Saturday, February 2, 2013

Astros Minor League Depth - Control What You Can Control

Over the past several weeks, I've been looking at the Astros minor league depth. I'm not quite finished as I still have catchers and lefty pitchers coming out next week, but one thing is clear. The Astros minor league depth has come a long way since I started this blog in 2011.

Consider that the Astros went from having one player on the MLB Top 50 Prospect list going in to the 2011 season to having four players on the list going in to the 2013 season (and one additional player just missing the list at #102).

Consider that Astros GM Jeff Luhnow is considering piggy-backing starting pitchers at AA and AAA because the team has so many pitchers that are just shy of being major league ready (and there are more pitchers stacking up behind those).

Consider that Jimmy Paredes was moved to the outfield because Jose Altuve looks to hold down second base with the Astros for a while. Paredes in right field will be challenged by Michael Burgess who will be challenged by Domingo Santana who will be challenged by Preston Tucker who will be challenged by Ariel Ovando. And there are others in the mix as well.

A similar situation exists at center field with George Springer, Robbie Grossman, Andrew Aplin and Brett Phillips. And shortstop? Jonathan Villar, Ben Orloff, Jiovanni Mier, Nolan Fontana, Carlos Correa and others will be trying to prove themselves.

Some of these players will succeed. Some will fail. Some will struggle. Some will be blocked. Some will be traded. Some will not be promoted when they think they should be. And many of these players will become frustrated at some point in their development. Many already have. How they handle that frustration can be as important as their stats as they move through the system.

I've been thinking about that a lot lately. I talked to Justin Maxwell at Fan Fest last weekend about how he handled his frustration in moving slowly through the minor league system. He told me what many other players have told me before, "Control what you can control at the plate and in the field. Just focus on baseball. The rest will take care of itself."

J. D. Martinez at 2013 Fan Fest
Photo by Jayne Hansen

J.D. Martinez' trajectory to the major leagues was a little different. While Maxwell's movement through the minors was slow and steady, Martinez rocketed through the system like a comet. His frustrations came after his major league debut as he struggled in his sophomore season. How much of that was due to his hand injury and how much of that was due to pitchers making adjustments to face him is hard to judge.

But Martinez begrudgingly acknowledged that moving so quickly through the system may not have been the best thing for him in his development as a player, "I would just tell everyone that you want to struggle down there. You learn about yourself when you struggle. I felt last year I learned so much just about myself and about baseball and about people and about how everything works in this game. I wish that when I was coming up through the minors I would have had that little struggle then so I would have figured out what I know now." He understood that, by putting so much pressure on himself, he "got caught in that quicksand and just couldn't get out of it."

Thankfully, Martinez feels much more prepared for the coming season. He knows what to expect and better understands how to handle things that may not always go his way. I would not count him out.

This coming season will be very interesting as we see how Director of Player Development Quentin McCracken handles the emerging depth in the Astros farm system. What will be even more interesting to me is how the players handle increased competition for spots, potential struggles, and perceived snubs. Those who control what they can control and just focus on baseball will, I expect, find that the rest will indeed take care of itself.

Happy Birthday - 2/2

RHP Adrian Houser (20)
Houser was the Astros second round draft pick in 2011. In his second professional season with the Greeneville Astros in 2012, he was 3-4 with a 4.19 ERA and a 1.310 WHIP in 11 starts.

Former Astros with birthdays today ~

SS Adam Everett (36)
Adam Everett was a joy to watch at short during his time here in Houston. From 2001 to 2007, Everett played in 649 games for the Astros, hitting .248/.299/.357/.656.  He won Summer Olympics gold, along with Roy Oswalt, in Sydney in 2000 and was named best shortstop by the Fielding Bible in 2006. Everett recently signed on as a roving infield coach for the Astros for the upcoming 2013 season. I, for one, am very happy to see him return.

RHP Don Wilson (died January 5, 1975 at 29)
Wilson pitched for Houston from 1966 to 1974.  In 266 games, he was 104-92 with a 3.15 ERA and a 1.212 WHIP. In 1971, his only All-Star season, he was 16-10 with a 2.45 ERA, 1.022 WHIP and 18 complete games in 268 innings pitched. He is the only Astros pitcher to have ever pitched two no-hitters for the team. His number 40 was retired in 1976, the year after death. For more, check out his Wikipedia page.

SS Buddy Biancalana (53)
A first round pick by the Royals in 1978, Biancalana came to Houston in a July 1987 trade with Kansas City. In 18 games played for the Astros that season, he had one hit in 24 at-bats.

RHP Jared Fernandez (41)
Fernandez came to Houston as a free agent in December 2002 and pitched in 14 games (seven starts) for the Astros in 2003 and 2004 with a 3-3 record, 5.26 ERA and a 1.525 WHIP.

Tweet of the Day

Daniel Minor
Good thing February is a short month, baseball can't get here fast enough 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Happy Birthday - 2/1

No future Astros, only former Astros with birthdays today ~

C Hal King (69)
Drafted from the Angels in the 1966 minor league draft, King played in 42 games for Houston in 1967 and 1968, hitting .192/.259/.283.

SS/3B Juan Guerrero (46)
Drafted from the Giants in the 1991 Rule 5 draft, Guerrero played in 79 games for Houston in 1992, hitting .200/.261/.288.

C Tom Wieghaus (56)
Originally drafted by the Expos in the 10th round in 1978, Wieghaus came to Houston in a February 1984 trade with Montreal. He played in only six games for the Astros that year and went hitless.

RHP Ernie Camacho (58)
A first round pick by Oakland in 1976, Camacho signed with Houston as a free agent in March 1988. In 13 appearances for the Astros in 1988, he had a 7.64 ERA and a 2.094 WHIP. His best season was 1984 when he had a 2.43 ERA and a 1.200 WHIP in 69 appearances for Cleveland.

Tweet of the Day

Christian García
I'm not tellin my kid I ride until he's like 15. After he learns I'll get the pow stick and throw slashes like the ol man in Johnny tsunami.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Astros Minor League Depth - Right Fielders

As Spring Training approaches, I've been looking at the Astros minor league depth, position by position. Today, we look at the right fielders in the organization who had the best seasons in 2012.

The embedded chart shows right fielders in the organization ranked from high to low in terms of OPS. I have noted their current age, the last level at which they played and, if they spent significant time at multiple positions, that information is included as well. I included Jimmy Paredes in right field simply because that's where he played most of his games for Houston after his September call-up. He played mostly in left field during his time in winter ball, though.

Domingo Santana only turned 20 in August, but he more than held his own on the Hi-A Lancaster team. He is still learning the position and he needs to cut down on the strikeouts, but I was impressed with his maturity and approach when I saw him in August. I am eager to see him again this season to see how he has progressed.

There are two other young players on this list that bear watching. Ariel Ovando improved dramatically over his first season at Greeneville, and Teoscar Hernandez is someone I've had my eye on since his 2011 season in the DSL. He made a solid transition to playing ball in the States in his time with the GCL Astros. In a late call-up to Lexington to fill a vacancy at the end of the season, he made the most of the opportunity.

Preston Tucker, the Astros 2012 seventh round pick, had a great freshman season with Tri-City. He struck out only 16 times in 42 games while walking 18 times.

There are a few players I can see having breakout seasons in 2013. Michael Burgess, a former first round draft pick by the Nationals, was picked up in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft this winter. Adam Bailey had an uneven season in 2012, but still put up solid overall numbers. [As a side note, Bailey actually played more left field than right field in 2012, but was used more in right field after his call up to Corpus, plus, as a former college pitcher, he has a great arm for right field.] Also, I included Mike Kvasnicka on this list even though his numbers may not look that great. Kvasnicka had a really dreadful start to the season that skewed his overall numbers as he transitioned back to catcher, a transition which was apparently abandoned as Kvasnicka found a home in right field for the bulk of the season. He was coming on nicely when his season was derailed early due to injury.

Jake Goebbert received an invitation to big league camp for Spring Training as the Astros look for left-handed outfield options.

Jimmy Paredes, of course, played most of the season at second base and is still a work in progress in his transition to the outfield. His winter ball season was cut short after he was involved in a car accident that reportedly banged up his left arm (details from the Dominican Republic were very sketchy). He only played in one game after the accident.

I will also be keeping my eye on Justin Gominsky, an outstanding defensive player who will need to make progress with the bat in 2013. Also Brauly Mejia showed me enough in his first year with the DSL Astros at the age of 17 that I'll be watching him as well to see how he progresses.

I think this is one of the stronger positions in the system in terms of talent and potential at all levels and ages. I can see a number of these players eventually contributing on a big league club.

Tuesday: Left Fielders
Wednesday: Center Fielders

2013 MLB Top 100 Prospects - Don't Worry, Be Happy

I first started writing about the Astros minor league system out of frustration and, dare I say, desperation back in August of 2011. The big league club was falling apart on its way to the first 100+ loss season in Astros history. I kept hearing how absolutely bereft the farm system was. I decided to look for myself and share my findings. Frankly, I'm very glad that I didn't look sooner. The farm system at the time was not without talent, but the lack of depth was startling, to say the least.

When Jonathan Mayo published what was then a Top 50 prospect list before the 2011 season, there was only one Astro on the list - Jordan Lyles at #31. Prior to the 2012 season, there were three Astros on what evolved to become the MLB Top 100 Prospect list: Jonathan Singleton (44), Jarred Cosart (61) and George Springer (84). On Tuesday the 2013 pre-season Top 100 list came out. Singleton went from #44 in 2012 to #27 in 2013. Carlos Correa debuted on the list at #30. Springer went from #84 to #57. Only Cosart actually dropped somewhat on the list from #61 in 2012 to #89 in 2013.

That makes four elite prospects on the list. Only nine teams had more top prospects on the list than the Astros did. The former head of scouting and development for one of those nine teams is currently the Astros General Manager. Things are looking up. We're not just looking at the beginnings of depth in the organization, we're looking at quality depth.

But I have seen some angst in the twitterverse over what was seen as a snub against Delino DeShields. The Astros Minor League Player of the Year had a terrific season and ended the year on Mayo's post-season 2012 Top 100 at #77 yet didn't make the 2013 pre-season Top 100. Let me explain why that is not necessarily a snub.

First of all, Mayo's list is not static. It evolves throughout the season as prospects make it to the big leagues, are no longer considered prospects and come off the list. DeShields did not start 2012 on the list at all. Mayo added him at some point during the season and DeShields moved up as others came off the list. After the season, Mayo did get some input from scouts, scouting directors, etc. to establish the post-season list, but the input he gets at the end of the season is not nearly as extensive as that he gets when he prepares the pre-season list. Comparing the post-season list to the next year's pre-season list is a bit of an apples and oranges comparison.

Secondly, the Top 100 list that came out Tuesday is absolutely loaded with close to MLB-ready talent. A total of 71 of the 100 players are projected to reach the majors in 2013 or 2014. DeShields is not projected to get to the bigs until 2015; presumably, that was a factor for some of those polled as they want to see DeShields succeed at the higher levels. If he can do that, he will undoubtedly start moving up the ranks as others fall off.

DeShields wasn't the only Astros player "snubbed," by the way. The Astros Minor League Pitcher of the Year Mike Foltynewicz wasn't on the list. Lance McCullers and Rio Ruiz were missing as well. Several players are awaiting their debut on the list. Two years ago, we couldn't say that we had many players poised to become elite prospects. But now we can. And that's a good thing.

The only "bad" news from the 2013 Top 100 list is that there are still doubts about whether or not Jarred Cosart will make it as a top of the rotation starter. He may only make it as an elite closer. Cosart will undoubtedly make his major league debut in 2013. If he spends enough time in the majors to graduate from this list, he won't be on the 2014 pre-season Top 100 list, but a very good case could be made that the Astros will have seven players or more on that 2014 list, and that doesn't even include anyone from the 2013 draft. Again, that's a good thing.

If you're still feeling a little disconsulate, I will leave you with this comment from Jonathan Mayo, "Why not focus on the fact that the Astros have four guys in the top 100, a much, much deeper farm system than they’ve had in years and a guy as GM who deserves a lot of credit for building the Cardinals’ system into what it is today."

Why not, indeed?

Happy Birthday - 1/31

Happy Birthday to ~

RHP Rayderson Chevalier (18)
One of the best names in the Astros minor league system, Chevalier signed with Houston as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2012. In his first professional season with the DSL Astros, he was 3-3 in 15 games (five starts) with a 6.44 ERA and a 1.638 WHIP.

One former Astro with a birthday today (you may have heard of him)

Lynn Nolan Ryan (aka the Ryan Express) was drafted in the 12th round in 1965 by the Mets and signed as a free agent with Houston in November of 1979 where he pitched from 1980 to 1988.  Despite pitching for 27 seasons with a lifetime ERA of 3.19 and WHIP of 1.247, striking out 5714 batters, throwing 7 no-hitters and appearing in 8 All-Star games, he never once won the Cy Young Award.  He was, however, elected to the Hall of Fame in 1999 in his first year of eligibility with a whopping 98.8% of the vote.

Tweet of the Day

Jeff Luhnow
Midnight flight to Caracas, Venezuela. Excited to see some future big leaguers.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Astros Minor League Depth - Center Fielders

As Spring Training approaches, I've been looking at the Astros minor league depth, position by position. Today, we look at the center fielders in the organization who had the best seasons in 2012.

The embedded chart shows center fielders in the organization ranked from high to low in terms of OPS. I have noted their current age, the last level at which they played and, if they spent significant time at multiple positions, that information is included as well. I am including Che-Hsuan Lin more for comparison purposes than anything. Lin was claimed off waivers from the Red Sox this off-season and was later assigned to Oklahoma City. I did not include Brandon Barnes as he spent a good part of the season in Houston.

George Springer excelled in his time at Hi-A Lancaster, leading to an August promotion to Corpus Christi. He struggled in his first few games with Corpus, but was catching up as the season ended (he hit .306/.390/.722 over his last 10 games). I look for him to start the season back at AA, but to move quickly to AAA. I would like to see Springer showing more patience at the plate before he moves to the next level.

Andrew Aplin, the Astros 2012 fifth round pick, spent 44 games with the short season Tri-City team before leapfrogging directly to Hi-A Lancaster to finish the season. In contrast to Springer, Aplin only struck out 38 times in 68 games. By all accounts, Aplin is a very tough out and a plus defender in center.

Robbie Grossman had a solid season both before and after he came to the Astros organization in the Wandy Rodriguez trade. His total of 77 walks for the season would have ranked him fourth in the Astros system.

Trevor Crowe signed with Houston this off-season as a free agent. Although he has some major league experience, he spent all of 2012 in the minors, first for Cleveland and then for the Angels.

Drew Muren finished the season with Lancaster, but he started it at Lexington and spent a good chunk of the season at Corpus Christi. He showed his value and versatility everywhere he went, filling in for injured players and fielding all three outfield positions capably.

Brett Phillips, the Astros 2012 sixth round pick, hit the ground running ... literally. In his first few games, he had four triples. His production trailed off later in the season as a knee injury slowed him down, but he is going to be an exciting player to watch. He won't be 19 until May.

Another player to keep an eye on is D'Andre Toney. Toney came to the Astros organization as the PTBNL in the Humberto Quintero/Jason Bourgeois trade with Kansas City. Toney started off a little slow and ended a little slow, but in between he showed great promise. He profiles to show a good combination of power and speed. I look forward to seeing what he will do in 2013. Finally, I'll be interested to see what Javaris Reynolds does in 2013. The 7th round pick from 2011 was sidelined after playing in only 11 games in 2012.

Tuesday: Left Fielders
Coming Thursday: Right Fielders

Happy Birthday - 1/30

Happy Birthday to ~

LHP Brian Holmes (22)
Drafted by Houston in the 13th round in 2012 out of Wake Forest, Holmes had a terrific freshman season as part of the pitching-heavy Tri-City staff. In 13 games (12 starts), he was 7-2 with a 2.57 ERA and a 0.960 WHIP. Holmes flirted with no-hitters all season and came close to a perfect game as well.

Tweet of the Day

Bobby Doran
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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Astros Minor League Depth - Left Fielders

As Spring Training approaches, I've been looking at the Astros minor league depth, position by position. Today, we look at the left fielders in the organization who had the best seasons in 2012.

Austin Wates - Corpus Christi June 2012
Photo by Jayne Hansen

The embedded chart shows left fielders in the organization ranked from high to low in terms of OPS. I have noted their current age, the last level at which they played and, if they spent significant time at multiple positions, that information is included as well. I am not including players such as J.D. Martinez and Fernando Martinez who spent substantial time on the major league roster in 2012.

Marc Krauss leads the list in terms of OPS. He simply dominated in his brief time at Corpus Christi after coming into the organization in the Chris Johnson trade with two doubles, five home runs and 16 RBI in only seven games. He was promptly promoted to Oklahoma City where he struggled at the end of a long season.

After a disappointing injury-beset first season in 2011, Brandon Meredith showed us what he can do when healthy. The power that we had hoped for when he was drafted in the sixth round in 2011 was on full display. I am eager to see what he can do in a full 140 game season in 2013.

Austin Wates just continued to do what he's always done -- hit. He inched up in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging over his 2011 numbers, erasing any doubts that his Lancaster numbers wouldn't translate to Corpus Christi. Now, he just needs to stay healthy in 2013.

Grant Hogue missed large chunks of the season due to injury but what he accomplished in 43 games, including 27 stolen bases, was remarkable. Chris Epps was one of the players to fill in for the injured when he was called up from Lexington to Lancaster and had a solid season both offensively and defensively.

Telvin Nash may have hit 29 home runs, but he also struck out 198 times and only drove in 75 runs. That is not a formula for long-term success as better and better pitchers exploit the holes in his swing. He will need to make adjustments in 2013 in order to continue his progress in the system. If he can make those adjustments, he could very well be a very effective DH.

Terrell Joyce had a good solid debut season offensively, but he will need to work on his defense in order to become a better all-around prospect.

There are a few other left fielders that I will be keeping an eye on in 2013. Dan Gulbransen showed promise in his first season, displaying some good power potential. He will simply need to be more consistent at the plate. If Wallace Gonzalez can cut down on the strikeouts in 2013, he could have a breakthrough year. Marc Wik is pretty much an unknown quantity for me, but it is my understanding that the 21st round draft pick was not even close to being 100% healthy in 2012. And finally, I am looking for Jordan Scott to regain his 2011 mojo at the plate and have a good season.

Coming Wednesday: Center Fielders

Two Astros Minor League Player Retirements

I learned that two of the Astros minor league players retired from the game during the off-season, LHP Scott Zuloaga and SS Alex Todd. Zuloaga was one of very few lefty bullpen arms available in the lower minors and he made the rounds between Lexington, Greeneville and Tri-City in 2012. Todd started the season in Lexington, but spent the bulk of the summer at Lancaster. Both players got to the finals for their teams with Zuloaga's Tri-City team falling just short. Todd went out on top, though, as part of the Cali League Championship JetHawks.

Alex Todd - Lancaster August 2012
Photo by Jayne Hansen

I never had the opportunity to meet Zuloaga, but I got the chance to get to know Alex Todd a little bit when I was at Lancaster last summer. I talked to him the day after a particularly good game and it was a pleasure. I wish both players the best of luck as they find out what comes after baseball.

Happy Birthday - 1/29

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

RHP Brian Meyer (50)
Drafted by Houston in the 16th round in 1986, Meyer pitched in 34 games for the Astros from 1988 to 1990 with an ERA of 2.84 and a WHIP of 1.263. He went on to play in the minor leagues for the Seattle and Cleveland organizations in 1991, but never got back to the majors.

Tweet of the Day

mike Hauschild
New glove can only mean one thing.... baseball season is right around the corner! 
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Monday, January 28, 2013

Interview and Profile Links from 2011 and 2012

My interview and profile links are getting really lengthy on the front page so I'm going to consolidate the links from late 2011 through 2012 into one post for the front page. Here are the links in alphabetical order with the dates of the interviews/profiles indicated.

R.J. Alaniz - 8/15/12

Adam Bailey - 3/13/12

Brandon Barnes - 1/31/12

Brian Blasik - 9/14/12

Keith Bodie - 6/13/12

Erik Castro - 8/16/12

Kevin Chapman - 6/22/12

Jason Chowning - 2/21/12

Kirk Clark - 5/21/12

Ryan Cole - 12/12/11

Carlos Correa - 8/22/12

Jarred Cosart - 1/17/12

Delino DeShields - 5/23/12

Chris Devenski - 12/12/12

Bobby Doran - 6/6/12

Matt Duffy - 2/28/12

Chris Epps - 8/16/12

Mike Fast - 12/18/12

Mike Foltynewicz Interview - 5/7/12

Mike Foltynewicz Profile - 6/7/12

Jake Goebbert - 6/18/12

Kyle Hallock - 12/5/11

Mike Hauschild - 11/7/12

Bobby Heck, Pt. 1 - 7/2/12

Bobby Heck, Pt. 2 - 7/3/12

Tyler Heineman - 12/4/12

Enrique Hernandez - 8/13/12

Chris Hicks - 3/29/12

John Hinson - 2/7/12

Adrian Houser - 1/24/12

Adrian Houser - 8/23/12

Jordan Jankowski - 9/13/12

Zach Johnson Interview - 5/9/12

Zach Johnson Profile - 5/13/12

Kenny Long - 10/9/12

Jeff Luhnow - 11/29/12

Lance McCullers - 8/30/12

Chelsa Messinger - 10/30/12

Jio Mier - 2/14/12

Daniel Minor - 9/18/12

Joe Musgrove - 9/6/12

Brett Oberholtzer Interview - 7/31/12

Brett Oberholtzer Profile - 8/26/12

Rudy Owens - 10/23/12

Tyson Perez - 10/16/12

Brett Phillips - 10/2/12

Greg Rajan - 11/20/12

Andrew Robinson - 8/14/12

Brady Rodgers - 11/13/12

Rio Ruiz - 8/28/12

Jordan Scott - 5/11/12

Ross Seaton - 5/31/12

Jon Singleton Profile - 6/17/12

Jon Singleton Interview - 6/28/12

George Springer - 8/9/12

Jason Stoffel Profile - 6/25/12

Jason Stoffel Interview - 7/23/12

Alex Todd - 8/6/12

Nick Tropeano - 5/14/12

Rafy Valenzuela - 1/10/12

Austin Wates Interview - 6/20/12

Austin Wates Profile - 7/5/12

Aaron West - 9/26/12

Josh Zeid - 3/23/12

Blogger Q&A with Astros OF Justin Maxwell

Several members of the Astros blogging community went speed-dating this past weekend at Minute Maid Park. Well, not really, but it felt like that at times as Astros personnel and players dashed from table to table to grant us quick interviews. I sat with Terri of Tales from the Juice Box and Chris Perry, repping The Crawfish Boxes.

First up was Justin Maxwell. Since I write from a minor league perspective, I wanted to know about how he handled the inevitable frustrations of his slow and steady journey to the big leagues and what advice he might have for players impatient for a faster trajectory.

Justin Maxwell - Fan Fest 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Maxwell, who was drafted in 2005, talked to me about expectations and realities starting with 2007 after he had been placed on the 40-man roster. "I came into Spring Training hoping to make the team. I figured if I played well, I'd make the team. I had a pretty good Spring Training that year, [but] came to find out late in Spring Training [that I was going] to AA so to me that was kind of a shock. It was my first introduction to the options process. My advice would be to always play well. Don't get frustrated with the situations that you can't control. Because that's what I did. [In 2009], I was up and down a little bit. 2010 was really frustrating. I was up and down a lot, about five times, and I kind of let that affect my play in the minor league level a little bit, but you just realize that there's a lot of teams watching you at all times so it's always in your favor to really play well. Nobody cares about what you're going through off the field. They want to see you perform on the field so if you can control what you can control at the plate or in the field, just focus on baseball. The rest will take care of itself."

I also asked Maxwell one of my standard minor league player interview questions about which pitcher on the team he would least like to face in the batter's box. He joked about Lucas Harrell and Bud Norris being "no big deal" before he singled out Rhiner Cruz as an exceptional talent. "He's got an amazing arm. If he can get those secondary pitches over for strikes, he's going to be a special player. Not many guys can throw 97 on a consistent basis, day in and day out."

We talked a little about his goals for himself in 2013; playing centerfield and hitting to centerfield in Minute Maid Park; and playing in the American League, but a major focus of the interview was team leadership. Maxwell spoke of Brett Myers and Chris Snyder establishing a veteran presence in 2012, "I liked to pick their brains and listen to them when they would talk about the game because they'd been in the game for so long." He anticipates that Carlos Pena, "one of the nicest people I've come into contact with in baseball" will provide that type of leadership in 2013.

But I wanted to know which younger players on the team were poised to evolve into leadership roles. "Hopefully, it's myself. I've been in situations like this before as one of the older players, and I was one of the older players last year. I'm usually not as vocal as I should be. Hopefully, I can take more of a leadership role this year."

On a team like the Astros, leaders will need to emerge organically from among the younger players. But leadership cannot be forced on the unwilling. Someone must be prepared to take on the mantle and Justin Maxwell appears to be more than willing. As an excellent communicator with a clear vision, I think he will succeed in establishing himself in the clubhouse.

Happy Birthday - 1/28

LHP Wesley Wright (28)
Dequam LaWesley Wright was originally drafted by the Dodgers in the seventh round in 2003 and came to Houston as a Rule 5 pick in 2007. One of the most reliable parts of a sometimes shaky bullpen for the Astros in 2012, Wesley was 2-2 with a 3.27 ERA and a 1.185 WHIP. Lefties only hit .198 off him.

LHP Kenny Long (24)
Drafted in the 22nd round in 2012 out of Illinois State, Long excelled with Tri-City in his professional debut, going 1-1 with a 1.88 ERA and a 0.628 WHIP in 17 appearances and merited a promotion to Lancaster. In 12 regular season appearances with the JetHawks, he was 1-0 with a 1.13 ERA and a 0.625 WHIP. In the post-season, he had a 1.59 ERA and a 0.529 WHIP with two saves in six appearances and recorded the final out to secure the California League Championship.

Former Astros with birthdays today ~

IF Pete Runnels (died May 20, 1991 at 63)
Runnels came to Houston in a November 1962 trade with Boston and played in 146 games for the Colt .45's in 1963 and 1964, hitting .246/.329/.287. Runnels was a three-time All-Star for Boston with a .291 career batting average and he led the American League in batting average in 1960 and 1962.

RHP Oscar Henriquez (39)
Henriquez signed with Houston as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela in 1991 and pitched in only four games for Houston in 1997 with a 4.50 ERA and a 1.250 WHIP. He was subsequently traded to the Marlins in a package for Moises Alou in November 1997.

Tweet of the Day

Mike Foltynewicz
I would like to thank  for honoring me at their 67th annual banquet tonight. It was a great time and I had a lot of fun.

Congratulations to Mike on being named Chicago Area Minor League Player of the Year.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Astros GM Jeff Luhnow on Minor League Pitching Depth

During yesterday's Astros Fan Fest at Minute Maid Park, several individuals from the Astros blogging community attended and were given the opportunity to conduct short interviews with Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow, new Manager Bo Porter, and outfielders Justin Maxwell and J.D. Martinez. I will talk more about Porter, Maxwell and Martinez later, but since Luhnow's remarks dovetailed so nicely with the minor league depth series I've been working on over the last couple of weeks, I wanted to touch on his remarks about minor league pitching depth first.

Take the starting right-handed pitchers who had good seasons on full-season league teams in 2012, add in lefties Dallas Keuchel, Brett Oberholtzer and Rudy Owens, and then add in the  new pitchers that Luhnow picked up in the off-season (Alex White, John Ely, Philip Humber and Erik Bedard), and the field starts getting very crowded between the major leagues, AAA and AA. And this isn't even counting Kyle Weiland and Wes Musick as they come back from injury.

Astros GM Jeff Luhnow - 2013 Fan Fest
Photo by Jayne Hansen

So I asked Luhnow how he was going to handle juggling 15 or more pitchers for whom a valid case could be made for a starting roster spot at AAA and AA. I shouldn't have been surprised by his response, but I was. I should know by now that Luhnow thinks outside the box.

"That's going to be one of the most challenging things. We've got our best people working on it. Quentin [McCracken, Director of Player Development] is going through every day and putting magnets in different spots. Sig's [Mejdal, Director of Decision Sciences] on it, and I'm on it. I think those roster decisions at AA and AAA are going to be as important as the big league roster decisions.

"When I was farm director at the Cardinals, I instituted the piggyback, the tandem pitching rotations which allowed you to have eight starters for the first couple months of the year so we are going to discuss whether or not that's appropriate.

"The way you do that [is] you have four groups of two. First guy comes in and goes through the fifth inning and the second guy goes sixth to the end. The pitchers have to get used to it. They're not used to coming in in the sixth inning, but sometimes it's good because then [they] get the experience of finishing a game which is a totally different experience than most of these guys have had. And then the next time, [the second pitcher is] the one that starts the game and [his] piggyback partner comes in later.

"We're going to talk about it. We'll be creative certainly in how we allocate those roster spots. We'll proably have to have a few guys a level below where they would be otherwise."

That final statement brought to mind Mike Foltynewicz. Until recently, I thought that Foltynewicz might skip Lancaster and go straight to AA Corpus Christi, but in looking at the pitching depth at the higher levels, I had come to doubt that there would be enough room for him on that roster, at least to start the season. Luhnow and I discussed that briefly and it sounds as though he isn't as likely as the last regime to spare a top prospect  like Foltynewicz the challenges of pitching in the hitter-friendly California League, "If they're going to learn to pitch here [Minute Maid Park], they're going to need to learn to pitch through some adversity."

One final thought. Knowing what Luhnow has in mind as far as the possibility of using tandem pitching duos helped me understand my findings regarding the lack of depth in the area of right-handed relief pitching at the upper levels. With two starters piggybacking in one game, the relief corps isn't likely to get much work.

The plethora of pitching is a good problem to have. And having a creative out-of-the-box thinker like Luhnow around to solve it is a very good thing as well.

Happy Birthday - 1/27

No future Astros, only former Astros with birthdays today

LF Phil Plantier (44)
An 11th round pick by the Red Sox in 1987, this is how he got to Houston (according to Baseball-Reference):
December 28, 1994: Traded by the San Diego Padres with Derek Bell, Doug Brocail, Ricky Gutierrez, Pedro Martinez and Craig Shipley to the Houston Astros for a player to be named later, Ken Caminiti, Andujar Cedeno, Steve Finley, Roberto Petagine and Brian Williams. The Houston Astros sent Sean Fesh (minors) (May 1, 1995) to the San Diego Padres to complete the trade.
Plantier played in 22 games for the Astros in 1995, hitting .250/.349/.456 before being traded to the Padres in July of that year. He became hitting coach for the Padres on June 2, 2012 replacing Randy Ready.

RHP Rusty Meacham (45)
Originally drafted by the Tigers in the 33rd round in 1987, Meacham signed with Houston as a free agent in 1999 and pitched in only five games for Houston in 2000 with less than desirable results. His best season was 1992 for Kansas City when he went 10-4 with a 2.74 ERA and a 1.072 WHIP in 64 appearances.

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Kenny Long
Taking some hacks off the tee at work. With a little work I could be a 2 way player.