Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thursday's Thoughts

I'll mention it again on Friday, but I'll be out of town on Monday and Tuesday, so you won't be getting a round-up column on those days. Instead, I'm going to finish up a couple new profiles I've been working on and have them post automatically on those mornings. So, you'll still have something to look forward to. With that, let's get to all the news and notes from around the Houston minor league system:

Bud Norris started the Triple-A All-Star game on and pitched two perfect innings. The 24-year old struck out two and walked none; in fact, the only blemish on his pitching record was a wild pitch in the second inning. However, teammate Yorman Bazardo was not so lucky. In two-thirds of an inning, Bazardo gave up three hits and three runs while striking out none and walking none. The other 24-year old was hung with the loss.

Lancaster's Jose Duran missed a month due to an injury. Before that, he was as ineffective as you can get, so maybe blaming an injury is more constructive than saying he's not good enough to get hitters out in High-A ball. The last few weeks have proved his talent is just fine. On Wednesday, Duran came on in relief of Bryan Hallberg and threw four scoreless innings. Duran allowed one hit and struck out three. Dating back to his return on June 17, five of Duran's seven appearances have been scoreless and his ERA over that period has been 2.87. Duran has been pitching out of the bullpen after being in the starting rotation at the beginning of the season, but the bullpen seems to agree with him.

Center fielder J.B. Shuck was the big hitter for Lancaster on Wednesday. The 21-year old was 2 for 5 with a double, a triple and a run scored. The two hits brought his season average up to .323 and his monthly line up to .370/.452/.593. Shuck also has a K/BB rate of 5/8, which is exactly what you want in a leadoff hitter. Do you hear that, Reggie Abercrombie?

Jordan Lyles hasn't pitched in eight days now, but it doesn't appear to be due to an injury. What I think it may be is the Astros trying to control his innings pitched. Currently, Lyles has started 17 of 89 games that Lexington has played. He's averaging 5 2/3 innings per start and can expect to start about 10 more games, since Lexington has a 140 game schedule. I don't think they'll make the playoffs, though the Legends offense has improved enough to consider a second-half title. Still, if we estimate 10 more starts, that would give him 56 more innings, give or take a few. His season total would finish around 152 innings pitched. Given his young arm and his limited experience before this season, I would not be surprised at all if the Astros shut him down closer to 120-130 innings. He's already proven he can pitch effectively, and I don't think they'll push him up to Lancaster this season. Instead, look for Lyles to become like a college starter, pitching on Friday nights once a week.

Lexington starter David Duncan appears to be the swing man in the rotation now, giving Lyles and Seaton a break thus far. On Wednesday, Duncan struck out seven in six innings but gave up five hits and two runs for a loss. Relievers Henry Villar and Pat Urkfitz each threw one inning with Urkfitz giving up no runs and one hit while striking out no one. Villar did have a strikeout, but also allowed a run.

Well, Jay Austin went hitless in Wednesday's game, but he did walk twice, which dropped his average down to .426 but his OBP up to .456. I'll take those numbers for now.

Tri-City's Wander Alvino looks like the next good Latin American pitcher to come through the Astros farm system. In three starts this month, Alvino has a 3.00 ERA in 21 innings, giving up 14 hits and seven earned runs while striking out 14 and walking four. Alvino's WHIP of 0.86 is very low for an ERA in the 3's, which is why his FIP is down at 2.44. I'd like to see his strikeouts tick upwards a few notches, but right now he's very solid. I'll give Tim Purpura, David Lakey and Paul Ricciarini credit; the Astros have produced a ton of big league pitchers from Latin America this decade. From Wandy Rodriguez to Carlos Hernandez to Felipe Paulino, Juan Gonzalez, Johan Santana and possibly Douglas Arguello and Polin Trinidad someday, the Astros have produced a ton of good pitchers from their international academies.

Brandon Wikoff had a big day at the plate, reaching safely four times after going 3 for 4 with a walk and two runs scored. Wikoff is batting .333/.368/.417 this month but has seen his playing time get cut in the last week or so. Teammate Brian Kemp reached base three times, going 2 for 3 with a walk, three runs scored and an RBI. Kemp is batting .327/.351/.364 in 59 plate appearances.

Of course, Jonathan Meyer hit a double the day after I called him out for not having enough power! Meyer went 2 for 3 with a double and a run scored for Greeneville on Wednesday. Teammate Jose Altuve also made me a liar by striking out for the first time in July on the same day I praised his plate discipline. Hey, Greeneville guys! Stop reading my blog and start playing better! (Actually, you've been playing great. And read my blog all you want. Tell your friends)

I haven't discussed the pitching situation in Greeneville much yet, mainly because there haven't been that many outstanding performances. Two players have stood out this month, though. One is 20-year old Jose Cisnero. The righty has struck out 13 batters in 7 innings over two starts. Unfortunately, he's also given up three hits and four earned runs over that same time frame. His ERA of 5.14 is significantly higher than his FIP of 3.49. Both his BABiP of .182 and his K/9 rate of 15.75 are silly, but in different ways. The only reason he's been as successful as he has (which is reflected in his BABiP) is he doesn't give up many hits. Instead, he strikes guys out. I like that in a pitcher, but his peripherals suggest what little success he is maintaining may be hard to continue.

Another guy I've failed to mention is reliever Nathan Pettus. The 20-year old has appeared in five games this month, throwing five innings and giving up five hits and two earned runs. Pettus has struck out eight and walked two, giving up one home run. His ERA of 3.60 is right in line with his FIP of 3.80 and his BABiP of .330 even suggests this is about his standard level of perfomance. Wiht two saves already and one victory, Pettus looks like he could be a good addition to our minor league reliever depth.

Have to go orient new students now, but I'll try to come back and update this post with info on the Gulf Coast League Astros later today.

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