Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday's Trip to the Minors

So today will definitely be a two-post day, but the second post will be about the Astros team in general and not confined to the minor league system. I found some really neat stuff this morning on player values that I think you'll be interested in. As for the minor league system, I'm still going live with two special features next Monday and Tuesday and I may add my first ever Astros Prospect Top 25, complete with analysis. Get excited for that. Since we've got a big day ahead, let's get right to all the news and notes from around the minors:

Shortstop Tommy Manzella hit a grand slam with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning on Thursday to put the Express on top 5-4. The 26-year old was 2 for 6 with a walk, a run scored, the home run and four RBIs. Manzella is batting .244/.326/.439 this month and his season average is at .272. All in all, not a bad season for Manzella and must give the Astros some trust in him to maybe hold down the starting job after Tejada leaves in free agency.

Manzella's homer put Round Rock up by one run, but reliever Casey Daigle gave up a run in the top of the eighth to tie the score. That's where the game stayed for another six innings, before Oklahoma City scored two in the top of the 14th off of Round Rock's Jeremy Johnson to win the game. Johnson pitched four innings while allowing three hits and two earned runs, striking out three and walking one. Johnson is usually a starter, but with the addition of Felipe Paulino to the Round Rock rotation, Johnson may have gotten bumped back to the bullpen.

No matter which way you slice it, Corpus Christi's Jhonny Florentino is having an excellent month of July. The 25-year old third baseman is batting .375/.388/.521 this month. His ballpark adjusted OPS is at .931, his weighted OBA is at .380 and his BABiP is at .395. All these numbers are remarkable similar to what he's done so far, which suggests this may not be due to luck as much as talent. At 25, Florentino is definitely old to be considered a prospect. Still, he's a good hitter who's got a line of .295/.348/.398 this season. Plus, he's only struck out 34 times in 244 at-bats.

How do I know Lancaster has one of the most outlandish ballparks in the minors? How about this: three different JetHawks players have 20 hits already this month in Koby Clemens, Matt Weston and J.B. Shuck. How many games has Lancaster won in that time? 9-7, just two games above .500 with an absolutely crazy offense. Those three players have combined to create 54 runs this month. The team has scored 99 runs in July and given up 76, which is actually decent, but that's an average of 11.67 runs a game. The league average is 10.1 runs in a game. It gets even worse when you split out the Lancaster home games. Granted, they've only played seven this month, but scored a total of 13.28 runs a game. When you compare that to the away scoring of 10.25 (right in line with the league average), it's astonishing that Lancaster's games have an average of three more runs than the rest of the league. I ran the numbers for the entire season and there have been 574 runs scored at JetHawks Field this season in 45 games while Lancaster has played in 46 games on the road. Those road games have seen 11.09 runs scored. That 1.7 run difference per game is really enormous.

Lancaster's Leandro Cespedes started on Thursday and put together a nice outing. In five innings, Cespedes gave up three hits and two earned runs to pick up his fifth victory of the season. The righty struck out five and walked two for a game score of 56, his third straight above-average start. The problems I see with Cespedes are two-fold. First, he's been very inconsistent this season. When he's good, he strikes out the side. When he's bad, he's horrendous. Cespedes is the only starting pitcher I've followed this season to record a negative game score. His average game score at this point is a 44, but it should be higher. He's actually put together some decent starts and always strikes out a bunch of batters. The two single digit game scores really hurt the average, though. Second, his K/9 rate is the lowest it's been in three years at 7.60 and his BB/9 rate is a career-high 3.42. Naturally, as the talent level gets tougher, a player's stats regress some, but this is not promising. The main thing making Cespedes a good prospect is his ability to strike guys out. If he's starting to slip there AND he continues to have injury problems, he may not be a top prospect for long.

Another day, another two hits for Jay Austin. Wednesday was apparently just a hiccup for the 18-year old, because on Thursday, Austin was 2 for 4 with two runs scored and a triple. He's 25 for 58 now this month with three doubles, four triples, one home run and a line of .431/.459/.672. Let's wait a little longer before we name him player of the month, though.

One Legends player who is struggling this month is third baseman Ebert Rosario. The 22-year old is hitting .226/.305/.264 in 57 plate appearances with just two doubles. After hitting .375 in April, Rosario has alternated good and bad months. In May, he hit .220 but followed that up with a .270 average in June, which is right around where his season line is now at .275/.306/.375. At the beginning of the season, there was talk about Rosario being a good third base prospect. He's shown, though, that he has a ways to go.

That's right, Omaha's favorite son Max Fearnow upped his scoreless streak to four appearances and 8 innings on Thursday. Fearnow struck out one while walking none and allowed two hits. The 22-year old has struck out five and walked two this month with a 7/11 G/F ratio. Fun Nebraska fact: Kool-Aid was invented in Hastings, NE by Edward and Kitty Perkins in 1927.

Shortstop Brandon Wikoff is 7 for 15 in the last four games, bringing his average up to .341/.372/.415 this month. The 21-year old has hit one double and one triple with five runs scored and two RBIs. More impressively, he's only struck out three times in 44 plate appearances this month and only seven in 77 plate appearances this season.

Utility infielder Oscar Figueroa was 2 for 3 on Thursday with a home run, three runs scored and two RBIs. The 21-year old is 8 for 21 this month with two walks, six runs scored, three RBIs and one stolen base. Figueroa has a line of .381/.435/.524 in July and has played all over the infield, starting at first base, third base and shortstop. Figueroa was signed as an international free agent out of Caracas, Venezuela in 2003.

Of all the pitchers in Greeneville I mentioned, both Jose Cisnero and Nathan Pettus both got hit around on Thursday. Cisnero lasted four innings, giving up seven hits and four earned runs while striking out one and walking one. Pettus was hung with the loss after blowing a save in the bottom of the ninth, pitching one-third of an inning and giving up a home run, two hits and two earned runs while striking out one. The jinx of Minor Musings, I guess.

There are a pair of interesting shortstops (outside of Enrique Hernandez) down with the GCL Astros. The first is Luis Bryan, an 18-year old from San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic and the second is Jan Baldee, an 18-year old from Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Baldee made his professional debut last summer, appearing in 13 games with the Venezuelan Summer League Astros. He's only gotten four at-bats in 2009 but is an interesting guy to watch. Bryan is 13 for 35 this month with a double, a triple, six runs scored and three RBIs with five strikeouts. Bryan's line of .371/.389/.457 is one of the highest on the team. Both bear more watching.

Speaking of Hernandez, the 17-year old is 14 for 47 with a double and four stolen bases in July. Hernandez average dropped under .300 this month after going 0 for 2 on Thursday. Hernandez is also leading the team with nine RBIs.

That's all for now, look for more updates later today.

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