Thursday, July 2, 2009

Thursday's Thoughts

We're going to hit Corpus Christi today before continuing on with Lancaster tomorrow and (hopefully) rolling out the June Players of the Month by Sunday. Without further ado, here's all the news and notes from the past month in Corpus:

Outfielder Mitch Einertson had a tough month of June for the most part, but put up an incredible stretch at the end, raising his batting average from .221 to .271 in four games. During that stretch, Einertson is 8 for 17 with his sixth home run of the season and a double. The 23-year old hit .271/.323/.365 in 97 plate appearances this month, with two home runs, two doubles, six walks, 11 runs scored, 11 RBIs and 16 strikeouts. As I've said before, Einertson has never flashed the same power he showed in the New York-Penn league five years ago, but he's turned into a nice player.

Outfielder Drew Locke has been great this season and is the two-time Hitter of the Month in Corpus, but he had a rough, rough June. In 115 plate appearances, Locke's line was .248/.313/.333 with 10 walks, 11 runs scored, 15 RBIs, four doubles, one triple and one home run. Locke only created 8.8 runs this month, which is very low when his season total is 50 Runs Created. Part of the reason for this drop was the 25-year old grounding into nine double plays. Locke appears to be pressing, so hopefully he can pull out of this slump next month.

Shortstop Wladimir Sutil led the Hooks with 34 hits in June, batting .312/.390/.385 in 123 plate appearances. Sutil also led the team with eight doubles and four steals. Unfortunately, Sutil was also caught stealing four times and grounded into three double plays, which kept him at 15.9 Runs Created this month and out of the running for Player of the Month. Sutil had a bit of a fall-off in batting average last month after returning from a hamstring injury, but since then he's looked like a great leadoff hitter, scoring 16 runs this month and walking 11 times.

Jason Castro, who was recently named to the 2009 All-Star Futures Game roster, had a 12-game hitting streak to start off his time in Corpus, but saw his average drop slowly to .288/.317/.356 by the end. Castro did score nine runs and drove in four RBIs while hitting one double and one home run. Power has never been a big part of Castro's game, as he profiles more as a doubles hitter than a pure power prospect. Think Lyle Overbay. Still, Castro only struck out six times in 63 plate appearances but needs to walk more than twice in a month to be successful. While his bat has been only marginally helpful for the Hooks, let's look at what he may have done for the pitching staff.

First, let's look at the good parts of pitching staff in June: Sergio Perez, Brad James and Chia-Jen Lo. Perez has had a problem striking people out all year, with a 33/26 K/BB ratio this season and eight of 14 starts with one or no strikeouts. Still, Perez has been effective over his last four starts, giving up nine earned runs in 29 innings this month. I think he may need to move to the bullpen to be an effective weapon in the big leagues, but he has shown progress this month. James has many of the same problems that Perez has shown (no strikeouts, too many walks), but has been impressive in his last three starts. In each start, James has gone six innings while giving up three earned runs total and inducing at least 10 ground ball outs in each game. James still has a 39/41 K/BB ratio for the season, but in those three starts has struck out 14 while walking four. Lo, who was also named to the Futures Game with Castro, finally gave up an earned run in his final start of the month, going nine innings over nine appearances without being scored upon. Lo has struck out eight while walking seven this month, but has given up just eight hits and has a 1.93 ERA and four holds.

On the flip side though, there have been some bad parts to the pitching staff, namely Danny Meszaros and Casey Hudspeth. Since Douglas Arguello got injured early this month, Hudspeth is the only starter with an ERA over 3.00; his currently sits at 9.00 this month in 23 innings. Hudspeth has also struck out 10 and walked 15 while giving up 31 hits. While his BABiP is up a bit at .321 and his FIP is lower than his ERA at 6.81, Hudspeth has struggled mightily in June. Meszaros has been the same way. After breezing through his first two months with both Lexington and Corpus, Meszaros gave up 13 earned runs in 14 innings this month. His strikeouts are still up (10 in nine appearances) and the 23-year old hasn't walked a batter in June. Still, he's given up three home runs and has a 14/15 G/F ratio. He should trend back downward, since his FIP of 4.53 is almost half his ERA this month and his BABiP of .340 is high. Still, he and Lo were a potent combination at the end of games, so the Hooks need him to revert back to form.

So, let's look at what Castro may have had to do with the pitching staff this month. Castro's catcher ERA is 3.98, having caught 135 2/3 innings and seen 60 earned runs cross the plate. Castro has caught four shutouts, two more one run games and 12 of 16 games with three runs or fewer. Part of the reason it's hard to evaluate a catcher's defensive ability is how much credit do you give them for calling a game? Is the drop in the team's ERA due to Castro behind the plate or just the staff gelling? In games not caught by Castro, the team has an ERA of 5.19 but we also run the risk of making assumptions based on small sample sizes in this comparison. The team has compiled 660 1/3 innings, so that's 524 2/3 innings or roughly 4/5ths of the total innings that Castro has not been involved. Still, it's encouraging to see Polin Trinidad (we'll talk about him more later), Perez and James all respond so well to Castro behind the plate.

The Texas League All-Star game was also held on Wednesday, as Drew Locke, Collin DeLome, Jhon Florentino, Wladimir Sutil and Polin Trinidad all were selected to the South All-Stars. DeLome went 1 for 2 with a strikeout, Locke went 1 for 4, Florentino was 1 for 3 while Sutil was 1 for 2. Nothing spectacular but DeLome did steal a base and Trinidad pitched a scoreless inning in relief, blowing through four batters in five pitches.

A couple of interesting roster moves for the Astros saw the team claim German Duran off waivers from the Rangers and signing international free agent Jonathan Mejia, a Dominican shortstop who has a very intriguing bat, for $370,000. Duran, who is the older brother of former Texas A&M shorstop Jose Duran, will be placed on the Major League DL and will probably join one of the minor league teams in the coming weeks to rehab. Mejia will probably not play short in the minors and will probably move to a corner outfield spot, according to Baseball America's Ben Badler, but we'll keep an eye on him both offensively and defensively. I bet he will be sent either to the Dominican Summer League team or to the Gulf Coast League.

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