Saturday, January 11, 2014

Astros Fall and Winter League Playoff Recaps

Results for Friday, January 10

LIGA VENEZUELA BEISBOL PROFESIONAL

Caracas 7, Anzoátegui 6

The capital club moved into a tie at the top of the round-robin with their opponents by scoring a pair of runs in the top of the 9th. Jesus Guzman sparked the rally by hitting a single to lead off the inning.

Leones del Caracas
1B Jesus Guzman: 2-4, sac fly in 5th, 2 R

AUSTRALIAN BASEBALL LEAGUE

Melbourne 7, Adelaide 3

The Aces ran away with a 4-run 8th that extended their lead to 5-0. Adelaide couldn't quite recover from that.

Adelaide Bite
SS Joe Sclafani: 0-4, K

LIGA DE BEISBOL DOMINICANO

Águilas 4, Escogido 3

Águilas kept themselves in the thick of things with a win over the leaders.

Águilas Cibaeñas
SS Jonathan Villar: 1-2, 3B, R, BB, K

Leones del Escogido
RHP Jorge De Leon: 1.2 IP, H, BB, K

LIGA DE BEISBOL PROFESIONAL ROBERTO CLEMENTE (PUERTO RICO)

Mayagüez 4, Ponce 3 in 12 innings

At 5-1, Mayagüez tops the round-robin in Puerto Rico with less than a week to go. Austin Wates came on as a defensive replacement in the 11th and did not appear at the plate.

Caguas 4, Carolina 3

Carolina scored a run in the top of the 9th to go ahead 3-2, but Caguas responded by walking off with the victory.

Gigantes de Carolina
2B Enrique Hernandez: 1-1, HBP; left game after being hit by pitch in 3rd
DH Carlos Corporan: 1-2, 2B
1B Jobduan Morales: 0-3, 2 BB, 2 K
C Rene Garcia: 0-3, BB

LIGA PROFESIONAL DE BEISBOL DE PANAMA

Indios 4, Roneros 1

A fine pitching performance for Indios, as 4 pitchers combined on a 3-hitter.

Indios de Urracá
RHP Juan Delis: IP, 2 BB, K

There is no Diablos Rojos de Panama. It appears they moved. Urracá, according to Wikipedia, was an indigenous leader in the area that is now western Panama who waged a rebel campaign against the conquistadores.

Happy Birthday - 1/11

Happy Birthday to ~

3B Randy Cesar (19)
A NDFA from the Dominican Republic, Cesar played with the DSL Astros for the second time in 2013. In 63 games, he hit .235/.331/.299. He was coming on strong in his final 10 games, hitting .278/.395/.389.

Tweet of the Day

Friday, January 10, 2014

Astros Fall and Winter League Playoff Recaps

Results for Thursday, January 9

LIGA VENEZUELA BEISBOL PROFESIONAL

Caracas 8, Zulia 4

The capital club moved into 2nd place in the round-robin as they doubled up their visitors.

Leones del Caracas
1B Jesus Guzman: 1-5, K

AUSTRALIAN BASEBALL LEAGUE

Adelaide 2, Melbourne 0

Joe Sclafani's 7-game hitting streak was snapped, as the Bite opened up the latest round of play with a shutout.

Adelaide Bite
SS Joe Sclafani: 0-4

LIGA DE BEISBOL DOMINICANO

Gigantes 8, Águilas 7

While Escogido is enjoying their view from the top, the other 3 teams are blugdeoning each other. Gigantes moved into a tie for 2nd with Licey after walking off with the win against their bitter rivals.

Águilas Cibaeñas
SS Jonathan Villar: 1-4, 2B, RBI, R

LIGA PROFESIONAL DE BEISBOL DE PANAMA

This league is not affiliated with Major League Baseball, but some of the native Panamanians in the Astros system have come home to play. The LPBP (or "Probeis") kicked off play yesterday, and before I jump in to recaps, here's where the Astros players are playing in Panama: 

Industriales de Herrera
RHP Agapito Barrios

Herrera is one of the provinces of Panama, located in south-central Panama, where the land juts out to the south.

Caballos de Coclé
RHP Tyson Perez (listed as "Jaison Perez")

Coclé is a province located in the center of the country. This is where Carlos Lee makes his home; Aguadulce, his hometown, is located in the southwestern portion of the province. I wonder where they got their team name from.

Roneros de Chiriquí
LHP Cristhopher Santamaria- listed as a reserve, although the listed roster is from 2012.

Chiriquí is located in Western Panama.

Diablos Rojos de Panamá
RHP Juan Delis

The Red Devils of Panamá ply their trade in the capital, Panama City.

1/8 Game

Caballos 4, Industriales 3

In the first game of the 2014 Probeis season, Caballos walked off with the victory with 2 in the 9th.

Industriales de Herrera
RHP Agapito Barrios: 3 IP, 4 H, ER, 3 K

Caballos de Coclé
RHP Tyson Perez: 1.1 IP, 3 H, ER, BB, 2 K

No one made an apperarance in Thursday's action.


Happy Birthday - 1/10

Happy Birthday to ~

RHP Erick Gonzalez (22)
A 15th round draft pick in 2012 out of Gateway Community College in Arizona, Gonzalez spent his second professional season with the GCL Astros. In 20 appearances, he was 3-5 with 4 saves, a 4.00 ERA and a 1.556 WHIP.

RHP Gonzalo Sanudo (22)
Originally signed as a NDFA out of Mexico by the Twins prior to the 2011 season, Sanudo came to the Astros organization in a March 2013 trade for Mike Kvasnicka. After a brief stint in Corpus Christi, Sanudo spent the bulk of his season with Greeneville before warranting a late season promotion to Tri-City where he appeared in nine games, converting eight of eight save opportunities and putting up a 0.00 ERA and a 0.308 WHIP to end the regular season. For the full season, Sanudo was 1-2 with 19 saves, a 1.16 ERA and a 0.621 WHIP in 30 appearances. He walked four batters and struck out 51 in 38+ innings.

Former Astros celebrating birthdays today ~

RHP Sammy Gervacio (29)
Gervacio was originally signed by the Astros as a NDFA out of the Dominican Republic in 2002.  He pitched in 35 games for the Astros in 2009 and 2010.  In 2009, he was particularly effective with a 2.14 ERA and a 1.143 WHIP in 29 games. He quickly became a fan favorite in Houston, mainly because of his elaborate wind-up and unconventional pitching style. He played in the Mexican League in 2013.

RHP Larry Hardy (66)
Originally drafted by the Padres in the 23rd round in 1970, this Bellaire, Texas native came to Houston in a December 1975 trade with San Diego. In 15 games for Houston in 1976, he had a 7.06 ERA and a 2.031 WHIP.

1B Jim Lindeman (52)
A first round pick by the Cardinals in 1983, Lindeman signed with Houston as a free agent in February 1993. In nine games with Houston, he hit .348.348/.478.

Tweet of the Day

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Astros Fall and Winter League Playoff Recaps

Results for Wednesday, January 8

LIGA VENEZUELA BEISBOL PROFESIONAL

La Guaira 8, Zulia 7 in 12 innings

With the victory, La Guaira pulled out of the cellar and put Zulia in there.

Águilas del Zulia
3B Marwin Gonzalez: 1-3, 2B, R, BB, K

LIGA MEXICANA DEL PACIFICO

Hermosillo 6, Guasave 0 (Herrmosillo wins series 4-2)

The Orange Growers hammered the final nail in the coffin of this series with 3 runs in the 6th to push a 3-0 lead to the final score.

Algodoneros de Guasave
RF Leo Heras: 0-3, BB
DH Japhet Amador: 0-1, K

LHP Carlos Vazquez: 0.1 IP; first out of the 6th inning

LIGA DE BEISBOL DOMINICANO

Escogido 9, Águilas 2

The round-robin leaders got 5 shutout innings from Raúl Valdés and scored all 9 of their runs in the first 4 innings to cruise to the win.

Leones del Escogido
LHP Raúl Valdés: W (1-0), 5 IP, 5 H, 4 K
RHP Jorge De Leon: 1.2 IP, H, K

Águilas Cibaeñas
SS Jonathan Villar: 0-2, sac fly in 7th, BB, K

LIGA DE BEISBOL PROFESIONAL ROBERTO CLEMENTE (PUERTO RICO)

Ponce 2, Carolina 0

Carolina only yielded 4 hits, but they were shut out of the column that counts.

Gigantes de Carolina
2B Enrique Hernandez: 0-5, 2 K
DH Carlos Corporan: 1-4, K
1B Jobduan Morales: 1-4, 2B
C Rene Garcia: 0-2, BB

Happy Birthday - 1/9

No future Astros, but a few former Astros celebrate birthdays today ~

RHP Jay Powell (42)
Drafted by the Orioles in the first round in 1993, Powell came to Houston in a July 1998 trade with the Marlins. He pitched in 160 games for Houston in 1998 to 2001 with an ERA of 4.02 and WHIP of 1.549. He was the winning pitcher of record in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series for the Marlins.

OF Stan Javier (50)
Javier came to Houston in an August 1999 trade with the Giants and played in 20 games for the Astros that season with a batting line of .328/.405/.422. Javier was the first player to hit a home run in an interleague game (against the Rangers) when he played for the Giants. He got his World Series ring when he played for Oakland in 1989.

RHP T. J. Mathews (44)
Originally drafted by the Cardinals in the 36th round in 1992, Matthews signed with Houston as a free agent in January 2002 and pitched in 12 games for the Astros that season with an ERA of 3.44 and WHIP of 1.309.

Tweets of the Day






Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Trailblazers, Part 3: Jamaine Cotton, Michael Dimock and Joe Musgrove Weigh In On The Experience

Several Astros minor leaguers ventured to Venezuela to play in the Liga Paralela's winter league late last year. Part 1 of the series introduced you to The Trailblazers and explained the reasoning behind their journey. Part 2 explored that journey in great detail from the eyes of one of those players, OF Brett Phillips. Today we're going to hear briefly from three of the other players who participated -- RHP Jamaine Cotton, RHP Michael Dimock and RHP Joe Musgrove.

Cotton was the only American player who was with the program from Day 1 all the way through until the plane took off from Caracas on Day 74. And he was probably the least prone to the culture shock that impacted the other players to varying extents as Cotton hails from the U.S. Virgin Islands, a U.S. territory that lies closer to Caracas than it does to Houston. Cotton set himself apart with his fine bullpen work in Venezuela and was singled out by Astros GM Jeff Luhnow in my November interview as a player who had really opened his eyes.

Dimock and Musgrove, along with four other players, left the program early due to some of the issues and concerns I alluded to in Part 2 of this series. But they were there long enough for the experience to leave an indelible impression.

I reached out to the three players via email and asked them the same set of questions. Here is what they had to say ~

JH: Can you tell me a little about actually playing ball down there, the facilities, the atmosphere, the competition, the fans, that kind of thing?

JC: Playing ball in Venezuela was a good experience for me to get more reps in. I played with/against guys with age range anywhere from 16-25 years old. Guys that play in the upper levels that didn't make the big league club there came down to paralela league to continue playing with the hope of getting the chance to play for the big club. That basically made the competition pretty good, but of course you're going to have your up and down games.

The facilities weren't bad at all. We played in mlb/milb academies there and where we played our home games it was turf. Obviously though they do things a little different due to finances. For the first time I've seen a motorcycle being used to drag a baseball field haha! The atmosphere wasn't up to par with that of the big clubs of course when it comes to the fans, but on the field it's always the same when it comes to baseball.

MD: The baseball aspect of being in Venezuela was great, obviously the reason for us being down there. The facilities that we played and practiced at was about a 10 minute bus ride from where we lived and it consisted of four baseball fields, a batting cage, a few covered basketball courts, and a workout complex. The fields were turf outfield and dirt infield. The surroundings outside of the athletic complex were amazing, mountains overlooking the field and the one thing I enjoyed the most was the weather, hot and sunny every day. Concerning our fan base, there weren't many fans at our games because we played at 10 a.m. on week days and had most of the weekends off to ourselves.

JM: The guys that we played with were all very talented. Some extremely young. It was very cool getting to play with guys who had such raw talent but maybe weren't as experienced with the mental part of the game and the fine details. I enjoyed getting to share thoughts and experience time with the Latin players. Not only did we teach them, but they had plenty to share with us. The crowds were never very big but we saw the same fans at the same fields. Very loyal ha ha.

The fields were nothing like the quality fields that we have in the US but our home field was decent.

JH: What was the funniest thing that happened to you or one of your teammates or that you saw while you were there?

JC: Hmmm, the funniest thing I have to say is that laugh of my 'Stros teammate Brett Phillips. That laugh of his is hilarious and gives you that eye along with it. It really brightened up those guys faces also because they really enjoyed being around him, making him laugh so they can laugh along with him.

MD: As a group we had lots of memorable moments and experiences that we will always remember. One memory that stands out to me and probably a few of us was one day we went to the mall to get food and see the culture. After walking around exhausted and wanting food Blair Walters and a few others and myself tried the challenge of ordering food on our own without an interpreter. Since neither of us spoke Spanish very well we tried ordering the most American thing we could find, pizza. We walked up to the pizza counter and began the difficult process of speaking broken Spanish (which included very very basic Spanish) to the employee. Proudly I thought I had this whole Spanish thing covered and took the reigns of ordering one small cheese pizza for myself. To my surprise when my order arrived it turned out to be two extra large pepperoni pizzas. Needless to say I did not eat the entire meal and had plenty of leftovers for everyone else. Probably one of the most embarrassing moments is when I was walking around the mall with a giant pizza box, very American.

JM: I couldn't say there was one funny moment that stood out more than others, but I found our days at the field were hilarious. I found watching some of the Americans who couldn't speak any Spanish try to communicate with the Latin guys. Most of the time the Americans would just reply with an "oh yeah" or "sí sí" without having any idea what the guys were saying. Half the time they'd be cracking jokes about us and we'd agree and nod our heads because we had no idea what they were saying .

JH: What was the biggest disconnect or barrier for you as an American in Venezuela? Language? Food? Something else?

JC: Honestly there wasn't any really besides not perfectly knowing the language and the internet there. I managed to learn a good bit of Spanish while being there, and you also have those guys trying to learn English themselves. We just tried to help each other out when it came to learning a different language. On the food side of things, it wasn't much of a difference for me because I come from a Caribbean island myself.

MD: Definitely one of the biggest disconnects I had was the language barrier, seeing as it was my first time being in a Spanish speaking country and my level of Spanish was juvenile at best. Since the last time I was in Spanish class or spoke it was years before, I had trouble communicating. Whenever I traveled around I would try bringing people who knew the language or had a better feel for it than I did.

JM: I've taken a few years of Spanish and at the time was going through the Rosetta Stone program so I was one of the few Americans who could get by with what I knew so the language wasn't much of a problem for me. Not having Wifi was a big disconnect for most of us just for the fact that it was our only way to communicate with our families or anyone for that matter. We had no phone plans so having Wifi was our only way to have anything to connect with. I somewhat enjoyed it though. I was a lot more productive without my phone or computer ha ha. I read 3 full books in 3 weeks out there which is more than I usually do. I did a lot of writing. I did my Rosetta Stone daily, etc. It was just tough not being able to share all the daily experiences with my family and friends.

JH: What did you take away from the experience that you can use in your day-to-day life or in your baseball life?

JC: What I took out of being there is that I have to continue getting as much reps in. Those guys play baseball all year round and some from the ages of 15/16. The more game reps you can get is so beneficial to you as a player because it's different from practice once your adrenaline is going. In terms to using something from being in Venezuela as an everyday life kind of thing, it would be Spanish. Now I can be able to communicate a little more with my Latin teammates, and in the process continue learning and getting better.

MD: One thing that I took away from my time being in Venezuela was just to be thankful for the things that myself and many other Americans enjoy, even down to the smallest things of having warm water to shower in every day which we often take for granted. It was a growing experience for myself and it showed a different way of life. It made me realize that the true things in life that we should cherish are friendships and relationships with others instead of material things. It really puts life into perspective of how blessed we baseball players are living the American dream playing baseball.

JM: There are a lot of things that I can truly appreciate more now after spending time out there. Having power outages daily, sometimes no running water, not having hot water available to shower with, not having cold bottled water available whenever you want, even not being able to eat on your own schedule. All those things are things that I never thought about, or was really all that grateful for until I made my trip to Venezuela. I would say that trip was a huge eye opener, and I'm so glad I got the opportunity to go and experience all I did.

I received a follow-up email from Joe Musgrove. He wanted to share this story ~

I happen to be, as is my family, a big animal lover. While in Venezuela, I adopted a stray dog that roamed our field daily. I named him Taco. Taco looked extremely hungry, matted, had fleas covering him, raw hot spots from scratching, and in need of some serious companionship. Not having the time or facilities to bathe or manicure Taco, I took the bus to the store and bought a big bag of dog food. I would daily, grab a big handful of dog food and put it in a ziploc bag that I traveled with. Taco and I would meet at the "Snack Bar" for his breakfast. Taco somewhat became our team mascot, ha ha...and his energy levels sky rocketed! He was running on the field with us before practice, fetching balls, and after practice I'd give him the other half of the bag of food for his evening meal. Every morning Taco waited for me at that snack bar, and certain mornings I'd bring him a bone from the dinner we had eaten the night before. Taco was my friend out there and it was tough having to say goodbye to him. It brought so much joy to me to be able to add a good 3 weeks to his life.

>>>>>>><<<<<<<

As I mentioned before, Venezuela isn't for everyone. For some Americans, it's not an easy place to navigate or communicate. The crime rate is problematic. The food situation can leave American tummies longing for home. But these 11 intrepid souls helped pave the way for a possible return to a robust, beneficial relationship that can help the Astros for years to come.

Jeff Luhnow would like to send American players to play in the Liga Paralela in Venezuela again this fall. His job now is to find ways to insulate the players enough to keep them healthy and safe while still allowing them to learn and grow as individuals and as ballplayers, and to take memories and experiences with them that will last a lifetime.

Astros Fall and Winter League Playoff Recaps

Results for Tuesday, January 7

LIGA VENEZUELA BEISBOL PROFESIONAL

Caracas 12, La Guaira 2

Caracas romped to the victory as they scored the first 11 runs of the game and added 1 more in the 9th for the dozen. They gave up 2 consolation runs in the bottom of the 8th.

Leones del Caracas
1B Jesus Guzman: 3-6, 2 R, K

LIGA DE BEISBOL PROFESIONAL ROBERTO CLEMENTE (PUERTO RICO)

Caguas 3, Mayagüez 1

It looks like Austin Wates is now a member of los Indios de Mayagüez. I edited yesterday's recap to reflect his new status. As for the game, Caguas dealt Indios their first loss of the round-robin.

Indios de Mayagüez
LF Austin Wates: 0-1, BB, K

Carolina 3, Ponce 0

Carolina opened up their account in round-robin play by blanking Ponce.

Gigantes de Carolina
2B Enrique Hernandez: 1-4
DH Carolos Corporan: 0-3, sac fly in 8th, K
1B Jodbuan Morales: 0-3, BB
C Rene Garcia: 2-3, 2B, RBI, R

Happy Birthday - 1/8

Happy Birthday to ~

RHP Samil de los Santos (20)
Signed by the Astros as a non-drafted free agent from the Dominican Republic in 2011, de los Santos stumbled a bit in his first season stateside. In 14 games (two starts), he was 3-2 with a 7.86 ERA and a 1.557 WHIP. He walked seven batters while striking out 28 in 26+ innings.

LF Danry Vasquez (20)
Originally signed by the Tigers as a NDFA out of Venezuela in 2010, Vasquez came to the Astros organization in the July 2013 Jose Veras trade. His numbers from before and after the trade (which occurred within the Midwest League) were very consistent. He ended the season with the Quad Cities team, hitting .284/.331/.400 with 18 doubles, six triples, nine home runs and 60 RBI in 129 games.

Former Astros with birthdays today ~

CF Jim Busby (died July 8, 1996 at 69)
Busby came to Houston as a free agent and played in 15 games for the Colt .45's in 1962 at the end of his career, hitting .182/.308/.182 in 11 at-bats. He was an All-Star with the White Sox in 1951 but his best season was for the Washington Senators in 1953 when he hit .312/.358/.415 in 150 games.

3B Gene Freese (died June 19, 2013 at 79)
Freese came to Houston in a July 1966 trade with the White Sox and played in 21 games for the Astros at the end of his career with forgettable results. His best season was arguably his 1961 season with the Reds when he hit .277/.307/.466 with 27 doubles, two triples and 26 home runs. In all, he played in the major leagues for 12 seasons.

OF Wilbur Howard (65)
Originally drafted by the Seattle Pilots in the 19th round in 1968, Howard came to Houston in a March 1974 trade with the Brewers. In 450 games played for the Astros from 1974 to 1978 he hit .252/.285/.327. He led the National League in fielding percentage as an outfielder in 1975.

RHP Julio Solano (54)
Solano was signed by Houston as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 1979, and pitched in 82 games for Houston from 1983 to 1987 with a 4.55 ERA and a 1.405 WHIP before being traded to Seattle in September 1987.

2B Dave Matranga (37)
A sixth round pick by the Astros in 1998, Matranga played in 6 games for Houston in 2003. In 5 at-bats, he got one hit -- a home run in his first major league at-bat. He only had one more major league plate appearance (with the Angels in 2005), and did not get a hit.

Tweet of the Day

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Astros Minor League Roster Moves

According to these tweets, 1B/DH Mike Martinez is no longer with the organization.

It's not a huge surprise in that he was an older prospect who hadn't progressed past playing for Short Season A Tri-City last year, but also because he tested positive for an amphetamine and was placed on the restricted list in August.

But I will admit that I did enjoy watching him play and watching him interact with his teammates when I was at Tri-City in July. We wish him the best of luck.

Mike Martinez getting a ride from
teammate Luis Alvarez

I have been told that there will likely be a few more cuts prior to Spring Training. I will keep you posted as I find out the information.

The Trailblazers, Part 2: Astros OF Brett Phillips Talks About His Venezuelan Adventure

Yesterday, I gave you a brief introduction to The Trailblazers, a group of eight American players (and three coaches) who were tasked with expanding the Astros footprint in Venezuela in a meaningful way by participating in the Venezuelan Liga Paralela for the winter season. One of those players was OF Brett Phillips.

Phillips was a late addition to the mix of those who went to Venezuela. He joined a group of players who were already in place and playing for the Tiburones: RHP Jamaine Cotton, RHP Michael Dimock, RHP Joe Musgrove, LHP Blair Walters, OF Marc Wik, C Ricky Gingras and 3B Ryan Dineen. I talked to Brett by phone at length about his experiences in Venezuela and it all started with the journey down.

The Trailblazers catching a little sun

Before the trip to South America, Brett had never been outside the United States, except for a quick cruise to Mexico, and his Spanish skills were more or less non-existent. His adventure started as he tried to change planes in Panama. After some confusion, he found himself in an interminably long line for his rapidly approaching flight and then was told he wasn’t in the system. He was thinking, “I’m going to be stuck here and this is not a good way to start things.”

He was quickly rescued by a Venezuelan he met in line who spoke perfect English and recognized the Astros logo on Brett’s bag. Before he knew it, he was whisked to the front of the line, given his boarding pass and had his bag fees waived. When word spread that Brett was an American going to play for the Tiburones in Venezuela, “Everyone is looking at me, taking pictures with me and I’m just so overwhelmed. I’m just a minor league baseball player! I’m seriously in awe. Baseball is their life over there. Baseball is everything to them.” He ended up buying his new friend some coffee and was soon on his way, but his eyes had been opened up to the culture of baseball in Latin America.

Upon his late arrival into Caracas, the first thing Brett noticed was the extremely heavy traffic. What he experienced that night was a common sight. Night or day, the traffic was awful. What would normally be a 30-minute commute in the United States could easily take three or four hours. Motorcycles flew between the cars and a tank of gas cost less than a dollar.

Brett made it to the dorm in San Joaquin at around 2:00 in the morning and was ushered into an open room that looked like a military barracks. “There’s like 30 bunk beds, so [about] 60 players were sleeping in there. It’s just open and everyone’s sleeping together. There’s no privacy, no bedrooms.”

After a standard 5:00 a.m. wake-up call, a bleary-eyed Phillips boarded a bus to head to the field. “Picture a school bus, but no yellow. It’s pimped out. It’s got a big old sound system and a TV in the front of the bus playing Spanish music videos. It’s like 6:00 in the morning and they’re blaring this Spanish music and it’s got this bass. It’s just blaring music and I’m dead from the night before.” He wasn’t having any of it at the time, but he had to get used to it because the music played continuously everywhere the bus went.


Brett described the field as pretty nice, but for one factor … the turf. “It had turf, but the turf wasn’t what our turf is. The turf had no rubber down. Usually the Astroturf has rubber down in the grass. It was basically just like carpet. So if you were going to dive, you’re going to burn your arms, so you had to go feet first if you’re going to dive for a ball.” But that wasn’t even the bad part. “When the sun was at its highest point, that turf got so hot that it would literally burn your feet. Your legs would be on fire. I don’t know how to explain it. It was so hot it made you more tired so quickly.”

But no matter the challenges, Phillips learned a lot by playing ball in the Liga Paralela. “The competition was good. For me, I’ve struggled [a little] with offspeed pitches like curveball, slider, changeup. And what they say is, ‘If you can’t hit a fastball, you go play in the Dominican because everyone there is going to throw 95-100. If you can’t hit an offspeed pitch, they said [to] go play in Venezuela for winter ball because they’re going to drop an offspeed pitch almost every pitch. You see more offspeed in an at-bat than you see fastballs.’ That’s what I was told when I went down to Venezuela. That was good for me, seeing the offspeed.”

It must have worked because Brett wasted no time in drawing attention to himself from the big league Venezuelan club. “I batted leadoff and third there and from the beginning played centerfield. [I] started hitting well and it took about a week or two to get noticed more by the big league team. They started watching me and I ended up being able to go up [to the big league club] for a few games to hit BP and to watch the game in the dugout. Before I had to leave [for a family emergency], I think I was so close to getting called up. That’s what they were talking to me about.” [Note: In my interview with Jeff Luhnow from November, he indicated that there definitely was interest in Phillips for the big league club.]

I asked Brett about some of the Latin players who played alongside him on the Tiburones team and he responded, “The Venezuelan players were all so nice to me. A couple of them actually took me to the mall to hang out. Good guys. All around good guys. They treated me like they treated each other over there. I wasn’t singled out. I think they kind of clung to me once they saw the laugh. They all thought that was the funniest thing ever. They’d never seen anything like that. Every time we’d be in the dorm, they’d try to get me to laugh. It was fun. [Note: Brett is known to have a laugh akin to the sound a dying donkey might make.] I didn’t single myself out to the Americans. I didn’t stay away from the Venezuelans. I went in there open-minded about everything and my experience there was good. I don’t have any complaints about that at all.”

We talked a little bit more about the challenges of living in Venezuela. “First of all, the power will shut off whenever it wants in this town. The whole town, the power will go out for five to six hours. One day we had it out for nine hours. It will shut off in the dorm and then the dorm gets really hot and the WIFI’s off.” The players could live with no electricity and no hot water in the showers, but intermittent WIFI was probably the worst issue that they had to deal with on a daily basis because WIFI represented a lifeline to their homes and families. That was something that Pitching Coach Don Alexander apparently understood. As Brett put it, “Donnie, the Pitching coach, he was in charge of everything down there. He had stressed to the Tiburones that the WIFI had to be on for us no matter what it took. We just needed it. He took care of us. He did everything for us. If we needed something, he took care of it. He’s a good guy.”

The accommodations may sound a little rugged, but after staying in a nice hotel for a few days at one point, Brett couldn’t wait to go back to the dorm. “Me and [Jamaine] Cotton decided we wanted to move back because we could have stayed at the nice hotel, but [we] were getting the experience part of it and we wanted to move back with the Venezuelan guys so we could learn better Spanish.” Plus, as Brett explains it, there was nowhere to go out around the hotel and back at the dorm, “We could go out with the Venezuelan guys, talk with them, mess around, hang out, so we decided to move back.”

Aside from traffic, Astro turf, blaring music and rustic living conditions, there were a couple of real issues to overcome. The two biggest issues to be faced were probably food and crime. With the emphasis on good nutrition for athletes, the lack of much in the way of fruits and vegetables on a regular basis will likely need to be addressed. The food was plentiful, but was generally the same thing day in and day out. “Breakfast was a piece of bread and an egg and a piece of ham. That was basically every breakfast. Lunch was either chicken and rice or beef and rice and then dinner would be the opposite.” Several of the players struggled with stomach problems at one time or another and Brett ended up losing significant weight.



The other issue has to do with the incidence of crime in a relatively poor country such as Venezuela. Brett talked to me about this as well. “There’s going to be crime. You have to go over there and respect how they live. You have to put yourself in safe situations because anything could happen there that could happen here. You just have to respect the way they live and not put yourself in a situation where you’re going to get hurt. You just have to be smart.”



When I interviewed Luhnow, he told me that the safety of the players is the team's top priority and their goal is to provide that safety while still ensuring a rich cultural experience. Brett thinks the front office will likely change a few things before sending American players there again next year, mainly adjusting the food situation and tightening security, but he noted, “All in all, I think a few things will change but not much. Because going over there, wanting to play baseball … that’s your main focus. [You’re going] to get an experience that you’re never probably going to have [again] so you’re going over there knowing you’ll live how they live.” The experience of living in the dorm with the Latin players was an important part of the experience for Brett and that is one thing that he wouldn't change.

Venezuela can be difficult and it’s not for everyone, but Brett seems to have approached the experience from the right frame of mind. “Luhnow sent Americans to the Dominican and [on] this Venezuela trip, first of all to interact and get that aspect of the game and second of all, [to show] us what those Latin guys go through when they come over to the United States. The living conditions might be a little different, but they’re coming over here blind. They’re coming over here not knowing any English and it just makes me appreciate more where these guys are coming from and how they’re going about their business, how they are when they’re over here and it makes me appreciate them more. And definitely going over there, it opens your eyes. The living conditions – they are what they are.”

When asked about his experience in Venezuela, he says without hesitation, “I would do it again.” And he has some advice for those who may be charged with blazing the trail just a little bit further next winter, “You’re going over there for one thing … to play baseball.” He goes on to say, “It’s not going to be glamorous. You’re going to go over there and suck it up and you’re going to play baseball and you’re going to be open-minded about the experience.”

Tomorrow, I check in by email with three of the other players who participated in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Astros Fall and Winter League Playoff Recaps

Results for Monday, January 6

LIGA VENEZUELA BEISBOL PROFESIONAL

Magallanes 12, Caracas 6

Magallanes jumped out to an 8-2 lead after 5 innings and never looked back.

Leones del Caracas
DH Jesus Guzman: 1-4, R, BB, 3 K

Anzoátegui 6, Zulia 4

Caribes scored 2 in the top of the 8th to tie, and 1 in the 9th to take the lead.

Águilas del Zulia
SS Marwin Gonzalez: Reached on an error in the 7th as a pinch-hitter.

LIGA MEXICANA DEL PACIFICO

Guasave 5, Hermosillo 4 (Hermosillo leads 3-2)

Well, that almost turned out disastrous for Guasave, as they squandered a 4-0 lead that they had held since the 3rd. Hermosillo got 1 in the 6th and tied it with 3 in the 8th, but the Cotton Growers survived and forced a game 6 by walking off with a victory.

Algodoneros de Guasave
RF Leo Heras: 0-2, RBI BB in 2nd, 3 BB overall
DH Japhet Amador: 1-4, BB

LIGA DE BEISBOL DOMINICANO

Águilas 5, Gigantes 2

Águilas put Gigantes in the cellar of round-robin play by scoring 4 in the bottom of the 8th to take a 5-2 lead, which turned out to be the final score.

Águilas Cibaeñas
SS Jonathan Villar: Entered game as a pinch-runner in the 8th and scored. He remained in the game at 2B, and did not have a plate appearance.

Gigantes del Cibao
RHP Rhiner Cruz: 0.2 IP (final 2 outs of the 8th), H, allowed an inherited runner to score


Happy Birthday - 1/7

Happy Birthday to ~

C Carlos Corporan (30)
Originally drafted by Milwaukee in the 12th round in 2003 out of his native Puerto Rico, Corporan signed as a free agent with the Astros in 2010. Corporan spent his 2013 season in Houston serving as the backup catcher to Jason Castro In 64 games, he hit .225/.287/.361 with five doubles, seven home runs and 20 RBI.

Former Astros with birthdays today ~

OF Jim Pendleton (died March 20, 1996 at 72)
Pendleton was purchased from the Reds in October 1961 and played in 117 games for the Colt .45's in 1962, hitting .246/.279/.371.

LHP Dave Meads (50)
Drafted by the Astros in the sixth round in 1984, Meads pitched in 67 games in Houston in 1987 and 1988 with a 4.48 ERA and a 1.438 WHIP.

IF Craig Shipley (51)
Originally from New South Wales in Australia, Shipley came to Houston in this trade (according to Baseball-Reference):
December 28, 1994: Traded by the San Diego Padres with Derek Bell, Doug Brocail, Ricky Gutierrez, Pedro Martinez and Phil Plantier 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.
In 92 games for Houston in 1995, he hit .263/.291/.345.

Tweets of the Day















Monday, January 6, 2014

Nobody's Perfect

Nobody is perfect. At least that's what I've heard. Players aren't perfect. Fans aren't perfect. And the voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America sure as heck aren't perfect.

I came across two terrific articles that I had read when they were first published quite some time ago, but both were well worth re-reading. The first was from Jayson Stark and should be titled, "It's a Museum, Not a Cathedral." The second goes back in time and erases all the flawed players who are currently enshrined in Cooperstown because of that pesky little old character clause.

Going by the current Hall of Fame votes which have been made public, it looks as though Craig Biggio has a good (but not certain) chance of being inducted this year, but barring a miracle, Jeff Bagwell will have to wait for another year. But that's OK. They will both be inducted eventually because they both earned it no matter what some of the oh-so-imperfect BBWAA members have to say about it.

And eventually, things will change with the who and how and why of Hall of Fame voting. Eventually, Baseball will drag the process kicking and screaming into the 21st century. And eventually, the Hall of Fame will go back to being a museum for the fans, representing the best players who ever played the game. Even if those players weren't all perfect. Eventually.

Of course, I could be totally wrong because, you know, I'm not exactly perfect either.

To watch the announcement live, tune in to MLB Network or MLB.com at 1:00 CST on Wednesday.


The Trailblazers, Part 1: Astros MiLB Adventures in Venezuela

As most people already know, Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow grew up in Mexico from an early age and, since coming to the Astros organization, has embraced those Latin roots in many ways in his job as GM, through signings of Mexican League players OF Leo Heras and 1B Japhet Amador; putting a renewed emphasis on and increasing the scope of International Scouting; and, most recently, by spending more time and deploying more resources in Venezuela.

The Astros, the first MLB team to establish a baseball academy in Venezuela, closed that Academy in 2008, and although they still scouted there in subsequent years, the rich lode of talent produced by the Academy (Johan Santana, Bobby Abreu, Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen, Melvin Mora and Richard Hidalgo, among others) seemed to have been largely mined out.

Last winter, Luhnow went to Venezuela and was greeted enthusiastically by trainers and agents in Venezuela for whom a MLB GM sighting was a rare thing, particularly one fluent in Spanish. He left with an enthusiasm for re-growing the Astros presence there, a charge accepted by Astros Director of International Oz Ocampo. Ocampo and International Crosschecker Mark Russo have spent significant time in Venezuela over the last year in an attempt to re-establish a strong Astros presence.

Fast forward to 2013. When Q & A (Director of Player Development Quinton McCracken and Assistant Director of Player Development Allen Rowin) suggested sending Astros minor league players to the Dominican Republic and to Venezuela in the off-season, Luhnow jumped at the idea.

The Dominican experience was very limited. Eight players (RHP Brady Rodgers, LHP Mitchell Lambson, 3B Rio Ruiz, SS Carlos Correa, OF Tanner Mathis, OF Chris Epps, C Brett Booth and 1B/DH MP Cokinos) spent 10 days there, working out at the Astros Dominican Academy, touring the island nation and getting an up close and personal look at how some of their Dominican-born teammates live. It was just a taste of that lifestyle. Mathis told me a little about that experience in this interview from November.

The Venezuelan experience, however, was much more comprehensive. Eight American-born Astros minor leaguers and three coaches embarked in early October for what was intended to be almost two and a half months of intense immersion into the Venezuelan culture playing for the Tiburones in the Liga Paralela, Venezuela’s version of the minor leagues.

They were, as they named themselves, The Trailblazers. The group consisted of RHP Jamaine Cotton, RHP Michael Dimock, RHP Joe Musgrove, LHP Blair Walters, OF Marc Wik, C Ricky Gingras, 3B Ryan Dineen and OF Brett Phillips.
trail·blaz·er
 noun ˈtrāl-ˌblā-zər
: a person who makes, does, or discovers something new and makes it acceptable or popular
: a person who marks or prepares a trail through a forest or field for other people to follow

And the trail wasn’t always smooth. Both the players and the front office learned much about the challenges of lifestyle, safety and nutrition in a South American country, among other lessons.









Several players ended up leaving the program early due to some of the issues and concerns associated with the nascent program, and one was forced to leave early due to a family emergency, leading to only one of eight players, Jamaine Cotton, winning the baseball equivalent of Survivor as he stayed with the Tiburones 'til the very end.

But the trail has indeed been blazed and Luhnow hopes to tweak things next year and give other players the opportunity to see the world from a much different vantage point, learning as much about life and themselves as they do about baseball.

To hear more about the players' experiences in Venezuela, tune in tomorrow for my interview with Brett Phillips and Wednesday for email interviews with Jamaine Cotton, Michael Dimock and Joe Musgrove.

Astros Fall and Winter League Playoff Recaps

Results for Sunday, January 5

LIGA VENEZUELA BEISBOL PROFESIONAL

Caracas 11, La Guaira 1

Caracas scored 8 runs in their final 2 innings (capped by a Bobby Abreu grand slam) to turn a 3-1 game into a laugher. Jesus Guzman hit a solo home run for the 2nd straight game.

Leones del Caracas
1B Jesus Guzman: 1-5, solo HR (2), 2 K

Anzoátegui 6, Zulia 4

Caribes has emerged from the first weekend of round-robin play as the only undefeated team. They took the lead with a 3-run 8th inning.

Águilas del Zulia
DH Marwin Gonzalez: 0-4

AUSTRALIAN BASEBALL LEAGUE

Adelaide 6, Canberra 5

Joe Sclafani came through late as he drove in the go-ahead run with a 2-out RBI single in the top of the 9th. He then proceeded to steal 2nd, but was stranded there to end the inning. The hit extended his hitting streak to 7 games.

Adelaide Bite
SS Joe Sclafani: 1-4, RBI single in 9th, R, BB, SB (10)

Perth 13, Melbourne 11 in 10 innings

This was a wild one, alright. The Heat scored 5 runs in the 1st before they recorded an out, then added another run in the 3rd to make it a 6-1 game. Melbourne scored 1 in the 1st, then stormed back to tie with 4 in the 3rd and 1 more in the 4th. After a brief lull, Perth regained the lead, only to see the Aces force extra innings. The Heat finally put Melbourne away with a pair in the 10th, and Cameron Lamb set them down in order to end it.

Perth Heat
RHP Cameron Lamb: BS (2), W (2-0), 1.2 IP, K; He inherited a bases-loaded situation in the bottom of the 9th, and 2 of those runners scored. Lamb induced a force out, and one run scored, but an error on the play allowed the tying run to come home.

LIGA MEXICANA DEL PACIFICO

Hermosillo 8, Guasave 3 (Hermosillo leads 3-1)

Guasave briefly took the lead with 2 in the 5th, only to see that vanish when Hermosillo responded for 3 in the top of the 6th. The Cotton Growers got a run back to make it a 1-run game, but they allowed 4 unanswered runs, and now, they're in win-or-go-home mode. Edgar Gonzalez, the 100% Mexican, was 1 out shy of a bare minimum quality start.

Naranjeros de Hermosillo
RHP Edgar Gonzalez: W (1-0), 5.2 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 3 K; I have no idea how I've forgotten 100% Mexican in my recaps. I honestly don't know.

Algodoneros de Guasave
RF Leo Heras: 0-1, 2 BB
DH Japhet Amador: 0-2

Culiacán was swept out of the playoffs with a 7-3 loss to Mexicali. Gonzalo Sanudo did not appear in any of the 4 games; my guess from out of left field is that he was shut down.

LIGA DE BEISBOL DOMINICANO

Escogido (6-2) comes out of this weekend with a 2-game cushion over Licey (4-4), while the two teams from Cibao are 3-5. 

Licey 3, Águilas 1

Águilas' offense just couldn't get going. They got a run in the 7th, but failed to convert with runners on 2nd and 3rd in the 8th inning.

Águilas Cibaeñas
SS Jonathan Villar: 0-1, K; entered game as a pinch-runner in the 7th, then stayed in at shortstop.

Escogido 4, Gigantes 2 in 11 innings

Escogido got a game-tying homer in the 8th from Nationals CF Eury Perez, then took the lead with 2 in the 11th. Jorge De Leon struck out the side in order in the 8th.

Leones del Escogido
RHP Jorge De Leon: IP, 3 K

LIGA DE BEISBOL PROFESIONAL ROBERTO CLEMENTE (PUERTO RICO)

Mayagüez 3, Carolina 2

Carolina gave up a run in the top of the 9th. They're the lone winless team in the round-robin.

Gigantes de Carolina
2B Enrique Hernandez: 2-4, 2B, RBI
C Carlos Corporan: 0-1 in a pinch-hit appearance
1B Jobduan Morales: 0-2, 2 BB, K
C Rene Garcia: 0-4, K

Indios de Mayagüez
LF/RF Austin Wates: 0-2, R, 2 BB

Ponce 6, Caguas 1

All Ponce, as they scored twice in an inning 3 times. Caguas got a consolation run in the 8th inning.

Criollos de Caguas
C Roberto Peña: 0-3, K

Happy Birthday - 1/6

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

LHP Alvin Morman (45)
Drafted by Houston in the 39th round in 1991, Morman pitched in 53 games for the Astros in 1996.  His record was 4-1 with a 4.93 ERA and a 1.595 WHIP. He went on to pitch for Cleveland, San Francisco and Kansas City.

Also, a Very Happy Birthday to fellow WTHB writer Buca Morris (aka Brandon, aka Bartholomew, aka Bart Howe, but he'll answer to anything). Buca has a wonderful voice to his writing, and we all look forward to his contributions in 2014!

Tweet of the Day

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Astros Fall and Winter League Playoff Recaps

Results for Saturday, January 4

LIGA VENEZUELA BEISBOL PROFESIONAL

Magallanes 7, Zulia 6

After getting scratched on Friday, Marwin Gonzalez was back in action for Zulia. Old friend Ronny Cedeño smacked a 3-run homer for Magallanes, which sparked a 5-run 5th inning, giving them the lead. After Zulia scored 2 in the bottom of the 5th to tie and 1 more in the 6th to take the lead, Magallanes re-took the lead thanks to a pair in the 7th.

Águilas del Zulia
DH Marwin Gonzalez: 1-3, BB

La Guaira 7, Caracas 5

Caracas is currently the only team without a win in the round-robin. Still plenty of baseball left to be played, though. Jesus Guzman sent out his first of the round-robin, a solo shot in the 4th off of Edgmer Escalona.

Leones del Caracas
DH Jesus Guzman: 1-4, solo HR (1), K

AUSTRALIAN BASEBALL LEAGUE

Adelaide 5, Canberra 3 in 13 innings

After the Bite scored 3 in the 2nd to open the scoring, Canberra responded with 1 in the bottom of the 2nd and a pair in the 3rd to tie. That's where the game would stand until the 13th, when Joe Sclafani hit a 1-out single, then scored the go-ahead run on a double from Stefen Welch, who scored a crucial insurance run on an Andrew Davis single. Sclafani is now on a 7-game hitting streak (counting today's game), and in 5 of those 7 games, he's had 2 hits.

Adelaide Bite
SS Joe Sclafani: 2-6, R, 2 K, CS (2)

LIGA MEXICANA DEL PACIFICO

Guasave 7, Hermosillo 4 (Hermosillo leads 2-1)

Guasave got themselves off the canvas as they negated a huge night from Hermosillo's Luis Alfonzo Garcia, who homered twice and drove in all 4 of their runs. Garcia opened the scoring with a 3-run homer in the 1st, but Guasave responded with 7 unanswered, scoring in every inning but the 3rd and 4th. Leo Heras connected for his 1st homer of the playoffs, which was a solo shot in the 7th.

Algodoneros de Guasave
RF Leo Heras: 1-2, solo HR (1), 3 R, 2 BB
DH Japhet Amador: 2-4, R

Culiacán is definitely up against it now, as a 13-6 loss puts them in a 3-0 hole that is being dug by Mexicali.

LIGA DE BEISBOL DOMINICANO

Escogido has emerged out of the pack with the lead in round-robin play with a 5-2 record. The other 3 teams are 3-4. 

Gigantes 4, Águilas 3

Gigantes got the upper hand this time, as their bullpen was able to hold up a 4-run 2nd inning that gave them the lead.

Gigantes del Cibao
RHP Rhiner Cruz: Hold (1), 0.2 IP (final 2 outs of the 8th)

LIGA DE BEISBOL PROFESIONAL ROBERTO CLEMENTE (PUERTO RICO)

Caguas 9, Carolina 5

Roberto Peña delivered the biggest hit of the night for Caguas, a grand slam in the 8th that put them up 9-1 at that point. Carolina fought back and scored 2 in the 8th and 2 more in the 9th, but that slam gave Caguas the cushion it needed to come away with the victory.

Criollos de Caguas
C Roberto Peña: 2-5, GS (1), 2 R

Gigantes de Carolina
2B Enrique Hernandez: 1-5, R
1B Jobduan Morales: 1-2, BB
C Carlos Corporan: Struck out as a pinch-hitter in the 9th.

RHP Raul Rivera: L (0-1), 1.1 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, BB