Saturday, March 1, 2014

2014 Grapefruit League Recap

Houston Astros 7, Atlanta Braves 5

2014 Grapefruit League record: 1-0

YEAH BASEBALL!





Well, the wait is finally over. At long last, a beacon of hope shining in the throes of Old Man Winter. Baseball season is upon us. The Houston Astros opened up Grapefruit League play at Disney World and topped those darn Braves in a pretty fun affair, which took a brisk 3:39 to play.

W- Matt Albers (1-0)
L- Jordan Walden (0-1)
S- Chia-Jen Lo (1)

Home runs: None for Houston.

Starting Pitcher: Lucas Harrell

Lucas Harrell got the nod for this first game of spring training as he is looking to put the debacle that was his 2013 season far, far behind him. He pitched the first 2 innings and allowed a run on a bases-loaded walk in the 1st. 3 of his 4 walks came in that 1st inning. Harrell's 2nd was much more quiet, as he induced 2 groundouts and a foulball out after a leadoff walk. His one strikeout was in the form of Chris Johnson in the 1st.

Final line: 2 IP, H, ER, 4 BB, K, 3 groundouts, 0 flyouts

Bullpen

Peter Moylan was the first man out of the bullpen for Houston. He allowed a hit and issued a walk in a scoreless 3rd inning.

Matt Albers began his 2nd tour of duty with the Astros by coming out for the 4th. He allowed a run on a Freddie Freeman single, but at the same time got out of the inning as Brett Wallace and Matt Dominguez threw out Joey Terdoslavich to end the threat. Albers was shaken up a little bit on the play but left under his own power.

The next man up was Paul Clemens, and he allowed 2 runs on 5 hits (all but one was a single), walked 1, struck out 1, uncorked a wild pitch, and was called for a balk in his 2 innings of work. He bowed out by inducing a rather slick 4-6-3 double play from Tyler Greene to end the 6th inning, which got him out of a bases-loaded situation.

Darin Downs made his Astros debut, walking 1 in a scoreless 7th inning.

Rudy Owens, fresh off a stellar winter campaign in the Dominican Republic, pitched the 8th. He shook off a solo homer from Todd Cunningham to retire the side and preserved a 6-5 lead.

Chia-Jen Lo shut the door in the 9th in impressive fashion, finishing off with 2 strikeouts after getting Greene to fly out to lead off the inning. This was the first 1-2-3 inning from an Astros pitcher in the spring.

Offense

The Astros scored a touchdown with 2 runs in 3 different innings and tacked on the extra point in the 9th inning.

In his first plate appearance as a member of the Houston Astros, Dexter Fowler flied out to center. He would give the Astros the lead with a 2-run single in the top of the 2nd. Fowler also drew a walk in the 5th before giving way to Delino DeShields. This substitution turned out to be a turning point in the game.

DeShields wasted no time in leaving his mark on the game as he stole 2nd on the first pitch to Jose Altuve and advanced to 3rd when Altuve grounded out. He eventually scored on a double from Marc Krauss, who then made way for George Springer. Springer didn't hesitate to get in on the action as he stole 3rd and scored on a double from Chris Carter. Preston Tucker then emerged to pinch-run for Carter. The Astros would not relinquish the lead again after their half of the 5th.

The bench was emptied in the bottom of the 5th inning, and the prospects got their chance to show a little something. From that point on, DeShields was in center field, Springer was in right, and Tucker DH'd for the rest of the game. In addition, Max Stassi, J.D. Martinez, Jonathan Meyer, Jonathan Singleton, Marwin Gonzalez, and Carlos Correa were subbed in.

Correa singled to kick off the 6th, advanced to 3rd on a Stassi double, and scored on a DeShields groundout. Marwin then sent a double down the left-field line to score Stassi. In the 9th, Springer drew a 1-out walk, swiped his 2nd bag of the night, and scored on a Tucker single to give the Astros that vital insurance run.

Marc Krauss went 2-3 and was the only Astro with a multi-hit night. George Springer notched his first 2 steals and scored his first 2 runs of this calendar year.

Dustin's Random Observations

Normally I would be freaking out over the pitchers issuing 9 walks, but... this is the 1st spring training game. It's way too early for me to be pulling my hair out over that.

The bullpen competition will be incredibly stiff and probably won't be settled until the very end. Lo delivered a very strong opening argument for his case, and I (am getting ahead of myself) would not be surprised if he gets a few chances to close games during the course of the regular season.

I forgot who was on the mound at the time, but this was how Steve Sparks described his breaking ball.


Carlos Correa seems like he's simply unfazed. He's not even 20 yet but he carries himself with the poise of a 10+ year MLB veteran. Selfishly, I'm hoping he earns a spot on the Corpus roster for Opening Day.

Josh Fields was scheduled to appear in this game, but Paul Clemens wound up pitching 2 innings.

THREE STARS OF THE GAME


3.  


Dexter Fowler, CF
1-2, 2 RBI, BB


2.


Marc Krauss, RF
2-3, 2B, RBI

1.


Chia-Jen Lo, RHP
Save (1), IP, 2 K



NEXT UP

The Astros will make the journey to Lakeland, where they will take on the Tigers and old friend Brad Ausmus at 1:05 Eastern. Scott Feldman will make his Astros debut, and he will be opposed by Drew VerHagen.

Happy Birthday - 3/1

Happy Birthday to ~

OF Hector Roa (19)
After hitting .250/.289/.423 with 11 doubles, three triples and seven home runs in his second professional season for the Dominican Summer League team in 2013, Roa was promoted to the Gulf Coast League Astros for his final six games of the season. Roa was born and raised in the U.S., but according to this post, he moved to the Dominican Republic to train prior to his signing in 2012.

2B Parker Hipp (23)
Signed by Houston as a non-drafted free agent out of New Mexico State in 2013, Hipp got off to a bit of a slow start in his first professional season, hitting .159/.280/.190 in 24 games for the Greeneville team.

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Friday, February 28, 2014

Happy Birthday - 2/28

Happy Birthday to ~

C Luis Alvarez (24)
Alvarez is currently a free agent, but has been with the Astros since he first played for the Venezuelan Summer League Astros in 2007. Alvarez went where he was needed in 2013, making stops in Tri-City, Quad Cities, Lancaster and Corpus Christi. In 41 combined games, he hit .282/.340/.511 and switched between Catcher and DH. He had a 39% caught stealing rate in 2013, 37% for his minor league career.

One former Astro with a birthday today ~

RHP Ricky Stone (39)
Originally drafted in the fourth round by the Dodgers in 1994, Stone came to Houston as a free agent in November 2000. In 165 appearances for Houston from 2001 to 2004, he was 10-8 with a 3.80 ERA and a 1.401 WHIP over 187 innings. Stone was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2008 and his wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2011.  This follow-up from December 30, 2011 found them both to be cancer free.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Astros Minor League Depth - Right Field

In my ongoing series covering the Astros minor league depth, this week we're looking at outfielders. I have divided them into center, left and right based on where they played the most games in 2013, but most of the players spent time at more than one position.  I am sorting their 2013 stats according to on-base percentage with those who finished the season at Advanced A or higher shown first and Low A or short season players below. Today, we cover right fielders. (Here are my posts on center fielders and left fielders from earlier in the week.)





2012 16th round draft pick Dan Gulbransen leads this list in on-base percentage, but all four of the advanced players are fairly strong in on-base skills. More interestingly, those four all rank in the top 10 in the Astros system in slugging percentage. Gulbransen made short work of Tri-City, spent a little time at Quad Cities and then graduated to Lancaster to end the season. His Lancaster teammate Chris Epps ranked highly in several offensive categories and the lefty continued his domination of lefty pitchers, hitting a robust .306/.370/.542 against southpaws. Epps was drafted in the 45th round in 2011 and turned 25 in December.

Domingo Santana, obtained in the July 2011 Hunter Pence trade, just turned 21 in August and definitely held his own at the AA level. He was tied for second in the Astros minor league system with 25 home runs. (He also had more strikeouts than anyone not named George Springer.) He is still a little rough around the edges as he grows into that huge body, but I felt that he made good strides defensively. Once he puts it all together, watch out!

Domingo Santana - May 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen


Preston Tucker, the 2012 seventh round draft pick, joined Santana in Corpus Christi in late June after tearing up pitching in the California League to start the season. He started making the adjustment to AA well and ended the season among the top offensive performers in the Astros system, including tying Santana for second in the system with 25 home runs. Tucker is probably known by most more for that powerful swing of his than anything else, but his defense in 2013 was solid. He only committed one error while collecting 14 outfield assists for the season. Tucker will be 24 in July. [Note: I had written this post prior to this article coming out from Evan Drellich noting that Tucker's bat has drawn some very positive attention in camp.]

Preston Tucker - June 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen


2013 38th round draft pick Ronnie Mitchell had an up and down season with the bat. If he can show more consistency at the plate, he could very well be a late-round sleeper. He will be 23 in June.

Ydarqui Marte, a 21-year old from the Dominican Republic, is in his fourth season in the Astros system and in his third season in the Gulf Coast League. He was called up to Tri-City at the end of the season and appeared in four games there. Fellow Dominican Brauly Mejia is in his second season with the Dominican Summer League. He only turned 19 in October. Their numbers are very similar, but Marte appears to be the superior defender.

2011 29th round draft pick Wallace Gonzalez, 2010 international signing Ariel Ovando, and 2012 12th round draft pick Terrell Joyce all struggled mightily at the plate in 2013. Gonzalez only played in 30 games at Greeneville. Ovando started the season at Quad Cities alongside Joyce, but was demoted to Greeneville where he played the final 51 games of his season.

One player whose stats aren't included in the chart is 2011 11th round draft pick Justin Gominsky who suffered a wrist injury and missed the 2013 season. He played a good amount of center field in addition to right in 2012.

Happy Birthday - 2/27

Happy Birthday to ~

1B Connor MacDonald (18)
Signed in 2012 out of Queensland, MacDonald was the first Australian prospect signed by the Astros in over twenty years. He will embark on his professional career once he has finished high school. MacDonald got into a few games for the Brisbane Bandits of the Australian Baseball League this winter.

1B Conrad Gregor (22)
Drafted by Houston in the fourth round in 2013 out of Vanderbilt, Gregor had a very good freshman season with the Tri-City team. In 74 games, he hit .289/.379/.385 with 12 doubles, one triple, four home runs and 35 RBI. A solid defender, Gregor had a 8.48 range factor and a .995 fielding percentage at first base.

One former Astro celebrates today as well ~

OF Carl Warwick (77)
Obtained in a trade with the Cardinals for LHP Bobby Shantz, Warwick appeared in 280 games for the Colt .45's in 1962 and 1963 with a batting line of .257/.315/.373. He was traded to the Cardinals in February of 1964 for 1B/OF Jim Beauchamp and RHP Chuck Taylor and was used as a pinch hitter in that year's World Series, going 3 for 4 with a walk, an RBI and two runs scored as the Cardinals beat the Yankees 4-3 to win the series.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Astros Minor League Depth - Left Field

[4/13/14 UPDATE: Brandon Meredith has been converted to first base.]

In my ongoing series covering the Astros minor league depth, this week we're looking at outfielders. I will be dividing them into center, left and right based on where they played the most games in 2013, but most of the players spent time at more than one position.  I am sorting their 2013 stats according to on-base percentage with those who finished the season at Advanced A or higher shown first and Low A or short season players below. Today, we cover left fielders. (Here is my post on center fielders from earlier in the week.) I did not include Michael Burgess as he is currently a free agent unsigned by the Astros or Ruben Sosa who I will include in my utility players category.



Brandon Meredith had an excellent season in Lancaster, putting up excellent on-base numbers and ranking in the top 10 in the Astros system in terms of runs scored, home runs, RBI, walks and slugging percentage. He was the sixth round pick by the Astros in 2011 and just turned 24 in December.

Brandon Meredith - May 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Leo Heras' stats include his time in the Mexican League before he was signed by Houston in August. He only appeared in ten games with the Hooks after the signing. Baseball America's Prospect Handbook for 2014 has Heras debuting at #25 in the Astros system, citing his good defense and his ability to hit for average against both RHP and LHP as assets. He will be 24 in May.

Leo Heras - September 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Austin Wates, drafted in the third round in 2010, gets an incomplete for the season. After starting the season in Corpus Christi and then receiving a quick promotion to Oklahoma City in early May, Wates was hit by a pitch and suffered a fractured forearm that shut him down for the season on May 24th. Wates did appear in the Puerto Rican Winter League during the off-season, giving him a chance to shake off the rust. His biggest strength, when healthy, is hitting consistently for good average.

Danry Vasquez probably has the highest profile of those at the lower levels of the system. He came to Houston in the July 2013 Jose Veras trade and went from the #7 prospect in the Tigers system last year to the #29 prospect in the Astros system this year (mostly due to the depth in the Astros system). Baseball America sees him as a good pure hitter with fringy defense. He just turned 20 in January and definitely held his own in the Low A Midwest League both before and after the trade.

Marc Wik led the entire Astros minor league system in on-base percentage (but for one player who only appeared in two games). The 21st round 2012 draft pick sometimes struggled in 2012 due to a shoulder injury, but fared much better offensively in 2013 when he repeated at Greeneville. I look for the 21-year old Wik to develop more power as he matures as a hitter. Defensively, Wik is a solid player and had the versatility to play at all three outfield positions in 2013. Wik's Greeneville teammate Edwin Gomez played half of his 34 games at DH.

Jordan Scott, a 14th round pick in 2010, is a very capable defender, but has been unable to distinguish himself offensively in his two full seasons playing in Low A Lexington and Quad Cities. What he does have is speed. The 22-year old ranked fourth in the Astros system with 25 stolen bases and managed seven triples for the season as well.

Jon Kemmer was drafted in the 21st round in 2013 and spent his first professional season with the Tri-City team. He was very good defensively but struggled somewhat at the plate in his inaugural season.

Alexander Melendez, an 18-year old from Puerto Rico, had a solid first season with the Dominican Summer League team. He will turn 19 in April.

Happy Birthday - 2/26

No future Astros celebrating today, but we have a few former Astros with birthdays ~

3B Steve Hertz (69)
Signed by the Colt .45's as a free agent in 1964, Hertz appeared in five games (four at-bats) for Houston that season, and those five games constituted his entire major league career. He was unable to get that elusive hit in the majors. However, he went on to have a very successful career coaching for Miami Dade College. As an interesting side note, in 2007 he managed the Tel Aviv Lightning in the Israel Baseball League.

RHP Don Lee (80)
Acquired in a trade with the Angels for OF Al Spangler in June 1965, Lee pitched for the Astros in 1965 and 1966. In 16 games, he was 2-0 with a 2.77 ERA and a 1.231 WHIP. Lee played in nine major league seasons for five teams.

RHP Gary Majewski (34)
A Houston native, Majewski signed with Houston as a free agent in December 2009 and only appeared in two games for Houston in the 2010 season. Since it's his birthday, I will be charitable and not post the results of those two appearances. Majewski had his most effective season in 2005 for the Nationals, going 4-4 in 79 appearances with a 2.93 ERA and a 1.360 WHIP. In two seasons for the Independent League Sugar Land Skeeters, Majewski is 10-5 with a 2.56 ERA and a 1.204 WHIP in 118 appearances.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Happy Birthday - 2/25

No future Astros celebrating, but two former Astros have birthdays today ~

CF Cesar Cedeno (63)
Cedeno signed with Houston as an amateur free agent from the Dominican Republic in 1967 and played in 1512 games for the Astros from 1970 to 1981 with a batting line of .289/.351/.454. Cedeno won five Gold Gloves and earned four All-Star nods during his tenure with Houston. He also led the National League in doubles in 1971 and 1972, outfield put-outs in 1974 and fielding percentage in 1971 and 1977. He was traded to the Reds in December of 1981 for Ray Knight. Cedeno will be in his third season as Hitting Coach for the Greeneville Astros in the Appy League in 2014.

LHP Denny Lemaster (75)
Lemaster pitched for Houston from 1968 to 1971 after being acquired in a trade with the Braves along with IF Dennis Menke.  An All-Star for Atlanta in 1967, Lemaster had a 3.40 ERA and a 1.335 WHIP in 152 games (90 starts) for the Astros.

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Astros Minor League Depth - Center Field

In my ongoing series covering the Astros minor league depth, this week we're going to look at outfielders. I will be dividing them into center, left and right based on where they played the most games in 2013, but most of the players spent time at more than one position. An obvious exception is Delino DeShields who played second base in 2013, but is being moved to the outfield this season. I will be sorting their 2013 stats according to on-base percentage with those who finished the season at Advanced A or higher shown first and Low A or short season players below that. Today, we cover center fielders.



George Springer (2011 first round draft pick) and Delino DeShields (2010 first round draft pick) top the list. They led the Astros farm system in stolen bases and were first and third in runs scored. Springer was tied for second (behind Nolan Fontana) in walks and led the system in runs scored, RBI and home runs, but he also led the system in strikeouts. DeShields showed a bit more patience at the plate than Springer, striking out in 17% of his plate appearances. Springer struck out in 27.2% of all plate appearances for the season. He actually did better in that regard in his final 62 games at Oklahoma City, striking out in 24.3% of his plate appearances. Defensively, Springer is definitely above average and I have no reason to believe that DeShields won't be able to quickly master the position as well since he played the outfield in high school.

George Springer - May 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

It is worth pointing out that besides having immense natural talent, Springer is also a team sparkplug. He is all business during games, but during work outs and before games, he is equal parts cheerleader and class clown. He keeps things loose and is as animated on the field as he is quiet and reserved off of it.

I would also like to point out that, despite several things that have been written questioning DeShields' focus and commitment, in the numerous times I have seen him both on and off the field, I have personally never seen anything indicating that he is not 100% committed to his profession. Keep in mind that DeShields was drafted out of high school and is three years younger than Springer. I sincerely hope that everyone will give him the benefit of a doubt and a chance to mature into the player that he will need to be in order to succeed. There is certainly no questioning his talent.

I was extremely happy to see Andrew Aplin moving from #25 last year up to #19 this year in Baseball America's list of top Astros prospects in their recent Prospect Handbook. He is not only a superb defender, he was in the top five in the Astros farm system in several categories - runs scored, doubles, triples, RBI, stolen bases and walks. He is definitely a well-rounded athletic player and gives the Astros a quality left-handed bat to add to the mix. Aplin was the fifth round pick in 2012 and will be 23 next month.

Andrew Aplin - September 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Drew Muren, the 22nd round draft pick in 2011, is known more for his defense than for his offense as the 6'6" long-legged lefty can cover a lot of real estate. He had 12 outfield assists in 2013.

Tanner Mathis was drafted by Houston in the 27th round in 2012, but did not sign. He instead went back to Ole Miss for his senior year and signed with Houston as a non-drafted free agent in 2013. An extremely patient hitter, Mathis only struck out 14 times in 60 games and had one of the highest on-base percentages in the Astros system, even leading on-base machine Nolan Fontana in that regard. [Note: Mathis technically ended the season at Lancaster as a back-up, but didn't get an at-bat there.] Mathis' Greeneville teammate Brett Phillips, sixth round pick in 2012, missed most of August due to a hand injury. His bat is a work in progress, but he was able to get a few more at-bats under his belt playing winter ball in Venezuela in the Liga Paralela and was poised to join a Venezuelan major league team when he had to return to the U.S. for a family emergency. Baseball America named Phillips as having the best outfield arm in the Astros sytem.

Two 2013 draft picks, Jason Martin (eighth round) and James Ramsay (seventh round) played their first professional seasons in 2013 with Ramsay playing at the more advanced Tri-City and Martin, then 17 years old, playing with the Gulf Coast League Astros. Ramsay was named in Baseball America's Prospect Handbook as the best defensive outfielder in the system out of the 2013 draft. Both had solid freshman seasons.

Teoscar Hernandez debuted in the Prospect Handbook at #16 after playing at Quad Cities in his third professional season. The young Dominican (he just turned 21 in October) is definitely still raw in many ways, but if he can put all of the pieces together, he can be a legitimate five-tool player. One thing that Hernandez will have to improve on is his pitch recognition; reportedly, a good number of his strikeouts have come on called strikes. Hernandez leads this list in outfield assists with 14.

Teoscar Hernandez - April 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

The final name on this list is Dominican player Luis Payano. Payano won't turn 18 until May and looks to be an interesting name to watch as he exhibited a nice amount of pop and a nice amount of speed. One player who does not appear on this list is Ravel Santana who was picked up by the Astros in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft in December. Santana was listed as the #7 prospect in the Yankees system in the 2012 Prospect Handbook, but he has had lingering injury issues, some of which are related to what has been characterized as a "gruesome" ankle injury in 2011, and he did not play in 2013. He was once considered a five-tool prospect. He will be 22 in May.

Happy Birthday - 2/24

No future Astros with birthdays today, but a couple of former Astros are celebrating ~

A first round pick by the Giants in 1971, Riccelli came to Houston in a June 1978 trade with the Cardinals and pitched in 13 games for the Astros in 1978 and 1979 with a 3.60 ERA and a 1.640 WHIP.

A fifth round pick by the Red Sox in 2000, Esposito came to Houston as a free agent in November 2008. He played in three games in the major leagues (two for Houston in 2010) with three plate appearances and never found that elusive major league hit. After one year of coaching in the Pirates minor league organization in 2013, Esposito was named Manager of the Pirates Short Season A Jamestown Jammers for 2014.

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Happy Birthday - 2/23

No future Astros with birthdays today, but several former Astros are celebrating ~

RHP Edgar Gonzalez (31)
Gonzalez signed with Houston as a free agent in August 2012 and pitched in 11 games (six starts) for Houston over two seasons. He went 3-2 with a 5.66 ERA and a 1.457 WHIP. Gonzalez signed as a free agent with the Reds in January.

LHP Juan Agosto (56)
Agosto signed with Houston as a free agent in May 1993 and pitched in 261 games for the Astros from 1987 to 1990 and in 1993. His best season was in 1988 when he appeared in 75 games and went 10-2 with a 2.26 ERA and a 1.135 WHIP. In 1990, he led the National League in appearances with 82.

RHP Scott Elarton (38)
A first round pick by the Astros in 1994, Elarton pitched for Houston from 1998 to 2001, going 32-21 in 120 appearances (67 starts) with a 4.82 ERA and a 1.388 WHIP before being traded to the Rockies at the trade deadline in 2001 for Pedro Astacio. In 2000, he was 17-7 in 30 starts for Houston. Elarton has played Independent League baseball for the last two seasons, including a stint with the Sugar Land Skeeters in 2013.

2B/3B Ken Boswell (68)
A native of Austin, Boswell came to Houston in an October 1974 trade with the Mets and played in 275 games for the Astros from 1975 to 1977 after spending eight seasons with New York. His best season offensively was with the Mets in 1969 when he hit .279/.347/.381 and got his World Series ring. In 1970, he led the National League in fielding percentage as a second baseman with a .996 percentage.

C Frank Charles ( 45)
I love this story.  Charles toiled in the minor leagues and independent ball for 10 years. At the end of the 10th year, after having been picked up by Houston in the off-season, he got a September call-up, a rookie at 31.  In seven plate appearances over four games, Charles got three hits with a double and two RBI. His cup of coffee netted him a .429/.429/.571 career batting line. He spent four more seasons in the minors and independent league ball before hanging up his cleats at the end of the 2004 season when he was 35 years old.

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