Friday, April 10, 2020

Astros Minor League Recaps

Results for Thursday, April 9. 2020

A message from Dustin:

Right now, under normal circumstances, this post would consist of the previous night's results and happenings in the Houston Astros' minor league system. Usually, the second Friday in April is the first of these posts.

Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, we'll have to wait a while before we get a chance to see Forrest Whitley, Alex De Goti, Jeremy Peña, Cristian Javier, César Salazar, Cody Deason, Chas McCormick, Freúdis Nova, Nivaldo Rodriguez, and the rest of the players in the organization take the field.

We all have a role to play in curtailing the spread of COVID-19, whether it's through practicing social distancing when we're out in public or better yet, staying at home if we know we don't need to go anywhere. It's also made me think quite a bit before I head out; these days, I ask myself whether I need to be going anywhere that's not work and that's further than a mile from my house. And also, there are about a thousand things racing through my head whenever I do something harmless like walking by people when I'm at HEB.

I pray that we come out of this with our health and sanity close to intact as possible and I hope that I can provide you with everything you need to know in the Astros system in 2020.

Until then, don't forget to:

1. Check up on your loved ones.
2. Support local eateries when you get that chance.
3. Wear a mask if you need to be out and about! Maybe have a pair of gloves on hand too.
4. WASH YOUR HANDS!!!!!

And, this is probably the most important thing:

5. IF YOU DON'T NEED TO GO ANYWHERE, STAY HOME! I'd love to go relax at Sharetea in Bellaire, window-shop at The Galleria, spend some time at the Museum of Fine Arts and go out for some ice cream at Milk + Sugar in Montrose or Jeni's in The Heights but that's not possible if we keep going about our business like this! HEB is awesome but you really don't need to be going there that much! Seriously.

Yours truly,
Dustin Nguyen

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Catching up with Former Astro Daniel Minor

Former Astros RHP Daniel Minor has had many baseball adventures since he was first drafted by the Astros in the 9th round in 2012 out of Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi. His first experience was with the 2012 Greeneville Astros, a team that produced nine major league players, including such names as Carlos Correa, Joe Musgrove and Lance McCullers. In addition to those players, Minor played alongside another seven future major leaguers (including Josh Hader, Teoscar Hernandez, Vince Velasquez, Chris Devenski, Tony Kemp and others) the next season in Quad Cities. Between those and even more players in his time with the Lancaster JetHawks in 2014 and with the Corpus Christi Hooks in 2015, Minor played with around two dozen future big leaguers in his four years with the Astros.

Daniel Minor - September 2019
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Thinking back to 2012 in Greeneville, Minor said, “We really had an unbelievable stacked, talented team back then. You never really noticed because we were all still getting our feet wet with pro ball and it was such a wide range of ages.” But the next two years, things really started to gel for Minor and his teammates. “When we really started getting all together, that’s when we won Low A. And we won High A the next year. We had a minor league major league team. When you look now, it’s no wonder the Astros ran out of room coming up and had to release people that you didn’t think were going to be released. They just ran out of room because there was just so much talent in the system at that time between the draft and trades and all that,” said Minor. In addition to the League Championships in Quad Cities in 2013 and Lancaster in 2014, another highlight of Minor’s MiLB career was closing out a combined no-hitter with then roommate Josh Hader for the JetHawks in 2014.

Minor continued with his thoughts on that talented Astros system, “When I got drafted, it was like wow, we’re with the Astros. They’ve lost 100 games three years in a row. They’re going to be a lot of opportunities, but it was like an overnight turn. So much talent. Looking back, we had half a roster with major league players.” So, despite having a very respectable minor league career (3.57 ERA/1.286 WHIP over 4 seasons), Minor was squeezed out during the 2015 season, a move that Minor called a “gut punch.” After a couple of forgettable appearances in the American Association later that year, Minor took some time away from baseball to work on his degree.

While working on his degree in 2016, Minor said, “I started helping out with the Texas State baseball team and I was coaching youth baseball and starting to give lessons and I just kind of re-found the love for the game seeing children play because (it helped me) realize how I was building this up so much in my mind when it’s really, in the end, just a game.” So Minor decided to give it another shot in 2017 and his baseball adventures continued in the American Association, Mexico, Venezuela and most recently the Atlantic League.

“The Texas State pitching coach remembered me from playing against him in college and he kind of reached out to some people for me and that’s when Winnipeg got in touch with me and I went there for about a month, two months, just trying to get myself back in the door. I was throwing well (out of the bullpen). I was throwing pretty hard. And then ended up getting traded to Gary in the American Association around the middle of August (2017). They gave me the opportunity to be a starter. I had a really, really good month with them. We ended up making the playoffs.

“Then I went back to Gary the following year (2018). Pitched really, really well for two months, two and a half months. And then that’s when I got in touch with a Mexican team and signed and went down to play there. Played there the rest of the year. Finished down there in September. I pitched well there. And Omar Lopez (then an Astros minor league Manager) reached out to me about coming to Venezuela. That’s when I went down to Venezuela last winter and played. That was a really cool experience, getting to play in another country and see their culture and how they go about things. It was a really cool experience getting to play there.”

On playing in Mexico, Minor told me, “It was different. Just the culture, the fans. You have drumlines in the stands. People yelling. It was a really, really cool experience playing down there. They’re very, very, very passionate. In all honesty, the games are more exciting there or in Venezuela because the fans are more into it. Not like here in America where people are looking at their phones, not fully knowing what’s going on. They’re just very into the game and aware of the in-game situations of what’s going on. It was very good competition. The majority of places are actually higher elevation than the Colorado stadium. So it’s a big hitter-friendly league which I don’t think people realize. It was unbelievable watching people hit (because of the thin air and low humidity). So you had to learn how to pitch there. Down there, you make a mistake and it gets hit, you don’t even have to hit it hard for it to go a long ways.”

And despite all of the reported trouble in Venezuela, Minor never felt particularly concerned for his safety when playing there. He had to be careful (no “wandering around”), but the constant presence of security was more than enough to allay any concerns that he had. “I never really had a moment where I was worried or scared, but they definitely do a good job of making you feel like that by taking care of you and making sure that if something were to happen, there’s more than enough resources to where you’re going to be OK.”

As to the playing experience in Venezuela, Minor said, “Probably the most fun I’ve ever had. Stands were usually decently full, and the fans were just unbelievable. They were just into it because that’s one of the few positives they have in their country. They really take that stuff serious. It was very cool, going to different cities and people recognize you as a foreign player.”

As a side note, although it is highly dependent on the team, player experience and other factors, playing in Mexico and Venezuela can be much more lucrative than playing in minor league affiliated ball and independent league ball in the United States. It isn’t unusual to see players making almost $10,000 to $20,000 a month with more established players making even more.

After Minor played winter league ball in Venezuela during the 2018-2019 season, he wanted to head back to the States, though, despite an offer to play for more money in Mexico so he would have the opportunity to continue working toward finishing up his degree, and he ended up playing for the York (PA) Revolution in the Atlantic League. The Atlantic League has a three-year deal with MLB to experiment with different potential rule changes that started in 2019 and according to Minor and others that I have spoken with, those experiments did not always go smoothly. I went through each of these rule changes with Minor in order to get a better idea of how these changes affected the players who had to implement them. I found his thoughts on the matter both educational and elucidating. [Please note that the following commentary includes my personal observations and characterizations regarding the rules and may not necessarily be Minor’s opinions.]

Robo Ump

The rule change getting the most notice is the use of TrackMan data to determine balls and strikes a.k.a. the “Robo Ump.” Simply explained, a TrackMan system (basically Doppler technology) is set up to determine balls and strikes with the call being conveyed to the home plate umpire via earpiece; the umpire then signals the transmitted call on the field. Everybody should love Robo Ump, right? I mean who doesn’t want to have the umpire get the call right? So, I went to several Atlantic League games in the second half of the season last year and I can tell you from personal experience exactly who doesn’t like it. The pitchers. The hitters. The umpires. The fans. None of them like it. And there are a lot of reasons, depending upon who you talk with. Read on for Minor’s take on some of those reasons as well as my take from both personal observation and talking with Minor and other players involved in all of these rule changes.

One of the biggest issues is the inability to make adjustments. “If you take a ball and put it right on the edge (the corner of the plate) and you take it a millimeter off, that’s a ball. But then you take the ball and you move it over a millimeter, it’s a strike on TrackMan. So the computer can see that, but when you are a pitcher or a catcher or a hitter, you can’t physically see the difference in that. The catcher can have his mitt there, I throw it into his mitt and it can be a ball. He can set up in the same exact spot and I throw it into his mitt again and he doesn’t move and it can be a strike. But (that small difference on TrackMan), we as humans can’t see that. At least with an umpire, you can turn around and ask how much did that miss by? ‘Oh about an inch.’ And then you have an idea. Well then I’m going to move in by a little more than an inch and the catcher will give you a better target. So the catcher is having to put their mitt, earlier in the count, directly over the plate because you’re trying to make sure you’re throwing strikes because you can’t physically see where the edge of that zone is. And with up and down, it’s the same idea but again you don’t know looking where it’s crossing for the strike zone. You can see it over the plate but again, it could be a millimeter high and it can be a ball. It moves down a millimeter and you really don’t know what to swing at and what not to swing at. Again, with a regular umpire you can at least turn and get instant feedback,” said Minor.

“When you get to the lower part of the zone, you’re seeing balls bounce (in the dirt and still be called strikes). You can throw a nasty changeup. I’d see other people throwing curveballs that would just clip that very front of the zone, right at the front of the plate and then end up in the dirt and (the hitter) gets punched out. I enjoyed having the higher strike actually finally called because by the rule book it is a strike, but you don’t really see umpires call it up there at the major league level. But then you start getting the lower strikes too that you know crossed the zone but into the dirt. But we’re all with the same understanding that if it hits the dirt, you’re not going to call it a strike. But now with the TrackMan, if it hits the dirt, you can just be out of luck and you just struck out. I felt bad for hitters on the up and down, especially the down. Up they can make an adjustment. Down, that was just way too tough for them,” continued Minor.

Minor felt that the zone up and down overall benefited the pitcher and was tough for the hitter, and vice versa for the zone side to side. “As a pitcher, you like trying to nibble and see how much you can get off the plate, but then that just goes away completely because there is no nibbling. You’ve got to throw it to where you think the edge of that zone is to clip it.”

And according to multiple sources, there was a lot of confusion as to how the zone was actually determined and whether or not it was being programmed consistently throughout the league. The player’s height apparently factored into setting up the zone, but so did TrackMan data on players from their time in MLB (if applicable). One source said that the system was recalibrated for the playoffs and the players were discouraged from complaining about the change.

Minor confirmed some of this confusion, “I still do not know to this day what the parameters were for the strike zone. I heard it was the hitters (listed height). Well, if that’s the case, they can just go and lie about it. You’d have to have someone come in and measure them and then put it into the system. And then I also heard it was a set zone so the shorter people had a bigger zone and the taller people had a smaller zone. Then I also heard that people who had played in the major league had a smaller zone than people who hadn’t played in the major leagues. So we never really got a true answer about what the zone actually was.”

To complicate matters, human umpires are supposed to be able to override TrackMan on things like balls in the dirt and absurdly high strikes, but my understanding is that the umpires were discouraged from doing this so that the system could truly be tested and the league could get accurate data on how TrackMan worked. This may make sense from a viewpoint of testing the system, but my feeling is that it is hardly fair to those players in the Atlantic League who are working toward either getting back to the big leagues or getting there in the first place to be used as guinea pigs. In any event, I never saw one ball or strike call overruled by an umpire in the games I watched last season.

The biggest frustration for most of the players I talked with was just not knowing exactly where the strike zone was from day to day, hitter to hitter and ballpark to ballpark. Some players still benefited from the system with hitters getting more of the inside and outside calls to go their way and pitchers getting the high strike and balls in the dirt called. But for most players it was a mixed bag. Minor admits that the high strike zone helped him, but he was hurt when trying to establish the outside corners, but overall he was able to make adjustments to the system for the most part. His biggest concern with the system was the lack of communication and the inconsistency of the system. Robo Umps may be (and probably are) the future, but there are still many kinks to be worked out.

But there were several other rules being tested that, in my opinion, made little sense in an environment in which MLB’s stated goal is to speed up the game. The result of some of these rules was to increase offense. More runners on base = a longer game, something that I personally encountered in a late season 10-inning game that clocked in at over 4-1/2 hours. I asked Minor to weigh in on some of these rules and their real world results.

Stepping off the rubber to attempt a pickoff

This was, to me, the absolute worst experiment attempted in the Atlantic League in the second half. If a player had any speed whatsoever and got on base in any way, they just ran willy-nilly. It was absurd how many stolen bases I saw in one game. Minor described the situation, “If someone got on base from a walk, a single, a hit by pitch, you could expect them to be at second and third within a couple of pitches. Especially the fast guys, first to second, first pitch, second to third, pitch after that. I’m coming set and I’m just looking at them and they’re looking at me and I’m looking back at them like ‘I know you’re going to go’ and they’re, ‘yep, you know I’m going to go.’ They were taking huge leads because they knew the pitcher couldn’t do anything.”

One foul bunt with two strikes

This rule did nothing to speed up the game. As Minor aptly put it, “That literally adds another pitch to a hitter” and slows down the game.

Stealing first base

A player can “steal” first base on a wild pitch or passed ball if there is no one on first base. According to Minor, he really didn’t see this rule factor in much, if at all. But in any event, an extra runner getting on base due to this rule does nothing to speed up the game.

Eliminating the shift

A chalk line appears on the field at second base and the rule requires two infielders to be on either side of that line at the time the pitch is thrown. Minor didn’t really notice an appreciable difference one way or the other due to this rule, but again, it is a rule that favors the offense and which does nothing to speed up the game.

Check swing rule

There was also a check swing rule that was poorly defined, but which was intended to be more hitter-friendly. Since it was so poorly defined, it didn’t appear to be much of a factor.

However, there were a few rules implemented which were specifically intended to speed up the game.

Time between innings and pitching changes reduced

The time was reduced from 2:05 to 1:45. The time savings was more than offset by the extra offense in the games I saw. They were certainly not shorter and, anecdotally, I was told that the average game times increased 20 minutes under the new rules. I have no data to back that up, but I saw several very long games in the second half of the Atlantic League season.

Three-batter minimum

This is one change that should serve to speed up the game if only slightly, but lefty specialists may become an endangered species as a result (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). I think this is probably the least controversial of all the rules that were tried out which is probably why it is being adopted by MLB this season.

No Mound Visits

The rule prohibited all mound visits from coaching staff and trainers with the exception of pitching changes and injuries. The catcher was not allowed to make a mound visit except to discuss signs and the umpire accompanied the catcher to the mound to confirm that signs were the only item discussed. My first instinct when seeing this rule was that there would suddenly be a lot of soccer-style fake injuries occurring to justify a mound visit (and that phenomenon could very well occur with the three-batter minimum as well). Apparently, there was some of that, but Minor had a really good take on another aspect of the mound visit that I hadn’t contemplated.

Minor said, “Actually if you have a struggling pitcher out there and he’s giving it up, giving it up, giving it up because he doesn’t have a second to talk to a pitching coach, he’s just going to keep continuing to struggle. That 30-second break can re-lock you in. How many times have you seen a pitcher, a coach go out and talk to them, and the next pitch he gets an out. It happens all the time. So that actual quick get-your-mind-right kind of thing actually benefits the pitcher, hitter, game speed because it allows you to refocus instead of just standing out there and just drowning and drowning and drowning.”

That inability to get a quick mound visit has, apparently, led to some phantom injuries and has resulted in catchers walking out to the mound just to say “same sign” so the pitcher can get a second to re-focus. Another consideration is that a quick mount visit could also eliminate the need for a new pitcher and that pitcher’s associated warm up time. So, although the no-mound-visit rule is intended to speed up the game, it may very well be having the opposite effect.

One final rule that I want to discuss is one that didn’t go into effect in 2019. Originally, the pitcher’s mound was supposed to be moved back from 60’6” to 62’6” at some point in 2019, but that change was delayed. I haven’t seen any updates on when (or if) it will be implemented. This is absolutely the most controversial of all the rule changes. The rule was originally proposed with the intention of cutting down on strikeouts, but the pitchers that I’ve talked with are adamantly opposed to the change. It is hard for me to see MLB players agreeing to such a major change to the game.

My first thoughts when this was proposed were a:) guys are going to try to throw even harder and are going to end up getting hurt, and b:) guys are going to be working against 20 years of mechanics and muscle memory and are going to end up getting hurt. Stop me if you sense a theme.

And that’s what Minor is hearing from pitchers he's talked with as well. “That’s what everybody was saying. We’re going to end up getting hurt. I’ve been practicing throwing my changeup for 20 years, my curveball for 20 years from 60’6” and I’m supposed to just on a dime reach in my body in a very small time period and throw that from further away. How many curveballs do you think bounce in the dirt already?”

Minor doesn’t think it’s going to be a walk in the park for hitters either. He asked a few players about it. “Isn’t it going to mess with ya’lls timing? You’re primed up to hit from 60’6”. You’re going to be early on everything now. If you swing early on my changeup, I’m going to throw you changeups all day and you’re never going to be able to stay back. And the second you try to stay back, I’m going to maybe throw, maybe sneak an 88 mph fastball past you because my velo's going to be lower because I’m going to be further back now.” It may be easier for hitters to catch up with a fastball with the new mound rules, but breaking balls could be even harder for them to hit. It is not a given that this will be to the hitter’s advantage.

And Minor added one other great point, “What happens to the guys who get signed (out of the Atlantic League) from 62’6”? And then they go to (affiliated ball) and they go back to 60’6”? You know how many hitters are just going to get blown away again? How many pitchers are going to have to readjust to getting the ball down?” It really isn’t fair to those players who are trying to get back into affiliated ball to be working from two separate sets of rules.

In any event, Minor won’t have to worry about the rules in the Atlantic League this coming season. He is working on finishing up his internship, the last step in finishing his Exercise and Sports Science Degree. The end of his internship coincides with the beginning of the American Association season so he will be headed to play with the St. Paul Saints in May with a degree in his pocket and a smile on his face (in addition to a brand new fiancé!).

I have always enjoyed talking with Minor and find his takes on different aspects of the game to be thoughtful and very, very smart. This time was no different. Thank you for your time, Daniel, and best of luck in 2020.

Also, check out my interview with long-time Astros Scout Jim Stevenson


Thursday, February 13, 2020

A Conversation with Astros Scout Jim Stevenson

The one constant that I’ve found throughout my years of writing about baseball is this. Baseball people love to talk about baseball. This was definitely the case last week when I talked with Astros Scout Jim Stevenson. A professional scout since 1994, Stevenson previously scouted for Cleveland and Milwaukee and has been with the Astros since November of 2007, a remarkable tenure given the comings and goings of Astros staff over the last several years.

The 2007 draft was, in my mind, the worst draft in Astros history prompting a change to the scouting department. Bobby Heck was brought in as Director of Scouting under General Manager Ed Wade and Heck, in turn, brought in Stevenson to serve as an Area Scout. The five years in which Heck and Stevenson worked side by side were productive years, culminating with 11 drafted players peppering the 2015 Astros postseason roster. In addition, several players drafted under Heck were traded for players instrumental to the success of that team.

Jim Stevenson - Twitter profile photo

Since coming to the Astros, Stevenson (who lives in Tulsa) has been the Area Scout for Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and north and west Texas (roughly north of I-20). He has had several success stories, but none quite so prominent as 2015 Cy Young winner LHP Dallas Keuchel. As a Friday night pitcher in the SEC, it isn’t surprising to Stevenson that Keuchel went on to have success in the big leagues, but he says, “At the same time, we didn’t get a whole lot of looks at him. I really banged the table for that one and Bobby was great. He trusted me.”

But Stevenson is very excited about another of his signings who he sees as having the chance to be a real impact player. Unfortunately, that impact will not benefit the Astros. Stevenson signed OF Ramon Laureano in the 16th round in 2014 out of Northeast Oklahoma A&M College (the Astros were the only team to actually call him to talk). Laureano was traded to the A’s in November 2017 for RHP Brandon Bailey (who was claimed by the Orioles in the Rule 5 Draft in December). Laureano went on to make his MLB debut in August 2018 and has since made quite an impression. As Stevenson puts it, “He was hurt last year and still hit .288 with 24 home runs.”

Laureano’s performance came as a surprise to a lot of people but not to Stevenson. Stevenson has a close bond with Laureano that is uncommon between scout and player. They still keep in close touch and it has given Stevenson the opportunity to really get to know the type of player and type of person Laureano is. Needless to say, Stevenson wasn’t a fan of the trade.

Laureano had struggled badly to start the 2017 season in AA. According to Stevenson, Laureano was his own worst enemy in that he was putting so much pressure on himself to succeed and, in retrospect, getting invited to big league camp that year probably added to the pressure he was feeling. At this point, some in the Astros front office had cooled on Laureano, but Stevenson felt that the team had overlooked the X factor of Laureano’s makeup. “That’s what separates the guys who get to the big leagues and stick and the guys who don’t. It’s the makeup. We knew he had great makeup. Hinch called him a machine in Spring Training that year,” said Stevenson. Despite Laureano’s turnaround later in the season, the Astros chose to make a trade within their division that may very well come back to haunt them.

The period from August 2018 through August 2019 was a particularly gratifying time for Stevenson as five players he signed made their major league debuts. Four of those five were from the 11th round or lower. “Your success when you look at yourself and you pride yourself in who have you drafted and gotten to the big leagues and then second, who have you drafted and gotten to the big leagues that was a later round pick. Those are the guys that really give you pride and make you want to go out and work harder at finding other ones,” said Stevenson. In addition to Laureano (16th round), Stevenson also signed RHP Dean Deetz (11th round, September 2018 debut); RHP Josh James (34th round, September 2018 debut); IF Jack Mayfield (NDFA, May 2019 debut); and 3B Abraham Toro (5th round, August 2019). Stevenson continued, “I was blessed. Toro was a fifth rounder, but still he was from a juco, a Canadian kid, not a real high profile guy. That five guys went to the big leagues over two years was pretty special. It never happens.”

Of those debuts, Mayfield is definitely the best feel-good story of the bunch. Stevenson “begged and begged and begged” to take Mayfield all day on Day 3 of the draft in 2013, but he went unsigned. According to Stevenson, he kept after (former Astros Director of Decision Sciences) Sig Mejdal about Mayfield, “I said, Sig please, just sign this kid. He’s a great player. His makeup’s off the charts. He’s bilingual. His teammates will love him. His coaches will love him.” Ultimately Stevenson prevailed in getting Mayfield signed as a non-drafted free agent. “He was always a really good player. You want to talk about just a baseball player. His tools don’t stand out. Nothing he does is great. But what he does, he brings his A game every night. He makes all the plays that he’s supposed to make. And he’s got some pop in his bat. And he’s always liked being there in the moment, the guy that you want up at bat. At all the levels, he’s like the team MVP that goes unrecognized every year with every club. And he’s one of the greatest human beings in baseball,” said Stevenson.

I also asked Stevenson if there was a player that stood out as one who got away and he told me a very entertaining story about A.J. Burnett. Back when Burnett was drafted in 1995, the scouting world was a lot different than it is now. Stevenson described the days before social media, before the showcase events when “you carried a pocketful of dimes and quarters” because you relied on payphones to make phone calls. “You went and found guys on your own. And now everyone knows who the top kids are. It’s on social media. It’s on twitter. It’s on the baseball blogs. Now you know who the kids are,” said Stevenson. But in the mid 90’s it was different.

On scouting Burnett, Stevenson said, “I thought this is a guy that I’m going to get. Nobody knows about him and it’s (only) weeks before the draft. He comes out of a tiny little Christian school in the middle of Arkansas.” At that time, only a few small college coaches had seen Burnett plus a bird dog scout for the Royals who “couldn’t keep a secret” and tipped Stevenson off. “I went and saw him and I was like, oh my God. You can dream on this guy all you want. He was only (throwing) 90, 91, nothing great, but the kid was 6’4” or 6’5”. You could just dream on him. His arm worked. He could spin the curveball. He had a feel for the changeup. But he was so immature on the mound. He had no idea what he was doing. He was green.” Even so, Stevenson had seen enough that he called for his crosschecker to take a look at Burnett.

Stevenson continued the story, “So now it’s three weeks before the draft. I kid you not. A.J. was great that day (when the crosschecker came to see him). If you watched his mannerisms during the game … he was playing air guitar on the mound … you have to overlook all that. He didn’t even know what professional baseball was. I was working with the Cleveland Indians at the time. I was the area guy. And I sat down and talked to him and we had a great talk and I really got to know him.” Stevenson went back to see Burnett for one last game, got to the parking lot and saw the Scouting Director for the Mets. “And I’m thinking, Oh my God, what is he doing here? He and the area guy are going to see another guy in Arkansas. They were at the wrong field and happened to stumble into this kid by accident. Everything I had in me was kind of deflated. That was the guy that I thought, I’ve got this one for sure. They ended up taking him in the 8th round that year.”

“That was before the internet and all this stuff that goes on now where everyone knows who everyone is. And that was the fun of it when we started. You had to go find your own. Now they give me a list of a hundred guys and (tell me to) go find some juco guys if you want to. They give me all the top high school names and the top D1 guys (to scout). We don’t have any information on the juco guys and we don’t have any information on any D2, D3 guys so those guys I can go find on my own. But that’s what it used to be like in the whole draft. Now you go to high school games with the top tiers, there are 50-60 guys there (scouting).”

Scouting has changed a lot with the advance of analytics, but it’s not just the Astros. The changes are industry wide. Scouts are encouraged to turn in reports on as many players as they can with the front office doing more of the "sifting out" than the area scouts do. The scouts still look for the unheralded players out there, but the scout’s influence in getting players signed has diminished somewhat. Stevenson’s opinion still counts, but maybe not as much as it did in the pre-analytics days. But that won’t stop him from looking for that diamond in the rough, that guy that nobody knows about. It won’t stop him from banging the table on Day 3 to get a Josh James or a Jack Mayfield signed.

Stevenson has just rolled with all of the changes in the industry. The fact that he has lasted 12 years in an Astros organization that has seen scores of people come and go is evidence enough that he must be doing something right. “I love the Houston Astros. I love all the guys I work with. It’s not the Houston Astros have changed. The whole industry has changed,” said Stevenson. He’s looking forward to working with the new GM, but most of all he’s looking forward to the draft. “Our Super Bowl is the draft. That’s what I’m looking forward to. I still enjoy the hunt, the hunt out looking for that guy. You may not get him, but I like finding that guy every year who’s flying under the radar. Those are the fun ones, the late round guys. I’m going to keep going and hopefully find some this year.”

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

I truly enjoyed my conversation with Stevenson. We ended up on so many tangents that I didn't even get to all of my questions. But I have a feeling I'll be talking with Stevenson again and can get some of those other questions answered plus others that may come up because baseball people love talking about baseball. Thanks for your time, Jim!


Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Astros Soapbox: Time to Grow Up

The Astros shot themselves in the foot … again. The following words are my personal thoughts and opinions on the matter. For background and a great fact-based rant, please read Astros County’s usual excellent contribution.

I feel like I should write something about yesterday’s big news, but I’m not sure what and I’m not sure why. I wasn’t the least bit surprised by the MLB sanctions. They were pretty much what I expected. I was, however, more than a bit surprised that Jim Crane took it all a step further and actually fired A.J. Hinch and Jeff Luhnow, even though I think it was the right thing to do.

I’m also not terribly upset by the news. It is what it is. You get to be my age (which admittedly isn’t ancient but definitely older than most of my readers) and you don’t get all that worked up about those things over which you have no control. You just let them slide. And you don’t get all that worked up about those things that don’t result in loss of life or freedom or home. It’s baseball and I love it dearly, but when something goes wrong in baseball, it’s not war or the fate of the country or death and devastation from floods, wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes and blizzards. Sure, I get pissed off when MLB does something dumb, but I generally bitch about it and move on.

Jeff Luhnow is a grown man. If he didn’t know what was going on on his team (which he should have) or he did and looked the other way, it doesn’t really matter. Manfred made it pretty damn clear that the GM and Field Manager would be held responsible if this crap happened again. It did and he was. Luhnow is very personable and charming and he always treated me well personally. But he had squandered every bit of good will he might have had within the industry over the years. Internally (and now externally if they were fired or otherwise left the fold), there are a whole lot of players, scouts, coaches and other staff that had axes to grind with Luhnow over the way he handled his business. (Sorry, you’ll have to take my word for this. You don’t talk to hundreds of people in the Astros system over Luhnow’s entire tenure without getting a good feel for how people really felt about him. Right or wrong, he wasn’t widely beloved by the insiders.) Externally, many writers and pundits hated his scorched earth rebuild and other facets of the Astros model. And Luhnow’s public mishandling of situations going back to the Brady Aiken/Jacob Nix debacle didn’t help endear him to anyone.

Again, it doesn’t matter who was right and who was wrong. At some point, perception becomes reality. The obfuscation over the Osuna signing was the last straw for many of us. First Luhnow declared that Osuna was remorseful, then Osuna’s lawyer comes out and says he’s not remorseful because he didn’t do anything wrong. Then Osuna does a national print interview basically saying ‘just wait until the case is resolved and I’ll clear up everything.’ And then when the case was resolved, he says nothing. And the Astros throw some money at the local domestic violence charity and pretend that they didn’t insult every single fan who is not particularly happy about hiring someone who has received a massive MLB penalty for domestic violence prior to his case even being resolved. Everything was A-OK and female fans, in particular, were ignored and taken for granted. Add the news that he had to be talked out of drafting confessed child molestor Luke Heimlich and Luhnow no longer gets the benefit of a doubt on his intentions from the vast majority. Again, right or wrong, he was never going to come out of this situation in one piece. And he didn’t.

A.J. Hinch’s situation was a little different. Hinch is truly liked throughout the industry. His statements about this whole situation are gobsmacking. First nothing happened. Then on the record, he knew what was happening but he tried to stop it by busting up a monitor or two, but didn’t actually tell anyone to stop it? That’s horseshit. Either he knew and looked the other way or he knew and someone TOLD HIM to look the other way. Either way, he was a weak leader and shouldn’t be in charge. Personally, I think by trying to keep from throwing people under the bus, he just ended up throwing himself under the bus and made himself look foolish in the process. At least his public response looked sincerely remorseful and apologetic. I honestly feel badly for Hinch. It felt to me like he tried to thread the needle too finely and ended up sticking himself in the eye.

As to Jim Crane, I was shockingly touched by his presser yesterday. Crane is not known for handling the media well. But he appeared sincere and very contrite in his statement and the later Q&A. As surprised as I was initially about his decision to fire Hinch and Luhnow, I really couldn’t see how he could move on with them a year from now. If you temporarily award GM and Field Manager to people and they do well in the positions, do you take that away from them after the season? That makes zero sense to me. And do you really need that baggage after everything that's happened? I think you have to move on and I’m glad that he made that decision. I am, however, more than apprehensive about who Crane will pick for these jobs, though, as I remember back to George Postolos's days as President prior to Reid Ryan (who we really, really need right now by the way).

But none of that really bothers me all that much. I’ve come to expect zero, zilch, nada when it comes to character and honesty in the front office of any team, much as I do for corporate offices, governmental entities, etc. When any of them actually DO show character and honesty, I am more than pleasantly surprised, but I am old enough to know that money and power usually trump character and honesty. It’s not right, but it’s real.

But with that said, there is something from this whole debacle that does bother me. I expect better from individuals that I have met in person. Individuals that I have supported and spent my hard-earned (now hard-saved) money visiting and talking with to tell their stories and help promote them in their quest to make the MLB. When reading the report yesterday, my first thought was this …


The report names no players. Honestly, I think it should. Why should they get off? When the news first came out, my sister was almost in tears as she contemplated the idea of Jose Altuve cheating. She and I talked on the phone again last night. She said to me. “I just want to sit down with Altuve face to face and ask him why? They were so good. Why would they need to cheat? Was I giving my money (we were season ticket holders at the time) to a bunch of cheaters?”

I know that “veteran presence” Carlos Beltran was one of the ringleaders, but not one single player was man enough to tell him to cut it out, to tell him that he wasn’t going to participate? Not one? There comes a time in life when you need to man the hell up and do the right thing even when it’s not easy. Peer pressure is no excuse for doing something that you know is wrong.

Every single player who knew what was going on and didn’t do anything to stop it (whether they participated or not) owes me and you and every player they played against a public apology. They need to prove to me that they are capable of owning up to their mistakes. You want to know who got A.J. Hinch fired? It wasn’t Rob Manfred. It wasn’t Jim Crane. It wasn’t even A.J. Hinch himself despite my earlier comments. It was every single immature, irresponsible player (including Mike Fiers) who let it happen and did nothing to stop it at the time. Yeah, guys, you are directly responsible for the fact that the manager you profess to love is no longer your leader. It’s time to grow up, boys.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Astros Farm Report: 1/13/20

After a long (and much needed) hiatus, WTHB is back to catch you up on the off-season Astros minor league happenings ...

ROSTER MOVES/TRANSACTIONS

Here are the offseason roster moves for the Astros minor league players.

1/9: RHP Peyton Battenfield (Tri-City) and OF Cal Stevenson (Fayetteville) traded to the Rays for RHP Austin Pruitt
Notes: Battenfield was drafted by Houston in the 9th round in 2019 out of Oklahoma State University and had an excellent first pro season. Here is my interview with him from July.  Cal Stevenson came to the Astros, along with Aaron Sanchez and Joe Biagini, as a part of the 7/31/19 trade with the Blue Jays that sent Derek Fisher to Toronto. Here's hoping that his family didn't invest a lot in Astros gear after the trade.
1/9: RHP Dean Deetz designated for assignment
12/12: RHP Brandon Bailey (Corpus Christi) claimed by the Orioles in the Rule 5 Draft
12/12: RHP Yohan Ramirez (Corpus Christi) claimed by the Mariners in the Rule 5 Draft
12/12: SS Jonathan Arauz (Corpus Christi) claimed by the Red Sox in the Rule 5 Draft
12/5: CF Jake Marisnick (Houston) traded to the Mets for LHP Blake Taylor and OF Kenedy Corona (assigned to Tri-City) - see below for more
11/20: RHP Cristian Javier (Round Rock) added to the 40-man roster in advance of the Rule 5 Draft
11/20: 1B Taylor Jones (Round Rock) added to the 40-man roster in advance of the Rule 5 Draft
11/20: RHP Nivaldo Rodriguez (Fayetteville) added to the 40-man roster in advance of the Rule 5 Draft
11/20: RHP Enoli Paredes (Corpus Christi) added to the 40-man roster in advance of the Rule 5 Draft
11/4: LHP Kent Emanuel (Round Rock) added to the 40-man roster (Emanuel was due to become a MiLB FA)
11/4: OF Granden Goetzman (Corpus Christi) elected minor league free agency
11/4: RHP Erasmo Pinales (Corpus Christi) elected minor league free agency
10/16: RHP Chanderson Perez signed (18 year old Dominican)

RULE 5 DRAFT NOTES

A little about the players taken in the Rule 5 Draft.

RHP Brandon Bailey (Baltimore): Bailey had a very solid season with the AA Corpus Christi Hooks in 2019 (3.30 ERA/1.219 WHIP in 22 games/17 starts). Bailey came to the Astros in the November 2017 trade with Oakland that sent Ramon Laureano to that team. Bailey allowed 41 walks while striking out 103 in 92.2 innings of work. He has solid command and is expected to take on a swing man/middle relief role. In my opinion, Bailey showed enough polish and pitch development in 2019 that he is the most likely of the three taken to stick with his new team.

RHP Yohan Ramirez (Seattle): Ramirez is a real wild card (in more than one meaning of the word wild). Ramirez has an electric arm with a fastball that touches the upper 90's and a plus curveball, but his control is still very much a work in progress. In 106 innings pitched between High A Fayetteville and AA Corpus Christi in 2019 (3.99 ERA/1.302 WHIP), Ramirez allowed 74 walks while striking out 158. There was also the matter of 17 wild pitches and 15 hit batters. He is the ultimate high risk, high reward pick up. It will be difficult for him to stick with a team without showing a lot of progress on control and command, but if he is able to harness his talent, watch out! Ramirez is, in my opinion, the least likely of the three to stick.

SS Jonathan Arauz (Boston): Arauz falls somewhere in between the other two in his ability to stick with a new team (again, in my opinion). Arauz's bat has lagged his solid defense over his career, but he mostly held his own in 2019 between High A Fayetteville and AA Corpus Christi, hitting a combined .249/.319/.388 with 22 doubles, three triples and 11 home runs in 115 games. Arauz will be helped by the expansion of the MLB rosters to 26 and could conceivably earn his keep as a utility infielder, helping him to stick on the roster until his bat catches up to the major league level.

FEATURED PLAYERS

This week, let's look at the two players who came to the Astros from the Mets in the December Marisnick trade.

LHP Blake Taylor: Taylor was drafted by the Pirates in the second round in 2013 and was traded to the Mets a year later. Tommy John surgery and recovery sidelined him from late 2015 to late 2016. For the next two years, Taylor was a starter who failed to break through, but a move to the bullpen in 2019 suited him and he put together the most successful season of his career to date (2.16 ERA/1.095 WHIP in 40 appearances, converting 10 of 11 save opportunities). He spent approximately half of the season at High A, half at AA (1.85 ERA/0.949 WHIP) and finished the season by facing and retiring one batter at AAA. Taylor built on his 2019 success with seven appearances in the Arizona Fall League (2.00 ERA/0.778 WHIP). Taylor becomes one of only seven lefty pitchers in the Astros system who finished the 2019 season at AA or higher. Baseball America describes him as having a "mid-90's fastball and a high spin rate on his breaking ball." He turned 24 in August.

OF Kenedy Carona: Corona, a 19-year old Venezuelan (20 in March), has only one professional season under his belt at this point, but it was a very successful season in which he progressed from the DSL to the GCL to four games at short season A to end the year. In 63 games, he hit .301/.398/.470 with 14 doubles, four triples, five home runs and 29 RBI. He also snagged 19 bases (five caught stealing) and walked (29 times) almost as much as he struck out (36 times). He can play all the outfield positions and his defensive numbers stack up nicely against most of his outfield competition in the system. Baseball America describes Corona as athletic with "the ability to play the outfield with some polish at a young age."

2019-2020 FALL AND WINTER BALL

All of the regular seasons are complete except for the Australian Baseball League (where Chuckie Robinson has been playing as recently as over this past weekend). In addition, a few Astros minor leaguers have been playing in the postseason in their respective leagues. Their most recent postseason stats are shown below.

ARIZONA FALL LEAGUE

1B J.J. Matijevic: 27 G | .255/.315/.412
SS Jeremy Pena: 24 G | .183/.248/.290
C Colton Shaver: 18 G | .175/.294/.333
RHP Cody Deason: 6 G | 8.0 IP | 6.75 ERA/2.13 WHIP
RHP Carlos Sanabria: 8 G | 9.0 IP | 9.00 ERA/1.89 WHIP
LHP Blake Taylor: 7 G | 9.0 IP | 2.00 ERA/0.78 WHIP
RHP Jojanse Torres: 7 G | 8.0 IP | 3.38 ERA/1.50 WHIP
RHP Forrest Whitley: 6 G | 25.0 IP | 2.88 ERA/1.24 WHIP

AUSTRALIAN BASEBALL LEAGUE

C Chuckie Robinson: 21 G | .227/.301/.440

DOMINICAN WINTER LEAGUE

OF Bryan de la Cruz: 10 G | .294/.278/.471
RHP Rogelio Armenteros: 5 G | 19.0 IP | 2.37 ERA/1.16 WHIP
RHP Ronel Blanco: 1 G | 0.2 IP | 27.00 ERA/3.00 WHIP
RHP Willy Collado: 3 G | 2.1 IP | 0.00 ERA/0.43 WHIP
RHP Francis Martes: 3 G | 5.2 IP | 7.94 ERA/1.41 WHIP
RHP Leovanny Rodriguez: 16 G | 16.1 IP | 2.76 ERA/0.86 WHIP
(Postseason: 4 G | 3.0 IP | 0.00 ERA/1.33 WHIP)
RHP Cesar Rosado: 1 G | 0.1 IP | 27.00 ERA/3.00 WHIP
LHP Framber Valdez: 5 G | 23.2 IP | 2.28 ERA/1.14 WHIP

MEXICAN WINTER LEAGUE

C Lorenzo Quintana: 42 G | .278/.339/.405
C Cesar Salazar: 15 G | .222/.276/.370
RHP Jose Bravo: 6 G | 20.0 IP | 5.85 ERA/1.75 WHIP
RHP Humberto Castellanos: 13 G | 9.1 IP | 5.79 ERA/1.82 WHIP
RHP Lupe Chavez: 7 G | 17.1 IP | 4.67 ERA/1.38 WHIP
RHP Ralph Garza: 13 G | 15.0 IP | 2.40 ERA/1.00 WHIP
LHP Juan Pablo Lopez: 15 G | 13.2 IP | 0.66 ERA/1.24 WHIP

PUERTO RICAN WINTER LEAGUE

C Ruben Castro: 11 G | .000/.333/.000
LHP Jonathan Bermudez: 4 G | 3.2 IP | 0.00 ERA/2.00 WHIP
(Postseason: 3 G | 2.1 IP | 3.86 ERA/1.29 WHIP)
RHP Layne Henderson: 11 G | 7.2 IP | 3 saves | 7.04 ERA/2.48 WHIP
RHP Felipe Tejada: 9 G | 6.0 IP | 1.50 ERA/1.33 WHIP
(Postseason: 1 G | 1.0 IP | 0.00 ERA/0.00 WHIP)

2019 FINAL SEASON STANDINGS

AAA ROUND ROCK (Pacific Coast League/American Southern Division)
Division Winner
Won over Iowa in Semifinals 3-2
Lost to Sacramento in LCS 0-3
1st 84-56 .600 -.-GB L1

AA CORPUS CHRISTI (Texas League/South Division)
4th 66-73 .475 7.0GB L3

ADV A FAYETTEVILLE (Carolina League/Southern Division)
2nd half Division Winner
Won over Down East in the Semifinals 3-2
Lost to Wilmington in LCS 2-3
3rd 72-67 .518 15.0GB W2

LOW A QUAD CITIES (Midwest League/Western Division)
1st half Division Winner
Lost to Cedar Rapids in MWL Quarterfinals 1-2
2nd 79-57 .581 0.5GB W1

SHORT SEASON A TRI-CITY (New York-Penn League/Stedler Division)
4th 32-42 .432 9.0GB W3

ROOKIE LEVEL GULF COAST LEAGUE (East Division)
4th 25-26 .490 3.5GB W1

ROOKIE LEVEL DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE (Northwest Division)
2nd 38-31 .551 2.5GB W2

INTERVIEWS

The following links are to the interviews I conducted during the 2019 season. Here is a full list of links to all of the interviews I've done since December 2011.

Colin McKee
Enoli Paredes and Cristian Javier
Cesar Salazar
Brett Daniels
Felipe Tejada
AJ Lee
Peyton Battenfield
Franny Cobos and Juan Pablo Lopez
Austin Hansen
Jake Adams
Nivaldo Rodriguez and Enmanuel Valdez
Colton Shaver
Brett Conine
Bryan Abreu and Ronel Blanco
Granden Goetzman
Osvaldo Duarte and Jose Urquidy
Stephen Wrenn

RANDOM PHOTO OF THE WEEK

Montana 2009

Monday, November 4, 2019

2019 Rule 5 Draft Primer and Astros Eligible Players

2019 Rule 5 Draft Primer and Eligible Players

UPDATED 12/12
The Astros lost three players in today's Rule 5 draft (while claiming no one). Here is a little info on those who were lost:

RHP Brandon Bailey (Baltimore): Bailey had a very solid season with the AA Corpus Christi Hooks in 2019 (3.30 ERA/1.219 WHIP in 22 games/17 starts). Bailey came to the Astros in the November 2017 trade with Oakland that sent Ramon Laureano to that team. Bailey allowed 41 walks while striking out 103 in 92.2 innings of work. He has solid command and is expected to take on a swing man/middle relief role. In my opinion, Bailey showed enough polish and pitch development in 2019 that he is the most likely of the three taken to stick with his new team.

RHP Yohan Ramirez (Seattle): Ramirez is a real wild card (in more than one meaning of the word wild). Ramirez has an electric arm with a fastball that touches the upper 90's and a plus curveball, but his control is still very much a work in progress. In 106 innings pitched between High A Fayetteville and AA Corpus Christi in 2019 (3.99 ERA/1.302 WHIP), Ramirez allowed 74 walks while striking out 158. There was also the matter of 17 wild pitches and 15 hit batters. He is the ultimate high risk, high reward pick up. It will be difficult for him to stick with a team without showing a lot of progress on control and command, but if he is able to harness his talent, watch out! Ramirez is, in my opinion, the least likely of the three to stick.

SS Jonathan Arauz (Boston): Arauz falls somewhere in between the other two in his ability to stick with a new team (again, in my opinion). Arauz's bat has lagged his solid defense over his career, but he mostly held his own in 2019 between High A Fayetteville and AA Corpus Christi, hitting a combined .249/.319/.388 with 22 doubles, three triples and 11 home runs in 115 games. Arauz will be helped by the expansion of the MLB rosters to 26 and could conceivably earn his keep as a utility infielder, helping him to stick on the roster until his bat catches up to the major league level.

UPDATED 12/11
The current Astros 40-man roster (as of 12/11) stands at 38 players. The Astros added four players to the 40-man roster on November 20th to protect them from being taken in the Rule 5 draft. They are RHP Cristian Javier, RHP Enoli Paredes, RHP Nivaldo Rodriguez and 1B Taylor Jones. The draft will take place at 9:00 a.m. ET on December 12th at the Winter Meetings in San Diego. Let's take a look at all the draft rules and the current Astros eligible players ...


Nick Tanielu and Alex De Goti - August 2019
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Here is a primer based on my understanding of how the Rule 5 draft works and a list of current draft eligible players.


RULE 5

The Rule 5 draft (no, it's not the Rule V draft; please stop calling it that!) was updated somewhat prior to 2016's draft in two ways: it eliminated the lower of two minor league phases of the draft and it increased the compensation payment to teams for players who are lost through the draft. Here is the text of Rule 5 with the Eligibility Rules highlighted in Blue.
Rule 5
ANNUAL SELECTION OF PLAYERS
(a) MEETINGS. A selection meeting shall be held each year at such time and place as the Commissioner shall designate and shall be known as the Rule 5 Selection Meeting. At the Rule 5 Selection Meeting, Major League Clubs may claim the contracts of players who are on Minor League Reserve Lists (filed pursuant to Rule 2) and who are subject to selection as set forth in this Rule 5. If any Major League or Minor League Club shall fail to file Minor League Reserve Lists in accordance with Major League Rule 2, its players on Minor League Reserve Lists shall be subject to selection under this Rule 5 without any restrictions. The Commissioner shall decide all procedural questions that may arise during the Rule 5 Selection Meeting.
(b) METHOD AND PRIORITY OF SELECTIONS. Selections under this Rule 5 shall be made in two separate phases: the Major League phase and the Class AAA phase. A player selected in one of these phases must be placed on the Major League Club’s Reserve List in the same classification of the phase in which the player was selected. Within each phase, only players from a Reserve List of a lower classification Club are eligible for selection. Within each phase, selections shall be made according to the following order and conditions:
(1) Major League Clubs shall select in reverse order of their winning percentages at the close of the preceding championship season, without regard to standings within any Division or League and without regard to post-season results. If two or more Clubs had an identical percentage of games won at the close of the preceding championship season, the selection order of those Clubs shall be determined by the percentage of games won in the next prior championship season, with any remaining ties resolved by continuing to examine the tied Clubs’ respective championship season winning percentages in each preceding prior year, until the tie is broken.
(2) As called in the above order of priority in a phase, each Major League Club shall have a right to select one player subject to selection under this Rule 5. If a Club does not exercise its right of selection when called, or if its right of selection in that phase has ceased because its Reserve List(s) for the classification covered by the phase has reached the allowable limit under Rule 2, the next Club in order shall be called. When a round has been completed, the process of selection shall be repeated until all Major League Clubs have no further right of selection in that phase. A Club
having announced its selection in proper order cannot later cancel the selection.
(3) In any year in which one or more new members have been admitted to a Major League for operations in the next championship season, each such new member may select player contracts under this Rule 5. The procedures and regulations governing such selections shall be as agreed upon by the Major League Clubs.
(4) Any Major League Club may authorize (in writing or by electronic communication) any employee, the Commissioner, or an employee of the Commissioner’s Office to announce its selection or selections at the meeting. Such authorized selections shall be as binding and effective as if announced by a Major League Club official.
(c) PLAYERS SUBJECT TO SELECTION. All players on the Minor League Reserve Lists of Major League and Minor League Clubs, except players on the Voluntarily Retired, Disqualified or Ineligible Lists, shall be subject to selection by other Major League Clubs at the Rule 5 Selection Meeting in accordance with the following:
(1) A player without previous Major or Minor League service who signs with a Major League or independent Minor League Club shall be subject to selection based on the following:
(A) if 18 years of age or under on the June 5 immediately preceding the player’s signing, the player shall be subject to selection at the fifth Rule 5 Selection Meeting that follows the signing date of the player’s first Major or Minor League contract, unless Rule 5(c)(1)(C) applies;
(B) if 19 years of age or over on the June 5 immediately preceding the player’s signing, the player shall be subject to selection at the fourth Selection Meeting that follows the signing date of the player’s first Major or Minor League contract, unless Rule 5(c)(1)(C) applies;
(C) if the signing date of a player’s first Major or Minor League contract is between
(i) the conclusion of the championship season for the Major or Minor League Club to which the player is assigned on such contract and
(ii) the next Rule 5 Selection Meeting,
then the player shall be deemed to have signed after the next Rule 5 Selection Meeting, for purposes of this Rule 5(c)(1).
(2) A player who is re-signed by a Club within one year from the date the Club released the player shall be subject to draft at the Rule 5 Selection Meeting following the date of the latest contract with that Club.
(3) A player who has been subject to draft at a Rule 5 Selection Meeting shall be subject to draft at any subsequent Rule 5 Selection Meeting if the player is on a Minor League Reserve List (filed pursuant to Rule 2 (Player Limits and Reserve Lists)) at the time of the Rule 5 Selection Meeting.
(4) A player
(A) whose contract has been assigned outright by a Major League Club to a Minor League Club,
(B) who has been signed as a free agent to a Minor League Uniform Player Contract for services in the following year and is otherwise subject to selection pursuant to Rule 5(c)(1) or Rule 5(c)(2), or
(C) who has been released unconditionally from a Minor League roster and is otherwise subject to selection pursuant to Rule 5(c)(1) or Rule 5(c)(2), shall be subject to selection at any subsequent Rule 5 Selection Meeting if the player is on a Minor League Reserve List (filed pursuant to Rule 2 (Player Limits and Reserve Lists)) at the time of the Rule 5 Selection Meeting.
(5) A Major League or independent Minor League Club may designate any player on one of its Minor League Reserve Lists to be subject to selection who otherwise would not be selectable under this Rule 5.
(d) CONSIDERATION, PAYMENT, AND RESPONSIBILITY. The consideration for a selection under this Rule 5 shall be as follows:
(1) $100,000, if the selected player is placed on a Major League Reserve List;
(2) $24,000, if the selected player is placed on a Class AAA Reserve List;
In addition to the compensation set forth in this paragraph, an independent Minor League Club shall be reimbursed by a selecting Major League Club for all compensation (including salary, bonuses and benefits) that it has paid to a selected player if the player is selected at the first selection meeting following the first year of the player’s initial Minor League Uniform Player Contract. Payment of the consideration due the selectee Club shall be made in the same manner as provided in Rule 12 Transfer Agreements) regarding other assignments of player contracts. The selector Major League Club must assume all responsibility for the player’s physical condition and for the player’s reporting.
(e) PLAYER-MANAGERS. A Player-Manager shall be subject to selection if the player would otherwise be selectable under Rule 5(c) (Players Subject to Selection). However, a player-manager shall be subject to selection as a player only and the player-manager selected may reject such selection by giving written or electronic notification of such rejection to the Commissioner within 30 days from the date that the player-manager receives notification of such selection from the Commissioner. A player-manager contract that has been executed within 30 days before the close of the season shall not be changed to a player contract during the season following execution of such player-manager contract unless the Commissioner approves such a change in writing.
(f) COVERING UP. No agreement shall be made for the purpose or with the effect of covering up a player from selection. If the Commissioner shall be of opinion that any such agreement has been made, the Commissioner may impose a fine upon each party to such an agreement.
RULE 5 ELIGIBILITY

The highlighted passage above regarding Rule 5 eligibility is somewhat cumbersome. What it means in English is that this year's eligible players basically include: 1) any player who signed prior to the end of the 2015 season; and 2) players who signed after the end of the 2015 season and prior to the end of the 2016 season who were 19 years old or older when they signed. That means most 2016 drafted college players are eligible, but high school players (and some community college players) drafted in 2016 may not be eligible until next year. For the international free agents, one needs to know when the player signed their first professional agreement and their age at signing to make the determination. There is an exception based on players who signed during the off-season, but otherwise, that is the basic gist of it.

MAJOR LEAGUE PHASE OF THE RULE 5 DRAFT

The first phase of the Rule 5 draft is the major league phase. In order to protect an eligible player from being drafted in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft, he must be on the major league club's 40-man roster prior to November 20th (if that falls on a business day). Players on the 40-man roster at that deadline are considered "protected."

Obviously not all of a team's best players can be protected on the 40-man roster. That is where the AAA Reserve List helps. If a player from the AAA Reserve List is drafted in the Rule 5 draft, that player must remain on the drafting team's 25-man major league roster for the full season or he will have to be put through waivers. If claimed, the new team will be subject to the same conditions regarding that player. If not claimed, the player will be offered back to the team from which he was drafted.

The cost of drafting a player in the major league phase of the draft is now $100,000. If the player is offered back to the team from which he was drafted, the original team must pay $50,000 back to the drafting team. If the original team declines, the player will be put on waivers.

Last season C Garrett Stubbs, RHP Rogelio Armenteros and RHP Bryan Abreu were added to the 40-man roster by the Astros in advance of the deadline. The front office made the determination that these players were the most likely players to be taken in the Rule 5 draft. The front office took a calculated risk by not adding players such as RHP Jose Urquidy (and others who emerged as top prospects in 2019) to the 40-man roster, but only included them on the AAA Reserve List. They made a determination as to which players, if drafted, were more likely to "stick" on a major league roster for a full season and were very successful in that the only two unprotected players claimed in the major league phase of last year's Rule 5 draft, RHP Riley Ferrell and OF Drew Ferguson, were ultimately returned to the Astros. The Astros did, however, lose one player in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft (see below) and that was RHP Ryan Thompson who had been rehabbing from Tommy John surgery when selected.

Since players taken in the Rule 5 draft have to remain on the drafting team's 25-man roster for the full season, pitchers are taken much more frequently than position players simply because it's fairly easy to use a pitcher sparingly out of the bullpen. Position players can't be tucked away quite so neatly if they struggle. It all comes down to another team's ability to find room on their 25-man roster for a full season. It's simply not that easy to do and that's why so very few players are drafted in the Rule 5 draft and stick with a team.

It's also the case that often minor league fans overvalue prospects. We may think much more highly of a player than the other teams' front offices do. When all is said and done, the Astros front office will take some risks in leaving players unprotected, but it will be a highly educated guess based on many factors, including future needs.

MINOR LEAGUE PHASE OF THE RULE 5 DRAFT

There is now only one minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft, reduced from two phases in earlier years. The players on the 40-man roster and the AAA reserve list aren't eligible to be taken in the minor league phase of the draft. To my knowledge the AAA reserve list is still set at 38 players so, in essence, you are protecting your top 78 players from the minor league phase. (As far as I know, AAA Reserve Lists are not made public so we are left to guess who the Astros will be shielding from the minor league phase of the draft.)

In the AAA Phase of the draft, a player who is on the AA Reserve List or lower can be drafted for inclusion on the drafting team's AAA Reserve list for a cost of $24,000. The kicker on the minor league phase of the draft is that the drafted player basically becomes that team's property. There is no requirement to offer the player back if he doesn't work out. He can be traded, released, etc. at a team's discretion.

ASTROS 2019 RULE 5 ELIGIBLE PLAYERS

According to my records, the following are those players who will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft in December if they are left unprotected. I have organized them by the level at which they were assigned at the end of the minor league regular season. Players who are first year eligible have been #'d. Players who are currently on the MLB Pipeline Top 30 Prospect List (as of 11/4) are noted in red.

My best guess is that the Astros will protect the three top 30 pitchers first (Javier, Paredes and Rodriguez) and then possibly the position players who are the most ready for primetime (De Goti, Jones and Tanielu would be on my short list but cases could be made for MANY more of the players on this list). This could be one of the toughest Rule 5 decisions in a while.

AAA Position Players
#IF Alex De Goti
OF Drew Ferguson
#1B Taylor Jones - added to the 40-man roster in advance of the Rule 5 Draft
C Jamie Ritchie
3B Nick Tanielu
#OF Stephen Wrenn

AAA Pitchers

#RHP Ronel Blanco
RHP Riley Ferrell
RHP Ralph Garza
#LHP Ryan Hartman
#RHP Cristian Javier - added to the 40-man roster in advance of the Rule 5 Draft
#RHP Carson LaRue
RHP Brendan McCurry
RHP Gabriel Valdez (on IL at end of season)

AA Position Players
SS Jonathan Arauz
C Carlos Canelon (on IL at end of season)
#OF Ronnie Dawson
OF Bryan de la Cruz
IF Osvaldo Duarte
#C Chuckie Robinson
#SS Anibal Sierra

AA Pitchers
#LHP Brett Adcock
#RHP Brandon Bailey
#LHP/OF Carmen Benedetti (converting to pitcher; on IL at end of season)
#RHP Chad Donato
RHP Justin Ferrell
#RHP Nick Hernandez
#RHP Colin McKee
#RHP Enoli Paredes - added to the 40-man roster in advance of the Rule 5 Draft
#RHP Yohan Ramirez
RHP Carlos Sanabria
#RHP Andre Scrubb

Position Players at High A or lower
C Oscar Campos
C Ruben Castro
OF Carlos Machado
#C Scott Manea
#OF Juan Ramirez
#IF Yeuris Ramirez
SS Miguelangel Sierra
#IF Ronaldo Urdaneta (ended season on IL)
#2B/3B Enmanuel Valdez

Pitchers at High A or lower
#RHP Humberto Castellanos
#LHP Jervic Chavez
RHP Lupe Chavez
#RHP Fredy Medina
#RHP Leovanny Rodriguez
#RHP Nivaldo Rodriguez - added to the 40-man roster in advance of the Rule 5 Draft
#RHP Cesar Rosado
RHP Abdiel Saldana
RHP Edgardo Sandoval
#RHP Felipe Tejada
#RHP Jojanse Torres

#First year eligibility for Rule 5 Draft

In addition to the above, the following players are now minor league free agents as of the conclusion of the major league season and they can explore free agency.

Minor League Free Agents
LHP Kent Emanuel - Added to the 40-man roster on 11/4
OF Granden Goetzman
RHP Erasmo Pinales