Saturday, March 8, 2014

2014 Grapefruit League Recap, Game 7

Washington Nationals 8, Houston Astros 5

2014 Grapefruit League record: 3-4

W- Tanner Roark (1-0)
L- Brett Oberholtzer (0-1)
S- Tyler Robertson (2)

Astros home runs: Marc Krauss (2)

This game was on the verge of getting ugly early, but the Astros clawed their way back into it with a 5-0 run from the 3rd to the 5th to get within 1. Alas, they couldn't find the breakthrough, and the Nationals got 2 more in the 6th to gain just enough separation from Houston.

Starting Pitcher: Brett Oberholtzer

Let's just say that the 1st was an absolute mess for Obie and leave it at that. He responded with a 1-2-3 2nd.

Final line: L (0-1), 2 IP, 5 H (2 HR), 6 R (5 earned), K

Bullpen

Peter Moylan was the first man out, and he allowed a 1-out single to Ryan Zimmerman in a scoreless 3rd.

Jerome Williams threw 2 scoreless innings, allowing 2 hits and striking out 4, but got into a jam in the 6th. He got 2 outs in the inning, but left the bases loaded for Josh Zeid, who saw Zach Walters spray a 2-run single to left field to solidify the Nationals' lead.

Zeid got the first out of the 7th, then Kevin Chapman came on to finish the inning.

Josh Fields threw a 1-2-3 8th.

Offense

Yes, it's only Spring Training, but Marc Krauss has delivered when he has been given the opportunity to show what he can do. He opened up the scoring on Houston's end with his 2nd homer of the spring, a solo shot in the 3rd. Krauss was the only Astro with a multi-hit game as he went 3-4.

The Astros put up a pair in the 4th on a Marwin Gonzalez sac fly and a Robbie Grossman single, and Carlos Corporan ripped a 2-run double in the 5th.

Three Stars

3.



Josh Fields, RHP
IP

2.



Carlos Corporan, C
1-2, 2-R 2B in 5th

1.



Marc Krauss, OF
3-4, solo HR (2)

Next Up

Next up is a split squad day for the Astros. One squad, led by Dexter Fowler, Jason Castro, and Jose Altuve, will stay in Kissimmee to host the Yankees. Jarred Cosart will take the mound for that team and he will be opposed by Ivan Nova. This game will be broadcast on CSN Houston.



Delino DeShields and Jon Singleton headline the contingent that will be heading to Clearwater to take on the Phillies. Dallas Keuchel will start for this squad and his opponent will be Roberto Hernandez, the pitcher who was once known as Fausto Carmona.


Both games will begin at 1:05 Eastern. Thankfully, there is no chance of rain in the forecast.

Happy Birthday - 3/8

No future Astros, only former Astros with birthdays today ~

RHP Jim "Bulldog" Bouton (75)
Obtained by Houston in a trade with the Seattle Pilots in August 1969, Bouton pitched part of that season and the 1970 season for Houston. He was 4-8 with a 5.02 ERA and a 1.548 WHIP for Houston. His best season was in 1964 for the Yankees when he started 37 games, going 18-13 with a 3.02 ERA and a 1.058 WHIP during the regular season and 2-0 with a 1.56 ERA and a 1.154 WHIP in the World Series. Bouton was probably best known for his memoir Ball Four, a warts and all insider look at baseball.

RHP Jim Dougherty (46)
Drafted by Houston in the 26th round in 1990, Daugherty pitched in 68 games for Houston in 1995 and 1996, going 8-6 with a 5.58 ERA and a 1.562 WHIP.

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Friday, March 7, 2014

Happy Birthday - 3/7

No future Astros, only former Astros with birthdays today ~

RHP J.R. Richard (64)
Richard was the Astros first round pick (second overall) in 1969 and pitched for Houston from 1971 to 1980. When Richard hit his stride, he dominated - leading the National League in ERA in 1979 and leading in strikeouts in 1978 and 1979 with 303 and 313, respectively. He was third in Cy Young voting in 1979 behind Bruce Sutter and Joe Niekro. He was at the peak of his abilities in his 1980 All-Star season with a 10-4 record and a 1.90 ERA and 0.924 WHIP over 17 starts when he was felled by a stroke on July 30th of that year. He was never able to recover his prior success.  For more on the fascinating story of J.R. Richard, see his Wikipedia page.

RHP Jose Cano (52)
Cano signed with Houston as a free agent in April 1987 and pitched in six games for the Astros in 1989, going 1-1 with a 5.09 ERA and a 1.348 WHIP. Cano is father of Robinson Cano. The elder Cano pitched to Robinson in the 2011 Home Run Derby and helped him to win the crown.

IF Jeff Kent (46)
Originally drafted by the Blue Jays in the 20th round in 1989, Kent signed with Houston as a free agent in December of 2002. Kent played 2B for Houston in 2003 and 2004, hitting .293/.350/.521/.870. Kent was a five-time All-Star, a four-time Silver Slugger and the National League MVP in 2000 while playing for the Giants. He is most remembered by Astros fans for this. He also appeared on the television show "Survivor" in the fall of 2012 (he didn't win, and he didn't lose very graciously).

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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Astros Minor League Depth - Right-Handed Relief Pitchers, Part 2

[4/13/14 UPDATE: Justin Hess, Zach Dando, Charles Basford, Erick Gonzalez and Ryan Connolly are no longer in the organization.]

In my ongoing series on the Astros minor league depth, this week we're looking at right-handed relief pitchers. Earlier this week, I covered those relievers who finished the season at Advanced A or higher. Today, we'll address those who finished the season at Low A Quad Cities or on one of the short season teams. Each player's 2013 stats follow. I am sorting the players by WHIP, low to high.

First off, I should note that I did trim this very long list just a tiny bit by excluding any reliever who hadn't pitched at least 10 innings or appeared in at least 10 games. Of that group, the one who will probably be the most interesting to watch is Devonte German, the 2013 11th round draft pick. It is also likely that he will be working in a rotation in the 2014 season, but the 19-year old Nevadan is still very, very raw. In addition, Brazilian righty Murilo Gouvea and 2011 third round pick Jack Armstrong did not pitch in 2013 due to injuries. Armstrong has yet to pitch in a professional game and I do not know his status.

Because the list is so lengthy, I won't be commenting on every pitcher, but I will try to hit the high points.



Topping this list is Gonzalo Sanudo, but Sanudo is unlikely to stay on this list for long as he will reportedly be moved to the rotation in the new season. Obtained in a spring 2013 trade with the Twins for Astros 2010 supplemental first rounder Mike Kvasnicka, Sanudo was completely dominant at first Greeneville and then Tri-City. After his mid-August promotion to Tri-City, Sanudo collected eight saves in his nine regular season appearances while putting up a 0.00 ERA and a 0.308 WHIP. For the season, he held hitters to a .149 average and only walked four batters in 38+ innings while striking out 51. His 19 season saves were second only to Travis Ballew. He also factored heavily into the post season as Tri-City won the New York-Penn League Championship. The recent Prospect Handbook from Baseball America has him at #26 in the Astros system.

Gonzalo Sanundo - August 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

There were several other pitchers, in addition to Sanudo, who received late season promotions to Tri-City. Tyler Brunnemann, the 40th round draft pick in 2013, was promoted from Greeneville in early August and put up a 0.90 ERA and a 0.500 WHIP in his final nine regular season appearances. Chris Munnelly, a 2013 non-drafted free agent, only got to Tri-City at the end of August, but was impressive in stops at three clubs, holding batters to a .162 batting average and striking out 11.5 batters per nine innings. Zach Dando was another August call-up who fared well at Tri-City. He did not allow a run in his five appearances (10 innings) after the promotion.

Chris Munnelly - August 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

These openings at Tri-City were due in large part to pitchers from that club getting promoted to Quad Cities. The first to be promoted to Quad Cities was Patrick Christensen, the Astros 2013 27th round pick. Christensen had a 12.67 strikeout to walk rate, barely behind system leader Gonzalo Sanudo who had a 12.75 SO/BB ratio. After Christensen's early August promotion to Quad Cities, he managed a 1.29 ERA and a 1.143 WHIP in his nine appearances to end the season.

Next up to take the trip to Quad Cities was Zach Morton, a 32nd rounder from 2013. Morton did make four starts at Tri-City, but only one in his final eight games at Quad Cities so I'm making a judgement call by including him on this list. Morton is an extreme groundball pitcher who didn't allow a single home run in 51+ innings pitched. Morton had a 1.45 ERA and a 1.125 WHIP after the promotion to Quad Cities.

Andrew Walter, a non-drafted free agent signed by the Astros in 2011, didn't get the nod until mid-August. In six games at Quad Cities, he had three saves, a 0.00 ERA and a 0.632 WHIP. For the season, he walked only five batters while striking out 36 in 38 innings and held hitters to a .169 batting average. The final addition to Tri-City was 2010 39th round pick Krishawn Holley who pitched in five games for the ValleyCats at the end of the season.


Andrew Walter - July 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

2010 15th round draft pick Jamaine Cotton spent his entire season at Quad Cities and was coming on strong at the end of the season. He had a 0.72 ERA and a 1.000 WHIP in his final 10 games of the regular season. He also had a very successful winter pitching in the Liga Paralela in Venezuela.

Austin Chrismon, the Astros 26th round pick in 2013, had a very solid first professional season at Greeneville. Raul Rivera, drafted in the 37th round in 2009, had a 2.14 ERA and a 0.905 WHIP in 12 games at Greeneville. In 21 innings in the Appy League, he walked one and struck out 21.

Two of the Dominican pitchers who appeared with the Dominican Summer League team in 2013 had very nice seasons. Joselo Pinales, who just turned 19 in November, is likely being groomed to be a starter. He had one start and several long relief appearances. Angel Heredia is 21, but 2013 was only his second year pitching. He was originally a shortstop in the Pirates organization.

2014 Grapefruit League Recap, Game 6

Detroit Tigers 3, Houston Astros 0

2014 Grapefruit League record: 3-3

W- Max Scherzer (1-1)
L- Lucas Harrell (0-1)
S- Jose Valdez (1); this is not the Jose Valdez who pitched in the Astros organization from 2011-13.

Astros home runs: None.

In the words of Matt Vasgersian in MLB 06: The Show, "well, you can't win if you can't score." The Astros got blanked for the first time this spring, although the pitchers performed rather well in this one.

Starting Pitcher: Lucas Harrell

The one run he gave up came on a double play in the 2nd. Otherwise, Harrell turned in a solid 2nd start after being all over the place in the spring opener against the Braves.

Final line: L (0-1), 3 IP, 3 H, ER, K

Bullpen

Chad Qualls threw a 1-2-3 4th inning, striking out 1.

Anthony Bass went 2 innings and gave up an RBI single to Ian Kinsler in the 5th. A flub in the field from George Springer resulted in Kinsler advancing to 2nd and another run scoring on the play. Bass, who struck out 2, rebounded with a 1-2-3 6th.

Mike Foltynewicz was front and center once again as he threw 2 perfect innings with a strikeout. He did have a baserunner, though, due to an error by Marwin Gonzalez in the 8th.

Jose Cisnero issued the only walk by an Astros pitcher on the day, but he also struck out 2 in a scoreless 9th.

Offense

Not much to say here, really. The only extra-base hit was a double from Robbie Grossman, and they also had 2 singles from Jose Altuve and J.D. Martinez.

Three Stars

PITCHERZ!!!

3.


Jose Cisnero, RHP
IP, BB, 2 K


2.


Lucas Harrell, RHP
L (0-1), 3 IP, 3 H, ER, K


1.


Mike Foltynewicz, RHP
2 IP, K


Next Up

After meeting the Mets in St. Lucie on Tuesday, the Astros will welcome their 1962 expansion buddies to Kissimmee today. Brad Peacock will make his first start of the spring against John Lannan. First pitch is at 1:05 Eastern, and for the 40%, the game will be on CSN Houston.

Happy Birthday - 3/6

One former Astro celebrates a birthday today ~

SS Clint Barmes (35)
Originally drafted by the Colorado Rockies in 2000, Barmes was obtained in a trade with Colorado in November of 2010 for RHP Felipe Paulino. In one season with the Astros in 2011, he had a batting line of .244/.312/.386 over 123 games. Barmes signed with Pittsburgh as a free agent in November of 2011 and will be playing his third season for the Pirates in 2014.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

2014 Grapefruit League Recap, Game 5

New York Mets 6, Houston Astros 2

2014 Grapefruit League record: 3-2

The Mets jumped out to a 4-0 lead after 2 innings and the Astros couldn't convert when they needed to.

W- Zack Wheeler (1-0)
L- Rudy Owens (0-1)

Home runs (for the Astros): Jonathan Villar (1)

Starting Pitcher: Rudy Owens

Owens was roughed up early as the Mets put up 3 in the 1st before he got an out. After he walked Eric Young to lead off the inning, Chris Young tagged him for an RBI double, and Curtis Granderson torched him with a 2-run homer. He got that elusive first out by getting Brandon Allen to fly out, but a single sandwiched in between 2 walks ended his day. 

Final line- L (0-1), 0.1 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 3 BB

Bullpen

Jorge De Leon inherited a bases-loaded situation when he came in, but he avoided further disaster by getting 2 flyouts to end the inning. Granderson took him for a ride in the 2nd.

Josh Fields allowed 2 hits and struck out 1 in a scoreless 3rd.

Luis Cruz struck out 2 in 2 innings. He did have all zeros on his line, but an error from Jonathan Villar in the 4th allowed Eric Young to reach.

Paul Clemens worked the 6th and allowed an RBI single to Brandon Nimmo.

Bobby Doran allowed a hit, walked 1, and struck out 1 in the 7th, and Nick Tropeano allowed an unearned run in the 8th after an error from Carlos Correa. 

Offense

This was it: a 2-run homer from Jonathan Villar in the 5th.




The Astros left the bases loaded in the 7th when Leo Heras grounded out, and they left runners on the corners to end the game.

Three Stars

3rd star was a little tough.

3.


Bobby Doran, RHP
IP, H, BB, K


2.


Jonathan Villar, SS
1-2, 2-R HR (1)


1.


Luis Cruz, LHP
2 IP, 2 K


Next Up

Lucas Harrell will make his 2nd start of the spring in Kissimmee against the Tigers, who will go with Max Scherzer. First pitch is at 1:05 Eastern. This will be the 1st spring game televised by CSN Houston, so if you're one of the 40%, you'll be getting the chance to see the Astros play a baseball game on your TV screen for the first time this year.

Happy Birthday - 3/5

Happy Birthday to ~

C Hayden Timberlake (18)
Signed out of Queensland, Australia in July 2013, Timberlake has not yet made his professional debut.

OF L.J. Hoes (24)
Originally drafted by Baltimore in the third round in 2008, Hoes came to Houston in the July 2013 trade that sent Bud Norris to Baltimore. In 46 games with the Astros after the trade, he hit .287/.337/.371.

Two former Astros celebrate today as well ~

LHP Erik Bedard (35)
Born in Ontario, Bedard was drafted by the Orioles in the sixth round in 1999 and came to Houston as a free agent in January 2013. In 32 games (26 starts) for the Astros in 2013, Bedard was 4-12 with a 4.59 ERA and a 1.483 WHIP. Bedard recently signed with Tampa Bay.

CF Brian Hunter (43)
A second round draft pick for the Astros in 1989, Brian started his major league career in Houston (1994-1996) and ended it in Houston (2002-2003), but played for five other teams in between. He had a .278/.314/.377 batting line in 370 games for Houston. His best season at the plate was 1995 when he hit .302 in 78 games. Per Baseball-Reference, he was part of this trade to Detroit in December of 1996:
December 10, 1996: Traded by the Houston Astros with Doug Brocail, Todd Jones, Orlando Miller and cash to the Detroit Tigers for Brad Ausmus, Jose Lima, Trever Miller, C.J. Nitkowski and Daryle Ward.
He led the American League in stolen bases in 1997 and 1999.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Astros Minor League Depth - Right-Handed Relief Pitchers, Part 1

[4/13/14 UPDATE: Gera Sanchez is no longer in the organization.]

In my ongoing series on the Astros minor league depth, this week we'll be looking at right-handed relief pitchers. First up are those relievers who finished the season at Advanced A or higher. I've made a couple of judgement calls by including Jordan Jankowski and Tyson Perez as bullpen pitchers even though they both started the season as a part of a tandem rotation because: a) they both had better results in relief, and b) they both ended up pitching exclusively out of the bullpen later in the season. I am also not including Cameron Lamb and Carlos Quevedo as they are free agents who were not re-signed by the Astros. Each player's 2013 stats follow. I am sorting the players by WHIP, low to high.




Jordan Jankowski, the Astros 34th round pick in 2012, spent the majority of his season with Quad Cities until an August promotion sent him to Lancaster for his final 11 appearances of the regular season. Of this group, Jankowski has the highest strikeout to walk rate of 4.90 SO/BB. However, as a reliever, it's even better. Out of the bullpen, he struck out 60 while walking only nine in 51 innings in that role. That translates to a whopping 6.67 SO/BB rate. As a reliever, Jankowski was 2-0 with a 2.65 ERA, a 0.961 WHIP and 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings with batters hitting only .219 against him.

Jordan Jankowski - September 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

In terms of WHIP for this group, Jankowski is followed by Michael Dimock, another pitcher who started the season in Quad Cities and finished it in Lancaster. However, the 2012 37th rounder only spent 10 games at Quad Cities before his promotion. In those 10 games, he was 5-0 with a 3.09 ERA and a 0.771 WHIP. As is often the case with relief pitchers, a rough July inflated his stats, but he ended the season strongly with a 1.23 ERA and a 0.886 WHIP in eight games in August.

The next two on the list, 12th round 2010 pick Andrew Robinson and ninth round 2011 pick Jonas Dufek, actually profile very similarly. They can both crank up to the mid-90's on their fastballs on a regular basis and use that pitch as a complement to plus offspeed offerings.

Robinson spent his entire season at Corpus Christi until he was called up to Oklahoma City to contribute a couple of scoreless innings in the post-season. As I have written before, Robinson's stats are a little deceptive. Corpus Christi had a very successful tandem rotation at the beginning of the 2013 season, leading to very sporadic work for the bullpen. Once Robinson shook off the rust, he was extremely effective, putting up a 1.69 ERA and a 0.991 WHIP in the final three months of the season.

Dufek started the season with Lancaster, but thrived in Corpus Christi after his late July call-up. Away from the rarefied air of Lancaster, Dufek was 7-0 with an 0.47 ERA and a 0.776 WHIP in his final 14 appearances. He only walked one batter in those final 19+ innings while striking out 20. In the Arizona Fall League, Dufek had a 2.89 ERA and a 1.071 WHIP in seven games.

Jonas Dufek - June 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Jason Stoffel, obtained from San Francisco in the 2011 Jeff Keppinger trade, only pitched in seven games for Corpus Christi before heading north to Oklahoma City. Of this group, Stoffel allowed the lowest batting average and the lowest home run rate (which should be expected, given that he has a fairly high groundball out rate). Stoffel didn't have quite the excellent results in 2013 as he did in 2012. One of the reasons for that is that his dominance against lefties in 2012 (.127 batting average) seemed to evaporate in 2013 (.330 batting average).

Travis Ballew, the 2012 23rd round draft pick, leads this list in a couple of categories. He has the highest strikeout rate of the group (13.2 SO/9) and he also led the entire Astros organization with his 21 saves. He is also the youngest of the group; he will be 23 in May. Ballew spent his entire season with Lancaster. Ballew had one particularly bad outing in July that goes to show how volatile stats for a reliever can be. Back out that one outing and his ERA drops from 4.42 to 3.41 and his WHIP goes from 1.396 to 1.310.

Travis Ballew - May 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

A non-drafted free agent out of New Mexico who signed with the Astros in 2012, Gera Sanchez pitched all but his final six appearances for Quad Cities. In those six games for Lancaster, he had a 1.69 ERA and a 1.219 WHIP. For the season, he had a strikeout rate of 10.4 per nine innings. Similarly to Stoffel, Sanchez had a very tough time against lefties in 2013. They hit .357 against him.

17th round 2011 draft pick Tyson Perez didn't have the best overall season in 2013, but he was much more successful out of the bullpen. He had a 4.29 ERA and a 1.302 WHIP as a reliever, plus his SO/BB ratio improved dramatically.

Later this week, we'll look at the right-handed relievers who ended their seasons at Low A or on one of the short season teams.

2014 Grapefruit League Recap, Game 4

Houston Astros 4, Miami Marlins 0

2014 Grapefruit League record: 3-1

W- Dallas Keuchel (1-0)
L- Jacob Turner (0-1)

Home runs: Marc Krauss (1, solo)

And there's the first shutout of the spring for Houston, as 8 pitchers collaborated on a 4-hitter.

Starting Pitcher: Dallas Keuchel

For a 3rd straight day, an Astros starter breezed his way through 2 innings. Keuchel allowed a 1-out single to Jeff Baker in the 2nd and promptly ended the inning by inducing a double play. It took Keuchel 17 pitches (14 strikes) to get through his 2 innings.

Final line: 2 IP, H

Bullpen

Peter Moylan tightroped his way out of a bases-loaded situation in the 3rd by getting Mike Giancarlo Stanton to fly out to end the inning.

Matt Albers' outing was much more quiet compared to his other appearance, when he was a bit shaken up against the Braves. All he did in the 4th was strike out 2 in a 1-2-3 inning.

Rhiner Cruz tossed a 1-2-3 5th. Ditto for Darin Downs in the 6th. As did Kevin Chapman in the 8th.

Josh Zeid allowed a hit in a scoreless 7th, and Chia-Jen Lo finished it off (no save), allowing a hit and striking out 1.

Offense

Marc Krauss finished 2-4 and hit the first spring training home run for the Astros with a 1st-inning solo shot off of Jacob Turner.

George Springer drew all the walks. 4, to be exact. He also scored twice; the first run came on an RBI double from J.D. Martinez in the 7th and the other on a sac fly from Tyler Heineman in the 9th.

Marwin Gonzalez joined Krauss in the multi-hit club, going 2-2 with an RBI single in the 7th.

Dustin's Random Observations

Robert Ford and Steve Sparks were briefly discussing the Oscars in the 4th inning and they brought up Matthew McConaughey winning Best Actor. They mentioned that he graduated from Clements High School in Sugar Land. (He was actually raised in Longview, and graduated from Longview High.)

We're only 4 games into Spring Training, and we all know that spring statistics don't matter in the grand scheme of things. But, if you are a player who is looking to win one of the final roster spots on the 25-man Major League roster for Opening Day, would you have a different mindset?

Three Stars

3.


George Springer, CF
0-0, 2 R, 4 BB


2.


Dallas Keuchel, LHP
W (1-0), 2 IP, H

1.


Marc Krauss, RF
2-4, solo HR (1)

Next Up

Rudy Owens takes the mound for the Astros against the Mets, who will go with Zack Wheeler. First pitch is at 1:10 Eastern.

Happy Birthday - 3/4

Happy Birthday to ~

RHP Richard Rodriguez (24)
Signed as a non-drafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2010, Rodriguez started the 2013 season at Quad Cities and ended it there, but pitched in 16 games at Tri-City in the interim. In 30 total appearances out of the bullpen, he was 4-1 with a 4.47 ERA and a 1.331 WHIP.

One former Astro with a birthday today ~

2B Andy Mota (48)
Drafted by Houston in the 12th round in 1987, Andy didn't have quite the success that his father Manny had in the major leagues. Andy appeared in 27 games for Houston in 1991, hitting .189/.198/.244. In eight minor league seasons, he hit .293/.347/.408.

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Playing Pepper with Cardinal70

This is my second year answering questions for St. Louis Cardinals blogger Cardinal70 about the Astros upcoming season. I am joined by Greg from Climbing Tal's Hill in this Playing Pepper 2014 post. Meander on over there if you get a chance.

Prospectations - Success, Failure and Looking for the IT Factor

Nance M. is back to share her thoughts about prospects and expectations or, to coin a phrase, prospectations.

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The best thing about baseball is that everybody has their own twist of enjoying the game and participating as a fan.  Ultimately, all that matters is wins and losses and we all want to see our team win. Unfortunately for us Astros fans, the last few seasons have been less than satisfying in that respect so many of us have been actively seeking other ways to enjoy our favorite game. Most of us reading WTHB take great pleasure in following prospects in order to be the first to pick the next greatest player of the generation (or bust for the cynics in the audience). We all want to find our own home grown “Mr. October”. Oh, God, did I really just make a Yankees reference – please forgive that slip.

Some of us focus on “tools”.  But a lot of players with great “tools” have been a bust.  There is a large contingent that I lovingly (or not) refer to as “Stat Rats” that are enamored with the mathematical side of the game using advanced statistics to predict success/failure.  Some fans just want to read and adopt what the professionals think.  Others might use less tangible measures such as how they wear their socks or caps.

I am fascinated with the mental side of the game.  In addition to looking for players with high baseball IQ,   I try to identify prospects that have “IT”.  What is “IT”, you ask? I don’t know if I can define IT, but a player who has IT, is prepared to not get beat.   IT shows in the expression on their face, their demeanor as they walk onto the field, and in the dugout.  IT can overcome a deficiency in tools.  IT sometimes defies statistics. For some reason, I can see IT in pitchers more than position players. It is hard for me to recognize IT from watching TV (especially since – nope, not going to go there) and I don’t get the opportunity to see many minor league games in person.  Ultimately, I think IT is closely correlated with extremely high baseball self-confidence. Former Astros who rated high on my IT meter?  Bagwell, Biggio, Clemens, Pettite, Wagner, Kent.  Oswalt had IT up until his last year in Houston.

I had the pleasure of talking to Quinton McCracken about the pressure that the young players are under when they come up.  I am convinced that mental strength, thus self-confidence, is the most important factor in predicting success or failure of a prospect.  A player must have a very high level of self-confidence to be successful at the major league level.  Baseball is a game of failure.  Players have to be able to fail successfully. If a hitter starts thinking when he is in the batter’s box, he is done and might as well go sit down. A successful hitter doesn’t think – he reacts.  A pitcher can’t get rattled by an error behind him, that first walk or home run allowed, or that blooper that drops in.  He has to trust himself to get out of a jam.

That brings me to a philosophical question.  Do fans play a role in the success or failure of young players?  I would argue yes, because we can contribute to or diminish self-confidence.  What would it do to your confidence if you read and heard every day that you were going to be a bust? Most prospects are 20ish year old kids.  Many have never been to college.  It must be a lot of pressure to know that if you don’t make it as a major leaguer you don’t have any other marketable skills to earn a living.  Most players in the minor leagues did not sign for huge bonuses.  Among those that did, many quickly spent that money helping family members, paying agents, taxes, etc. or simply wasted it on toys.  What about those who have the pressure of supporting a wife and family?  Talk about pressure.  Most prospects have toiled in the minor leagues for several years, living below the poverty line and only getting paid during the season.  I am guessing it is not very easy to find decent off-season jobs since employers know you will be gone as soon as spring training arrives. How many of them have parents that can afford to support them during this long process? Not a lot of confidence building factors here.  I know we tell the players to turn off the noise and not listen/or read what the fans say.  But if you were 20 years old, just becoming famous, how many of you could resist reading what your fans think of you?

I think there is a tendency among fans to treat prospects like toys at Christmas.  We look through the catalogue and find players we just have to have.  But, then we play with them for a little while, get bored (or worse yet, break them) and move on to the next new toy.  If you were that prospect, what would that do for your confidence?  Baseball is a game of patience my friends.  Rare is the player that has immediate success at the MLB level.  

My resolution for the 2014 season and beyond is to exercise patience and see if I can help these kids succeed by giving them the opportunity to learn from failure.  I will remember the role opportunity plays and that 500 ABS in one season is not the same as 500 ABS scattered over 3 seasons for building confidence.  I will remember that power is usually the last tool to develop.  I will remember that control in a pitcher is not solely a function of mechanics.  Some pitchers with extreme self-confidence have a higher walk rate because they will not give in.  Now, the 30+ year old guys with lots of experience? To me, they’re fair game because they should be mature enough to take it and wear it.

And, yes let the cries of “homerism” ring out.  But it seems to me like there are far more articles predicting failure of a prospect than success.  This would be a good exercise for the Stat Rats.  Among the blogs and twitter, what are the overall PA (positive articles) and NA (negative articles) for all top 100 prospects?  Not individually, but collectively.  Ultimately, performance is the true measure of success.  But for me, a prospect’s ability is not usually representative in a players first continuous year at the MLB level. But hopefully, the Baseball Gods will look favorably upon enough of our youngsters that we will have many happy Octobers for the next 10 years or more. 

2014 Grapefruit League Recap, Game 3

Houston Astros 7, Atlanta Braves 4

2014 Grapefruit League record: 2-1

W- Jarred Cosart (1-0)
L- David Hale (0-1)
S- Anthony Bass (1)

Well, I have to make a confession; I only listened to the 1st inning of this game, so I will just leave you with some interesting lines from the box score. It seemed like a good game, but then again, all Astros wins are good games. Even in Spring Training. 

Starting Pitcher: Jarred Cosart

It sounded like Cosart cruised through his first spring appearance as he struck out Jason Heyward to open the game. The only person to reach base on him was Justin Upton, who drew a walk in the 1st. 

Final line: W (1-0), 2 IP, BB, K

Bullpen

Brett Oberholtzer faced his former employers for the first time in a game setting. He was the first man out of the pen and allowed a run on 3 hits and struck out 2 in 2 innings.

Jerome Williams made his Astros debut, allowing 3 hits and fanning 2 over 2 scoreless.

Chad Qualls gave up 2 runs on 3 hits in the 7th, while David Martinez allowed a run on 2 hits and walked 1 in the 8th.

Anthony Bass threw a 1-2-3 9th to finish it off, striking out 2.

Offense

Carlos Corporan opened the scoring with an RBI single in the 2nd, and Robbie Grossman followed that up with a sac fly. Corporan added a sac fly of his own in the 4th. 

Leo Heras went 1-2 in his spring debut and scored on an RBI triple from Ronald Torreyes in the 7th. 

A pair of bases-loaded walks from L.J. Hoes and Torreyes sealed the deal in the 8th. 

Cesar Izturis had himself a multi-run game after entering the game as a pinch-runner for Matt Dominguez.

Dustin's Random Observations

Again, since I barely listened to the game... I got nothing. 

I'm older than Ronald Torreyes.

Three Stars

3.


Ronald Torreyes, 2B
1-1, 3B, 2 RBI, BB

2.


Anthony Bass, RHP
Save (1), IP, 2 K

1.


Jarred Cosart, RHP
W (1-0), 2 IP, BB, K


Next Up

Dallas Keuchel will be on the mound for the Astros as they travel to Jupiter to face the Marlins at 1:05 Eastern. Opposing him for Miami will be Jacob Turner.

Happy Birthday - 3/3

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

LHP Jack DiLauro (71)
Picked up from the Mets in the Rule 5 draft, DiLauro only spent one season with the Astros in 1970.  He went 1-3 in 42 appearances with a 4.28 ERA and a 1.515 WHIP.  In his rookie season with the Mets in 1969, he had a 2.40 ERA and a 1.068 WHIP, but did not make an appearance in the World Series for the Mets.

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Sunday, March 2, 2014

2014 Grapefruit League Recap, Game 2

Detroit Tigers 5, Houston Astros 1

2014 Grapefruit League record: 1-1

Well, a big inning can turn the tide of a game, whether it's Game 7 of the World Series or.... game 2 of the Grapefruit League. 

W- Drew VerHagen (1-0)
L- Brad Peacock (0-1)

Starting Pitcher: Scott Feldman

Feldman breezed through his first appearance as an Astro, issuing a walk to Miguel Cabrera in the 1st and allowing a single to Austin Jackson in the 2nd. That was all the Tigers got off of him in his 2 innings.

Final line: 2 IP, H, BB

Bullpen

Brad Peacock was the first man out. He got a nice defensive play from Jonathan Meyer at 3rd to retire Nick Castellanos and walked Rajai Davis in a quiet frame. Unfortunately, the wheels fell off for him in the 4th, as he loaded the bases with no outs and allowed the first 5 batters of the inning to reach. Austin Jackson dinked a single to center to open the scoring, and Peacock was knocked out by a 2-run double from Don Kelly.

Jason Stoffel was summoned to stop the bleeding and he was able to retire the side, but 2 of those 3 outs were sac flies.

Collin McHugh came on to throw a scoreless 5th, allowing a single to Steve Lombardozzi, and an E9 on Domingo Santana allowed Miguel Cabrera to reach. McHugh recorded the Astros' first strikeout of the afternoon when he punched out Alex Avila and got two more in the 6th off of Trevor Crowe and Tyler Collins in between 2 singles before leaving the game. He had all the strikeouts for the Astros in this game!

The next man up was Jake Buchanan, who got the final out of the 6th. 

Mike Foltynewicz was the final pitcher of the day for Houston, and while he didn't strike anyone out in his 2 innings, he threw a 1-2-3 7th and forced a double play to end the 8th after allowing a leadoff single.

Offense

Not much to report here, as the Astros were held to 4 hits.

Jonathan Meyer coaxed a walk from Kyle Lobstein in the 3rd. He would be the only baserunner for the Astros until the 5th, when J.D. Martinez drew a walk and George Springer singled off Drew VerHagen.

Again, the Astros emptied the bench in the 5th inning. Correa, Singleton, Stassi, Tucker, and DeShields were subbed in. Tucker made his debut in the field after DH-ing on Friday. In addition, Marwin Gonzalez, Gregorio Petit and Domingo Santana entered the game. 

Carlos Correa led off the 6th with a double when Tigers CF Daniel Fields lost the ball in the sun and it dropped in front of him. Correa never broke stride either. He would score the first run of the game on a Brett Wallace groundout. 

Stassi struck out in the 8th against Ian Krol, his good friend and former teammate in the A's system. 

Fields would have his revenge by robbing Preston Tucker of what would have been an RBI single to end the 8th inning. Santana had walked to lead off the inning and advanced to 3rd on a Wallace single. 

Dustin's Random Observations

Jonathan Villar put a charge into a couple of balls... but alas, they were outs. 

Is Stoffel pronounced with a long o, or a short o, like "Stahffel?" I've always said it with a long o sound, but Robert Ford and Steve Sparks pronounced with a short o.

Steve Sparks quote of the day: "Singleton looks like he's in good shape" 

Singleton, Correa, and Folty ended the 8th with a 3-6-1 double play. 

Robert Ford on Mike Foltynewicz's hometown of Minooka, Illinois: "I bet you there's either a Tastee-Freez or a Dairy Queen there."

Minooka does not have a Tastee-Freez or a Dairy Queen. There are 2 DQs in neighboring towns, though.

Three Stars of the Game

3.


Carlos Correa, SS
1-2, 2B, R

2.


Collin McHugh, RHP
1.2 IP, 3 H, 3 K

1.


Mike Foltynewicz, RHP
2 IP, H


Next Up

The Astros will play in Kissimmee for the first time this spring as they host a split Braves squad. Jarred Cosart will make his spring debut against David Hale at 1:05 Eastern.

Happy Birthday - 3/2

Happy Birthday to ~

CF James Ramsay (22)
Drafted by Houston in the seventh round, Ramsay was recently named as the Astros best defensive player out of the 2013 draft. In 69 games for Tri-City, the lefty hit .258/.346/.357 overall, but hit .281/.387/.375 against his fellow southpaws.

3B Ryan Dineen (23)
Drafted in the 25th round in 2012 out of Eastern Illinois University, Dineen started the season with Quad Cities, but ended up back in Tri-City in June as he lacked consistency at the plate. For the season, he hit .218/.333/.252, but those numbers are somewhat misleading as he had a bit of a feast or famine kind of season.

One former Astro also celebrates today ~

RHP David Stefan "Bud" Norris (29)
A sixth round pick by the Astros in 2006, Norris pitched in 119 games for Houston from 2009 until his trade to Baltimore in July 2013 (for L.J. Hoes, Josh Hader and a compensation pick). He was 34-46 with a 4.33 ERA and a 1.404 WHIP in those appearances. Albert Pujols has only managed a .194 batting average against Norris.

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