Monday, June 29, 2009

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!

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