Saturday, February 22, 2014

Happy Birthday - 2/22

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

RHP Tom Griffin (66)
A first round pick by Houston in 1966, Griffin pitched for Houston from 1970 to 1976, going 45-60 in 199 appearances (123 starts) with a 4.20 ERA and a 1.470 WHIP. In his rookie season in 1969, he led the National League in SO/9 at 9.6 in 31 starts. Griffin's best season for Houston (arguably) was in 1974 when he was 14-10 in 34 starts. Ironically, he was also fifth in the National League in wild pitches that year. In 1980 and again in 1981, he led the National League in hit batters while pitching for the Giants.

SS/CF Eric "Cool Breeze" Yelding (49)
Yelding played for Houston from 1989 to 1992, batting .249 over that stretch. In 1990, he stole 64 bases (behind only Vince Coleman and Rickey Henderson), but also led the MLB in caught stealing. In 1992, he was sent to the White Sox for LHP Rich Scheid. Yelding was a first round draft pick for the Blue Jays in 1984.

3B/2B Russ Johnson (41)
Yet another first round draft pick with a birthday today, Johnson was drafted by Houston in 1994 and played for the Astros from 1997 to 2000 before being traded to Tampa Bay for RHP Marc Valdes. His best season for Houston was 1999 when he hit .282/.358/.442 and was 1-for-1 with a walk and a double in the NLDS.

LHP John Halama (42)
Halama wasn't a first round pick like all the other birthday boys, but rather was drafted in the 23rd round by Houston in 1994.  He started 6 games  for the Astros in 1998 and went to Seattle at the end of the 1998 season as the player to be named in the Randy Johnson trade. According to Baseball-Reference, on July 7, 2001, Halama pitched the first nine-inning perfect game in Pacific Coast League history for the Tacoma Rainiers, a performance which led to his being recalled to the majors. He was the Pitching Coach for the York Revolution in the Atlantic League in 2013.

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Astros Minor League Depth - Lefty Starters, Part 2

[4/13/14 UPDATE: Joe Bircher is no longer in the organization.]

In an ongoing series on the Astros minor league depth, we last looked at the lefty starters in the organization who ended the season at Advanced A or higher. Now up, those lefties who ended the season at Low A or one of the short season teams. Again, I'm sorting these from low to high by WHIP. One pitcher who may be considered a starter (and is not on this list) is Sebastian Kessay. He started early in the season, but after missing almost a month was used exclusively out of the bullpen.



Four of these pitchers pitched under 30 innings so their numbers can be taken with a grain of salt. Kent Emanuel (2013 third round draft pick) and Austin Nicely (10th round) are the highest profile pitchers of those with limited innings. Emanuel was used extensively (some say too much) during his junior year for North Carolina and into the College World Series so it was no surprise that he was limited. Baseball America listed Emanuel as the Astros #23 prospect in their recent Prospect Handbook. Nicely was one of the younger signings, having been drafted out of high school, and is likely being brought along slowly.

Also limited in innings pitched were Starlyng Sanchez and Ambiorix de Leon. Sanchez only started playing for the Dominican Summer League Astros at the end of July and only became a starter in his final two outings. De Leon was shut down in mid-July.

Joe Bircher (10th round 2012 pick) and Brian Holmes (13th round 2012 pick) both started in the tandem rotation in Quad Cities and both ended up missing a good chunk of the season due to injuries. Holmes was terrific in his final four appearances after coming back from rehabbing the injury. Bircher struggled for consistency after returning from his rehab, but shone in the post-season. Bircher only walked 16 batters in 78 innings. Holmes had a very healthy 3.76 SO/BB ratio and held batters to a .208 average, .198 against right-handed hitters.

Brian Holmes - April 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Josh Hader also pitched for Quad Cities after he came over to the Astros from Baltimore in the July 2013 Bud Norris trade. In five starts after the trade, Hader was 2-0 with a 3.22 ERA and a 1.164 WHIP and dominated in the post-season. Even better, the 2012 19th round draft pick did all of that at 19 years of age (he will turn 20 in April). Batters hit only .209 against him for the season and only .182 against him at Quad Cities. Baseball America has him as #14 in the Astros system.

Two of the three lefty starters who finished the season with Tri-City were drafted in 2013. Chris Cotton (14th round out of LSU) only made eight appearances before being shut down for the season in early August, but he definitely impressed. Cotton only walked two batters in 31 innings and had the highest strikeout to walk ratio of any starter in the Astros system. Randall Fant (29th round out of Arkansas) held his own in his freshman season, but actually fared better when used on the relief side of the tandem rotation, putting up a 2.79 ERA and a 1.086 WHIP and holding batters to a .219 average.

Chris Cotton - July 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

The third pitcher who ended the season at Tri-City was 2010 10th round draft pick Evan Grills. Grills is another pitcher who did better in relief than as a starter. When used in relief in the tandem, he had a 1.65 ERA, a 0.988 WHIP and held hitters to a .214 batting average. Grills was drafted out of high school and will only be turning 22 in June.

Two 21-year old extreme groundball pitchers were fixtures in the Greeneville rotation in 2013. Jordan Mills, drafted in the 28th round in 2013 had an excellent first professional season. And Chris Lee, drafted in the fourth round in 2011, made a big step forward in his third season. Lee was used almost exclusively as a starter, making only one relief appearance. After seeing Lee pitch last August and interviewing him, he officially landed on my radar and also made the Prospect Handbook as #24 in the system.

Chris Lee - August 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

The final pitcher from the list is an 18-year old Venezuelan who was a part of the very successful Dominican Summer League rotation in 2013. Edwin Villarroel, who will be 19 in May, made big strides in lowering walks and increasing strikeouts in his second professional season. 

Happy Birthday - 2/21

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

RHP Jack Billingham (71)
Billingham came to Houston in a trade with the Expos prior to the 1969 season and pitched for the Astros from 1969 to 1971. In 131 appearances (61 starts), he was 29-32 with a 3.75 ERA and a 1.297 WHIP. According to Baseball-Reference, he was a part of this trade to the Reds in 1971 ~
November 29, 1971: Traded by the Houston Astros with Ed Armbrister, Cesar Geronimo, Denis Menke and Joe Morgan to the Cincinnati Reds for Tommy Helms, Lee May and Jimmy Stewart.
He had his best season for the Reds in his 1973 All-Star season. That year he was 19-10 in 40 starts, pitching 293.1 innings with a 3.08 ERA and a 1.200 WHIP. Apparently, his arm didn't fall off after that workload since he went on to pitch another seven seasons in the majors.

Our good friend Appy Astros pointed out that Billingham went on to coach in the minor leagues for several years ending in 2004 as the Pitching Coach of the League Champion Greeneville Astros.

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

An Interview with Astros Special Assistant to the GM Enos Cabell

When Enos Cabell, former Astros third baseman and current Special Assistant to the General Manager, first joined the front office in 2004, General Manager Gerry Hunsicker sent him to look at the Astros minor league system. According to Cabell, upon his return, the conversation went something like this:

Hunsicker: Well, E, what have we got?
Cabell: Well, you want to hear the truth?
Hunsicker: Yeah, that's why I sent you.
Cabell: Well, we've got about six players.
Hunsicker: Six players?!
Cabell: Yeah, you've got six players (and those are maybes) that will get to the big leagues.
Hunsicker: We've got 300-some players!
Cabell: You asked me to go and I'm coming back and giving you the [count].

Enos Cabell - Fan Fest 2012
Photo by Jayne Hansen

I spoke with Cabell recently by phone and asked him about his unique position as Special Assistant to the Astros GM. Of that time in 2004, Cabell told me, "Gerry hired me to evaluate our minor league system and help him evaluate some of our minor league players because at the time we were starting to get older and Gerry didn't know a lot about our minor league system at all."

Cabell continued, "At the time, the playing field was changing with free agents making hundreds of millions of dollars and we knew as a market that we could not stand that." The Astros were coming to the realization that, in order to remain viable and compete, they would need to rely more on a strong minor league system and less on big free agent signings.

Cabell presented his findings about the minor league system to Hunsicker, Owner Drayton McLane and President of Business Operations Pam Gardner and the initial reaction was one of disbelief. According to Cabell, "I told them if you think I'm wrong, I can go ahead and go home and play golf." They were not happy with his evaluation, but Cabell told them, "It is what it is. Now we need to fix it. How are we going to fix it?"

Cabell is now on his fourth General Manager in Jeff Luhnow and he acknowledges that it's been a long road back from those six fringy prospects he found in 2004, "We started drafting pretty good when Bobby [Heck] was here and then it got better . Then Jeff came and made all those trades and he got players. And now we're stacked on top of each other. But it's a good thing. You can always trade pitching. You can't trade players that can't play."

I asked Cabell what he is now tasked with, "My main focus is mostly our high end players from High-A to the Triple AAA team and then watching the big league team because half of our guys probably right now are 26, 27 years old. So a lot of them are really young, immature ... and evaluating to see what their long-term capabilities are, making adjustments on them. In five years, what do you think? How are they going to be able to play? Are they going to be stable big league players or are they going to be guys that come and go, come and go?

"I like my job. I've got a good job. I've got probably one of the best jobs in the organization because I don't have to lie. I don't have to make you feel good.

"My only boss really is Jeff. I'm kind of separate from everybody else, but I'm involved with everybody else. He takes my evaluation and he uses it or he spits it out and says, 'E, you don't know what you're talking about.' We've got a pretty good rapport and I think he understands my judgement. I can say what I want to say and he knows I'm coming from the heart when I say it.

"Sometimes my judgement is different than Sig [Mejdal, Director of Decision Science] or some of the other guys or Quinton [McCracken, Director of Player Development], [but Luhnow] needs to take that and chew it all up and then he makes the decision. I think everybody respects that."

Cabell doesn't always see eye to eye with Luhnow on certain players, but he always gives him his honest opinion. "Jeff ... knows I'm not holding it back. I have no prejudices. I don't care. It doesn't matter to me. Are we going to win? Are we going to win with you or without you? I don't have any favorites. I don't have a dog in the match. I just see what I see and then I report back.

"And I don't argue. I give my point why this is this and why this is this. Now, you tell me something else, now that's your prerogative to think that and then when it goes wrong, they just look at me and they ask 'how did you know that?'" Cabell's response, "I played." Cabell thinks that former players bring a much-needed dimension to player evaluation simply because they've been there and have a basic understanding of what a player is going through.

Cabell sees a player's statistics as just one tool for evaluation, "It's there to predict what a person is going to do if they play five years in the big leagues because usually by that time they're stable and you can almost put it on the books what he's going to do. All of a sudden, he's not going to hit 50 home runs if he's always hit 25. He's not going to do that. Something else is going on if he's doing that."

But he understands the importance of intangibles as well, "I think a lot of players are good players, but when you get into the major leagues, it's a different atmosphere. All of a sudden you're playing in front of 40,000 people. Do you have the cojones to do that? Will you vomit or will you play? Those things, a lot of people don't understand. It is a difference."

Some of the players that Cabell speaks with talk a big game, but he can see through that. "That's what you have to see when you go and you talk to them. Some of them are full of BS. You can sit there and you'd think this guy is God's gift to heaven and then you see what he puts into it and he's just BS'ing. He's not living what he's talking about."

And Cabell is apt to call a player out. Last season, he dispensed some tough love to one player who tended to pass out the blame when he failed. "If something happens, you can't sit here and tell me that it's somebody else's fault. It's somebody's fault. It's yours. You've got the ball."

Cabell described another conversation with one very talented minor leaguer, "I said, 'Have you figured out what you want to be? Do you want to be a .330 hitter, or do you want to hit 25 home runs and hit .270 or .280?' And he looks at me and he says, 'Well, I haven't figured it out.' 'You haven't figured it out yet? I'm tired of looking at it. Sometimes you're God's gift to heaven and then I come back a month or two later and I don't know who you are! Son, you've got to figure out who you are.' He can be a great player, but you don't know and he doesn't know because he's still figuring it out."

The Astros farm system has come a long way since Cabell came on board and he is often effusive in his enthusiasm, "We're so stacked, it's unbelievable. I've never seen anything like this. Nobody has a minor league organization like this. We're so packed with pitching, it's like ants on top of each other. We're just so full. Jeff has done a tremendous job."

Cabell gets most excited when talking about the pitching depth, "I think our pitching is so deep. We've got probably 15 kids that are going to be 2's, 3's and 4's in your starting rotation. And hopefully three or four of them will be 1's and 2's. And they're all young. They all throw 92 to 100. I mean it's unbelievable. I've never seen anything like it. Maybe four or five years ago, we might have had two starters on each team. Now we've got six or seven on each team. It's unbelievable."

Of course, it was this depth which prompted Jeff Luhnow to institute a piggyback rotation in order to evaluate approximately eight starting candidates per team rather than the standard five. Cabell wasn't a fan at first, but he grew to appreciate how it played out. "They have to throw strikes. They've got to be confident of what they're doing on the mound and it's made them mature even quicker."

In particular, Cabell noted how the Quad Cities team benefited, "They had a four or five man pitching staff that was just awesome and then we shut most of those guys down and the other four that stepped in did just as good a job as them. They didn't have the 94, 95 mile an hour fastball, but they just pitched. That team, that was unbelievable how many good pitchers came off of that team. It just shows you how the depth is and how the piggyback worked."

Cabell spent more time than usual at Quad Cities in 2013, given that he generally concentrates on the higher levels of the system and he liked what he saw. "They had such a good team there. [Carlos] Correa was there. [Mark] Appel was there and [Lance] McCullers, all those guys. And we got [Josh] Hader. Hader is going to be really good."

And he is very high on Correa, "I love Correa. I told Jeff I'd put him in the big leagues now and let him play. If it was up to me, I'd just put [him] over there and let him play. He catches the ball. He doesn't make any mistakes. He understands how to play the game. He's not selfish. He's not jealous of anybody and he's probably going to be our leader. He's going to be our captain. When he gets here, he's going to take over. And we're just going to fly from there. We might not ever lose again with all the pitching."

Since Cabell spent the majority of his career at the hot corner, I wanted to know his opinion of 3B Rio Ruiz. "I think Rio's going to be pretty good. He really had a great second half and he got a lot of big hits." But Cabell conceded, "He's a kid. He's not going to mature as fast, I think, as Correa but he's still going to do a lot of damage because he's going to be a really good player. He was a football player too so that takes a year, year and a half off of just learning and playing baseball."

We didn't talk about too many other players specifically. He spoke of George Springer and Jon Singleton and while he thinks they're going to be good players, he did add a note of caution, "You never know because they haven't done it in the major leagues. It's a different animal."

Cabell went on to say, "Springer has more ability than anybody I've seen in a long time, but he's still going to strike out 120 to 140 times. Will he get a handle on that or will he not get a handle on it? All the other tools? He can do everything. He's a great athlete."

He also singled out Mike Foltynewicz and Vince Velasquez "because they've got so much velocity and so many pitches that they can throw for strikes. And they're just the cream of the crop. We've got so much back up. It's deep. I've never seen anything like it. Some of the guys are getting pushed down that shouldn't be going down in the lower levels. They're just crawling on each other. But it's a good thing."

I asked Cabell what some of these young prospects go through today that he didn't have to go through when he was coming up through the minors. The biggest difference is the long hours that today's prospects put in. "They work so hard during the day. These kids go to the ballpark 12:00, 1:00 in the day time and they work and they work out all day. A 7:00 game, they've been there for five or six hours already so I think that's one thing that I think has changed, but they deal with it. We never did that. We never lifted. We played the game like it was Sunday night football or something. These guys, they have regimens and stuff. It's unbelievable what they go through. I think a lot of times it's too much." But he acknowledges that it's also tougher now because so many of today's players are great athletes and the competition is fierce.

The Astros farm system has come a long way since that first conversation with Gerry Hunsicker back in 2004 and Cabell knows it. And he doesn't even try to contain his excitement about that fact. "From the worst to the best in three years. That's pretty dang good. Nobody does that. I'm really happy. I think we've got a great minor league system and I think once we win, we're just going to continue to win. We're not going backwards."

Cabell's evaluations and advice are simply one part of the puzzle for GM Jeff Luhnow as he positions the Astros for the future, but it is nice to know that he is getting honest feedback from the perspective of someone who played at the major league level for 15 seasons.

Cabell's enthusiasm about the future of the franchise is contagious. It was my privilege to talk with him.

Happy Birthday - 2/20

Happy Birthday to ~

LF/DH Telvin Nash (23)
Drafted in the third round in 2009 out of high school in his native Georgia, Nash spent a second season in Lancaster, but last appeared on July 18th. In 62 games, he hit .246/.357/.500 with 10 doubles, 16 home runs and 48 RBI. Nash made a solid improvement in batting average and on-base percentage and lowered his strikeout rate by almost 10 percentage points. He was hitting .324/.432/.585 in his final 10 games.

Former Astros with birthdays today ~

RHP Bill Gullickson (55)
A first round pick by Montreal in 1977, Gullickson came to Houston as a free agent in December 1989. In one season for the Astros in 1990, he was 10-14 with a 3.82 ERA and a 1.459 WHIP in 32 starts. In 1991, after being released by Houston, he went 20-9 for Detroit. Gullickson came in second to Steve Howe in Rookie of the Year voting in 1979.

RHP Jason Hirsh (31)
A second round pick by Houston in 2003, Hirsh started nine games for the Astros in 2006, going 3-4 with a 6.04 ERA and a 1.567 WHIP.  He was traded, along with Taylor Buchholz and Willy Taveras, to the Rockies for Miguel Asencio and he-who-must-not-be-named in December of 2006. He pitched in one game for Amarillo in the Independent League in 2013.

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Wednesday, February 19, 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 (came out late March in 2013)
2014 -
2013 - Ranked 9th
2012 - Ranked 26th

Happy Birthday - 2/19

Happy Birthday to ~

LHP Kevin Chapman (26)
Originally drafted by the Royals in the fourth round in 2010, Chapman came to the Houston organization in a March 2012 trade with Kansas City. Chapman made his first 45 appearances of the season at Oklahoma City before making his major league debut on August 9, 2013. In 25 appearances in Houston, he was 1-1 with a 1.77 ERA, a 1.279 WHIP and one save.

Two former Astros with birthdays today ~

RHP Chris Zachary (died April 19, 2003 at 59)
Signed by Houston as an amateur free agent prior to the 1962 season, Zachary had a less than awe-inspiring career with Houston as he compiled a 6-16 record with a 4.64 ERA and a 1.466 WHIP in 46 appearances over 5 seasons (1963-1967), but he was only 19 when he made his major league debut.  His best season was with Detroit in 1972; in 25 appearances, he was 1-1 with a 1.41 ERA and a 1.096 WHIP.

OF Don Taussig (82)
Drafted by Houston from the Cardinals in the 1961 expansion draft, Taussig only played in 16 games for the Colt 45's in 1962 (.200 BA) after putting up a very respectable .287/.338/.447 batting line for the Cardinals the prior year.  He never got back to the majors after 1962.

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Astros Minor League Depth - Lefty Starters, Part 1

[4/13/14 UPDATE: Wes Musick and Kyle Hallock are no longer in the organization.]

In a continuing look at the Astros minor league depth, today we're going to cover those left-handed starting pitchers who ended their seasons at Advanced A Lancaster or above. As always, I tend to make a few judgment calls when categorizing the pitchers. For example, Blair Walters started the season in the tandem rotation but ended it working exclusively out of the bullpen so I will be including him with lefty relievers. Conversely Tommy Shirley was not used extensively as a starter until late in the season and I am including him with the starters. The following pitchers have been sorted low to high by WHIP.



Wes Musick leads the list in terms of WHIP and Rudy Owens is toward the bottom of the list in that regard, but neither mark is particularly meaningful as both pitchers were derailed by injury early in the season and were shut down. I don't know the nature of Musick's injury, but it is the third year in a row that he has missed significant amounts of time. Owens was set back by a fractured foot early in the season, but was healthy enough to put up impressive numbers playing in the Dominican League over the winter. In 10 starts, he was 3-2 with a 2.68 ERA and a 0.988 WHIP. Musick came to Houston from the Rockies organization in 2010 for Matt Lindstrom and Owens was a part of the July 2012 trade with the Pirates for Wandy Rodriguez.

Also obtained in that July 2012 trade with Pittsburgh was Colton Cain. Cain started the season in Quad Cities and did not have a good April (vast understatement), but he righted the ship and went 8-3 with a 2.78 ERA and a 1.247 WHIP the rest of the way and was rewarded with an August promotion to Lancaster.

I'm not sure what to make of Kyle Hallock's 2013 season. Coming off an injury-shortened season in 2012, Hallock was moved between teams five times in 2013 and had mixed results. The Astros 2011 10th round draft pick had better results earlier in the season, including pitching the first five innings of a combined no-hitter for Lancaster in May, but he got pounded later in the season. Hallock may very well be headed to the bullpen as he generally fared better in that role during the 2013 season.

Hallock's tandem partner while in Lancaster, Luis Cruz, pitched the final four innings of the May no-hitter. Cruz, who just turned 23 in September, was drafted by Houston out of Puerto Rico in the ninth round in 2008. Not only did Cruz throw the back end of the no-hitter in May, he also tossed a complete game two-hit shutout in his penultimate appearance with Corpus Christi after being promoted there in August. Cruz led the Astros minor leagues with his 150 strikeouts in 130+ innings pitched, and was added to the Astros 40-man roster ahead of the December Rule 5 draft.

Luis Cruz - May 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

David Rollins also received a late-season promotion to Corpus Christi, and although he did not dominate at the level like Cruz, he mostly managed to hold his own (although there was one bad outing to end the regular season that I'm sure he'd like to get back). Rollins came to the Astros in the big July 2012 10-player trade with the Blue Jays. He ranked third in the Astros minor league system in strikeouts in 2013 with 137 in 136+ innings. It is worth noting that he fared extremely well in the hitter-friendly California League, putting up a sub-4.00 ERA and a 1.161 WHIP in 97+ innings despite his penchant as a flyball pitcher. An ERA that low pitching for Lancaster is the exception rather than the rule.

David Rollins - September 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Which brings me to Tommy Shirley. Shirley, the Astros 2010 ninth round draft pick out of Xavier University, made a couple of spot starts for Lancaster early in the 2013 season, but was mostly used out of the bullpen until later in the season. Shirley had great numbers for the season and even managed a sub-4.00 ERA at home at The Hangar. He ended the season very strongly and I look forward to seeing him build on that success in 2014.

Later this week, we'll look at those lefty starters who ended their seasons at Low A or on one of the short season clubs.

Happy Birthday - 2/18

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

OF Brian Bogusevic (30)
Drafted in the first round out of Tulane in 2008 as a LHP, Bogusevic converted to the outfield in mid-2008. In 252 games played for the Astros from 2010 to 2012, he hit .227/.310/.346. On August 16, 2011, Bogusevic became the 26th player in MLB history to hit an Ultimate Grand Slam with a pinch-hit walk-off home run, winning the game by one run. Bogusevic played for the Cubs in 2013 and was traded to the Marlins in December 2013 for another former Astro, Justin Ruggiano.

SS Rafael Ramirez (56)
Ramirez came to Houston as a free agent in January 1992 and played in 612 games for Houston from 1988 to 1992, hitting .257/.290/.335. He was an All-Star in 1984 for Atlanta.

1B John Mayberry (65)
A first round pick by the Astros in 1967, Mayberry played in 105 games for Houston from 1968 to 1971, hitting .191/.284/.342. Mayberry went on to have a 15-year major league career in which he was an All-Star for Kansas City in 1973 and 1974.

RHP Rocky Childress (52)
Originally drafted by the Phillies in the 21st round in 1980, Childress was purchased by Houston from Philadelphia in November 1986. In 43 appearances for the Astros in 1987 and 1988, he had a 4.02 ERA and a 1.381 WHIP.

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Monday, February 17, 2014

Joe Sclafani's Excellent Adventure Down Under

Astros Utility Infielder and 2012 14th round draft pick Joe Sclafani got the opportunity of a lifetime over the winter, playing for the Adelaide Bite in the Australian Baseball League. I caught up with Joe via email last week to ask him about the experience.

Joe Sclafani - June 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

JH: Can you tell me about the overall experience ... the fans, the facilities, the travel, the competition? Does baseball get a decent following?

JS: The overall experience was fantastic. It was pretty special being able to experience a different culture while working to improve my game. The challenge in Australia is that baseball has to compete with cricket, which is extremely popular on that side of the world. However, baseball's popularity has been growing along with the number of kids signing up to play little league, so the fans were actually really enthusiastic, providing a great atmosphere to play in. Some facilities were nicer than others, but I was pleasantly surprised in the long run. The travel was interesting...we only played 4 days a week due to most Aussies having to work their full time jobs as well, and no team was close enough to drive, so we flew everywhere. I enjoyed that part of it. There are a lot of good players from Australia with professional experience who combined with quality import players led to a high level of competition that would probably surprise some people.

JH: Since you were there over Christmas, did you have family come visit? Did it seem weird to be celebrating Christmas in the middle of summer?

JS: It was incredibly weird not being around for Christmas or New Years with 23 years of tradition being broken...Plus Christmas is treated more like a 4th of July type holiday there. There aren't very many decorations, if at all, and the only discernible difference between Christmas and another summer day is that people wear Santa or elf hats when they're out. That being said, my family made it a point to come on vacation and see me. We had a wonderful time doing the standard touristy things you could expect in Australia. It was fantastic.

JH: What were you working on and what do you feel like you accomplished Down Under?

JS: Overall, I'm happy with what I was able to achieve over there. My stats might not reflect my total body of work, but I was pleased with the results. I played mostly shortstop, but continued to get work at 2nd and 3rd base and even took fly balls whenever I got the chance. From an offensive standpoint, I tried to work on my short game (bunting, stealing bases, etc.) and just continue to improve my approach and get on base as often as possible.

JH: What was your reaction when Tyler Massey ROBBED you of a home run by literally going through a wall?

JS: It's definitely not a feeling I'm generally accustomed to, but Tyler and I had gotten the chance to meet a few times and we played against each other in the Cal League (he played for Modesto). He's a phenomenal player and a really great guy, so it was just a testament to the type of high energy, relentless player that he is (not to mention his blatant disregard for his well-being by running through that wall). It was deflating for sure, but all I could do was tip my hat.

JH: What did you do in your down time?

JS: We had a good amount of down time there, so we tried to experience as much as we could. We lived right on the beach, so we spent a good amount of time soaking up the sun in the 'winter'. We tried to experience as much Australian culture as we could by going to a wildlife reserve, the Adelaide zoo, etc.. We also wanted to go see one of the Ashes test matches (huge prestigious cricket matches between Australia and England), but unfortunately always had a game when they played.

JH: What one memory will you take with you from the experience?

JS: Being blessed enough to have my family come out and experience some of the wonderful things Australia has to offer.

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

Thank you for your time, Joe, and best of luck in the rapidly approaching season.
 

Happy Birthday - 2/17

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

LHP Mike Cosgrove (63)
A second round pick by the Astros in 1970, Cosgrove pitched in 119 games (20 starts) from 1972 to 1976  with a 12-11 record, a 4.03 ERA and a 1.515 WHIP.

IF Cody Ransom (38)
Originally drafted by the Giants in the ninth round in 1998, Ransom came to Houston in March 2006 from the Mariners. In 19 games for the Astros in 2007, he hit .229/.413/.371 before leaving via free agency that winter. On September 21, 2008, he recorded the final putout at the old Yankee Stadium. He most recently played with the Cubs, but was released by them in September 2013.

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Happy Birthday - 2/16

Happy Birthday to ~

RHP Chris Munnelly (23)
Signed as a non-drafted free agent out of the University of North Carolina in 2013, Munnelly was impressive with the GCL Astros and the Greeneville squad, leading to his promotion to Tri-City for his final three appearances of the season. In a total of 20 bullpen appearances at the three venues, Munnelly had a 1.24 ERA and a 1.000 WHIP. He walked 12 batters while striking out 37 in 29 innings pitched.

Former Astros with birthdays today ~

Originally drafted by the Rangers in the second round in 1980, Henry signed as a free agent with Houston in March 1991. In 52 appearances for the Astros in 1991, he had a 3-2 record with a 3.19 ERA and 1.330 WHIP.

SS Glenn Vaughan (died December 18, 2004 at 60)
Signed by Houston as an amateur free agent in 1962, Vaughan played in 9 games for the Colt .45's in 1963, hitting .167/.219/.167.

A first round pick by the Astros in 1981, Bullock played in 24 games for Houston in 1985 and 1986, hitting .174/.191/.217.

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