Saturday, February 8, 2014

Happy Birthday - 2/8

Happy Birthday to ~

RHP Krishawn Holley (22)
Holley was drafted in the 39th round in 2010 out of high school in South Carolina. Holley spent the bulk of his season pitching out of the bullpen in Greeneville, but was promoted to Tri-City for his final five appearances of the season. In 23 appearances, he was 4-2 with a 2.74 ERA and a 1.312 WHIP.

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Friday, February 7, 2014

The Astros Meet The Walking Dead

So, what do the Astros and "Walking Dead" have in common? (Nothing like leaving a hanging slider right out over the plate, huh?) Actually you may be surprised by the answer. Shawn Anderson at the Hall of Very Good has the story and it's an interesting one. Enjoy!

Happy Birthday - 2/7

Happy Birthday to ~

RHP Scott Feldman (31)
One of our newest Astros, Feldman was originally drafted by the Rangers in the 30th round in 2003 and signed with Houston as a free agent in December 2013. In nine seasons in the majors, all but one with Texas, Feldman has compiled a 51-56 record with a 4.62 ERA and a 1.370 WHIP in 234 appearances (131 starts). Feldman split his 2013 season between the Cubs and the Orioles and ended the season with a 12-12 record, 3.86 ERA and a 1.183 WHIP.

Two former Astros celebrate birthdays today ~

RHP and MiLB Pitching Coach Dave Borkowski (37)
Originally drafted by the Tigers in the 11th round in 1995, Borkowski signed with Houston as a free agent in December 2005. In 130 games for Houston from 2006 to 2008, he had a 5.44 ERA and a 1.517 WHIP before retiring to coach for the organization. In 2013, he will continue in his role as pitching coach at Quad Cities. Aside from baseball, Dave and his wife Jill have a passion for helping animals. They started the photo calendars featuring Astros players with pets to raise money for animal groups and encourage adoptions, and were featured in this USA today article back in October 2011 focusing on their charitable endeavors and hands-on work to help and protect animals.

LHP Juan Pizarro (77)
Pizarro came to Houston from the Cubs in July 1973 and pitched in 15 games for the Astros that season with a 6.56 ERA and a 1.671 WHIP. Pizarro played in 18 major league seasons for eight different teams with a career 3.43 ERA and 1.325 WHIP. He was a two-time All-Star for the White Sox in 1963 and 1964 and he won a World Series with the Milwaukee Braves in 1957.

Bonus Tweet of the Day

Tweet of the Day

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Observations from the Fan Forums at Fan Fest, Part 3

In the first part of a series of ruminations from the Fan Forums at Fan Fest, new WTHB addition Nance shared her take on what Director of Player Development Quinton McCracken and Assistant GM David Stearns had to say. In the second part, we heard from Bo Porter. Today, we hear from Mark Appel, George Springer and Jason Castro.

Prospectations – Fan Forum Part III by Nance @Bbfanlady

Prospectations is a word I made up (or copied from somebody so long ago I have forgotten) that refers to discussions about our hopes and expectations for MLB prospects. When I was a little girl, my friends wanted to grow up and marry Prince Charming. I wanted to grow up and marry Sandy Koufax. That was the first of my Prospectations that did not come to fruition.

The following are from notes that I made during FanFest forums about two of the Astros top prospects, Mark Appel and George Springer and All-Star Jason Castro.

Mark Appel – Was very poised and seemed very comfortable speaking to an audience. He was asked how he balances lofty expectations and statistics. He said that he looks internally and doesn’t compare himself to other players. Says you have to have the right work ethic and attitude and become your own player. You cannot let expectations dictate how you play and just have to perform and compete. He said the thing he felt he needed to work on most was to develop a 4 seam fastball. He did say that if he were to face Springer in the batter’s box during spring training and Springer digs in, Mark would go in on him (laughter on stage and in room). Mark said that he views baseball as an entertainment business. He doesn’t want to feel like he’s a big shot. It is a human to human relation. He appreciates the fans so the caravan was a good experience to thank fans for their support. The guys in the minors all pull for each other. When he was at Lo A, they were constantly checking box scores to see if Springer reached 40 HR. They had an off day when Cosart made his home debut and they all got together and watched on TV. They are all pulling for each other and like that kind of excitement. He told one story that I thought was funny. He said he had a professor at Stanford that reminded him that people making decisions are your high school friends grown up.

George Springer – George was more reserved than Mark. I got the impression he was not as comfortable as Mark speaking in front of a live audience and several of his bosses. He said he doesn’t try to hit home runs. He swings hard and hopes he hits it. He laughed and said major league spring training is valuable as he watches how major leaguers prepare and see how they go about the day. He goes out and has fun and tries to learn all he can. He wants to be a sponge to soak up as much information as possible. He said he tries to hit the ball as hard as he can. When asked how he thinks he can reduce his strikeouts, he answered “Keep Swinging.” George said strikeouts were not a big deal to him and he wasn’t going to let fear of strikeouts keep him from playing the game. He plans to get prepared to hit his pitch. He said he thinks he can reduce strikeouts through proper preparation and by making sure he chooses the right pitch to swing at. He also wants to miss fewer pitches by not fouling it off when he gets his pitch to hit.

Jason Castro – Jason shared the stage with Bo Porter and since Bo was not short on things to say (see prior post), Jason didn’t get many questions. He looked and sounded poised and comfortable. When asked who the biggest practical joker was in the clubhouse, Jason said as a young team there was not much in the clubhouse in the way of pranks. He named Jarred Cosart and Dallas Kuechel as guys who were fun in the clubhouse and on the plane. He said those two were good at keeping the chemistry going.

Here’s wishing long and successful MLB careers to all of our prospects and players. And Sandy, I know you have had some arm trouble in the past, but I haven’t given up those little girl hopes and dreams yet and am still available.

Disclaimer: The content of this article is not intended to reflect direct quotes from the forum participants. Content is based on what I “heard”. I apologize in advance if my hearing was impaired.

Happy Birthday - 2/6

Happy Birthday to ~

3B Matt Duffy (25)
Drafted in 2011 in the 20th round out of the University of Tennessee, this Massachusetts native had a tremendous season with the bat at Lancaster, leading to his promotion to Corpus Christi in early August. He hit a combined .309/.378/.535 with 24 doubles, four triples and 24 home runs between the two venues. He was only hit by pitches 21 times this season, down from 41 times in 2012.

RHP David Paulino (20)
Obtained from Detroit as the PTBNL in the Jose Veras trade, Paulino excelled in his four starts for the Detroit GCL team, going 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA and a 0.900 WHIP before being shut down in mid-July. It was reported that he subsequently underwent Tommy John surgery.

One former Astro celebrates a birthday today ~

RHP Bill Dawley (56)
Originally drafted by the Reds in the seventh round in 1976, Dawley came to Houston in a March 1983 trade with that organization. In 157 appearances for the Astros from 1983 to 1985, he was 22-13 with 21 saves, a 2.71 ERA and a 1.171 WHIP.  He made the All-Star team in 1983 as a rookie.

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

An Interview with Astros RHP Mark Appel

[As a side note, I conducted this interview via phone early Wednesday evening last week. Later that night, Mark took ill and ended up in the hospital having an emergency appendectomy the next day. I later exchanged text messages with him and he in no way blames me for the illness so I am fervently hoping that I will not be cut off from access to players by the Astros front office. I promise that I didn't break him!]

Upon reading this December Fan Graphs interview with Astros 2013 first round (first overall) draft pick Mark Appel, I was taken aback by just how analytically he approaches the game of baseball and the art of pitching. When we talked last week, he cemented this impression with me as he responded thoughtfully and deliberately to each of my questions.

Mark Appel - July 2013
Warming up for his first professional start
Photo by Jayne Hansen

I briefly met Appel in Tri-City in July 2013, the evening before his professional debut. I reminded him of that meeting and I posited that he seemed a bit overwhelmed by the initial attention he received surrounding that first start, an assumption that Mark confirmed. "It was pretty overwhelming. Obviously, I don't think it was any secret that I wasn't necessarily very pleased with my first outing. First pro pitch is a lead-off triple." He didn't expect the sheer number of fans looking for autographs either. "It was overwhelming. Especially with my family being there in Tri-City. I was really excited to get to see them after the game. The fans were great at Tri-City, [but] sometimes you could be out there for 30 or 40 minutes after the game signing autographs. Once I stepped in the water and got used to it, it was fine, but that first step was a little overwhelming."

Appel continued, "[I was] just kind of feeling the pressure of being the first pick and having all these high expectations. I think once I had that first outing, I felt like a weight had been lifted. 'Alright, now it's just time to pitch. I got that out of the way. Now it's just back to the everyday grind.' I almost put that first outing on a pedestal a little bit. It should be just like any other outing, just like any other time I'd step out on the mound."

Knowing that Appel has been asked to death about his draft experience, I gave it a twist and asked him what advice he would give a player undergoing a similar experience. "First of all, it would depend on the situation because I think every situation is unique. During my decision process, I talked to one or two college seniors ... that had been drafted and returned [but] it wasn't quite the same stage as the public stage of my situation. Being a first rounder and going back for your senior year is kind of unheard of.

"I guess the best advice I could give is believe in yourself. Believe in what you know you can do. I realized that whether I signed with the Pirates or returned to Stanford, I was going to get better. I truly believed that because of my work ethic and my attitude, my approach to the game and my approach to working out. I knew that I was going to get better whether I signed or went back to school. That really relieved a lot of pressure.

"You kind of have this idea, if I'm in pro ball that's the best opportunity for me to get better because those are the best players in the game, but that may not necessarily be true. Fortunately, I was at Stanford playing in the Pac-12, playing a very tough college schedule and I knew I was going to be able to pitch against some really, really talented players. It might not be the same depth from one to nine in the line up that you might see in pro ball, but knowing that I would have a chance to get better, a chance to work on my pitches, a chance to work on pitching inside, I knew that I really couldn't make a bad decision.

"Then it really came down to other things. For me, it was education and relationships and there were so many factors that really went into it. But I think honestly knowing that I would have a chance to get better instead of fearing getting injured or not playing as well, my focus was on the things that I needed to do to get better, the things I needed to do to help the team go to Omaha. Those kind of things were on the forefront of my mind and I really didn't have any regrets because of that, because I knew how hard I was going to work."

Appel's detailed thought process was never more in evidence than it was when I asked him about the "fosh" which he uses as a changeup. "I learned the fosh when I was in high school and I couldn't throw it consistently. I feel like the thing about pitching is making adjustments and finding out what works for you. I essentially just kept playing with the grip until I could throw it consistently and with the movement I was looking for and the velocity difference, and also just throw it for strikes, more importantly."

He went on to describe the grip he uses for his fosh. "Essentially, it's like a modified split-change. Your second and third finger kind of split the narrow part of the seams like ... a two-seam grip. If you picked up a ball like you would a two-seam fastball and then spread your fingers just a little bit so they kind of hug the seams and then you brought your fourth and fifth fingers up to catch your third finger and put your thumb on the bottom of the ball, that would essentially be a standard fosh grip.

"What I do is actually grip it a little bit deeper so my fingers split a little bit more (I have a pretty big hand) and can actually circle my pointer finger and my thumb. So instead of having my thumb on the bottom, I kind of bring it up to the side and I make a circle similar to what you'd see [in] a circle changeup [with] my second and third fingers still hug[ging] those seams."

Mark Appel - July 2013
First pro start
Photo by Jayne Hansen

I asked Appel about that Fan Graphs interview and mentioned his analytical side. He responded, "I think that's just how my mind works. I enjoy challenging myself mentally. I think that's why I enjoyed Stanford so much -- not just the great baseball team, but some of the top academics and really getting to engage in intellectual discussions in class and getting to hear some pretty cool guest speakers in different lectures and stuff like that. Stanford was definitely a place for me."

What does Appel feel that he's accomplished in the last year and what does he still need to work on most? "I guess I feel real good about all my pitches, but I'm also trying to work on all my pitches to get them to the next level. A lot of that is the mentality of it, of pitching, just learning how to pitch and using your different pitches in different situations in order to make other pitches better.

"I think one of the things I want to continue to work on that I feel I took a big stride last year at Stanford [is] pitching inside. I know how effective that can be at the pro level. [Also] the scouting side, understanding the team that I'm facing and doing my due diligence. Assuming I'll be facing the top guys on their team, what pitches will get them out and essentially [using] what I bring to the table and placing it in the puzzle of trying to figure out how to get through the line up."

We then moved on to a few questions I like to ask in a not-so-subtle attempt to get to know some of the other players in the system better, the first being who in the Astros system has a pitch that he'd like to steal. "The short time I got to spend in Quad Cities while Vince Velasquez was there, his changeup was just awesome. I got to chart pitches for him a few times and whenever he was throwing his changeup down in the zone and consistently working off his fastball, it almost seemed like he was unhittable [which] probably prompted his promotion to Lancaster. Usually he was on. His changeup was one of the better ones I've seen in a while. I like my changeup and I enjoy throwing it, but I think his changeup is one of the top ones that I've seen."

Appel continued, "Lance McCullers, his fastball, whenever he'd get it up there in the upper 90's and if he kept the ball down, he was just dominant. We had some good conversations." If McCullers ever got a little hard on himself after a less than stellar outing, Mark would remind him that he had been a freshman in college putting up a 6.00 ERA when he was Lance's age. Of McCullers, Appel said, "He's still young and he's going to be really, really good. I know the Astros are excited to have him as a part of the organization. Hopefully, he'll be in Houston sooner than later. He's going to be a really good player."

What Astros hitter would he least like to face? "That's a tough question because I enjoy getting to face tough hitters. It challenges me. Tony Kemp is a tough out. His strike zone shrinks a little bit and he's a good hitter too. The fact that he's a little bit shorter than most players and can really put the bat on the ball is tough.

"In Quad Cities, Rio [Ruiz] was great, especially towards the end of the year. He was on a tear. No one could get him out and he just had such a nice compact powerful swing. And then Carlos [Correa] was just consistent all year. So those three guys kind of stood out to me a little bit. Rio and Carlos were impressive just because they were doing it [at] 18, 19 years old and having that kind of success."

Was there a player that he liked to just sit back and watch? It turns out that there were several on the very talented Quad Cities team. "I just enjoyed getting to watch the game, especially when I was shut down. Carlos was making great plays at short stop. Teoscar [Hernandez] was making awesome plays in center field. Rio was over at third and Tony and Catfish [Austin Elkins] at second -- they were fun to watch. And [Roberto] Pena's got a great arm. I felt like we had such a great team in Quad Cities that all those guys were fun to watch. Lance and I, because he was shut down too, we would just sit in the dugout and just watch the game, talk baseball. It was a good time."

Who on the team made him laugh? "Tony's pretty funny. He's a character. I think Lance is pretty funny. He's a lot of fun to talk to. Every time you talk to him, you always have a smile on your face just because he's so excited about whatever. He's very animated. Off the top of my head, those guys are some of the funnier guys. And then when you get Joe Bircher and Brian Holmes together, that's quite a sight to see. They're doing all these voices and impersonations and sitting in on their conversations is just hilarious."

When I asked him if there was something he could share about himself that most people don't know about him, he was hard-pressed to think of something. "I feel like I have a mild Dr. Pepper addiction. It's my favorite drink which is probably not a good thing because sodas aren't the best for you. I'm learning how to control it and limit it."

So I rephrased the question. If you've read anything about Mark Appel or follow him on twitter, you know that his faith is very important to him. I asked him what besides baseball and his faith gets him excited. "I enjoy sports in general. I've played fantasy baseball and football for a couple of years. I feel like I'm a big foodie. I enjoy trying new foods. I enjoy discovering new recipes although I'm not a very good cook so I'd prefer for other people [to do] the cooking for me. As far as the kind of things I do on an everyday basis, it's working out, doing all my baseball stuff, getting in the Word, the Bible." He also recently took up bow-hunting and is looking forward to doing more hunting. He will be seeking advice from his Spring Training roommate Josh Fields, an avid hunter, on guns and hunting.

The final question I asked him was what it was like working out with the big leaguers in the off season. He said, "They're just guys too. It's funny because I've seen these guys ... on TV and you get this idea that they're big leaguers and they have this kind of aura to them. They've gotten there. They're living life, I guess. And when you meet them and you start talking to them and get to know them, [you see] these guys are just regular guys that are just really good at baseball."

He thinks that getting to know the big league players better will benefit him heading into Spring Training, "As a first year big league Spring Training invitee, I think it's easy to get intimidated by the presence of big league guys, established big league guys, veteran big league players. It's been great, just getting to work out there [Minute Maid Park] and meet some of these guys, getting to know them on a personal level because I'm hoping we'll all be teammates within the near future."

At the recent Astros Fan Fest, someone said of Appel, "He's Baseball, Bible and No Distractions." There may be a few minor distractions along the way, but there is no doubt that he is very focused on the task at hand, that of stepping on that mound at Minute Maid Park in an Astros uniform for the first time. His talent will get him most of the way, but I have no doubt that it is his intelligence and analytical abilities that will take him the rest of the way.

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

Thank you for your time, Mark, and the best of luck in the coming season. See you in Houston sooner rather than later.

Observations from the Fan Forums at Fan Fest, Part 2

In the first part of a series of ruminations from the Fan Forums at Fan Fest, new WTHB addition Nance shared her take on what Director of Player Development Quinton McCracken and Assistant GM David Stearns had to say. Today, we hear from Bo Porter.

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

Bo Knows or What the Heck, Bo? – Fan Fest Part II by Nance @Bbfanlady

Bo Porter, Manager – Bo had a lot to say. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to him and found him very personable when I met him during one of the Caravan stops. Last year is in the rear view mirror. His job is to create an atmosphere for players to play to their potential. His players last year gave all each day. It was a year of evaluations. He was looking for guys to win championships with and to see what they had. Last year Altuve, Castro, Dominguez, Carter, Cosart, Oberholtzer, Keuchel, Clemens, Peacock, Zeid and Fields formed a core group moving forward to this year.

Porter is excited about the transformed bullpen. They wanted to find guys who could help on and off the field to mentor the young guys which will speed up the learning curve for the rookies.

He said that losing guys is tough but it is justifiable to lose guys like Lyles with the number of young pitchers coming up, and though they lost some defense in Barnes, Fowler and Grossman are both switch hitters.

Porter said young guys need somebody to lean on that is not a coach. Veterans are essential to serve as mentors. He has a lot of new coaches and seems happy with the staff. Trembley to the bench is a valued asset with his prior managerial experience. Listach is a good infield coach and will help Altuve, Villar, and Dominguez. Brock will help with the base running development of young players and will help young outfielders. Cardinals pitching success is reflection of Strom’s pedigree. Bo and Strom have interacted a lot and have sat down with Castro because of the importance of catching to pitchers. [Note from Jayne: Links to further information on the members of the coaching staff can be found here.]

Bo said he learned he had more patience than he knew he had. He learned what a thin line it was between winning and losing a ballgame. Last year he had information about, but didn’t really know the players. He had to find out what the players could do and sometimes made decisions based on having to learn what a player is capable of rather than what the game might have dictated. Makeup is important to see if prospects will live up to their talent. Sometimes he left guys in situations to see how they responded rather than pulling them. Bo is excited to see Folty, Springer, and Correa in big league camp during spring training because getting them around major league players will help their progression.

One of the meaningful events for him as a manager occurred during the Tigers series. Jim Leland came over afterwards and told Bo that the Astros did not lose because they were out managed. The Tigers just had the better team during those games.

Disclaimer: The content of this article is not intended to reflect direct quotes from the forum participants. Content is based on what I “heard”. I apologize in advance if my hearing was impaired.

Happy Birthday - 2/5

Happy Birthday to ~

RHP Raul Rivera (23)
Drafted in the 37th round in 2009 out of high school in Puerto Rico, Rivera had an excellent season out of the bullpen for the GCL Astros and then the Greeneville Astros in the Appy League. In 21 appearances, he had a 2.48 ERA and a 1.102 WHIP. He struck out 30 while walking only five in 32+ innings.

LHP Colton Cain (23)
An eighth round draft pick by the Pirates in 2009, Cain came to Houston in the July 2012 Wandy Rodriguez trade. After a rough April, Cain settled in nicely to put up a 3.88 ERA and a 1.401 WHIP between Quad Cities and Lancaster. Throw out his April numbers and he had a 2.78 ERA and a 1.247 WHIP the rest of the way.

Former Astros with birthdays today ~

OF Norm Miller (68)
Drafted by Houston from the Angels in the 1964 first-year draft, Norm Miller didn't exactly put up Hall of Fame numbers in his nine seasons (1965-1973) for Houston with a .240/.322/.355 batting line, but the converted second baseman (some guy named Joe Morgan had that job) does have some interesting stories to tell about his life in baseball.  His 2009 book To All My Fans From Norm Who? is more of a collection of anecdotes than a real memoir, but for any Astros fan, those anecdotes constitute a nice glimpse of the early days of the Astros organization.

OF Lee Thomas (78)
Thomas came to Houston in a February 1968 trade and played in 90 games for the Astros toward the end of his career, hitting .194/.249/.229. His best season was his All-Star year in 1962 when he played for the Angels. Thomas was the GM of the Phillies from 1988 to 1997 and was followed by some guy named Ed Wade.

Also, Happy Birthday to the naming inspiration for my blog, former Astros Scouting Director Bobby Heck.

Tweets of the Day


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Lots-O-Links

Lots of news over the last couple of days and unfortunately too little time to post it all so here are some links for your perusal ...

The Astros are in the process of signing RHP Jerome Williams to a major league contract, pending his physical. A cut will have to be made from the 40-man roster to make room for him as it currently stands at 40 without the addition of Williams.

Astros County has the scoop (from me) on a June 10th Futures Game at Minute Maid Park between the Corpus Christi Hooks and the San Antonio Missions.

The Astros have announced the addition of a second Dominican Summer League team. Oh joy! Dustin, Buca and I will now have nine teams to cover with recaps this summer.

And CSN Houston has been placed in Chapter 11 bankruptcy which throws a huge monkey wrench into the process for trying to get the Astros games back on TV for those 60-percenters (like me) who don't currently get the games.

And who said there was nothing going on in the off season?

Observations from the Fan Forums at Fan Fest, Part I

Note from Jayne: In an effort to bring new voices to What the Heck, Bobby?, I reached out to Nance, a very knowledgeable Astros fan, baseball fan and prospect fan who I originally met through twitter. After agreeing to try her hand at writing a post, I gave her zero notice when I saw her at Fan Fest last weekend and asked her if she would write up her take on the Fan Forums. Since all of the bloggers were tied up in Q&A's with Reid Ryan, Bo Porter and Jeff Luhnow, Nance brings us some observations that the rest of us missed. I think you will enjoy her voice. Please make her feel welcome.

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

Hi, I am Nance. I have been a baseball fan ever since I can remember. I started by watching my big brother’s Little League games (girls couldn’t play Little League back then). The Dodgers were my favorite team as a kid. I have followed baseball my whole life, including several independent league teams and affiliated minor league clubs. I became an Astros fan when I moved to Houston in 1988. My son played high school ball and I must have watched 500 hours of hitting lessons over the years. I am not really into Sabermetrics. It is the mental challenge of the game that intrigues me. I love the camaraderie associated with baseball and the many friends I have made through baseball.

Observations from Fan Forum, Part I - by Nance @Bbfanlady

I must confess, the only other time I had been to FanFest was about 10 years ago. Back then, it had all of the feeling of going to a zoo. Only thing was, with the restraining “bars” along the warning track, I couldn’t figure out who were the animals on display – the fans or the players and coaches who paraded past. This year’s FanFest was a vastly different experience. Unlike 10 years ago, it was interactive and I felt involved. My thanks go out to all of the Astros players and staff who participated to make it such an enjoyable event. And special thanks to Jayne Hansen. Through her blog, our minor league players get the recognition they deserve and I recognized most of the names mentioned during the Forum.

I attended two of the Fan Forums, “The Future” and “All Stars”. I had to leave before story time with Milo…… I observed a consistent message from all Astros participants. The strength and depth of the farm system and championships in the minor league were a common theme. As far as the 2013 Major League Team, it was a year of evaluation to see what they had. This is the first of three parts. Information gleaned is not broken down by forum, but is divided into three parts describing what I heard from representatives of Baseball Operations, Manager, and Players. First up is Baseball Operations.

Quinton McCracken, Director of Player Development – Said there is a very impressive group and talked about how high the farm system was rated and their championships. He travels 2-3 weeks each month among the affiliates. Tries to stay 5 nights at each stop so he can see the entire rotation and get a chance to see all hitters. In response to a question from the audience, he said Minor league minimum at A ball was $1000 per month and might go to $2500 as they move up. Minor leaguers only get paid during the season. McCracken was asked about prospects that may not be getting the attention they deserve. He mentioned Buchanan, Rollins, and another player that Apple autocorrect decided was named Tolstoy. My best guess is that Tolstoy is either Ronald Torreyes or Preston Tucker. I also had the opportunity to talk to McCracken about the mental aspect of the game for about 5 minutes as we were walking along the concourse. But that’s for another day.

David Stearns, Assistant GM – Only 5-7% of minor leaguers ever make it to the majors. Not all of those stick. He has been impressed with the enthusiasm and energy in the minors. They play extremely hard. Jonathon Villar and Robbie Grossman played with lots of energy. All prospects have growing pains, but character and work ethic are important. To determine if a player is big league ready they use performance, reports by minor league manager, needs. It gets more complicated as depth grows. This is the greatest depth in an organization he has been part of.

One of the most significant questions/answers to me was when the panel was asked who fans can count on keeping and becoming attached to without suffering separation anxiety in the near future. The answer was that Feldman, Obie, and Cosart show a lot of promise and talent and who a team could build around. They show promise and talent, but not too much pressure will be put on them and will see how the year goes. I can’t say with certainty who answered that question, (would guess it was David Stearns) so don’t call me Lois Lane. I found it noteworthy that the names Altuve and Castro were not mentioned. Maybe somebody coughed and I missed them or maybe he thought those two were so obvious he was trying to throw out some less familiar names.

Disclaimer: The content of this article is not intended to reflect direct quotes from the forum participants. Content is based on what I “heard”. I apologize in advance if my hearing was impaired.

Happy Birthday - 2/4

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

OF Al Javier (60)
Signed by the Astros as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 1971, Javier played in only eight games for Houston in 1976, hitting .208/.269/.208.

C/1B Chris Coste (40)
Selected off waivers from the Phillies in July 2009, Coste played in 43 games for the Astros that season, hitting .204/.259/.252. Coste won a World Series with the Phillies in 2008. He is currently the Associate Head Baseball Coach for his alma mater, Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota.

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Monday, February 3, 2014

Astros Minor League Depth - Right-Handed Starters, Part 2

In looking at the Astros MiLB depth, I covered those right-handed starting pitchers who finished the season at Advanced A or higher here. Now let's look at those righties who finished the season at Quad Cities or one of the short season or rookie levels. I've included a few pitchers on this list who may have relieved more than started in 2013, but who I believe are still in the mix as potential starters, such as Daniel Minor and Troy Scribner as well as Joe Musgrove who was coming off an injury. I have sorted the pitchers by WHIP, low to high.



First let's look at the 2013 draftees. Naturally, Mark Appel as the first round pick has gotten most of the attention, but Tri-City's Kyle Westwood (13th round) and Andrew Thurman (second round) had excellent freshman seasons as well. Thurman led this trio with a healthy strikeout rate (9.8 per nine innings) and was also much more of a flyball pitcher than the other two; his GO/AO ratio of 0.69 was lower than all but one of the 25 pitchers on the list. Conversely, Appel had the highest groundball rate out of the entire group, with a 2.24 GO/AO ratio, although his groundball rate was somewhat lower after his promotion to Quad Cities. Westwood had a particularly good season, leading the list in ERA and WHIP and sporting an impressively low walk rate. Batters hit .173 against him.

Andrew Thurman - July 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Troy Scribner, signed as a non-drafted free agent last season, also impressed in his time at three levels, culminating with Tri-City. In addition to a sub-1.000 WHIP and solid ERA, he had the highest strikeout rate in the system for anyone pitching a minimum of 50 innings (tied with reliever Travis Ballew). He held batters to a .193 average.

2012 draftees Lance McCullers (first round compensation pick) and Daniel Minor (ninth round) both plied their wares in Quad Cities for the season. McCullers had a very solid first full season and stretched his innings out to 104+ before being shut down for the season after his August 15th start. His walk rate was high, but so was his strikeout rate (10.1 per nine innings). Minor started out in a tandem rotation and ended the season starting in his last three appearances, but was used extensively out of the bullpen in between. He may ultimately be headed to the bullpen since he fared better in relief, going 7-1 with a 2.44 ERA, 1.333 WHIP and a 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings in that role.

Lance McCullers - April 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Adrian Houser (second round) and Brandon Culbreth (eighth round) represent the 2011 Astros draft class. Houser had a strong season for Tri-City and I am extremely encouraged by the fact that he managed to halve his walk rate from the prior year. Culbreth has an incomplete. He did not appear between July 18th and August 28th. Both pitchers are 21, with Houser hitting that milestone on Sunday.

Three other 2011 draft picks acquired in trades by the Astros had tough seasons. Kevin Comer had an up and down season and fared better in relief at Tri-City, allowing only a .216 batting average in that role. Joe Musgrove got a late start to the season due to injury and his overall numbers aren't great, but he was coming on very strong at the end of the season. In 18 innings pitched in August for the GCL, he was 1-1 with a 1.96 ERA and a 1.255 WHIP, walking only two batters and striking out 17. Chris Devenski started the season well (3.91 ERA and 1.263 WHIP in 6 appearances in Lancaster in April) and ended it reasonably well (3.60 ERA and 1.367 WHIP in five starts in Quad Cities in August), but he was largely ineffective in between. It is my sincere hope that Devenski, who threw a no-hitter to end his 2012 season in Lexington, will be back on track in 2014.

In looking at the Latin non-drafted free agents, there are several interesting players, but Michael Feliz stands out from the rest. The 20-year old Dominican (who just turned 20 in September) was dominant in 14 games (10 starts) at Tri-City. A sub-2.00 ERA, a sub-1.000 WHIP and 78 strikeouts to 13 walks in 69 innings at short season A before his 20th birthday? What's not to like? And prospect experts took note, with Feliz landing on several recent top Astros prospect lists.

Michael Feliz - July 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Of those who made it as far as Greeneville, Jandel Gustave is definitely the most interesting of the bunch. He's been known to touch 100 and was just included in Baseball America's Prospect Handbook as the 27th best prospect in the Astros system. Luis Ordosgoitti is another pitcher with an incomplete. After being shelved for most of the season, he only saw limited action in Greeneville in August. Edison Frias started the season at Tri-City but spent the majority at Greeneville before returning to Tri-City for his final start. Both Frias and teammate Frederick Tiburcio had good seasons with Greeneville, but both turned 23 after the season ended and should be expected to do well at that level. Jose Montero spent most of his season with the GCL Astros and actually did better in his limited time at Greeneville after the promotion. Francis Ramirez also played the bulk of his season in the GCL before a late season promotion to Greeneville. He did not fare as well as Montero did after his promotion.

Three of the young Latin players from this list ended their season in the GCL. Gerardo Juarez spent the majority of his season with the Dominican Summer League and his excellent numbers merited a late season promotion to the GCL. Agapito Barrios, who only turned 20 in November, was in his second season in the GCL. David Paulino did not play in the Houston farm system in 2013. He was obtained after the season ended as the PTBNL in the Jose Veras trade. He excelled in limited action for the GCL Detroit team. He last pitched in mid-July and was reported to have subsequently undergone Tommy John Surgery.

Harold Arauz (18), Elieser Hernandez (18), Rayderson Chevalier (19) and Juan Hernandez (21) were at the core of a very talented rotation for the Dominican Summer League Astros in 2013. All were in their second years as professionals and all impressed, but I am most intrigued by the Panamanian Arauz and Elieser Hernandez, a Venezuelan. I wouldn't be surprised to see any of the four make the jump stateside in 2014 and I will be watching the transition closely.

Happy Birthday - 2/3

No future Astros, but one former Astro celebrates a birthday today ~

LHP Rich Scheid (49)
A second round pick by the Yankees in 1986, Scheid came to Houston in a July 1992 trade with the White Sox for Eric Yelding. In seven games (one start) for the Astros in 1992, he had a 6.00 ERA and a 1.667 WHIP.

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Happy Birthday - 2/2

Happy Birthday to ~

RHP Adrian Houser (21)
Houser was the Astros second round draft pick in 2011. He had a solid season for Tri-City in 2013, putting up a 3.42 ERA and a 1.340 WHIP in 14 games (nine starts). Houser also showed dramatic improvement in his walk rate, halving his rate from the prior season.

Brad Peacock (26)
Obtained by Houston in a February 2013 trade with Oakland, the former 41st round draft pick split his season between Oklahoma City and Houston, starting and ending the season in Houston with three back-and-forths in between. In 14 games (13 starts) for the RedHawks, he was 6-2 with a 2.73 ERA and a 1.101 WHIP. For the Astros, he was 5-6 with a 5.18 ERA and a 1.380 WHIP in 18 appearances (14 starts).

Several former Astros have birthdays today as well ~

SS Adam Everett (37)
Adam Everett was a joy to watch at short during his time here in Houston. From 2001 to 2007, Everett played in 649 games for the Astros, hitting .248/.299/.357/.656.  He won Summer Olympics gold, along with Roy Oswalt, in Sydney in 2000 and was named best shortstop by the Fielding Bible in 2006. Everett will be in his second season as a roving infield specialist for the Astros in 2014.

RHP Don Wilson (died January 5, 1975 at 29)
Wilson pitched for Houston from 1966 to 1974.  In 266 games, he was 104-92 with a 3.15 ERA and a 1.212 WHIP. In 1971, his only All-Star season, he was 16-10 with a 2.45 ERA, 1.022 WHIP and 18 complete games in 268 innings pitched. He is the only Astros pitcher to have ever pitched two no-hitters for the team. His number 40 was retired in 1976, the year after death. For more, check out his Wikipedia page.

SS Buddy Biancalana (54)
A first round pick by the Royals in 1978, Biancalana came to Houston in a July 1987 trade with Kansas City. In 18 games played for the Astros that season, he had one hit in 24 at-bats.

RHP Jared Fernandez (42)
Fernandez came to Houston as a free agent in December 2002 and pitched in 14 games (seven starts) for the Astros in 2003 and 2004 with a 3-3 record, 5.26 ERA and a 1.525 WHIP.

SS Ronny Cedeno (31)
Cedeno signed with Houston as a free agent in March 2013 and played in 51 games for the Astros, hitting .200/.260/.298 before being released by Houston in July 2013. He most recently signed with the Phillies as a free agent in January.

And a Very Happy Birthday to the inimitable @AstrosCounty whose fierce passion, incredible intellect, flawless sense of irony and fantastic humor make Astros County an everyday must for the true Astros fan. Have a great one, James!

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