Friday, July 3, 2009

Friday's Trip to the Minors

Happy Friday to everyone as we come to you live from the Coleman Family Mansion. We have a guest blogger today; he's only two weeks old, but he already knows the park factors for all the Astros minor league affiliates. Before we begin, I also wanted to send you on over to an interesting game story about the Texas Summer League.

There are literally dozens of summer wooden-bat leagues around the country, with varying levels of play. This one is heavy on the pitching, but is starting to bring in more big college names. The kid for Brazos Valley who is mentioned is Travis Smith, a 6-foot-5 righty from the University of Michigan and has a good fastball and some great break on his curve (the three times he chose to use it). I haven't seen much from the hitters this season that I've liked, except for Texas A&M first baseman Brett Parsons, who reminds me a little of a guy like Geoff Jenkins: power potential, good athlete, could play on the corners of the outfield if needed. At any rate, here's all the news and notes about the Astros minor league system:

The Astros signed another international free agent, according to Jose Arangue's Twitter account. LHP Kirby Pena was signed for $350,00 and was actually born in the states. Arangue gives a brief scouting report of him, but I've been unable to run down ages on either Pena or Jonathan Mejia. Once the Astros issue an official press release, I'll try to get more concrete facts. Also, Ben Badler over at Baseball America made a good point yesterday; most of these signings will not play organized ball this season. That leads me to think both of these kids will go to Kissimmee and learn the system before maybe making an appearance with the Astros Dominican Summer League team in 2010. Another interesting development today was this tweet, reporting that all Dominican players will be required to submit DNA tests to verify their true ages and identities.
***UPDATE*** The Astros just released this statement on their five international signees. The only one not headed to the DSL team is Luca Martone, the Italian 16-year old. For those scoring at home, Mejia is listed as 16 while Pena is 17.

Bud Norris got roughed up in his start for Round Rock on Wednesday. In six innings, the 24-year old gave up ten hits and five earned runs while striking out four and walking two. Norris had his lowest game score of the season at 39, but also had his second-lowest Defense Efficiency Ratio at .577. His defense did him no favors, obviously, but he also struggled to get guys out, with his lowest Power/Finesse ratio of the season.

Shortstop Tommy Manzella seemed to shake off the putridity of June by homering on Wednesday and combining to go 3 for 7 with a double, a home run, three runs scored, one RBI and two walks. Manzella's season average is back up to .279 and the home run was his fourth of 2009.

Outfielder Brian Bogusevic had three hits from the leadoff spot on Thursday, scoring two runs, walking once and hitting a double in his first game this month. Bogusevic has hit all over the batting order lately, but seems like he can slot into either the first or second slot successfully.

Starter Yorman Bazardo had his third straight below-average start on Thursday. The 24-year old allowed four runs and nine hits over six innings, striking out four and walking none. Bazardo also gave up a home run for the fourth straight start, which coincided with his worst stretch this season. He's not giving up a ton of line drives and has a positive G/F ratio over this stretch while his BABiP has been right around .300, so my suspicion is this is more a product of his low K/9 rate (5.38) than anything.

Corpus finally got back to playing games on Thursday, and starter Sergio Perez pitched well but picked up a loss. The 23-year old allowed two earned runs and five hits in six innings, striking out five and walking one. Perez did give up a home run but has been much better about striking guys out, averaging 7.61 strikeouts per nine innings in his last two starts. Perez has been very erratic this season, but he has the stuff to be very good. I stand by my assertion two days ago that he'll profile better out of the bullpen. Speaking of bullpens, Danny Meszaros and Chia-Jen Lo each pitched a scorless inning of relief on Thursday, striking out one and allowing one hit each.

The Hooks only managed five hits on Thursday, and Collin DeLome, Mitch Einertson and Jason Castro each had a single. Castro batted twice before giving way to Brian Esposito, and Castro finished the night 1 for 1 with a walk. DeLome and Einertson were both 1 for 4. The news on Castro isn't great, as he left the game in the top of the 7th with a leg injury. No mention in the game story in the Corpus Christi Caller about the severity, so we'll keep an eye on the box scores to see if/when he plays again.

Skipping down to the low minors, Tri-City shortstop Brandon Wikoff doubled and stole a base in his last two games while going 3 for 9 with an RBI and a strikeout. Wikoff has also been very solid defensively, converting 91.53% of the fielding chances he's seen and turning his fifth double play. Wikoff has a Range Factor of 5.86, which would be good enough to lead the National League this season. Wikoff is only batting .250 this season, but is hitting .292 on ground balls and has put 68% of his batted balls on the ground. As I said, he's a little like J.B. Shuck in that he puts the ball in play and uses his speed to put pressure on the defense.

Tri-City starter Colton Pitkin lasted four innings in his latest start, allowing one earned run and three hits. Pitkin didn't have any strikeouts but did walk three batters before handing it over to the bullpen of 2009 draft picks Brandon Stines (33rd round), Minor Musings sleeper David Berner (14th) and Brandt Walker (8th). Berner gave up his first run of the season in his third appearance. Walker walked his eighth batter of the season in 8 1/3 innings. It's safe to say at this point control is something he'll need to work on in the offseason.

When I profiled the Astros draft picks during the draft, I mentioned that outfielder and 20th round pick J.D. Martinez showed some power potential with his swing. He's definitely living up to that scouting report in Greeneville. Martinez is 12 for 37 in his first 10 professional games, scoring seven runs with five doubles, three home runs and 11 RBIs. Martinez hasn't stolen any bases, and has struck out the same number of times he's walked (4). I don't want to spoil anything, but he may show up in a more detailed analysis later on.

First round pick Jiovanni Mier had his first three-hit game on Wednesday with Greeneville before stealing his first base on Thursday. Of course, he was 0 for 5 with a run scored in the second game, so he's still got some work to do. Teammate Jonathan Meyer was 2 for 4 on Thursday to raise his batting average to .200 for the season.

Another middle infielder making a big impact so far is sixth-round pick Enrique Hernandez. The 19-year old has gone 10 for 27 in seven games with the GCL Astros since signing with zero extra base hits, but two runs scored, three RBIs, three stolen bases, three walks and five strikeouts. I was concerned about his bat, thinking his swing needed work, but he seems to be making good contact. He won't need much power to move up in this organization since there is such a dearth of middle infield prospects.

Another GCL Astro having a good start to the season is right fielder Emilio King. The 20-year old signed with the Astros back in 2006 and hasn't hit much in two seasons in the Dominican Summer League but that's a notoriously tough league for hitters. In six games, King has gone 6 for 17 with two doubles, a triple and a home run, scoring four runs and driving in five. King was caught on his only stolen base attempt and has walked four times while striking out thrice.

The Astros final draft pick of 2009, 50th-rounder Spencer Hylander out of Oklahoma Baptist, threw four perfect innings on Wednesday, striking out four and walking none. Hylander has appeared in three games, pitching 6 1/3 innings while walking three and striking out five. His ERA of 1.42 will probably tick up some, but he's not giving up many hits, which suggests he's missing some bats. Since he's an older prospect at 23, I'll be curious to see how aggressive the Astros are in pushing him through the system.

Finally, a note from the Dominican Summer League Astros, where righthander Xavier Baso has been excellent. In 29 innings, Baso has allowed 31 hits and nine earned runs while striking out 27 and walking nine. Baso (4-1) also picked up a save, as he's appeared exclusively out of the bullpen. I can't remember the exact story behind his signing last season, but I believe there was something about Carlos Lee in there, as both Baso and Lee are from Panama. At any rate, the 17-year old is definitely promising.

Here are a couple of roster notes from the past couple of days: second baseman Albert Cartwright was activated from the DL in Lexington. As you may remember, Cartwright was named my Player of the Month for April in Lexington days before an inside pitch broke his wrist, forcing him to miss the next six weeks....Arkansas starter and College World Series participant Dallas Keuchel has signed and is on the Tri-City Roster....The Astros also signed former Stanford pitcher Max Fearnow and added him to the Tri-City roster. Fearnow went undrafted after his senior season with the Cardinal, pitching in 21 games and throwing 50 1/3 innings with a 4.29 ERA. Here is an interview with Fearnow from this spring. It's a small world that he showed up on this roster, because my wife is from his hometown (Omaha, Nebraska), went to the same high school he did and knew his older brother Bryan. I'm guessing the Astros signed him because of their Stanford connections (Jason Castro, Brandt Walker) rather than out of loyalty to Ms. Minor Musings....The Astros must've seen the same things I did about Casey Hudspeth, because he was sent down to Lancaster recently. The Hooks signed 30-year old Charlie Weatherby to fill his roster spot. Weatherby pitched for the independant Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League last season after spending a year in the Phillies organization in 2007. Weatherby was drafted in the 21st round of the 2001 draft by the Red Sox.

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