Saturday, January 19, 2013

Winter League Recap

DOMINICAN WINTER LEAGUE

Escogido over Aguilas 10-7
Jonathan Villar has mostly been relegated to pinch running duties this winter and such was the case again last night. He made the most of it, though, as he replaced the runner on first base, promptly stole second and third base on Tampa Bay's Fernando Rodney and then came home on a wild pitch. A short night's work, but  a good night's work.

Happy Birthday - 1/19

No future Astros, only former Astros with birthdays today ~

OF Orlando Palmiero (44)
Originally drafted by the Angels in the 33rd round in 1991, Palmiero came to Houston as a free agent in January 2004. In 420 games played for the Astros from 2004 to 2007, he hit .258/.332/.356. He won a World Series with the Angels in 2002.

LHP Ramon de los Santos (64)
Signed by the Astros as an amateur free agent from the Dominican Republic in 1972, de los Santos pitched in 12 games in 1974 for Houston with a 2.19 ERA and a 1.622 WHIP.

RHP Jeff Juden (42)
A first round pick by the Astros in 1989, Juden pitched in only six games (three starts) for Houston in 1991 and 1993 with a 5.87 ERA and a 1.478 WHIP before being traded to the Phillies, along with Doug Jones, for Mitch Williams in December 1993.

3B/1B Phil Nevin (42)
The first overall pick of the draft in 1992, Nevin only played in 18 games for the Astros in 1995 before he was traded to the Tigers in August 1995. Nevin went on to play 12 major league seasons for seven different teams, hitting a cumulative .270/.343/.472 and was an All-Star for the Padres in 2001, a year in which he hit 41 home runs. Most recently, he has managed the Toledo Mud Hens in the Tigers organization.

RHP Anthony Young (47)
Originally drafted by the Mets in the 38th round in 1987, this Houston native signed with the Astros as a free agent in January 1996. In 28 games for Houston that season, he had a 4.59 ERA and a 1.740 WHIP.

Manager Brad Mills (56)
Mills managed the Astros from 2010 until his firing in August 2012 with a record of 171-274. Mills was dealt a bad hand with the teams he was given, but he is now a part of the Astros history for better or worse.

Tweet of the Day

Rafael Valenzuela
Workout dedicated to the 2012 California League Champion Lancaster JetHawks 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Season Ticket Holder Q&A with Astros Manager Bo Porter

Bo Porter makes for a formidable presence and a good quote. On Thursday evening, Porter participated in a Q&A with the season ticket holders at Minute Maid Park with Bill Brown moderating. The discussion ranged widely from how he picked a college to his involvement in selecting a coaching staff to his thoughts on women in baseball, but it was one of his first remarks that received the biggest applause, "My number one goal is to bring a championship to this City."

When Porter talks about bringing a championship to Houston, it doesn't smack of empty platitudes. When he says, "Most people don't fail because they aim too high. Most people fail because they aim too low," it doesn't come across as cliche because he speaks with a thoughtful gravitas that inspires respect. It is obvious to me that he has thought about all of these things long and hard.

He knows that there are many obstacles lying ahead, but he feels well-suited to take them on through his abilities to teach and to motivate. "You want to make sure you take advantage of every teachable moment possible," said Porter. He wants to arm the young players with not only information, but an understanding of how to use that information. Porter understands that at some point during a 107-loss season, losing became a mindset. He wants to change the way the players think.

He spoke of Clemens as being not only a great pitcher, but a great teacher and feels that he will be a "huge benefit to our pitchers from a mental standpoint."

He spoke of plate discipline. "One of the biggest maturations for a young player is understanding their strike zone, not the strike zone."

He spoke about the DH as a benefit when it comes to a pitcher's development because the game situation no longer dictates when a manager has to take out the pitcher.

He spoke of the aggressiveness he wants in a third base coach, "Don't tell me you didn't know [if the runner would be safe]. Send him and find out because if you don't send him, you'll never know."

He spoke of pitchers being coddled in the minors in regards to pitch counts, his distaste for the quality start stat, his discussion with Jon Singleton about decision-making and learning from mistakes and his support for Brett Wallace. "Brett Wallace is our first baseman."

The most well-received answer, though, had to be Porter's reply to a question about when the Astros would once again be competitive. He did not hesitate, "If we had a game tonight, I will tell you that we will be competitive. When you say, 'Is your team competitive?,' to me, what that equates to is that they play hard every night." He went on to assert that, if he told the players who have been here in Houston working out to suit  up for a game that night, they would be ready to play. "The message has been delivered. They will be competitive right now." Bill Brown's one-word response, "Wow."

At another point during the Q&A, Porter stated emphatically, "I promise you we will deliver a championship to this City." I wouldn't bet against either him or the sheer force of his formidable will.

Astros Friday News Dump

Winter league play is quickly coming to a close so the news on that front is starting to grind to a halt, but there was a lot of news in Astros-land yesterday. In case you missed any of it, here you go.

WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC

The WBC provisional rosters were announced and we have a few Astros representing. The final rosters are not due until February 20th so there may be changes. The first round of the Classic starts on March 2nd and more info can be found here.

RHP Rhiner Cruz - Spain
OF Fernando Martinez - Spain
LHP Xavier Cedeno - Puerto Rico
RHP Murilo Gouvea - Brazil
RHP Chia-Jen Lo - Chinese Taipei
OF Che-Hsuan Lin - Chinese Taipei

Gouvea has already gotten his feet wet in WBC action. He was an integral part of the Brazilian team's upset as they knocked Panama out of the qualifying rounds back in November. According to Brian Smith of the Chronicle, Jeff Luhnow acknowledged that Fernando Martinez' chances to make the Astros opening day roster are probably going to be hindered by his participation in the WBC. And if you've forgotten who exactly Che-Hsuan Lin is, he was picked up off waivers from Boston and then later designated for assignment to Oklahoma City in order to make room for RHP John Ely.

Several other former Astros and former Astros farm hands are participating in the Classic, including Wandy Rodriguez and Miguel Tejada for the Dominican Republic, Nelson Figueroa and Carlos Beltran for Puerto Rico, Kaz Matsui for Japan, Ryan Rowland-Smith for Australia, Ben Zobrist for the U.S.A. and Jimmy Van Ostrand for Canada.

RICK ANKIEL SIGNING AND NON-ROSTER INVITEES

It was also announced yesterday that the Astros signed Rick Ankiel to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. The 33-year old pitcher turned outfielder is expected to compete for an OF position on the opening day roster. The other non-roster invitees who were announced yesterday were:

LHP Kevin Chapman
LHP Sergio Escalona
RHP Chuckie Fick
RHP Edgar Gonzalez
RHP Josh Zeid
OF Trevor Crowe
OF Jake Goebbert
OF Marc Krauss
OF Che-Hsuan Lin
OF George Springer
C Rene Garcia
C Jason Jaramillo
C Carlos Perez
C Chris Wallace
IF Brandon Laird
IF Jose Martinez
IF Delino DeShields, Jr.

Don't get too excited about the participation of Springer and DeShields; they are not expected to vie for roster spots. It is noteworthy that Kyle Weiland isn't included on the list which probably means that he hasn't progressed as far as the team would like in his recovery from surgery. There are no other real surprises for me on the list; however, I think the inclusion of Josh Zeid and Jake Goebbert signals a nice vote of confidence for the pair.

I have updated the Off-Season transaction list to make note of the Ankiel signing.

SEASON TICKET HOLDER EVENT WITH BO PORTER

I attended a Season Ticket Holder event with Bo Porter yesterday evening at Minute Maid Park. I plan to write up some of my thoughts on that event as time allows, but I did want to convey to my readers that I was able to elicit a very important promise from Porter. He assured me that he will not come up with nicknames by simply adding a "y" to the end of a name. He proclaimed himself to be "a first name kind of guy."

Also, I met Bill Brown and he really is as genuinely nice and gracious as he seems to be during the TV broadcasts. He reported that he's been doing his homework on the American League since November and, more importantly, let me try on his World Series ring!



KEVIN COMER INTERVIEW

And last but not least, this was a good interview with Kevin Comer that talks about his whirlwind first pro season and the trade that brought him to the Astros.

Happy Birthday - 1/18

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

LHP Wandy Rodriguez (34)
Rodriguez was first signed with the Astros on January 12, 1999 as a 17-year old NDFA named Eny Cabreja.  It wasn't until 2002 that he revealed to the Astros that he had really been 19 at the time and had used a friend's identity. ( Here is a great article by Jose de Jesus Ortiz from 2008 that helps explain the pressures facing young Dominican players who are considered old at 19.) Rodriguez pitched for Houston for eight seasons, from 2005 until his trade to Pittsburgh in July 2012, with a 80-84 record, a 4.04 ERA and a 1.339 WHIP.

Tweet of the Day

Kenny Long
Finally finished my puzzle. What to do with my life now 
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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Astros Minor League Depth - Third Base

Over the next few weeks as we approach Spring Training, I'll be looking at the Astros minor league depth, position by position. Today, we look at the third basemen in the organization who had the best seasons in 2012.

Rio Ruiz - August 2012
Photo by Jayne Hansen

The embedded chart shows third basemen in the organization ranked from high to low in terms of OPS. I have noted their current age, the last level at which they played and, if they spent significant time at multiple positions, that information is included as well. I am including Brandon Laird's 2012 minor league numbers since he was removed from the 40-man roster and will likely start the season at AAA in 2013.



With the arrival of Matt Dominguez in the Carlos Lee trade last season, some of the pressure has been taken off in shoring up a position which I would argue is still the worst in the Astros system in terms of depth. The acquisitions of Bobby Borchering and Brandon Laird also helped give the Astros some breathing room at the top of the system. Borchering is still a work in progress since he struggled in his promotion to AA this season and in the Arizona Fall League this past fall, but at only 22, he has time.

Matt Duffy leads the list out of all the third basemen in OPS. As I had hoped, he turned some of his doubles power from 2011 into home run power in 2012. He's just been an all-around solid hitter since being drafted in 2011. Despite a fairly average walk rate, he has kept his OBP high in an unconventional way -- he was hit by pitches 41 times in 2012. If Duffy can keep hitting and showing that power stroke, he should be able to move quickly through the ranks, but he will have to keep proving that he can handle the position defensively.

I'll be honest. I'm not sure what to make of Jonathan Meyer. He is considered a good defender, but in his second year with Lancaster, his power numbers declined slightly and he drew significantly fewer walks. Meyer only recently turned 22 so he is definitely still young enough to make some adjustments and get to the next level developmentally, but I think 2013 will be crucial for him.

Andy Simunic is a symbol of the third base depth problem. Simunic did a terrific job in giving the Astros an option in playing third base for them and he defended at that position very capably, but he really doesn't profile as a third baseman. He profiles as the middle infielder he was drafted as. He had a very good season with Corpus, but he doesn't bring the power expected from a corner infielder.

Another symbol of the depth problem is Darwin Rivera. He had a great season with the bat for the GCL, but it was a step backward for him as he played at Greeneville the prior season and did not do well. If he shows he can hit more advanced pitching, there may be hope for him as a DH, but his poor fielding at third base to date makes it unlikely that he will stick at that position.

Which brings me to Rio Ruiz, the Astros fourth round draft pick from 2012. In my opinion, Ruiz is the real deal. He will be a good defender, a great hitter and a natural leader. He won't turn 19 until May, but I think he will move very rapidly through the system.

As a final note, there are players who did not play extensively (if at all) at third base in the 2012 season who may see some time at third base if the need arises, particularly 1B/DH Erik Castro and 2B John Hinson.

Monday: First Base
Tuesday: Second Base
Wednesday: Shortstop

Winter League Recaps

PUERTO RICAN WINTER LEAGUE

Carolina over Caguas 3-1
C Rene Garcia went 2-for-3 with a walk and drove in all three of Carolina's runs while DH Jobduan Morales was 1-for-4 with a double and scored a run.  3B Kiké Hernandez went hitless in the game with one strikeout. C Roberto Peña was 1-for-4 for Caguas. Carolina is 4-8 and Caguas is 7-5 in the round robin playoffs.

Mayaguez over Santurce 7-6
*RHP Adalberto Flores got the start for Santurce and it was a tough one as he gave up five runs (three earned) on three hits and two walks while striking out one in two innings of work. Flores got a no-decision as Santurce rallied back but ultimately lost, dropping to 5-7 in the round robin playoffs.

DOMINICAN WINTER LEAGUE

Aguilas over Estrellas 2-0
*RHP Jose Trinidad pitched two and two-thirds hitless innings as Estrellas dropped to 5-12 in the round robin playoffs. Trinidad walked one and struck out two in what I believe was his first post-season appearance.

*Free Agent

Happy Birthday - 1/17

Happy Birthday to ~

RHP Matt Heidenreich (22)
Originally drafted by the White Sox in the fourth round in 2009, Heidenreich came in to the Houston organization as a part of the Chicago July 2012 trade for Brett Myers. In eight games (seven starts) for Corpus Christi, he was 3-1 with a 3.93 ERA and a 1.340 WHIP.

Former Astros with birthdays today ~

LHP Jeff Tabaka (49)
A second round pick by the Expos in 1986, Tabaka came to Houston in a July 1995 trade with the Padres. In 42 games for the Astrso in 1995 and 1996, he had a 4.23 ERA and a 1.590 WHIP.

Manager Lum Harris (died November 11, 1996 at 81)
Lum Harris managed the Colt .45's for 13 games in 1964 after Harry Craft was fired, and then was the first manager of the Astros in 1965. He had a 70-105 record.  For an extremely entertaining interview with Harris that will take you back to an entirely different era of baseball, click here. You won't regret it.

Tweets of the Day

Kenny Long

March 2 can't come soon enough


Jamaine Cotton

 u got your spring training package already?


Kenny Long

 I just got it today


Travis Ballew

  woooooo spring training!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Astros Minor League Depth - Shortstop

Over the next few weeks as we approach Spring Training, I'll be looking at the Astros minor league depth, position by position. Today, we look at the shortstops in the organization who had the best seasons in 2012.

The embedded chart shows shortstops in the organization ranked from high to low in terms of OBP. I have noted their current age, the last level at which they played and, if they spent significant time at multiple positions, that information is included as well. I am including Jake Elmore's minor league numbers since he is new to the system so that you can see how his 2012 minor league numbers compare.



Nolan Fontana leapfrogged rookie league and short season A ball in his first season and went directly to playing for the full season Lexington club where he led the organization in OBP thanks to 65 walks in only 49 games. He will ultimately have to show more aggressiveness at the plate, but it was a solid first season by any measure. Jake Elmore and Ben Orloff also showed very patient approaches at the plate. Both players drew walks more often than they struck out in 2012.

Carlos Correa had an uneven season thanks to a slow start with the GCL team. However, once he got to Greeneville, he turned on the afterburners and hit .371/.450/.600 in his final 11 games and exhibited stellar defensive capabilities. Another young player to watch is Luis Reynoso. Reynoso was one of the few bright spots offensively on the DSL team in 2012. He just turned 18 in September as did Correa.

Jonathan Villar was having a good season offensively and appeared to be catching up to AA pitching when his fist came out on the losing side after an unfortunate encounter with a door. The tools are there, but he still has a ways to go, both offensively and defensively. But one thing he has a very good feel for is the stolen base. He swiped 39 bags in 86 games and was caught only eight times. Another player exhibiting some wheels was Joe Sclafani. In his first season in the organization he stole 16 bases in 70 games and was caught three times.

Jiovanni Mier was having a great comeback season when injury put a large dent in his season. He came back strong after the injury, though, and continued his progress with a very successful Arizona Fall League season. Alex Todd was one of the players to fill in for Mier; he put up good numbers at Lancaster after starting the season in Lexington. [UPDATE: After posting this, I found out that Alex Todd retired from baseball during the off-season.]

Monday: First Base
Tuesday: Second Base
Coming Thursday: Third Base

Winter League Recap

VENEZUELAN WINTER LEAGUE

Caracas over Zulia 2-1
RHP Rhiner Cruz pitched the eighth inning for Caracas, allowing no hits and no runs with one strikeout. Caracas now trails Magallanes by only one game in the round robin playoffs.

PUERTO RICAN WINTER LEAGUE

Caguas over Carolina 14-2

RHP Raul Rivera got thumped in his start for Carolina as he allowed seven runs on eight hits and a walk in only one and a third innings and was charged with the loss. He faced 13 batters and struck out two. Kiké Hernandez got the start at third base and went 1-for-4 before being lifted for a pinch-hitter while teammate Rene Garcia was hitless with two strikeouts. Carolina fell to four games out in the round robin playoffs. Caguas is tied for the lead.

Happy Birthday - 1/16

No future Astros, only former Astros with birthdays today ~

RHP Jim Owens (79)
Drafted by Houston from the Reds in the 1963 Rule 5 draft, Owens pitched in 148 games for the Colt .45's and the Astros from 1964 to 1967 with an ERA of 3.60 and WHIP of 1.296.

LHP Ron Villone (43)
A first round pick by Seattle in 1992, Villone first came to Houston in a June 2001 trade with Colorado. In 50 games (25 starts) for the Astros in 2001 and 2003, he was 11-13 with a 4.69 ERA and a 1.374 WHIP. All told, he pitched in 15 major league seasons for 12 different teams.

Tweet of the Day

Jiovanni Mier
Got my report date! Can't wait to get this season going. Only one month away 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

An Interview with LHP Alex Sogard

Alex Sogard had quite a year starting in November 2011. During a 12-month span, he got married, was promoted twice (first to Lancaster and then to Corpus Christi), got to the playoffs with the Corpus Christi Hooks, participated in the World Baseball Classic qualifiers in Germany with the Czech team and participated in the Arizona Fall League, representing the Astros.

Alex Sogard - June 2012
Photo by Jayne Hansen

After splitting his time between starting and relieving for the Lexington team in 2011, he was used solely in relief in 2012 for Lancaster and for Corpus Christi. I contacted Alex recently via email to ask him about his 2012 season and his whirlwind off-season.

WTH: You had a bit of an up-and-down season with early success at Lancaster followed by a promotion and then early struggles with Corpus before settling in nicely in the second half of the season. How do you handle the ups and downs? What kind of adjustments do you make?

AS: I think ups and downs are just part of the game. I try not to get too high or too low because baseball is a very humbling game. My college coach taught me baseball is a game of failure; if you get so caught up on your performance the night before it might affect your performance the next day.

During my struggles in Corpus my biggest adjustment was pitching to contact. When I first got to Corpus I tried to be “too perfect” and avoid contact. Once I made that adjustment I was able to settle down and get a good amount of groundballs. When you are in the trenches it’s hard to enjoy it but looking back I think going through those struggles helped me grow and made me a better pitcher.

I have learned that the more you try and take control of your life, the more God will make things go to where you will have to rely on Him. I may face failures both on and off the field but I am able to find comfort in knowing my worth doesn’t come in throwing a ball but in living to glorify Christ in everything that I do.

WTH: What do you think you accomplished in the 2012 season and what are you focusing on now?

AS: My main goal for the 2012 season was to stay healthy so I think it was a very successful season. I think a lot of times we take for granted how tough it is to stay healthy for an entire season. I was very blessed to be able to stay healthy during the entire season in addition to the WBC qualifier and the AFL.

Right now I am just focusing on getting my body and arm in shape so I can be as prepared as possible to go through the season strong and healthy.

WTH: Can you tell me a little about your pitch repertoire - best pitch, velocity, movement, etc.?

AS: I throw a fastball, change-up, and curveball.

My fastball differs day to day but it is usually in the low 90’s with some arm side movement. Some days it sinks more than others.

My change-up is like a circle change, which is about 78-82 mph. In the past my change-up has been one of my best pitches but this year it was my most inconsistent pitch. I hope to change that in 2013.

My curveball is my out pitch. It is usually around 76-79 and has a big downward break. It has been my best out pitch for the past two seasons.

WTH: You fared better against right-handed hitters than lefties this year. Has that always been the case?

AS: No actually, it hasn’t. I have always done much better against lefties in my career. I think this year I was just trying to do too much against lefties. Instead of attacking them and pitching to contact I was trying to be “too perfect” and strike them out. Towards the end of the season I made a big adjustment and was able to get them out like I should.

WTH: I saw an interview with you when you were in Germany during the WBC qualifiers with the Czech team and I know that you were really excited to represent the Czech Republic team for your mother and her family. Could you tell me a little about that experience and what you took away from it?

AS: It was such an amazing experience! It was my first time overseas and it was so great. The team consisted of two MiLB players (including myself) and the rest of the players were from the Czech Republic. It was such a great experience meeting all the players and they took me in right away and made me feel part of the team. My mother’s side of the family grew up there so I felt honored to be able to represent my family as well as the country. Although we lost both games it was great to be able to pitch for them and help contribute. I think the best part about playing with the Czech team was that they all love to play the game! I think sometimes in professional ball people get so caught up in stats and doing well that they forget why we play the game, because we love it! It was so refreshing playing with those guys who were just excited to show up to the field. Although this is my job, I hope that it is evident to those around me, as well as those who watch, that I love what I do and I am blessed and humbled to be able to have the chance to play each and every day!

WTH: You also had the opportunity to participate in the AFL this year. What did you take away from that experience?

AS: It was such a great opportunity and I was really honored to participate. The Arizona Fall League is definitely a once in a lifetime experience and I really enjoyed being able to be a part of it. It was great being around such great players and coaches and I just tried to learn something new from them everyday. The AFL afforded me the amazing opportunity to build relationships with guys from different organizations. This opportunity is rare in professional ball and I am thankful that I was able to experience this.

WTH: Of all the pitchers you've seen in the Astros organization, who has a pitch you'd like to steal?

AS: I think I would like to steal Jason Stoffel’s slider. I think that would be a great pitch to add to my repertoire since I already have a fastball, change-up and curveball. It’s nasty! It looks just like a fastball and then breaks hard and late at the last second. And he can throw it for a strike every time, so that always helps!

WTH: Of all of the players you've seen in the Astros organization, who would you least like to face in the batter's box?

AS: Ben Orloff. He is a guy that will foul off 6 straight nasty pitches and then draw a 12-pitch walk. I’d rather face a guy who is trying to hit the ball 600 feet. Orloff is one of those guys who you hate to see on the on deck circle because you know he is not an easy out!

WTH: Who is the best team leader (either leading by example or someone who gets the team fired up) that you've played with?

AS: This one is easy, Ben Orloff. He is someone who leads by example. The guy does everything right. He is the ultimate definition of a team player! We always joke around saying he is a “player/coach” because he directs traffic while he is playing shortstop. I always love coming into the game when he is playing behind me; it’s a good feeling.

WTH: Can you tell me one thing about yourself that most people don't know and might be surprised to hear?

AS: I can’t sleep on the buses when we travel. I have trouble sleeping anywhere but in a bed! I know it sounds weird because of the profession I am in, but it’s true. I take that time to listen to music. I love all music, I find it very peaceful and relaxing.

>>>>>>><<<<<<<

Thanks for your time, Alex, and good luck with whatever new adventures the 2013 season may bring.

Astros Minor League Depth - Second Base

Over the next few weeks as we approach Spring Training, I'll be looking at the Astros minor league depth, position by position. Today, we look at the second basemen in the organization who had the best seasons in 2012.

Delino DeShields - April 2012
Photo by Jayne Hansen

The embedded chart shows second basemen in the organization ranked from high to low in terms of OBP. I have noted their current age, the last level at which they played and, if they spent significant time at multiple positions, that information is included as well. I did not include Jimmy Paredes since he has since been moved to the outfield.




Leading the list is none other than Delino DeShields. Not only did DeShields have one of the best OBP in the Astros organization, he also raised his slugging percentage by over 100 points over the prior season while stealing 101 bases. And he just turned 20 in August.

Austin Elkins and Brian Blasik each had strong debut years while 18-year old Juan Santana showed much promise in his first season in the States after putting up an impressive first year with the DSL in 2011. Ruben Sosa spent more time as a DH than as a second baseman in his second season in the organization, but I think that has probably as much to do with finding playing time as anything else. He showed fairly strong on-base skills but little in the way of power.

Jose Martinez didn't fare well in his transition to Oklahoma City for the final 23 games of the season and that brought down his .304/.362/.464 line from his first 107 games at Corpus. He had a successful campaign in the Venezuelan winter league which is a very competitive league, though, so look for him to catch up to the AAA level this season. He is another player whose potential should not be discounted due to his age as injuries, coupled with a family tragedy, sidetracked his career prior to 2012.

Enrique Hernandez, also known as Kiké, had an interesting season. 2012 was his first season to be 100% healthy and to get regular playing time since an ankle injury sidetracked him. The combination agreed with him as he recaptured the promise that he had shown in his 2010 Tri-City season, leading to a late season promotion from Lancaster to Corpus Christi. Kiké will need to balance the aggressiveness he showed in 2012 with the more patient approach he showed at the plate in 2011 when he had a .341 OBP. Hernandez showed that balance this winter as he played in the Puerto Rican winter league, hitting .320/.379/.469 in 39 games.

Two other players to keep an eye on in 2013 are John Hinson (Lexington) and Brandon Wikoff (Corpus Christi) each of whom had injury-shortened seasons in 2012. Hinson was used primarily as a third baseman before his injury, but he played second base in 2011. Wikoff has played wherever needed and profiles as a solid utility infielder.

Monday: First Base
Coming Wednesday: Shortstop

Winter League Recaps

VENEZUELAN WINTER LEAGUES

Magallanes over Lara 4-3
Magallanes took the lead in the round robin playoffs on a solid start from *RHP Sergio Perez. Perez allowed two runs on six hits and a walk in six and a third innings in a no-decision.

DOMINICAN WINTER LEAGUE

Estrellas over Aguilas 7-3
*RHP Enerio del Rosario was charged with Aguilas' loss as he allowed three runs via the long ball without recording an out. Jonathan Villar also made an appearance for Aguilas, pinch-running for Miguel Tejada. He stayed in as DH, but did not get an at-bat. Aguilas remains tied with Escogido for the lead in the round robin playoffs.

*Free Agent

Happy Birthday - 1/15

No future Astros, only former Astros with birthdays today ~

RHP Armando Galarraga (31)
Galarraga signed with Houston as a free agent in May 2012 and started five games for Houston with a 6.75 ERA and a 1.917 WHIP. Galarraga is best known for the perfect game that wasn't. Pitching for Detroit on June 2, 2010, he threw a one-hitter against Cleveland due to a blown call by umpire Jim Joyce on what should have been the final out of the game.

LHP George Cappuzzello (59)
A 27th round pick by the Tigers in 1972, Cappuzzello came to Houston as a free agent in April 1982. In 17 games for the Astros that season he had an ERA of 2.79 and WHIP of 1.190.

RHP Mike Marshall (70)
Purchased from the Brewers in November 1969, Marshall pitched in only four games for the Astros in 1970 with an 8.44 ERA and a 2.250 WHIP before being traded to Montreal in June. In 1974, he led the National League in appearances for the Dodgers with 106 and won the Cy Young Award with his 2.42 ERA, 1.186 WHIP, and 21 saves. He was an All-Star in 1974 and in 1975 for Los Angeles as well.

And one more birthday of importance ~

Terri (aka @AGirlintheSouth on twitter) celebrates today. Terri is one of the founding members of the *FBBBB Club (along with yours truly) as well as the author of Tales from the Juice Box.

*Female Baseball Bloggers Brunch with Booze Club

Tweet of the Day

Travis Ballew
If I had 1000 followers and a blue check mark my life would be set... Oh yea and in the MLB 

Two Former Astros Farm Hands Move On

In case you missed this bit of news tucked away in this article about his fiance, OF Drew Locke has apparently retired. Locke was originally picked up by Houston in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft from Los Angeles and played in the Houston organization from 2009 to 2011 before becoming a free agent and signing with the Independent League Sugar Land Skeeters. Locke then re-signed with Houston last June, playing for the Corpus Christi Hooks. He made a splash early on during his time with the Hooks as he hit grand slams in back-to-back games for the team within a week after his return.

Also, RHP Dayan Diaz, who started playing with the Houston organization in Venezuela in 2006 was reported by Baseball-America to have signed as a free agent with the Cubs organization. He pitched for Lexington in 2012.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Astros Minor League Depth - First Base

It's time to take a look at the Astros minor league depth, position by position, as we approach Spring Training. Today, we will look at the first basemen in the organization who had the best seasons in 2012.

The embedded chart shows first basemen in the organization ranked from high to low in terms of OPS. I have noted their current age, the last level at which they played and, if they spent significant time at multiple positions, that information is included as well. I am not including players who spent time at the major league level in 2012, such as Brett Wallace.


Erik Castro, who barely leads this list over Jonathan Singleton, divided his time almost equally between 1B and DH in 2012. I would caution against those who are inclined to dismiss Castro as a prospect because of the "Lancaster effect" and the fact that he will be 25 going in to the 2013 season. He was 100% healthy in 2012 for the first time since injury sidetracked his career in 2010. I can certainly see Castro successfully moving up in the system in 2013. He may even get back to playing third base as well which would only add to his versatility and value to the organization. One key for him is to cut down on his strikeout rate.

At first glance, you may be unimpressed by Zach Johnson's .238 batting average, but look a little closer. Johnson was tied with Castro for an organization-leading 108 RBI. He got those RBI any way he could, including grounding into force outs and an organization-leading 14 sac flies, and productive outs don't exactly boost a player's batting average. His 38 doubles ranked in the organization behind only the 39 doubles hit by Brandon Barnes before his call-up to Houston. 

The only one of these players who is new to the organization is Michael Martinez, a 2012 draftee who had a solid debut season with Greeneville. Jesse Wierzbicki in his second season with the Astros and Rafael Valenzuela in his third year both had good seasons as well. Valenzuela was an integral part of the Lancaster team's late run to the playoffs and Wierzbicki was named MVP of the Tri-City team.

One surprise for me from this list was that Jean Batista actually spent more time at first base than he did at either of the middle infield positions as he has in the past. It may just be a temporary situation as players jockey for playing time, but interesting to watch in any event.

Jonathan Singleton, of course, just got popped with a 50-game suspension for testing positive for what has been widely reported as marijuana. He will be allowed to participate in Spring Training, and his suspension will start once the season begins.

One player who doesn't appear on this list who will bear watching in 2013 is Chase Davidson. He only played in a handful of games in 2012, all at DH, before sitting out the remainder of the season with an undisclosed injury. When I interviewed Jeff Luhnow in November, he mentioned that he was eager to see what Davidson could do once healthy.

Tuesday: Second Base

Winter League Recaps

PUERTO RICAN WINTER LEAGUE

Mayaguez over Carolina 14-7
Kiké Hernandez, with another start at third base for Carolina, went 1-for-5 and scored a run. C Rene Garcia was 2-for-4 with an RBI in the loss. In the round robin playoffs, Mayaguez now leads with a 7-3 record while Carolina trails with a 3-7 record.

Happy Birthday - 1/14

Happy Birthday to ~

1B Chase Davidson (23)
Drafted out of the University of Georgia in the 41st round in 2011, Davidson only played in nine games for Tri-City in 2012, hitting .156/.229/.281. His last game was June 28th. He was never officially placed on the DL, but he apparently suffered an injury. I'm hoping to see him back in action at Spring Training.

OF Jarico Reynoso (20)
A non-drafted free agent from the Dominican Republic, Reynoso played his first professional season with the DSL Astros this year. In 58 games, he hit .241/.324/.278 with 17 stolen bases.

Former Astros with birthdays today ~

2B Derrel Thomas (62)
A first round pick by the Astros in 1969, Thomas only played in five games for Houston in 1971 in which he went hitless. He was traded to the Padres in December 1971 and went on to play a total of 15 seasons for seven different teams.

UT Dave Campbell (71)
Campbell came to Houston in an August 1973 trade with Houston and played in 44 games for the Astros from 1973 to 1974, hitting .158/.179/.237.

LHP Danny Boone (59)
A second round pick by the Angels in 1976, Boone came to Houston in a June 1982 trade with the Padres. In 10 games for the Astros that season, he had a 3.55 ERA and a 0.868 WHIP. And, yes, he is a descendant of that Daniel Boone.

Tweet of the Day

Robert Peña

Sólo una cosa vuelve un sueño imposible, el miedo a fracasar.!! Juego importante para los   

And, after the win ...

Robert Peña
La gran victoria que hoy parece fácil fue el resultado de pequeñas victorias que pasaron desapercibidas.!! 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Winter League Recaps

VENEZUELAN WINTER LEAGUE

Magallanes over Caracas 4-3 in 10 innings
RHP Rhiner Cruz was charged with the Caracas loss as he pitched the 10th inning, walking a batter with two outs and then giving up an RBI triple. Magallanes leads the round robin with a 5-4 record while Caracas trails with a 4-5 record, one game back.

PUERTO RICAN WINTER LEAGUE

Santurce over Carolina 5-1
Kiké Heranandez got another start at third base for Carolina and was hitless for the night as were Rene Garcia and Jobduan Morales who split catching duties. Morales did draw a walk and subsequently scored Carolina's only run on a throwing error. RHP Raul Rivera pitched a perfect ninth for Carolina. Santurce and Carolina are both 3-5 and two games back in the round robin playoffs.

Happy Birthday - 1/13

No future Astros, only former Astros with birthdays today ~

UT Ron Brand (73)
Drafted from the Pirates in the 1964 Rule 5 draft, Brand played in 300 games for Houston from 1965 to 1968, hitting .231/.293/.270. He spent time as catcher, third baseman, second baseman, left fielder and right fielder while playing for Houston. He went on to play shortstop and centerfield for Montreal.

LHP Mike Madden (56)
Madden came to Houston, along with Kevin Bass and Frank DiPino in a September 1982 trade with Milwaukee for Don Sutton. In 71 games (26 starts) for the Astros from 1983 to 1986, he was 12-10 with a 3.94 ERA and a 1.603 WHIP.

SS Orlando Miller (44)
A native of Panama, Miller came to Houston in a March 1990 trade with the Yankees and played in 247 games for Houston from 1994 to 1996 with a batting line of .262/.307/.406. Miller left Houston in this nine-player trade to Detroit on 12/10/96 (from Baseball-Reference):
The Houston Astros traded Doug BrocailBrian HunterTodd JonesOrlando Miller and cash to the Detroit Tigers for Brad Ausmus,Jose LimaTrever MillerC.J. Nitkowski and Daryle Ward.

Tweets of the Day

I didn't watch Miss America last night, but I didn't need to. Juxtaposed among the many, many football playoff tweets were these (among others).

Travis Ballew

Tap dancing... Is just like weird

Why does she keep moving her head like that... 

Ugh I hate pianos

I can sing better

Texas didn't rep good in 

Your kidding me

I hope her roses are fake