Saturday, April 5, 2014

Quad Cities River Bandits 2014 Season Preview

Over the last few days I've posted season previews for Oklahoma City, Corpus Christi and Lancaster.  The last one up is the Low A Quad Cities River Bandits team. Let me just say this. If pitching and defense really does win games, this Quad Cities bunch is going to win a ton!

The pitching depth on this team is ridiculous. Let's look at the tandems first, taking note of their 2013 stats. Michael Feliz (1.96 ERA, 0.957 WHIP, 10.2 SO/9, 6.00 SO/BB) debuted on a lot of Astros Top 10 prospect lists this off-season. He teams up with Evan Grills, a 21-year old lefty from Canada who made great strides in his development in 2013. He had a 3.34 ERA and a 1.258 WHIP. They both pitched for Tri-City last season.

The second tandem is Adrian Houser (3.42 ERA, 1.340 WHIP) and Gonzalo Sanudo (1.16 ERA, 0.621 WHIP, 11.9 SO/9, 12.75 SO/BB). Pitching for Tri-City in 2013, Houser halved his walk rate from the prior season. Sanudo pitched out of the 'pen for Greeneville and Tri-City in 2013 and is being converted to a starter this season. He walked only four batters in 38+ innings pitched.

Next up is the duo of Andrew Thurman (3.86 ERA, 1.361 WHIP, 9.8 SO/9) and Chris Lee (3.10 ERA, 10.95 WHIP, 9.9 SO/9).  Thurman spent his first professional season in Tri-City and Lee pitched in Greeneville in 2013.

Last but certainly not least is the tandem of Kent Emanuel and Jandel Gustave. Emanuel didn't see much professional action in 2013 after having pitched a full season and on into the College World Series for the University of North Carolina. In four starts with the Gulf Coast League Astros, Emanuel had a 0.00 ERA and a 0.889 WHIP. Jandel Gustave pitched in Greeneville in 2013 and has started getting some attention from prospect followers due to his high octane fastball. He had a 2.68 ERA, a 1.397 WHIP and struck out 10.1 batters per nine innings. He will, however, need to get his walks under control.

Jandel Gustave - August 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen

And let me assure you, the bullpen is equally impressive:

Tyler Brunnemann - 3.38 ERA, 0.955 WHIP, 12.0 SO/9, 6.50 SO/BB
Patrick Christensen - 2.57 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, 12.2 SO/9, 7.33 SO/BB
Chris Cotton - 1.74 ERA, 1.097 WHIP, 2 BB in 31 IP
Albert Minnis - 2.57 ERA, 1.143 WHIP
Zach Morton - 1.75 ERA, 0.877 WHIP
Andrew Walter - 1.66 ERA, 0.711 WHIP, 7.20 SO/BB (5 BB in 38 IP)

Since Morton and Cotton both had a few starts in 2013, they should be available for that role in the event anyone stumbles. Christensen, Minnis and Morton had the highest rates of groundball outs in 2013 and I could see any of those three getting the call to Lancaster if needed.

The 2013 Quad Cities pitchers had a cumulative 3.62 ERA, 1.316 WHIP, 8.0 SO/9 and a 2.76 SO/BB rate. If the 2014 staff performs anywhere close to what they did last season, look for them to improve in all of those categories.

As a team, I think this 2014 staff is extremely strong defensively. Outfielders James Ramsay and Brett Phillips were both cited recently by Baseball America for their defensive abilities. The entire infield and catching staff are strong as well.

The cumulative batting line for the 2013 team was .247/.338/.362. Conrad Gregor and Tyler White beat all three of those marks handily in their 2013 campaigns. Brett Booth, Chase McDonald and James Ramsay also had very strong seasons at the plate. Brian Holberton didn't hit particularly well for average, but was among the best in on-base and slugging. Tanner Mathis had the best on-base percentage of the group and one of the highest batting averages. Austin Elkins and Brett Phillips should also beat the team's on-base mark from last season.

Jobduan Morales had a tough season in 2013, hitting far below his career marks so I look for improvements from him. Hopefully, Jack Mayfield and Jon Kemmer will make the necessary adjustments to improve on their first season numbers. Chan Moon's .263/.327/.335 batting line from 2013 is probably about what you can expect from him in 2014 as well.

Overall, I think this team will have a batting average similar to 2013 and a slightly lower slugging percentage, but will get on base at a substantially higher pace.

Last season's team finished with a record of 81-57. I think this team is going to outperform that number on the strength of pitching and defense. I'm going to go with a 85-55 record and once again playoff bound. Back-to-back Midwest League Championships are not out of the question. Make it happen, Omar!

This is the opening day roster. The season schedule can be found here, game video is available hereand the radio feed is available here with Marco LaNave calling the action. 

PITCHERS
Tyler Brunnemann
Patrick Christensen
Chris Cotton*
Kent Emanuel*
Michael Feliz
Evan Grills*
Jandel Gustave
Adrian Houser
Chris Lee*
Albert Minnis* - not on opening day roster
Zach Morton
Gonzalo Sanudo
Andrew Thurman
Andrew Walter

CATCHERS
Brett Booth - not on opening day roster
Brian Holberton*
Jobduan Morales#

INFIELDERS
Austin Elkins#
Conrad Gregor*
Jack Mayfield
Chase McDonald
Chan Moon*
Tyler White

OUTFIELDERS
Jon Kemmer*
Tanner Mathis*
Brett Phillips*
James Ramsay

*Left-handed
#Switch hitter

Astros Minor League Recaps

Results for Friday, April 4, 2014

The system suffered a power outage... the 3 teams in action combined for just 3 runs on 11 hits.

Round Rock 5, Oklahoma City 0

W- Nick Tepesch (1-0)
L- Jake Buchanan (0-1)

OKC home runs: None.

The RedHawks were held to 4 singles as they got blanked. Max Stassi went 2-4; Austin Wates and George Springer had 1 each.

Jake Buchanan got dinged in the 1st by a 3-run homer from former RedHawk Brad Snyder. He ended up going 4 innings and allowed 4 runs (3 earned) on 4 hits, walked 2, and struck out 3. Chia-Jen Lo struck out 2 in a 1-2-3 5th to bridge the gap to Paul Clemens, who threw the final 3 innings, allowing a run on 2 hits, walking 1, and fanning 3.

Game 3 of this 4-game set will begin at 6:05. The team of Nick Tropeano and Collin McHugh will face off against Scott Baker.


Corpus Christi 2, Tulsa 1

W- Aaron West (1-0)
L- Bruce Kern (0-1)
S- Alex Sogard (1)

CC home runs: None.

Through 8 innings, there were 16 zeros on the box score. David Rollins started off with 4 scoreless and allowed 3 hits, walked 2, and fanned 6. Aaron West tagged in for 4 more scoreless innings, allowing a hit, walking 1, and striking out 2. He retired 7 in a row to end his outing.

This time, the Hooks were the beneficiaries of a wild pitch, as Preston Tucker scored the first run of the evening on one of those from Bruce Kern. Kiké Hernandez, who was at the plate, wound up walking, and he scored on a Jio Mier double. For the 2nd straight game, a Hook had a 2-steal game; this time, it was Delino DeShields.

Alex Sogard was summoned to close it out, and he got 2 quick outs in the bottom of the 9th. But all of a sudden, things got a little too close for comfort after he allowed 2 conseecutive doubles which resulted in the Drillers' first run. However, he pulled himself together and struck out Jayson Langfels to end the game.

In the series finale, Luis Cruz and Ross Seaton will take on the #1 prospect in the Colorado Rockies organization, Jonathan Gray. First pitch is at 7:05.


Lake Elsinore 6, Lancaster 1

W- Zach Eflin (1-0)
L- Lance McCullers (0-1)

Lancaster home runs: None.

The JetHawks weren't able to take off, as they only managed 3 hits. 2 of those 3 belonged to Tony Kemp; one of those was a double. Kemp also got plunked and scored the only Lancaster run of the game on a Carlos Correa groundout in the 6th inning. Teoscar Hernandez went 1-4 with a steal (1).

Lance McCullers gave up 2 solo shots in his 4 innings: the first was to Alberth Martinez to begin the game, and the other was to Luis Domoromo with 1 out in the 2nd. He allowed 1 other hit, walked 2, and struck out 7, so other than the solo shots, McCullers actually had a pretty good season debut. Yes, he got saddled with the loss, but he shouldn't fret over that.

Juan Minaya allowed a hit in the 5th; it was a 2-run homer for Hunter Renfroe. Both of those runs were unearned. And lastly, Kyle Smith allowed 2 runs on 5 hits, walked 1, and struck out 5 in 4 innings after tagging in.

Josh Hader and Chris Devenski will take on Colin Rea in game 3 of this series. First pitch is at 6:00 Pacific.


Quad Cities and Kane County was postponed




Three Stars

Well, there's a tie for 1st star.

3.


Tony Kemp, 2B, Lancaster
2-3, 2B, R

Kemp has reached safely in all but 2 of his plate appearances this year. California League pitchers: In case you missed it, Anthony Kemp has declared war on all of you.


1.


 

Aaron West, P, and David Rollins, P, Corpus Christi
West: W (1-0), 4 IP, H, 2 K
Rollins: 4 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 6 K


Honorable Mentions

Jio Mier had a big hit in a critical juncture of the game for Corpus, as his double gave the Hooks a vital run in the top of the 9th.

Paul Clemens was effective as the piggybacker for OKC as he threw 3 innings of 1-run ball. A very solid season debut from a guy who will vie to be one of the first callups to the Major League roster.

As I mentioned earlier, Lance McCullers was rather good, outside of the two solo homers he allowed.

Happy Birthday - 4/5

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

RHP Brandon Backe (36)
Originally drafted by Tampa Bay in the 18th round in 1998, Backe came to Houston in a December 2003 trade with Tampa for Geoff Blum. In 108 appearances (79 starts) for Houston from 2004 to 2009, Backe was 30-28 with a 5.16 ERA and a 1.550 WHIP. But it was his postseason numbers that set Backe apart - in 7 games (6 starts) in 5 postseason series, he was 1-0 with a 2.95 ERA and a 0.982 WHIP. But most of all, it was this game that will ensure Backe a permanent place in Astros lore.

Tweet of the Day

Friday, April 4, 2014

Astros Minor League Roster Moves

I had hoped to get the Quad Cities Season Preview up today, but it turns out that I actually do need more than four hours of sleep a night, so I'll try to have that up on Saturday. In the meantime, the tandems for Quad Cities were announced by Steve Batterson of the Quad Cities Times. They are anticipated to be:

Andrew Thurman and Chris Lee
Kent Emanuel and Jandel Gustave
Adrian Houser and Gonzalo Sanudo
Michael Feliz and Evan Grills

As anticipated, there were a few last minute changes to the Opening Day Rosters for the four teams. They were as follows:

OKLAHOMA CITY
LHP Patrick Urckfitz - Placed on the temporary inactive list
C Ryan McCurdy - Placed on the temporary inactive list
1B Erik Castro - Placed on the temporary inactive list
LHP Raul Valdes - Cleared waivers and is listed as a reserve on the roster
UT Andy Simunic - Sent to Extended Spring Training

CORPUS CHRISTI
OF Chris Epps - Placed on the 7-day DL
LHP T.J. Geith - Placed on the 7-day DL

LANCASTER
*RHP Michael Dimock - On the preliminary roster, but not the opening day roster
*RHP Tyson Perez - On the preliminary roster, but not the opening day roster

QUAD CITIES
*LHP Albert Minnis - On the preliminary roster, but not the opening day roster
*C Brett Booth - On the preliminary roster, but not the opening day roster

*No transaction showing on MiLB.com yet

I updated my Opening Day Roster post with this information and you can find it here.

Astros Minor League Recaps

Results for Thursday, April 3, 2014

One of my favorite days of the year: Minor League Opening Day.

Oklahoma City 7, Round Rock 6 in 11 innings

W- Josh Zeid (1-0)
L- Cory Burns (0-1)
S- Jason Stoffel (1)

Oklahoma City HRs: Adron Chambers (1, 3-run in 3rd)

Raise your hand if you had Adron Chambers in your "First Astros Minor Leaguer to Hit a Home Run" pool. The 3-run shot put OKC on the board and was part of a 5-run 3rd inning, in response to a 5-run 2nd by the Express. The RedHawks' other 2 runs in the inning came on a Max Stassi groundout and a single from Domingo Santana. Everyone in the lineup had a hit. Chambers, George Springer, and Jonathan Meyer had 2 hits apiece, while Ronald Torreyes went 3-5 with 2 runs scored. Chambers also ended up leaving the game with an injury after he was caught stealing in the 4th.


The 5-5 deadlock continued until the 11th inning, when Torreyes hit a 1-out infield single, advanced to 3rd on a pop fly single from Austin Wates, and scored the go-ahead run on a Springer single. The RedHawks added another run on a Stassi single to make it a 7-5 game.

Rudy Owens got the nod for Opening Day, and while he only gave up 3 hits in his 4 innings, one of those was a grand slam. All 5 Round Rock runs off him came in that 5-run 2nd. He walked 2 and struck out 7. Jose Cisnero was the first man out of the OKC pen and struck out the side in order in the 5th inning. Mike Foltynewicz came on for the 6th, and how's this for a debut: his 1st 3 pitches of the season went like this...


Folty wound up throwing 3.1 scoreless, allowing 2 hits, walking 2, and striking out 3. However, he was on the verge of walking off with a loss, as he left with the bases loaded and 1 out in the bottom of the 9th. No matter; Josh Zeid had his back, as he forced extras by striking out Chris Snyder and getting Jared Hoying to fly out. Zeid threw 1.2 scoreless, allowing a hit and fanning 2. The next man out was Darin Downs, who got 1 out in the bottom of the 11th, but also issued a walk and allowed a single in the process. Jason Stoffel was then summoned out of the bullpen, and he was able to close the door with 2 strikeouts, but it wasn't the prettiest save. Stoffel issued 2 walks, one of which resulted in a run being charged to Downs. But, the RedHawks emerged with the win, and that's what ultimately matters. The pitching staff combined to strike out 17 Round Rock batters in game 1.

Jake Buchanan and Paul Clemens will take the hill in game 2 of this 4-game set to open the 2014 season. They will be taking on Nick Tepesch. First pitch will take place at 7:05.


Tulsa 5, Corpus Christi 4 in 11 innings

W- Ken Roberts (1-0)
L- Alex Sogard (0-1)

Corpus Christi HRs: None.

The Hooks walked off with a loss as Travis Ballew went wild.

Leo Heras opened the scoring in the 2nd with an RBI triple that brought Kiké Hernandez home. Preston Tucker and Andrew Aplin both went 2-5 with RBI singles; Tucker's came in the 6th and Aplin's in the 8th. Aplin also swiped 2 bases. Jio Mier hit a sac fly in the 11th to put the Hooks up 4-3, but unfortunately, that lead couldn't hold up.

Brady Rodgers pretty much dueled Eddie Butler, the Rockies' #2 prospect, to a draw. Rodgers delivered 5 solid innings and allowed a run on a solo homer to Tom Murphy, 4 other hits, walked 1, and struck out 3. Colton Cain tagged in and struck out 4 in 3 excellent innings. The only hit and run he surrendered was a solo homer to Dustin Garneau in the 7th.

After Aplin's single in the 8th put Corpus up 3-2, Jorge De Leon was summoned to close the game. Unfortunately, Cristhian Adames had something else in mind: he took De Leon deep to lead off the 9th to tie the game at 3. That would be the only hit and run that De Leon allowed in his 2 innings of work; he also walked 1 and struck out 3. Alex Sogard was next up; he got Adames to ground into a force out for the 1st out, but he also issued a walk and gave up a single; a flub in the field from Delino DeShields on the single put runners on 2nd and 3rd. Travis Ballew was then called upon to get the Hooks out of the inning. He got Murphy to ground out for out #2, but the tying run scored on the play. One batter later, Ballew uncorked the wild one that would condemn the Hooks to an Opening Night loss.

Game 2 of this season-opening 4-game set features the team of David Rollins and Aaron West taking on Dan Winkler, who will go for the Drillers. First pitch is at 7:05.

Lancaster 8, Lake Elsinore 2

W- Kyle Westwood (1-0)
L- Joe Ross (0-1)

Lancaster HRs: None.

The JetHawks came out on top in game 1 as they used a 6-0 run in the 5th (2) and 6th innings (4) to break open a 2-1 game.

And so it begins. Carlos Correa wasted no time in leaving his mark on the Lancaster faithful as he drove in a run in all 4 of his plate appearances. He hit 3 RBI singles in the 1st, 3rd, and 6th innings, and hit a groundout that scored Teoscar Hernandez in the 5th. Hernandez had hit an RBI triple right before he came home.

About that single in the 6th: Two runs scored on the play, and Correa was initally credited with only one RBI. The scorer then amended that to give him a 2-run single, but then reverted back to the original decision.

Tony Kemp was in the leadoff spot and basically did what he does: wage war on opposing pitchers. He went 2-3 with a double, 2 walks, and scored 4 runs. Danry Vasquez also had a multi-hit night, going 2-4. And lastly, Justin Gominsky went 1-4 with an RBI single in the 6th and scored a run. This was his first action since appearing in both games of a doubleheader for Lexington on August 31, 2012.

Vince Velasquez had a fine season debut with 4 innings of 1-run ball. He allowed 2 hits, walked 3, hit a batter, and struck out 7. Mitch Lambson came on for the 5th and worked around a double and a walk to throw a scoreless frame, striking out Padres' 2013 1st-rounder Hunter Renfroe to end the inning. Kyle Westwood finished it off, allowing a run on 4 hits and striking out 1 in 4 innings to get the win.

Lance McCullers and Kyle Smith will face Zach Eflin in the 2nd game of this series. First pitch is at 6:30 Pacific.

Kane County 8, Quad Cities 4

W- Nathan Dorris (1-0)
L- Andrew Thurman (0-1)

Quad Cities HRs: None.


Both teams had 11 hits, but Quad Cities was on the short end of the column that ultimately matters: the one associated with the letter R.

The River Bandits got 1 in the 1st on a Conrad Gregor RBI groundout, and 3 in the 3rd from an RBI double from Chase McDonald and a 2-run triple by Catfish Elkins. Elkins, who finished 2-4, also added a steal (1). Brett Phillips (who also had a steal) and Chan-Jong Moon joined him in the 2-hit club, while James Ramsay was 3-5 with a double and a run scored.

Andrew Thurman didn't have his best stuff, but it's only Day 1. Still a lot of season remaining. He went 4 innings and allowed 6 runs (5 earned) on 7 hits, walked 2, and fanned 3. Zach Morton allowed a hit in a scoreless 5th. Chris Lee was everywhere in his 2 innings; he only allowed a run on a hit, but walked 4 and only struck out 1. Tyler Brunnemann worked the final 2 innings and gave up a run on 2 hits, walked 1, and struck out 3.

Kent Emanuel will make his first start of the year, as he and Jandel Gustave will take on Tyler Skulina in game 2 of this series. First pitch is at 7:00.

Three Stars

3.



Mike Foltynewicz, P, Oklahoma City
3.1 IP, 2 H, 2 BB, 3 K

2.


Tony Kemp, 2B, Lancaster
2-3, 2B, 4 R, 2 BB


1.


Carlos Correa, SS, Lancaster
3-4, 4 RBI

Honorable Mentions

There were plenty of solid individual performances to choose from.... but alas, I can only choose 3.

Apologies to: Vince Velasquez, Brady Rodgers, Colton Cain, Adron Chambers, Ronald Torreyes, Andrew Aplin, Catfish Elkins


Happy Birthday - 4/4

No future Astros are celebrating, but three former Astros have birthdays today ~

RHP Casey Daigle (33)
A first round draft pick by Arizona in 1999, Daigle came to Houston as a free agent. In 13 games pitched for Houston in 2010, he was 1-1 with a less than desirable ERA and WHIP. He last pitched for the Giants' AAA team in 2011. He is married to softball star Jennie Finch.

CF Gary Geiger (died April 24, 1996 at 59)
Originally signed as a pitcher and subsequently converted, Geiger found his stride at the plate in 1960, hitting .302/.369/.490 through 77 games. Unfortunately, a collapsed lung sidelined him for the remainder of that season and he never found that degree of success again. Geiger played in 98 games for Houston in 1969 and 1970 at the end of his major league career.

LHP Joe Gibbon (79)
Gibbon pitched in parts of 13 seasons for four teams. He was a part of the World Series champion Pirates in his rookie season in 1960. He only pitched 7.1 innings in 9 games for Houston at the end of his career in 1972 and was unable to recreate his earlier effectiveness. For his career, he had a 3.52 ERA and a 1.310 WHIP.

Tweet of the Day

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Oklahoma City RedHawks 2014 Season Preview

Earlier this week, I posted my Season Previews for the AA Corpus Christi Hooks and for the Advanced A Lancaster JetHawks. Today, we'll look at the AAA Oklahoma City RedHawks.

[NOTE: This is all subject to change as rosters are not 100% final at this point. Additionally, LHP Raul Valdes made it through waivers and was outrighted to OKC which complicates matters a little further.]

The pitching for the RedHawks should be very strong, anchored by several pitchers who played in a significant number of games at that level in 2013. The four initial tandem pairs will be Rudy Owens and Mike Foltynewicz; Jake Buchanan and Paul ClemensDavid Martinez and Bobby Doran; and Nick Tropeano and Collin McHugh. That's an impressive line-up of talent, plus Asher WojciechowskiAlex White and Kyle Weiland are all waiting in the wings. That trio will start the season on the DL.

Of those starters, Buchanan, Clemens, Doran, Owens and McHugh have all had enough time at AAA that they should benefit from the experience and be able to build on it. The collective team ERA for Oklahoma City last season was 4.29 and the WHIP was 1.395. Buchanan and Doran were able to beat those marks in their time with the RedHawks in 2013, as did McHugh in his time at AAA in 2013. Clemens had a slightly higher ERA (4.50) than the collective, but a lower WHIP (1.267), plus his experience at the major league level should serve him well.

Owens only appeared in four games before injury derailed his season, but his 2012 AAA ERA was 3.48 with a WHIP of 1.190. Owens also pitched extremely well in winter ball in the Dominican Republic during the off-season. David Martinez has the least experience at AAA of those pitchers mentioned thus far. He struggled in two of his three outings at the level, but Martinez dominated in AA, putting up a 2.02 ERA and a 0.997 WHIP in 26 games (18 starts) at Corpus Christi.

Mike Foltynewicz and Nick Tropeano have no prior AAA experience. Tropeano had a 4.11 ERA and a 1.339 WHIP in 28 appearances in Corpus Christi while Folty had a 2.87 ERA and a 1.229 WHIP in 23 appearances at Corpus, after starting his season in Lancaster. Both will likely need to make adjustments to the AAA level, but I have no reason to believe that won't happen. In Folty's case, based upon his Spring Training performance, that adjustment may not take long.

The bullpen should be pretty steady, anchored by Josh Zeid and Jason Stoffel, both of whom had significant experience at AAA last season. And of course Zeid, Darin Downs, Chia-Jen Lo and Jose Cisnero all have major league experience as well. Lo actually leap-frogged Oklahoma City last season, getting the call directly from Corpus so this will be his first experience at the level. Patrick Urckfitz only pitched in 10 games at AAA last season, but his transition was solid. One key to the success of this particular group is keeping their walks down. In particular, Cisnero and Zeid tended to walk more than their share of batters last season.

The 2013 RedHawks team had a collective batting average of .271/.347/.403. This group should outperform that line. Just look at an opening day roster that features Max Stassi, Carlos Perez and Ryan McCurdy behind the dish as compared to Cody Clark, Jason Jaramillo and Chris Wallace on last year's opening day roster. That is definitely an offensive (and defensive) upgrade. Perez played 75 games at AAA last season and was solid offensively and Stassi crushed pitching at AA Corpus before making his major league debut. McCurdy isn't flashy with the bat, but he can get on base consistently.

George Springer and Jon Singleton should provide a lot of offense, at least until they hit Houston. Springer will presumably move up first, but Singleton shouldn't be too far behind. Utility player Ruben Sosa has a little prior experience at AAA in which he held his own. Gregorio Petit hit a very nice .292/.344/.380 in 134 games at AAA in 2013. Adron Chambers had a .252/.338/.387 batting line at AAA in 2013, but actually hit better at that level in 2012 -- .319/.405/.403. Austin Wates only played in 15 games at Oklahoma City last year before a fractured forearm derailed his season, but Wates has always been able to hit at every level. I don't think AAA will deter the career .304/.377/.424 hitter. Japhet Amador got 10 games under his extra large belt in Oklahoma City last year. How he will adjust over the long run as he transitions from the Mexican League is a wild card.

George Springer - March 2014
Photo by Jayne Hansen

That leaves Erik Castro, Jonathan Meyer, Ronald Torreyes and Domingo Santana as the only remaining players on the team with no experience above AA. Castro is one of those under-the-radar guys. He hit .280/.368/.480 in AA in 2013, and I think he will make the quickest adjustment of these four to the AAA level. I don't have a good enough feel for Torreyes to say how quickly he will adjust. Torreyes hit a combined .269/.329/.368 at AA with the Cubs and Astros organizations. Santana (.252/.345/.498 at AA) and Meyer (.260/.318/.403 at AA) will likely be slower to make the necessary adjustments to AAA pitching than Castro, but I feel certain that both will quickly provide some extra-base excitement for the team.

One thing that I am struck by is that Singleton and Castro are the only left-handed hitters in this line-up. They are joined by the switch-hitter Sosa as the only real options from the left side of the plate. Left-handed OF Preston Tucker, who will start the season at Corpus, could very well be slated for Oklahoma City as soon as Springer gets to Houston.

It is very difficult to predict any minor league team's season, but it is most difficult to predict AAA as the opening day roster and closing day roster will look very, very different. Several of these players will end the season in Houston. Some will likely be traded or released. However, with that said, I'm game to make a prediction.

Last season, the RedHawks ended the year with a 82-62 record or a .569 win percentage. I think that the 2014 team will be an upgrade over 2013 in both pitching and offense, but particularly in pitching with Wojciechowski, White and Weiland adding their contributions at some point. I'm going out on a limb and saying that the RedHawks will end the season with an 86-54 record and will bring home some hardware this season.

This is the opening day roster as we know it today. I will update it with any changes that may be made before tonight's opening game which will be on the road vs. Round Rock. The schedule can be found here and all games will be available on MiLB.tv.

PITCHERS
Jake Buchanan
Jose Cisnero
Paul Clemens
Bobby Doran
Darin Downs*
Mike Foltynewicz
Chia-Jen Lo
David Martinez
Collin McHugh
Rudy Owens*
Jason Stoffel
Nick Tropeano
Pat Urckfitz*
Josh Zeid

CATCHERS
Ryan McCurdy
Carlos Perez
Max Stassi

INFIELDERS
Japhet Amador
Erik Castro*
Jonathan Meyer
Gregorio Petit
Jon Singleton*
Ruben Sosa#
Ronald Torreyes

OUTFIELDERS
Adron Chambers
Domingo Santana
George Springer
Austin Wates

* - denotes left-hander
# - denotes switch-hitter

Bonus Tweet of the Day

Happy Birthday - 4/3

Happy Birthday to ~

C Jacob Nottingham (19)
Drafted by Houston in the sixth round in 2013, Nottingham spent his first professional season with the Gulf Coast League Astros. In 44 games, he hit .247/.347/.363 with 10 doubles, two triples and a home run. He also swiped four bases. Triples and stolen bases? Are we sure he's a catcher?

DSL Pitching Coach Rick Aponte (58)
Aponte spent six seasons pitching in Houston's minor league system from 1976 to 1981. From 1981 to 2006, Aponte stayed with the organization as a coach, scout and manager until he became the bullpen coach for the Washington Nationals in 2006 under Manny Acta (Aponte had coached Acta early in his career). Aponte returned to the Astros organization in 2009. In 2013, he was the pitching coach for the Dominican Summer League, a role that he will reprise in 2014.

Tweet of the Day

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Lancaster JetHawks 2014 Season Preview

Yesterday, I posted the season preview for Corpus Christi. With the Advanced A Lancaster preliminary roster coming out yesterday, let's move on to previewing the JetHawks. This one isn't going to be as easy to predict as last year's, but I'll give it a go.

This morning Eric Smith of the Antelope Valley Press tweeted out the information on how the tandem rotation will line up. Vincent Velasquez and Kyle Westwood will be paired up. Lance McCullers and Kyle SmithJosh Hader and Chris Devenski; and Mark Appel and Mike Hauschild  will round things out. Two things stand out when I look at the rotation ... youth and the distinct absence of lefties. Josh Hader, who will be 20 next month, is the only lefty in the mix. Kyle Smith with 24 Advanced A starts under his belt (but only 5 in the California League) and Chris Devenski with 21 appearances (10 starts) in High A will be the grizzled veterans, followed by Mike Hauschild (8 games/7 starts) and Vincent Velasquez (3 starts).

Lance McCullers - March 2014
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Right or wrong, the first thing I look at when it comes to the pitching staff in Lancaster is the pitcher's ground ball rate. Keeping the ball on the ground isn't a guarantee of success there, but extreme flyball pitchers can get hurt quickly in the California League unless they have very good command and can locate their pitches well. With that said, a few of the starters appear to be well suited to pitch in The Hangar, at least on paper.

Of the eight starters, Mark Appel, Lance McCullers, Kyle Westwood and Mike Hauschild have the most pronounced ground ball tendencies. Velasquez was a groundball pitcher at Quad Cities, but that didn't translate to his three 2013 starts for Lancaster. Josh Hader had a high groundball rate at Quad Cities as well, but over the season prior to coming to the Astros, the rate of ground ball outs to fly ball outs was much more even. McCullers and Hader had the highest walk rates of the group of eight starters in 2013 and that is something to keep an eye on.

Chris Devenski and Kyle Smith have slight tendencies toward fly ball outs, and they will both give up a few long balls at The Hangar. Devenski allowed 13 home runs in 75+ innings at Lancaster last season and Smith allowed four in his 23+ innings there. The key for each of them will be to limit the damage as much as possible to solo shots. Both pitchers let their walk rates creep up a bit in their time in Lancaster which could present a problem if they don't keep the free passes in check, but Smith and Devenski are also both capable of getting a timely strikeout when they need one. Devenski is probably the biggest question mark in the rotation as he did not fare particularly well in Lancaster in 2013.

It is probably a given that Mark Appel will not linger long at the level, and I can see Kent Emanuel taking his place if he does well at Quad Cities, giving the JetHawks another lefty rotation arm. Lefty Brian Holmes is another possibility after he completes his current rehab. The sleeper in this rotation is Kyle Westwood. His first season with Tri-City was nothing short of remarkable and I think he is an excellent fit for this team and this league.

There is a tremendous amount of talent in this rotation, but no matter how much talent these players have, they will have to make adjustments. The California League is a tougher environment than the Midwest League, the competition is tougher and the players have to get used to conditions ranging from cold, cold nights in April to brain-scorching sun and heat in August. They have to get used to long commutes to many of the venues, sitting on a hot bus for a couple of hours after a game instead of getting to crash in a comfy hotel room. With all of that said, however, I fully expect this rotation to make those adjustments and to be the biggest strength of this team.

I have a couple of concerns about the JetHawks bullpen. Jamaine Cotton has flyball tendencies and his low strikeout to walk rate gives me pause. He may struggle initially, but I am hoping that he can make the necessary adjustments quickly. Similarly, Mitch Lambson is definitely a flyball pitcher, but Lambson is more prone to get a strikeout when needed. His walk rate ticked up in 2013 and I'd like to see him get a handle on that. I think newcomers J.D. Osborne and Juan Minaya are much better suited to pitching at The Hangar. Osborne has very high ground ball and strikeout rates (but needs to work on his walks), as does Minaya to a lesser extent.

That leaves us with Michael Dimock, Tyson Perez and Daniel Minor. Dimock shows what a flyball pitcher can do in the California League with decent command. His numbers weren't flashy, but he limited walks and only allowed five home runs in 41+ innings for Lancaster. He should be able to build on that and will likely anchor the bullpen. Perez and Minor have both started extensively (and were a part of tandems last season), but both were more effective in relief. Perez had a 4.25 ERA and 1.323 WHIP with 15 walks to 42 strikeouts as a reliever as compared to a 7.69 ERA and 2.046 WHIP with 28 walks to 22 strikeouts as a starter. Minor had a 2.49 ERA and a 1.362 WHIP and his strikeout rate was almost double when he appeared in relief at Quad Cities.

The cumulative ERA for the 2013 Lancaster team was 5.09 and the WHIP was 1.447. I think the 2014 starting rotation will improve on those marks easily, but I'm not quite so sure about the bullpen.

On the offensive side, only four of these position players have spent any time at Lancaster in the past. Brandon Meredith has the most experience at Lancaster, having played there all last season. Despite a slow start in 2013, he ended the season hitting .279/.399/.507 with 25 doubles, five triples, 16 home runs and 68 RBI in 105 games. Reports are that Meredith will be converting to first base. I have full faith in Meredith's bat, but getting comfortable at first base will be an adjustment for him.

The others with experience at Lancaster include Carlos Perdomo, Dan Gulbransen and Roberto Pena. Perdomo is a utility player who hit a very solid .294/.369/.385 in Lancaster in 2013. Gulbransen got a late start to his season, but breezed through first Tri-City and then Quad Cities before playing his final 16 games in Lancaster and hitting .302/.333/.540 (.502 slugging for his season). Pena has only played in 21 games in Lancaster and that was back in 2012. In 86 games in 2013 in Quad Cities, he hit .249/.297/.354. Pena does have a little pop in his bat and he has made incremental improvements at the plate, but it is his excellent skills behind the plate that give any team he plays on a distinct edge at that position.

Then you have Justin Gominsky who missed all of 2013 with a wrist injury and will likely have to shake off some rust; Jake Rodriguez who has only played 32 professional games, hitting .209/.320/.291 at Tri-City; and Tony Kemp who has only played in 75 professional games, hitting a combined .273/.366/.345 for Tri-City and Quad Cities. I think Kemp will adjust quickly with his aggressive style of play, but the other two are wild cards at this point.

They are joined by four-year minor league veteran Jordan Scott who hit .255/.342/.321 in 125 games in Quad Cities. Scott has decent on-base skills and provides some good speed in the outfield and on the base paths, but he would not be considered a power hitter. California League conditions may provide him with a little more pop though.

The final four on the roster have enormous potential, but they are all very young. The least of my worries is Carlos Correa. As a matter of fact, my only worry with Carlos is what happens to the team when he is quickly promoted to Corpus Christi. Correa hit .320/.405/.467 in 117 games at Quad Cities in 2013, and he will hit in Lancaster with no problem. Rio Ruiz is also 19 (he'll be 20 in May). Ruiz didn't have quite the slash line that Correa did in Quad Cities (.260/.335/.430 in 114 games), but he showed continuous improvement throughout the season culminating in a fantastic post-season.

Danry Vasquez just turned 20 in January. He hit .284/.331/.400 in 129 games in the Midwest League in 2013. Teoscar Hernandez, at 21, is the greybeard of this foursome. Hernandez hit a solid .271/.328/435 in 123 games for Quad Cities, but he also struck out 135 times. Correa, Ruiz, Hernandez and Vasquez are all considered among the top prospects in the organization, but there will likely be a period of adjusting to the level.

I think I'm valid in having some concerns about this offense, at least initially, simply due to inexperience, youth or a combination of those two factors. I am not saying that they won't succeed (the California League is, after all, a very good hitter's league overall), but I do think that Hitting Coach Darryl Robinson will have his work cut out for him to maximize the potential for each of these hitters.

The 2013 Lancaster team had a cumulative batting line of .289/.384/.469. That will not be repeated with this group of players, primarily because that kind of cumulative OBP is almost unheard of. The 2013 team was very special in that regard. Meredith and Correa may get on-base at that clip, and Kemp and Perdomo may come close, but the others are not as likely to get on base at that impressive a pace. I think batting average and slugging may be down slightly from 2013 as well, but not by a wide margin.

Before I make my predictions, I would like to caution against irrational exuberance when it comes to this team. Yes, you have two first overall draft picks on the team (along with a number of top prospects), but those two will likely not be in Lancaster very long. Secondly, I would like to reiterate this one point. THEY ARE YOUNG. I went back to look at my season preview for the team last year. The average age of the preliminary roster from last year on opening day was approximately 23 years, 1 month for pitchers and 23 years, 4 months for position players. The average age of the 2014 preliminary roster on opening day? Approximately 21 years, 4 months for pitchers and 22 years, 1 month for position players. Let me repeat. THEY ARE YOUNG. Please adjust your expectations accordingly.

Trying to predict this team's record is very difficult for me. I keep going back to the 2013 Quad Cities team since so many of these players were on that team for part or all of the season. Much like that Quad Cities team, I don't think this team will completely dominate the league, and much like that team, I think they will struggle at times. But I think they will just keep hanging in there like that team did last year. They may not win either half of the season, but I do think they'll still get to the playoffs.

Okay, here goes. Last year's team had an 82-58 record. I think the 2014 JetHawks will have a 78-62 record, will find a back door to get into the playoffs and will get their shot at the California League Championship. With that said, I hope that all of my concerns are unfounded, no one struggles, and they surprise me and win 100 games. I guarantee you that is what Manager Rodney Linares and company will be working toward.

This is the opening day roster as we know it today. I will update it with any changes that may be made before Thursday's opening game which will be at home vs. Lake Elsinore. The schedule can be found here and the radio feed is available here with the inimitable (and ever entertaining) Jason Schwartz calling the action.

PITCHERS
Mark Appel
Jamaine Cotton
Chris Devenski
Michael Dimock
Josh Hader*
Mike Hauschild
Mitch Lambson*
Lance McCullers
Juan Minaya
Daniel Minor
J.D. Osborne*
Tyson Perez
Kyle Smith
Vincent Velasquez
Kyle Westwood

CATCHERS
Roberto Pena
Jake Rodriguez

INFIELDERS
Carlos Correa
Tony Kemp*
Brandon Meredith
Carlos Perdomo
Rio Ruiz*

OUTFIELDERS
Justin Gominsky
Dan Gulbransen*
Teoscar Hernandez
Jordan Scott*
Danry Vasquez*

*Left-handed
#Switch hitter

Opening Day Musings

As most of us are still riding that high that comes from an Astros win, especially an Opening Day win against the Yankees, I can’t help but think about what Opening Day means for many of us.
We will read lots of articles about the numbers and the projections and the theories but there is a more emotional aspect of Opening Day for me.
It’s about potential and new growth.  It’s about starting over.  It’s about getting a fresh start.
It’s about seeing friends you may not have seen since last year and making new friends and just sitting with your pals, drinking a beer (or two), pointing out the highlights of the game and of course a little people-watching. 
It’s about taking selfies with the baseball diamond in the background, taking selfies with Orbit, taking selfies with your seatmates, taking group pictures in front of the dugout.
It’s about hugging the team president (yes that happened), broadcasters and scouts and wishing everyone you see a “Happy Opening Day!” as if it were a national holiday (which it totally should be).
It’s about walking into the ballpark after a long absence and feeling a sense of “home”.  It’s about seeing familiar faces around Minute Maid Park, like vendors and ushers and the awesome sales staff.
It's about little kids with ketchup-stained, over-sized jerseys, eating cotton candy and big kids/men carrying baseball gloves, hoping to snag that errant foul ball.

It’s about America and the National Anthem and giant flags unfurled across the green grass of the outfield.  
It’s about a former President of the United States & First Lady being shown on the big screen as the entire stadium cheers and stands in their honor.
It’s about seeing former players that fill us with pride and nostalgia and it’s about seeing the new younger members of the team that fill us with hope and a sense of renewal.
It’s about having faith in our brainy GM and his team of nerdy baseball scientists that they’re making decisions that will benefit this team for the next 10 years.  It’s about being excited about our new president and his love of the game and for the people in the business.
It’s about 162 games where just about anything could happen because it’s about a team full of young, hungry athletes who have the potential to be something spectacular. 

That, my friends, is what it’s about it.  It’s baseball.  It’s that feeling you get when your team takes the field that very first time.  It’s pure happiness.
Play ball!


Final Astros MiLB Opening Day Rosters

Here are the final Astros minor league opening day rosters. A few players have been placed on the temporary inactive list or the 7-day DL. There were also a handful for whom I haven't seen a transaction listing; they may be on a temporary inactive list or they may get sent back to Extended Spring Training.

OKLAHOMA CITY

PITCHERS
Jake Buchanan
Jose Cisnero
Paul Clemens
Bobby Doran
Darin Downs*
Mike Foltynewicz
Chia-Jen Lo
David Martinez
Collin McHugh
Rudy Owens*
Jason Stoffel
Nick Tropeano
Pat Urckfitz*- temporary inactive list
Raul Valdes - listed as a reserve
Josh Zeid

CATCHERS
Ryan McCurdy - temporary inactive list
Carlos Perez
Max Stassi

INFIELDERS
Japhet Amador
Erik Castro* - temporary inactive list
Jonathan Meyer
Gregorio Petit
Jon Singleton*
Ruben Sosa#
Ronald Torreyes

OUTFIELDERS
Adron Chambers
Domingo Santana
George Springer
Austin Wates

CORPUS CHRISTI

PITCHERS
Travis Ballew
Colton Cain*
Luis Cruz*
Jorge de Leon
T.J. Geith* - 7-day DL
Matt Heidenreich
Jordan Jankowski
Andrew Robinson
Brady Rodgers
David Rollins*
Ross Seaton
Tommy Shirley*
Alex Sogard*
Aaron West

CATCHERS
Rene Garcia
Tyler Heineman

INFIELDERS
M.P. Cokinos
Matt Duffy
Nolan Fontana*
Enrique Hernandez
Jio Mier
Joe Sclafani#

OUTFIELDERS
Andrew Aplin*
Delino DeShields
Chris Epps* - 7-day DL
Leo Heras*
Preston Tucker*

LANCASTER

PITCHERS
Mark Appel
Jamaine Cotton
Chris Devenski
Michael Dimock - not on opening day roster
Josh Hader*
Mike Hauschild
Mitch Lambson*
Lance McCullers
Juan Minaya
Daniel Minor
J.D. Osborne*
Tyson Perez - not on opening day roster
Kyle Smith
Vincent Velasquez
Kyle Westwood

CATCHERS
Roberto Pena
Jake Rodriguez

INFIELDERS
Carlos Correa
Tony Kemp*
Brandon Meredith (converting to first base)
Carlos Perdomo
Rio Ruiz*

OUTFIELDERS
Justin Gominsky
Dan Gulbransen*
Teoscar Hernandez
Jordan Scott*
Danry Vasquez*

QUAD CITIES

PITCHERS
Tyler Brunnemann
Patrick Christensen
Chris Cotton*
Kent Emanuel*
Michael Feliz
Evan Grills*
Jandel Gustave
Adrian Houser
Chris Lee*
Albert Minnis* - not on opening day roster
Zach Morton
Gonzalo Sanudo
Andrew Thurman
Andrew Walter

CATCHERS
Brett Booth - not on opening day roster
Brian Holberton*
Jobduan Morales#

INFIELDERS
Austin Elkins#
Conrad Gregor*
Jack Mayfield
Chase McDonald
Chan Moon*
Tyler White

OUTFIELDERS
Jon Kemmer*
Tanner Mathis*
Brett Phillips*
James Ramsay

*Left-handed
#Switch-hitter

Just a few of those missing who are presumed to either be on the DL, in Extended Spring Training or released:

Brian Holmes (definitely rehabbing)
R.J. Alaniz (DL?)
Jonas Dufek (DL?)
Rhiner Cruz (EST per Evan Drellich)
Andy Simunic (EST)
Telvin Nash
Bobby Borchering
Jordan Mills
Kevin Comer
Joe Musgrove
Chris Munnelly
Austin Chrismon
Austin Nicely
Devonte German
Edison Frias
Raul Rivera
Troy Scribner
Reymin Guduan
Luis Ordosgoitti