Saturday, February 1, 2014

Astros Top Prospect and Farm System Rankings - UPDATED

Prospect Rankings have been coming out fast and furious and there will be more to come over the next few weeks as Baseball America releases its Top 100 list and Jonathan Mayo at MLB.com releases his Top 20 pre-season list for each organization. I will also expect to see more Farm System Rankings come out in the not-so-distant future. I will update this post as rankings are released and come up with a Consensus Top Prospect List when all the information is available.

Here's what we have so far:

ORGANIZATIONAL TOP PROSPECT LISTS

Baseball America's Organizational Top 10 (1/21/14)
1. SS Carlos Correa
2. OF George Springer
3. RHP Mark Appel
4. RHP Mike Foltynewicz
5. RHP Lance McCullers
6. RHP Vincent Velasquez
7. 1B Jon Singleton
8. OF Domingo Santana
9. RHP Michael Feliz
10. RHP Asher Wojciechowski

UPDATE: I got the BA Prospect Handbook in the mail today so I can now reveal their rankings of #11-31 in the Astros system.

11. 3B Rio Ruiz
12. C Max Stassi
13. OF Delino DeShields
14. LHP Josh Hader
15. RHP Andrew Thurman
16. OF Teoscar Hernandez
17. LHP Kevin Chapman
18. RHP Nick Tropeano
19. OF Andrew Aplin
20. SS Nolan Fontana
21. RHP Jake Buchanan
22. RHP Kyle Smith
23. LHP Kent Emanuel
24. LHP Chris Lee
25. OF Leo Heras
26. RHP Gonzalo Sanudo
27. RHP Jandel Gustave
28. LHP Reymin Guduan
29. OF Danry Vasquez
30. OF Brett Phillips
31. 2B/SS Ronald Torreyes

Baseball Prospectus' Organizational Top 10 (11/4/13)
1. SS Carlos Correa
2. OF George Springer
3. RHP Mark Appel
4. RHP Mike Foltynewicz
5. 1B Jon Singleton
6. RHP Vincent Velasquez
7. RHP Lance McCullers
8. OF Domingo Santana
9. 3B Rio Ruiz
10. RHP Michael Feliz

Keith Law's ESPN.com Organizational Top 10 (1/30/14) via House of Houston
1. SS Carlos Correa
2. RHP Mark Appel
3. OF George Springer
4. RHP Mike Foltynewicz
5. 1B Jon Singleton
6. OF Delino DeShields
7. RHP Vincent Velasquez
8. RHP Lance McCullers
9. 3B Rio Ruiz
10. RHP Michael Feliz

John Sickels (minorleagueball.com) Organizational Top 20 (2/18/14)
1. SS Carlos Correa
2. OF George Springer
3. RHP Mark Appel
4. RHP Mike Foltynewicz
5. RHP Lance McCullers
6. RHP Vincent Velasquez
7. OF Domingo Santana
8. RHP Michael Feliz
9. 1B Jon Singleton
10. 3B Rio Ruiz
11. OF Delino DeShields
12. RHP Asher Wojciechowski
13. C Max Stassi
14. RHP Nick Tropeano
15. LHP Josh Hader
16. RHP Kyle Smith
17. RHP Andrew Thurman
18. OF Danry Vasquez
19. OF Teoscar Hernandez
20. SS Nolan Fontana

Jonathan Mayo's MLB.com Organizational Top 20 (coming in March)

OVERALL TOP PROSPECT LISTS

Baseball Prospectus' Top 101 Prospect List (1/27/14)
5. SS Carlos Correa
20. OF George Springer
21. RHP Mark Appel
43. RHP Mike Foltynewicz
57. 1B Jon Singleton

Jonathan Mayo's MLB.com Top 100 (1/23/14)
8. SS Carlos Correa (#3 on SS list)
17. RHP Mark Appel (#6 on RHP list)
21. OF George Springer (#5 on OF list)
50. 1B Jon Singleton (#1 on 1B list)
52. RHP Lance McCullers
54. RHP Mike Foltynewicz
66. OF Delino DeShields

Here's my take on how the 2014 list compared to 2013, as well as how the Astros fared vs. the other AL West teams.

Keith Law's ESPN.com Top 100 Prospect List (1/29/14) via Astros County
4. SS Carlos Correa
11. RHP Mark Appel
19. OF George Springer
70. RHP Mike Foltynewicz
78. 1B Jon Singleton
80. OF Delino DeShields
82. RHP Vincent Velasquez

Fan Graphs Top 100 Prospect List (2/11/14)
9. SS Carlos Correa (#4 on SS list)
14. OF George Springer (#3 on OF list)
26. RHP Mark Appel (#14 on Pitcher list)
55. 1B Jon Singleton (#1 on 1B list)
57. RHP Mike Foltynewicz (#27 on Pitcher list)
67. RHP Vincent Velasquez (#30 on Pitcher list)

Baseball America's Top 100 Prospect List (2/19/14)
7. SS Carlos Correa
18. OF George Springer
39. Mark Appel
59. Mike Foltynewicz
77. Lance McCullers
82. Jon Singleton

FARM SYSTEM RANKINGS

Keith Law's ESPN.com Farm System Rankings (1/28/14) via Astros County
2014 - Ranked 1st
2013 - Ranked 4th
2012 - Ranked 27th

Baseball America's Farm System Rankings (coming out in the Prospect Handbook)
However, they had this take in October that ranked the Astros system #2.
2014 - Ranked 5th in the new Prospect Handbook
2013 - Ranked 9th
2012 - Ranked 17th

John Sickels (minorleagueball.com) Farm System Rankings (coming ?)
2014 -
2013 - Ranked 10th
2012 - Ranked 25th

Baseball Prospectus' Farm System Rankings
2014 - Ranked 5th
2013 - Ranked 9th
2012 - Ranked 26th

Happy Birthday - 2/1

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

C Hal King (70)
Drafted from the Angels in the 1966 minor league draft, King played in 42 games for Houston in 1967 and 1968, hitting .192/.259/.283.

SS/3B Juan Guerrero (47)
Drafted from the Giants in the 1991 Rule 5 draft, Guerrero played in 79 games for Houston in 1992, hitting .200/.261/.288.

C Tom Wieghaus (57)
Originally drafted by the Expos in the 10th round in 1978, Wieghaus came to Houston in a February 1984 trade with Montreal. He played in only six games for the Astros that year and went hitless.

RHP Ernie Camacho (59)
A first round pick by Oakland in 1976, Camacho signed with Houston as a free agent in March 1988. In 13 appearances for the Astros in 1988, he had a 7.64 ERA and a 2.094 WHIP. His best season was 1984 when he had a 2.43 ERA and a 1.200 WHIP in 69 appearances for Cleveland.

Tweet of the Day

Friday, January 31, 2014

Happy Birthday - 1/31

Happy Birthday to ~

RHP Rayderson Chevalier (19)
One of the best names in the Astros minor league system, Chevalier signed with Houston as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2012. His second professional season with the DSL Astros was a good one. In 13 games (five starts), he was 4-2 with a 2.28 ERA and a 1.108 WHIP.

One former Astro celebrates today (you may have heard of him) ~

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

Tweets of the Day

Twitter EXPLODED yesterday as Astros fans voted for Jose Altuve over Yadier Molina in the Face of MLB competition. There were some awfully cute and clever tweets. Here are a few of my favorites. (By the way, Altuve was leading 55/45 with an hour left to go in the vote.)






Thursday, January 30, 2014

Astros Top Prospect and Farm System Rankings

Prospect Rankings have been coming out fast and furious and there will be more to come over the next few weeks as Baseball America releases its Top 100 list and Jonathan Mayo at MLB.com releases his Top 20 pre-season list for each organization. I will also expect to see more Farm System Rankings come out in the not-so-distant future. I will update this post as rankings are released and come up with a Consensus Top Prospect List when all the information is available.

Here's what we have so far:

ORGANIZATIONAL TOP PROSPECT LISTS

Baseball America's Organizational Top 10 (1/21/14)
1. SS Carlos Correa
2. OF George Springer
3. RHP Mark Appel
4. RHP Mike Foltynewicz
5. RHP Lance McCullers
6. RHP Vincent Velasquez
7. 1B Jon Singleton
8. OF Domingo Santana
9. RHP Michael Feliz
10. RHP Asher Wojciechowski

Baseball Prospectus' Organizational Top 10 (11/4/13)
1. SS Carlos Correa
2. OF George Springer
3. RHP Mark Appel
4. RHP Mike Foltynewicz
5. 1B Jon Singleton
6. RHP Vincent Velasquez
7. RHP Lance McCullers
8. OF Domingo Santana
9. 3B Rio Ruiz
10. RHP Michael Feliz

Keith Law's ESPN.com Organizational Top 10 (1/30/14) via House of Houston
1. SS Carlos Correa
2. RHP Mark Appel
3. OF George Springer
4. RHP Mike Foltynewicz
5. 1B Jon Singleton
6. OF Delino DeShields
7. RHP Vincent Velasquez
8. RHP Lance McCullers
9. 3B Rio Ruiz
10. RHP Michael Feliz

John Sickels (minorleagueball.com) Organizational Top 20 (coming soon)

Jonathan Mayo's MLB.com Organizational Top 20 (coming soon)

OVERALL TOP PROSPECT LISTS

Baseball Prospectus' Top 101 Prospect List (1/27/14)
5. SS Carlos Correa
20. OF George Springer
21. RHP Mark Appel
43. RHP Mike Foltynewicz
57. 1B Jon Singleton

Jonathan Mayo's MLB.com Top 100 (1/23/14)
8. SS Carlos Correa (#3 on SS list)
17. RHP Mark Appel (#6 on RHP list)
21. OF George Springer (#5 on OF list)
50. 1B Jon Singleton (#1 on 1B list)
52. RHP Lance McCullers
54. RHP Mike Foltynewicz
66. OF Delino DeShields

Here's my take on how the 2014 list compared to 2013, as well as how the Astros fared vs. the other AL West teams.

Keith Law's ESPN.com Top 100 Prospect List (1/29/14) via Astros County
4. SS Carlos Correa
11. RHP Mark Appel
19. OF George Springer
70. RHP Mike Foltynewicz
78. 1B Jon Singleton
80. OF Delino DeShields
82. RHP Vincent Velasquez

Baseball America's Top 100 Prospect List (coming soon)

FARM SYSTEM RANKINGS

Keith Law's ESPN.com Farm System Rankings (1/28/14) via Astros County
2014 - Ranked 1st
2013 - Ranked 4th
2012 - Ranked 27th

Baseball America's Farm System Rankings (coming out in the Prospect Handbook)
However, they had this take in October that ranked the Astros system #2.
2014 -
2013 - Ranked 9th
2012 - Ranked 17th

John Sickels (minorleagueball.com) Farm System Rankings (coming ?)
2014 -
2013 - Ranked 10th
2012 - Ranked 25th

Baseball Prospectus' Farm System Rankings (came out late March in 2013)
2014 -
2013 - Ranked 9th
2012 - Ranked 26th

Happy Birthday - 1/30

Happy Birthday to ~

LHP Brian Holmes (23)
Drafted by Houston in the 13th round in 2012 out of Wake Forest, Holmes spent most of his sophomore season pitching for the Quad City team, but missed substantial time during the season on the DL. In 18 appearances (13 starts), he was 5-3 with a 2.13 ERA and a 1.060 WHIP. In his final four starts with Quad Cities after being reinstated from his rehab assignment, he was 2-0 with an 0.76 ERA and a 1.056 WHIP. He had 79 strikeouts in 71+ innings pitched.

DH/SS Dariel Aquino (18)
A non-drafted free agent from the Dominican Republic, Aquino played his first professional season for the Dominican Summer League Astros in 2013. In 22 games, he hit .158/.262/.158.

Tweet of the Day

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Astros Minor League Depth - Right-Handed Starters, Part 1

[4/13/14 UPDATE: Alex Gillingham is no longer with the organization.]

As we continue to look at the depth in the Astros minor league system, let's move to right-handed starting pitchers. Due to the sheer number of pitchers involved, I will be breaking this up into two posts. This one will address those who finished their seasons at Advanced A Lancaster or above. I did not include any pitchers who made their major league debuts in 2013, such as Jarred Cosart and David Martinez. I did include Matt Heidenreich because I still consider him to be a starter despite his extensive use out of the bullpen in 2013.




I have ranked the pitchers by WHIP, from low to high. Topping the list is 2010 eighth round draft pick Jake Buchanan. The minor league pitcher of the year in 2011, Buchanan was unable to duplicate that success in 2012. Fast forward to 2013 and Buchanan was extremely effective once again as he split his time between Corpus Christi and Oklahoma City. He had one of the highest groundball rates out of this group and had the lowest BB/9 rate, a very stingy 1.25 walks per nine innings. His ERA was also the lowest out of the group.

Asher Wojciechowski was another real success story from the 2013 season. Wojo picked right up where he left off in Corpus Christi in 2012 after being acquired in the big July 2012 10-player trade with the Blue Jays. The former first round 2010 draft pick started the season back in Corpus and dominated at the level, leading to his promotion in early May to AAA Oklahoma City. Hitters only managed a .223 batting average against him, the best mark for this group. Wojo also had the lowest groundball rate of the group with a 0.66 GO/AO rate, a rate that was lower than he has had in past seasons.

Vincent Velasquez spent the vast majority of his season at Quad Cities, landing in Lancaster for his final three starts. Velasquez, a second round 2010 draft pick, appears to be fully back from the Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss the 2011 season. He pitched 124+ innings in 2013. Velasquez was a close second to Wojo in batting average against, with hitters managing only .225 against him and he leads this group in SO/9, getting 10.25 strikeouts per nine innings.

Vincent Velasquez - April 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Bobby Doran, yet another 2010 draft pick (fourth round), seems to always fly under the radar. He doesn't have the flashiest stuff out of the group, but he is a big (6'6" 235#), healthy innings-eater who rarely has a really bad outing and manages to keep his team in the game. His 11-2 record is reflective of that.

The last of this group to have been drafted in 2010 is Mike Foltynewicz, another first rounder. Folty started the season in Lancaster, but was promoted to AA Corpus Christi in early May. He barely trailed Wojo and Velasquez in terms of batting average against with hitters putting up a .226 mark against him and his strikeout rate was rather healthy as he managed to strike out 8.6 batters per nine innings. The one area upon which Folty will need to improve is his walk rate. He had the highest walk rate of the group at 4.6 per nine innings. But at only 22 in October, he has plenty of time to make those adjustments.

The 2011 draft class is represented in this group by Kyle Smith, Nick Tropeano and Alex Gillingham. Smith, obtained from the Royals in the Justin Maxwell trade, excelled in the Advanced A Carolina League before the trade and had mixed results in Advanced A Lancaster in five appearances afterwards. Smith struggled at times, but one of his appearances just happened to be a complete game two-hit shutout. Tropeano had a solid, albeit unremarkable season, with uneven results at times as he tried to adjust to the Texas League. Tropeano and Smith both managed more than eight strike outs per nine innings over the season. Gillingham, who came from the Rockies in the Wilton Lopez trade in December 2012 gets an incomplete. After only three appearances, he was shelved for the season. I had looked forward to seeing what he could do in Lancaster with his historically high groundball rate.

Three 2012 draft picks made it to Advanced A in only their second year pitching professionally -- Brady Rodgers, Aaron West and Mike Hauschild. Rodgers and West spent the full season at Lancaster and put up numbers that are fairly typical for the hitter-friendly venue, while Hauschild was promoted there from Quad Cities in mid-July and (aside from one very tough outing) adjusted well to the level. Hauschild and Rodgers have two of the highest groundball rates from this group and West has one of the lowest. West and Rodgers both had low walk rates and West, with his 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings, had one of the best strikeout to walk ratios in the Astros system.

Brady Rodgers - September 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

R.J. Alaniz, a non-drafted free agent who signed in 2009, was young for the AA level, having only turned 22 in June and his youth showed at times. For whatever reason, Alaniz fared better as a reliever than as a starter out of the tandem, putting up a 3.51 ERA and a 1.286 WHIP in that role. Matt Heidenreich, obtained in the July 2012 White Sox trade for Brett Myers, struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness in 2013, but a healthy Heidenreich excelled in the Arizona Fall League where he was 2-1 with a 2.14 ERA and a 1.095 WHIP. Ross Seaton, drafted in 2008, did not fare well in Oklahoma City in 2013 and ended up back at AA Corpus Christi for nine games before being recalled to Oklahoma City to end the season. He had more success in his final three appearances in OKC than in his earlier stint. Hopefully, he can build on those later outings when he presumably starts the 2014 season back in Oklahoma City.

Happy Birthday - 1/29

No future Astros with birthdays, but one former Astro celebrates today ~

RHP Brian Meyer (51)
Drafted by Houston in the 16th round in 1986, Meyer pitched in 34 games for the Astros from 1988 to 1990 with an ERA of 2.84 and a WHIP of 1.263. He went on to play in the minor leagues for the Seattle and Cleveland organizations in 1991, but never got back to the majors.

Tweet of the Day

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

LIDOM Finals Recap

After Escogido clawed their way back into the series with 3 straight wins, Licey got off the canvas and retook the lead with a 3-1 victory in game 7. They now lead the series 4-3 and will have a chance to close it out for their first championship since 2009 this evening. On the other hand, Escogido will be looking for one last shot for a three-peat; if they win tonight and tomorrow, not only will they get that three-peat, but they will have won all but 1 (2011) LIDOM championship.

First pitch of game 8 will be at 5:05 local time (3:05 Houston time). 

Leones del Escogido
RHP Jorge De Leon: 0.2 IP (final 2 outs of the 7th), H 

Astros 2014 Fan Fest - Hearing from Jeff Luhnow

Yesterday, I brought you a pretty full meal for "Fan Feast" -- a heaping platter of Reid Ryan and Bo Porter goodness. Buca and De also weighed in with their take on Saturday's Fan Fest activities. Now it's time for dessert!

Jeff Luhnow - Fan Fest 2014
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Unsurprisingly, for those who know Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow, the first thing he did in addressing the gathered bloggers was to have everyone introduce themselves. He wanted to make sure that he knew everyone in the room because he uses the blogs as just one more arrow in his quiver of analytic weapons.

In conjunction with this, Luhnow said, "I appreciate all the support that you all have provided and continue to provide in getting the Astros message out there and participating in not just giving us praise, but also criticizing when you think it's appropriate, and just at least having a dialogue. The dialogue is certainly constructive. I read what you guys write all the time. So do a lot of the people in the front office and I'm not going to tell you which ones, but there have been times when your input has actually moved the needle on our desire to do a transaction or something like that."

In his opening remarks, Luhnow noted that, although the major league team fell short of their goals, the farm system exceeded theirs in terms of development, and that 2014 would be the year that Astros fans start to see the fruits of those labors. "This is the year that we're really going to turn the dial," said Luhnow. He was not shy in crediting Ed Wade for his part in the turnaround, citing Wade's drafting of George Springer and the 2011 trades that brought the team Jon Singleton and others. Luhnow is not about to rest on his laurels, though, and is committed to maintaining a healthy minor league pipeline.

Luhnow went on to discuss his off-season acquisition strategy, acquiring free agents that would serve to complement the core of young players coming up and to give those more inexperienced players a strong foundation beneath them, allowing them to grow and mature as players without having the entire weight of the teams' success or failure on their shoulders.

Jesse Crain, Matt Albers and Chad Qualls were all high on a list of targeted relievers that was compiled before the season had even ended. And Luhnow sees Peter Moylan, Raul Valdes and Anthony Bass providing a "healthy amount of insurance" for the pitching staff. Scott Feldman was high on the team's list for an experienced arm to anchor the rotation. And with strikeouts an issue, Dexter Fowler should provide some stability at the top of the order.

After an excellent winter in Venezuela, Luhnow sees Jesus Guzman as a sleeper candidate who could really help the team. Cesar Izturis and Gregorio Petit (who Jose Altuve called the best defensive short stop he's ever seen) provide some insurance at short while Jonathan Villar tries to establish himself at the major league level.

Luhnow went on to discuss the team's approach in trying to sign Cuban player Jose Abreu and Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka. The Astros have their own method of valuing players. They had reached the maximum (in accordance with internal valuations) in their negotiations and did not want to damage their core strategy by bidding any higher [my emphasis]. But they learned a great deal from the process and Luhnow feels that Houston is now on the radar as a legitimate contender for players of this ilk. Furthermore, the Astros are now committed to scouting much more aggressively in the Cuban and Japanese markets. Luhnow will be traveling to Japan in May, along with Director of Pro Scouting Kevin Goldstein, in order to work on the business model for scouting there.

Luhnow also talked about the quirks of using the Mexican League as a prospect pipeline, giving those assembled a bit of a primer on how the process works in that league. Because of the way that player rights are purchased from the clubs rather than signing the players directly, the Mexican League won't ever replace the Dominican Republic or Venezuela as a source. Instead, it is part of his leave-no-stone-unturned strategy in finding and developing good prospects.

When asked about under the radar prospects, Luhnow mentioned RHP Michael Feliz as someone he thought was flying low until Baseball America recently included Feliz in their Top 10 Astros prospects. He also mentioned Nolan Fontana (who I would argue isn't really under the radar) and Andrew Aplin (who happens to be one of my personal favorites). He also noted that LHP Luis Cruz wasn't flying under the radar with the scouting community, leading to his inclusion on the 40-man roster prior to the Rule 5 draft.

In discussing winter league success stories, he pointed to lefties Rudy Owens and Raul Valdes, going so far as calling Valdes a sleeper to make the big league club as a starter, reliever or swing man. I also asked him about rumors that Gonzalo Sanudo would be moved to the rotation and Luhnow confirmed that was definitely under consideration.

Luhnow briefly discussed the success of the tandem rotation in keeping young arms healthy by carefully managing their innings early in the season and cited Jake Buchanan's fine 2013 campaign as one of the true success stories of using the tandem.

As always, Luhnow was open and honest and didn't shy away from answering any of our questions. He is encouraged by the progress that is being made. All in all, Jeff Luhnow is confident that the fans will see a vastly improved product on the field in 2014. Mmmmmmm. Dessert!

Happy Birthday - 1/28

Happy Birthday to ~

LHP Kenny Long (25)
Drafted in the 22nd round in 2012 out of Illinois State, it was a tale of two seasons for Long in 2013. Long appeared in 23 games for the Advanced A Lancaster team, putting up a 2.83 ERA and a 1.012 WHIP. In 22 games for the AA Corpus Christi team, he had a 9.00 ERA and a 2.524 WHIP.

LHP Randall Fant (23)
Drafted by Houston in the 29th round out of the University of Arkansas, Fant spent his first professional season with the Tri-City team. In 13 appearances (six starts), he was 1-3 with a 3.65 ERA and a 1.376 WHIP. He only walked 10 batters in 44+ innings pitched.

Former Astros with birthdays today ~

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

RHP Oscar Henriquez (40)
Henriquez signed with Houston as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela in 1991 and pitched in only four games for Houston in 1997 with a 4.50 ERA and a 1.250 WHIP. He was subsequently traded to the Marlins in a package for Moises Alou in November 1997.

LHP Wesley Wright (29)
Dequam LaWesley Wright was originally drafted by the Dodgers in the seventh round in 2003 and came to Houston as a Rule 5 pick in 2007. In 286 appearances over six seasons, Wright had a 4.44 ERA and a 1.427 WHIP. His contract was purchased by Tampa Bay in August 2013. Most recently, he signed as a free agent with the Cubs in December.

Tweet of the Day

Monday, January 27, 2014

Fan Fest Recap

Reid Ryan said Saturday that for fans their connection to the players and the organization begins at the ballpark. Fan Fest was an excellent demonstration of that for the Astros. Ryan, Jeff Luhnow and Bo Porter were out talking and mingling with Houston fans and even spent a little time chatting with we lowly bloggers.
            Across the board, the Astros are presenting a unified front and that front is centered on building Houston not only into a championship team but into an organization that grows as large and renowned as the city itself.
The always amiable Ryan admitted that for a team with over fifty years of history in the city and MLB, the Astros have a surprisingly little footprint. Bringing not only winning teams, but former stars back into the fold is one of Ryan’s solutions to revitalizing the Houston franchise. He would like to have an “alumni association” of former players, such as J.R. Richard, to be able to interact with fans. This association would also double as a way for the Astros to give back to former players, allowing them to make additional income. It isn’t a leap either to make the connection that once the team starts honoring its former players, the fans will become more connected to them too.
Ryan also acknowledged having an Astros Hall of Fame and museum, located at Minute Maid Park, on his mind.
Ryan is working on getting the concessions streamlined with even better food and shorter lines.  He doesn’t think fans should miss a whole inning waiting in line for a hotdog….or sushi?  They are currently in talks with Aramark and other vendors to find a solution that works well for both the park and fans alike.
            Bo Porter sounded focused and sure-footed going into his second season at the helm. Porter recognized the experience and opportunities to evaluate his players during his first season was invaluable.
He added that he strongly believes the biggest mistake any organization can make is to “misevaluate its own players.”
When asked about his role in making sure that these young players become not only good baseball players, but good men who make smart life decisions, Porter said that his job is to be a mentor.  He wants his players to come to him with anything that might be on their minds. His goal is to help guide them to become good husbands, fathers and citizens. 
            Jeff Luhnow reiterated that even with as many ranked prospects and winning minor league clubs as the Houston system currently holds, that the Astros would stay aggressive on building the farm system. The Astros actively pursued pitchers throughout the off season and Luhnow is very pleased with the re-additions of Qualls and Albers. In fact, not one person all day forgot to mention their excitement over those two pitchers’ returns. Dexter Fowler drew much enthusiastic conversation from everyone as well.
Fan Fest this year ran like a well-oiled machine.  Player autograph sessions were organized and seemed to move pretty fast.  The always-interesting fan forums were moved into the Diamond Club dining room instead of being held in the stands where the sound system left much to be desired. Batting practice, bullpen sessions and running the bases drew throngs of eager fans.
If the success of Fan Fest is indicative of the care and attention that the Astros front office is putting into the “fan experience” and the non-stop work that Luhnow and company are putting into bulking up the rosters, then we can’t wait to see what 2014 has in store! Something special has indeed begun at Minute Maid Park.

~ Buca Morris and DeAnna Williamson ~

Astros Fall and Winter League Playoff Recap

Only 1 member of the Astros organization appeared in a game on Sunday.

Ruben Sosa entered the game as a pinch-runner for Licey in the 7th inning of game 6 in the LIDOM championship series and scored. He did not remain in the game, which saw Escogido win 9-6 to tie the series at 3. This series has done a complete 180, as Escogido has taken the last 3 games after Licey won the first 3. It's now a best-of-3 in the Dominican.

Astros 2014 Fan Fest - Hearing from Reid Ryan and Bo Porter

Saturday marked my third year to attend Astros Fan Fest as a part of the blogging community. Or as I like to call it, Fan Feast.

The meal started with an appetizer of Astros President Reid Ryan as he addressed a group of Season Ticket holders to start the day. He talked about the success of the farm system in 2013 and how the depth of the system will lead to the Astros' sustained success, "We're making a commitment to build this thing to last."

That was followed by a general discussion of the ballpark itself and the fan experience, including the opening of the roof for more games, the reconfiguration of the concession stands for increased efficiency (and the addition of more local foods), the use of former players in a variety of ways to enhance the fan experience and the all-out effort to get the games back on TV. (At this point, everything hinges on the judge's decision following a February 4th court date. No firm plans can be made until then.)

Ryan declared that he has been listening to fans, "We want to make this ballpark what you want it to  be." When he mentioned taking down the signage out of left field, there were cheers and applause.

A Q&A followed and the tenor of this one as opposed to those I've been to in the past couple of years was much more upbeat. The season ticket holders in attendance seemed satisfied with Ryan's answers and encouraged by the direction the team has taken with fans. All in all, a solid appetizer ... tantalizing the palate and stimulating the appetite for more.

Reid Ryan - Fan Fest 2014
Photo by Jayne Hansen


The bloggers event took place a bit later in the day. The entree arrived and it was Reid Ryan. (Well, it won't be the first time I've had the shrimp cocktail appetizer and the broiled shrimp entree.) Ryan covered many of the same things in his introductory remarks with the bloggers that he had addressed with the season ticket holders, but then branched off into a few other subjects.

Ryan indicated that the Astros have about a year to make a decision about their future Spring Training home. 2016 will likely be the final year that the Astros hold Spring Training in Kissimmee as they would prefer to move to the east coast of Florida (to the Palm Beach area) and make their new home a two-team facility. The State of Florida offers financial incentives to teams making their Spring Training homes there, but the team has initiated talks in Arizona as well, just in case.

Ryan then opened the floor up for questions and one of the things that came up was another possible move. The company that owns the AAA Oklahoma City RedHawks team is looking to sell the club. Ryan would love to have the Astros back in Round Rock, but the reality is that the Rangers have that facility locked up for the next five seasons. According to Ryan, all options are on the table and the situation should clarify itself more by the end of this season.

In conjunction with this, I asked if there were any plans for moving the Astros Advanced A team out of the California League. Ryan acknowledged that there were some challenges with the league: old ballparks, weather conditions and the logistical difficulty of moving players in and out quickly, but he went on to say that the Astros are not actively looking to move, but they are always looking to improve the situation for the Astros system.

It became obvious, when Ryan was asked about the fan experience, that he is passionate about giving Astros fans a special experience, "We want to do things that are unique, that say Texas, that say Houston." In renegotiating the concessions contract, he wants to go more local while keeping core items available and adding more craft beers. He's looking for the in-game entertainment to be much more than a series of sponsorship opportunities, helping fans better learn the players personalities and having interactive entertainment that will "build to a crescendo" and actually become a part of the home field advantage.

Ryan has a lot of ideas, but many of them have had to take a backseat as the team tries to get a TV deal worked out and addresses some of the other more pressing immediate issues. And some of his other ideas will have to be deferred due to the current layout and configuration of the ballpark. He described Minute Maid Park as landlocked and noted, "We're going to re-look at all the real estate in the building." An Astros history museum and Astros Hall of Fame are a couple of the things he'd like to tackle, eventually having an Astros Hall of Fame weekend.

Ryan would like to reach out to former players more, whether it's honoring them in an Astros Hall of Fame or creating an alumni association that will create more opportunities for players to connect with the fans through appearances, speaking engagements, etc.

Speaking of which, Ryan found it  a "bitter pill to swallow" that Craig Biggio came so tantalizingly close to getting into the Hall of Fame this year, but fell just short. One of my favorite comments from Ryan came during this discussion, "We fly under the radar in Houston. I look at that as my job, to do a better job [to promote Houston]." Ryan is someone who does feel our pain when Houston gets snubbed or ignored. He gets it. And he wants to tell the world what is unique and wonderful about Houston and Texas. There was a lot of meat in that entree ... a Nolan Ryan All-Natural prime cut of beef.

Bo Porter - Fan Fest 2014
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Ryan was followed by a side dish of Astros Manager Bo Porter. Porter looked relaxed, loose and ready for the season. When I first met him at last year's Fan Fest, he was so much more intense. He's still intense and passionate, but he seems to be having more fun with it all.

The first thing that Porter had to say? "When you get to this time of the year, when you get to the Fan Fest and all the players are around, Spring Training can't get here fast enough." He didn't have much in the way of prepared remarks, mainly addressing the off-season transactions made to shore up the bullpen, anchor the rotation and to give the team a dependable on-base guy for the top of the order.

Seeing as I write from a minor league perspective, I asked Porter what a minor leaguer invited to Spring Training can do to stand out in the crowd of 60+ players in major league camp. He noted that all of the coaches get to see the players as they rotate through the various stations in Spring Training and that he will make sure that all of them will get a quality playing experience so that they can be fairly evaluated.

I also asked Porter his thoughts on instant replay. It turns out that he's a fan of the move. Not only will it help overcome obvious bad calls, it should help the pace of the game by eliminating most arguments, "But I think managers are still going to argue," he said. "A lot of times we go out to argue, we actually already know what the call really is, but we're arguing to protect our team."

Terri Schlather of Astros County and The Crawfishboxes asked Porter what he knew now, one year in to managing the team, that he didn't know going into last season that will help him going forward. Last year, he explained, he needed to do a complete player evaluation, not just their skill sets but their make up and how they handled failure. According to Porter, "This year, as I fast forward, I know our players that we have on the roster. I know their make up. I know their DNA. I know their skill sets which will allow me to challenge the team better."

Porter is encouraged by the roster he has been given to work with this season, and he has great hope for improvement on the field in 2014 and for the sustained success of the organization.

A little side dish of Bo Porter is quite satisfying. I don't know about you, but I'm too full for desert (Jeff Luhnow) right now so this Fan Feast is over for the time being. An account of the bloggers' chat with Jeff Luhnow will be coming soon!

Happy Birthday - 1/27

No future Astros, but two former Astros celebrate birthdays today ~

LF Phil Plantier (45)
An 11th round pick by the Red Sox in 1987, this is how he got to Houston (according to Baseball-Reference):
December 28, 1994: Traded by the San Diego Padres with Derek Bell, Doug Brocail, Ricky Gutierrez, Pedro Martinez and Craig Shipley to the Houston Astros for a player to be named later, Ken Caminiti, Andujar Cedeno, Steve Finley, Roberto Petagine and Brian Williams. The Houston Astros sent Sean Fesh (minors) (May 1, 1995) to the San Diego Padres to complete the trade.
Plantier played in 22 games for the Astros in 1995, hitting .250/.349/.456 before being traded to the Padres in July of that year. Most recently, he has been the hitting coach for the Padres.

RHP Rusty Meacham (46)
Originally drafted by the Tigers in the 33rd round in 1987, Meacham signed with Houston as a free agent in 1999 and pitched in only five games for Houston in 2000 with less than desirable results. His best season was 1992 for Kansas City when he went 10-4 with a 2.74 ERA and a 1.072 WHIP in 64 appearances.

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Astros Fall and Winter League Recaps

Results for Saturday, January 25

AUSTRALIAN BASEBALL LEAGUE

Perth 4, Adelaide 3 in 10 innings

The Bite rallied late to tie the game at 3, but they wound up walking off with a loss.

Adelaide Bite
SS Joe Sclafani: 2-5, 2B, RBI

The Bite saw their season end today, as they were swept out of the playoff race by the Heat. They lost all 4 games by a total of 5 runs, and in 3 of those games, they had a late lead. Simply the most agonizing way to be eliminated from a playoff race.

Perth 7, Adelaide 5

Adelaide scored 4 in the top of the 7th to take a 5-3 lead, but Perth retook the lead after stretch time with 4 of their own. Seriously.

Perth Heat
RHP Cameron Lamb: Save (4), IP, BB, K

Adelaide Bite
SS Joe Sclafani: 0-1; left game in 2nd

LIGA PROFESIONAL DE BEISBOL DE PANAMA

The box scores from Thursday's finales are still unavailable, but: 



Indios has emerged as the winner of the 2014 LPBP championship. They topped Caballos 3-2 in game 2, after shutting them down 6-0 in the opener. They will represent Panama in the Latin American Series in Colombia, which begins on Tuesday. This 4-team tournament features teams from Panama, Nicaragua, Colombia, and Mexico. Mexico's representative comes from the Veracruz Winter League, which, judging by its name, is based in the state of Veracruz.

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