Saturday, September 22, 2012

World Baseball Classic Qualifying Rounds Update

Israel won out over Spain 4-2 to advance to the final qualifying round which will take place on Sunday at 4:00 CST and can be seen live on the WBC website. Astros RHP Josh Zeid pitched the ninth inning and had to work around a lead-off double. He gave up one run on one hit and earned the save. 2B Ben Orloff also saw action in the game and went 0-for-3.

Happy Birthday - 9/22

SS Carlos Correa (18)
The number one overall pick from the 2012 draft already has 50 professional games under his belt and is just now turning 18. In 39 games with the GCL Astros, Correa hit .232/.270/.355 with 11 doubles, one triple and two home runs. After a late season promotion to Greeneville, Correa fired the afterburners and hit .371/.450/.600 with three doubles, one triple and one home run (which I witnessed first hand, thank you very much!). He is currently participating in the fall instructional league.

OF Jordan Scott (21)
Drafted in the 14th round in 2010 out of Riverside High School in South Carolina, Scott was unable to recreate his great numbers from his 2011 season. In 110 games, he hit .230/.325/.280 for the Lexington Lo-A team this season. For some reason, Scott was more comfortable on the road this season as he hit .273/.357/.335 away from home. Known for his good approach at the plate, I look for Scott to have a rebound season in 2013.

RHP Luis Ordosgoitti (20)
Signed as a non-drafted free agent out of Venezuela in 2009, Ordosgoitti got his first taste of Lo-A this season as he started 19 games for the Lexington Legends. Considering his young age, his 5-5 record with a 5.52 ERA and a 1.544 WHIP was certainly a decent result.

RHP Arcenio Leon (26)
Arcenio signed with the Astros as a non-drafted free agent in 2005 and started playing in the Venezuelan Summer League that year. Now in his eighth season with the Astros organization, he spent his season at Corpus Christi where he had a 3-2 record with a 4.38 ERA and a 1.461 WHIP in 44 appearances.

Three former Astros with birthdays today ~

RHP Larry Dierker (66)
Dierker signed with the Colt .45's prior to the 1964 season and made his major league debut on his 18th birthday that same year. Dierker pitched in 345 games for the Colt .45's and Astros from 1964 to 1976 with a 137-117 record, a 3.28 ERA and a 1.214 WHIP. He was a two-time All-Star for Houston. He also managed the Astros from 1997 to 2001, compiling a 435-348 record and being named the National League Manager of the Year in 1998.

LF Jeffrey Leonard (57)
Leonard came to Houston in a September 1978 trade with Los Angeles and played in 237 games for the Astros until his trade to the Giants in April 1981. During that time, he hit .265/.329/.349. He came in second in Rookie of the Year voting to Rick Sutcliffe and made the All-Star team for both the Giants and the Mariners.

RF Charleton Jimerson (33)
A fifth round draft pick by Houston in 2001, Jimerson played in 18 games for Houston in 2005 and 2006 hitting .333/.333/.833 in six plate appearances.

Tweet of the Day

Houston Astros

ML Player and Pitcher of the year, Delino DeShields, JR. and Mike Foltynewicz chatting with Biggio during BP 
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Friday, September 21, 2012

PTBNL in Ben Francisco Trade

LHP Theron Geith is the PTBNL in the August trade that sent Ben Francisco to Tampa Bay. Geith, a 39th round draft pick  in 2011 out of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, pitched for the Rays Hi-A team in the Florida State League in 2012. In 31 appearances out of the bullpen, he had a 2.98 ERA and a 1.086 WHIP. He turned 23 in June.

Happy Birthday - 9/21

No future Astros, but several former Astros with birthdays today ~

OF Art Gardner (60)
A second round pick by the Astros in 1971, Gardner played for Houston in 1975 and in 1977. In 79 games, he hit .167/.216/.167.

RHP Aurelio "Senor Smoke" Lopez (died September 22, 1992 at age 44)
Lopez came to Houston as a free agent in June of 1986 and played for the Astros for a little over a year before his release in June 1987 at the end of his career. In 71 games for Houston, he was 5-4 with a 3.80 ERA and a 1.207 WHIP. His best years were with Detroit where he earned a World Series ring and for whom he made his sole All-Star appearance.

C Troy Afenir (49)
A first round pick by Houston in 1983, Afenir played in only 10 games for the Astros in 1987 before being included in an April 1989 trade to Oakland. In those 10 games, he hit .300/.300/.350.

RHP Manuel Barrios (38)
Signed as a free agent in January 1993, Barrios played in only two games for the Astros in 1997 with rather inauspicious results. His entire major league career consisted of 6.2 innings pitched for three different teams with a 6.75 ERA and a 2.550 WHIP.

RHP Billy Sadler (31)
Originally drafted by the Giants in the sixth round in 2003, Sadler signed as a free agent with Houston in August 2009 and pitched 1.1 innings in one game for Houston in 2009 with forgettable results.

Tweet of the Day

Bobby Borchering

Off-season regiment so far. Breakfast. Workout. Lunch. Pool. Shop. Dinner. Chill. Sleep.   

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Lancaster JetHawks Season Recap

This will be the final season recap. We have already looked at the seasons for the DSL Astros, the GCL Astros, the Greeneville Astros, the Lexington Legends, the Oklahoma City Redhawks, the Corpus Christi Hooks, and the Tri-City ValleyCats. Now a look at the California League Champion Lancaster JetHawks. Here's a quick look at how the 2011 and 2012 teams compare.

2011 Wins-Losses/Win Percentage: 55-85/.393
2012 Wins-Losses/Win Percentage: 74-66/.529

2011 Runs Scored - Runs Allowed = Run Differential: 749 - 929 = (180)
2012 Runs Scored - Runs Allowed = Run Differential: 843 - 786 = 57

2011 Team ERA & WHIP: 5.96 & 1.569
2012 Team ERA & WHIP: 5.00 & 1.458

2011 Team Batting Line: .280/.352/.420
2012 Team Batting Line: .283/.353/.448

Out of ten teams in the league, the offense ranked highly (second place) in team batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and RBI, was in third place in home runs and was in the top half in stolen bases, triples and walks. However, they also struck out more than any other team in the league.

The pitching didn't rank as highly as the offense with the team ERA at ninth out of ten, but the team WHIP was fifth. They ranked dead last in strikeouts, but only two teams issued fewer free passes than the JetHawks staff. They were third in saves in the league.

This was a fun team to follow this year. They started out losing their first four games and 12 out of their first 17, but they never said die. They just kept coming back. They got hot (really hot) at the right time to earn a wild card playoff spot which they parlayed into the California League Championship crown.

In a park known as a hitter's park, there were certainly many great offensive performances, but the triumverate of George Springer, Domingo Santana and Erik Castro were particularly good and ranked highly in the league in numerous categories. Unfortunately, one of the categories that they ranked highly in was strikeouts as these three plus teammate Telvin Nash constituted four of the top ten strikeout artists in the league. But let's not dwell on the bad. Let's look at the good!

OF George Springer ranked sixth in the league in batting average and fifth in the league in on-base percentage and slugging percentage before his promotion to Corpus Christi in August. And despite having been gone from the league for almost a month, he still ranked second in runs scored, third in triples, eighth in stolen bases, tenth in home runs and in the top 20 in hits, RBI and walks. He hit .316/.398/.557 in 106 games for Lancaster. He finished the season with a total of 21 doubles, 10 triples, 24 home runs, 87 RBI and 32 stolen bases.

RF Domingo Santana was in the top ten in the league in on-base percentage, slugging, runs scored, home runs and RBI, and in the top 20 in batting average, hits, doubles and walks. He hit .302/.385/.536 with 26 doubles, six triples, 23 home runs and 97 RBI. In the post-season, he hit .273 with six RBI.

1B Erik Castro was second in the league with 108 RBI (which tied him for first in the organization with Lexington's Zach Johnson), third in home runs and walks, tenth in slugging percentage and runs scored, and in the top 20 in on-base percentage, hits and doubles. He ended the season with a .285/.382/.511 batting line, 27 doubles, one triple and 27 home runs. He hit .306 in the post-season with five doubles and eight RBI.

2B Delino DeShields only spent 24 games with Lancaster after hitting .298/.401/.439 for Lexington. He ended the season hitting .287/.389/.428 with 24 doubles, eight triples, 12 home runs, 113 runs scored and 101 stolen bases. He hit .318 with two doubles, a home run, three RBI and four stolen bases in the post-season and was named team MVP for the California League Finals.

Despite spending roughly a month in Corpus Christi after his promotion, the 21-year old 2B Kike Hernandez  still ranked in the top 10 in the league in triples and in the top 20 in the league in doubles. He hit .275/.318/.418 for Lancaster and ended the season with 27 doubles, seven triples and six home runs.

There were other performances of note as well. LF/DH Telvin Nash ranked second in the league in home runs with 29 and in the top 20 in slugging percentage and RBI. 3B Jonathan Meyer was in the top 20 in hits during the regular season and was an absolute beast in the post-season, hitting .343 with three doubles, two home runs, ten RBI and a stolen base. OF Chris Epps shone in limited playing time (46 games) with Lancaster and put up a .589 slugging percentage. He was another post-season star as he hit .353 with three doubles, one triple, one home run, four RBI and a stolen base. OF Grant Hogue couldn't stay off the DL, but in 43 games he stole 27 bases (just one fewer than George Springer had in 106 games for Lancaster) and hit .361/.421/.458. And 1B Rafy Valenzuela was one of those players who picked the right time to get hot. He finished the season with a respectable .284/.349/.429, but hit a jaw-dropping .429/.432/.771 in his last 10 games. He went on to hit .412 with two doubles, a home run and three RBI in the post-season. Another contributor to the JetHawks was OF Drew Muren. Muren spent 48 games with Lexington, 33 games with Corpus Christi and 21 games in Lancaster hitting a combined .291/.341/.409.

There were notable season performances from the pitching staff as well.

In particular, RHP David Martinez had a solid season finishing 11th in the league among qualifying pitchers with a 4.38 ERA and eighth in the league with a 1.335 WHIP in 27 games (26 starts). But it was the way that he finished the season that should open some eyes. In his last 10 appearances, he was 7-1 with a 2.87 ERA and a 1.293 WHIP. He went on to a 2-0 record in the post-season with a 3.75 ERA and a 1.250 WHIP.

RHP Bobby Doran started out the season pitching extremely well at Lancaster meriting a promotion to Corpus Christi. Doran finished the season with a combined 14-6 record, 4.00 ERA and a 1.284 WHIP. Similarly, RHP Nick Tropeano excelled at Lexington, leading to his promotion to Lancaster. Tropeano put up a very good 6-3 record with a 3.31 ERA and a 1.316 WHIP at Lancaster with an overall record of 12-7, 3.02 ERA, 1.241 WHIP and an organization-leading 166 strikeouts. The combination of Bobby Doran early in the season and Nick Tropeano late in the season allowed the JetHawks to stay in the wild card race. Tropeano put up a 3.00 ERA and a 1.250 WHIP in two post-season appearances.

RHP Tyson Perez (5.03 ERA and 1.508 WHIP) tied Martinez for team lead in wins with nine in his second year in the Astros organization after pitching in the Greeneville rookie league in 2011. In the post-season, Perez was 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA and a 1.154 WHIP.

RHP R.J. Alaniz (5.07 ERA and 1.390 WHIP) was one of the more productive members of the staff with a 6-2 record before being shut down for the season due to shoulder issues in July.

Out of the bullpen, RHP Andrew Robinson struggled early in the season, but from May through August he was one of Lancaster's most dependable pitchers as he put up a 2.77 ERA and a 1.173 WHIP in 37 appearances.

RHP Carlos Quevedo was a much needed middle relief addition when he came from Lexington in July. In 15 appearances for Lancaster, he put up a 2.04 ERA and a 1.064 WHIP and finished the season with a 3.22 ERA and a 1.085 WHIP.

RHP Chia-Jen Lo had a 1.42 ERA and a 0.985 WHIP in 11 appearances for Lancaster. LHP Pat Urckfitz was a fixture out of the bullpen, making 45 appearances with a 3.66 ERA and a 1.357 WHIP. Urckfitz, Robinson and RHP Jorge de Leon combined for a 0.00 ERA in their post-season appearances.

And last, but certainly not least, was the late addition of LHP Kenny Long who put up a 1.13 ERA and a 0.625 WHIP in 12 appearances for Lancaster and who, incidentally, recorded the final out to give Lancaster the California League Championship.

This was a team that had a lot of solid pieces from top to bottom. They worked well together and I witnessed first-hand how tight-knit and supportive of each other they were. If only one team could win an LCS this year, I'm glad it was them. Cheers on a storybook season with a fairytale ending! I can't wait to read the next chapter.

World Baseball Classic Qualifying Rounds Update

RHP Josh Zeid saw his first action in the World Baseball Classic qualifiers last night as his Team Israel prevailed over South Africa 7-3. Zeid came in in the sixth inning with two on and one out and struck out one batter before issuing an intentional walk and inducing a pop out for the third out to end the threat. He went on to pitch the seventh for Team Israel and allowed no hits and no runs and three strikeouts to go with the intentional walk. Manager Brad Ausmus had this to say about Zeid's performance.
"Huge difference. Not only is it a big difference in terms of the scoreboard, it could be a big momentum shift," Ausmus said. "Zeid's inning-plus there was probably the turning point of the game for us."
Ben Orloff did not get in to the first game for Team Israel. Their next game will be on Friday at 12:00 CST. The full schedule and results can be found here.

Happy Birthday - 9/20

SS Angel Sanchez (29)
Angel was originally drafted by the Royals in the 11th round in 2001 out of Puerto Rico and came to Houston in a trade with the Red Sox in July 2010. In 107 games with Oklahoma City this season, he hit .320/.390/.407.

LHP Scott Zuloaga (23)
Drafted by Houston in the 16th round in 2011 out of Scottsdale Community College, the well-traveled Zuloaga spent time this season with Lexington, Greeneville and Tri-City. He had a 3.80 ERA and a 1.268 combined WHIP. In his final eight games with Tri-City, he had a 0.00 ERA and a 0.800 WHIP.

Astros Announcer Bill "Brownie" Brown (65)
An announcer for the Astros since 1987, Brown has become a fixture in the broadcast booth. He is the perfect yin to Jim Deshaies' quirky yang.

Tweet of the Day

Austin Elkins

Just saw on ESPN that Mike Trout has many nicknames one being catfish...  fans let them know that its already taken!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

2012 Minor League Season By The Numbers

My latest post for The Futurists is a very fun look at some interesting numbers from the Astros 2012 minor league season. It won't take long to read, and it makes for an interesting glimpse into some of the season highlights.

Happy Birthday - 9/19

2B Yonathan Mejia (20)
Signed as a non-drafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2009, the switch-hitting second baseman spent the season with the GCL Astros, hitting .239/.284/.293 in 52 games.

OF George Springer (22)
Houston's first round 2011 draft pick out of the University of Connecticut really made his mark with the Hi-A Lancaster team his first full season before meriting a late season promotion to Corpus Christi. In 106 games with the JetHawks, he hit .316/.398/.557. He didn't fare quite so well with the Hooks as he hit .219/.288/.342 in 22 games. He finished the season with 21 doubles, 10 triples and 24 home runs.

Two former Astros with birthdays today ~

2B Joe Morgan (69)
Originally signed by the Colt .45's as a free agent in 1962, Morgan played for the Colt 45's and Houston Astros from 1963 to 1971 and again in 1980. In 1032 games over 10 seasons for Houston, Morgan hit .261/.374/.393 and earned two of his ten All-Star Nods. Following his trade to the Reds in November of 1971, Morgan hit his stride. It was with the Reds that the future Hall of Famer earned two National League MVP awards, two World Series rings, five Gold Gloves and made his other eight All-Star appearances.

C Joe Ferguson (66)
An eighth round draft pick by the Dodgers in 1968, Ferguson came to Houston in a November 1976 trade with the Cardinals. In 183 games for the Astros in 1977 and 1978, he hit .243/.375/.420

Tweet of the Day

Josh Zeid

"they look like Jews.... But only bigger" yup. That's  for ya. How are my followers doin today?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

An Interview with RHP Daniel Minor

The first time I saw Daniel Minor was on the mound in Greeneville, Tennessee in August. He worked quickly, confidently and efficiently. He threw strikes. He was in control. And he won. He did a lot of that in August. In four starts for Greeneville in August, he was 3-0 with an 0.35 ERA and a 0.538 WHIP. One of those games was a combined one-hitter. He struck out 11 in that game. For the season, he led the league in ERA (2.75) and WHIP (1.034) among qualified pitchers.

The second time I saw Minor was at the final Hooks playoff game in Corpus Christi a couple of weeks ago. The product of Texas A&M Corpus had taken a brief break after his season had ended in Greeneville and was already in Corpus working to get ready for next season. He was sitting a few rows in front of me. He came back and we talked for an inning or so about his season, the Astros organization in general, his pitching coach in Greeneville (Hector Mercado) and the starting pitcher for that night, Ross Seaton. I enjoyed the conversation.

Had I met him in a casual setting first, I might have trouble reconciling his college coach's description of him (in the article linked below) as "a bulldog, aggressive, mean and tough," going on to say, "He walks across the (baseline) like he's a little irritated." But having seen him first on the mound, I know exactly what his coach meant. As Daniel told me, "You really have to turn it on, flip that switch, compete well and think you're better than everybody."

On to the interview, edited for clarity and brevity ~

On his transfer to A&M Corpus and the draft process: "Coming out of junior college [McClellan Community College in Waco, Texas], I really didn't have many places to go. On the last day of our regional tournament, Corpus called and that was the only Division I [program] that had called me so I was pretty set on going down there and playing baseball there. [Here's a great article from the Corpus Christi Caller Times explaining a little more about how Minor got to A&M Corpus and was signed sight unseen.]

"So I went there, just worked real hard to get better, and ended up having a really good year. There weren't tons of scouts at the games. There were only a few scouts here and there. The Astros were one of the first ones to see me so I was kind of under the radar the whole year and then [during the Southland Conference] tournament I had a really good game and after that a bunch of teams got in touch with me, but it was really late by that time. When draft day rolled around, I'd been in contact with the Astros, but I really had no clue what was going to happen, what round or anything. I was the first pick of the ninth round so I was pretty excited to see that. It was pretty cool."

On his pitch repertoire: "Fastball, 4-seam, 2-seam. It will range anwhere from a low of 86 up to 93, 94. Usually 88-91, touch 93 in a game. I throw a changeup which is by far my best off-speed pitch, probably low 80's. Throw 12-6 on a curveball and [throw] a slider. I've worked on [the slider] a lot this past summer. [What's his best strikout pitch?] For a righty, it would be a slider and for a lefty, it would be a changeup."

What did he accomplish in the short season?: "What I accomplished was being able to throw my off-speed for strikes on a more consistent basis and make them more deceptive to where hitters can't identify them as easily and working with [Pitching Coach Hector] Mercado over the season was helpful. He always knew the right thing to say to me to make it click in my head and make it work. [To what does he attribute his outstanding numbers in August to end the season?] Mostly it was just getting more comfortable as the season went on, being more comfortable on the mound and against better hitters."

What does he need to work on?: "I think the things I need to keep working on is pretty much the same stuff, just keeping the ball down around the knees, moving the ball to both sides of the plate and just competing well."

What was the biggest surprise from his first professional season?: "Probably just how much you had to take care of your body on a daily basis. Going and doing stuff like running or lifting and making sure you're in shape to be able to perform. I guess for me, starting every five or six days, making sure you're able to go out there and perform your best every time and just overall keeping your body in shape. It's kind of difficult to do, trying to eat healthy and get your workouts in, but it's manageable."

On what he's doing this off-season: "I'm down here [Corpus Christi] working out with my strength coach from college. I really liked him so [it's] probably one of the best things for me to come and do. Get a little stronger and get back in shape and ready for a full season next year."

Which of his teammates has a pitch he'd like to steal?: "That would probably be Jordan Jankowski's slider. It's filthy. It seems like it's near unhittable, always striking people out with it. People just swinging at it. Sometimes it doesn't even have to be close to the plate and people are still swinging at it. I guess he sets it up well or something but it's dirty."

Which of his teammates would he least like to face in the batter's box?: "That's a tough one. Being a pitcher, I feel like I could face anyone and get him out, but if I had to pick one, probably [Brian] Blasik because he does not swing at bad pitches. If it's a strike, he's swinging or if it's a ball, he's not swinging. It's difficult to fool him when he's hitting. He has a really good eye."

Which of his teammates does he like having behind him when he pitches?: "I'd say Blasik. He never made many errors. The ball was always hit to him and he would always make the play no matter how difficult or how easy. I can't remember once when I was pitching that he made an error."

Who on the team makes him laugh?: "That would be pretty much everybody in the bullpen from Tanner [Bushue] to [Zach] Dando to [Michael] Dimock and [Andrew] Walter. All those guys in the bullpen were absolutely the funniest group of people I've ever been around."

What's would he do if he couldn't play baseball?: "Probably I'd either do something with lessons or trying to teach younger kids. As a matter of fact, that's what I'm doing right now. I'm giving lessons to kids in the off-season. Growing up, the guy that gave me lessons, he affected my life so much and taught me everything literally from scratch. He taught me everything on how to pitch. Doing that would be a good way to give back and help kids try to get where I [am]. Or something like strength and conditioning, helping people be in shape."

Something that most people don't know about him: "Up until this year, up until I flew to Greeneville, I haven't really flown. I was kind of scared when I was flying up there and flying back. I really hadn't flown that much until this year."

There was one other thing that he talked about that really stuck with me. I asked him about his very stingy walk rate and he said, "I hate walking people, just giving them a free base because you can't throw a strike? That's a terrible thing. You're already facing good enough hitters. You don't want to give them [an extra] chance to score [by walking them.] The one run I gave up in August was on one of the two walks I had. Most of the time, if you throw strikes, they're going to get themselves out and that's why .300 is a really good hitting average. I mean seven out of ten times, they're going to get themselves out."

I was impressed by Minor's mound presence when I saw him. I am impressed by his aggressive philosophy of pitching. I'm impressed that he only walked two batters in August. But I think I'm most impressed that he remembered the details of those two walks and had already filed them away in his memory banks as something not to repeat. There is a simple elegance to his approach. "You just have to be able to compete well and make pitches. That's pretty much all that pitching comes down to."

Happy Birthday - 9/18

RHP Ross Seaton (23)
Drafted in the third round as a compensation pick in 2008 out of Second Baptist High School in Houston, Seaton spent most of the 2012 season repeating the AA level at Corpus Christi (with a handful of starts in Oklahoma City) and fine-tuning his skills. Seaton really appears to have turned the corner in his development. Despite a career high 169.1 innings pitched, he actually got stronger toward the end of the season, ending it going 2-0 with a 1.56 ERA and a 0.865 WHIP in his final three starts. For the season, he was 8-9 with a 3.93 ERA and a 1.281 WHIP.

1B Jon Singleton (21)
Originally drafted by the Phillies in the eighth round in 2009, Singleton came to the Astros in the Hunter Pence trade in July 2011. In 131 games for Corpus Christi this season, he hit .284/.396/.497 with 27 doubles, four triples, 21 home runs, 94 runs scored and 79 RBI. And he's just turning 21. Be still, my beating heart!

RHP Juan Minaya (22)
Signed as a non-drafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2008, this is Minaya's fourth season in the Astros organization. In 17 appearances (2 starts) for Tri-City this season, Minaya was 2-2 with a 4.66 ERA and a 1.391 WHIP.

Four former Astros with birthdays today ~

CF Tony Scott (61)
Originally drafted by Montreal in the 71st(!) round in 1969, Scott came to Houston in a June 1981 trade with the Cardinals. In 292 games played for the Astros from 1981 to 1984, he hit .249/.283/.320.

RHP Roger Mason (55)
Mason signed as a free agent with the Astros in February 1989 and pitched in only two games for the Astros that year. In one and a third innings pitched, he had a whopping 20.25 ERA and a 3.000 WHIP.

RHP Chris Holt (41)
Originally drafted by Houston in the third round in 1992, Holt pitched in 103 games (90 starts) for the Astros from 1996 to 2000 with a 21-42 record, a 4.51 ERA and a 1.456 WHIP before being traded to Detroit in December 2000.

C Mitch Meluskey (39)
A 12th round draft pick by Cleveland in 1992, Meluskey came to the Houston system in an April 1995 trade with Cleveland. He played in 135 games for the Astros from 1998 to 2000 before being included, along with fellow birthday boy Chris Holt, in a December 2000 trade to Detroit. He came back to play in 12 games for Houston again in 2003, signing as a free agent. All in all, he hit .287/.389/.465 for the Astros.

Tweet of the Day

Travis Ballew

Glad I decided to major in baseball during college

Monday, September 17, 2012

Tri-City ValleyCats Season Recap

So far we have looked at the seasons for the DSL Astros, the GCL Astros, the Greeneville Astros, the Lexington Legends, the Oklahoma City Redhawks, and the Corpus Christi Hooks. Now let's take a look at the Short-Season A Tri-City ValleyCats. Here's a quick look at how the 2011 and 2012 teams compare.

2011 Wins-Losses/Win Percentage: 33-42/.440
2012 Wins-Losses/Win Percentage: 51-25/.671

2011 Runs Scored - Runs Allowed = Run Differential: 345 - 343 = 2
2012 Runs Scored - Runs Allowed = Run Differential: 414 - 251 = 163

2011 Team ERA & WHIP: 3.78 & 1.393
2012 Team ERA & WHIP: 2.75 & 1.170

2011 Team Batting Line: .247/.335/.349
2012 Team Batting Line: .271/.355/.391

Tri-City fell just one game short of winning the 2012 New York-Penn League Championship.

The 2012 Tri-City team improved over the 2011 team in every single area and they shone in the New-York Penn League as they led the league in batting average (a tie for first), on-base percentage, slugging, home runs and stolen bases. They ranked second in the league in runs scored, hits, RBI, walks, team ERA and saves, and were in fourth place in WHIP and strikeouts. It was also very telling that as a team, the batters ranked 13th out of 14 in strikeouts and the pitchers ranked 12th out of 14 teams in issuing walks. In other words, the batters didn't swing at bad pitches, and the pitchers threw strikes. You can't ask for much more than that.

There were several outstanding season performances from position players on the team. Let's just look at a few.

It is easy to see why 1B Jesse Wierzbicki was named team MVP as he was among the league leaders in runs (4th), RBI (tied for 5th), stolen bases (7th), hits (8th), OBP (9th), batting average (12th) and slugging (12th). He also led the Tri-City team in runs, hits and RBI, and the 23-year old finished the season with a .297/.376/.422 batting line.

21-year old C Tyler Heineman earned the New York-Penn League batting title with his league-leading .358 batting average. His on-base percentage (.452) ranked second in the league and his slugging percentage (.430) was ninth. He was also terrific behind the dish with a 41% caught stealing rate. He hit .304 in post-season play.

Since CF Andrew Aplin was promoted to Lancaster for the final 22 games of the season, he doesn't qualify as a league leader in the NYPL, but his .348/.441/.537 batting line would have him ranked at second in batting average, third in on-base percentage and first in slugging percentage if he did qualify. Despite being gone from the league for almost a month, he was still tied for third in the league in triples and was tied for fourth in the league in stolen bases. The 21-year old finished the season with a combined batting line of .313/.386/.493 with 13 doubles, seven triples, seven home runs and 24 stolen bases.

RF Preston Tucker is another player who does not qualify as a league leader in batting stats due to the number of games played, but he would rank highly as well with a .321/.390/.509 batting line. The 22-year old was, however, tied for fifth in home runs and seventh in RBI despite limited playing time.

2B Austin "Catfish" Elkins ranked fifth in the league in runs scored and eighth in stolen bases, and the 21-year old was in the top 20 in the league in hits, home runs and on-base percentage as well. He finished the season with a .272/.360/.398 batting line, 13 doubles, two triples, five home runs and 18 stolen bases. In the post-season, he hit .435 with a home run and four RBI.

SS Joe Sclafani was tied for eighth in the league in walks (first on the Tri-City team) and ninth in stolen bases  (fourth on the team) and was in the top 20 in the league in runs, hits and RBI. He is 22. Sclafani hit .273, stole a base and drove in six runs in the post-season.

Also of note were LF Dan Gulbransen who tied for 10th in RBI and 11th in home runs in the league and IF/OF Neiko Johnson who tied for 10th in stolen bases. Gulbransen hit .273 with a home run and three RBI in the post-season while Johnson hit .333.

As far as pitchers go, there are several that have me very excited about the future.

RHP Aaron West was seventh in ERA (2.04) and WHIP (0.957) out of all pitchers qualifying as league leaders and was tied for 11th in the league in strikeouts. He walked only nine batters in 61+ innings and ended the season with a fantastic 6.56 SO/BB ratio. In the post-season he had a 2.45 ERA and a 0.909 WHIP. He is 22.

LHP Brian Holmes flirted with no-hitters all season and came incredibly close to a perfect game as well. He ranked sixth in the New York-Penn League in strikeouts and was 11th in ERA (2.56) and eighth in WHIP (0.960). Holmes tied for third in the league with seven wins. He won't turn 22 until January.

RHP Brady Rodgers turns 22 today. He was tied with teammate Brian Holmes for third in wins in the league and was in the top 15 in ERA (2.89) and WHIP (1.139). Rodgers was also stingy with the walks as he gave up only 11 free passes in 62+ innings.

RHP Lance Day lacked the requisite number of innings to qualify as a league leader, but the 22-year old was 6-1 with a 2.73 ERA and a 1.139 WHIP in 11 games (8 starts).

LHP Kenny Long pitched so well with Tri-City (1.88 ERA and 0.628 WHIP in 17 appearances) that he merited a promotion to Lancaster where he put up a 1.12 ERA and a 0.625 WHIP in 12 appearances and got the final out to clinch the California League Championship. He is 23.

Other pitchers of note include 22-year old RHP Juri Perez. Perez did not pitch enough innings to qualify as a league leader, but his very stingy 1.81 ERA in nine appearances (8 starts) would certainly rank highly. He had a 2.16 ERA and a 0.840 WHIP in two post-season appearances. 24-year old RHP Blake Ford was tied for first in the league with 14 saves. 21-year old RHP Travis Ballew was 5-1 with a 1.62 ERA and a 1.026 WHIP in 23 appearances with 10.2 SO/9. 24-year old LHP Jeremiah Meiners was 4-2 with a 1.98 ERA and a 1.000 WHIP in 20 appearances. RHP Vincent Velasquez, at 20 years of age, was one of the team leaders in strikeouts with a 10.1 SO/9 rate.

Frankly, it's hard to single out the top pitching performers on your team when only two on the staff have ERA's higher than 3.35! This pitching staff wasn't just good, it was also very deep in talent.

I will look at the final team, the Lancaster JetHawks, later this week.

Happy Birthday - 9/17

RHP Brady Rodgers (22)
Drafted by Houston in the third round in 2012 out of Arizona State, Rodgers quickly made his mark as a starting pitcher for the Tri-City ValleyCats this season, going 7-2 in 12 starts with a 2.89 ERA and a 1.139 ERA and helping to propel the 'Cats to the post-season.

Three former Astros with birthdays today ~

RHP Jim Umbricht (died April 4, 1964 at age 33)
Umbricht was drafted from the Pirates as the 35th pick in the 1961 expansion draft and played for the Colt 45's for two seasons in 1962 and 1963. In 69 appearances for the Colt 45's, he was 8-3 with a 2.33 ERA and a 0.986 WHIP. From Wikipedia:

"Umbricht underwent surgery to remove a tumor from his leg in March 1963 but was able to return to the Colt .45s to post a 4-3 won/loss record and a solid 2.61 earned run average in 35 games that season."

He played his final game on September 26, 1993 and died less than seven months later. His uniform number - 32 - was retired immediately.

Pinch Runner Alonzo "Candy" Harris (65)
Harris didn't get much of a chance. Used primarily as a pinch runner for the Astros in 1967, he only got one AB in 6 games and he struck out. And that, at the ripe old age of 19, was the extent of his major league career.

LHP John Franco (52)
Franco spent his final season (out of 21 total) pitching for the Astros out of the bullpen in 2005, compiling a 7.20 ERA and a 2.133 WHIP before being released on July 2, 2005. His career as a whole makes a much better story though. Franco was 90-87 with 424 saves, a career ERA of 2.89 and a career WHIP of 1.333 (1.88 ERA and 0.977 WHIP in 15 post-season games). He spent 6 seasons with the Reds and 14 seasons with the Mets, leading the league in saves for three seasons and getting an All-Star nod four times. Currently, at 1119 appearances, he trails only two pitchers in games played.

Tweet of the Day

Lino DeShields

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

JetHawks Win!!! JetHawks Win!!! JetHawks Win!!!

This will be my last recap of the season, one that I am very happy to be able to write, but it won't be the end of my off-season coverage of our future Astros. I will be covering all current and future Astros that are participating in the Arizona Fall League, the various Winter Leagues and the World Baseball Classic to let you know how they are doing. And now that the season is at an end, I'll be posting a lot of stats-driven info as well. And there are always the interviews. I have already made contact with several players and my goal is to have an interview for you about once a week or so until Spring Training. And, of course, the Birthdays and Tweets of the Day will just keep coming. So, check back often. I promise I'll make it worth your while.

Saturday's Game

Lancaster over Modesto 3-2 (Lancaster wins the Series 3-0)
I left the Astros game early so that I could come home and listen to the inimitable Jason Schwartz' call of the game without distractions. I'm so glad I did. I didn't expect such a low-scoring affair and I was on tenterhooks for most of the game waiting to see which team would put up a big inning first. It turns out that both starting pitchers were on their game and those "big innings" consisted of two runs.

Lancaster struck first as MVP Delino DeShields launched a solo shot in the first JetHawks at-bat of the game off major leaguer Jorge de la Rosa who was making a rehab start. DeShields got the second round of scoring started as well with a one-out single in the bottom of the third. After moving to second on a Jio Mier walk, DeShields stole third base and came home on a Domingo Santana single. Erik Castro then singled home Mier for the second run of the inning. In the meantime, JetHawks starter Colton Cain was totally in control until a lead-off triple in the fourth inning, a wild pitch, another triple and a double brought in two runs. Cain ended the night having allowed two runs on only four hits and no walks with three strikeouts to earn the win.

And that was that for scoring. No one else crossed the plate during the next five innings and I'll admit that I had to remind myself to breathe at times. You know how sometimes the scariest part of the movie is when it's really quiet and nothing is happening, but you just know something is about to jump out and scare the crud out of you? Yeah, it was like that. Except neither Jason nor Freddy ever jumped out. Pat Urckfitz (2IP 1H 1BB 3SO) and Jorge de Leon (1.2IP 1H 2SO) pitched beautifully to maintain the very slim 3-2 lead. Rodney Linares took no chances though. He brought in lefty Kenny Long to face lefty Dallas Tarleton for the final out, a move that quickly paid off as Tarleton grounded out to Erik Castro to end the game.

And that, my friends, is the story of how the Lancaster JetHawks, on the 150th game of the year, became

2012 California League Champions

Congratulations to all the players as well as Manager Rodney Linares and coaches Don Alexander and Darryl Robinson on a job well done!!!

Tweet of the Day

kenny long

We are the champions. No better feeling than suffocating under the dogpile 

Happy Birthday - 9/16

OF Robbie Grossman (23)
Originally drafted by the Pirates in the sixth round in 2008, Grossman came to the Astros in the July 2012 trade for Wandy Rodriguez. Grossman split his time between the Pirates AA affiliate and the Corpus Christi AA team with very comparable results. He ended the season hitting .266/.376/.410 with 28 doubles, six triples and ten home runs combined between the two teams.

Two former Astros with birthdays today ~

SS Hector Torres (67)
The native of Mexico played for Houston from 1968 to 1970 and again in 1973. He was a starter in 1968, but then was relegated to bench duties in his latter three seasons with the Astros. He had a .206 BA and a .244 OBP in 666 AB's. In October of 1970, he was traded to the Cubs for Roger Metzger.

RHP Chad Harville (36)
Originally drafted by Oakland in the second round in 1997, Harville came to Houston in an April 2004 trade with the A's for Kirk Saarloos. Harville spent parts of the 2004 and 2005 seasons with Houston and in 93 regular season appearances, he was 3-4 with a 4.63 ERA and a 1.533 WHIP. In 4 post-season appearances (in the NLDS and NLCS in 2004), he had an ERA of 9.00 and a WHIP of 2.000. He played his final major league game with Tampa Bay August 12, 2006.