's 10 runs created this month is twice the total of the second-best hitter. Only one other player has a higher weighted OBA than Locke's .375 (we'll get to him later). Still, the Hooks only could muster a 4-7 record in August, dropping their overall record to 19-25 in the second half of the season.

Catcher Jason Castro leads Corpus Christi in batting average and has a line of .353/.421/.412 in 38 plate appearances. Castro only has two doubles but has also scored seven runs and driven in another five. Castro has a wOBA of .326 and has raised his season averages up to .312/.368/.409. Castro's catcher's ERA is also at 4.83 in eight games this month, which is a bit high, but he doesn't have much to work with on that pitching staff.

Center fielder Nick Moresi is having his best stretch of games to date in 2009. In nine games this month, the 24-year old former Fresno State star is 11 for 33 with five doubles, five runs scored, five RBis and one home run. Moresi was promoted more for his defense than his bat, as he's got a career line of just .222/.289/.353.

Shortstop Wladimir Sutil has been just okay this month, going 12 for 45 with three walks, seven runs scored and three RBIs. Still, he's only had three doubles and has been caught stealing once and picked off another time. His line of .267/.327/.333 is down from his season averages, even though he's had one 4 for 5 day this month.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Short Trip to Round Rock

Hi everyone...sorry for the blackout last week. The move proved much, MUCH more difficult than I had anticipated, as I never really fathomed just how much stuff my wife had squirreled away in her office. I still don't have internet access at home, but was able to look at the past nine days at Round Rock and get some cogent thoughts:

First, a link to an article I did for astrosdaily.com that you might find interesting.

Casey Daigle was named Round Rock's Pitcher of the Month for July, and has continued to pitch well in August. Daigle has appeared in four games, throwing four innings while allowing six hits and one walk, striking out eight. The 28-year old also picked up two holds and has a FIP of 0.70 for August.

Polin Trinidad had two up-and-down starts last week. He lasted seven innings in each, splitting the two decisions with a victory and a loss. Trinidad struck out nine and walked just one but gave up 12 hits and eight earned runs. His FIP of 5.84 is actually higher than his ERA of 5.14 even though his strikeouts have been relatively high. Trinidad remains the youngest starter in Round Rock, and even with the recent promotions of Bud Norris and Yorman Bazardo, probably won't be considered for a call up until next season.

Erick Abreu was promoted from Corpus and put into the Express starting rotation. He's won both of his starts, striking out nine and walking three over 11 2/3 innings. The 25-year old gave up 12 hits and four earned runs but has a high G/F ratio of 7/19.

Sammy Gervacio didn't spend much time with the Astros, but has been throwing gas since his demotion. In three appearances this month, Gervacio has struck out eight and walked one while allowing no hits or runs. The 24-year old picked up two holds and has a FIP of 0.41.

Yordany Ramirez continues to ride a hot bat, though he's still not walking at all and his power has dried up a bit. The 25-year old is finally using his speed to his advantage, though, stealing three bases in eight games this month. Ramirez has 13 stolen bases on the season and has gone 10 for 30 this month with three strikeouts.

Brian Bogusevic has also gone steal-happy and was successful on all three of his attempts this month. Bogey is 8 for 31 with three walks, five runs scored, one RBI, a double and five strikeouts. Former Tulane teammate Tommy Manzella has been a little better, going 10 for 32 with seven RBIs, one home run and a double this month.

Chris Johnson hit two home runs over the weekend in the same game, but hasn't hit much this month. In eight games, he's 8 for 29 with a double, the two home runs, four RBIs and three runs scored. Johnson has also struck out four times and walked three times.

J.R. Towles has not returned yet from his latest injury, which may be one of the reasons the Astros haven't pulled the plug on the Pudge Rodriguez experiment yet. Towles is getting older and may be best suited as a backup catcher to Corpus Christi's Jason Castro.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Week Ahead

Just wanted to give you an update on what's going on the next few days. I've got a workshop to go to this afternoon, so that means no recap on the weekend's games. What I will get to today is the July Players of the Month.

As for the rest of the week, I am moving on Wednesday, so I expect to be out of the loop until Friday. I might have a post or two up tomorrow, but it could be a slow week.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

July Players of the Month

Triple-A (Round Rock Express)

(Age, year and round drafted)

Hitter of the Month: Mark Saccomanno, 1B (28, 23rd in 2003): This was Tommy Manzella's spot to lose for most of this month, and the shortstop did nothing to NOT win this award. Saccomanno, however, went nuts in the last week of July to take over the Runs Created lead from Manzella. In seven games last week, Saccomanno went 10 for 26 with three home runs, a triple, seven RBIs, seven runs scored, three walks, four strikeouts and a stolen base. His Runs Created total of 19 combined with his weighted OBA of .328 were boht the highest on the team. Saccomanno also led the Express with 12 walks in July, giving him a line of .320/.418/.547 this month.

Pitcher of the Month: Bud Norris, RHP (24, sixth in 2006): Norris was called up by the Astros a week ago, but had a great month of July leading up to it. In five starts, Norris threw 33 innings, allowing 33 hits and 15 runs (14 earned). The 24-year old struck out 24 and walked 11 in July, giving up one home run and hitting one batter. His record of 1-4 was bad only because his run support in July was 2.2 runs a game. His traditional stats are very solid but his peripherals are even better. His BABiP is at .333, meaning he gave up a few more hits than he should have. His FIP reflects this as it sits at 3.23, about half a run lower than his ERA of 3.82. When his BAA is at .230 for the month AND he was unlucky to get there, you can see why the Astros called him up. I've written about his control in the past here, and it still concerns me. If he keeps throwing shutouts up in Houston, though, it might be a moot point.

Double-A (Corpus Christi Hooks)

Hitter of the Month: Drew Locke, LF (26, 19th, 2005 by LA Dodgers): Locke struggled hitting for power at the beginning of July, but finished with more home runs than teammate Collin DeLome with five. Locke also led the Hooks with 34 hits this month and 23 RBIs. The 26-year old created 21 runs this month, bringing his season total to 71.8. His wOBA is at .313, which is a tick higher than both DeLome and Jason Castro but lower than team leader Mark Ori (.331). Locke's adjusted OPS is at .885, so his numbers haven't been affected much by Whataburger Field. His line of .318/.372/.514 helped raise his season averages to .326/.375/.511. Right now, he's the prohibitive favorite to be the team MVP, though Drew Meyer and DeLome are both in the mix.

Pitcher of the Month: Erick Abreu, RHP (25, signed out of Dominican Republic by NY Yankees): The pitching at Corpus has been awful this season. Any time a pitcher does well here, they're either promoted or injured. Hence, the last three players of the month are not on the team's active roster (T.J. Burton and Polin Trinidad were promoted; Douglas Arguello is injured). Abreu put up the best numbers of any pitcher in Corpus last month and was promptly promoted to Round Rock for last Friday's double-header. In 15 2/3 innings with the Hooks, Abreu had a 1.15 ERA and 15 strikeouts with three walks. His FIP of 2.69 was still excellent, though his BABiP of .114 suggests he's in for a harsh correction eventually. Still, a reliever who has a K/9 rate of 8.62 is always nice to have and helped Abreu beat out fellow relievers Danny Meszaros and Chia-Jen Lo for the POM award.

High-A (Lancaster JetHawks)

Hitter of the Month: Koby Clemens, C/LF (22, eighth in 2005): What can I say about Clemens that I haven't said already this month? I'll just let the stats speak for themselves: .394/.460/.807, 1.195 adjusted OPS, .531 BABiP, .477 wOBA, 42.7 Runs Created, 43 hits, nine walks, 25 runs scored, 37 RBIs, 14 doubles, two triples, nine home runs, hit by a pitch five times, one sacrifice fly, two stolen bases, one sacrifice hit, reached base on an error once, 37 strikeouts in 120 plate appearances, 88 total bases. He has more total bases in July than five of his teammates have for the entire season. His 42 runs created this month are more than all but three Round Rock players and four Corpus Christ players have for the entire season. Did I mention he moved into the outfield this month, and since T.J. Steele reinjured whatever he injured the first time, Clemens has been playing a decent left field. Yeah, I'd say that was a good month.

Pitcher of the Month: Shane Wolf, RHP (22, 26th in 2008): You might not have seen this one coming. Wolf had been in the starting rotation earlier in the season, but was demoted due to ineffectiveness. This month, however, he strung together his best eight appearances of the season, starting two games and finishing the month with an average ERA of 4.82. His FIP, however, was a sterling 2.84 and was the lowest number of any pitcher with at least 20 innings pitched in July. Wofl struck out 25 and walked 9 while going 2-2. His BABiP of .317 means he's been a touch unlucky, but not so much so to adversely affect these numbers. Wolf has given up a few more hits than you'd like with 27 in 28 innings, but his WHIP of 1.29 in the context of Clear Channel Stadium is pretty stellar.
Low-A (Lexington Legends)
Hitter of the Month: Jay Austin, CF (18, second in 2008): You might not have seen this one coming. Wait, maybe you did. Is it because Austin has been the lone bright spot in this offense (excluding Brian Pelligrini)? Or is it because I mentioned him every day until his amazing streak earlier this month ended? Or is it because I equally played up his hitless streak at the end of the month? So, what did Austin end up at in July? His line was .290/.333/.430 by the end, going 31 for 107 with seven walks, 13 runs scored, 10 RBIs, four doubles, four triples, one home run, one intentional walk, two sacrifice hits and 10 stolen bases in 11 attempts. Austin also struck out 21 times in 116 plate appearances and had 46 total bases. His wOBA of .288 led the team (excluding Brandon Wikoff, who only played with the Legends for four games) as did his 17 runs created. I'm not nearly as disappointed in his season as I was two months ago...I just hope he can maintain some semblance of consistency.

Pitcher of the Month: Jordan Lyles, RHP (19, supplemental first in 2008): Another no-brainer, cinched by Lyles' six shutout innings on Friday night, where he struck out eight, walked two and gave up three hits. Lyles finished the month with 30 strikeouts in 28 innings, allowing 28 hits and 14 walks over five starts. The 18-year old also had a BABiP of .389 and didn't give up any home runs in July. His FIP of 3.09 reflects some of his unluckiness with the BABiP, but his sterling K/9 rate of 9.64 more than makes up for it. His Pitching Runs Created total of 43.9 puts him a notch below the guys at Triple-A (Polin Trinidad, Bud Norris and Yorman Bazardo), but he does have the most of anyone outside that trio.

Short Season (Tri-City ValleyCats)

Hitter of the Month: J.D. Martinez, LF/1B (21, 20th in 2009): The 21-year old out of Nova Southeastern University has not stopped hitting since being drafted by the Astros in June. He hit .403/.446/.740 in 19 games with Greeneville and was named POM for June at that level. He was then promoted to Tri-City and played 21 games in July with the ValleyCats, hitting .370/.392/.589 with seven doubles, three home runs, seven runs scored, 17 RBIs and four walks. Martinez posted a wOBA of .377 and had 13 runs created in 73 at-bats.

Pitcher of the Month: Wander Alvino, RHP (22, signed out of Dominican Republic in 2007): Alvino did well in July, don't get me wrong. There weren't a ton of great candidates for this, though, just a bunch of good ones. Alvino's numbers looked okay, going 2-1 in five starts with 19 strikeouts and seven walks in 31 1/3 innings. His ERA of 4.02 was also very solid and looked even better as an FIP of 3.17. The only really troubling parts of his stat line are his strikeout total and K/9 rates. At 5.46 K/9, Alvino is really pushing the threshold of success. If he can't strike anyone out in short season ball, how will he do in the upper levels of the minor leagues? Add to that his BABiP of .284 meaning he's been lucky this month, and there are some definite warning signs. Still, Alvino was the most effective pitcher in Tri-City and deserves all the plaudits he can get.

Rookie (Greeneville Astros)

Hitter of the Month: Jose Altuve, 2B (19, signed out of Venezuela in 2006): The Little Engine that Could hit .330/.433/.550 in 26 games this month. Listed at 5-foot-5, 148 lbs., Altuve doesn't seem like the kind of hitter who would ordinarily put up this kind of power (Dustin Pedroia excepted), but a commenter over at the Crawfish Boxes suggested that the Appalachian League may allow the use of composite baseball bats. I've been able to neither confirm or deny this, so until then, it's one of many explanations for Altuve's surprising power. In 119 plate appearances, Altuve had 14 extra-base hits, including nine doubles, two triples and three home runs. His 24 runs created led the team by almost 10 runs and his wOBA was only eclipsed by J.D. Martinez' incredible .492 wOBA.

Pitcher of the Month: Juri Perez, RHP (18, signed out of Venezuela in 2007): Perez is another little guy (5-11, 148 lbs.) but can apparently miss some bats. In six appearances, including two starts this month, Perez struck out 26 and walked 6 over the course of 18 1/3 innings. Perez gave up just 13 hits, though four of those were home runs. His G/F ratio of 1.31 is very solid and suggests he can continue this run of good pitching.
Gulf Coast League (GCL Astros)
Hitter of the Month: Emilio King, RF (19, 2006 out of Dominican Republic): Again, King wins the GCL POM. With a line of .291/.412/.430, King demonstrates a good eye and a bit of pop. The entire GCL Astros team couldn't hit for much power this month, so I don't hold that against him. He also posted 16.7 runs created, a wOBA of .313 and led the team with nine extra base hits. King still struck out 15 times in 89 at-bats, which would be okay at an upper level of the minors, but here it seems a bit much. We'll see how he continues to progress, though.

Pitcher of the Month: Tanner Bushue, RHP (17, second round in 2009): Last, but certainly not least, we come to the Astros' second round pick this season, Tanner Bushue. In four starts in July, Bushue did not post a game score under 50, striking out 19 in 19 2/3 innings while walking four and giving up 15 hits. He also only allowed three line drives the entire month and had a G/F ratio of 22/18. His FIP of 3.33 was higher than his ERA of 2.42 but his K/9 rate of 7.66 in five starts is excellent. Small, small sample size, but his peripheral stats are as encouraging as Lyles' were at this point last season.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday's Trip to the Minors

With the torrential rains that have pounded the Astros farm system lately, it's a wonder that none of the prospects have been washed away yet. Greeneville hasn't played a game since Monday because of rain, Round Rock's game on Thursday was moved to a double-header on Friday because of rain and Lexington, well, Lexington just had a regularly scheduled off-day. But still, that's a lot of rain. So, we have four games to go through today. Without further ado, here's all the news and notes from around the Astros farm system:
Reliever Sammy Gervacio was called up from Round Rock on Thursday after Russ Ortiz was released. The 24-year old appeared in 35 games this season, pitching 46 2/3 innings for Round Rock and striking out 48 while walking 20. His FIP of 4.01 is significantly lower than his ERA of 5.40, mainly because his K/9 rate is at 9.26. His BB/9 rate is not as good at 3.86 but it's definitely playable in the bullpen. Gervacio's BABiP sits at .306, which means he hasn't been lucky or unlucky, so this is a good snapshot of the player the Astros are getting. He's a little like Alberto Arias, but with a livelier fastball and a funkier delivery.

Sergio Perez didn't pitch badly for Corpus on Thursday, lasting three innings while giving up five hits and three runs (two earned), striking out two and walking three. Perez only threw 66 pitches before leaving the game in Ryan McKeller's hands. McKeller, Tyler Lumsden and Evan Englebrook each made scoreless appearances, with McKeller throwing three innings and Lumsden and Englebrook putting up zeroes in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively. Interestingly, all three were relievers at Round Rock earlier in the season before being demoted to Corpus. Lumsden picked up his first victory as a Hook and Englebrook got his first save. No word on whether Perez' quick exit was due to an injury.

Drew Locke, Jason Castro and Wladimir Sutil each had big days at the plate. Locke went 2 for 4 with a double, a home run, two runs scored, two RBIs and a walk. Locke's home run was his 16th of the season and fourth this month. The 26-year old is now one home run shy of team leader Collin DeLome....Wladimir Sutil also got in on the hit parade, going 2 for 5 and scoring a run. Sutil's hitting .268/.349/.320 this month, but was just 1 for 12 before Thursday. The 24-year old is hitting .289/.369/.345 in 87 games.

Castro also had a multi-hit game, going 3 for 5 with two doubles and two runs scored. The 22-year old's average is up to .309 at Corpus and the doubles were his sixth and seventh since his call up from Lancaster. Since July 21, Castro has hit six of those seven doubles, adding a triple, eight RBIs and 12 runs scored. Castro is 15 for 38 over that stretch, bringing his season average up 32 points from .277. Another interesting fact: Castro also batted .309 in 56 games with Lancaster, so his total season average is also .309. Maybe he should consider wearing 30, 9 or 39 in the pros.

Ebert Rosario had his best game as a JetHawk on Thursday, going 2 for 4 with a walk, an RBI and a strikeout. The 22-year old third baseman is batting .205/.244/.256 in nine games since being called up and is hitting .265 on the season. Rosario hit second on Thursday and has batted in the top half of the order every game he's played in Lancaster.

Koby Clemens just won't quit. The 22-year old started in left field on Thursday, which is something he's been doing since T.J. Steele went on the DL about a week ago, and picked up another two hits. More impressive is that Clemens did it from the cleanup spot and the two hits were a triple and a home run. Clemens has now scored 48 runs for Lancaster and is hitting .402/.460/.821. That's an OPS of 1.281 for those counting at home. What's more, his home/road splits aren't too out of sync with his season line, as Clemens is hitting .349/.411/.651 at home and .326/.412/.567 in away games.

I'm a little shocked by this, so bear with me as we get through this together. Lancaster's starter Shane Wolf combined with reliever Jack Tilghman to pitch a nine inning...shutout! The two twirled a five-hitter and Wolf had a game score of 72 after striking out nine in six innings and allowing just four hits and one walk. Tilghman got his third save after allowing just one hit in the final three innings, striking out two and walking one. Wolf started the season in the rotation, but was ineffective and was sent to the bullpen. Lately, he's strung together some good relief appearances, so was given a chance to start on Thursday. I'd say he came through brilliantly.

Not a lot happened in Tri-City, as third baseman Erik Castro was probably the offensive star, going 1 for 3 with two runs scored and a walk. However, Castro also struck out once, was picked off once and caught stealing another time, so his production was kind of a wash. Castro is hitting .236/.374/.486 this season, thanks to 16 walks in 72 at-bats combined with six doubles and four home runs. It's safe to say the hits will come eventually. You know the difference between hitting .250 and .300? It's 25 hits. 25 hits in 500 at bats is 50 points, okay? There's 6 months in a season, that's about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week - just one - a gorp... you get a groundball, you get a groundball with eyes... you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week... and you're in Yankee Stadium.

Starter Colton Pitkin got roughed up on Thursday, giving up eight hits and five earned runs in four innings, striking out two and walking three. Pitkin also had a bad G/F ratio of 2/6 and gave up a home run. I don't want to get into too much detail on him, because I want to do a profile later on. Suffice it to say his game score was 25 and the average is 50. Not good, my friends, not good at all.

Outfielder Telvin Nash had his best day as an Astro on Thursday, going 3 for 5 with a double and an RBI. The big 18-year old is batting .176/.247/.279 in July and .190 overall this season, but has shown a little power with six doubles and a triple. I should mention again that he's still a teenager and that we shouldn't worry too much about him struggling through his first 84 professional at-bats. Something about small sample sizes and all.

2009 sixth round pick Enrique Hernandez continues to play well, however, going 3 for 5 with a double and a run scored on Thursday. The 19-year old is hitting .298/.323/.383 in July and .304/.342/.375 in 112 at-bats this season.

That's all for now, but look for something else today, as I decide whether to do a profile of a young pitcher or to come up with something else for your reading please. Till then...