Saturday, May 25, 2013

Astros Minor League Recaps

Friday’s Games

Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 3, Quad Cities River Bandits 4
Quad Cities crept in to win this one in the eighth inning after coming back to tie it in the fourth. The offense was able to do that thanks in large part to the performances of their pitching tandem Lance McCullers and Daniel Minor who kept the opposition scoreless after the second inning. McCullers took the start and after giving up a run in the first and two in the second, regained control and kept it scoreless through his next three frames, finishing with three runs (2 ER) on four hits, four walks and two Ks. Minor came on next and finished out the match, throwing 1-2-3 sets in the sixth and seventh and striking out five overall while allowing two hits. Rio Ruiz (1X4 RBI) got his team on the board in the first inning with an RBI triple to score Carlos Correa. Carlos Correa (2X4 R 3B 2RBI SO) tied the game in the fourth with a two RBI triple, moving him to 24 RBIs on the season. The winning run came on a passed ball in the eighth that Teoscar Hernandez took advantage from third base. Hernandez came into the inning earlier as a pinch runner for Ariel Ovando.

Inland Empire 66ers 4, Lancaster JetHawks 12
The JetHawks came out scoring and didn’t stop until they took the win at home on Friday. Chris Devenski (4-2) took the start and the “W” after throwing for the first five frames. Devenski allowed four runs on five hits, walked two and struck out six during his shift. Brady Rodgers finished out the game on the hill and earned his first save, keeping the last four innings scoreless while striking out three and giving up a pair of hits. At the plate, the bats were hot with five Lancaster players recording multi-hit nights (four of those three hit nights). None was hotter than Andrew Aplin though, who hit a two-run homer in the first to get the JetHawks on the board and finished with four RBI. Aplin leads the California League in RBI with 42 so far this season. Here’s the box for the rest of the offensive action:

Northwest Arkansas Naturals 0, Corpus Christi Hooks 2
There was definitely a pitcher’s duel in Corpus on Friday night and the Hooks had the upper hand. That advantage came from their offense and the fact that Mike Foltynewicz and David Martinez combined forces to one-hit-shutout their opponents. Folty’ cruised through the first five innings, striking out two and issuing three walks. Martinez (8-0) took the mound next and after giving up a hit to the first batter he faced, settled in to strike out two and walk one. Martinez took the win after his offense broke onto the scoreboard in the seventh by way of a Jonathan Meyer (1X4 RBI) RBI single to score Domingo Santana (0X2 R BB), who was on board because of a leadoff HBP. The Hooks would score again in the eighth when Jiovanni Mier (OX2 R BB) drew a walk to lead off the inning, advanced to second on a Ben Orloff (1X3) sac’ bunt and then scored on Rene Garcia’s (2X4 2B RBI) eighth double of the year.

Oklahoma City RedHawks 4, Iowa Cubs 5
The RedHawks got on the scoreboard first Friday after a Jonathan Villar (2X5 R HR RBI SO) leadoff homer in the first, but were behind by the end of the inning and never managed to get back ahead. Brad Peacock (1-2) took the start and the loss, pitching five and two thirds innings and giving up all five runs on four hits, walking four and striking out eight during that time. Brandon Laird (2X5 R RBI HR SO) had a nice night at the plate, hitting two-for-five with a run scored, homerun, RBI and strikeout.

Player of the Day: Andrew Aplin gets to bask in the spotlight today. The guy had an awesome night at the plate Friday that marked the fifth game he has had this season in which he has recorded at least four RBI. That’s pretty impressive.

Pitcher of the Day: Corpus had a great night and both pitchers were dealing, so they both get to split the honors today. Folty’s five frames were hitless, but Martinez only gave up one hit across his four and there is absolutely no reason to split hairs. Both of those guys had awesome nights. 

Happy Birthday - 5/25

Happy Birthday to ~

RHP Jarred Cosart (23)
Cosart was a 38th round draft pick by the Phillies in 2008, going in the lower rounds primarily because of signability issues. He came to Houston in July 2011 along with Jon Singleton, Josh Zeid and Domingo Santana in the Hunter Pence trade. In 10 games (9 starts) at Oklahoma City so far this season, Cosart is 4-2 with a 2.55 ERA and a 1.196 WHIP.

Former Astros with birthdays today ~

LHP Bob Knepper (59)
A second round draft pick by the Giants in 1972, Knepper came to Houston in December of 1980 as a part of  the Giant's trade for Enos Cabell. He pitched for Houston from 1981 to 1989 with a 93-100 record, a 3.66 ERA and a 1.306 WHIP in 284 games (267 starts). His best season for the Astros was in 1986 when he went 17-12 with a 3.14 ERA and a 1.140 WHIP. He was an All Star for Houston in 1981 and 1988, and let the National League in shutouts in 1978 and 1986 (for the Giants and Astros, respectively).

SS Miguel Tejada (39 as far as I know)
Originally signed by Oakland out of the Dominican Republic in 1993, Tejada came to Houston in a December 2007 trade with the Orioles for Luke Scott, Dennis Sarfate, Matt Albers, Troy Patton and Mike Costanzo one day before being named in the Mitchell Report in connection with steroids. He played in 316 games for Houston in 2008 and 2009, hitting .298/.327/.435. He was an All Star six times, won the Silver Slugger two times, was American League MVP in 2002, among many other notable achievements during his career.

Tweet of the Day

Christian García
If you could be moved up for breaking your phone, I would be in the bigs right now.

Friday, May 24, 2013

An Interview with Astros Shortstop Nolan Fontana

Nolan Fontana was the last of my player interviews. Unfortunately, our time was somewhat short so I didn't get quite as much of a feel for who he is as a person as I would have liked to. The one takeaway I had is that he is all business when it comes to baseball. I definitely got the impression that failure is not an option for Fontana.

Rodney Linares often mentions Fontana and Andrew Aplin in the same breath. He bestows upon the duo what is for him the ultimate compliment - Baseball Player. According to Linares, "He's one of those special guys. Like Aplin. First off, he's a baseball player. Plays the game the right way. He could be hitting a buck twenty and you wouldn't notice he's hitting a buck twenty. He still goes out there and plays hard." Linares went on to say, "He walks more than any human being alive." And that isn't always a good thing because Linares wants to see Fontana be more aggressive with a 3-1 count, "There's going to be times when that 3-1 pitch is the pitch that you need to get on and drive it and hit it hard somewhere."

Hitting coach Darryl Robinson calls him "the most patient hitter I've ever seen," going on to say, "He does not go away from his zone. He stays in his zone which I really, really like. He's more aggressive this year but he's still getting his walks and he's not swinging at a lot of bad pitches. He's a hitter. He's definitely a hitter."

Of his defense, Linares says, "Defensively, he's solid," but goes on to say that he needs to work on not rushing the back hand play and getting quicker with the first step on the back hand. He went on to speak of how proud he was of Fontana for making a great backhand play in the hole with a man on first the previous night, showing "really good baseball instincts."

Nolan Fontana - May 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Let's see what Fontana had to say (edited for brevity and clarity) ~

What has he accomplished so far this season: "It’s only thirtysomething games into the season [38 at the time of the interview] so I think I’ve accomplished the fact that I’ve maintained my body. I think that’s a big part, especially later in the year. Being my first full season, it’s something that I feel is really important. I’ve heard from guys who have played full seasons before. It’s the most important thing. Take care of your body because of the long grind. I realized that by listening to other guys. Like I said I haven’t been through it yet, but I think that’s the biggest thing. Just got to keep eating right, working out when you need to and things like that. Everything else will take care of itself."

On having almost twice as many walks as hits in his first season: "Last year was a great experience for me. My body was beat. I was done. 70 games in college seems like a long time and then you’ve got to revamp and load up for another 50 games. It was eye-opening for me so that’s why this off-season was really important to me. Took a lot of advice in spring training about hitting and locked in on what everybody is teaching. Like I said it’s a long season and there will be ups and downs, but I’m excited to keep going."

Was he surprised to go straight to a full season team last year?: "Wherever they put me I was just going to play hard. I was fortunate to go to Lexington. I had a good time there."

Who on the team makes him laugh?: "Aplin. We live together and we keep each other uplifted all the time. We’re always just joking around together. That’s our personality. We keep each other calm and sane. I love the kid. He’s a great guy. I’m sure he feels the same way. That’s who’d I’d have to say makes me laugh the most."

What does he feel he brings to the game?: "I feel like I’m just going to go out, I’m not going to surprise you in a game, but if you watch me over and over again, I think that you will see a player that just plays hard, that plays the game the right way. And I’m sure there’s a lot of players out there that have all the talent in the world and there’s just something that they don’t have and that’s just playing the game hard and the right way every day. You’re going to have the 0-for-fours. You’re going to have the four-for-fours. You just have to understand that. You have to go about your business the same way every single day. That’s something I do and that’s something I feel like I will always do."

Something that most people don't know about him: "I’m an unbelievable ping-pong player. Unbelievable ping-pong player. [You could take on the Chinese team?] Absolutely. No doubt.

What would he do if he couldn't play baseball?: "Be around the game of baseball. I don’t know. When that time comes, I’ll find out. But I’ll definitely be around the game of baseball. There’s too much passion for it for me not to be around it whether I’m playing or something else so that’s what I’ll do."


Linares told me that Fontana is doing a very good job, maybe too good, "I don't want to lose him that quick. Hopefully, he stays here for a little bit longer and continues to get better." But he knows that Fontana is hungry, "He wants it as bad as anybody. Nolan and Aplin both have a chance to be pretty good baseball players. Big league baseball players." Having seen both Aplin and Fontana in action, I would not doubt Linares' assessment.

Thank you for your time, Nolan, and the best of luck as the season unfolds.

Astros Minor League Recaps

Thursday's Games

Fresno over Oklahoma City 4-1
Jarred Cosart was charged with the loss despite pitching a strong six innings. He allowed two runs on six hits and two walks, striking out six and allowed only his second home run of the season, a solo shot. Phillip Humber hit a batter and walked two in a third of an inning before giving way to Kevin Chapman who finished off the seventh with two bases loaded strikeouts. Rhiner Cruz gave up the final two runs in the eighth. The only RedHawks score came via an Austin Wates (2x4 2-2B) RBI double in the seventh. Wates is hitting .298/.327/.340 in his last 14 games after getting promoted to OKC. Brett Wallace was two-for-two with two walks.

Corpus Christi over Northwest Arkansas 10-4
Bobby Doran (W, 6-1) and Nick Tropeano (S, 5) each allowed two runs and each struck out five. The duo, arguably the most effective of the tandems, combined for nine hits. The Hooks put up three in the second on a Jonathan Meyer (3x5 4RBI 3R) two-run home run and a Kiké Hernandez RBI single and added on another in the fourth on a Max Stassi (3x4 2-2B 3RBI) RBI double. But they really took control in the fifth as they scored four after Northwest Arkansas walked three of the first four batters, setting things up for Meyer and Stassi to drive in two each. The final two came in the eighth on a Domingo Santana (2x4 2B R) bases-loaded walk and a Erik Castro RBI single. Michael Burgess was two-for-four with a double and scored a run. George Springer was one-for-three with two walks and stole a base. Stassi is hitting .342/.381/.474 in his last 10 games.

Lancaster over Inland Empire 8-7
Despite a rough start for Blair Walters (3.1IP 7H 5R/3ER 1BB 4SO) in which he was the victim of three errors committed by his team, the JetHawks held on to win in a wild way, literally. Jonas Dufek pitched the next three and two-thirds and allowed two runs (one earned) on three hits and a walk while striking out five, but it was T.J. Geith who earned his fifth win of the season in relief as he pitched a perfect eighth. The 'Hawks put up four runs in the second as Brandon Meredith drove in one with an RBI single and subsequently scored on a wild pitch, and Carlos Perdomo drove in two with his single. Three more runs came across in the fifth as Preston Tucker (3x4 R) drove in two and Matt Duffy scored on a fielding error. The final and deciding run scored in the eighth as Tyler Heineman reached on the first triple of his professional career and scored on a wild pitch, one of three Inland Empire wild pitches. Travis Ballew then converted his eighth save of the season in the ninth. Andrew Aplin was two-for-four with a double and scored a run. Delino DeShields came in as a defensive substitution in the eighth and walked in his only plate appearance. He then promptly stole second and then third on a double steal with Joe Sclafani. Lancaster regained first place in the division with the win.

Wisconsin over Quad Cities 7-4
Jamaine Cotton had a rough outing in his first loss of the season, allowing six runs (five earned) on seven hits and one walk while striking out three in only three innings. Gera Sanchez allowed the final run across in the fifth via a solo home run before giving way to Vincent Velasquez who had an excellent outing, allowing only one hit and one walk in four innings. He struck out eight batters. The River Bandits did not get into the run column until the seventh when Terrell Joyce hit his second home run of the season followed by an Ariel Ovando double driving in Rio Ruiz. They put up another two in the eighth on a Roberto Peña two-run double. Teoscar Hernandez wore a golden sombrero for the night as he went 0-for-five with four K's. Carlos Correa and Rio Ruiz also put up 0-fers, but each walked twice. Jordan Scott stole his 11th base of the season. The Quad Cities team has now dropped six games in a row and have fallen to a tie for fourth place in their division.

Player of the Day: I've got to go with Johnny Meyer for his 4-RBI night in which he was a triple shy of hitting for the cycle.

Pitcher of the Day: I don't give nearly enough love to relievers, so I want to acknowledge Travis Ballew for nailing down his eighth save of the season in a tenuous Lancaster lead, a save that allowed Lancaster to reclaim first place in their division.

Happy Birthday - 5/24

Happy Birthday to ~

RHP Hector Ambriz (29)
Originally drafted by the Diamondbacks in the fifth round in 2006, Ambriz signed with Houston as a free agent in June 2012. In 41 appearances since then, he has a 4.83 ERA and a 1.415 WHIP.

Two former Astros with birthdays today ~

RHP Henry Villar (26)
Signed as a non-drafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2005, Villar spent seven seasons in the Astros minor league system from 2006 through 2012, compiling a 3.74 ERA and a 1.220 WHIP in 185 appearances (56 starts).  In 2010, he made eight appearances for the big club with a 4.50 ERA and a 1.333 WHIP.

2B Mike Richardt (55)
A first round draft pick by the Rangers in 1978, Richardt came to Houston in a trade in 1984. Richardt only had 15 plate appearances in 16 games for Houston in 1984 and hit .267/.267/.333.

Tweet of the Day

Joe Musgrove
Wow.... Florida driving is making me lose my mind.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

An Interview with Astros OF Brandon Meredith

I had the opportunity earlier this year to interview Brandon Meredith by email, but I held out until I could talk to him in person. And there was a reason for that. For most of the players that are on twitter, you kind of get a feel for their personality after a while. But I never really got that feel for Brandon. And apparently I'm not the only one. Lancaster Hitting Coach Darryl Robinson says, "He's a guy that I'm still learning." Manager Rodney Linares describes Meredith as "my enigma."

Meredith has a bit of a dual personality, a jokester off the field and a hard-nosed player on the field. He may be off to a slow start, but the one thing he has done is to earn the respect of Linares, "He gets all my respect for the way he plays. He plays the game hard. There's no wasted effort in what he does. You know he's giving you everything he's got." When I mentioned this assessment to Meredith, he responded, "Whether you hit the ball on the ground or a pop-up, there’s no reason not to give it everything you have. It’s such a cliché but it could be the last game you ever play."

Robinson is still trying to figure out Meredith's good habits and bad habits, but says of Meredith, "He's got a little bit of pop. He's got some power. He doesn't swing at a lot of bad pitches." Meredith has been working on his timing, somewhat impacted by a wrist injury earlier on, and working on seeing more pitches. But, according to Linares, he may just be one of those players who is slow to make adjustments from league to league, a hypothesis that is borne out by Meredith's terrific latter season numbers in the Sally League in 2012. Personally, I always feel like Meredith is right on the cusp of breaking out big as he did last season.

Brandon Meredith - May 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Here is what Brandon had to say when I spoke with him earlier in the month (edited for brevity and clarity) ~

How would he describe his personality?: "I’m very intense about the game, but I’m [also] very loose. I like to keep things light, but when it’s time for business, it’s time for business. I’m definitely the guy that jokes around. I love all my teammates and I’m real comfortable with them. We all have our inside jokes and stuff like that. It makes it a lot better."

What is he working on?: "I’m just working on keeping my confidence where I’m hitting, swinging at a selection of pitches that I can drive in. I think I sometimes struggle because in college, in high school, I was never the power guy. I was always gap-to-gap and I had some doubles. I’m trying to transition into being that power guy, and it’s tough for me to sometimes grasp what I need to do in certain situations and what pitches to swing at. And striking out, I don’t want to say it’s okay but it’s not the worst thing. I personally hate striking out. They don’t necessarily just want me to put the ball in play. They want me to do some damage. So I need to find out what pitches I need to swing at, but I’m not worried at all. I just continue to work and just have fun with it. I do get upset with myself sometimes and not being able to play to the best of my ability, but again it’s really early. That’s the hardest part for me to understand. I was at extended still at this point last year. It’s really hard for me to comprehend that it’s still early."

Which Astros pitcher would he least like to face?: "I would say Trope, [Nick] Tropeano. I’ve seen in the past two years what he does, and I love playing for him, behind him. He’s real intense. He gets after people. That’s probably one guy that I wouldn’t want to face."

Who on the team makes him laugh?: "You know who’s real funny to me is Tuck [Preston Tucker]. His personality is just so funny to me. He seems real quiet, but he’s real witty with his jokes. He’s just a great guy."

What would he do if he couldn't play baseball?: "I can’t even think about that. Baseball's been my life for so long. I’d like to coach or maybe do some weightlifting stuff for high school age [kids] and get them ready to do what they want in sports and things like that."

Something most people don't know about him: "I think it’s my personality because if you don’t know me, people see me and think maybe I’m arrogant or something like that. It’s just funny to me because I get along with everybody and just love to have a good time, but other than that I’m not really sure people would be surprised. I’m real open about things."

On the status of the Astros farm system and the competition: "It’s always good. In spring training, it was like 'wow,' there were [talented] guys everywhere. It’s the kind of organization you want to be in because it makes you better as a player because of the competition. It’s going to be hard to move. It’s always a good thing when there’s a lot of competition around you. Other players bring you up instead of you being the only guy out there. This lineup is crazy."

So, who is Brandon Meredith? It turns out that he's as driven and intense on the field as he is funny and light-hearted off it. Without exception he was noted by his teammates as the player that makes them laugh. And yet both Linares and Robinson described him as being quiet and intense. An enigma, indeed, but one well worth getting to know.

Thank you for your time, Brandon, and the best of luck as the season unfolds.

Astros Minor League Recaps

Wednesday's Games

Oklahoma City over Fresno 7-3
Ross Seaton finally got his elusive first win of the season as he hurled six innings, allowing three runs (two earned) on six hits and three walks while striking out three. He was followed by two scoreless innings from Jason Stoffel (1H 3SO) and a perfect ninth from Eric Berger (2SO). OKC took the lead in the third with three runs and cemented it in the fifth with four runs via the long ball - a Jake Elmore (2x5 2RBI) solo shot and a Fernando Martinez three-run job. Brett Wallace (2x3 2BB RBI R) is hitting .308/.372/.573 in 29 games with the RedHawks.

Corpus over Northwest Arkansas 8-2
Jake Buchanan with his fifth win of the season allowed one unearned run (the first run of any kind he has allowed in his last six starts) on seven hits and a walk while striking out three in five innings. Josh Fields gave up one run in his latest two-inning rehab appearance and was followed by two scoreless frames from Carlos Quevedo. A Michael Burgess RBI single in the second, an Erik Castro (3x4 2RBI R) RBI single in the third and a Burgess dinger in the fourth accounted for the first three runs. The Hooks then put up a big four-run fifth, courtesy of a two-run double from Domingo Santana (1x3 2BB 3R SB), an RBI double from Castro and an RBI single from Max Stassi (2x3 2B BB). The final run came in the seventh as Santana scored on a Jonathan Meyer sac fly. George Springer was one-for-three, walked twice and scored two runs. Erik Castro is now hitting .462/.512/.744 over his last 10 games.

Lancaster - Off Day

Wisconsin over Quad Cities 12-5 in 11 innings
This one was a particularly hard loss as the River Bandits battled back from a five-run deficit to tie things up in the bottom of the ninth only to get spanked in extras. Jordan Jankowski, Mitch Lambson and Brian Holmes didn't have particularly bad outings, but the cumulative effect put the Quad Cities team in a 5-0 hole. The bullpen, however, in the form of John Neely and Richard Rodriguez got lit up in the 11th, culminating in SS Brian Blasik getting the final out of the frame.

Jordan Scott was all over the offense. In the sixth, he doubled, stole third base and scored on a throwing error. In the seventh, he walked and scored on a force out. And in the ninth, he hit an RBI single to tie the game. Austin Elkins (2x4 2B BB 2R) hit his first home run of the season. Carlos Correa (2x5 RBI) and Miles Hamblin (2x3) had good outings as well. 

Player of the Day: Michael Burgess gets the nod today as he went two-for-three with a home run and two RBI. Over his last 10 games, he is hitting .313/.371/.750 with two doubles and four home runs.

Pitcher of the Day: Who else? Jake Buchanan gets the award almost every time he pitches, but there's a reason for that. He is 5-0 with a 0.84 ERA, a 0.731 WHIP and has walked only 4 batters all season. In his last six starts, he has a 0.00 ERA and a 0.729 WHIP. Watch out Folty, you are in danger of losing your 2012 Studmuffin of the Year crown.

Happy Birthday - 5/23

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

SS Ricky Gutierrez (43)
A first round draft pick by Baltimore in 1988, Gutierrez came to Houston in this megatrade:
December 28, 1994: Traded by the San Diego Padres with Derek Bell, Doug Brocail, Pedro Martinez, Phil Plantier 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.
He played for Houston from 1995 to 1999, hitting .266/.337/.340 over 469 games.

Saarloos was drafted by Houston in the third round in 2001 and pitched for Houston in 2002 and 2003 before being traded to Oakland for Chad Harville in April of 2004. In 53 games (21 starts), Saarloos was 8-8 with a 5.61 ERA and a 1.478 WHIP.

Originally drafted by Houston in the eighth round in 1999 as a shortstop, Sampson had retired in 2000 and gone on to coach baseball for Collin College in Plano where he came to realize his potential as a pitcher. After contacting the Astros and being given a tryout, he was signed to a minor league contract in 2003. Sampson went on to pitch in 174 games (33 starts) for Houston from 2006 to 2010 with a 20-15 record, a 4.42 ERA and a 1.330 WHIP.

Tweet of the Day

Travis Ballew
The fact that I'm so skinny that the Lancaster wind can blow me off balance <<

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

An Interview with Astros LHP David Rollins

There's something about David Rollins that makes me feel right at home. It could be the northeast Texas accent that reminds me of the town I grew up in, a town about 100 miles from Rollin's home in the Carthage area. Or it could just be his easy smile and good nature. Or it could be that he's a lefty pitcher with mid-90's velocity, a combination that will earn the key to my heart every time.

Before I talked to Rollins, I spoke with Pitching Coach Don Alexander who described Rollins as having a plus fastball and the makings of a plus slider and a plus changeup, "Ball comes out of his hand real easy. Easy velocity. Repeatable delivery. Competes. All those things you want in a starting pitcher, especially being left-handed. I'm excited about what he's doing and I'm excited about his future."

Manager Rodney Linares is also high on Rollins, "He's got good stuff. Left-hander with great angle and he's got something on the ball. 92 to 95 miles an hour. Pitches inside to right-handed hitters which a lot of lefties don't. He's aggressive." Linares wants to see increased focus from Rollins when he gets two quick outs to keep things from getting out of control, but also went on to praise Rollins for buying into the program with Alexander's teaching, saying of Rollins, "He's only gotten better."

David Rollins - May 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Here's what Rollins had to say when I spoke with him earlier this month (edited for brevity and clarity):

On his velocity from the May 11th game: "Actually, last night (the 11th) was the hardest I’ve thrown all year. I was sitting at 94 and I topped out at 96. Usually I’m sitting 92, topping out at 94, and last night I think 92 was my lowest pitch I threw."

On what he's accomplished and what he's working on: "I think I’ve accomplished keeping the ball down and getting ahead of counts. We had a guy come in last week and he told us 'three pitches and get the guy out, get him out in three pitches.' It will pretty much save you a lot of trouble. [It’s] changing the mindset. The catcher sets up in one spot and you’re thinking you got to be right there perfect every time. I got the mindset my last game and last night. [It was] the first time I was thinking like that [and] I went out and I did pretty good. Then last night I did pretty good only giving up one hit. That’s what I’ve been working on a lot, keeping the ball down and actually working on getting my slider in the dirt when I’ve got 0-2 or 1-2, trying to put the guys away instead of giving up the 0-2, 1-2 hits, trying to eliminate that. Last night it really worked out for me. I could see the difference in the way I’ve been pitching the past couple of games. It’s a big difference."

Which Astros pitcher has a pitch he'd like to steal?: "I’d like to have Tyson's [Perez] cutter. He’s got a good cutter."

Which Astros hitter would he least like to face?: "I’d say [Matt] Duffy would be the one. Duffy and [Nolan] Fontana. Fontana is the only dude I’ve seen that hardly ever gets out. [Even] if he gets out, he’s always hitting the ball. He hardly ever strikes out. He’d be probably the toughest one. Him and Duff."

Who on the team makes him laugh?: "There are clowns. [Brandon] Meredith and [Chris] Epps, when they’re on their little spiel, those two are clowns. But they’re good dudes. I love having them around the field for me and in the lineup. They absolutely make me laugh all the time. Even Cruzy [Luis Cruz]. I live with Cruzy and he’s funny. He is hilarious."

What would he do if he couldn't play baseball?: "In the off-season I do baseball lessons. There’s a small town called Silver Springs, Texas. I think I was the only person that actually played pro ball besides my pitching coach that comes in and helps out the guys. When you come in, the kids are all listening, watching the whole time. I'd probably do lessons and probably get my golf game up because I’m a terrible golfer but I enjoy to play it."

Something most people don't know about him: "Well surprisingly, I can kind of cook a little bit. This off-season I moved to Dallas to start my hard training and I started working out real hard, kind of getting ready for the season and my trainer told me I had to learn how to cook. I’m pretty good with a George Foreman and a grill."

On the commuter trips in the California League: "They’re not bad. When you’re done playing, you've got to sit on a bus for about an hour, hour and a half. That’s not bad because I’d rather sleep in my own bed than a hotel bed because most of the hotel beds are terrible. I don’t mind them [the commuters]. It’s just part of the grind. You've just got to go and pay your dues."

During the interview, Rollins and I got off on a little tangent, talking about Rodney Linares who had just walked by and spoken with us. I told Rollins that I really like Rodney's style of management and he had this to say, "I love playing for him. He’s one of the better managers I’ve had. Being here with Rodney and after the trade, I just feel like I got accepted into the organization. It’s real nice."

I think the feeling is mutual. Rodney was effusive in his praise of Rollins, "He goes out there and he competes. So does Brady [Rodgers]. So does [Aaron] West. They all do to a certain point, but this kid is left-handed and the angle he creates ... they can't hit it. It's down. It looks like a strike, but it's down here and it's 95. That's good [stuff]." It sounds like I'm not the only one who's a sucker for a mid-90's throwing lefty.


Thanks for your time, David, and best of luck as the season unfolds.

Astros Minor League Recaps

Tuesday's Games

Oklahoma City over Fresno 15-2
Brett Oberholtzer pitched a beauty - seven shutout innings allowing only three hits and a walk while striking out nine. Josh Zeid pitched a perfect eighth and Jose Valdez pitched a not-so-perfect ninth (3H 2R/1ER). The 'Hawks scored early and late with five in the first and 10 in the eighth. Scoring in the first came via back-to-back-to-back RBI doubles from Brett Wallace, Brandon Laird (3x6 2R) and Fernando Martinez. A two-RBI single from Austin Wates (2x4 BB R SB) rounded off the inning. The eighth was a wild one, including four walks, three singles (including RBI singles from Jake Elmore and Andy Simunic), two home runs (a two-run shot from Marc Krauss and a grand slam from Wallace), an error and a run-scoring wild pitch. Actually, Cody Clark was the only RedHawk who didn't get an RBI in the game.

Corpus Christi - Off Day

Andrew Robinson
Little off day fishing. Don't mind the goofy smile.
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Lancaster over Rancho Cucamonga 13-12
It took five lead changes, but the JetHawks managed to prevail in a "California League Pitcher's Duel." Kyle Hallock (5IP 7H 5R/4ER 2BB 2SO 1HR) struggled through the first before settling down nicely. He was followed by Luis Cruz (1.1IP 3H 5R 3BB 2SO 1HR) and Jonas Dufek (1.2IP 3H 2R 2SO). Travis Ballew came in for the top of the ninth to preserve the 12-12 tie and threw a perfect frame, striking out two. Despite falling behind 5-0 in the first inning, the 'Hawks battled back with four in the bottom of the frame on an Andrew Aplin two-run homer and a Chris Epps (2x5 2-2B 3RBI) two-RBI double and added another run in the second to tie it up. They then took the lead in the fourth as Ryan McCurdy scored on a Carlos Perdomo (3x5 2RBI 3R SB) sac fly, but fell behind again in the top of the sixth. Naturally Lancaster re-took the lead in the bottom of the sixth on an Aplin two-run double and RBI singles from Matt Duffy and Preston Tucker (4x6 3B 2RBI 2R). Rancho Cucamonga then took a 12-10 lead with three in the seventh and one in the eighth before the 'Hawks came back to tie it in the bottom of the eighth as Epps hit his second RBI double of the game and Tyler Heineman drove in Tucker on a ground out. Ballew's perfect ninth gave Lancaster the chance to take the final lead change and the "W" as Tucker defeated the 5-man infield defense with a bases-loaded single to the left field wall. Joe Sclafani was three-for-five with a double, walk, stolen base and two runs scored. Matt Duffy was hit by pitches twice in the game, his 10th and 11th of the season.

Believe it or not, it could have been crazier as Stockton broadcaster Zack Bayrouty describes the aftermath of the Stockton/Lake Elsinore game from yesterday.

Zack Bayrouty
In 17-innings, saw a fan ejected for arguing a strike, 2 extra inning comebacks, a hitter K 7 times, the winning pitcher hits a walk-off HR

Quad Cities - Off Day

Player of the Day: A case could definitely be made for Preston Tucker, Chris Epps or Brett Wallace, but I'm going to go with Andrew Aplin. Aplin was three-for-six with two doubles, four RBI and scored two runs. He leads the California League in RBI with 38 and is tied for second in doubles with 14.

Pitcher of the Day: Brett Oberholtzer's seven shutout innings were outstanding. In his last three starts, Oberholtzer is 2-0 with a 1.06 ERA, a 0.882 WHIP and 22 strikeouts.

Happy Birthday - 5/22

Happy Birthday to ~

3B Rio Ruiz (19)
Drafted by Houston in the fourth round in 2012 out of Bishop Amat High School in La Puenta, California, Ruiz is starting his first full season with the Astros as a part of the Quad Cities team. In 29 games, he is hitting .206/.320/.324 with six doubles, two home runs and 14 RBI. Over his last 10 games, he is hitting .278/.341/.389.

Tweet of the Day

Tyler Heineman
Great time at the pediatrics ward with and today! We have some cool new friends!!
Embedded image permalink

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

An Interview with Andrew Aplin

When I spoke with Manager Rodney Linares about Andrew Aplin, he had this to say about him, "Appy's just a baseball player. [He] and [Nolan] Fontana are the definition of a baseball player. Fontana's got a little bit more finesse. Aplin is just greedy and getting after it, dirty, plays hard. Love him to death. Got a chance to be whatever he wants to be in this game. As solid as they come."

Interestingly enough, both Linares and Hitting Coach Darryl Robinson spent a lot of time enumerating all of the things that Aplin needs to work on: swinging at pitches in his zone and not trying to hit the pitcher's pitch, finding his power stroke, getting a better read on the pitcher as he runs bases. But that's not because Aplin isn't good, but as Robinson puts it, "I see more for him and he does too." Aplin is, as Morgan Ensberg might put it, a "Really Good Player," but Linares and Robinson both seem to think that Aplin can be so much more.

Andrew Aplin - May 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Let's hear from the man himself (edited for brevity and clarity) ~

What does he bring to the game and what is he trying to improve on?: "I think I’m a real big team guy. I like to bring a lot of energy, a lot of hustle and try to just lead by example, more of an example guy than a vocal guy. So I just try to play as hard as I can all the time to try to set that tone. Things I’m trying to improve on … just trying to drive the ball the other way using the whole field. I’ve been working with the hitting coach on that. It’s getting better."

What does he think Robinson had to say about him?: "He probably said I still have a lot of improvement which I do. Been in there consistently in the cage working with me. I love the guy. He is a real fun guy to be around. [On hearing the assessment that he hits like he has a chip on his shoulder.] I’m a little guy out there so I have to act like a big guy."

On his lefty/righty splits: "This year it’s been better off of righties, but over the years through college, it’s been about the same. My freshman year in college I struggled with it so I’ve worked on it a lot and practiced it hitting off our pitchers and it really helped me adjust to lefties, just learning [a good] approach to the lefties is what helped me the most."

Which Astros pitcher would he least like to face?: "I’ve never hit off of Kenny Long before but I see how he make some hitters look. I’d like to stand in there, but I don’t know if I’d like it to be in the stat book. Just something about him, whatever he’s throwing up there, it’s got to be really good because I stand in the outfield in awe sometimes. It’s pretty impressive. You see this kid walk up there, 160 pounds, and he’s just striking people out and getting them out left and right. It’s impressive. It’s really impressive. I played with him in summer ball in college in the Cape Cod [league] so I knew him before he got drafted [and] I was glad to have him [in the Astros organization]."

On his defensive skills: "I take defense really serious. Just because you can’t ever slump on defense. If [I'm] not hitting, I’d better be doing something else to help the team win. If it’s making a diving play, [if] it’s throwing somebody out, I always want to be a part of the team."

Who on the team makes him laugh?: "I like Brandon Meredith. He’s a character. I get to play outfield with him every day and he just makes you laugh nonstop all day. Him or Fontana. I’m roommates with Fontana and we’re nonstop joking with each other and messing around with each other so those two guys."

Who on the team does he like to just sit back and watch play?: "On this team I’d probably say Fontana. Kind of just sit back and just watch him. He hits the ball. He plays defense. He’s just a down dirty-nosed type player. Every night he’s just going to bring as much as he has and leave it all on the field. It’s just impressive to watch."

Was he surprised about skipping Low A last season?: "It was a big surprise. Getting drafted, just that half-year, [I] did pretty well in New York and they told me I was going up so I figured I was going to Low A, and when they told me I was coming up to High A, I was just really proud, happy, thankful. When I got here, the guys took me in under their wing really good and we gelled as a team and won the whole thing."

What would he do if he couldn't play baseball?: "If I couldn’t play baseball, and if I had the money, I’d just like to golf every day. If not, stay around the game, coach kids and help people grow as players, just share experiences and share my knowledge of the game."

Something most people don't know about him: "As serious as I look on the field, I’m actually a big jokester. I like to have fun with the game. That’s what it is. It’s a game. You’ve got to have fun with it or it’s going to eat you alive so I like to go out there and joke around when it’s the time to joke around and try to keep the team loose."

How does this Lancaster team compare to last year's team?: "I’d say it’s just as good if not better. We have a lot of talent out here … a lot of good pitchers, a lot of hitting, a lot of guys that don’t take the game too seriously so when they’re not doing too well it’s not like you don’t want to be around them. Everybody wants to be around each other all the time so it kind of keeps the team going and doesn’t separate anybody from the team. That last two weeks [last year] we had unbelievable chemistry but I definitely see it in this team [as well]. In the clubhouse, everybody is just mixed together ... pitchers, hitters, nobody really separates."

What does he think about the Astros minor league system?: "This whole minor-league system ... it’s unbelievable how much talent we have and how many young guys that are already really good and really mature and are going to be pretty awesome down the road. There are a lot of opportunities in this organization. It keeps you motivated. The depth in this organization is unbelievable."

According to Linares, you could insert Aplin into a major league roster today and he wouldn't embarrass himself because he does so many things the right way right now, but he sees a guy who will develop into a player who will give you 15 or 20 home runs, 40 doubles, 50 steals and provide great centerfield defense to boot. Linares left me with this final thought about Aplin, "He's got a chance to be however good he wants to be and I think he wants to be really, really good. That's scary a little bit." Yeah, scary good.


Thank you for your time, Andrew, and best of luck as the season unfolds.

Roster Moves

RHP Aaron West placed on the 7-day DL retroactive to 5/18

Astros Minor League Recaps

Monday's Games

Fresno over Oklahoma City 10-3
Asher Wojciechowski had a rare hiccup in his outing on Monday, allowing eight runs (seven earned) on ten hits while striking out four in his five innings of work. Six of those runs scored via the long ball as Wojo gave up three home runs. According to the game story, Wojo had only given up one home run in the previous 134.2 innings pitched. Phillip Humber allowed two more runs across in his two innings and Alex Sogard pitched a scoreless final frame. Fernando Martinez (3x4) drove in two of the three RedHawks runs with a solo home run in the sixth and an RBI single in the eighth. A Jake Elmore RBI sac fly accounted for the other 'Hawks run. Brandon Laird was two-for-four with a double and a run scored; Che-Hsuan Lin and Carlos Perez doubled as well.

Midland over Corpus Christi 19-11
It would simply be easier to show you this than to try to explain what happened with the pitching staff.

Pat Urckfitz is the only pitcher that was totally unscathed in the run column and even he walked three batters (one intentional). Errors from Erik Castro, Max Stassi, Matt Heidenreich and Kiké Hernandez compounded the pitchers' woes. Home runs were the order of the day for the Hooks offense. A two-run homer from Zach Johnson in the second, a three-run home run from Michael Burgess (2x4 2R) in the fourth, and another two-run shot by Erik Castro (3x4 2B HR 3RBI BB 3R) in the fifth helped fuel the offense. Jonathan Meyer (2x4 2B BB R) had a good game as well.

Rancho Cucamonga over Lancaster over Lancaster 10-6
After winning five in a row (the last four while I was in Lancaster), the 'Hawks have dropped five of the last six. Do I need to come back out there to get you guys winning again? Don't make me turn this blog around. In the immortal words of Cher:

I say that with all love. Now, back to the matter at hand. Tyson Perez got roughed up to the tune of seven runs in only two innings pitched before giving way to two scoreless innings from T.J. Geith. David Rollins (3H 2BB 4SO) allowed two runs (one earned) in his three innings and then Michael Dimock gave up one unearned run on a walk, wild pitch and sac fly in the eighth. He then settled in to retire the side in order in the ninth in his Lancaster debut. Facing a 7-0 deficit before they came to bat in the second inning, the 'Hawks did make a valiant effort to come back but the hill proved to be a little too steep. Telvin Nash drove in three with a two-run bomb in the fourth and an RBI single in the seventh. Chris Epps hit a phantom home run in the eighth that landed him at third base and got Rodney Linares ejected from the game; the official scorer listed it as a double and an error. Epps (2x3 2-2B 2BB 2R) then scored on a Joe Sclafani (2x3 BB) sac fly. Preston Tucker was three-for-three with a walk, a sac fly RBI and scored a run.

Beloit over Quad Cities 4-1
Mike Hauschild pitched a beauty, five innings of no hit ball with two walks and five strikeouts. Unfortunately, Colton Cain, Mitch Lambson and Cameron Lamb allowed four runs (three earned) over the final four innings while Beloit didn't allow another hit after a Teoscar Hernandez lead-off single in the first inning. Hernandez stole second, advanced to third on an error and scored on a Rio Ruiz sac fly and that was the extent of the Quad Cities scoring.

Player of the Day: Erik Castro lacked a triple to hit for the cycle. Despite the Hooks loss, he is my man of the day.

Pitcher of the Day: Mike Hauschild earns the honors by allowing no hits in his five innings. He has only allowed one earned run in his last three outings.

Happy Birthday - 5/21

No future Astros, but a couple of former Astros celebrate today today ~

RHP Barry Latman (77)
Obtained in a trade with the California Angels in December of 1965, Latman pitched for Houston in 1966 and 1967 at the end of his career. In 70 games pitched, he was 5-13 with a 3.49 ERA and a 1.273 WHIP. He was an All Star for Cleveland in 1961 when he went 13-5 with 5 saves in 45 games (18 starts).

LHP Tom Martin (43)
A sixth round draft pick by the Orioles in 1988, Martin came to Houston as a free agent in December 1995. He pitched in the Houston organization for two seasons before being selected by the Diamondbacks in the expansion draft in November 1997. He again signed with Houston as a free agent in April 2005 and was released in June of that same year. Martin pitched out of the bullpen in 55 games with Houston at the major league level in 1997. He was 5-3 with a 2.09 ERA and a 1.339 WHIP over 56 innings pitched.

Tweets of the Day

Morgan Ensberg
That's how you do it!!! just hit a ball 8 miles!!! Dude has pop!!!!

Morgan Ensberg
Seriously, just hit that ball into the desert.

Monday, May 20, 2013

An Interview with Astros OF Preston Tucker

Preston Tucker seems like kind of a quiet guy, but that may be because he lets his bat do the talking for him. Before I spoke with Tucker, I had already talked to Hitting Coach Darryl Robinson to get his take on Tucker. Robinson's eyes lit up, "Tuck. Tuck. You know, the ball comes off his bat like never before. He hits the ball hard."

The next day I talked to Manager Rodney Linares about Tucker,  "His name's Bam Bam. He's one of loudest bats I've ever listened to. I'm talking about, he ranks up there with Vlad Guerrero and those guys. It's LOUD. People talk about the park where we play at, but when Tucker hits them, he hits them. It doesn't matter [where]. He's got a chance to be a special bat. Not only hit for power but hit for average. He's going to drive the ball and it doesn't matter if it's righty or lefty. He's getting better at the left-handers. If you hang it, he's going to bang it. That's what Bam Bam does."

It's all still a work in progress as Robinson works with Tucker to use the whole field and drive the ball to all parts of the ballpark. Robinson described a recent series where Tucker struggled because they were pitching him in, but he made the necessary adjustments and hit a double and base hit the other way in the last game of the series. Linares agrees that Tucker needs to refine his approach at the plate, but also notes that he is encouraged by his play in right field, "He's learning to play right field. He's getting good at it."

Preston Tucker - May 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

One of the first things I talked to Tucker about was how scouts seemed to downplay his talent prior to the draft despite his terrific college stats. Was he aware of that?: "Yeah, kind of. Most of the time numbers aren’t everything in college. You see some guys come out of college, but didn’t have great numbers that are really good and progressed pretty quickly through organizations and you see some guys with really good numbers in college [that] kind of fell short of expectations. I just do my thing. I had success in college. I plan on carrying it over. Someone told me I wasn’t going to be successful. I’ll just give it my best shot and hopefully it continues. So far I feel like I’ve been successful in professional ball and hopefully I keep it up. It's all where you end up really."

What does he bring to the game?: "Obviously I think my biggest asset would be my hitting. I can play the field. I’m not going to go out there and surprise anybody, wow anybody out there. I can play the corners. I played first [base] my first two years of college so I think I have some versatility and can play pretty much anywhere anyone needs me. I’ve been playing a little bit of both. I’ve been playing left and right here. I feel comfortable at both positions so I’m just kind of going out there wherever I see myself in the lineup. [Is he comfortable as a DH?] If it comes to that, yes. For the most part I do like playing at DH, but [it can be] a little tough. Especially [when] you have to sit and wait your turn, think about hitting the whole time, rather than go out there, focus on defense and base-running, and what not, but if that’s where someone wants to put me, I’d be more than happy to do that as well."

Which Astros pitcher would he least like to face?: "There’s a lot of good guys. One guy that I played college ball with [in Florida], I haven’t faced in this organization, obviously, [is] Kevin Chapman. He’s up in Triple-A Oklahoma City. He’s a big 6’4” lefty and throws hard, good slider and no one could hit him when I played college ball, especially lefties so that would be someone that I would probably have to battle. My confidence probably wouldn’t be as high as I’d like [it to be] against him."

What would he do if he couldn't play baseball? "I graduated from college with an anthropology degree, don’t know why. That’s the degree I got. I kind of got put in there as a freshman, hadn't decided what I wanted to do. Still haven’t decided what I want to do. I’d be going back to grad school, I guess, would be the right answer." [He went on to tell me that he's somewhat interested in business, advertising and finance.]

What did he think about getting drafted by the Astros?: "It was unexpected, that’s for sure. Beforehand, I hadn’t heard from them. My agents spoke with a couple teams but I didn’t know the Astros were interested. I knew they had picked a lot of great players before me so I was kind of excited to get in the organization, especially with Fontana having already gone to them. We were still playing. We still had probably about a month left of college ball because we had the whole playoffs to go, but it was definitely in the back of my mind the whole time we were playing college ball. I was looking forward to getting ready and starting my career with the Astros."

What does he think about the Astros farm system?: "When I got to spring training, I see all this talent, especially the outfield. I asked some guys who had been here if other organizations are like this and they said, 'No, this is something special.' There’s so much talent and a lot of guys are still working their way up [that] would already be up in the big leagues on a lot of teams just because there are so many. It’s kind of backed up because there are so many good players. I think some guys will weed themselves out. Some guys will just ride their way all the way to the big leagues and I think we’ll have a successful team in a couple of years."

Who on the team makes him laugh?: "Brandon Meredith. Absolutely. He’s always in a good mood. He sits right behind me on the bus. He’s a fun guy to talk to. He’s a fun guy to hang out with. One of my other good buddies, M. P. Cokinos, he’s one of those guys who’s really easy-going, always in a good mood. Both of those guys are just hard workers so they are always focused, but like to joke around too. I like to surround myself with those guys."

On something most people don't know about him: "I play guitar. I guess that some people don’t know [that]. I’m not going to give you something embarrassing or anything like that. I like to play guitar. It’s one of my hobbies. I normally shut it down during the season because I don’t like to haul the guitar around with me wherever I go. But in the off-season, I do like to pick it back up and it’s something to pass the time, when you’re bored. It’s something I’ve done since the eighth grade and I just enjoy doing it. I’m not too interesting. I just play baseball. Wake up. Eat some breakfast. Go to the field."

Rodney Linares had something else to say about Tucker that really stood out for me, "It's a really good mix when you have guys like Tucker and [Matt] Duffy who are really quiet and to themselves when the game's going on, but they're actually awesome teammates. They pull for each other so bad. It's more like a family than a team and that's one of the things I like." It seems that, although Tucker is a quiet guy, he lets his bat and his actions on the field speak for him. And those are just loud enough.


Thank you for your time, Preston, and best of luck as the season unfolds.

Roster Moves

RHP Michael Dimock assigned from Quad Cities to Lancaster

(Although I haven't seen anything official, this tweet from this morning seems to confirm the move.)

Michael Dimock
Good luck to my fellow river bandits. Next stop LAX, so long davenport

I will update with any corresponding moves as they become available.

Astros Minor League Recaps

Sunday's Games

Oklahoma City over Sacramento 9-3
Brad Peacock pitched the first five, allowing two runs (one earned) on three hits and four walks. He struck out five. Kevin Chapman gave up the final run in relief and was sandwiched with scoreless outings from Jason Stoffel and Rhiner Cruz. Fernando Martinez (2x4 BB R) and Jason Jaramillo (1x3 BB R) made the only two extra-base hits count as each contributed a two-RBI double to the effort. Che-Hsuan Lin went two-for-five and scored twice.

Corpus Christi over Midland 5-3
Starter David Martinez allowed two runs on a home run to former Astros farmhand Jake Goebbert in the bottom of the first inning, one of only two hits allowed over five innings on his way to his seventh win of the season. He walked one and struck out six. Josh Fields, in his fifth rehab appearance gave up one hit in yet another scoreless outing. He was followed by three innings from Mike Foltynewicz who allowed one unearned run on three hits and two walks while striking out three. The Hooks scored one in the third and two more in the fourth on an Erik Castro (3x3 BB) two-run home run to take the lead. A sac fly from Rene Garcia (1x4 2B 2RBI) scoring Kiké Hernandez (2x4 2B SB) and an error allowing Ben Orloff (1x3 BB SB) to score gave the Hooks a little breathing room in the seventh. George Springer was hitless in three at-bats, but walked twice and stole three bases. After a rough start to the season, Erik Castro is hitting .354/.415/.583 in May.

Rancho Cucamonga over Lancaster 11-7
This just wasn't a particularly good night for pitchers, except for Jonas Dufek who got the final out in the top of the ninth to stop the bleeding. Brady Rodgers (5IP 4H 3R 1BB 4SO) kept the team in the game, but four runs issued by Chris Devenski (3IP 4H 4R 1BB 4SO) in the top of the sixth and four unearned runs allowed by Travis Ballew (0.2IP 3H 4R/0ER 1BB 1SO) in the top of the ninth turned out to be too much to overcome. Lancaster put one across in the third on a Delino DeShields (2x5 3RBI) RBI single and two more in the fourth on a Telvin Nash 2-run homer to tie the game the first time. Then the 'Hawks put up four in the sixth to re-tie the game, thanks to home runs from Matt Duffy (3x5 2R), Tyler Heineman (2x3 2BB 2R) and Delino DeShields, but a third comeback was not to be. Joe Sclafani was two-for-three and walked twice, and Chris Epps went two-for-three with a walk and a run scored.

Beloit over Quad Cities 3-2
Daniel Minor got the start, going four innings and allowing one run on five hits with two strikeouts. Richard Rodriguez pitched a scoreless fifth before giving way to the second half of the tandem, Lance McCullers. McCullers allowed two runs (one earned) on two hits and three walks while striking out five and was yet again denied his first professional win as they left men on second and third in the bottom of the ninth and fell just short despite scoring once in the inning. Carlos Correa was two-for-four with a walk and an RBI; Jesse Wierzbicki was two-for-five; and Austin Elkins was two-for-two with a double, two walks and a run scored.

Player of the Day: Erik Castro gets the love today for a great three-for-three outing and a two-run dinger in yesterday's game, but he also deserves acknowledgement for the great month he's had thus far. After struggling a bit in April, Castro has hit .354/.415/.538 in May and .368/.429/.553 in his last 10 games.

Pitcher of the Day: David Martinez gets the nod for being the first pitcher in the minor leagues to get to seven wins. In 11 games (six starts), Martinez has a 2.00 ERA and a 1.022 WHIP. He has walked only nine batters in 45 innings while striking out 29.

Happy Birthday - 5/20

Happy Birthday to ~

SS Jose Fernandez (20)
A non-drafted free agent signing out of the Dominican Republic, Fernandez spent his first two seasons in the Astros organization playing with the Gulf Coast League Astros before graduating to Greeneville (14 games) and Lexington (20 games) in 2012. His combined line for the two teams was .231/.336/.337 with eight doubles, one home run and 11 RBI.

Tweet of the Day

Brian Holmes
Working on my pickoff move in my apartment

Sunday, May 19, 2013

An Interview with Morgan Ensberg

Speaking with Infield Coach Morgan Ensberg last weekend when I was in Lancaster was a treat for me for many different reasons. But the best part of talking to Ensberg was to see and feel his love for the Astros and his passion for helping, coaching and mentoring the minor league players in the Astros system. He is honest, unfiltered and thoughtful in his opinions. Speaking with him was very refreshing and very encouraging.

This is what he had to say (edited at a minimum for clarity) ~

I told Ensberg that I was somewhat surprised to see him as a coach because I assumed that he would be coming back into the Astros fold as a broadcaster. He responded, "I was going to originally interview for the TV and radio and, as we started talking, I made it very clear that it rips my heart out that the Astros stink. It’s not okay. You’ll notice now that my tone changes in that it’s not okay. I feel I am an Astro. That’s who I came up with. That’s who I played the majority of my career with. And we had great winning teams. And to watch them really struggle, I’m not okay with it. And so when I came back, at a certain point, I said 'Listen, anything that I can do to help you whether it’s in the broadcast booth, if it’s coaching, whatever it is, I want to do. If you tell me go clean bathrooms, I’ll go clean bathrooms.' It was about making sure that the Astros get back to being great, and it morphed into a coaching job. I was originally going to be talking for the broadcast booth but I said, 'Wherever you feel like I can help the team the most for now.' That’s how we got to this."

I asked Ensberg how the idea of the extra coach was working out so far, "It’s really been great and it’s been something that Jeff Luhnow and the powers-that-be have thought about. I think it’s great to get another set of eyes. We tried to get away from having too many cooks in the kitchen. I think this just allows these kids to have another coach there, especially with me specializing in a certain area. I think it helps that, but most importantly, it’s great just to have support for these kids."

Who came up with the "Really Good Player" Award, "It was me. It was something that I heard and I just thought it was fun. It’s obviously there all in good fun, but I thought it was a good phrase and it was something that really caught on. You know what? I think it’s important to acknowledge when an individual has done well. I had a trophy made at this place in L.A. that cost me $18.73. It’s kind of like one of these women with wings, like a champion. I obviously [had to] get it in fuchsia because that’s the type of award we're dealing with here. I had a little nameplate engraved 'You’re a Really Good Player, Player of the Game.' It’s something that helps just build camaraderie among the guys. They’re the ones that [vote on] it, and I think that’s an important distinction. I think a lot of times in the past when you’re growing up, your coach chooses it, but this is an award where your teammates choose it.

The Really Good Player Award

"And this also has to do with the harsh realities of life which is that, although these are still kids, they are men now and unfortunately it’s dog-eat-dog. You have to show that there are winners and losers, and even though a guy might go four-for-four or two guys go four-for-four, one of those guys has to win. Obviously we had our first ever three-man victory [for the game on May 12th], but I will put a star or asterisk by that because [you have to] throw all the rules out the window on a no-hitter with a piggyback.

"It’s important to be positive because baseball is such a difficult, negative game, but it’s also very important to be brutally honest. I’m very hard on these guys and it’s not because I want them to feel bad. It’s just that the game of baseball is going to rip your heart out, and my job is to prepare them for the big leagues. Make no mistake about it. This has the most talent of any team I’ve ever seen that’s not in the big leagues. I’ve never seen a team with this many big league players on it at one time, and I refuse to say good job or just pass them on to the next level by being overly positive if that’s not the case. [They need to] understand what is expected of them. [They need to] understand what is right and what is wrong, especially with the infield. They know that I’m going to bring up things that have to do with effort … I don’t bring up anything that has to do with ability. They can't choose whether or not they are fast, strong. We never talk about that. But I will be all over them ... on effort problems. If they have a situation where they’re not doing it correctly, it’s not okay. They know [I’m not going to be] yelling at them directly into their face, but they know I’m not going to be happy, and I’m going to bring it to their attention. It’s constant accountability.

"The reason why I coach is not so I can coach in the future. The reason why I coach is because baseball's a very scary game. Make no mistake about it. Even though these guys are doing really well, they're staring at the ceiling at night scared to death. I’ve been there. I’ve been in that situation and I don’t want these kids to feel ... it’s almost anxiety or terror. I want to be there for them to help them get through this because this is just a very difficult game that they play, and it’s very emotional. And again I’m not going to just pat them on the back and say the way you’re doing it is good. It’s not good unless it’s the way a big leaguer does it and that’s what I teach."


Ensberg's passion is infectious. It's hard not to feel his enthusiasm when watching the Lancaster team. And it's impossible not to see and appreciate his compassion for and belief in these players. 

I've already posted interviews with Telvin Nash, Travis Ballew and Delino DeShields. I have been working furiously over the weekend to transcribe the rest of the interviews and hope to have several more interviews coming out this week, with Preston Tucker, Andrew Aplin, David Rollins, Brandon Meredith and Nolan Fontana. I hear that they're all Really Good Players.