Monday, May 19, 2014

Blogger Night at Minute Maid Park - Part 1

The Astros were kind enough (and brave enough) to host another Blogger Night this past Friday night. We were able to talk with Bo Porter and a few players on the field prior to the game and I'll be posting something on that probably tomorrow. First I want to tell you about the very generous 35 minutes and 34 seconds (according to my tape recorder) that we were given with General Manager Jeff Luhnow and Assistant Director of Player Development Allen Rowin. They spoke with us right up until first pitch!

Jeff Luhnow - May 2014
Photo by Jayne Hansen

The ever gracious Luhnow started by telling the assembled group, "I do appreciate the passion and the enthusiasm and obviously the desire for good Astros baseball." He went on to say that the blogging community represents the pulse of Astros fandom and assured us that the front office does pay attention to what we have to say.

Luhnow is always affable and calm and even-keeled. None of that has changed, but there was a distinct edge to him that I hadn't seen before. And one word crept into his conversation with us several times ... frustration.

He is not so much frustrated by the Astros slow start to the season as he is by people overreacting to small sample sizes from various players. He is, however, somewhat frustrated by the unforeseen bullpen injuries, but knows that he can only control what he can control. His addition of bullpen pitchers Tony Sipp and Kyle Farnsworth show that he is not content with the status quo and is doing his best to buy some time until Jesse Crain and Matt Albers are once again healthy and ready to contribute.

But his main source of frustration is the lack of journalistic ethics by some of the traditional media, those who in the desire to be first often report as fact things that are incorrect. He mocked the whole "a source close to" meme, saying exasperatedly, "These unnamed sources know everything!"

Luhnow went on to say, "When I see comments like 'They don't care,' that's probably the most hard to deal with. We watch every pitch. How could we not care? Nobody likes to lose. We do care a lot. It's frustrating because no matter how much you plan, they're going to play the game on the field and things are going to happen and you can never control the outcome.

"Would I prefer to get out of the gate fast and have everything clicking? Yeah, I would. I think this team is much better than their record has been so far."

The discussion then ranged from injuries to the status of Mark Appel to Tommy John theories to interesting prospects. I asked him about the injury that sent Vincent Velasquez to Extended Spring Training. Luhnow indicated that it was a hip injury and that he had an MRI on Friday. He hoped that a short rehab would get Velasquez back on the mound, but wanted to play it conservatively since a problem with a pitcher's lower body can result in an arm injury by throwing off his mechanics and delivery. He also told us that Asher Wojciechowski is very close to being assigned to Oklahoma City.

Of Mark Appel, Luhnow told us that he had pitched Thursday ... 40 pitches up to 98 and averaging 95. He anticipated one more outing for Appel before assigning him to a club, likely back to Lancaster. Luhnow re-emphasized that Appel had never been hurt but that he just needed to adjust to the tandem routine and indicated that Appel was very positive about the adjustment.

There was a long and very interesting discussion about the seeming rash of Tommy John surgeries and how all of the clubs are desperately trying to figure out a way to address and prevent those injuries. There appears to be a definite connection to how high school pitchers are currently being used and Luhnow thinks that eventually parents and coaches will force a change in how young pitchers are handled. In the meantime, Luhnow and Company have been conducting studies and meeting with medical experts, including the famed Dr. Andrews, in an effort to create a model that they hope will preclude some of these injuries.

Finally, Allen Rowin answered questions about some of the prospects in the system, focusing on Quad Cities C Brian Holberton (who just happened to hit for the cycle yesterday), Domingo Santana, Tony Kemp, Roberto Pena (major-league ready defensively), and possible future relievers.

Rowin specifically mentioned Corpus Christi reliever Travis Ballew with his plus/plus slider, saying that fine-tuning his fastball command is his current task at hand. And he also mentioned that current Quad Cities starter Jandel Gustave could be a future reliever. Tyler Brunnemann's name also came up in the discussion for the great season he's had thus far (and for his total remake over the off-season).

For more immediate bullpen help coming from the farm system, Luhnow indicated that Jake Buchanan and Nick Tropeano would be possibilities for call-ups later this season; if so, they would be called up for relief roles.

It was an interesting night. There might not have been any ground-breaking news involved, but one thing was clear. Jeff Luhnow wants to win, he expects to win and he does not suffer gladly the fools who believe otherwise.


  1. Great post! Glad to see the FO do this and for the candid assessment -- good and bad -- about "The Process."