Saturday, February 11, 2012

Astros Fan Fest - From J.D. to J.R.

As you may know, the Astros were nice enough to grant several bloggers access to Fan Fest today.  The day was a huge success and it will take a while to digest everything we heard, but I wanted to leave you with something until I can sort through it all over the next day or two.  I left today with great hope for the future ...

and even greater respect for the past ...

Happy Birthday - 2/11

OF Wallace Gonzalez (19)
Drafted in the 29th round in 2011 out of high school in California, Gonzalez spent his first professional season with the GCL Astros.  In 18 games, he hit .242/.309/.290/.599.  Baseball America found Gonzalez to be an intriguing late round pick citing his size (6'5" 240 lbs) and athleticism.

Former Astros with birthdays today ~

RF John Paciorek (67)
John Paciorek had the ultimate cup of coffee in the majors.  In one game for the 1963 Colt 45's, he went 3 for 3 with two walks, scored four runs and drove in three, all at the ripe old age of 18!

RHP Matt Lindstrom (32)
Lindstrom pitched late relief in 58 games for Houston in 2010.  He was 2-5 with 23 saves, a 79% save conversion rate, with a 4.39 ERA and a 1.650 WHIP.  He was traded to Colorado for Jonnathan Aristil and Wes Musick.

C J.R. Towles (28)
Towles played in 155 games for Houston over 5 seasons from 2007 to 2011.  Although he started out with a bang in a September call-up in 2007, hitting .375/.432/.575/1.007 and breaking the single game RBI record with eight RBI's in one game, he ultimately ended up with a .187 batting average at the major league level.  In eight seasons at the minor league level, he had a .295/.394/.465/.859 batting line.  Towles signed as a free agent with the Twins back in December.

RF Ollie Brown (68)
Played in 27 games for Houston in 1974

Tweet of the Day

Josh Zeid

Taking the last off day of my offseason today. great to be relaxing. But I feel the need to go work out   #500??

No Announced Roster Moves Today

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Moment at the Houston Baseball Dinner

I had taken a little break from the festivities and was headed back to the ballroom.  As I turned the corner, I looked up.  You couldn't miss him if you tried.  "Mr. Richard," I said as I extended my hand.  He grasped my hand firmly yet gently and smiled down at me.

I reminded him about when we had met previously, several years back, and what our conversation had been.  "I never saw anyone throw that hard and that fast," I had said.  His shoulders went back.  He raised his chin.  He was every bit of his 6'8" frame as he then replied, "And you never will."

We chatted a moment about the mutual acquaintances that had caused our paths to cross that one time and then went our separate ways.  As he walked away, I looked back at him and said, "I'm just waiting for them to retire your number."  He didn't stop.  He didn't turn around.  He didn't flinch.  But as I watched those massive shoulders clad in blue retreat down the hallway, he raised that once all-powerful right hand and with a brief wave for punctuation, these words came back to me.  "So am I."

2012 Consensus Prospect Rankings

I took the most recent prospect lists from John Sickels, Jonathan Mayo and Kevin Goldstein, added in the top 30 from Baseball America's Prospect Handbook, averaged the rankings if the prospect appeared on at least 3 of the 4 lists and came up with a consensus ranking of the Astros top prospects.

1.      Jonathan Singleton
2.      Jarred Cosart
3.      George Springer
4.      Jonathan Villar
5.      Brett Oberholtzer
6.      Paul Clemens
7.      Domingo Santana
8.      Mike Foltynewicz
9.      Delino DeShields Jr.
10.    Telvin Nash
T11. Adrian Houser
T11. Nick Tropeano
13.   Austin Wates
14.   Jake Buchanan
15.   Ariel Ovando
16.   Juan Abreu
17.   Tanner Bushue
18.   Jio Mier
19.   Chris Wallace

The top 10 on the list were on all 4 lists, as were Austin Wates, Ariel Ovando and Juan Abreu.

Others who appeared on 2 of the 4 lists in order of average ranking:
Kyle Weiland
J.B. Shuck
Ross Seaton
Jack Armstrong
Mike Kvasnicka
Vincent Velasquez

Happy Birthday - 2/10

RHP Wander Alvino (25)
A NDFA out of the Dominican Republic, Alvino first played for the DSL Astros in 2006.  In 46 appearances at Lancaster in 2011, he had a 4.19 ERA and a 1.616 WHIP in 73 innings pitched.  In the Dominican Winter League, he appeared in 10 games (5.1 innings pitched) with a 5.06 ERA.

RHP Dayan Diaz (23)
Diaz was signed as a NDFA out of Columbia and first pitched in the VSL in 2006.  For Tri-City in 2011, Diaz was an unqualified success in long relief with a 7-3 record in 19 games (1 start) over 50 innings pitched.  His 1.98 ERA and 1.140 WHIP were impressive enough to have him named a Baseball America Short-Season All-Star and a Organization All-Star for 2011.

Former Astros with birthdays today

OF/1B Lance Berkman (36)
Berkman, also known as the Big Puma or Fat Elvis, was the Astros first round draft pick in 1997.  In 13 seasons (thus far), he has a .296/.409/.545/.954 batting line with 405 doubles, 28 triples and 358 home runs. Berkman played for Houston from 1999 to 2010, when he was traded to the Yankees for Mark Melancon and Jimmy Paredes.  He signed with the Cardinals as a free agent in December of 2010.  A 6-time All-Star, Berkman was named the 2011 Comeback Player of the Year.

RHP Ryan Bowen (44)
1st round pick in 1986
Pitched in 25 games for Houston in 1991 & 1992

IF Eddie Zosky (44)
4 AB's for Houston in 2000

Tweet of the Day

J.D. Martinez
On our  today look who we found! Wally is that you? Lol

No Announced Roster Moves Today But ...

Free Agent 1B Koby Clemens signed a minor league contract with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Happy Birthday - 2/9

No future Astros, only former Astros with birthdays today

RHP Ramon Garcia (43)
Pitched in 42 games for Houston in 1997
Record of 9-8 with a 3.69 ERA and a 1.305 WHIP

LHP Hal Gilson (70)
Played in 2 games for Houston in 1968

Tweet of the Day

Garen L. Wright
3 workouts today.. Time to knock out the first one..! 3 mile run.

No Announced Roster Moves Today

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

An Astros Hall of Famer

No, it's not Jeff Bagwell or Craig Biggio .... yet.  It is none other than Le Grand Orange himself, Rusty Staub.  Rusty Staub, a Colt 45's and Astros player from 1963 to 1968 will be inducted into the Canadian Hall of Fame this summer.  As a popular player for the Montreal Expos expansion team, Staub earned the love and respect of the Canadian people as he helped popularize baseball in Canada.  The Montreal Gazette explains:

"He went out of his way to become the leading ambassador for baseball in Canada. And in Quebec, fans embraced him as he toured the province each winter, addressing small-town crowds in halting French."

Congratulations to Rusty Staub.  He and Gold Medal winner Jimmy VanOstrand will be inducted into the Canadian Hall of Fame on June 23rd.

Fan Fest on Saturday

The Astros front office has been gracious enough to invite several Astros bloggers to Fan Fest this Saturday, including yours truly.  I will be given the opportunity to ask questions of Brad Mills, J.D. Martinez and Bud Norris.  I have already started working on questions with an emphasis on the minor leagues since that is the raison d'etre of this blog.  I would like to invite my readers to give me input.  If you have any questions that you would like me to pose to Mills, Martinez or Norris, please leave a comment.  I won't guarantee that I will ask your question, but if there are questions you have that relate to the minor leagues in particular, I would love to hear them.

Happy Birthday - 2/8

RHP Krishawn Holley (20)
Holley was drafted in the 39th round in 2010 out of high school in South Carolina.  In 13 appearances in relief for the GCL Astros in 2011, he was 1-2 with a 2.16 ERA and a 1.200 WHIP.

Tweet of the Day

Jordan Comadena
Soooo cold today! Still ended up catching 2 bullpens OUTSIDE! 32 degrees and breezy...I'm still thawing out. Need that Florida sunshine!

Bonus Tweet of the Day

Jimmy VanOstrand @Dr_VanOstrand
honured to b inducted into the with the boys! It was a special run with some amazing people
That's what a gold medal in the Pan Am Games will get you.  Congratulations!!!

No Announced Roster Moves Today But ...

The Sugarland Skeeters announced that they have signed former Astros outfielder and free agent Drew Locke.  Well, he almost made it to Houston.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

An Interview with 2B John Hinson

A native of Asheville, North Carolina, John Hinson was a 13th round draft pick out of Clemson in 2011.  In his final year at Clemson, he had a .331/.388/.514/.902 batting line which was actually down slightly from his .351 BA and 1.012 OPS from the prior year.  In his first professional season with Tri-City in 2011, the lefty-hitting second baseman hit .284/.348/.389/.737 in 43 games with nine doubles, one triple and two home runs.

Now for the questions …

WTH:  You were drafted by the Phillies in the 40th round in 2007 and again by the Phillies in the 13th round in 2010, and finally signed with the Astros who also drafted you in the 13th round in 2011.  Why didn't you sign with the Phillies earlier?  What was the difference this time?

JH:  There's nothing really like sitting and waiting for the phone to ring on draft day. Each year that I was selected in the draft was special. Both years that I was taken by the Phillies I felt that playing the following year at Clemson University was the best option for me at the time. When I was selected by the Astros this past year I felt the timing was right, to move into pro ball, and was just thankful the Astros organization was giving me this opportunity.

WTH:  You played primarily at 3B at Clemson, but you played 2B exclusively at Tri-City.  Are you comfortable with that change?  How have you adjusted?

JH:  Last summer I played for Cotuit in the Cape Cod league where I played exclusively 2B, and while at Clemson I always played some 2B and spent plenty of time over there in practice to find comfort there; so 2B isn't a foreign position for me. I loved playing second for Tri-City and really enjoyed my time there.

WTH:  Can you tell me a little about the adjustment process from aluminum bats to the new BBCOR-approved bats to wooden bats?  How did you handle the transition?

JH:  I think the biggest part about both transitions was just trusting myself with the bat. Everyone knew that the BBCOR bats were going to change the dynamic of the college game so most programs were ready for that. The BBCOR bats were a good stepping stone to wood bats and I think it's a good direction for the college game to be headed. Being able to play up in the Cape with a wood bat all last summer was really the biggest help for me in being able to make that transition from aluminum to wood a little easier. Being able to face that caliber of pitching for two months with a wood bat was awesome and really helped my transition.

WTH:  You sat out the 2009 season at Clemson due to a back injury.  What was the nature of that injury?  Also, I believe that you were injured in August in Tri-City but I never saw anything about the type of injury.  Could you tell me about that?

JH:  In 2009 I had surgery on my lower back in order to shave down a bulged disc which ended up putting me out for the 2009 season. Thankfully I have absolutely no lingering symptoms, or even tightness what-so-ever. I'm really lucky to have recovered as well as I did. In August, I had a collision at first base in a close play where the pitcher came across the baseline. I landed awkwardly and ended up fracturing my wrist. I guess I'm just lucky when it comes to recovery because throughout this recovery, like in 2009, I've come back quickly and have no lasting symptoms.

WTH:  You got married last April in the morning and then played a game for Clemson that night.  Can you tell me a little about that and how married life works when you're in the minor leagues?  Also, did you ever get to go on a honeymoon?

JH:  Man, that weekend was crazy! We left after our Friday night game at Clemson and drove to Columbia to be married and sealed in the temple early Saturday morning. So as you can imagine Saturday was a super long day and at the same time the best day of my life. After we tied the knot we took pictures and hung out with family and friends for a bit, until we had to hit the road and make it back in time for the second game of our series against Maryland. Aileen and I have been married for almost a year now and it been absolutely amazing. She's a redheaded pistol, perfect for the situation we are in with me being gone most of the year. Being on the road so much is tough on married life but she's such a fighter it works out great. If you ever get the chance you should meet her!  [In reference to a honeymoon] Yeah we took a couple trips this offseason.  Since we didn't get the traditional honeymoon experience or reception, we plan to go on a honeymoon every fall to make up for it. 

WTH:  You were drafted along with Clemson teammate Chris Epps in the same year and both went on to play at Tri-City.  Did that help your transition into a professional career? [h/t to Bryan Trostel (@btrostelsc) of Astros County for the question]

JH:  Chris wasn't just my teammate, but also my roommate all through college (until of course I married Aileen). So yeah, knowing that he would be playing for the same organization made the transition a fun one. Epps has always been the funny guy so anytime you have a guy like that around it makes things better.

WTH: At Tri-City, you hit LHP's even better than RHP's which is not that common in left-handed batters. Were you generally successful against LHP's in college?

JH:  My first couple of years in college there were a lot of times were left-handed hitters wouldn't get the opportunity to face LHP’s. It really wasn't until later in my career in college that I was able to rack up AB's against LHP's. I remember watching an interview with Chase Utley where he talked about his mental approach against lefties and how he was able to be successful with it; I took what he spoke about and it happened to work for me too.

WTH:  The more I look at the individual players on the 2011 Tri-City team, the more excited I get for the future of the Astros.  It seems as though that team is particularly close-knit and driven.  Can you give me any insight about that team and any individuals (position players or pitchers) that really stood out for work ethic, raw talent, etc.?

JH:  You're right - there were a lot of guys that were naturally self-motivated on that team; and tons of talent to go along with it. Bubby Williams is a guy that stands out in my mind that really worked hard day in and day out. Collectively though, our team showed up ready to get better every day. I think the fact that most of the guys in Tri-City had played college ball helped set that foundation.

WTH:  What has been the biggest surprise for you about life in the minor leagues?

JH:  Spanish. There are tons of talented players who are predominately Spanish speakers. I’d have to say hearing Spanish on the field would be the newest thing for me. It's fun being able to play and learn parts of a foreign language at the same time.

Thanks for your time John!

Winter League Recap

Venezuela over Dominican Republic 7-0

I really didn't expect Aneury Rodriguez to participate in the Caribbean Series, where all of the winning teams from the Dominican League, Venezuelan League, Mexican Pacific League and the Puerto Rican League face off, but I've been keeping an eye out anyway.  And he appeared tonight for the Dominican team, getting the start.  In three innings pitched, he gave up four hits, two runs (one earned), one walk, three strikeouts and two wild pitches, and got the hard luck loss as his team didn't score a single run.

Interestingly enough, his opponent on the mound was none other than Yorman Bazardo, who pitched for the Astros in 2009 and 2010.  Bazardo pitched six innings with five hits, no runs, no walks and two strikeouts, and got the win.

Happy Birthday -2/7

No future Astros, only former Astros and minor league coaches with birthdays today

RHP Burt Hooton (62)
Burt Hooton was never an Astro but has been a pitching coach with the team both at the major league level and minor league level for several years now.  As a player, he was a first round pick for the Cubs in 1971.  In 15 seasons for the Cubs, Dodgers and Rangers, he was 151-136 with a 3.38 ERA and a 1.243 WHIP.  A one-time All-Star in 1981, he came in second in Cy Young voting in 1978 behind Gaylord Perry and ahead of Vida Blue and J.R. Richard.  That year he was 19-10 with a 2.71 ERA and a 1.089 WHIP.  Hooton had been the major league pitching coach under Jimy Williams and was fired along with Williams when Phil Garner took over as manager.  Thankfully he is still in the organization and serves as pitching coach in Oklahoma City.  In 2011, J.A. Happ had a 6.01 ERA and a 1.630 WHIP before Hooton worked with him; he had a 3.51 ERA and a 1.268 WHIP afterwards.  Just sayin'.

RHP Dave Borkowski (35)
Borkowski pitched in 130 games for Houston from 2006 to 2008 with a 5.44 ERA and a 1.517 WHIP before retiring to coach for the organization.  In 2012, he will again be the hitting coach for the Lexington team.  Aside from baseball, Dave and his wife Jill have a passion for helping animals.  They started the photo calendars featuring Astros players with pets to raise money for animal groups and encourage adoptions, and were featured in this USA today article back in October 2011 focusing on their charitable endeavors and hands-on work to help and protect animals.

LHP Juan Pizarro (75)
Pitched in 15 games for Houston in 1973

Tweet of the Day

John Hinson
I love my job

Roster Moves - 2/6/12

The Astros signed OF Justin Ruggiano to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training.  Here's the story from Steve Campbell.  Here are the minor league stats for the 29-year old Austin native and Texas A&M alumni.  And here are his major league stats in 98 games over 3 seasons with Tampa Bay.  Bryan Trostel over at Astros County astutely observed Ruggiano's similarity to Bogusevic as a hitter, despite the different handedness (Ruggiano is a righty and Bogusevic is a lefty).

It was also announced (with details in the same story from Steve Campbell) that the following minor league players have been issued an invitation to participate in the major league camp in Spring Training:

1B Johnathan Singleton
2B Delino DeShields, Jr.
SS Jonathan Villar
OF George Springer
OF Jake Goebbert

According to Baseball America, the Astros also signed 25 year old C Jair Fernandez, a free agent most recently with the Twins organization, and according to Baseball-Reference, the owner of a 40% lifetime CS%.

Monday, February 6, 2012

WTH 25-Man Roster - Outfielder

As posted over the weekend, LHP Alex Sogard became the 19th player and 5th relief pitcher to be named to the WTH Roster.  Runners-up were Jack Armstrong, Xavier Cedeno, Jason Chowning, Jorge de Leon, Ebert Rosario, Evan Grills, Murillo Gouvea, Mitchell Lambson, Pat Urkfitz, Jason Stoffel and Josh Zeid.  These players will be recycled as candidates as we fill our final relief pitching spot.  For more on the WTH 25-Man Roster, go here.

Next, let's pick our 4th Outfielder.  This list is comprised of those who received votes in earlier rounds of voting for the three outfield positions, those who have been used in utility infielder/outfielder roles (such as Neiko Johnson), and a couple of utility outfielders who haven't been nominated yet (such as Collin DeLome).  My choice for this position would be Austin Wates, hands down.  Not only did he have a great, consistent season, he played at all three outfield positions and his right-handed bat would complement the lefty hitting Jordan Scott and Adam Bailey who are already on the WTH Roster.  A case could also be made for Emilio King who is rumored to have an outstanding arm (although he has to cut down on the strikeouts) and Jake Goebbert, a left-handed bat with numbers that are very similar to Austin Wates, who has played both left field and right field.  And, of course, we shouldn't forget about the up and coming Domingo Santana and Teoscar Hernandez!

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

Happy Birthday - 2/6

3B Matt Duffy (23)
Drafted in 2011 in the 20th round out of the University of Tennessee, this Massachusetts native was nothing if not consistent in his first year in the system.  In 63 games at Tri-City, he had a .298/.370/.417/.787 batting line with 20 doubles, a triple and two home runs and was named a mid-season All-Star in the New York-Penn League.  In looking at his splits, he hit equally well against LHP's and RHP's and hit well throughout the season.  He only hit .252 with bases empty, but improved that to .342 with runners on and .352 with RISP.

One former Astro with a birthday today

RHP Bill Dawley (54)
Bill Dawley pitched in 157 games for the Astros between 1983 and 1985.  His record was 22-13 with 21 saves and he had a 2.71 ERA and a 1.171 WHIP.  He made the All-Star team in 1983 as a rookie.

Tweets of the Day

Alyson Footer
Aaaaaaaand it's officially time for baseball. Here we go! See you in Kissimmee.

Jordan Comadena
And with the  now's OFFICIALLY baseball season! When's the first  on  ??

Rafael Valenzuela
So is it baseball season yet?

Garen L. Wright
Football is over which means baseball is right around the corner..!! 

Neiko Johnson
Well since the  is over IT'S BASEBALL SEASON!!! 

Lino DeShields
Great win GIANTS . Super Bowl is over and now It's Officially BASEBALL SEASON.

Adrian Houser
Now it's time for the real sport! 

No Announced Roster Moves Today

Sunday, February 5, 2012

WTH 25-Man Roster

The 19th player and 5th Relief Pitcher selected for the What the Heck 25-Man Roster was Lefty Relief Pitcher Alex Sogard.  As I had suspected, there was no clear-cut winner.  As a matter of fact, Alex Sogard tied with Jack Armstrong and I cast my first deciding vote for Sogard in large part because we needed another lefty pitcher for our roster, but also because Sogard shows flexibility as he can handle long relief and spot start as well.  Jack Armstrong will get another chance when we vote for our 6th and final Relief Pitcher in a few weeks.  Also receiving votes were Xavier Cedeno, Jason Chowning, Jorge de Leon, Ebert Rosario, Evan Grills, Murilo Gouvea, Mitchell Lambson, Pat Urkfitz, Jason Stoffel and Josh Zeid.  All of these pitchers will be on the ballot again for the final relief spot.  (For more information on the WTH 25-Man Roster, go here.)

Coming Monday - Let's pick our 4th Outfielder.

Happy Birthday - 2/5

Astros Scouting Director Bobby Heck
I don't know how old he is, but a little birdie told me that the patron saint of "What the Heck, Bobby?" has a birthday today.  First hired in October 2007 as the Director of Amateur Scouting for the Astros, Heck was quickly promoted to Assistant General Manager/Director of Scouting in October 2008.  Prior to joining the Astros, Heck was the Eastern Scouting Supervisor for the Milwaukee Brewers for eight seasons during which time Milwaukee went from the 30th ranked farm system (as ranked by Baseball America) to among the top five in terms of talent.  Heck's early successes for the Astros include Jason Castro, Jordan Lyles and J.D. Martinez.  The 2012 season should go a long way toward establishing Heck's legacy with the Astros as more and more of his players make their way through the system.

LHP Paris Shewey (23)
Shewey, a native of Washington state, signed with the Astros as a NDFA in 2011 and played his first professional season at Greeneville.  In 20 games, he pitched 22 innings with a 9.82 ERA and a 1.909 WHIP with 3 saves.  Since it's his birthday, let me point out that in July he pitched 11.2 innings in 8 games with a 3.86 ERA and a 1.200 WHIP.

RHP Raul Rivera (21)
This is another one of my mystery players.  Drafted in the 37th round in 2009 out of high school in Puerto Rico, Rivera only pitched in 1.2 innings in 2010 and did not play in 2011 at all.  He is still shown as being in the Astros system which likely means recovery from surgery, but I have no other information on him at this time.

RHP Zachary Grimmett (22)
Drafted in the 28th round out of high school in Oklahoma in 2008, Grimmett pitched in Lancaster in 2011.  This flyball pitcher wasn't exactly helped out by the "Lancaster effect" as he compiled a 6.81 ERA and 1.708 WHIP in 30 games (18 starts).  However, Pre All-Star, he had a more respectable 4.50 ERA and a 1.616 WHIP.

Former Astros with birthdays today ~

OF Norm Miller (66)
Norm Miller didn't exactly put up the most exciting numbers in his nine seasons (1965-1973) for Houston with a .240 batting average, but the converted second baseman (some guy named Joe Morgan had that job) does have some interesting stories to tell about his life in baseball.  I just recently finished reading his 2009 book To All My Fans ... From Norm Who?.  It's more of a collection of anecdotes than a real memoir, but for any Astros fan, those anecdotes constitute a nice glimpse of the early days of the Astros organization.  You can purchase the book from his website or from Amazon.

OF Lee Thomas (76)
Played in 90 games for Houston in 1968 at the end of his career

Tweet of the Day

Jordan Lyles
The Lyles boys plus the ole man. Oh.. and the tacky sweaters

No Announced Roster Moves Today