Monday, September 26, 2016

Astros Farm Report: 9-26

It was a light news week in Astros minor land as we wait for the Fall and Winter Leagues to get cranked up.


9-26: RHP Albert Abreu (21)
9-26: IF Fredy Medina (19)
9-28: RHP Chris Murphy (24)
9-28: RHP Enoli Paredes (21)
9-29: RHP Miguel Matos (20)
9-30: RHP James Hoyt (30)
9-30: IF Jack Mayfield (26)
9-30: RHP Trent Thornton (23)
9-30: IF Danny Worth (31)
10-1: 3B Colin Moran (24)
10-1: RHP Cy Sneed (24)
10-2: RHP Lance McCullers (23)

Albert Abreu - May 2016
Photo by Jayne Hansen


Baseball America has 29 Instructional League Rosters posted. Guess which one is still missing?

RHP Rogelio Armenteros has been added to the Arizona Fall League roster. Although RHP David Paulino is still showing on the roster, I think it's likely that he will be removed from the roster since he's been called up to the Astros. Opening Day isn't until 10/11 so there is still lots of time to finalize the roster.


In case you missed it ...

WTHB handed out 2016 awards to Players and Pitchers of the Year for both full season teams and short season teams last week.

Yours truly had the opportunity to ask a few fan questions of Astros SS Carlos Correa at an event hosted by Academy benefiting the Boys and Girls Clubs.
And last, but certainly not least, I neglected to post this last time out and offer my congratulations to Alex Bregman for being named USA Today's Minor League Player of the Year!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Happy Trails, Bill!

I am not Jewish, but I love language. I love words. I've had a lifelong love affair with words. And the words that come to us from Yiddish have always held a strong appeal for me. As a zaftig woman known to shvitz on occasion, I can identify with the glory of that language. My mother's German roots came into play when she would kibitz during card games and remove shmutz from our dirty faces as she offered us a nosh. Tuches, shtik, shnoz, shmooz, bupkes, chutzpah, shlep ... those were all words we grew up with. We had no patience for schmucks and putzes and nebbishes. And we were as likely to proclaim 'Oy Vey!' as we were to acknowledge our Norwegian heritage by saying 'Uff Da!' I've even been known to kvetch on occasion, or so I've been told. What else can you expect from this shiksa?

But there was one Yiddish word that was always held back and only bestowed as the highest compliment. It was never used ironically or in jest. You only used this word when you really meant it. And that word is mensch.

Wikipedia tells us this about the word mensch ...
A "mensch" is "someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being 'a real mensch' is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous." The term is used as a high compliment, implying the rarity and value of that individual's qualities.
We, as Astros fans, have had a true mensch in our midst for the past 30 years. In addition to the above definition, I would add fair, professional, engaging, approachable, honest, intelligent, unassuming, generous and humble. And that's just off the top of my head.

Bill Brown is a mensch as well as a scholar and lover of baseball. He loves to talk baseball and he never stopped learning and growing in his role as a broadcaster. He has no ego and has been as willing to learn from me with what I have to offer with my minor league takes as he has with the many professional sources available to him. It has been my privilege and honor to get to know Brownie a little bit over the years. He is, indeed, a mensch.

As I write this, I am listening to Bill call the Astros game with the same excitement and passion as always. Thank you for your support, your kind words and your steady presence over the years, Bill. Enjoy a well-earned retirement!

The author wearing Bill's
2005 NLC ring

Jayne got the opportunity to interview Carlos Correa for Academy's FB Live video event!
She was awesome!

Check it out here:

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Astros 2016 Minor League Players of the Year

Sometimes, selecting the Astros MiLB Players of the Year is a no-brainer. That wasn't the case this year. There were far too many deserving players, and I ended up awarding a couple of ties. Having too many good players isn't a bad problem to have.

With that said, presenting WTHB's 2016 Players of the Year ...



Laureano did everything well in 2016. In 116 games between High A Lancaster and AA Corpus Christi, he hit .319/.428/.528 with 28 doubles, seven triples, 15 home runs, 73 RBI, 89 runs scored and he led the Astros system with 43 stolen bases. He also played all three outfield positions and collected 12 outfield assists while making only three errors all season.

Ramon Laureano - June 2016
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Honorable Mention goes to OF Drew Ferguson: .315/.408/.542 in 105 games (between High A Lancaster and AA Corpus Christi), 29 doubles, 3 triples, 17 home runs, 30 stolen bases, 84 runs scored


Rodgers and Hernandez were virtually in lock step in what they each managed to accomplish this season. Rodgers was 12-4 in 22 starts for AAA Fresno with a 2.86 ERA and a 1.152 WHIP in 132 innings. He walked only 23 batters while striking out 116. Rodgers hit only one batter all season and had zero wild pitches. He also had two complete games for the season, including one complete game shut out.

Hernandez was the only other pitcher in the system with two complete games and one complete game shut out. He was 6-5 with one save in 24 games (21 starts) between Low A Quad Cities and High A Lancaster. In 125.1 innings, he had a 2.94 ERA and a 1.189 WHIP. He walked 24 while striking out 127 batters.

Brady Rodgers - September 2015
Photo by Jayne Hansen


Hoyt led the Astros system and the Pacific Coast League with his 29 saves in 2016. In 49 appearances for AAA Fresno, Hoyt was 4-3 with 29 saves, a 1.64 ERA and a 0.873 WHIP. He walked 19 batters and struck out 93 in 55 innings.

James Hoyt - June 2016
Photo by Jayne Hansen


Stubbs' win of the Johnny Bench award in college wasn't a fluke and he proved that with his fine sophomore campaign. In 86 games (67 at catcher) between High A Lancaster and AA Corpus Christi, Stubbs hit .304/.391/.469 with 22 doubles, one triple, 10 home runs, 54 RBI, 15 stolen bases (!), and he walked 43 times while striking out 48 times. Behind the plate, he had a .997 fielding percentage and caught 51% of runners attempting to steal.

Garrett Stubbs - June 2016
Photo by Jayne Hansen



Sixth-rounder Wrenn provided more than a little pop, collecting 15 doubles, five triples and 12 home runs over his 71 games (.260/.324/.471) between Short Season A Tri-City and Low A Quad Cities. He also swiped 15 bags, scored 46 times and drove in 39.

Birk, drafted by the Astros in the 13th round this year, missed some time this season on the DL, but what he accomplished in his 43 games with Tri-City and Quad Cities was nothing short of remarkable. Hitting .293/.385/.455 with 13 doubles, one triple, four home runs, 31 RBI, 30 runs scored, and five stolen bases, he also managed to walk 21 times while striking out only 16 times in those 43 games.

Stephen Wrenn - July 2016
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Ryne Birk - July 2016
Photo by Jayne Hansen


Chavez started his season with Short Season A Tri-City and ended it with Low A Quad Cities. Between the two venues, he was 3-4 with one save, a 2.89 ERA and a 0.995 WHIP in 62.1 innings of work (14 games/10 starts). Chavez walked 15, struck out 51 and held hitters to a .205 batting average.

Caraballo toiled for the Dominican Summer League Astros Blue team this summer. In 13 games (8 starts), he compiled a 3-0 record with three saves, a 2.85 ERA and a 0.913 WHIP. Caraballo walked 11 and struck out 46 in 53.2 innings, holding hitters to a .199 average.

Enrique Chavez - July 2016
Photo by Jayne Hansen


This 17-year old Dominican lefty shone in his first professional season, playing for the Dominican Summer League Astros Blue team. In 19 appearances (34 innings), Ceballos was 2-1 with one save, a 0.79 ERA and a 1.147 WHIP. He held batters to a .183 average.


Bracamonte (no relation to Astros bullpen catcher Javier) split his season between Rookie League Greeneville and Short Season A Tri-City. In 28 games (all of them behind the plate), he hit .278/.362/.367 with six doubles and a triple. He walked 11 times, struck out 13 and even managed to steal a couple of bags. Defensively, he played errorless ball and caught 43% of would-be stolen base runners.

Gabriel Bracamonte - June 2016
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Congratulations, gentlemen! Fine jobs from all.


I'm still working on my not-so-serious awards presentations so check back soon for a giggle or two.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Astros Farm Report: 9-19

Fall and Winter Leagues start in a few weeks, but first things first ...


9-19: IF/OF Ronny Jimenez (22)
9-19: OF George Springer (27)
9-20: RHP Ken Giles (26)
9-21: RHP Devin Raftery (24)
9-21: 3B Tyler Wolfe (23)
9-22: SS Carlos Correa (22)
9-24: RHP Harlen Florencio (21)

George Springer - May 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen


In addition to Friday's recall of 3B Colin Moran to Houston, the Astros also signed Cuban LHP Cionel Perez.


The Houston Astros contingent participating in the Arizona Fall League was announced late last month and includes RHP Francis Martes, RHP David Paulino, RHP Jacob Dorris, C Garrett Stubbs, 2B/3B Nick Tanielu, OF Ramon Laureano and OF Jason Martin. Paulino was subsequently promoted to the Astros and doesn't currently appear on the Glendale Desert Dogs roster with the other players. If Paulino is pulled from the AFL roster, the Astros will have to send another pitcher in his place. Also, longtime Astros Hitting Coach Darryl Robinson (Lancaster) will serve as the Desert Dogs Hitting Coach.

The first AFL game will take place on October 11th and the regular season will conclude on November 17th. The Fall Stars game will be on November 5th and the Championship game will take place on November 19th.


The various winter league clubs, including the Dominican winter league (LIDOM), will also start play next month. Those clubs don't usually publish rosters until much closer to starting day, but the LIDOM did have their draft last week and the results can be found here. Several Astros farmhands were drafted, including RHP Albert Abreu, IF Antonio Nunez and others.


RHP Juan Minaya was claimed off waivers by the White Sox on June 22nd. After 17 appearances for the White Sox AAA affiliate in Charlotte, Minaya made his major league debut on September 1st. In five appearances (5.2 innings), he 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA and a 1.059 WHIP. He turned 26 on Sunday.

Juan Minaya - June 2016
Photo by Jayne Hansen


In case you missed it, here are the recent interviews I did with a few Greeneville Astros, representing the Dominican Republic, United States, the Netherlands and Australia ...

Frankeny Fernandez
Ben Smith
Stijn van der Meer
Connor MacDonald

Friday, September 16, 2016

Getting to Know Greeneville Astros 1B Connor MacDonald

Greeneville Astros 1B Connor MacDonald isn't all that comfortable talking about himself, but Greeneville Manager Josh Bonifay certainly didn't mind helping out. Bonifay has worked with MacDonald since he was 17 years old, shortly after MacDonald signed with the Astros as the first Australian player inked by the team in over 20 years.

Connor MacDonald - August 2016
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Bonifay first encountered MacDonald when managing in extended Spring Training in 2013 and has worked with him on and off ever since. Bonifay shared his insight into MacDonald with me. "I love that guy. He's just a really awesome kid. He's improved so much defensively from where he started. He's outstanding in the clubhouse.

"He spent a year down in the Dominican, playing in the DSL and he was MVP there. And it really helped him communicate. It really helped him understand where a lot of our kids come from and they love him. They call him 'Pollo,' like MacChicken. He's really awesome. I can't say enough good things about him.

"He's come out of his shell this year and he's made a lot of strides. He hit for the cycle this year which was just awesome, in Princeton. I've never seen anything like it. There was a ball hit to centerfield. He was at second base and he just kept on coming. He slid in (to third). They called him safe and I was so happy for him. It was a big night for him. All the kids, they wanted to do something special, so they all signed the line-up card, all signed the baseball, and it was really neat.

"But MacDonald's just a phenomenal person. He works. He grinds. He's just awesome to have on the ball club."

I asked MacDonald about that time he and a few other fellow Aussies spent playing in the Dominican Summer League. "Lachlan Madden ... was already down there. I flew down to the Dominican with a lot of Latino players and just walking through the Dominican airport was an experience. I didn't know where to go. Lucky, my teammates helped me out. Just seeing how people live down there ... it's an eye-opener to see how lucky we are to live in the countries that we do."

In speaking about his 2016 season, MacDonald told me, "I feel that my power numbers have been better this year than last year. Obviously, hitting more home runs is good. More RBI's. That's my job as a first baseman. That's a production position and that's what I was trying (to do). I'm always working to improve ... obviously, trying to take better at-bats with runners in scoring position, become more consistent with that." MacDonald hit .267/.322/.441 with eight doubles, one triple and six home runs in 43 games in 2016. With two outs and runners in scoring position, he hit a whopping .304/.360/.696.

He's also working on cutting down on the strikeouts, a common theme for hitters with developing power. "That's something I'm confident I can improve on. This year I was a lot better. I think I had a lot more hard contacts than last year. In the zone, I'm confident. I don't miss too much in the zone, but I just need to minimize my chases. Once I improve that ... working in the offseason, just still try to make more quality at-bats ... that's going to be exciting. I'm looking forward to it," said MacDonald.

Asked to give a scouting report on himself, MacDonald said, "I think I play the game hard. That's something I take pride in. I definitely think I've got a bit of pop. Again, I just have to improve my plate discipline." Of his defense, he told me, "Being 6'5" and being bigger than a lot of people, I've just got to make sure I keep my feet moving. Sometimes, I get anchored up and get bad hops, but I take pride in my defense and I think I'm good. I've just got to keep my feet moving."

Which of his Greeneville teammates would he least like to face in the batter's box? "Any kids that throw 100. The least pitcher would be [Jorge] Guzman. He throws 103, 104. That wouldn't be too fun so probably him," said MacDonald.

Another Greeneville teammate who stood out for MacDonald was Miguel Sierra, a shortstop who had been promoted to Tri-City at the time of our interview. Of Sierra, MacDonald said, "I really like him as a baseballer. I feel like he's mature. He handles failure well. He hit 11 homers. He swings it well. He came up big a lot for us and he plays defense really well too."

After spending a lot of time in Kissimmee during his first pro seasons, Greeneville was a nice change of scenery for MacDonald, literally. "Greeneville's nice. I drove up with one of me teammates. That was a really nice drive. You're used to Florida. It's flat as a biscuit. There's nothing to see. (Then) you're driving through these really nice mountains." He's also enjoyed the opportunity to play under the lights in front of crowds. "This has been my most enjoyed year of baseball because of that because in the Dominican, no one comes to watch and same in the GCL."

If he didn't play baseball, MacDonald would probably be working with his uncle back home in Queensland. "He's a sheet metal fabricator, welding and making stuff out of steel. I help him out a bit in the offseason, but I'd probably get my apprenticeship there if I wasn't playing baseball. Me best mates back home, they're doing their apprenticeships there. They're starting their degrees and I'm playing a game that I love, travelling, seeing the States. You've got to pinch yourself sometimes. I've got it pretty good."

Asked if baseball is becoming more popular in Australia, MacDonald replied, "I think so. Since they brought the Australian Baseball League back, I definitely think it's gotten more popular. More people are coming to the games. The game seems to get more media attention back home, which is good. They televise the ABL All-Star game and the Championship series on ESPN. So I think so.

"It was funny. There was a brawl (a couple years back) that was all over social media. Sports Center posted it, ESPN and all that, and I was just reading through the comments and Australians were commenting, 'damn, I didn't even know we had baseball in Australia!' I think people heard about it and it's getting out there."

MacDonald has been playing in the ABL since he was 16 and plans to play for the Brisbane Bandits again this offseason. But he also hopes for the opportunity to play for Australia in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. "That would be an awesome achievement," said MacDonald.

My final question to MacDonald elicited an unusual response. Asked for something that most people don't know about him that might surprise them, MacDonald offered this, "I've got a fake tooth. I play a lot of party tricks. I lost my front tooth when I was 10 or 11 and I play a lot of tricks on people."

I will leave my readers with that note and with this photo of MacDonald's glorious coiffure.

Thank you for your time, Connor, and best of luck with the Bandits (and hopefully the WBC)!


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

California League South Division Final: High Desert 7, Lancaster 2

High Desert wins series 3-1.

W- Matt Milroy
L- Andrew Thome
S- Nick Gardewine

Lancaster home runs: None.

And with the JetHawks bowing out, the 2016 season in the Houston Astros minor league system has come to a close. The Mavericks seized the momentum in this game by scoring three runs in the 8th and three more in the 9th. Lancaster had their chances, but they only finished 1-8 with runners in scoring position and left ten men on base.

Kyle Tucker went 2-5 and scored both of Lancaster's runs; he came home on a wild pitch in the 4th and on a Jamie Ritchie bases-loaded walk in the 8th. Osvaldo Duarte went 2-3 at the bottom of the order.

Jose Luis Hernandez was excellent in what turned out to be his final appearance of 2016 as he allowed an unearned run on six hits and recorded a strikeout over seven strong innings. The Mavericks teed off on Andrew Thome and Scott Weathersby, who both pitched an inning and allowed three runs on four hits in their time on the mound.

Many of the players in the system will be headed home for some well-deserved rest and relaxation. For others, their season isn't over; some will be plying their trade in Arizona (Arizona Fall League) and a few will be headed off to the Caribbean to continue playing baseball.

Getting to Know Greeneville Astros SS Stijn Van Der Meer

When you see SS Stijn van der Meer play, the first thing you'll probably notice is his stick thin 6'3" 170-pound build. The second thing you'll probably notice is that he can hit. Greeneville Manager Josh Bonifay said of Van der Meer, "He takes a really good at-bat. He's got a line drive stroke. He's got a pretty good understanding of the strike zone." In his first 21 games with the Astros, he hit .329/.404/.418 with three doubles, two triples and 10 RBI.

Van der Meer, originally from Netherlands, was drafted by the Astros in the 34th round in 2016 out of Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. When I talked with him last month in Greeneville, Tennessee, I asked him about his journey so far. "I actually came here [to the U.S.] four years ago, my freshman year of college. I got an opportunity to play junior college in Oklahoma. I took it, went there, played there for three years. [I] played pretty well and then Lamar University of Texas recruited me, played there for two years and then I got drafted and now I'm here."

Van der Meer elaborated a bit about that college experience, "Typical junior college [Eastern Oklahoma State College] -- it was in a town called Wilburton in Oklahoma. There was literally nothing there [Population: 2843] so it was basically campus, baseball and working out, and that's all you could do there. Then I went to Lamar University. There's really nothing to do there either so basically all I did was play baseball and worked out and school." Being close to Houston, he was able to catch a couple of Astros games with his father when he visited from Netherlands.

When asked about his draft experience, van der Meer said, "I did know that [the Astros] were interested. I just didn't expect them to draft me, to be honest. I saw it on twitter and my phone started blowing up and things started rolling from there." He wasn't really worried about not getting drafted, though, because he had a pretty good backup plan. "I have a great opportunity to play baseball back home so even if it wasn't going to be here, I was going to play baseball regardless." Van der Meer has played in the Dutch Major League since he was 19, compiling a .341/.408/.401 batting line over 121 games.

Once van der Meer's season with Greeneville came to an end, he was headed back to Netherlands to participate in the European Championships, an experience that he hopes will lead to an opportunity to play for Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic next year. He's been on the National Team for some time but making the WBC team isn't a given. "We're the Kingdom of the Netherlands now so we have Curacao, Aruba. They have some great infielders already playing in the major leagues so I'm hoping to make the roster because it would be a great experience, but you never know. You just keep working hard," said van der Meer.

Of his first brief professional season since being drafted, van der Meer told me, "The pitching here is definitely a lot better than I see at home. I see good pitching every day. It makes me a better hitter, just seeing the pitches and trying to hit them. I feel like I've become a better hitter. Just hoping I can keep improving."

But there is one improvement that he may be hard-pressed to make. "I'm not the biggest so they're probably going to tell me to gain weight. They've told me that for the last six years. I've been trying everything to gain weight. It's just not happening," said van der Meer. And genetics aren't working in his favor. His father and six uncles all range from 6'1" to 6'4" and 170 to 185 lb.

Asked to give a scouting report on himself, van der Meer obliged, "I have a good eye at the plate. I can put a barrel on the ball. I don't really strike out that much. I will not hit for power. I will steal an occasional base. I'm not the fastest. I'm not the slowest either. I make the routine plays in the field. Every once in a while, I make an extra play. That's basically it."

Bonifay said of van der Meer, "He can play a premier position, shortstop, and he can play second base and [you can] put him in the game at third. He has very good actions, good arm strength." Van der Meer doesn't necessarily have the speed that you would like to see at the top of the order, but Bonifay noted, "His ability to get on base and his ability with runners in scoring position, especially with a runner at third and less than two outs has been awesome. You can count on him on a daily basis. He's just a very steady hand, very steady fielder."

Switching gears, I asked van der Meer which Greeneville Astros pitcher he would least like to face in the batter's box. He responded, "That probably would be [Patrick] Sandoval because I'm a left-handed hitter and he's a left-handed pitcher. [In Sandoval's final appearance of the season], he had a really good outing. His slider is one of his best pitches and his change up was really working too. You could see all the Twins hitters were really having problems with him. And the other guy would probably be [Jorge] Guzman. He just throws really, really hard." Van der Meer may not want to face Sandoval, but he fared quite nicely against lefty pitchers in a limited number of at-bats in his first pro season, hitting .435/.436/.478 off them.

But he was also impressed with what he's seen of RHP Forrest Whitley, "I know he's our first round draft pick. For being a high-schooler, an 18-year old, it's just so easy how he throws and commands all his pitches. I'm very excited to see how far he can come."

Something people may not know about van der Meer is that he is a "decent" soccer player. "The big sport in the Netherlands is soccer. All my friends play soccer. Here, they either play baseball or pick up basketball. What we did, we played soccer every day after school," said van der Meer. Unsurprisingly when asked what he would do if he didn't play baseball, the quick response was, "I'd probably play soccer." Baseball may not be as popular as soccer in his country, but it is on the upswing.

Stijn van der Meer - August 2016
Photo by Jayne Hansen

The first things you may notice about Stijn van der Meer when you see him play may be his less than impressive physique and his ability to hit, but the first things you will notice when you talk with him are a ready dimpled smile, a twinkle in his eye and a deep and surprisingly unaccented speaking voice. It was a pleasure speaking with him and it was a pleasure to watch him play.

Thank you for your time, Stijn, and best of luck with the WBC and the coming season.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

California League South Division Final: High Desert 9, Lancaster 4

High Desert leads series 2-1.

W- Collin Wiles
L- Brock Dykxhoorn

Lancaster home runs: Osvaldo Duarte (3, solo in 5th), Bryan Muñiz (2, solo in 6th), Marc Wik (2, 2-run in 9th)

The JetHawks launched 3 home runs that accounted for all of their runs in this game, but the Mavericks had already built up an 8-0 lead after the 3rd.

Osvaldo Duarte put Lancaster on the board with his solo homer in the 5th inning. Bryan Muñiz went 3-5 and smacked a solo shot of his own in the 6th, and Marc Wik came on as a pinch-hitter for Duarte in the 9th and clubbed a 2-run homer.

Brock Dykxhoorn went 5 innings and allowed 8 runs (6 earned) on 12 hits (solo and 2-run homers) and struck out 3. Ralph Garza Jr. stopped the bleeding by allowing a run on 2 hits, walking 1, and striking out 2 in 4 innings.

Jose Luis Hernandez will start game 4 of this series. First pitch is at 6:35 Pacific.

Game 3 Stars

Bryan Muñiz, 1B
3-5, solo HR (2)

Ralph Garza Jr., RHP
4 IP, 2 H, ER, BB, 2 K

Marc Wik, UTIL
Pinch-hit 2-R HR (2) in 9th

Monday, September 12, 2016

California League South Division Final Game 2 Recap

High Desert evened the South Division Final at one game apiece with their 15-7 victory on Sunday. Jason Martin and Johnny Sewald launched 2 home runs in the game; both of Martin's homers were solo shots, while Sewald hit a solo home run in the 1st and a 2-run shot in the 9th. Bryan Muñiz finished 2-4 with a 2-run single in the 5th inning and allowed a run on 2 hits in the 8th.

Martin now has 4 home runs this postseason, while those were Sewald's first two of the playoffs.

The pitchers.... got shelled, and I'll leave it at that.

Game 3 will be in Lancaster at 6:35 Pacific. Brock Dykxhoorn will take on Collin Wiles.

Game 2's Stars

Johnny Sewald, OF
2-5, 2 HR (2), 3 RBI

Jason Martin, OF
2-4, 2 solo HR (4)

Bryan Muñiz, 1B
2-4, 2 RBI; IP, 2 H, ER