Saturday, February 25, 2012

Happy Birthday - 2/25

No future Astros, only former Astros with birthdays today ~

CF Cesar Cedeno (61)
Cedeno played in 1512 games for Houston from 1970 to 1981 with a batting line of .289/.351/.454/.805.  Cedeno won five Gold Gloves and earned four All-Star nods during his tenure with Houston.  He also led the National League in doubles in 1971 and 1972, outfield put-outs in 1974 and fielding percentage in 1971 and 1977.  He was traded to the Reds in December of 1981 for 1B/3B Ray Knight.  He was recently named 2012 hitting coach for the Greeneville Astros in the Appy League.

LHP Denny Lemaster (73)
Lemaster pitched for Houston from 1968 to 1971 after being acquired in a trade with the Braves along with IF Dennis Menke.  An All-Star for Atlanta in 1967, Lemaster had a 3.40 ERA and a 1.335 WHIP in 152 games (90 starts) for the Astros.

Tweet of the Day

Alyson Footer
Here's a cool sign hanging in the Minor League clubhouse.

pic.twitter.com/SuSC3rkt

No Announced Roster Moves Today

Friday, February 24, 2012

Happy Birthday - 2/24

UT Neiko Johnson (24)
Johnson, a University of Kentucky alum and Georgia native, was signed by the Astros as a NDFA in 2011. He was used as a true utility player at Tri-City in 2011, spending time at 2B, LF, SS, RF and 3B, and had a batting line of .236/.397/.280/.678. In 57 games, he stole 21 bases and walked 41 times (37 SO). His batting average increased to .288 with runners on and .292 with RISP.

MLB Reports posted this interview with Neiko back in December. Since he'd been interviewed so recently, I thought I'd ask just a couple of questions for his birthday write-up. (By the way, the Astros have his birthday in the system wrong. He was born on the 24th not the 2nd.)

WTH: How did you meet and get to be friends with Brandon Phillips?

NJ: Brandon Phillips was actually a good friend of my brother when I was younger and I hung out with his younger brother PJ and his sister Porsha. Brandon went to Redan High School (the same high school I attended) with my brother and they both played on the same high school baseball team. I always went to watch the games when he and my brother played. I have been a Brandon Phillips fan since his high school days. I always hang out with him when I get a chance and he's always there to talk whenever I need to. He's like another big brother to me and has helped me throughout my baseball career. I would go hang out with him in Cincinnati when I went to the University of Kentucky and I have always stayed in contact with him.

WTH:  What have you been working on the most over the winter and how do you think that will help you going into the season?

NJ:  I have worked on a lot this offseason. With this being my first offseason there was a bit of a transition period. At first I didn't know how to handle this much time off so I talked to Brandon and my roommate from college Collin Cowgill who is currently with the Oakland A's. They told me how much time to take off and when to start back working out. That really helped a lot because I didn't want to start working out too soon and burn myself out before spring training. I have focused on my swing the most and making sure I addressed some minor things for spring training. I wanted to gain some weight, which I did, because I know with a long season your weight will fluctuate and I don't need to lose any more weight lol. I have also worked on my conditioning and speed so I can continue to be a threat on the bases. I think these things will help me tremendously and enhance my abilities as a baseball player. 

WTH:  Can you tell me something about yourself that most fans don't know and that might surprise them?

NJ:  Something about me that most people don't know is that I am a PRIMETIME BOWLER. My high score is 294 and I was one strike away from a perfect game but on the last bowl I blew it. I will take all challenges and I have 3 bowling balls and shoes so I am ready to play anytime anywhere. I am also a pretty good Call of Duty player (ONLY ON XBOX THOUGH) so if you can't beat me in bowling maybe you'll have a better chance at Call of Duty. The last thing people might not know is I HATE SPIDERS with a passion. If I see a spider in my room I won't go to sleep till I catch it and if I can't catch it I will sometimes sleep in another room. It's just something about spiders I don't like.

Thanks for your time Neiko.  Here's wishing you a terrific birthday with no spiders in sight!!!!!

Born in Windsor, Ontario, Clapp was drafted out of Texas Tech by the Cardinals in 1996 and played in 23 games for St. Louis in 2001.  He was the hitting coach for Lexington and for Corpus Christi before being named Manager of the Tri-City team for 2011.  Clapp has history playing for Team Canada in various venues throughout the years. This fall, he helped to coach Team Canada to a gold medal in the Pan Am Games.

Former Astros with birthdays today ~

A first round pick by the Giants in 1971, Riccelli pitched in 13 games for Houston in 1978 and 1979 with a 3.60 ERA and a 1.640 WHIP.

Brian has played in 3 games in the major leagues (2 for Houston in 2010) with 3 plate appearances and he is still looking for that elusive first hit.  He signed with the Reds as a free agent in December after spending 3 seasons in the Astros minor league system.

Tweet of the Day

Roster Moves - 2/23

According to Baseball America, the Astros have signed 26-year old 2B Jose Martinez. Described as a former number 8 prospect going into the 2008 season in this post on Scout.com from March 2011, they explain what went wrong for Martinez:
"His career stalled as he dealt with the after-effects of a very difficult family tragedy and several serious injuries, including a broken bone in his left foot and surgery on his right shoulder. Martinez missed almost all of the last two seasons in the process."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Happy Birthday - 2/23

No future Astros, only former Astros with birthdays today ~

LHP Juan Agosto (54)
Agosto pitched in 261 games for Houston from 1987 to 1990 and in 1993.  His best season was in 1988 when he appeared in 75 games and went 10-2 with a 2.26 ERA and a 1.135 WHIP.  In 1990, he led the National League in appearances with 82.

RHP Scott Elarton (36)
A first round pick by the Astros in 1994, Elarton pitched for Houston from 1998 to 2001, going 32-21 in 120 appearances (67 starts) with a 4.82 ERA and a 1.388 WHIP before being traded to the Rockies at the trade deadline in 2001 for Pedro Astacio.  In 2000, he was 17-7 in 30 starts for Houston.

2B/3B Ken Boswell (66)
A native of Austin, Boswell played in 275 games for Houston from 1975 to 1977 after spending 8 seasons with the Mets.  His best season offensively was with the Mets in 1969, hitting .279/.347/.381/.728.  In 1970, he led the National League in fielding percentage as a second baseman with a .996 percentage.

C Frank Charles ( 43)
I love this story.  Charles toiled in the minor leagues and independent ball for 10 years.  At the end of the 10th year, after having been picked up by Houston in the off-season, he got a September call-up, a rookie at 31.  In 7 plate appearances over 4 games, Charles got three hits with a double and two RBI's.  His cup of coffee netted him a .429/.429/.571/1.000 career batting line.  He spent 4 more seasons in the minors and independent league ball before hanging up his cleats at the end of the 2004 season when he was 35 years old.

Tweet of the Day

Astros County
AC Big Tweet #1: The Constable and Wife are having a little girl.

No Announced Roster Moves Today

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Non-Prospect Prospects to Watch Part 1

Since everybody and their dog has come out with a top prospect list, I thought I might as well chime in too. But I'm not going to go with the obvious. Yeah, Jarred Cosart is a stud. Jonathan Singleton is the second coming of Ryan Howard. Yada Yada. Let's look instead at a few non-prospects who have the potential to become prospects in time. We'll look at position players this week and pitchers next week.

C ERNESTO GENOVES
This 20-year old from Venezuela played in Greeneville in 2011 and really made great strides at the plate. His batting average of .280 only went up a couple of points from his prior season, but his slugging percentage went from .333 with the GCL in 2010 to .464 with Greeneville in 2011. According to Seedlings to Stars, Genoves "makes solid contact" with a "decent approach and some gap power." He faded toward the end of the season and he strikes out more than I would like to see with 29 strikeouts to 12 walks over 38 games, but there are also some good signs within his splits as he hit .313 with runners on and .302 with RISP in 2011.

His defense is coming along as well. His caught stealing percentage went from 22% in 2010 to 31% in 2011 and his fielding percentage as a catcher went from .972 with 5 errors in 2010 to .984 with 4 errors in 2011. He had 9 passed balls, but Steve with Appy Astros indicated that Genoves made progress behind the plate throughout the season. Early in the season he tended to reach for balls with his glove instead of moving his body, but Steve indicated that Genoves definitely showed improvement in that area.

Over the winter, Genoves played in the Venezuelan winter league with the Liga Paralela, Venezuela's minor league system, hitting .299/.400/.478/.878 in 22 games. I look forward to seeing what he can do in 2012.

OF TEOSCAR HERNANDEZ
It is really difficult to get much information on the prospects in the DSL, but just looking at Hernandez' stats is more than enough to get me excited about this kid.

He's listed as 6'2" 180 and will be 19 years old for the entire 2012 season. He was named MVP for the DSL team in 2011 for good reason. He hit .274/.360/.487/.847, led the team in doubles, triples and home runs and was tied for the lead in RBI's. In addition he had 16 stolen bases and 7 outfield assists to go with 5 errors over 62 games. Can you say 5-tool player? The potential is there. The right-handed hitter will need to hit better than .143 against lefties, as he did in 2011, but I'm very excited by his upside.

I asked Jeff Luhnow about this player as he was heading to the Dominican Republic last week. I received the following response, "Hernandez is a definite prospect from what I saw today." I would love to see Hernandez get brought up to the GCL this season to see what he can do.

3B MATT DUFFY
A 20th round pick in 2011, I hadn't heard much, if anything, about Duffy. Then I wrote his birthday profile a few weeks back and I got really excited looking at his numbers. His batting line was good at .298/.370./.417/.787 with 20 doubles, one triple and two home runs, but it was his consistency that struck me. He was incredibly consistent against lefties and against righties, throughout the season, road and home, day games and night games - he just kept hitting. And he was even better in the clutch, batting .342 with runners on and .352 with RISP. So, I kept looking and I found things like this assessment from The Baseball Draft Report:
"I have an irrational like of Tennessee 3B Matt Duffy (Round 20) that I can only attempt to explain in terms of relevant baseball skills by talking about his excellent defense at third and patient approach at the plate."
and this from TCVFan's Blog:
"This dude can flat out hit. He’s got a calm, level swing and he’ll use all parts of the field, with signs of power to both gaps. When he gets full extension on the ball it travels a long way. I don’t know if he’s got a swing conducive to becoming a home run hitter, but he’s got potential to be a really solid doubles guy. It feels as though he’s got a strong grasp of the strikezone, and he rarely chases bad pitches."
The reports of his defense were conflicting though. And seeing that he had 12 errors in 63 games gave me pause. But when I looked further, it appears that he had 11 errors in his 1st 31 games and 1 in his final 32 games. And TCVFan had this to say:
"Early on he wasn’t trusting his arm and rushed throws, pulling Zach off the base a lot. Everyone in the infield took about three weeks to settle in and know that they’re good enough to take their time and make accurate throws."
The only knocks I could find on him were somewhat limited range at third and lack of speed on the base paths. But if he can turn his doubles power into home run power, speed may not be that important. And with our lack of depth at third, I'll be keeping a close eye on Mr. Duffy to see how he develops.

HONORABLE MENTION

OF EMILIO KING
  • Why he could have made the list - a .293/.332./.439/.772 batting line with 24 doubles, a triple and 9 home runs and reports that he has an absolute cannon for an arm
  • Why he didn't make the list - 81 SO to 13 BB
SS JUAN SANTANA
  • Why he could have made the list - a .274/.350/.363/.713 batting line with 28BB:22SO at 16 years old
  • Why he didn't make the list - 28 errors and the fact that he just turned 17 in August
OF WALLACE GONZALEZ
  • Why he could have made the list - Buzz. Baseball America thought he was the Astros best late signing and from The Baseball Draft Report: 
"Wallace Gonzalez has tools you’d never expect to see out of guy a few pounds short of Lions receiver Calvin Johnson. His raw power, plus arm, and great athleticism are major strong points."
  • Why he didn't make the list - Results. 18 games isn't a big enough sample size for an 18-year old kid.

Happy Birthday - 2/22

No future Astros, only former Astros with birthdays today ~

RHP Tom Griffin (64)
A first round pick by Houston in 1966, Griffin pitched for Houston from 1970 to 1976, going 45-60 in 199 appearances (123 starts) with a 4.20 ERA and a 1.470 WHIP.  In his rookie season in 1969, he led the National League in SO/9 at 9.6 in 31 starts.  Griffin's best season for Houston (arguably) was in 1974 when he was 14-10 in 34 starts.  Ironically, he was also 5th in the National League in wild pitches that year.  In 1980 and again in 1981, he led the National League in hit batters while pitching for the Giants.

SS/CF Eric "Cool Breeze" Yelding (47)
Yelding played for Houston from 1989 to 1992, batting .249 over that stretch.  In 1990, he stole 64 bases (behind only Vince Coleman and Rickey Henderson), but also led the MLB in caught stealing.  In 1992, he was sent to the White Sox for LHP Rich Scheid.  Yelding was a first round draft pick for the Blue Jays in 1984.

3B/2B Russ Johnson (39)
Yet another first round draft pick with a birthday today, Johnson was drafted by Houston in 1994 and played for the Astros from 1997 to 2000 before being traded to Tampa Bay for RHP Marc Valdes.  His best season for Houston was 1999 when he hit .282/.358/.442/.800 and was 1 for 1 with a walk and a double in the NLDS.

LHP John Halama (40)
Halama wasn't a first round pick like all the other birthday boys, but rather was drafted in the 23rd round by Houston in 1994.  He started 6 games  for the Astros in 1998 and went to Seattle at the end of the 1998 season as the player to be named in the Randy Johnson trade.

Tweet of the Day

Jimmy VanOstrand @Dr_VanOstrand
hope u boys r off to a good start! Don't worry I'll be there soon

No Announced Roster Moves Today

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

An Interview with Jason Chowning

RHP Jason Chowning was drafted in the 28th round in 2010 out of the University of Oklahoma.  He spent 2011 pitching out of the bullpen in Lexington.  In 58.2 innings pitched over 35 appearances, he was 4-4 with a 2.45 ERA and a 1.261 WHIP and 9.2 SO/9.  Lefties only managed a 0.92 ERA against him.

When I first contacted Jason about doing an interview, one of the first questions I asked him was if he was really 6'2" 178 lbs. as listed because that made me want to feed him.  He assured me that he is actually 6'4" 190.  After that, we continued on to some questions that had a little more substance and some questions that didn't.

WTH:  The first question I'd like to ask is about the shoulder. You were diagnosed with a small tear in the labrum at the end of the season, but since it wasn't torn all the way through, surgery wasn't recommended. How is the shoulder now and what have you done in the off-season to keep it strong and healthy?

JC:  Towards the end of the season my shoulder started to experience pain which I hadn't ever felt before. I haven't ever really had too many arm issues so this one was a surprise and hurt. I did a lot of rehab this off-season and have started throwing bullpens. So far so good. It was a little rusty at first with some slight pain but doctors said it would be starting out. Hoping for a full recovery and hopefully this won't happen again.

WTH:  Your final appearance in August, you gave up 3 ER's and you'd only given up 3 ER's in the previous 9 appearances. Was the shoulder bothering you during that last appearance?

JC:   Funny you ask that, this was the dagger in my season. I had worked so hard to keep runs limited all year, and then this happened. After coming back the first time from my shoulder issue I was a little wild and unable to throw strikes. My first two outings back I was able to battle through. It was getting harder and harder to throw after each pitch. It felt like someone was stabbing my shoulder each time I threw. But this outing was my worst. I couldn't throw strikes and was getting behind in every count. Gave up to back to back broken bat singles only to get behind again 2-0 and happened to throw a fastball right down the middle to give up a 3-run home run. Needless to say I did not want my season and possible career to end on that note. But they advised me not to throw anymore for the rest of the year. Very disappointing.

WTH:  One Lexington writer described your slider as "wicked." I've also read that you throw a curveball, a fastball and a change-up. What is your best pitch? What kind of velocity do you have on your pitches? What will you be working on the most this season as far as your pitches?

JC:  I don't know if I would call my slider wicked. It's a pitch I just started throwing this year. I was messing around with pitches and this one kind of stuck. So it's still a work in progress. That being said, I do believe that my slider is my best pitch. I am most comfortable throwing it in any count behind or ahead. My velocity with my slider has been clocked up to 84 but varies in counts - 0-2 I throw it harder, other counts bigger break, less velo. Curveball would be my second best pitch with big 12-6 break, but it is my hardest pitch to control, good 0-2 pitch. My velocity with my curveball isn't near the speed I need it to be, varying from 72-76. Third best pitch would be my fastball. I do have some control issues, but hey who doesn't sometimes? Velo varies as well anywhere from 86-93, maybe on a good day or great day may top 94. Funny my last pitch in Lexington with my shoulder hurting was 94. That was probably from the anger and disappointment of prior events. Change-up is a work in progress. I don't think I threw it one time this year. No confidence just yet.


WTH: Have you ever thought, "Man, I'd like to have that pitch in my arsenal" about any other Astros minor league pitcher that you've played with? If so, who and what pitch?

JC:  Yes, I have. I think that Jake Buchanan has a tremendous two seam fastball that just runs off the table. And also I think that Alex Sogard has an absolute flithy change-up that I would also like to have in my arsenal.

WTH:  You're a bit of a self-described class clown. What teammate makes you laugh?

JC:  Ya, you know I like to laugh and I like to think that if I were to die today that I would have lived a happy life. Life is too short and we really need to enjoy the small things and laugh. There are a few guys that make me laugh. Adam Bailey and I seem to have a blast when we are around each other. We have the same personality so it makes it nice. So let's just say fingers crossed we are on the same team again. Also my boy Alex Sogard and I have plenty of laughs together as well. It's nice having people on the team which you can relate to and have a good time with.

WTH:  I understand that you were a sociology-criminology major. If you couldn't play baseball, what would you do?

JC:  If I couldn't play baseball I'd really like to get involved in the FBI. During this off-season I have applied to many FBI groups, but they say it takes years to get accepted so I started early and applied when I have my off time. I want to make a difference in people's lives and help protect communities.

WTH:  Are there any guys that you've played with in the last two seasons who you're particularly thankful to have on your team so that you won't have to pitch to them?

JC:  Throughout these past two seasons, I would have to say that there are two teammates I would rather not face and they are Adam Bailey who I did face in college and got him to pop out to second, and Chris Wallace, only because he caught me all the time and knows my pitches and in what counts I throw them. Both are very good hitters.

WTH:  Is is true that you were once ranked 14th in the world in Call of Duty? Have any of your teammates come close to beating you at COD?

JC:  Haha indeed I was at one time. I haven't been able to play much as of late. Been traveling and seeing 
family. Bryce Lane and I play a lot together. He's not bad. He's not as good as me, but he's getting there. I took him under my wing. Other than that no one comes close.

Thank you for your time, Jason, and best of luck in the 2012 season!

Happy Birthday - 2/21

No future Astros, only one former Astro with a birthday today ~

RHP Jack Billingham (69)
Billingham pitched for Houston from 1969 to 1971.  In 131 appearances (61 starts), he was 29-32 with a 3.75 ERA and a 1.297 WHIP.  According to Baseball-Reference, he was a part of this trade to the Reds in 1971.

November 29, 1971: Traded by the Houston Astros with Ed ArmbristerCesar GeronimoDenis Menke and Joe Morgan to theCincinnati Reds for Tommy HelmsLee May and Jimmy Stewart.

He had his best season for the Reds in his 1973 All-Star season.  That year he was 19-10 in 40 starts, pitching 293.1 innings with a 3.08 ERA and a 1.200 WHIP.  Apparently, his arm didn't fall off after that workload since he pitched another 7 seasons in the majors.

Also, in case you missed it (as I did), RHP Livan Hernandez was 37 yesterday.

Tweet of the Day

Bud Norris

No Announced Roster Moves Today But ...

The Astros announced that 2010 first round supplemental pick Mike Kvasnicka is moving from third base back to his original position of catcher ... at his request.  It's an interesting story and Zachary Levine tells it here.

Monday, February 20, 2012

WTH 25-Man Roster - Designated Hitter

As posted over the weekend, RHP Nick Tropeano became the 21st player and final starting pitcher to be named to the WTH Roster.  Runners-up were Adrian Houser, Tanner Bushue, Tommy Shirley, Luis Ordosgoitti and Kyle Hallock.  For more on the WTH 25-Man Roster, go here.

Next, let's pick our Designated Hitter (yeah, I hate it too).  This list is comprised of those who received votes in earlier rounds of voting for first base and for third base (since those are traditionally power positions) and two players (Rafael Valenzuela and Erik Castro) who were used extensively in the DH position in 2011.  The two obvious choices would be Chase Davidson and Kody Hinze.  Chase Davidson had 11 home runs and 44 RBI's in 44 games before being derailed by an injury, whereas Kody Hinze was just shy of 100 RBI's and led all Astros minor-leaguers in home runs and was second in doubles in 2011.  The edge for me goes to Kody Hinze since he had a far better walk rate than Chase Davidson.  But let's not forget about Telvin Nash.  It will be interesting to see what this top 10 prospect can achieve in a full season in 2012 after recovering from his 2011 hand surgery (hamate bone).

With all that said, here are the 2011 stats for the players.  Look them over and vote.

Happy Birthday - 2/20

1B/LF Telvin Nash (21)
Drafted in the 3rd round in 2009 out of high school in his native Georgia, Nash took a little detour in his development as he missed almost 2 months of the 2011 season after breaking the hamate bone in his left hand early in the season.  He finished the season at Lexington with a .274/.380/.488/.867 batting line with 18 doubles and 14 home runs over 78 games.  He is currently ranked as the number 10 prospect in the Astros system on my consensus list.

RHP Livan Hernandez (37)
Born in Cuba and originally signed by the Marlins as a free agent in 1996, Hernandez signed as a free agent with the Astros on January 31, 2011.  Known as a workhorse, Hernandez has pitched at least 199 innings in 11 seasons.  In 1997, he was runner up to Scott Rolen in Rookie of the Year voting as he was 9-3 in 17 regular season starts and 2-0 in the NLCS and 2-0 in the World Series, earning him MVP honors in each series. He also won a Silver Slugger award in 2005 and All-Star honors in 2004 and 2005.

Former Astros with birthdays today ~

RHP Bill Gullickson (53)
Gullickson pitched one season for Houston in 1990, going 10-14 with a 3.82 ERA and a 1.459 WHIP in 32 starts.  In 1991, after being released by Houston, he was 20-9 for Detroit.

RHP Jason Hirsh (30)
A second round pick by Houston in 2003, Hirsh started nine games for the Astros in 2006, going 3-4 with a 6.04 ERA and a 1.567 WHIP.  He was traded, along with Taylor Buchholz and Willy Taveras, to the Rockies for Miguel Asencio and he-who-must-not-be-named in December of 2006.

We also have a birthday in the Astros blogging community ~

Deputy Jason (32)
Jason Phelps, writer for Astros County, celebrates his birthday today as well!

Tweet of the Day

Brian McTaggart
Jake Goebbert, wide-eyed and fresh-faced, has reported to Astros camp.

No Announced Roster Moves Today

Sunday, February 19, 2012

WTH 25-Man Roster

The 21st player and Final Starting Pitcher selected for the What the Heck 25-Man Roster was RHP Nick Tropeano.  Also receiving votes were Adrian Houser, Tanner Bushue, Tommy Shirley, Luis Ordosgoitti and Kyle Hallock.  (For more information on the WTH 25-Man Roster, go here.)

Coming Monday - Let's pick our DH (sigh).

Happy Birthday - 2/19

No future Astros, only former Astros with birthdays today ~

RHP Chris Zachary (died April 19, 2003 at 59)
Zachary had a less than awe-inspiring career with Houston as he compiled a 6-16 record with a 4.64 ERA and a 1.466 WHIP in 46 appearances over 5 seasons (1963-1967), but he was only 19 when he made his major league debut.  His best season was with Detroit in 1972; in 25 appearances, he was 1-1 with a 1.41 ERA and a 1.096 WHIP.


OF Don Taussig (80)
Taussig only played in 16 games for the Colt 45's in 1962 (.200 BA) after putting up a very respectable .287/.338/.447 batting line for the Cardinals the prior year.  He never got back to the majors after 1962.

Tweet of the Day

Jason Castro
Officially on the plane...ETA in Kissimmee approximately...not soon enough 

No Announced Roster Moves Today But ...

The Astros announced that minor league Catchers Chris Wallace and Rene Garcia will be given non-roster invites to the big league camp.  Pitchers and Catchers report on Monday.

Also, it was announced that contracts have been finalized with seven pre-arbitration players.  They are:

OF Brian Bogusevic
C Jason Castro
IF Brett Wallace
IF Chris Johnson
RHP Fernando Rodriguez
RHP Paul Clemens
LHP Fernando Abad

Steve Campbell has the story here.