Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Wednesday's Rundown

Today's post will cover Round Rock in June, and I'll try to get something more up on Corpus later today, but I make no promises. I'm also working on the June Players of the Month, but that may not be ready until next week. Stay tuned...

Here's Zachary Levine's latest Minor League Notebook, chock full of good information. Of note is that Corpus starter Polin Trinidad is getting a promotion to Round Rock. With a rotation that already sports three fairly quality starters in Yorman Bazardo, Bud Norris and Jeremy Johnson, Trinidad should make the Express tough to score upon in the second half. It'll be interesting to see if Trinidad replaces lefty Mark McLemore, who recently came off the DL or 27-year old Josh Muecke, who is sporting a 4.91 ERA and a 2-7 record, but has a streak of 13 scoreless innings heading into his next start.

Yorman Bazardo started four games for Round Rock while I was out of commission. He his first two were solid game score-wise, but in the first, he threw just two innings of a suspended game and his last two starts were both below average. Bazardo's strikeout rate is still hovering around 5 K/9 though his BB/9 rate has been great at 1.92. He's also generating a lot of ground balls still, which is one of the reasons he's been as successful to this point. I'd still like to see him strike out a few more batters before I'd see him in the big leagues.

One really interesting tidbit about Bazardo? He's allowed 27 earned runs this season, but only two unearned runs. When we get into the number of starts he's had, that stops being a statistical anomaly and starts speaking to his presence and makeup on the mound. Granted, we don't want to make too much of a little thing, but it still shows that he can stay cool with men on base.

The Express and the New Orleans Zephyrs played a wild one on June 20th, as neither team scored in the first ten innings but combined to score nine runs in the 11th. Round Rock won 5-4 but once again, Bud Norris (3-5) didn't get a victory after pitching eight scorless innings while allowing three hits. Norris struck out ten and walked four to post a Power/Finesse Ratio of 1.75.

First baseman John Gall went on a 7 for 8 streak over the weekend, with three home runs and seven RBIs in that span. The 32-year old is 20 for 72 this June with nine walks, nine runs scored, 14 RBIs, two doubles and four home runs. His line of .278/.366/.472 is his best stretch since early April and his 12.5 Runs Created is third on the team this month.

The Express have scored 306 runs this season and given up 360, putting their Pythagorean Winning Percentage at .419, or about three games under their current 36-42 record. Interestingly enough, though, the team has a solid pitching staff and ranks fifth in ERA in the Pacific Coast League. The Express' real problem is not scoring enough runs as Round Rock is 15th out of 16 teams in runs scored and 13th in slugging percentage. It hasn't helped to lose Chris Johnson for a time, though his power has come and gone, while both Tommy Manzella and Brian Bogusevic have been good hitters but haven't flashed much power.

A couple of relievers have also pitched well for Round Rock. 24-year old Sammy Gervacio's ERA is still up in the 5's, but his peripheral stats have been very solid for a while now. He has struck out 15 batters in 15 innings this month, walking two and allowing 11 hits and six earned runs. He's also given up just one home run in nine appearances and has a WHIP of 0.89. His FIP of 2.45 is the lowest on the team. Second on that list? Former starter Jose Capellan, who's got a 5.40 ERA but a FIP of 2.60 thanks to 13 strikeouts in 12 innings. Capellan has a high WHIP at 1.71, but that's largely due to his BABiP of .436 and should come down some. Gervacio is also on the Astros' 40-man roster, so could see time with the big league club at some point.

Catcher J.R. Towles continues to make his case for more big league playing time by going 11 for 43 with 12 walks, four doubles and a home run. Towles was also hit by three pitches, had one sac fly and a sacrifice hit while stealing a base and striking out nine times in 59 plate appearances. His .256/.441/.419 line is more impressive for the ridiculously high OBP than the batting average, but his OBP is one reason why Round Rock manager Mark Bombard chose to bat him leadoff two nights ago.

Outfielder Brian Bogusevic has had a tough month, going 24 for 94 with seven walks, seven runs scored, 13 RBIs, four doubles, two home runs and four stolen bases. His line of .255/.307/.362 is down from his season totals and has reduced his playing time some. He's also been bounced around the lineup, batting anywhere from leadoff to sixth in the order. Teammate Tommy Manzella has also had a tough time of it, putting up a Tony Pena, Jr.-esque .224/.272/.262 line in June wiht 22 strikeouts. Manzella's hitting struggles have also affected his defense, as he committed his eighth and ninth errors of the season in the past two weeks.

On the flip side, outfielder Reggie Abercrombie has been as solid as a 28-year old in AAA can be. He went 30 for 110 in June with six walks, 10 runs scored, four RBIs, seven doubles, one triple and one home run while striking out a whopping 39 times in 116 plate appearances. His Runs Created total of 12.8 was second on the team and I was very afraid I'd have to name him the Hitter of the Month, which seemed silly with that many strikeouts. To be effective when you whiff that many times, you need to have prodigious power, which Abercrombie does not. Still, he tied Bogusevic for the club lead in steals for the month with four and led the team in doubles, so it was a nice month for him.

Interesting note that showed up at MLBTradeRumors.com: apparently, 37-year old reliever Brendan Donnelly has left the Express and become a free agent. Donnelly had been very solid for Round Rock this season and has been working as a closer when Chad Paronto has been unavailable.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Followup on Hitters

I said I would get back to you about some of the hitters from the 2009 draft, so here we go.

First off, let's look at third-round pick outfielder Telvin Nash. To this point, Nash has 16 professional at-bats and sports a .250 average. He's played all but one of his games at home, and the one away game he played in was as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning. Nash has struck out four times and walked once, which is not a great ratio, but we have a very, very small sample size. Even though his only extra-base hit was a double, Nash and the team have been productive when he bats third in an inning, as the Astros have scored four runs in the four innings when he's batted third. As for his spray chart, Nash has been a pull-hitter this week and hit seven of the 12 batted balls on the ground. When he does hit it in the air, however, Nash has squared up on the ball pretty well, hitting the majority of his fly balls to center field. Again, sample size needs to be considered but we'll check back with Nash later on.

Jonathan Meyer has had a rocky start to his big league career, sporting a .071/.133/.179 line after Monday's game. At one point, the opposing team walked the bases loaded with two outs to face Meyer; he flied out to left field to end the inning. Meyer is just scuffling right now, a teenager trying to play professional baseball. He has had little luck at the plate, too, which has hurt his batting stats. Meyer is 1 for 10 on ground balls and 0 for 7 on fly balls in play, which are both under the expected averages for those hit types. With a couple lucky hops, his numbers will rebound. He's also using more of the field than the first few games, with a 10-2-6 split on hits to left-center-right fields. His defense has also been solid, converting 90.48% of his fielding chances and starting one double play. Meyer has seen almost all of his time at third base, but did start at short last night, making four plays in nine innings, including three putouts. Meyer has a range factor of 2.50 at third base which is pretty solid for the position.

Brandon Wikoff is the only college hitter I got a profile done on, and he's sort of an interesting case. His defense is very solid, converting 89.13% of the 46 plays he's fielded. The fifth-round pick out of the University of Illinois-Champagne has turned four double plays and helped either pick off or catch five runners stealing. In 67 innings at shortstop, Wikoff has a Range Factor of 5.51 and has 15 putouts, 26 assists and two errors. Both gaffes were fielding errors and came in is first three games. Wikoff gets to a ton of balls, it seems and has a fairly steady glove. He also appears to be the kind of heads-up player you'd expect to come out of a four-year college, helping make numerous plays in rundown situations. His bat is his weakness right now, but he profiles as sort of a J.B. Shuck-type: he hits the ball a ton on the ground (70.37% of balls in play are grounders), but he also hits for a .263 average on ground balls. He also has been a tad unlucky thus far, since only one of his three line drives have fallen for hits. He will definitely be interesting to follow.

While Nash and Meyer have combined to hit just one line drive (which was caught for an out), Jiovanni Mier has been scalding the ball, picking up both his singles on line drives. The first-round pick has also been something of a good luck charm for the Greeneville team. In eight innings where he's come to bat, the Astros have scored 14 runs while Mier has scored three himself. As a comparison, Meyer has come to bat in 25 innings and the Astros have scored 21 runs, mostly in the big inning category (where Meyer batted fifth or later). Mier saw the team score 12 of those 14 runs when he batted second in the inning. Defensively, Mier has been okay, missing one play in the field but making three put outs by catching two line drives and a pop up, assisting on three plays and making one fielder's choice out. In his two games, he's only seen 19 ground balls and didn't make or see one play in his first start three days ago.

Another guy who caught my attention was 15th round pick Ryan Humphrey out of St. Louis CC Meramac. I didn't have any scouting video on him after the draft, but he has played with a lot of speed in his seven games with Greeneville. The 20-year old is 9 for 24 with a triple, four runs scored, three RBIs, one walk and seven strikeouts. Humphrey was successful on both of his stolen base attempts and even helped manufacture a run in one of the box scores I looked at, reaching with a single, then stealing second before scoring on a single to right field. His speed is definitely there, so hopefully he continues to showcase it.

And We're Back...

Okay, so after a week in the hospital with mom and baby followed by a week taking care of the both of them, I'm back to blogging about the Astros minor league system. What a stretch to be gone! The Astros have signed more draft picks, three minor league teams have begun their seasons and the other four had all-star games sandwiched in the schedule. I'll try to get as much done today as I can, but I'm only working half-days this week, so we'll see how successful I am at catching up.

First off, let's hit the draft pick signings. First round pick Jiovanni Mier signed for $1,400,000 last week, which was 80,000 less than last year's slot price, but more than the expected reduction by the commissioner's office to this year's prices. Both Telvin Nash and Tanner Bushue signed for right around their slot prices, leaving Jonathan Meyer as the lone player I don't have good signing information on.

The Astros have done a great job signing their top 25 draft picks, but still need to reach an agreement with seventh-round pick Dallas Keuchel and 12th rounder Geoffrey Thomas. Keuchel was playing in the College World Series until recently, so negotiations may have just been delayed. Thomas is a high schooler, so he has more leverage since he can go to college and may not be signed. In fact, the four draft picks after Keuchel that haven't signed are all high school players who are probably asking for higher than slot signing bonuses.

I managed to get some pitching profiles started on the three teams that just started playing, and was pleasantly surprised to find a hidden gem. 2007 41st round pick Colton Pitkin has pitched 51 innings over the past two seasons with Rookie-league Greeneville with an ERA of 3.66. Pitkin was drafted out of Baytown Sterling High School and is now in his age 19 season in the New York-Penn League. He's started two games for Tri-City and put up identical 62 game scores. In his first start, he struck out seven in six innings while walking one and giving up four hits. Pitkin (1-1) got the loss because the ValleyCats were shut out. In his second start, Pitkin threw five shutout innings, giving up two hits while striking out three and walking four. Pitkin has good K/9 and BB/9 rates while creating 3.22 runs. His Power/Finesse Ratio is a solid 1.36 and it will be interesting to watch him this season.

One of Baseball America's top prospects in the Astros organization made his 2009 debut with Greeneville. Left-hander Luis Cruz was drafted in the ninth round of the 2008 draft out of Puerto Rico and has an overpowering fastball, according to the scouting reports. Listed at 5-foot-9 and 170 lbs., he's built more in the Roy Oswalt model than a true power pitcher, but he definitely has electric stuff. Cruz has started two games this season, going six innings in each. In his first start, Cruz carried a no-hitter through the sixth before giving way to the bullpen. The 18-year old has struck out four in each start while walking three between the two. He gave up three home runs in his last outing but none in his first, so we'll need to see more of his work to figure him out. He generates ground balls pretty well and doesn't give up a ton of line drives, both things that will serve him well in the future. I'd like to see a higher strikeout rate than 6 K/9, but his BB/9 of 2.25 is very solid.

Second-round pick Tanner Bushue made his professional debut over the weekend by starting a game. The 18-year old lasted 2 2/3 innings and faced 11 batters while giving up three hits and one earned run. Bushue walked one and struck out none with a G/F ratio of 1/6. He gave up just one line drive, and if you follow what the team did with last year's high school pitchers Jordan Lyles and Ross Seaton, expect Bushue to get around 50-60 innings of work this summer before moving into the Lexington starting rotation next season.

Another surprising player for me was Tri-City starter Wander Alvino. The 22-year old has started two games in the past week and a half, striking out five and walking three. He's allowed two and four hits respectively in his two starts and only given up one earned run. His line drive percentage has been respectable, though neither start had a G/F ratio higher than 1. Both of his game scores were above average. At 5-foot-11 and 149 lbs., Alvino is much slighter than many of the Astros pitching prospects, but was apparently part of a good crop of Dominican pitchers signed prior to the 2007 season.

A couple of minor roster moves in Lexington saw outfielder Marques Williams go on the 7-day DL, reliever Jose Trinidad return from the DL, catcher Pedro Gonzalez demoted to Tri-City and catcher Reinaldo Pestana added to the Lexington roster. Pestana was signed back in 2004 but hasn't played in the minors since 2007. He is one of three catchers listed on the Legends roster, though it looks less and less likely that Max Sapp will play this season after fighting through a life-threatening case of meningitis in the off-season.

Outfielder Jay Austin has maintained his batting average spike to around .250 this month, going 9 for 38 in the past 10 games. Austin also hit his first triple of the season and had a four hit game last night. Austin is still learning how to steal bases as he was 2 for 5 on stolen base attempts during that stretch, bringing his season success rate to 56% (14 of 25).

I'm going to post something else this afternoon (if the little guy cooperates) on the hitters from this year's draft and how they're doing. Thanks for everyone who's stuck with the blog through the past two weeks, and as always, if there's something you want to read about or a profile you'd like me to do, just leave a comment!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Brief Update

Sorry for the power outage lately, but the baby has proved to be wily on when he's joining the world. I'm going to be out of commission for the rest of the week, but wanted to write up a couple of things happening around the Astros minor leagues:

First, as noted here and here, the Astros signed 22 of their 51 draft picks over the weekend. All players were signed for at or around their slot price, including second-rounder Tanner Bushue, third-rounder Telvin Nash, fourth rounder B.J. Hyatt and fifth-rounder Brandon Wikoff.

The Astros have six picks in the top 10 still to sign, but only one of those cannot yet negotiate a deal. Seventh-rounder Dallas Keuchel is playing in the College World Series for Arkansas and will have to wait until after his college season ends to sign. It sounds like the Astros are close to a deal with 21st overall pick Jiovanni Mier, but no deal sounded imminent with any other draft picks. It'll be interesting to see if they can get supplemental third rounder Jonathan Meyer inked, since they forfeit the pick if they cannot reach an agreement. Sixth rounder Enrique Hernandez has the option to go to college, so will be a tough sign and eighth rounder Brandt Walker and 10th rounder Erik Castro are both juniors so can hold out for their senior years.

I'm a little disappointed they haven't agreed to a deal with sleeper favorite David Berner, who was drafted in the 14th round out of San Jose State. Let's hope they're not waiting to see more performance this summer before agreeing to a contract, as Bobby Heck indicated in his press release comments.

In Zachary Levine's Minor League Notebook for the Houston Chronicle, he notes that Bushue and Nash will both be sent to the Astros new Gulf Coast League affiliate in Kissimmee. That's also where the Astros have their spring training home and it's apparently quite the posh facility, so I can understand why they'd want to send their newbies there. I'm expecting big power numbers from Nash, if not big overall stats at first, and should have a Q&A with him posted sometime in the next couple of weeks.

Here's an interesting article from a sports agent's perspective about the draft slotting. It also seems to continue the unofficial edict from the commissioner's office to drop all slot prices by 10%. Of course, these slots are only suggestions, as they have not been collectively bargained and therefore there is no penalty for exceeding them. As a sports agent, I'd sure fight this system for every dollar I could get for my client.

I've been lax with my coverage of Lexington the past couple of weeks, but Jay Austin finally returned from whatever nagging injury sent him to the 7-day DL. He ended up missing 10 games but has come back red-hot. In his four games back, Austin is 9 for 19 with a double, four runs scored, four steals, four RBIs and three strikeouts. His averages for the season are up to .250/.299/.304. Again, these aren't great numbers, but considering he was batting below .200 at the end of May, it's a phenomenal improvement. Austin has shown stretches like these this season, and hopefully one of these times he'll start doing this consistently. Till then, we have to remember that he is an 18-year old kid who's still learning the game.

As locked in as Austin has been the past week, Jordan Lyles has been even better and have firmed up my confidence in the drafting prowess of scouting director Bobby Heck. Lyles was considered an over-draft in the supplemental portion of the first round in 2008, but he has been outstanding in the South Atlantic League this season. In his last two starts, Lyles has struck out 21 in 12 innings, while allowing 10 hits and four earned runs. He hasn't walked a batter in either start. He hasn't given up a home run in seven starts and hasn't hit a batter in nine. While his line drive percentage can occasionally be high, he gets a fair amount of ground balls without giving up too many flys. His Power Finesse Ratio is off the charts and his FIP for the past two starts has been a negative number. He's been that good. Currently, Lyles is third in the SAL in strikeouts with 81 and has the fewest walks (12) of the top five strikeout leaders. His WHIP is eighth best in the SAL, though his win total (2-6) is the least impressive of his stat lines. See why I look so deeply into the numbers? This kid has been excellent, but has gotten two runs or fewer of support in eight of his 12 starts. The wins will come if he continues pitching like this. The question is: can he continue to be successful at a higher level?

Lexington's other young gun, Ross Seaton, has been better in his last two starts, though his game scores don't bear that out. Seaton has five or more strikeouts in his last three starts, including a complete game shutout that I mentioned in a previous post. Seaton is 6-6 even though he's gotten just as little run support as Lyles and consistently induces ground balls, which shows he's becoming a good pitcher. His K/9 rate in his last three starts (7.08) is higher than his season rate (5.12) and should be a sign of his progress.

Jason Castro has continued his good fortune with the bat since being called up by the Hooks. In five games, the 22-year old is 7 for 19 with five runs scored, one RBI, one walk and two strikeouts. His power hasn't shown up yet, though he doesn't profile as having more than doubles power anyway. Still, it'd be nice to see him show flashes in Double-A if we expect him to be in the big leagues by next season.

Sergio Perez (4-5) had a good start last Thursday, throwing six shutout innings while striking out two and walking one. The low strikeout total is nothing new, as he's struck out two or fewer in eight of 11 starts. His K/9 rate of 4.08 is only slightly better than his BB/9 rate of 3.30. Interestingly, Perez has only gone over 100 pitches in one start this season, throwing 64.9% strikes. Perez's profile in Baseball America says he will probably end up in the bullpen, but he needs to strike some more guys out for that.

Collin DeLome has continued his hot hitting this month, going 12 for 41 so far in June with three home runs, three doubles, 10 RBIs, seven runs scored and four walks. He still has struck out 10 times in 12 games but he may just be a strikeout-prone hitter. With his kind of power, though, you take the good with the bad. He will be an excellent replacement for Carlos Lee in left, as he has the range to cover the big territory out there and has the power to be a good 5 or 6 hitter in the majors. His 13 home runs currently lead the Texas League.

The lead story in the Chronicle's minors column this week was Chris Johnson and he's certainly impressed. Johnson is hitting .340/.377/.500 this month with four doubles and two triples. He hasn't hit a home run yet this season after finishing 2008 with 13. The article indicates that Johnson is waiting to be called up to the big league team. Why, might you ask? The Astros have used two players, Geoff Blum and Jeff Keppinger, primarily at third base this season. Blum is hitting .270/.341/.329 and Keppinger .257/.333/.404. Blum has the worst OPS of players on the team with at least 100 plate appearances and Keppinger is third-worst (second-worst belonging to Pudge Rodriguez). I don't want to get into why it's a bad idea to play Pudge and not J.R. Towles. I've been down that road before, but Johnson? What have they got to lose? Third base is easily the weakest position on the team. Johnson has a reputation as a power-hitter, but he's only hit 29 in four seasons in the minors. Will he be a superstar? No, probably not, but he might just be an upgrade over what they have now.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Astros Draft Pick Slot Prices

Based on last year's signings and slot prices and accounting for Commissioner Selig's across the board 10% decrease in slots because of the economy, here is an estimate as to what the Astros draft picks are slotted to sign for. Mind you, this information is not made public by MLB, so I'm getting my info from Baseball America.

1) Jiovanni Mier
2009 Recommendation - $1,332,000
2008 Signing - $1,480,000
2) Tanner Bushue
2009 Recommendation - $522,000
2008 Signing - $740,000
3) Telvin Nash
2009 Recommendation - $324,000
2008 Signing - $367,000
3s) Jonathan Meyer
2009 Recommendation - $274,500
2008 Signing - $120,000

The Astros went over slot to sign one of their draft picks from 2008, Ross Seaton, who almost doubled his slot price in the supplemental portion of the third round. Reports were that the Astros were also willing to go above slot to sign third rounder Chase Davidson, but couldn't come to an agreement by the August 15th deadline. In previous years, most notably 2007, the Astros have been very reluctant to sign players for more than their slotted price. In fact, before last season, the most high profile signing above slot price was Tomball HS LHP Troy Patton, who was drafted in the ninth round of the 2004 draft and signed for $550,000 when the slot for every round after the 5th was around $120,000.

Only two players drafted in the first round have signed contracts to this point. Fourth overall pick Tony Sanchez signed for $2,500,000 and 26th overall pick Eric Arnett signed for $1,197,000. Both are in line with the commissioner's recommendations for the draft slot. This story on astros.com suggests the team may have many of the picks signed by this weekend. As picks sign, I'll update the blog with their price and where they fit into the system.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Thursday's Thoughts

First of all, watch this video of MLB.com recapping Day Two of the draft for the Astros. Also, the story beside the video is a quick Q&A with shortstop and 5th round draft pick Brandon Wikoff. Some good stuff in there. I'll get to the writeups soon, but the wife is ready to have this baby at any time now, so if I post this half-finished, it's because I had to hit 'publish' before running to the hospital! I also wanted to talk about the Astros 32nd round draft pick, Greg Peavey.

The righthander from Oregon State has a scouting video up on MLB.com. His fastball seems to sit in the low 90's for the most part and his arm slot comes in at three quarters. His delivery is a little violent at the end, but he follows through nicely and is in a great fielding position by the end. That coaching staff up at Oregon State is very solid and obviously imparts good fundementals. It's also a fun little fact that Peavey played in the Little League World Series. I could see Peavey making a fast rise through the system. I don't know how much I'll get to write about the picks today, but if I do get a chance to go in-depth with any of the guys, I'll post later today. With that, let's get to all the news and notes from around the Astros farm system:

Since Round Rock was off on Wednesday, Polin Trinidad will lead off our notes, as he posted his best start of the season for Corpus Christi. In seven innings, Trinidad gave up only one hit, walking none and striking out five. He needed only 74 pitches to get through his innings and had a FIP of 1.77, his second lowest total of the season. Trinidad has had a rocky time lately, as this was the first time in five starts and the second time in seven starts that he's finished with a game score over 50. On Wednesday, Trinidad turned in a game score of 80 and picked up his fifth victory after the Hooks scored eight runs for him.

Jose Valverde also made his first appearance in his rehab stint with the team, striking out two and walking two in an inning of work. Valverde threw 24 pitches, 14 for strikes and got one flyball out. Here's hoping his rehab continues to go well.

Here is a draft video of Astros 35th rounder Jackson Hogue, a centerfielder out of Mississippi State. Hogue may play well in center field, though I couldn't tell how well he throws from the video. His arm action appears good and he didn't seem to effort the throws much, but his bat has me a little concerned. I guess when you get this late in the draft, you're not going to find perfect players. Hogue's swing is long, though, and his base is huge, meaning his legs don't get involved much and he probably won't show much power. If he's got some speed, he could develop into a nice player.

The Astros also drafted their first Aggie on Thursday in righthander Scott Migl. The 21-year old was born five years to the day after me, which is cool on it's own, but Migl has the potential to be a good bullpen guy for Houston. He was named a Freshman All-American in 2007 but has pitched less and less the past two years. Migl appeared in just two games for A&M this year, both starts and may have been injured in his second, as he got roughed up over 1 1/3 innings. He didn't appear in a game after March 18.

Houston's 37th round draft pick was Raul Rivera, a right-handed pitcher from Colegio San Vincente De Paul in Puerto Rico. Rivera's video shows that he can touch low 90's with his fastball and has a nice curveball and change. His delivery is very deliberate but he finishes in good position and his arm starts vertical to the ground. He doesn't seem to use his legs much in his delivery, so I'm sure the Astros think they can coach him up to do that, which will give him more life on his fastball. That's if he'll agree to sign.

To make room for Jason Castro, the Astros demoted Jonathan Fixler to Lancaster. They also seem to have released Jordan Comadena from any roster, which isn't surprising, since he hasn't gotten much playing time in the past month. Castro, in his first game with Corpus, went 1 for 4 with a run scored. He also helped the staff throw a three-hitter, so hopefully, he can help out that pitching staff.

Houston's 39th round pick, Rory Young, has a video here. Young is a high school kid from British Columbia and has great breaking stuff. His curveball dipped down to 62 at one point and his delivery seems pretty smooth. He certainly has the body frame to be a prototypical pitcher, but he didn't show much speed on his fastball, which is why he fell all this way. Maybe with a tweak to his delivery or as he matures, he can pick up some speed on his heater. Until then, we shall see.

Collin DeLome continued to hit well on Wednesday, going 2 for 4 with a double, a home run, a run scored and two RBIs. The 22-year old hit his 12th home run of the season and is now batting over .300 in June. DeLome still isn't walking much, but he also didn't strike out last night and only has four this month.

Jimmy Van Ostrand also hit a home run last night, but it was his second hit of the month as his average plummeted to .105/.227/.263. That's not good no matter who you are and I'll be surprised if the Astros keep him in Corpus for too much longer, as his season averages of .262/.312/.524 have been plummeting fast.

Lancaster finished the suspended game and played the second, but neither box scores were posted. As soon as they are, I'll updated and post about their results.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Astros Draft Day Two

Here is a roundup of the Astros draft picks today and links to video of them when available:
(Name, Position, School, Height, Weight, Age)

4) B.J. Hyatt (RHP, South Carolina Sumter, 6-4, 205, 20) Notes: Here are his numbers from last season in college -32 1/3 innings, 7.24 ERA, 3-0 record with 3 saves, .273 BAA, 1.61 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 5.28 BB/9. This is at a junior college, so I'm not sure what to make of those stats, but the Astros must project his arm to be something special, because his control is nowhere near ready for pro ball. He'll get rocked if he walks five a game at the next level, and I'm not sure if the Astros project him as a reliever or a starter. With his strikeout totals, he might be an effective late inning reliever, if he can avoid giving out free passes.

5) Brandon Wikoff (SS, Illinois-Champagne, 5-9, 170, 21) Notes: I really liked what I saw of Wikoff on the videos. As incredulous as I was with their fourth round selection, this one makes sense. Wikoff doesn't look like he has much power, but he's got a short, quick swing from the left side and has good speed around the bases. In the video, he's clocked going home to first in 3.90 seconds, which is plenty playable at the next level. His hands also looked good in the warmups that were filmed, making quick relays and solid throws. He didn't look as smooth in the field as Mier, but he'll be a solid prospect in a system lacking middle infielders.

6) Enrique Hernandez (SS, American Military Academy HS, 5-11, 170, 17) Notes: This is a kid who may mature to be more than he is now, but at the moment, he's a project. At short, his arm looked strained and his footwork needs work. At the plate, his swing is choppy but quick but in the at-bats we got to see, he looked like he needed to work on his plate discipline. Baseball America compared him to Luis Matos but with a better bat, and listed him as a second baseman. With his arm strength, that's probably where he'll end up in the long term.

7) Dallas Kouchel (LHP, Arkansas, 6-2, 180, 21) Notes: He is a guy who's a classic Moneyball pick. I don't mean his statistics were favorable, but that he was drafted on his performance rather than his measurables. At 6-foot-2 and 180, he doesn't have the prototypical frame, but he has anchored the Arkansas staff for three seasons and was an all-star in the Cape Cod League last summer. He doesn't throw hard, but with his great changeup, he can be an effective change of pace guy. The sink on his fastball will also lend itself to ground balls, which will help out a soft tossing lefty.

8) Brandt Walker (RHP, Stanford, 6-3, 185, 21) Notes: I'm betting the same scouts who were following Jason Castro last season got a look at Walker a year early. In 12 games, the righty had a 7.71 ERA and only had 27 appearances in his three years with the Cardinal. This is a case of statistics being misleading as Walker had more innings pitched (37 1/3) than hits allowed (36) but still had an ERA over 6. He also had 29 strikeouts in those 37 1/3 innings, meaning his arm is good and rested. We shall see.

9) Ben Orloff (SS, UC-Irvine, 5-11, 170, 22) Notes: Orloff's arm also appeared a little stretched in the short video of him taking grounders, but he should play somewhere in the infield. His swing is short, pulling his hands through quickly, so he shouldn't have trouble catching up to inside fastballs. He's also made 215 starts at shortstop, so he's got some experience at the position. He was second on the team in batting average and led the team in hits (91) and runs scored (62). Again, he just adds to the team's depth up the middle.

10) Erik Castro (3B, San Diego State, 6-4, 200, 21) Notes: Castro was named all-conference and started at four different positions last year. He was second on the team in home runs with 10 and was 55th in the nation in walks. I'm also not sure whether he is any relation to Astros 2008 first round pick Jason Castro. I'll check on that some more.

11) David Williams (C, Crowder College, 6-0, 190, 20) Notes: Apparently, he goes by Bubby. Easily the coolest name the Astros have drafted in the past two years (sorry, T.J. Steele). A draft eligible sophomore, Williams caught and played on the infield this season. I've got nothing more on him other than that.

12) Geoffrey Thomas (RHP, Stephenson, Ga. HS, 6-0, 187, 17) Notes: Has trouble controlling his arm slot. In the video, he threw in the high 80's consistently, but didn't have a ton of break on his curveball. Granted, they only showed him throw the curve once, so I don't want to make too many conclusions. His delivery also looks more violent than smooth, which means he may have a bigger chance for injury long term.

13) Jake Goebbert (OF, Northwestern, 6-0, 205, 21) Notes: Goebbert follows the Northwestern tradition of current Corpus first baseman Mark Ori. His season was cut short due to an injury, but he still managed to bat .280 with 10 doubles and four home runs in 30 games. He showed more power in his sophomore season and hopefully will bounce back from his injury (whatever that was).

14) David Berner (LHP, San Jose St., 6-2, 205, 21) Notes: Now here is a kid I really like. This press release by San Jose State is full of some good quotes from the coach and Berner. He's an older guy who can probably advance quickly. Pitching in the WAC, he also had to play at altitude some, so he's probably used to hitter-friendly environs, meaning he won't be phased by Lancaster's band box. He also led his conference in ERA, opposing batting average and strikeouts. The latter two tell me that the former was no fluke or product of excellent defense. I have high hopes for this one. Lefties that strike people out don't grow on trees.

15) Ryan Humphrey (CF, St. Louis CC Meramac, 6-0, 195, 21)

16) Ronald Sanchez (1B, Manuela Toro Morice HS, Caguas, Puerto Rico, 5-10, 17) Notes: Played catcher in high school and will switch to first base in the minors. He has a good clean swing and loads up well, which means he should show some power at the next level. He's also the third player the Astros have drafted out of Puerto Rico in the last two years.

17) Justin Harper (RHP, Oklahoma City University, 6-3, 210, 21) Notes: The first NAIA player drafted by the Astros this year, Harper didn't have the best ERA in the world but struck out 86 in 71 innings and only gave up 63 hits. His delivery almost drops down side arm at times, but his follow through is solid and his leg kick looks powerful. It's obvious that he's a power guy and he doesn't seem to land violently on his front leg, which can lead to shoulder problems.

18) J.B. MacDonald (RHP, Boston College, 6-2, 190, 22) Notes: After playing sparingly his first three years at BC, MacDonald started fifteen games this season, throwing 96 2/3 innings and allowing 96 hits. The senior also struck out 71 and walked 32 while giving up a team-high 13 home runs. He got to work with a top-notch defensive catcher, so the Astros must've seen something they liked about him. His track record isn't great, however, and he doesn't throw enough strikes for my tastes. Still, he's a guy who can grow.

19) Brian Kemp (CF, St. John's University, 5-9, 180, 21) Notes: In the few swings he took on video, it appeared that Kemp transfers a little too much weight onto his front foot, which will limit his power potential at the next level, but has a nice swing otherwise. He also has an absolute cannon for an arm in the outfield and, if he has the range to play center, should be a potent defensive weapon.

20) Julio Martinez (RF, Nova Southeastern University, 6-3, 194, 21) Notes: Now this kid shows some power potential. Unlike Kemp, Martinez loads up for the ball well and has a natural uppercut to his swing that will help his power. He was timed at 4.40 down to first on a bunt attempt, which is pretty good for a righty. We didn't get to see him field, but he should have an arm if they listed him in right field. I'm interested in why he lasted so long. Maybe teams don't trust the competition he played against.

21) Barry Butera (2B, Boston College, 6-0, 180, 22) Notes: Butera played three different positions for Boston College last season (RF, SS, 2B) but was listed as a pure second baseman by the Astros. He has definite speed, as he led the ACC in triples (4) and a knack for getting on base, with a .400 OBP and six multi-hit games in his last nine starts. Definitely more of an organizational guy than a legitimate prospect, but give him some time in the minors to develop.

22) Mark Jones (RHP, Manheim Township, Pa. HS, 6-7, 205, 18)

23) Robert Donovan (RHP, Stetson University, 6-5, 220, 21) Notes: Donovan is an effort thrower. His whole delivery screams 'I'm throwing as hard as I can.' That's not necessarily a bad thing, but you hope it doesn't lead to injury risk. The body tends not to like jarring activities. Other than that, his delivery is clean. The ball starts forward vertical to the ground, he throws almost completely over the top and he lands pretty balanced on his feet. He's got a tall and wiry frame, one of the biggest pitchers the Astros have drafted so far this year. He'll be an interesting guy to watch.

24) Mike Modica (LHP, George Mason, 6-0, 175, 22) Notes: The Oswalt-sized lefty has an impressive resume. He was named second team All-America and selected as the South Jersey Coaches Pitcher of the Year. He started more games than anyone in George Mason history and is second on the all-time strikeout, wins and innings pitched lists. All that is great and shows he can be productive. What I worry about is all those innings already on his arm. Will he stay healthy? Is he good enough to strike guys out at the next level? We'll have to see.

25) Nicholas Stanley (1B, Florida Southern, 6-2, 195, 22) Notes: Stanley may be a case of a guy who transfers off the radar of some scouts. He played at NC State last season before transferring to Florida Southern and starting all 57 games. He led the team with 11 home runs and 59 RBIs. It's tough to say how his power will translate in the pros, but he's the kind of guy the Astros have been collecting for the past few years: older first baseman with a little pop who can field well enough to play in the outfield.

26) Matthew Watson (1B, Pompano Beach, ME HS, 6-0, 200, 18)

27) Aaron Bray (3B, UNC Charlotte, 6-0, 180, 21) Notes: Another try-hard guy, Bray finished his career at Charlotte with over 200 hits and 200 runs scored. He is the team's all-time hits leader with 293 and is only the second player in school history to top 200 in each category. He doesn't have a lot of power with just 12 extra-base hits this season, but he did bat .339, so he'll at least be a consistent hitter. He only struck out 22 times in 189 innings, so he's got a pretty good batting eye. Still, this is an organizational player who may move up over time and surprise some people if he develops a little pop.

28) Eric Anderson (RHP, Mountain Vista, Colo. HS, 6-4, 18)

29) Garen Wright (CF, Putnam City, Okla. HS, 6-3, 230, 18)

30) Brandon Petite (RHP, Vauxhall HS, Edmonton, Canada, 6-3, 210, 18) Notes: Petite is a big righthander from Canada who throws from a high three-quarters slot. Right now, he's still more projectability than performance, as he's still pitching in the high 80's but should gain speed as he matures. His mechanics need work, as he falls off to the first base side pretty badly and doesn't get into a good fielding position. I'm not sure if he's committed anywhere or how easy it will be to sign him, but he's a guy that projects favorably in the future.

Wednesday's Rundown

Hope everyone enjoyed the draft coverage last night. We've got another doctor's appointment this afternoon, so I'll probably just have a post tonight highlighting the best or most interesting picks from today's portion of the draft and my thoughts on them. If I have time, I may even get around to a player profile (that I've been promising for weeks now). Until then, let's get on with all the news and notes from around the Astros minor league system (minus Corpus, since they were off yesterday):

Wesley Wright started for Round Rock on Tuesday but wasn't very good. He lasted just three innings, giving up three hits and three earned runs. He struck out four and walked three to pick up his first loss with the Express. I'm not sure if they're trying to stretch Wright out into a starter, or if this was just a way to give their rotation a day of rest. That happens from time to time in this system. It could be to get some extended work for the bullpen guys or, as I said, to just rest the rotation a little. Whatever the reason, I'll be interested to see if Wright gets another start.

None of the hitters distinguished themselves on Tuesday outside of third baseman Chris Johnson. The 24-year old was 3 for 4 with a double and a run scored. He's currently batting .382/.432/.618 with seven runs scored, four doubles and two triples this month, raising his season average to .305. His home run power still hasn't come back, but the Dell Diamond is the toughest park to hit homers in the Astros system. In case you were wondering, Dell Diamond has a park factor of .96 for home runs, while Corpus Christi is at 1.15, Lancaster is at 1.17 and Lexington is at 1.06.

Another interesting sidebar from Tuesday was that utility infielder Chad Spann reached base twice on errors and was starting at second to give Jason Smith the day off. The interesting thing is that only one other Express player has reached on an error this month (J.R. Towles). Brian Bogusevic was the only player to reach more than twice in the entire month of May. Wladimir Sutil leads the farm system by reaching base seven times on errors. It's not a significant stat that speaks to overall talent or anything. It's just the kind of little bits of data that can be fascinating about this game.

Apparently, the Lancaster game last night was suspended after a fuse broke in the light towers around the park. The JetHawks and Inland Empire 66's managed to get in two innings before it became too dark to play, at which point the grounds crew managed to get four of the six light towers back online, but not enough to continue the game. They'll play a doubleheader today starting at 4 p.m. (PST).

One thing I've failed to mention is that Lancaster added an infielder last week. Matt Weston is a utility infielder who played in the Independant Canadian League last season. The former University of Houston outfielder was drafted in the 12th round of the 2006 draft by the San Francisco Giants and this is his Age 24 season, though he will turn 25 on June 20th. In five games with Lancaster, Weston is 3 for 17 with a triple, a home run, two runs scored and four RBIs.

Leandro Cespedes was absolutely rocked in his start last week, giving up eight hits and eight runs in 1 1/3 innings. The 22-year old struck out one and walked one intentionally before handing the ball over to the bullpen. Jordan Powell and Jeff Icenogle combined to pitch 7 2/3 scoreless innings, as Powell gave up one hit in 3 2/3 innings while striking out two and walking one. Icenogle gave up six hits over four innings, striking out two and walking none. Cespedes started the game yesterday that was delayed, striking out six in two innings. There was no word in the game story whether he would try and pitch in either game today, though I doubt it.

Catcher Koby Clemens has been on a roll lately, so he should benefit even more from Castro's promotion to Corpus. In six games, the 22-year old is 7 for 17 with three walks, three doubles, two sacrifice flys, two runs scored, seven RBIs and four strikeouts. His .412/.455/.588 line is one of the best on the team and raised his season average to .295/.382/.451 with a 19/35 BB/K ratio in 144 plate appearances.

Speaking of Jason Castro, he finished his stint in Lancaster by going 9 for 22 in June with six runs scored, six RBIs, two doubles, one home run, seven walks and four strikeouts. Castro is batting .409/.533/.636 this month, with a BABiP of .444, so this success is probably short term. For the season, Castro's line of .311/.403/.515 is very encouraging and his BABiP of .354 is probably sustainable. It will be very interesting to see how he deals with the transition to Double-A ball and to a less hitter friendly ballpark.

Chris Hicks posted his fourth above-average start of the season last week, pitching five innings and allowing four hits and two earned runs. The 22-year old former Georgia Tech closer struck out five and walked three, bringing is K/9 rate up to 7.79 and his BB/9 rate to 3.26. That's a tad high in the walk department, but that's a plenty good strikeout rate, which in that goofy ballpark, is one of the best indicators of success at the next level. Hicks' defense hasn't been great either, as his season Defense Efficiency Ratio is sitting at .598, one of the lowest rates I've seen. His FIP is at 3.99, which seems a better fit for his talent level right now than his actual ERA (6.04).

The team leader in hits this month is T.J. Steele, who's finally back from a pair of injuries that have limited him to just 52 plate appearances this season. In June, the 22-year old is 10 for 26 with two doubles, eight runs scored, two RBIs, a walk, six strikeouts and has been successful on two of his three stolen base attempts. Steele's BB/K rate is a little worrisome right now, but he hasn't gotten very much time at all to get comfortable at the plate. Hopefully, this will trend downward as he gets more playing time.

Jack Tilghman picked up his second loss with Lancaster on Sunday, but his start wasn't terrible. Instead, Tilghman was the victim of bad defense. In four innings, he allowed five hits and six runs, but only two of those were earned. He also struck out four and walked two and faced a season-high 24 batters. His G/F ratio wasn't great at 4/5 but he only gave up two line drives and his Power/Finesse Ratio has consistently been around 1.50, one of the big reasons why his FIP sits at 2.26 this season and was at 2.70 for his last start. His Defense Efficiency Ratio isn't terrible at .733, but it could be better. The impressive thing about Tilghman at Lancaster is his K/9 rate is at 11.65, by far the highest among starters on the team and his BB/9 is a manageable 2.65.

Another Lancaster outfielder who's struggling right now is Jonathan Gaston. After being the Player of the Month for April and May, he's started off slow in June with a .241/.258/.586 average. His power has still been there, hitting three doubles, two triples and a home run but he's walked just once while striking out eight times in 31 plate appearances. His Adjusted OPS of .816 and his Runs Created total of 4.5 put him well behind many of the other players on the team and his weighted OBA of .241 is the second lowest among regulars this month.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Astros supplemental 3rd rounder is third baseman

The Houston Astros drafted Jonathan Meyer with the 111th overall pick in the supplemental portion of the third round of the 2009 draft. The fourth high school player selected on the first day of the draft by Houston, the 18-year old is from Simi Valley High School in Simi Valley, California. Here's some video of Meyer in high school.

Meyer played shortstop in high school, but also caught games and was the team's closer. His defense is good, but profiles more as a third baseman as he progresses, which is why the Astros listed him as such when they drafted him. As I mentioned in the profile on Mier, the Houston farm system is pretty bare when it comes to infielders and third base is no exception. The only real prospect at the position is Chris Johnson and he's 24 and in Triple-A. Jhon Florentino, Marco Cabral and Ebert Rosario have serious flaws (no power, too old or no plate discipline) to view them as good prospects. Meyer changes that immediately.

His MLB.com scouting report shows some video of him at shortstop, but it's not really big enough to see well to form opinions. His bat raises some question marks on some scouting reports, but if he's solid defensively, I think the team will live with just getting average out of him. Plus, if he can add some strength to his 6-foot-1, 200 pound frame, he'll hit for more power than he does now. His arm is good enough to throw a 90 MPH fastball, so it should play well at the hot corner.

Meyer also scores high in the makeup department, something he showcases in this Q&A with Baseball Beginnings and with his switch to switch-hitting this spring. He's newly converted to switch hitting, so it may take him a while to find his groove. Just like Lance Berkman, he's more comfortable from his natural side (the right) than his new side, with a longer swing from the left side of the plate. The Astros couldn't get their third round pick signed last season, so we'll see if they can get Meyer in the fold as he's currently committed to Cal State-Fullerton.

Astros first 3rd round pick is outfielder

The Houston Astros drafted Telvin Nash with the 100th overall pick in the third round of the 2009 draft. The 18-year old left fielder from Griffin High School in Griffin, Georgia just doesn't show up on many scouting reports. He's listed at 6-foot-1, 230 pounds and is every bit that imposing a player in his video on MLB.com. Nash is currently committed to Kennesaw State and is rumored to be a tough sign.

Nash has a swing that definitely can play to some significant power, and was rated as being the top prep power hitter in the state. His pre-swing stance is very busy, with some extra knee movement that could be eliminated. It works for him now, so I'm not one to advocate changing, but complicated swings can get out of whack easily. Going off of thirty seconds of video is dangerous, but there were a couple of times that his swing looked long, though it also was very smooth at times too. We'll see how he plays at the next level, but it looks like he's got plus power potential.

In the outfield, his arm looks like it will play alright, though it's telling that the Astros listed him as a left fielder. He moved pretty well around the bases, so he should be able to stay on the corners and his arm looked like it could be an asset in left. He also apparently played third base at times next to former first round pick shortstop Tim Beckham.

The MLB Network commentators, including Baseball America executive editor Jim Callis, didn't have much to say about Nash, as he doesn't seem to have many scouting reports. But, the point Callis made was that Bobby Heck must have good conviction in his scouts finding guys and not caring about the "consensus." They select who they think is worth the pick. So far, so good. Hopefully, Nash will continue that trend.

Astros use 2nd round pick on pitcher

With the 69th overall pick in the second round of the 2009 draft, the Astros selected high school right-handed pitcher Tanner Bushue. The 17-year old is from South Central High School in Farina, Illinois. He signed with John A. Logan Community College, which shows that he can be signed fairly easily. Most people had him pegged as going in the first 10 rounds, but not higher than the fourth round, so expect him to be characterized as a bit of a reach. However, the MLB Network's draft expert Jonathan Mayo said he liked what the Astros were doing in not reaching for college guys who are close to the majors and instead taking upside guys like Bushue.

According to the Baseball America scouting report, Bushue is a 6-foot-4, 180 pound athlete who averaged over 18 points a game as a basketball player in high school. His video on MLB.com shows him touching 90 with his fastball, but it sitting in the high 80's right now. His 12-6 curveball also had a ton of downward break, which makes it a tough pitch to hit. The MLB Network guys suggested that he can have a plus fastball and curveball, which gives him a good shot at making the big leagues in some capacity.

His weaknesses right now are that he doesn't really have a lot of time on the mound to develop a baseball feel. This means his third and fourth pitches are weak right now, something he'll have to work on in the minors to stay a starter in the higher levels of the farm system. Currently, he throws a slider and a changeup but neither are good pitches at this point.

One trend that is starting to show about Astros scouting director Bobby Heck's drafts is that he likes athletic pitchers. That's how most of the scouting reports described Jordan Lyles, Ross Seaton and Brad Dydalewicz last season and what they say about Bushue now. It's also worth noting that Bushue's pitching mechanics appear to be very solid. In that (very) short video, his motion appeared pretty easy and his arm flies open vertical from the ground, meaning he doesn't have to torque his shoulder much in his delivery. That's one of the problems that Mark Prior had in his delivery, and while it's not a sure sign of injury, it's good to know this kid has solid mechanics early on.

If the Astros hold to form, they'll send Bushue to Rookie ball to throw about 50 innings this season before starting next year in Lexington. Bushue will no doubt benefit from having Mier behind him defensively and the two could move up through the system together.

Astros select shortstop Mier

With the 21st pick in the first round of the 2009 draft, the Astros selected high school shortstop Jiovanni Mier out of Bonita High School in La Verne, California. Mier, 18, is listed at 6-foot-3, 170 pounds and has committed to Southern California. His brother Jessie is a catcher in the Dodgers organization. Here is some video of Mier's hitting and fielding.

All of the scouting reports rave about Mier's defense. He was rated the best high school defensive player by Baseball America and compared to Nomar Garciaparra by MLB.com. He profiles as a line drive hitter and isn't done developing physically. He's "wiry strong," according to his MLB scouting report. One thing that all the reports agree on is that he is as advanced a high school prospect at short as you will find and though he needs to polish a few things, he should be able to stick at the position.

His footwork and his relays both need work, but are definitely fixable. In the video, you can see he does have a quick release when getting the ball to second or trying to turn the double play. Mier also needs to work on his throws, as they can sometimes have too much movement on them and provide problems for first basemen.

The most consistent praise is given to his make-up. In this article, Baseball America goes in-depth on the shortstop, talking with him and his coach about how he deals with pressure. In this Q&A with the blog Baseball Beginnings, Mier talks about a wide variety of things and has a pretty mature approach to hitting. I like that he's aware of how he needs to hit to all fields and, though he acknowledges the doubters don't think he'll hit, he hasn't tried to yank a bunch of homers.

The Astros do not have much depth at shortstop in the minors right now. The starting shortstops in Lexington (Low A) are both international signings who are a ways away. Lancaster (High A) have Chris Jackson and Gabriel Suarez, one who was a mid-round draft pick last season and one who's played independant ball the past two years. The only legitimate prospect currently in the minors is Wladimir Sutil and, at 24, he's a little old for his level (Double-A). Suffice it to say there's no depth here. I'd imagine Mier will start out in Rookie ball and then be the everyday guy at Lexington in 2010.

There doesn't seem to be any signability issues with Mier, so the Astros should be able to get him for the slot price, but I'm a little concerned that as a Calfornia native, he may want to honor his commitment to USC and be their starting shortstop for the next three years.

Tuesday Brieflys

A mixed bag of news in the latest Minor League Notebook from The Houston Chronicle. Jason Castro got the call-up to Double-A Corpus Christi last night, less than a year after being drafted out of Stanford. Other college-age prospects from last year's draft have made the jump, such as Texas first baseman Justin Smoak, and judging from Castro's performance so far this season, his transition should go smoothly. On the down side, Douglas Arguello, one of the pitchers Castro would have been catching, was placed on the 7-day DL this week with swelling in his elbow. Hopefully, this isn't a serious issue, but it bears watching. Anyways, let's get into all the news and notes from the Astros minor league system:

Brian Bogusevic went 2 for 4 with another double and an RBI in Monday's game against rehabbing Cubs pitcher Rich Harden. Bogey still leads the team with six June RBIs and four doubles. His slugging percentage is only topped by Lou Santangelo and Chris Johnson, though Santangelo has 23 fewer at-bats.

The two players manning first base for Round Rock, Mark Saccomanno and John Gall, are both in a June swoon. For Gall, his 5 for 30 start mirrors his May numbers and have been a big reason why his average has fallen to .235/.308/.358 on the season. Saccomanno is going through a 3 for 24 stretch to start the month, lowering his season average to .270/.306/.401.

Wladimir Sutil had a five game hitting streak broken on Sunday before getting two more hits on Monday. Sutil is 7 for 21 with 8 walks, five runs, two RBIs, one SB, and three strikeouts this month. His .333/.517/.429 line gives him the highest OBP on the team this month and is a big reason why he's been slotted into the leadoff spot the past few games. Sutil doesn't have as much power as Tommy Manzella, but he's been more consistent at the plate with a career line of .279/.345/.324.

Corpus starter Brad James started twice since I've talked about the Hooks. In his first start last week, James gave up four runs and eight hits in 5 1/3 innings while striking out a season-high five and walking three. His FIP of 3.01 was his lowest of the season and he gave up zero line drives. In the second start, James reversed those trends, walking five and striking out three in five innings of work. He allowed three hits and two earned runs but his FIP was at 8.20, his second-highest total of the season. James continues to pitch very inconsistently and unless his strikeout rate suddenly spikes, shows very little hope of making the majors.

Mitch Einertson also had a five game hitting streak broken up on Sunday. After suffering through an off month in May, Einertson has bounced back nicely in June, batting .333/.346/.458 with a home run and five RBIs. He's already brought his average up to .266 for the season and the home run he hit was his fifth this year.

Polin Trinidad rebounded from a horrific last start (his game score was 9), but was still just a shade under average. His quality start (six innings, two earned runs) was decent enough, but he only struck out four and allowed a home run. His FIP of 4.03 was a little above his season FIP of 3.98 and his batting average all0wed of .315 is too high to sustain any success. The one good thing about his perforamnce is he doesn't walk anyone. In 51 innings, Trinidad has walked six batters and has given up more home runs (7) than walks.

Collin DeLome finally broke his homerless drought dating back to last month by hitting a solo shot on Sunday. DeLome has had more time off recently as his May slump grew deeper, but the results have been solid since then. In 21 plate appearances, DeLome is hitting .263/.333/.526 with a home run and two doubles. The centerfielder has 11 home runs on the season, which leads the Hooks and is tied for the club lead with seven steals. Also helping his cause is the fact that he has already drawn two walks and struck out four times. In May, DeLome drew three walks in the entire month while striking out 28 times. If he improves that ratio, he'll be a good major league player.

Sergio Perez also pitched his second best start of the season, going six innings and allowing five hits and one earned run. He tied his season high with six strikeouts and walked two. His game score of 62 was only bested by his score of 69 in his fifth start of the season. Perez benefitted from three double plays and had his highest Defense Efficiency Ratio (.688) and FIP (2.70) in four starts.

I mention Drew Meyer every now and then, but at 27, he's really not a prospect. Still, he's hitting well this month, going 9 for 25 with two walks, two doubles, and five RBIs. Meyer plays an okay second base, but the lack of any other real prospects at the position highlight the reason why a guy like Meyer can end up with the Hooks. He's a solid organizational guy and would be a good fill-in at Round Rock if he's needed there.

The Corpus bullpen has been much stronger lately with the additions of Daniel Meszaros and Chai-Jen Lo. Teaming up with T.J. Burton, the team has a great bridge to win games, which is why they've won three of their last four. Meszaros has pitched in three games, throwing five innings and allowing four hits and one earned run. The 23-year old has also struck out four and walked none. In 27 innings, Meszaros has allowed only one home run and should continue his ascent up the system. Lo has also pitched in three games since coming off the DL last weekend. The 23-year old Taiwanese reliever has thrown three innings while allowing one hit and no earned runs. He's walked two and struck out three while hitting two batters. After being so dominant in Lancaster, Lo seems like he needs a little time to find his rhythm again.

I'll keep updating as the night goes on, but I'm going to post these thoughts right now so I can prepare a post about the Astros first round pick when it comes in a little bit. I thought LHP Matthew Purke made sense for them, but the Rangers just grabbed him. That means RHP Shelby Miller may fall a little, though I doubt he gets to 21. It doesn't really make sense to take another outfielder when our system is so lousy with them, so I'll be interested to see if they take Mier, the shortstop who's supposed to be the best pure defender in the draft.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Big Pot of Leftovers

So since I haven't blogged about the minors in almost a week, I thought I'd treat you to a gigantic post covering everything under the sun. In the past five days, we've had quite a bit to talk about, so this post will be my usual news & notes column while I plan on bringing out two different pitching profiles later today and will come back with a draft post tomorrow. There has been quite a bit going on recently, including a trip to the 7-day DL for 2008 supplemental first round pick Jay Austin. The 18-year old is the seventh Legends player currently on the DL and at least the 10th this season, which may explain why the team has been so inconsistent recently, and why Eric Suttle was added to the roster last week. So without further ado, here's all the news and notes from around the Astros minor leagues:

Starter Bud Norris bounced back from a sub-par start to have an above-average on last week. The 24-year old lasted six innings, allowing seven hits and one earned run while striking out four and walking three. Norris also allowed a home run for the third straight game and has also not allowed more than two line drives in his last three starts. The four strikeouts were the fewest he's had since his first start of the season and his FIP of 5.00 showed just how much his defense helped him out in this one.

Three hitters have 10 hits this month after the first week of June. The first is Reggie Abercrombie, who has settled into the leadoff spot nicely. The 28-year old still strikes out too much to be useful as an everyday player, but has put up a nice 10 for 27 run in the past week, with one walks, two doubles, three runs scored and seven strikeouts. He was also picked off twice, though, which hurts his value which is why his Runs Created is at 4.49.

Depending on how severe Felipe Paulino's groin injury is, the Astros may be looking for a starter to fill his rotation spot. One theory is that Russ Ortiz will be slotted in, but he's been so valuable as a long reliever, that scenario only makes sense if Paulino doesn't hit the DL. If he does, the team would be hard pressed to pass over Yorman Bazardo. The 24-year old didn't keep his 80 game score streak alive, having just a pedestrian game score of 61 last Friday. Bazardo (7-2) went seven innings and allowed eight hits and one earned run while striking out five and walking one. He gave up his first home run in five starts and also gave up a season-high eight line drives. His pitch count remains low, meaning he is very efficient with his pitches, but that can also get him into trouble like this past start. Bazardo had a G/F rato of 11/4, continuing his trend this season of being a groundball pitcher.

Another Express player with 10 hits this month is Brian Bogusevic. Hitting in the three hole, Bogey leads the team in RBIs this month with five and had two consecutive three-hit games this weekend. His .345/.367/.448 line puts him just above Abercrombie in terms of value, with one of the differences being Bogey was successful on his only stolen base attempt. Both players struck out and walked an equal number of times, though, which is a problem Bogusevic is going to have to overcome before he can be a decent big league player.

Lefthander Mark McLemore has also come off the DL recently and started two games thus far. His first start wasn't noteworthy but both charged him with losses. In five innings, McLemore gave up eight hits and three earned runs while striking out four. Another former Astros lefty, Wesley Wright, hasn't given up a run yet in 6 1/3 innings of work.

Tommy Manzella rounds out the troika of players with 10 hits for Round Rock. At 10 for 28 for the month, Manzella continues to raise his average higher and higher (.309 for the season). Of course, included in those 10 hits was a 4 for 5 day last week, which was the most hits by an Express player in quite a while. Manzella's power has never been his strong suit, but he does seem to be a good baserunner, as he leads the team with three triples this season. It's not all speed with him, though, as he has grounded into a team-high 10 double plays and only has two steals. Still, he's proven to be a very capable player and should get a look at being the everyday shortstop next season after Tejada leaves via free agency.

And this is how far we got today...I'll post this and follow up tomorrow with more.

Friday, June 5, 2009

We Apologize for the Brief Blackout

Sorry the blog has been dark for two days now. I've been swamped at the real job lately and haven't had time to sufficiently analyze the comings and goings in the minors. I expect this may happen again next week, because my wife is expecting our first child on Thursday. I will have an extended Friday post up later today (possibly tonight) and we'll play the rest of the week by ear. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Tuesday Brieflys

I was getting ready to lead off with a comment about the Astros minors going for a clean sweep on Monday, but Round Rock had to go and mess everything up by losing to former Astros affiliate New Orleans. Oh well, can't win them all, I guess. As the Astros farm system has a combined winning percentage of .433, a clean sweep was asking a lot. Only Lexington has a winning record currently at 26-24 and based on Run Differential, Lexington is the only one who should have a winning record. Round Rock, in fact, should have less wins than it does now. Still, as we've seen in these notes columns over the past two months, there is talent in the system. Just not enough of it to win as a team. Onto all the news and notes from Monday:

I'm introducing a new feature to these recaps in The Gold Star Performance of the Day. It's a long, unwieldy name right now, but I assume we can just call it the Gold Star and you'll know what I'm talking about. I'm going to give it to one player each recap who stood out above the rest and deserves to be mentioned right away, instead of by level, as I do now. Our first Gold Star winner is Lexington's Ross Seaton. The 19-year old threw a three-hit shutout, striking out six and walking none to get his fifth victory this season. Seaton had a game score of 87, which was only beaten by May POM Yorman Bazardo's three-hitter over the weekend. The strikeout total was also Seaton's highest since his third start of the season and was the second straight outing where he didn't walk a batter. It also helped the Houston native that the Legends scored more than four runs for the third time this season to get him the victory. Seaton also righted a three-game losing streak and didn't allow a run for the third time this season. That deserves a Gold Star.

Round Rock's Jose Capellan turned in a great appearance out of the bullpen on Monday, striking out five batters in two innings of work. The 28-year old gave up two hits but only needed 33 pitches to get through his time on the mound. Capellan's ERA has ballooned with each ineffective start and maybe a move to the bullpen will bring him around to the form that saw him go 4-2 with a 4.40 ERA in 71 innings with Milwaukee in 2006.

The hitting was a mixed bag, as Tommy Manzella extended his hitting streak to nine games and Mark Saccomanno, Chris Johnson and Yordany Ramirez each had doubles. Still, the Express managed just seven hits in the game and scored one run off former Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco. Ramirez in particular seems to have put a horrible May behind him by going 2 for 4 in the leadoff spot.

The day he was named Pitcher of the Month by this blog, Douglas Arguello picked up his second victory of the season. However, it wasn't one of his better starts, as the lefty was picked up by his team scoring nine runs for him. Arguello lasted five innings, giving up four hits, two earned runs, striking out five and walking four. The 24-year old also gave up a home run and hit a batter. After giving up one home run in his first seven starts, Arguello has given up long balls in each of his last two appearances, though his line drive percentage was back under 20% in both starts and for the season (17.5%).

Four different Hooks had multiple hits, led by Mark Ori's 3 for 5 day. Jonathan Fixler, Collin DeLome and Felix Molina each had two hits and three RBIs while Fixler and Drew Locke each scored two runs. DeLome had his first multi-hit game in seven outings and his second in 13 games. The 22-year old hit .232/.281/.427 in May but did add three home runs, two triples and three doubles. His 28 strikeouts led the team and coupled with his three walks, were a big reason why he went 1 for 16 in his last five games in May.

I haven't written much about Ori this season, largely because he's a first baseman without much power. That kind of player doesn't usually make it to the big leagues, as there are enough guys who can hit the ball a mile but don't have a position that teams can shoehorn in at first. Ori does have a knack for getting hits but not walks, as he had just 5 walks in May and 12 for the season. The 25-year old is hitting .320/.372/.394 this season.

Jack Tilghman had a game score of 59 in his second start for Lancaster. The 22-year old threw five innings, allowing three hits and two earned runs and striking out six. It was his first start this season where he went at least five innings and only the second start of his professional career.

Shortstop Gabriel Suarez was the only Lancaster hitter with a multi-hit game on Monday, as the 24-year old went 2 for 4. Suarez is hitting .400 since signing with the JetHawks last week. Centerfielder T.J. Steele went 1 for 3 in the game, getting his first hit in 13 at-bats since coming off the disabled list.

None of the Lexington hitters stood out on Monday, except Brian Pelligrini, who hit his fourth home run since being demoted. Pelligrini has been great for the Lexington offense, but considering how badly he failed in his first stint in High-A ball, he may not have much of a future with the organization.

Two other roster notes: Ryan McKeller has been demoted to Corpus Christi to make room for Mark McLemore to come off the DL for Round Rock.... With T.J. Steele coming off the DL for Lancaster, outfielder Eric Suttle was demoted to Lexington. Suttle was 12 for 32 with two doubles, four runs scored, seven RBIs and five walks in 12 games with the JetHawks.

Monday, June 1, 2009

May Players of the Month

Triple-A (Round Rock Express)
(Age, year and round drafted)
Hitter of the Month: Tommy Manzella, SS (26, 3rd, 2004): The question with Manzella hasn't been his glove (which is excellent); it's if he can be consistent enough with his bat to be successful in the big leagues. Starting last season, Manzella has shown signs that his bat can be a legitimate threat. He overcame a two week slump at the end of May to raise his average up over .300 for the season. His line of .339/.397/.492 for May is excellent and his 24.4 runs created is tops on the Express for the month. In 133 plate appearances, Manzella has 42 hits, 11 walks, 20 runs scored, 12 RBIs, 11 doubles, 1 triple, two home runs, four sacrifice hits and 22 strikeouts. The strikeouts are worrisome, but he has started taking some walks this month, which somewhat balances that out. He has a ridiculous .400 BABiP this month, which means he may just be lucky, but he also had the most plate appearances on the team with 133. Defensively, Manzella is very smooth and turns the double play about as well as anyone. If the Astros decided to move Miguel Tejada to third base, kept Edwin Maysonet at second and installed Manzella as the shortstop, they'd have one of the best infield defenses in the league.

Pitcher of the Month: Yorman Bazardo, RHP (24, signed in 2000 by Florida): Before I get into his stats this month, I thought I'd elucidate the winding road Bazardo took to Round Rock. He signed out of Venezuela in July of 2000 for $85,000. Five years later, he was listed as the Marlins' third-best prospect by Baseball America. In 2005, he was then traded to Seattle but dropped down to No. 13 on the Mariners' list when he couldn't consistently throw strikes with his off-speed stuff. In 2007, Bazardo was traded to Detroit, where he spent the entire season in Triple-A and posted an ERA of 3.75. He just got rocked in 130 innings last season, with an ERA over 6 with Toledo and a 24.00 ERA in 3 innings with the Tigers. Bazardo has a total of 28 1/3 innings at the big league level over three different seasons with two clubs (Florida & Detroit). He did not make the Tigers team out of spring training and was signed as a minor league free agent by the Astros on April 6, 2009. His first few appearances for the Express were out of the bullpen and weren't exactly impressive. Since joining the rotation, though, he's been better and better. In May, Bazardo has an ERA of 1.49 and a WHIP of 0.79 in 42 1/3 innings. He's 4-0 in six starts and has struck out 28 while walking seven. His FIP of 3.13 is very solid, but his BABiP of .211 suggests he benefitted from luck this month. He's also been very economical, throwing just 3.37 pitches per batter faced this month. He's created 21.11 runs this season, which is tempered just a bit by his K/9 rate of 5.13. He still throws a ton of ground balls, which is good for a pitcher who isn't overpowering, and his walk rate of 2.13 per 9 shows his control has been good. Overall, he has a good shot to be a fill-in starter if the Astros need him.
Double-A (Corpus Christi Hooks)

Hitter of the Month: Drew Locke, LF (26, 19th, 2005 by LA Dodgers): There has been one consistent member of the Corpus Christi offense this season and that's Locke. His numbers weren't as astronomical as April's, but a line of .327/.375/.533 for May is pretty solid. Locke had 35 hits, 10 walks, 18 runs scored, 31 RBIs, seven doubles, five home runs, and 18 strikeouts in 120 plate appearances. His BABiP of .345 wasn't much higher than his batting average and his wOBA of .349 and 20.8 runs created were both tops on the team. Locke has shown good power and hits for a consistent average, something fellow outfielder Collin DeLome lacked this month, but Locke's RBI total was helped greatly by second baseman Drew Meyer being on base enough to score 25 runs in May.

Pitcher of the Month: Douglas Arguello, LHP (24, signed in 2001): I've already covered most of Arguello's numbers in the profile I did of him earlier this month. Now, I'm going to look at his numbers in May. In 27 2/3 innings, Arguello allowed 27 hits and seven earned runs, striking out 19 and walking two. His record of 1-2 was very low, as his expected winning percentage sits at .674. Arguello has a 2.28 ERA this month, a WHIP of 1.05, a FIP of 2.73 and a BABiP of .302. His strikeout rate isn't outstanding (6.18 K/9), but he keeps the ball inside the park and doesn't allow many extra baserunners. Arguello's 19.2 runs created is tops on the Hooks staff.
High-A (Lancaster JetHawks)
Hitter of the Month: Jonathan Gaston, LF (22, 7th, 2008): I'd like to tell you Gaston's ridiculous numbers this month are inflated due to his home ballpark, but his
park-adjusted OPS of 1.184 is still tops on this list of the best players in the Astros farm system. His line this month of .365/.461/.798 is off-the-charts good and his home/road splits show a good hitter no matter where he plays. In 127 plate appearances this month, Gaston has 38 hits, 18 walks, 30 runs scored, 25 RBIs, eight doubles, five triples, nine home runs, three stolen bases and 25 strikeouts. His BABiP of .397 is only questionable when viewed alone. Once you realize it's only thirty points higher than his batting average, it seems much more normal as does his wOBA of .413, by far the highest in the minor leagues. I haven't even gotten to the most ridiculous part yet...Gaston has created 40 runs this month. That's a career for some people. He did it in May. Gaston was not rated by any of the prospect lists, but after this season, he might just be on there next year.

Pitcher of the Month: Leandro Cespedes, RHP (22, signed in 2002): My journalistic integrity may have been compromised by sheer amazement in the last entry, it's firmly back in check for this one. Cespedes is an interesting prospect because scouts don't know what to make of him. He exploded onto the scene last season with a 4.02 ERA in 130 innings. His strikeout rate has always hovered between 8 and 10 per 9 innings, and because of this, he's uniquely suited to succeed in Lancaster. Pitchers need to limit contact and avoid big innings at JetHawk Field, and with a 8.74 K/9 rate and a 3.57 BB/9 rate, Cespedes is halfway there. His walk rate is a little high, but not overly so. Since coming off the DL earlier this month, Cespedes has thrown in 22 2/3 innings, allowing 22 hits, six earned runs, 22 strikeouts, nine walks, two home runs and one hit batsman. He has a 2.38 ERA and a WHIP of 1.37, both sustainable numbers considering his BABiP is at .299. Hopefully, Cespedes can keep this up long enough to escape to Corpus Christi, where they can use a few more good starters.

Low-A (Lexington Legends)
Hitter of the Month: Brandon Barnes, OF (23, 6th, 2005): Lexington hitters haven't exactly struck fear into opponents lately, but neither have the other South Atlantic League hitters. Teams in the Sally League are averaging 4.1 runs scored a
game, which is a full run lower than any of the other minor leagues with an Astros affiliate. I bring this up before I profile Barnes simply because his numbers aren't overwhelming, but when put into context, they are very good. In 106 plate appearances, Barnes has 26 hits, five walks, 11 runs scored, 14 RBIs, five doubles, one triple, two home runs and 25 strikeouts. His BABiP of .324 shows these numbers are pretty legitimate and his wOBA of .276 shows he's a better hitter than a .260 batting average would lead you to believe. His adjusted OPS is at .711 and his 11.1 runs created is tops on the Legends roster. Barnes is a converted football player who I was convinced was going to wash out due to a lack of plate discipline, but he's shown this year that he can consistently play and hit. Now if only the rest of the Lexington hitters can follow suit.

Pitcher of the Month: Jordan Lyles, RHP (18, 1st supplemental, 2008): I've already written up a pitching profile on the first-round pick, but Lyles has been excellent all month long. His 21 runs created is one of the highest totals at any level and his 9.91 K/9 rate is just fantastic. Many baseball executives were puzzled when the Astros took him so high in the 2008 draft, but he's quickly proving that his live arm was worth it. He's also shown good control, as his walk rate of 1.99 BB/9 is excellent. He's allowed two home runs this month but struck out 40 while walking six in 36 1/3 innings. His FIP of 2.21 is also very good and his BABiP of .323 shows his numbers shouldn't trend upward. Like many of the pitchers on this list, his expected winning percentage (.542) is much higher than is actual winning percentage (.250) this month. Still, Lyles has proven he can handle big league hitters and should be moving up sometime this summer.