Saturday, October 11, 2014

Astros Fall and Winter League Recaps

Wallee Wright is filling in for Dustin today ~

Dustin needed a couple of days off to attend to family issues so I will endeavor to provide you a reasonable facsimile of Dustin’s fine work on the Fall and Winter League recaps.

In my absence our Astro contingent did themselves proud for the Salt River Rafters last night, thoroughly crushing the Peoria Javelinas 12-2 on the Javs adopted home field … they play home games at Surprise Stadium. Leading an eleven run assault in the fifth inning of this contest was the Rafter’s number nine hitter and right fielder, Andrew Aplin, who closed out the inning with a Grand Slam … how’s that for leading from behind, sports fans?

In addition to hitting the grand salami Andrew contributed three singles to the cause to finish the night four-for-five with four RBI. But wait, there’s more: Rio Ruiz got off the schneid hitting third while playing third and had a two-for-four with an RBI, a BB and two Ks. The Rafters had fifteen hits for the evening but once again committed two errors though neither one led to a run for a change.

Vincent Velasquez, who had 72 Ks in 55-plus innings at the Lancaster launching pad this past season, came on as the first reliever out of the pen in the fifth. He threw thirty-six pitches, twenty-three for strikes, in his single inning of work while giving up two hits, a walk, and striking out two … I suppose it’s not too challenging pitching in relief with an eleven-run lead.

The Rafters play at the Glendale Desert Dogs (you may know them as Coyotes in Texas) this evening with Miami’s Anthony DeSclafani starting for your Rafters.

In Venezuelan League action Danry Vasquez went 1-for-2 with a run scored, an RBI and a K in the Leones del Caracas 6-3 victory over the Bravos de Margarita … meanwhile, in Mexican Winter League baseball Leo Heras went 0-for-3 with two walks in an 8-1 Jalisco loss to Mexicali.

As near as I can tell, that’s it for Astro farmhands yesterday … I hope you can stand another day or two of me in Dustin’s absence while he takes care of business.

~Wallee Wright ~

Happy Birthday - 10/11

Happy Birthday to ~

3B Wander Franco (18)
Signed as an international free agent from the Dominican Republic in July 2014, Franco played his first professional season for the Dominican Summer League Astros this season. In 68 games, he hit .244/.365/.354 with 15 doubles, four home runs and 35 RBI. He walked 48 times and struck out only 37.

Three former Astros celebrate the day as well ~

C Bob "Scrap Iron" Stinson (69)
A first round pick by the Dodgers in 1966, Stinson came to Houston in a trade with the Cardinals in November 1971. In 27 games during the 1972 season, he hit .171/.211/.200.

RHP Gregg Olson (48)
Originally drafted by Baltimore in the first round in 1988, Olson was Rookie of the Year for Baltimore in 1989 and an All-Star in 1990 before coming to Houston in an August 1996 trade with Detroit. Olson pitched in only nine games for the Astros in 1996 with a 4.82 ERA and a 2.036 WHIP.

IF Ty Wigginton (37)
A 17th round pick by the Mets in 1998, Wigginton came to Houston from Tampa Bay in a trade for Dan Wheeler and played primarily at third base. His lifetime line over 12 seasons is .261/.323/.435.  In Houston, he hit .285/.347/.506.  In addition to Houston and Tampa Bay, he also played for the Mets, Pirates, Orioles (2010 All-Star), Rockies, Phillies and Cardinals.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Friday Frivolity from Whimsical Wallee Wright

Since none of your Astros saw any action in the Arizona Fall League last night and only Danry Vasquez seems to have made an appearance in any of the Venezuelan Winter League openers (0-for-3, BB, R, 2K for the Leones del Caracas), our Whimsical Wallee Wright wanted to share an amusing anecdote from the AFL game on Wednesday ~

Major League Baseball’s Pace of Game Committee rules change test initiative is not without its moments … one such moment occurred last night in Scottsdale.

Last night, and the previous night as well, a young man playing for the Salt River Rafters insisted upon going through the same gyrations in the box as the biggest bangers in The Show … stepping completely out of the box between pitches, tightening his batting gloves, adjusting his crotch, digging the back foot very carefully into the back line of the batter’s box. Clearly this young man felt he was far more advanced than his time in the California and Texas League last year would indicate … though he had hit for the cycle in Cali in April.

The grandstand is very close to the lines at Scottsdale Stadium, so it is easy to hear the umpire’s calls and even the batter’s questions … the young man had a two-strike count on him as he went through his routine. The umpire instructed him ‘Get in the box’ … undeterred, the player made one final adjustment before stepping up to the plate.

The pitch was very nearly in the dirt … ‘Strike three’ bellowed the home plate umpire, walking away from home plate – end of an at bat and end of the inning. The young man was left alone removing all his MLB-star paraphernalia and gear at home plate, a stunned look on his face.

~ Wallee Wright ~

Happy Birthday - 10/10

Happy Birthday to ~

OF Ydarqui Marte (22)
A non-drafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic, Marte spent his fifth professional season with the Greeneville Astros. In 51 games, he hit .269/.338/.383 with eight doubles and four home runs.

Several former Astros mark the day as well ~

RHP Brian Powell (died 10/5/09 at age 35)
A second round pick by Detroit in 1995, Powell came to Houston in a December 1999 trade. In ten games (six starts) for the Astros in 2000 and 2001, he was 2-2 with a 6.82 ERA and a 1.602 WHIP.

SS Roger Metzger (67)
A first round pick by the Cubs in 1969, Metzger came to Houston in an October 1970 trade. In eight seasons for the Astros (from 1971 to 1978) he hit .229/.291/.293 and led the league in triples in 1971 and 1973. He also led the league in fielding percentage for a shortstop in 1973 and 1976 and won a Gold Glove in the first of those two years.

IF Rob Sperring (65)
Originally drafted by the Cubs in the fifth round in 1971, Sperring came to Houston in a March 1977 trade with the Giants. In 58 games played with the Astros that season, he hit .186/.254/.233.

OF Fernando Martinez (26)
Signed by the Mets out of the Dominican Republic in 2005, Houston obtained Martinez off waivers from New York in January 2012. He played in 52 games for Houston over two seasons, hitting .225/.285/.424 with seven doubles, one triple and seven home runs.

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Caribbean Winter League Schedule

The Caribbean Winter League front page has FINALLY been updated with the schedule, but most of the roster info available is either still missing or only preliminary. The Liga Venezuela gets started tonight.

Dominican Winter League
Opening Day10/17/2014
DWL All Star Game12/14/2014
Regular season ends12/21/2014
Mexican Pacific League
Opening Day10/10/2014
First half ends11/20/2014
Second half begins11/21/2014
Regular season ends12/29/2014
Puerto Rican League
Opening Day10/30/2014
Regular season ends12/30/2014
Postseason begins01/02/2015
Postseason ends01/28/2015
Venezuelan Winter League
Opening Day10/09/2014
All-Star Game12/02/2014
Regular Season ends12/30/2014

Arizona Fall League Eyewitness Recap: Game 2

Another Arizona Fall League eyewitness account from the Wonderful Wallee Wright ~

The Mark Appel show finally came to Scottsdale and it did not disappoint … and while the question ‘does good pitching beat good hitting’ still remains, there can be no doubt that bad defense loses ballgames. Appel threw an overpowering, if not masterful, three innings and this time the Rafters were able to overcome a three-error frame as they went on to win 6-3 at Scottsdale Stadium. And as a bonus, after 17 innings we finally had an Astro base hit … and it was from the normally light-hitting defensive wizard, Andrew Aplin.

Appel simply overpowered the Scorpion lineup, who rarely even offered at his pitches … and when they did the result was an assortment of foul balls, grounders, a weak fly ball and a well-struck ball misplayed for a double. Mark had difficulty consistently throwing strikes to the lefties … this must be the word on the street as well since the Scottsdale lineup featured three left-hand and two switch hitters. No matter, Appel powered through them and left after three having thrown forty-seven pitches, twenty-seven for strikes … Mark left with a 1-0 lead having given up one hit, no runs, and one free pass to go with his two strikeouts.

Then the clown show began in the fourth as the middle of the Rafter defense tried to outdo one another once again with absurd fielding and throwing, handing the Scorpions three runs for the second night in a row. And once again it was second, short and center field leading the way … of course the unanimous number one prospect in baseball pre-2014 is occupying centerfield for the Rafters – and now leading the AFL in errors. I recognize Byron Buxton is returning after missing most of the 2014 season with a wrist injury, but if he is a superior prospect to George Springer then we need to be examining those voters’ Cheerios for cannabis … Buxton makes Dexter Fowler look like Tarzan. Buxton is two-for-nine, both singles, with three strikeouts and two errors while misplaying at least one ball into double last night … not my number one.

While the defensive scuffling robbed Appel of a win, unlike the night before the Rafters did come back from this fourth inning fielding debacle on the back of two resounding home run balls from the two Diamondback bangers, DH Brandon Drury and C/1B Peter O’Brien, in the fifth and sixth innings respectively. O’Brien now has two no-doubters in two nights so his 34 in 106 games this past year in the Florida State, Eastern and Southern Leagues is looking less fluky … and the Kevin McCarthy trade with the Yanks that brought him to Arizona looks far less one-sided.

While Astro pitching has been golden – seven innings, five hits including a home run, eight strikeouts and a single walk – the Astro batters have had a little tougher time. Following Andrew Aplin’s base hit in the eighth, the stick side of the Astro contingent is now one for sixteen, with three bases on balls, five strikeouts and three runs scored … Rio Ruiz looks tired, and I’m wondering if the over 600 plate appearances in the California League this season haven’t worn this twenty-year-old down – there’s no pop in his bat right now, and that’s very un-Rio like. And for those who may wonder, Joe Sclafani was active but did not see action.

The Rafters are now 1-1 and travel to the Mesa Solar Sox tomorrow night. The Sox have a new, Wrigley-field lookalike, venue that should be far more fun for watching a game than tonight’s … Scottsdale Stadium is the oldest facility still active in Valley and the original home of the Chicago Cubs. There has been rain off and on again for the past 24 hours and there was a rainout at Mesa, the first since 2011, so I won’t risk getting wet by attending the game … in fact I won’t be attending another game until next Tuesday – the Rafters have been banned from Salt River Fields until the conclusion of something called OctoberFest. Probably another name for soccer or something odd like that.

~ Wallee Wright ~

Arizona Fall League Recap

Salt River 6, Scottsdale 3

W- Jake Reed (1-0)
L- Alex Smith (0-1)
S- Enrique Burgos (1)

Salt River home runs by Astros players: None.

After Scottsdale scored their 3 runs in the bottom of the 4th, Salt River finished the game by scoring 5 unanswered.

Rio Ruiz was in the field for the first time this season; he went 0-5 with a strikeout. Andrew Aplin and Tyler Heineman appeared in the AFL for the first time this season; Aplin started in LF and went 1-5 with a run scored from the #8 spot in the order, and Heineman was behind the plate; he went 0-2 with 2 walks, a strikeout, and a run scored in the #9 spot.

Mark Appel got the start for Salt River and allowed a hit, walked 1, and struck out 2 over 3 scoreless frames. The one hit was a double by the Mets' Brandon Nimmo.

Stay tuned for Mr. Wallee Wright's in-depth report.

Happy Birthday - 10/9

No future Astros with birthdays today, but a few former Astros celebrate ~

1B/OF Joe Pepitone (74)
After eight seasons with the Yankees in which Pepitone was a three-time All-Star and a three-time Gold Glove winner, he came to Houston in a December 1969 trade. He only played in 75 games for Houston in 1970 before being picked up by the Cubs. During his time in Houston, he hit .252/.298/.470 with nine doubles, five triples and 14 home runs.

2B/SS Alex Taveras (59)
Originally signed by Houston in 1974 out of the Dominican Republic, Taveras played in only 14 games at the major league level for the Astros in 1977, hitting .217/.250/.217.

LHP Mark McLemore (34)
A fourth round pick by Houston in 2002, McLemore pitched in 29 games for the Astros in 2007 with a 3-0 record, a 3.86 ERA and a 1.60 WHIP. He last pitched in the Marlins organization in 2011 at the minor league level.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Arizona Fall League: Game 1 Eyewitness Recap

Intrepid reporter Wallee Wright weighs in with his Salt River Rafters Game 1 thoughts ~

Your Astros&Friends, the Salt River Rafters, opened their 2014 Arizona Fall League schedule by gift-wrapping a 7-4 victory for their crosstown rival Scottsdale Scorpions in a game that had very little that went according to form. The highly-touted Rafter pitching, with the exception of your Astros, was hit hard and the much-heralded, and frankly feared, Pace of Game Initiative rule changes and 20-second clock were non-factors … only the umpiring crew and the new ‘Timekeeper’ seemed to have difficulty with the new rules. In fact, the only thing that went as we suspected it might was the seemingly interminable delay for the two play reviews shuffled off to New York.

Archie Bradley, Arizona’s highly-touted top prospect led a Diamondback-heavy starting line-up that featured only a single Astro, Rio Ruiz batting second at DH … and in very forgettable top-of-the-first the non-Astro contingent in the field demonstrated how to make a bad pitching situation even worse by committing three errors on playable balls leading to three runs. Ruiz, who went hitless on the evening with a strikeout, walk and run scored, got on base in the bottom half of the inning on a fielder’s choice but then committed one of two Rafter TOOTBLANs in the inning by getting thrown out at third trying to take an extra base … Colorado’s Ryan Casteel repeated the base-running error later in the inning and cost the Rafters a second run by getting thrown out at third before the catcher running ahead of him could score. Jason Adam of the Minnesota Twinkies proved very hittable, giving up three more in the fifth … only sound defensive work saved him from further damage.

The Astros’ Mitch Lambson came on in the sixth and was nearly perfect in the inning … an infield single aided and abetted by a range-challenged Brandon Drury at third base being the only blemish – and the runner was quickly erased with a very nice pickoff move. Lambson’s fast ball was really popping for strikes but he had a little difficulty spotting his off-speed stuff … and in the seventh it appeared to be a slower, breaking, offering that was blasted just short of Elko, Nevada by DH and Yankee prospect Greg Bird. All-in-all a very quick and authoritative two innings of work with just the one run given up to go with two strikeouts and no walks … even more encouraging was that Mitch, a lefty, had no apparent difficulty with right-handed batters which bodes well for a potential call-up next season.

The Rafters then called upon the Astros’ Tyson Perez to close out the game and he was absolutely dominant, striking out two each in the eighth and ninth innings … the only two hits were a grounder past first, just fair and into the bullpen for a ground-rule double in the eighth and a blooper behind second in the ninth. The Scottsdale hitters did not seem to be able to catch up with Tyson’s offerings and he finished with a 2-hits, no runs, no walks and four strikeouts … a very impressive outing for the big right-hander, proving his 4-0 record with 11 saves at Corpus Christi this season was no fluke – and hopefully the absence of walks is showing the improved control he’ll need to move up to The Show.

On the offensive side for the Rafters four players accumulated their eight hits: C Peter O’Brien, formerly of the Yanks and now a D-back, was 2/4 with a seventh inning dinger and two RBI; 2B Austin Nola of the Marlins, was 2/4 with a three-bagger that was kicked around in the right-field corner; SS Trevor Story of the Rox was also 2/4 with a double; and, the Twins Eddie Rosario had the other two hits and an RBI.

Salt River Fields was the only venue to have a 20-second clock on opening day … the other venues simply focused on keeping the batter in the box and aggressively calling for the next pitch. Where the clock was in play the home plate umpire still insisted upon calling for the next pitch which had the effect of delaying the start of the clock … no matter, even when the clock expired, as it will when there are runners on the bases, the umpires ignored it and play continued uninterrupted. The Timekeepers were similarly challenged, seemingly unable to remember to reset the clock between pitches, or for that matter to restart it after a reset … all-in-all, simply a nuisance that had the opposite effect of its intent – the two venues without the clock completed their games in 2:30 and change, while our game barely cracked 3 hours. And one of the other contests was a slugfest, so the numbers of hits, runs, and pitching changes had nothing to do with the outcome in terms of elapsed time … the lesson to be gained from opening night is very simple: no amount of gadgets will improve the speed of the game, it is all up to the home plate umpire.

~ Wallee Wright ~

Arizona Fall League Recap

Well, I enjoyed my 3 weeks off from recapping, but the next phase has begun: the Fall and Winter leagues. I will now be reprising my role as recapper-in-chief.

Scottsdale 7, Salt River 4

W- Julian Hilario (1-0)
L- Archie Bradley (0-1)
S- Nefi Ogando (1)

Salt River home runs by Astros players: None.

The Scorpions struck for a pair of 3-run innings, which were the only crooked-numbered innings in the game. 

Rio Ruiz was the DH for Salt River and hit 2nd. He went 0-4 with a walk, a strikeout, and a run scored. 

And on the pitching side, Mitch Lambson and Tyson Perez were the final 2 Rafters hurlers of the night. Both of them pitched 2 innings. Lambson allowed a run on a solo homer from Greg Bird in the 7th. He allowed one other hit and struck out 2, while Tyson gave up 2 hits and fanned 4 over 2 scoreless.

Salt River and Scottsdale will play again at Scottsdale Stadium at 6:35 Mountain. 

Happy Birthday - 10/8

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

3B/1B Enos Cabell (65)
Originally signed by Baltimore in 1968, Cabell came to Houston in a December 1974 trade with the Orioles and played for the Astros from 1975 through 1980 and again in 1984 and 1985. In eight seasons for the Astros, he hit .281/.313/.381. In 1978, he played in all 162 games, hitting .295 for the season. He is currently a Special Assistant to the General Manager for the Astros.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Arizona Fall League Rule Change Testing

With the first Arizona Fall League games slated for this evening, WTHB friend Wallee Wright has weighed in with the composition of the various AFL teams, and has also delved deeply into the makeup of the Salt River Rafters, the team for which several Astros prospects will be playing. Today, he outlines the various rule changes which will be tested in the AFL, much as replay challenges were tested in 2013. And he is, as always, highly entertaining in his take on the subject.

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The Arizona Fall League is billed as an opportunity for your young, high-ceiling, prospects to compete with similarly-skilled prospects from every one of the other twenty-nine major league baseball organizations. And to a great extent that billing holds true again this year with MLB.com’s Top-100 prospects number one, four, five, nine, thirteen and sixteen among the twenty-one included on this august list.

But the Arizona Fall League, by virtue of fielding teams comprised of players and staff from all thirty major league teams, has also served as a testing ground for Major League Baseball rules changes. In 2013 MLB used the AFL to test the umpire Play Review process that was subsequently implemented for the 2014 regular season.

This year MLB will use the AFL, and particularly your Salt River Astros – I mean Rafters – to test several rules changes intended to speed up the game, including a 20-second shot – oops, I mean pitch clock. Our Astros always seem to be on the Commish’s bleeding edge of innovation.

Here are the new rules that Major League Baseball has indicated will be in play during what might otherwise have been an enjoyable night of baseball at Salt River Fields:

20-Second Rule (at Salt River Fields Games Only): Modifying Rule 8.04, which required delivery of a pitch within 12 seconds of receipt of the game ball. A clock operated by an independent operator (there are lots of these at every major league baseball game … like official scorers) will be displayed in box dugouts, behind home plate, and in the outfield. The batter must be in the batter’s box and prepared for the pitch the entire 20 seconds or a strike may be called … if no pitch is thrown a ball is called.

Batter’s Box Rule: The batter must keep one foot in the batter’s box at all times, unless driven from the box by one of several exceptions. No penalty was described for violations, but one can expect clever pitchers will now deliver the ball to unprepared batters within the 12-second timeframe previously described by Rule 8.04.

Three “Time Out” Limit: Teams will no longer be able to plan the evening’s post-game entertainment while gathered at the mound … players, coaches and manager visits are limited to three per game, no matter the game’s duration. I’m looking forward to the first time the pitcher calls time-out in mid-inning, drops the ball on the mound, and walks to the dugout while his replacement sprints onto the field of play from the bullpen. Any attempt to call a fourth timeout will be ignored and the offender subject to an undisclosed discipline, perhaps forced to watch an entire season of some hack ex-Dallas ex-sportswriter like Bayless or Blackistone on ESPN.

2:30 Pitching Change Break Clock: The time allowed between pitching changes, beginning when the reliever crosses into the field of play and ending with the first pitch. The reliever best be warmed up prior to hitting the field of play because the first live pitch must be thrown before the time clock expires or a ball shall be called. This spells the end to thunderous walk-on music, dramatic gate openings, and bullpens in the far reaches of a stadium without access to a golf cart … not that any of those things will be missed by this reporter.

No-Pitch Intentional Walks: In a daring move and proving once again that the folks in New York do listen to your input, we will be testing no-pitch intentional walks this fall in Arizona. The manager simply indicates he wishes to walk the batter by showing four fingers to the home plate umpire … I’m assuming they must be presented jointly rather than individually.

2:05 Inning Break Clock: The maximum time between innings, though the batter must be in the box at 1:45 … clearly the league has identified the culprit in slow games as being the batter – just as clearly, batting glove makers will need to improve the clinging properties of their product before the start of the 2015 season. When batters violate the rule, a strike may be called, and when pitchers fail to throw a pitch before the 2:05 is concluded, a ball may be called.

Not to be accused of ignoring the more obvious delay mechanisms of the 2014 season, Major League Baseball has vowed to continue “to study potential modifications to its system of instant replay” with the 17 home games at Salt River Fields featuring the review system currently utilized in all MLB games including “connectivity to MLB’s Replay Operations Center at MLB Advanced Media in New York”. And here I thought MLB simply needed to hire a second reviewer, or to add a second review device.

~ Wallee Wright ~

Happy Birthday - 10/7

Happy Birthday to ~

RHP Mike Foltynewicz (23)
Drafted in the first round in 2010 out of high school in Illinois, Foltynewicz pitched in 21 games (18 starts) in Oklahoma City with a 5.08 ERA and a 1.461 WHIP before getting making his major league debut on August 2nd. In 16 bullpen appearances for the Astros, Folty had a 5.30 ERA and a 1.607 WHIP.

Happy Birthday wishes also go to Jason Schwartz, Lancaster JetHawks broadcaster and friend of WTHB.

Two former Astros mark the day as well ~

LHP Floyd Bluford "Butch" Henry (46)
If my name was Floyd Bluford, I'd go by Butch too! Originally drafted by the Reds in the 15th round in 1987, Henry came to Houston in September 1990 as a part of the Bill Doran trade with the Reds. Two years later, he was drafted from Houston by the Rockies in the 1992 expansion draft. In 28 starts in 1992, he went 6-9 with a 4.02 ERA and a 1.364 WHIP.

Manager Grady Hatton (died April 11, 2013 at age 90)
Hatton managed the Astros in 1966, 1967 and part of 1968, with a record of 164-221.

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Monday, October 6, 2014

Arizona Fall League Salt River Rafters Season Preview

Our intrepid Arizona correspondent, Wallee Wright, has been writing about the Arizona Fall League faster than I can post them! If you missed his first installment from Friday, do yourself a favor and check it out. Today he continues with his excellent preview of the Salt River Rafters (the Astros team).

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Part I

Tomorrow is opening night for the Arizona Fall League Salt River Rafters so it seems like a good time to acquaint you with the Astros on the roster. Later on we’ll look at the prospects provided by Arizona, Colorado, Miami and Minnesota as well.

This should be an interesting team for no other reason than the state of affairs within the contributing organizations: the Astros have a new field manager and potential changes to their coaching staff; Arizona has a new GM who was formerly a players’ agent and MLB pitcher but no manager or coaching staff as yet; Colorado has made no changes in spite of years of ownership missteps and an aging nucleus of high profile, low impact players; Miami is totally reinventing itself as a result of ownership-induced changes over the dead bodies of its former professional staff; and, Minnesota has just fired its well-respected manager of the past decade-plus while continuing to try to assemble and retain a competitive team on the cheap.

The Astro contingent is not without questions of their own this year. They’re led by Mark Appel, 23, the 2013 number one overall draft choice who was an apparent disaster earlier this year at High-A Lancaster, precipitated a crisis by simply throwing a bullpen session at Minute Maid, and then apparently acquitted himself well in the last month of the season at Corpus Christi. Perhaps we’ll find out which is the real Mark Appel during the next six weeks.

Joining Appel will be another star-crossed but highly-rated right-handed pitcher, Vincent Velasquez, 22, a 2010 second round draft pick out of high school. Velasquez missed the entire 2011 season on Weiland Island, was treated rather rudely in 2013 at High-A Lancaster, then came back this year to average nearly 12 strikeouts per nine while compiling a 3.74 ERA and 1.229 WHIP in the same company. Can Velasquez stay injury-free while maintaining the same level of dominance in a league filled with generally older, high-ceiling, prospects?

Vince Velasquez - September 2014
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Tyson Perez, 24, a seventeenth-round pick in 2011, is the third right-hander provided by Houston and another hurler in transition after two and one-half seasons in the High-A California League. After a season and one-half in the Astro team starter-reliever concept at Lancaster Tyson moved up to Double-A Corpus Christi in May as a reliever/closer and was an ‘overnight’ success, going 4-0 with 11 saves in 23 appearances and a 2.09 ERA and 1.009 WHIP. In the next six weeks Tyson will have an opportunity to prove this season at Corpus was not a fluke while facing a much more accomplished level of competition … is a trip to Fresno or Houston in the offing?

The final pitcher provided by Houston is a southpaw, Mitch Lambson, 24, a 2011 nineteenth-round pick and reliever drafted out of Arizona State. Unlike Perez, Mitch has never started a game in his career with the Astros, but has accumulated a 17-12 record with a 2.82 ERA and a 1.090 WHIP in 207 innings and 126 appearances from Rookie ball to Double-A Corpus Christi. But like Perez, Lambson is looking to build upon an outstanding 23 appearance stint with the Hooks and possibly punch his ticket to Fresno, if not Houston in 2015 … will a return to the desert be ‘just the ticket’ for Mitch?

Catching these four hurlers will be Tyler Heineman, 23, an eighth round pick in 2012 who has moved rapidly from Low-A through High-A to Double-A on the strength of his throwing arm, cutting down nearly half of the attempted steals over the course of his past three years. At both Tri-City and Lancaster Tyler had demonstrated a more than adequate hit tool as well, but this past season at Corpus Christi both the hit and power tools appear to have regressed, which is unfortunate because he has also demonstrated a rare commodity in catchers – speed enough to have racked up four triples at Lancaster and three more this year at Corpus. Does Tyler have the offensive chops to be an effective major league receiver, or were his earlier successes a function of his having experience playing for an outstanding college program at UCLA?

Third base is an underperforming position for the Houston club, and once again this year the Astros are sending a promising prospect to Arizona, this time in the form of Rio Ruiz, 20, a 2012 fourth round pick out of high school. Rio has been fast-tracked through Rookie, A and High-A ball over the past three years in hopes that the hitting tool he demonstrated in high school would finally come forth in his professional efforts – which it finally did in 2014 at Lancaster. The next six weeks may not provide an answer as to whether it was the high altitude and hot weather of the California League that fueled the emergence of the tool that had been lacking, but it will provide an opportunity to see how Rio performs facing high-ceiling pitching talent. Should ‘Matty D’ be worried? [NOTE FROM JAYNE: Ruiz had a slow start in 2013 in Quad Cities, but improved every single month at the plate, crescendoing in a terrific August and even better post-season.]

Andrew Aplin, 23, is another Arizona State Sun Devil, drafted in the fifth round in 2012 and now returning to the desert in hopes of elevating his future chances of breaking into an Astros outfield that has every appearance of being set for years to come. Aplin is another center fielder in a system loaded with centerfielders, and, like several in front of him has not demonstrated a consistent hitting tool nor sufficient base-stealing skills to force his way onto the big club. He is, however, still very young and the AFL might provide him the opportunity to improve both his visibility as well as his chances for making it to the majors … is this a make or break assignment for Andrew? [NOTE FROM JAYNE: Aplin's outstanding defense is the cornerstone of his game, but he will need to hit more consistently.]

Every Wednesday super-utility man Joe Sclafani, 24, will have an opportunity to join his Rafter and Astro teammates in an actual ballgame … such is the life of a ‘Taxi-Squad’ member, even one who was a fourteenth round pick in 2012. A genuine rarity, an Ivy Leaguer who can actually punish the horse-hide, Joe will certainly get more opportunities as the thirty-game season progresses because injuries are inevitable … just ask Jason Castro. Equally rare is the fact that Joe’s hitting has improved as he climbed from Low-A to Triple-A … perhaps the AFL will give him the opportunity to demonstrate that his glove can catch up.

Part II

The Salt River Rafters preview continues with a look at the key players assigned by the five major league clubs filling the team roster and a quick glance at the folks who will divvy up playing time for all these high-ceiling prospects, the team’s manager and staff.

The Miami Marlins provided the manager for the Rafters, Andy Haines, 2014 manager of the New Orleans Zephyrs of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Pitching coach for the Rafters will be Josh Miller, 2014 pitching coach for your short season, Appalachian League, Greeneville Astros. Even though the Appy Astros disappointed overall this season, the pitching staff finished middle of the pack in both ERA and WHIP.

The Colorado Rockies are providing the hitting instruction through Kevin Riggs, who just completed a very successful second year managing the Double-A Texas League Tulsa Drillers … ironically the last for the Rox in Tulsa, who will become the 2015 affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Diamondbacks and Twins will provide the Trainers for the Rafters, a very important position given the injury history of two or three of the premier players on the roster.

Pitching appears to be the strength of the Rafters with Top-100 pitching prospects Mark Appel, Archie Bradley and Eddie Butler leading the way. We’ve already remarked upon Mark, so let’s take a quick look at the other better known pitching prospects.

Bradley, who just turned 22 two months ago, is the top prospect of the Diamondbacks who, in the opinion of many here in the desert, should have made his major league debut this past March. Troubled by either shoulder soreness or just D-Back neglect, Archie struggled at Reno after making the Australia trip with the Arizona team. Another pitcher of note from the ‘Backs is RHP Jimmy Sherfy.

Although bothered by rotator cuff soreness this year Butler, 23 and the Top-100 26th-ranked prospect, did receive a September call-up by Colorado though the unimpressive results were a far cry from his remarkable 2013 AAA minor league season. In addition to Butler and also from the Rox, Christian Bergman, 26, is unranked as a prospect but made his major league debut in Denver late this year with more respectable results.

Though I don’t know this for a fact, I have to believe the Astros’ Joe Sclafani was separated at birth from RHP Anthony DeSclafani, though Joe claims to have been born four days later on the other coast … huummm, maybe Jayne will delve a little deeper into this in one of her on-site interviews next season. DeSclafani finished his season with the Miami Marlins and posted very respectable numbers in both a starting and relief role, but the guess here is that he will be focused on a transition to reliever under his Triple-A manager Andy Haines.

While pitching is the Rafters’ strength on paper, the hitting side is not without its own stars, including the Top-100 number one prospect, outfielder Byron Buxton of the Twins. This is a return visit for Byron, having been here last year before suffering a wrist injury early on in 2014 that limited him to 137 plate appearances all year. Only 20, Buxton had been ranked number one pre-2014 by Baseball America, MLB.com, and Baseball Prospectus, a rare trifecta agreement among the three rating services. Buxton is not alone, however, among position players.

The Arizona Diamondbacks will send two players received as return in trades for Justin Upton and Brandon McCarthy that became part of the reason for terminating GM Kevin Tower. Both 3B/1B Brandon Drury, 22, obtained for from the Braves for Upton and C/3B/1B Peter O’Brien, 24, received back from the Yankees for McCarthy, are the prototypical one-dimensional power hitters that the ‘Backs have preferred since their inception.

The Colorado Rockies have included SS/3B Trevor Story in their contingent, hoping I’m sure to find out whether Trevor is the .332/.436/.582 banger they had at Modesto in the California League or the .200/.302/.380 hitter that showed up at Double-A Tulsa – Astros fans already know the answer to that question but we’ll not spoil the surprise for the Rox.

And Minnesota sent an entire outfield to Arizona, including in addition to Buxton, Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler, their tenth and nineteenth ranked prospects. Rosario, 23, drafted in the fourth round out of Puerto Rico has a little pop, plays all OF positions and also plays a respectable second base. Kepler, only 21, who also plays all three outfield positions and a little first base, has shown doubles and triples speed but not the kind of power expected of a corner infielder.

And that concludes the Arizona Fall League preview … I’ve touched upon eighteen of the thirty-seven players assigned the Salt River Rafters, but if there is one thing you can bet on it’s that the team star will turn out to be one of the nineteen not even mentioned. That’s because the game is played by young men between the chalk lines and not by old men sitting in front of a computer.

~ Wallee Wright ~

Happy Birthday - 10/6

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

C Jerry Grote (72)
Grote played for the Colt 45's in 1963 and 1964, hitting .182/.241/.261 in 103 games, before going on to have a long career with the Mets, Dodgers and Royals.  In 1421 games over 16 seasons, Grote had a .252 lifetime batting average and a career .991 fielding percentage and was a two-time All-Star for the Mets.

LHP Darren Oliver (44)
Oliver pitched in 9 games for Houston in 2004, going 1-0 with a 3.86 ERA and a 1.143 WHIP.  The well-traveled Oliver played for Texas, St. Louis, Boston, Colorado, Florida, the New York Mets, the Los Angeles Angels and finally Toronto. He pitched in 13 post-season series over seven different seasons, but never earned that World Series ring.

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Sunday, October 5, 2014

Happy Birthday - 10/5

Happy Birthday to ~

LF Marc Krauss (27)
Krauss came to the Astros organization (along with Bobby Borchering) in a July 2012 trade with the Diamondbacks for 3B Chris Johnson. He started the season in Houston and ended it there, but in between he played in 42 games in Oklahoma City, hitting .289/.375/.459 with 12 doubles, five home runs and 38 RBI. In Houston, he played in 67 games, hitting .194/.279/.323 with six doubles, six home runs and 21 RBI.

RHP Joel Belboder (19)
Belboder, from the Dominican Republic, played his first season for the Dominican Summer League Astros in 2014. In 20 appearances (one start), he was 4-2 with two saves, a 3.38 ERA and a 1.325 WHIP. He walked 15 and struck out 25 in 40 innings of work.

Four former Astros mark the day as well ~

RHP Felipe Paulino (31)
First signed by the Astros as a NDFA out of the Dominican Republic in 2001, Paulino was never quite able to put it together for Houston.  In 34 starts over 47 appearances for the Astros in 2007, 2009 and 2010, Paulino went 6-21 with a 5.83 ERA and 1.598 WHIP.  Traded to the Rockies for Clint Barmes in November of 2010, Paulino only spent a short time with the Rockies before being dealt to the Kansas City Royals. He is currently in the White Sox organization.

CF Al Heist (died October 2, 2006 at 78)
Drafted from the Cubs in the 1961 expansion draft, Heist played in 27 games for the Colt 45's in 1962, hitting .222/.263/.236. He played for three more seasons for Houston in the minor leagues, but never made it back to the majors.

OF Alex Diaz (46)
Diaz signed as a free agent with Houston in January 1999. He played in 30 games for the Astros that season, hitting .220/.264/.320.

RHP Brandon Puffer (39)
Originally drafted by the Twins in the 27th round in 1994, Puffer first came to the Houston organization in 2000 after pitching in the Atlantic League. In 68 games for the Astros in 2002 and 2003, he was 3-3 with a 4.60 ERA and a 1.611 WHIP.

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