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.


test1212 said...

How do you see Castro for 2010? As a back-up to Towles perhaps? Or, will he need another full season in the miniors?

David Coleman said...

I think it will depend on how he does with Corpus in the second half. If the Hooks pitching staff continues to get better with him behind the plate, he'll probably have a good shot in spring training of next year. His bat still needs some polish, though and I worry about his lack of walks. I definitely think he'll see time with the big league club next season; I just don't know when.