Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Mysterious Case of Kyle Hallock and Other Roster Moves

Barely more than a week ago, I outlined why I thought that it could be a BIG YEAR for Astros LHP Kyle Hallock. I felt that if he could get back to his pre-2012 injury form, he could move quickly up through the ranks. However, I did not foresee that he would pitch one inning at Low A Quad Cities and be promoted up three levels to AAA Oklahoma City the next day. Color me confused. That's a huge leap which makes me think that the promotion may be a temporary fill-in measure. It is my fervent hope, though, that Hallock makes the most of the opportunity even if it's simply a case of being in the right place at the right time (and being a lefty). I'll admit that there is a special place in my heart for Hallock who gave me my first interview ever.

In conjunction with this move, Cameron Lamb was assigned to Quad Cities from extended Spring Training. That was not unexpected since Lamb was already listed on the provisional roster released by the Astros on Monday.

Also, I am delinquent in posting the info on the trade with Oakland that netted the Astros LHP Travis Blackley for AAA OF Jake Goebbert. I think that the move will ultimately be a good one for Goebbert and I wish him nothing but the best. I got to know him a little bit in this interview from last summer. But it is our friend Astros County who tells us the ultimate story about the type of player Goebbert is. Edgar Gonzalez was removed from the 40-man roster and designated for assignment to make room for Blackley.

And finally, LHP Tommy Shirley and OF Chris Epps were placed on the temporary inactive list for Lancaster.

UPDATE: At the precise moment I posted this, it was reported that the aforesaid Travis Blackley strained his shoulder in his very first bullpen at Minute Maid Park and will be placed on the 15-day DL. Dallas Keuchel is being called up to replace him.

Astros Minor League Recaps

Friday's Games

Quad Cities over Kane County 4-1
Lance McCullers got off to a great start in his first appearance of the season, allowing four hits and striking out five in his five scoreless innings of work. McCullers' tandem partner Daniel Minor gave up one run on five hits in two and a third innings. Interestingly enough, Kyle Hallock worked one inning out of the bullpen. I had assumed he would be one of the starters. Hallock and John Neely both provided scoreless relief with Hallock striking out two. 3B Rio Ruiz, OF Ariel Ovando and C Roberto Pena all went 2-for-4 with a double with Ruiz' double being of the two RBI variety.

Springfield over Corpus Christi 2-0
Nick Tropeano got the hard luck loss despite allowing only one run via a solo homer in his five innings of work as Corpus Christi managed to collect only one hit off the Springfield team. Tropeano ended his night with three hits and a walk with five strikeouts in five innings and was followed by his tandem partner Bobby Doran who allowed one run on three hits and two strikeouts in three innings. Andrew Robinson rounded things out with two strikeouts in his scoreless outing. LF Austin Wates collected that one hit, a single in the first at bat of the game, to go with two walks later in the match, as well as a stolen base. Wates and RF Domingo Santana also recorded outfield assists in the game.

High Desert over Lancaster 7-3
Starter Brady Rodgers was the latest initiate into the brotherhood of Lancaster pitchers, a fraternity of hardship that bonds these men for life. A little overly dramatic? Yeah, well, maybe so. Rodgers definitely held his own in the first three innings before allowing four of his six hits consecutively to start the fourth, including a two-run home run. T.J. Geith finished out the fourth, pitched another frame and allowed another two runs before handing it over to Chris Devenski, the second half of the tandem team. Devenski pitched a strong three innings, allowing one run on four hits and a walk with two strikeouts. Jonas Dufek rounded things off with a scoreless frame. RF Preston Tucker provided some fireworks with a two-run shot in his 2-for-4 outing; LF Brandon Meredith was 2-for-3 and stole a base; and 1B Rafy Valenzuela had the only other extra base hit of the night, a double.

Memphis over Oklahoma City 9-0 in 7 innings (Game 1)
Jordan Lyles got the loss in his first start of the season as he allowed four runs on three hits and three walks with two strikeouts over four and a third innings. He was not helped by reliever Kevin Chapman who allowed two of Lyles' runners to score. Chapman gave up a hit and a walk without recording an out before giving way to C.J. Fick. Fick then allowed Lyles' remaining runner to score, along with one of Chapman's runners before giving up three runs of his own. Before all was said and done, 12 runners came to the plate with eight of them scoring, two on bases loaded walks. Gives new meaning to the phrase "pay it forward." Josh Zeid was the only pitcher with an effective outing as he struck out the side in the sixth, working around a walk and a Jimmy Paredes error that should have been the third out. The bats weren't exactly on fire either as the RedHawks only collected five hits, including a double from RF Jimmy Paredes. 3B Brandon Laird was 2-for-3 and didn't strike out three times like a certain big league first baseman who also screwed up by cutting off a throw to home last night and is hitting .071 for the season with 11 strikeouts. Wait. Where was I? Let's suffice to to say that Wallace had better watch his back or Laird is going to take his job from him. But no pressure there, Brett.

Oklahoma City over Memphis 8-7 in 7 innings (Game 2)
Paul Clemens gave up three runs on seven hits and three strikeouts to earn the win, but not before Wes Musick and Jose Valdez made it interesting allowing four runs to score in the bottom of the seventh to come within a run. 3B Jimmy Paredes was 2-for-3 with a double as was C Cody Clark. CF Robbie Grossman was 1-for-3 with two RBI; LF Trevor Crowe was also credited with two RBI despite not recording a hit. Grossman and Paredes each stole a base. And 1B Brandon Laird was 1-for-4 with a two-run home run and two RBI sac flies. Just sayin', Brett, just sayin'.

Pitcher of the Day: Lance McCullers wins this one hands down with an excellent start. Because of the tandem pitching assignments, he will likely have to wait through his next outing before getting another chance to get that first professional win, but I have no doubt he will be getting it soon.

Players of the Day: It's a tie. I've got to send Austin Wates some love because his lead-off first inning hit kept Corpus from being on the wrong end of a no-no. The two walks, outfield assist and stolen base were just gravy. And Brandon Laird's four RBI night makes him look awfully good in light of what some of us witnessed in person at Minute Maid Park last night, small sample size or not.

Happy Birthday - 4/6

Happy Birthday to ~

RHP Euris Quezada (24)
A NDFA from the Dominican, Quezada has played in the Astros system for four years. In 2012, he split his time among Greeneville, Tri-City and Lexington and put up a 3.14 ERA and 1.413 WHIP in 30 appearances out of the bullpen without allowing a single home run. At this point, he is in extended spring training awaiting a team assignment.

Former Astros with birthdays today ~

RHP Tommy Greene (46)
A first round pick by Atlanta in 1985, Greene pitched in 2 games for Houston in 1997 at the end of his major league career. His best season, by far, was his 1993 season in which he went 16-4 in 30 starts for the Phillies with a 3.42 ERA and a 1.185 WHIP. In May of 1991, he threw a no-hitter for the Phillies against the Expos.

OF Barry Wesson (36)
Drafted by the Astros in the 14th round in 1995, Wesson played in 15 games for Houston in 2002 before being claimed by Anaheim off waivers prior to the 2003 season. He played in another 10 games for Anaheim in 2003 but never got back on a major league roster. He last played in independent ball for the Rockland Boulders in Pomona, New York in 2011.

Tweet of the Day

Daniel Minor
Well wasn't the best outing but we still got the win!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Astros Minor League Recaps

Thursday's Games

Oklahoma City at Memphis - Postponed

Corpus Christi over Springfield 3-2
Starter Ross Seaton put up a solid five-inning start allowing two runs on four hits and a walk with two strikeouts and was rewarded with the win. Jake Buchanan channeled his 2011 self by inducing ground ball outs galore, including two double plays in his three innings of work. And Jason Stoffel did precisely what he did for most of 2012 and converted the save. Offensive stars were Domingo Santana who went 2-for-4 with a double; Rene Garcia with a tremendous 3-for-3 outing with two doubles and two runs scored; and George Springer was the difference maker with a two-run home run.

Lancaster over High Desert 10-9
Ah, the Cali League where anything can happen and usually does. The third inning was a tough one for the 'Hawks as Mike Foltynewicz allowed five runs on a grand slam and an inside-the-park home run and Andrew Aplin crashed into the wall, appearing to be hurt. Well, Aplin shook it off and so will Folty who seemed to have been a little overamped in his opening day start. The second half of the tandem, Alex Gillingham, didn't fare much better as he allowed three runs in his one and two-thirds innings. Carlos Quevedo and Travis Ballew provided scoreless relief out of the bullpen with Ballew getting his first save of the season.

Tyler Heineman showed why he was the New York-Penn League batting champion last season as he went 3-for-5 with a double. There were two hits each from Delino DeShields (2B, 3B), Nolan Fontana (2-run HR), Zach Johnson (2B), and Matt Duffy (2-run HR). Drew Muren only had one hit, but it was a triple. As a matter of fact, everyone reached the hit column except for Preston Tucker, but Tucker had three RBI, one on a bases loaded ground out, but the first two on a sac fly which plated two. Bo Porter's aggressiveness on the bases has apparently been embraced by Lancaster Manager Rodney Linares.

Quad Cities over Kane County 7-2
Vincent Velasquez and Joe Bircher gave Jeff Luhnow exactly what he wanted in a starting pitching tandem. Velasquez pitched five effectively, allowing two runs on three hits and a walk with five strikeouts while Bircher allowed only two hits with four strikeouts over his four innings of work. Two Puerto Ricans were the stars of this one. Carlos Correa went 2-for-5 with a double and three RBI and Roberto Pena was 2-for-5 with two RBI and scored two runs. Teoscar Hernandez and Jordan Scott each swiped a bag and Ariel Ovando contributed an outfield assist.

Pitchers of the Day
It's a tie. Joe Bircher did precisely what was asked of him as the second half of the Quad Cities tandem, pitching a strong four innings. Jake Buchanan was also a second half guy who did well, but it was seeing him get back to his mastery of ground ball outs and inducing double plays that made me a happy camper.

Player of the Day
This one is easy. Nolan Fontana reached base all five times with a single, a two-run home run, two walks and a hit by pitch. He also stole a base. I know that Fontana won't keep a 1.000 OBP all season, but at this rate, he may beat his very impressive .464 mark from last season. A hat tip to Rene Garcia for his outstanding night at the plate as well.

Happy Birthday - 4/5

Happy Birthday to ~

SS/2B Brandon Wikoff (25)
Drafted by Houston in the fifth round in 2009 out of the University of Illinois, Wikoff played in only 22 games for Corpus Christi in 2012 in an injury-shortened season. As some of you are probably be aware, Wikoff was in an automobile accident during Spring Training that landed him in the hospital. He is now out of the hospital and is expected to make a full recovery. We all wish Brandon the very best.

One former Astro with a birthday today ~

RHP Brandon Backe (35)
Originally drafted by Tampa Bay in the 18th round in 1998, Backe came to Houston in a December 2003 trade with Tampa for Geoff Blum.  In 108 appearances (79 starts) for Houston from 2004 to 2009, Backe was 30-28 with a 5.16 ERA and a 1.550 WHIP.  But it was his postseason numbers that set Backe apart - in 7 games (6 starts) in 5 postseason series, he was 1-0 with a 2.95 ERA and a 0.982 WHIP.  But most of all, it was this game that will ensure Backe a permanent place in Astros lore.

Tweet of the Day

Morgan Ensberg
Congrats to Nolan Fontana. First player to receive the "You're a Really Good Player" Player of the game award.
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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Quad Cities Season Preview and Opening Day Roster

Over the last three days I've posted season previews for Oklahoma City, Corpus Christi and Lancaster.  The last one up is the Low A Quad Cities River Bandits team. This one is going to be the hardest of all to predict. Yes, the team will be dripping with talent but much of that talent is still raw and inexperienced. The success of the team will be largely predicated on how quickly some of the younger players develop and how well they endure their first long season.

Out of the starting pitching staff, only Colton Cain has any significant experience at Low A or above, having spent the 2012 season at High A. Frankly, I was surprised to see Cain back in Low A this season, but he may be there precisely because of the overall lack of experience in order to anchor the rotation to start the year. Fellow lefty Kyle Hallock started last season at Low A Lexington, but was injured early on and only pitched in seven games at the level. I look for Hallock to have a very good bounce-back season though.

Of the remaining five starters, fellow lefties Joe Bircher and Brian Holmes both pitched for the short season Tri-City club with Holmes performing particularly well. (Yes, we're looking at four lefty starters on the team.) Vincent Velasquez also pitched for Tri-City in 2012 in his first action since having Tommy John surgery. I look for him to start climbing up the prospect rankings during the coming year. The final two starters will be Lance McCullers and Daniel Minor, each of whom pitched in Rookie League Greeneville last season. Minor had an excellent freshman season. McCullers was extremely limited in innings pitched, but put up some great numbers. McCullers is going to be a star eventually, but I would whole-heartedly approve if the Astros decide to use him judiciously in his early development.

If you're adding these up, you'll notice that this team only has seven obvious starters rather than the eight anticipated for the tandem pitching rotation. I am going to assume that the Quad Cities team is holding that final spot for Adrian Houser who was reported (by Baseball America) to be dealing with some minor injuries and was held back at extended spring training for the time being. Houser would be the most obvious choice for that 8th spot.

Out of the bullpen, Cameron Lamb played a handful of games at Low A in 2012, as did Mitch Lambson, both with solid results. The bullpen actually looks to be one of the strong points of the team and will be anchored by Mike Hauschild and Jordan Jankowski, who dominated at Greeneville last season; John Neely who put up solid numbers at Tri-City; and Gera Sanchez who excelled in the Gulf Coast League in 2012.

My guess is that some of these pitchers may struggle early as they adjust to the level and some may fade late as they endure their first 140-game season.

As to the position players, the grizzled veterans include the 20-year old Roberto Pena who split 2012 between Low A and High A and Jordan Scott who spent the 2012 season at Low A Lexington where he was unable to replicate his stellar 2011 season. Jobduan Morales, Teoscar Hernandez and Jesse Wierzbicki all played a handful of games at Lexington in 2012 and all held their own. Carlos Perdomo, an off-season pickup by Jeff Luhnow, spent 2011 and 2012 in the Phillies organization playing for their Low A affiliate in the Sally League.

Pena, in particular, will benefit from a season at Quad Cities. He was pressed into service at High A Lancaster due to injuries within the system because of his defensive abilities as a catcher, just as his bat was starting to catch up at the lower level. I look for good offensive improvements from Pena. Jordan Scott should make adjustments this season as well. Jesse Wierzbicki can flat out hit. And despite the fact that I have never seen Teoscar Hernandez play, I am a huge, huge fan. He has the tools to be an impact player.

Chase Davidson was limited to nine games at Tri-City due to an injury which was revealed by the Quad Cities announcer in tonight's game to have been nerve damage in his forearm. He is a mature hitter who should dominate at the level. Ryan Dineen and Joe Sclafani also come from the Tri-City team with Sclafani putting up very solid numbers, including a strong OBP.

Carlos Correa, Rio Ruiz, Terrell Joyce and Ariel Ovando are all coming from the Rookie League Greeneville team. Correa is expected to master the Low A level quickly, but keep your eye on Rio Ruiz. He is definitely another star in the making. Ovando seems to be fulfilling his earlier promise. It will be interesting to see what he will be able to do at the higher level.

Many of the posititon players may need to make adjustments at the plate to start the season, but once they make them, watch out. The offensive potential of this group is through the roof. They will also be a very strong team defensively. I predict that Carlos Correa, Roberto Pena and Teoscar Hernandez will be the defensive stars.

Ah, the prediction. So much depends upon how hardy the pitching staff proves to be over the long run. At the risk of sounding like a Debbie Downer, I'm going to predict that this team will go 72-68 and will fall just shy of getting to the playoffs. If, however, everything goes right, no one gets injured, no one gets overly fatigued, I'll predict 78-62, playoff bound as a wild card and winning the whole dang thing. 

This is the opening day roster. The season schedule can be found here and the radio feed is available here with Marco LaNave calling the action. 

Quad Cities:

PITCHERS
Joe Bircher*
Colton Cain*
Kyle Hallock*
Mike Hauschild
Brian Holmes*
Jordan Jankowski
Cameron Lamb
Mitchell Lambson*
Lance McCullers
Daniel Minor
John Neely
Gera Sanchez
Vincent Velasquez

CATCHERS
Jobduan Morales#
Roberto Pena

INFIELDERS
Carlos Correa
Chase Davidson*
Ryan Dineen*
Carlos Perdomo
Rio Ruiz*
Joe Sclafani#
Jesse Wierzbicki

OUTFIELDERS
Teoscar Hernandez
Terrell Joyce
Ariel Ovando*
Jordan Scott*

*Left-handed
#Switch hitter

Lancaster Season Preview and Opening Day Roster

Over the last two days I've posted season previews for Oklahoma City and Corpus Christi.  Today, we'll look at the High A California League Lancaster JetHawks. This one will be easy. I predict that the JetHawks will repeat as California League Champions. So, there you have it. Glad I could be of service. What, you want more details? Well, if you insist, but you really should just take my word for it.

I'm going to be very interested in seeing how the pitching tandems shake out in Lancaster because there are actually ten pitchers on this team who were used primarily as starters last season. Tyson Perez and Blair Walters are the only two starters on the team who spent time at Lancaster last season. Perez definitely held his own at the level and really impressed with his post-season performance. Walters didn't fare quite as well in his limited time at Lancaster.

Luis Cruz, Chris Devenski, Jonas Dufek, Mike Foltynewicz, Alex Gillingham and David Rollins are all getting promoted from Low A where they had varying degrees of success. Lancaster is a very hitter-friendly park where flyballs which would be routine outs elsewhere often become wind-driven home runs. In looking at which of these promoted Low A pitchers have the best chances of succeeding in that environment, I looked at groundball rate and strikeout rate.

Alex Gillingham is an extreme groundball pitcher and should fare well as should Luis Cruz who has definite groundball tendencies to go along with a decent strikeout rate. Chris Devenski has the lowest groundball rate of that group, but he has the highest strikeout rate. He will need to rely on location and getting key strikeouts, something he is more than capable of doing. In between lie Dufek, Foltynewicz and Rollins who each have a small tendency toward more groundball outs than air outs and decent strikeout rates. It is refreshing to see that there are no extreme flyball pitchers in the mix. I expect each of these pitchers will have to make adjustments and may struggle to begin, but they should all be capable of handling the Lancaster conditions. If Folty shows us anything remotely like what I saw in the Astros final exhibition game last weekend, I know he's up to the task.

The final two starting pitchers, Aaron West and Brady Rodgers, are being promoted directly from the Tri-City short season club where they each had outstanding seasons. Rodgers in particular is well-suited for Lancaster with his definite groundball tendencies and his excellent command. West also tends toward more groundball outs and is definitely capable of getting a key strikeout when needed.

Carlos Quevedo is the only bullpen arm with prior experience at Lancaster. Quevedo was with Lancaster for his final 15 games with Lancaster in 2012 and had great success. He has excellent command and a high strikeout rate. Travis Ballew, T.J. Geith and Tommy Shirley are all tailor made for Lancaster as well.

On the offensive side, Rafy Valenzuela, Delino DeShields, Andrew Aplin, Chris Epps and Drew Muren all spent time in Lancaster and all had varying degrees of success there. DeShields and Aplin should benefit from more time at the level. I look for both of them to put up very strong numbers and end the season in Corpus Christi.

The group of players who have been promoted from Low A Lexington bring a lot to the table. Matt Duffy and Brandon Meredith are both going to hit a lot of home runs in Lancaster. Nolan Fontana (65 walks in 49 games) is going to continue to get on base as will Duffy (41 hit by pitches) and Zach Johnson (108 RBI) is going to drive them in.

Add in the trio promoted from Tri-City, Preston Tucker, Tyler Heineman and M.P. Cokinos, and you're looking at a very talented line-up. I know virtually nothing about the final player rounding out the roster, IF Raoul Torrez, an off-season pick up by GM Jeff Luhnow.

Now for prediction time! Last season's team ERA was 5.00 and the WHIP was 1.458. The 2013 team will beat both of those numbers easily. Last season's team batting line was .283/.353/.448. The 2013 team will have a slightly higher batting average, a modestly higher on-base percentage and a significantly higher slugging percentage. Last year's record was 74-66. This year, I'm calling for a somewhat slow April before things start to take off culminating in a final record of 85-55 and a second California League Championship. I'm not going to be timid in this prediction because even if key players are promoted during the season, there are a ton more talented players waiting in the wings. This is the first time in a very long time that one can say that about the Astros farm system.

This is the opening day roster as we know it today. I will update it with any changes that may be made before tonight's opening game which will be at home vs. High Desert. The schedule can be found here and the radio feed is available here with the inimitable (and ever entertaining) Jason Schwartz calling the action.


PITCHERS
Travis Ballew
Luis Cruz*
Chris Devenski
Jonas Dufek
Mike Foltynewicz
T.J. Geith*
Alex Gillingham
Tyson Perez
Carlos Quevedo
Brady Rodgers
David Rollins*
Tommy Shirley*
Blair Walters*
Aaron West

CATCHERS
M.P. Cokinos
Tyler Heineman#

INFIELDERS
Delino DeShields
Matt Duffy
Nolan Fontana*
Zach Johnson
Raoul Torrez
Rafael Valenzuela*

OUTFIELDERS
Andrew Aplin*
Chris Epps*
Brandon Meredith
Andrew Muren*
Preston Tucker

*Left-handed
#Switch hitter

Next Up: Low A Quad Cities River Bandits. I hope to have it ready on Friday.

OPENING DAY!!!!

You just thought that Sunday's game between the Astros and Rangers was Opening Day, or maybe you thought the full slate of games on Monday represented Opening Day. But for me, Opening Day is today as all four of the Astros full season minor league affiliates take the field. The full schedule can be found here and can be filtered by league, major league affiliation, etc.

I will do my best to get recaps to you every morning of the previous night's action. The very funny, talented and insightful Buca Morris has agreed to help me with recaps again this year in a belated and futile attempt to help me retain what little remains of my sanity. If you aren't already following Buca on twitter, you can find him at @BucaMorris.

I plan to travel to six of the Astros minor league affiliates this season with the first stop being Quad Cities in late April. At each stop, I hope to gather interviews, photos, video and more insight into who these players really are. I would be honored and delighted to have all of you come along with me on the ride.

And with that said ...

PLAY BALL!!!!!!!!

Happy Birthday - 4/4

No future Astros, only former Astros with birthdays today ~

RHP Casey Daigle (32)
A first round draft pick by Arizona in 1999, Daigle came to Houston as a free agent. In 13 games pitched for Houston in 2010, he was 1-1 with a less than desirable ERA and WHIP. He last pitched for the Giants' AAA team in 2011. He is married to softball star Jennie Finch.

CF Gary Geiger (died April 24, 1996 at 59)
Originally signed as a pitcher and subsequently converted, Geiger found his stride at the plate in 1960, hitting .302/.369/.490 through 77 games. Unfortunately, a collapsed lung sidelined him for the remainder of that season and he never found that degree of success again. Geiger played in 98 games for Houston in 1969 and 1970 at the end of his major league career.

LHP Joe Gibbon (78)
Gibbon pitched in parts of 13 seasons for four teams. He was a part of the World Series champion Pirates in his rookie season in 1960. He only pitched 7.1 innings in 9 games for Houston at the end of his career in 1972 and was unable to recreate his earlier effectiveness. For his career, he had a 3.52 ERA and a 1.310 WHIP.

Tweet of the Day

Jonas Dufek
 Apartment's not ready for one more night so sleeping in the apartment leasing office.
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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Corpus Christi Season Preview and Corpus Christi Roster

Yesterday I posted a season preview for Oklahoma City and I felt quite comfortable in my projections for the team. Corpus Christi isn't going to be quite so easy. There will be significant talent on the team, but many of the players will be getting their first taste of AA and the very tough Texas League.

Of the pitchers, Ross Seaton at 23 will be the grizzled veteran of the group as he starts his third season at AA. He ended the 2012 season strongly and looks to be a strong anchor on the rotation. Jake Buchanan struggled in his first season at AA in 2012, but I think he can make the adjustments he needs to make to remind us why he was the Astros minor league pitcher of the year in 2011 despite pitching in the hitter friendly confines of The Hangar in Lancaster that year. Bobby Doran, Matt Heidenreich and Asher Wojciechowski all handled their mid-season promotions to AA very well and should build on their 2012 experience.

Three pitchers, however, will be getting their first taste of AA - R.J. Alaniz, David Martinez and Nick Tropeano. Tropeano has met every challenge he has been handed thus far. I think he will continue to do so. Martinez was the one constant in the 2012 Lancaster rotation and ended the season very strongly. I can see him struggling initially at AA and then making the necessary adjustments much as he did at High A. I'll admit that I was surprised by Alaniz' promotion to AA. The 21-year old went on the DL on July 26th and did not pitch again last season. He is the biggest wild card in the rotation.

As to the bullpen, Jason Stoffel dominated at Corpus Christi in 2012. I see no reason for that to change. Andrew Robinson struggled early at Lancaster last season, but then became their most effective bullpen arm for much of the season. Alex Sogard will be getting a second season at AA, while fellow lefty Pat Urckfitz is getting back to AA for the first time since 2011. Both had solid seasons in 2012. The wild card in the bullpen is Jorge de Leon. De Leon had a very tough year in 2012 as the Astros experimented with using him in the rotation, an experiment which I felt failed miserably. He settled in to be much more effective later in the season when he was used solely out of the bullpen.

In 2012, the team ERA was 4.06 and the WHIP was 1.332. I think that Ross Seaton, Nick Tropeano and Asher Wojciechowski will outperform those numbers, but the group as a whole will likely put up numbers that are slightly north of those.

The only position players who spent significant time at AA in 2012 are Austin Wates and minor league Rule 5 pick Michael Burgess. Ben Orloff, Enrique Hernandez, George Springer, Rene Garcia and Ryan McCurdy all got their feet wet at AA, but that's about it. None of them had enough at-bats at the level to draw any conclusions about how they will ultimately handle it.

To complicate things further, one never knows how hitting stats at wind-blown Lancaster will translate when a player is promoted to the less hitter-friendly Corpus Christi park. We will soon find that out with Erik Castro, Jonathan Meyer, Jiovanni Mier and Domingo Santana. They all spent the entire season at Lancaster and they all had pretty healthy slugging numbers. I think we can safely say that there will be some regression. The question is how much. Finally, Carlos Perez only played in 26 games at High A before getting promoted to AA. He may be in above his head offensively, at least to start, but his defensive skills are excellent.

The team batting line for 2012 was .268/.342/.410. I think that this team will put up a better batting average than that while putting up fairly equivalent on-base numbers. The slugging number will be driven in large part by the seasons that George Springer and Domingo Santana have.

This one is really, really difficult for me to predict. There are so many variables, but here goes nothing. I think this team will struggle in the first half, similar to last season, but catch on fire in the second half, also similar to last season. I think they will make it to the playoffs, but with fewer wins than last season. In 2012, they were 81-59. In 2013, I predict 78-62.


This is the opening day roster as we know it today. I will update it with any changes that may be made before Thursday's opening game which will be at home vs. Springfield. The schedule can be found here and all games will be available on MiLB.tv.

PITCHERS
Ruben (R.J.) Alaniz
Jake Buchanan
Jorge De Leon
Bobby Doran
Matt Heidenreich
David Martinez
Andrew Robinson
Ross Seaton
Alex Sogard*
Jason Stoffel
Nick Tropeano
Pat Urckfitz*
Asher Wojciechowski

CATCHERS
Rene Garcia
Ryan McCurdy
Carlos Perez

INFIELDERS
Erik Castro*
Enrique Hernandez
Jonathan Meyer
Jiovanni Mier
Ben Orloff

OUTFIELDERS
Michael Burgess*
Domingo Santana
George Springer
Austin Wates

*Left-handed

Next Up: The High A Lancaster JetHawks (tomorrow if I get it written)

Happy Birthday - 4/3

No future Astros with birthdays today, but one of our minor league coaches is celebrating today ~

DSL Pitching Coach Rick Aponte (57)
Aponte spent six seasons pitching in Houston's minor league system from 1976 to 1981. From 1981 to 2006, Aponte stayed with the organization as a coach, scout and manager until he became the bullpen coach for the Washington Nationals in 2006 under Manny Acta (Aponte had coached Acta early in his career). Aponte returned to the Astros organization in 2009. In 2012, he was the pitching coach for Tri-City and will reprise that role in the Dominican Summer League in 2013.

Tweet of the Day

Travis Ballew
Sports center is ten times better during baseball season

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Oklahoma City Season Preview and Opening Day Roster

Pitching, pitching, pitching. That's what stands out on the opening day roster of the Oklahoma City RedHawks team. It will be an adjustment for the pitchers and an adjustment for minor league aficionados as the starting pitchers piggyback for the early part of the season, but it is a reflection of the increasing depth of the Astros minor league system.

Last season, the collective ERA for the RedHawks team was 4.89 and the WHIP was 1.508. Eight out of the nine pitchers on this year's roster who got starts at AAA last season had a lower ERA and seven out of the nine had a lower WHIP. Those nine had a collective 46-34 record at AAA.

John Ely, who went 14-7 in the Dodgers system in 2012, may regress somewhat, but everyone else looks to either hold steady or improve. Dallas Keuchel and Jordan Lyles should dominate back in AAA. Brett Oberholtzer spent significant time at AAA last year and was stronger toward the end of the season, so look for his numbers to improve. Rudy Owens should remain effective in his third season at AAA. Jarred Cosart and Jose Cisnero both spent limited time at AAA last season and should benefit from more time at the level. I look for Cisnero to make large strides toward the end of the season and for Cosart to be Cosart. It is doubtful that Wes Musick will be used as a starter unless someone stumbles, but he had success in his limited time as a starter at Oklahoma City in 2012.

That leaves us with Paul Clemens. Clemens put up an 8-8 record at Oklahoma City in 2012 with a 6.73 ERA and a 1.741 WHIP before ending the season back at Corpus Christi. He will either improve on those numbers or he will end up in the bullpen, which may end up being a very good thing based on his dazzling work out of the bullpen during Spring Training.

As to the bullpen, C.J. Fick and Jose Valdez both have significant experience at AAA and some MLB experience as well. Valdez was highly effective at AAA last season but for a stretch during which he was injured. Josh Zeid and Kevin Chapman will be getting their first taste of AAA and will likely have to adjust somewhat, but having the experience of pitching successfully in the very tough Texas League should help to ease that transition.

The 2012 RedHawks team had a collective batting average of .282/.349/.434. I don't look for this team to do that well, at least not initially. Jimmy Paredes, Trevor Crowe, Brandon Laird and Jake Elmore will likely be the best overall hitters to start the season. The collective catching staff will likely hit around .250/.330/.370 or so, and Che-Hsuan Lin has only hit .256/.347/.344 in his six minor league seasons.

The keys to the offense are two-fold. First, Marc Krauss, Jose Martinez and Jake Goebbert will all need to catch up to the AAA level. Each of those players struggled somewhat in limited time at Oklahoma City last season. If they can recreate their success at the lower levels, it will go a long way toward shoring up the offense. Secondly, this year will be the first taste of AAA for Robbie Grossman and Jonathan Villar and there is no way of knowing how they will handle that challenge. I'm not counting on Jon Singleton's contributions as I don't think he will spend much time at Oklahoma City after his suspension ends; I expect him to be fast-tracked to Houston shortly thereafter.

It is very difficult to predict any minor league team's season, but it is most difficult to predict AAA as the opening day roster and closing day roster will look very, very different. Several of these players could end the season in Houston. Some may be traded or released. However, with that said, I'm game to make a prediction.

Last season, the RedHawks ended the year with a 78-65 record in 143 games or a .545 win percentage. I think that the 2013 team will win fewer games with their bats, but the pitching depth will more than make up for that so I predict the team will improve on that record. Let's say somewhere between 82-62 and 85-59 and playoff bound.

This is the opening day roster as we know it today. I will update it with any changes that may be made before Thursday's opening game which will be on the road vs. Memphis. The schedule can be found here and all games will be available on MiLB.tv.

PITCHERS
Kevin Chapman*
Jose Cisnero
Paul Clemens
Jarred Cosart
John Ely
C.J. Fick
Dallas Keuchel*
Jordan Lyles
Wes Musick*
Brett Oberholtzer*
Rudy Owens*
Jose Valdez
Josh Zeid

CATCHERS
Cody Clark
Jason Jaramillo#
Chris Wallace

INFIELDERS
Jake Elmore
Marc Krauss*
Brandon Laird
Jose Martinez
Jonathan Villar#

OUTFIELDERS
Trevor Crowe#
Jake Goebbert*
Robbie Grossman#
Che-Hsuan Lin
Jimmy Paredes#

* - denotes left-hander
# - denotes switch-hitter

Next Up: Season Preview for Corpus Christi (tomorrow or whenever I get it written)

Happy Birthday - 4/2

No future Astros, only former Astros with birthdays today ~

RHP Don Sutton (68)
The Hall of Famer was originally signed by the Dodgers as an amateur free agent in 1964 and came to Houston as a free agent prior to the 1981 season. During two seasons with the Astros, Sutton went 24-17 in 50 starts with a 2.82 ERA and a 1.063 WHIP before being traded to Milwaukee in August of 1982 for Kevin Bass, Frank DiPino and Mike Madden. There are too many superlatives associated with Sutton's terrific career to summarize them all here so read this for some of the highlights.

LF Pete Incaviglia (49)
Incaviglia was drafted in the first round by the Expos in 1985, but was traded to the Rangers that fall when he insisted on spending no time in the minor leagues (the trade led to a one-year rule for keeping drafted players). Despite Incaviglia's decent but less than stellar numbers in the majors (career .246/.310/.448), he was considered to be one of the best, if not the best, college hitters of all time. For more on that story, click here. He played in 113 games for Houston in 1992 and in 13 games at the end of his career in 1998. He did eventually play in 120 games in the minor leagues, but not until 1997 forward. He has been managing independent league ball since 2008.

RHP Gordon Jones (died April 25, 1994 at 64)
Jones was first signed by the Cardinals in 1949 but didn't make it to the big leagues until 1954 thanks to a 3-year detour to the Korean War. Jones pitched for Houston in 1964 and 1965 at the end of his career, going 0-1 in 35 games with a 4.06 ERA and a 1.412 WHIP.

LHP Mike Gallo (36)
Drafted by the Astros in the 5th round in 1999, Gallo pitched for Houston from 2003 to 2006. In 160 games, he was 4-3 with a 4.11 ERA and a 1.517 WHIP.

Tweet of the Day

Nick Tropeano
It is socially acceptable to be immature today. April Fools' Day.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Astros Minor League Rosters

The moment we've all been waiting for (well, I have been anyway) -- Astros Minor League Rosters have finally been released. More info to come later, including Season Previews of each of the four full season teams, but I just wanted to get the basic info out there as soon as I got it in my hot little hands.

Oklahoma City:

PITCHERS
Kevin Chapman*
Jose Cisnero
Paul Clemens
Jarred Cosart
John Ely
C.J. Fick
Dallas Keuchel*
Jordan Lyles
Wes Musick*
Brett Oberholtzer*
Rudy Owens*
Jose Valdez
Josh Zeid

CATCHERS
Cody Clark
Jason Jaramillo#
Chris Wallace

INFIELDERS
Jake Elmore
Marc Krauss*
Brandon Laird
Jose Martinez
Jonathan Villar#

OUTFIELDERS
Trevor Crowe#
Jake Goebbert*
Robbie Grossman#
Che-Hsuan Lin
Jimmy Paredes#

* - denotes left-hander
# - denotes switch-hitter

[UPDATE: I see no real surprises on the OKC roster.]

Corpus Christi:

PITCHERS
Ruben (R.J.) Alaniz
Jake Buchanan
Jorge De Leon
Bobby Doran
Matt Heidenreich
David Martinez
Andrew Robinson
Ross Seaton
Alex Sogard*
Jason Stoffel
Nick Tropeano
Pat Urckfitz*
Asher Wojciechowski

CATCHERS
Rene Garcia
Ryan McCurdy
Carlos Perez

INFIELDERS
Erik Castro*
Enrique Hernandez
Jonathan Meyer
Jiovanni Mier
Ben Orloff

OUTFIELDERS
Michael Burgess*
Domingo Santana
George Springer
Austin Wates

[UPDATE: The only real surprises here for me are R.J. Alaniz and David Martinez. I thought that Martinez deserved the promotion, but wasn't sure that they could make the room for him, but the whole tandem pitching scheme is giving him this opportunity. Also, R.J. Alaniz didn't pitch competitively after an injury sidetracked him on July 26th at Lancaster. I was somewhat surprised by the promotion, but Jeff Luhnow mentioned to me that he really liked Alaniz at one point, so I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. SECOND UPDATE: I totally missed that Chia-Jen Lo isn't on the roster. He was supposed to start the season at Corpus Christi. I hope he isn't injured again.]

Lancaster:

PITCHERS
Travis Ballew
Luis Cruz*
Chris Devenski
Jonas Dufek
Mike Foltynewicz
T.J. Geith*
Alex Gillingham
Tyson Perez
Carlos Quevedo
Brady Rodgers
David Rollins*
Tommy Shirley*
Blair Walters*
Aaron West

CATCHERS
M.P. Cokinos
Tyler Heineman#

INFIELDERS
Delino DeShields
Matt Duffy
Nolan Fontana*
Zach Johnson
Raoul Torrez
Rafael Valenzuela*

OUTFIELDERS
Andrew Aplin*
Chris Epps*
Brandon Meredith
Andrew Muren*
Preston Tucker

[UPDATE: I am salivating over this roster. I already tweeted that Lancaster will repeat as Cali League Champions with this crew. I think it is noteworthy that Mike Foltynewicz got edged out of a job at Corpus by Alaniz and Martinez. But the most striking thing to me is how many 2012 draftees will be on this team - Travis Ballew, Brady Rodgers, Aaron West, M.P. Cokinos, Tyler Heineman, Nolan Fontana, Andrew Aplin and Preston Tucker. Of those, only Fontana spent any time at Low A; the rest are skipping that level completely.]

Quad Cities:

PITCHERS
Joe Bircher*
Colton Cain*
Kyle Hallock*
Mike Hauschild
Brian Holmes*
Jordan Jankowski
Cameron Lamb
Mitchell Lambson*
Lance McCullers
Daniel Minor
John Neely
Gera Sanchez
Vincent Velasquez

CATCHERS
Jobduan Morales#
Roberto Pena

INFIELDERS
Carlos Correa
Chase Davidson*
Ryan Dineen*
Carlos Perdomo
Rio Ruiz*
Joe Sclafani#
Jesse Wierzbicki

OUTFIELDERS
Teoscar Hernandez
Terrell Joyce
Ariel Ovando*
Jordan Scott*

[UPDATE: I am very happy to see McCullers, Ruiz and Correa together here, but I wish their friend Brett Phillips could come along for the ride. Phillips will catch up one of these days, though. I was a little surprised to see Colton Cain at Quad Cities since he had finished last season at Lancaster. If Kyle Hallock can recreate his 2011 season, look for him to move quickly. Two noteworthy outfielders - Ariel Ovando and  Teoscar Hernandez (who I have worshiped from afar having never seen him play in person). They could  both be very exciting players.]

Here are some of the more notable players missing from rosters. Some of these are expected, like Kevin Comer and Joe Musgrove who I fully expect to be on a short season roster, as well as Jack Armstrong who most of us expected to be on the Tri-City team. Most of these are younger players who don't need to be rushed, but some of the "missing" may be injury-related or other issues. Unless any of these players are released, they will stay at extended spring training until they are either promoted to a team, done rehabbing an injury, or start for one of the short-season teams.

Jack Armstrong
Jean Batista
Brian Blasik
Bobby Borchering
Tanner Bushue
Kevin Comer
Jamaine Cotton
Lance Day
Austin Elkins
Ernesto Genoves
Justin Gominsky
Murilo Gouvea
Evan Grills
Adrian Houser
Christopher Lee
Chia-Jen Lo
Kenny Long - minor injury
Chan Moon
Joe Musgrove
Telvin Nash
Luis Ordosgoitti
Juri Perez
Brett Phillips
Javaris Reynolds
Andy Simunic
Jon Singleton - on 50-game suspension
Max Stassi
D'Andre Toney
Kyle Weiland