Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Corpus Christi Hooks Season Preview

2014 was a very disappointing season for the Hooks. After making it to the first round of playoffs in 2012 (81-59 record) and 2013 (83-57 record), the Hooks stumbled badly, ending the season with a 67-73 record, far short of a playoff berth.

Look for a huge rebound from that 67-73 record as the Hooks will start the season with six of the Astros Top 10 prospects (SS Carlos Correa, RHP Mark Appel, 3B Colin Moran, OF Teoscar Hernandez, LHP Josh Hader, and RHP Lance McCullers) on their roster. Of those six, four (Appel, Hernandez, Moran and Hader) already have some AA experience under their belt. Correa and McCullers will be making their AA debuts. In addition, Top 10 prospect Vince Velasquez is slated to join the Corpus roster after his return from rehabbing a lat strain suffered in the Arizona Fall League.

Carlos Correa - May 2014
Photo by Jayne Hansen

The pitching on the opening day roster will feature a good amount of AA experience with Mike Hauschild and Chris Devenski in the rotation and lights-out relievers Tyson Perez and Mitch Lambson in the bullpen. Pitching Coach Doug Brocail will also be looking for a comeback season from the once-dominant Travis Ballew in the late innings and will be hoping for Aaron West to show what he can do when healthy. Add in AA rookies Kyle Westwood, Kent Emanuel and Daniel Minor who all had very good seasons in Lancaster last year and top that all off with top prospects Appel, Hader, McCullers (and eventually Velasquez) and you are looking at a very strong staff. Baez is a newcomer to the system (obtained in a trade from Kansas City), but has experience at AA, having pitched in the Texas League last season. Jandel Gustave was recently reported as an addition to the Hooks roster. He may not be ready for the level, but since he was lost and returned via the Rule 5 draft this offseason, I would agree that it is probably the right time to start pushing him more rapidly. I would not be surprised if he starts transitioning towards late-inning relief at some point.

As to the position players, Tyler Heineman, who spent 2014 with Corpus, will be the anchor behind the plate while Roberto Pena and Brett Booth get acquainted with the Texas League. Jon Kemmer will get the chance to prove that his 2014 numbers were not a fluke as he joins Leo Heras, Brandon Meredith and Teoscar Hernandez in the outfield. Hernandez had a solid debut in 23 games in Corpus last season and Meredith was heating up toward the end of the season, putting up a .571 slugging percentage at the end of August.

Tony Kemp may be used in the outfield some this season to add to his versatility, but with the news that Nolan Fontana is being moved to Fresno, Kemp will likely get his share of time at second base, back playing with his early 2014 double-play partner, SS Carlos Correa. Kemp and 3B Colin Moran are proven AA bats and 1B Conrad Gregor was starting to catch up to the league at the end of the season as well. 1B/DH Telvin Nash, repeating the level, will help provide the power, aided by AA newcomer 3B/1B/DH Tyler White while Jio Mier provides seasoned defense at second, short and third base. SS Carlos Correa will bring the excitement.

Although this lineup is loaded, keep in mind that it is very doubtful that Carlos Correa and Mark Appel will tarry long at the level. Don't count on those two (and perhaps a few others on this list) to guide the Hooks to a championship. But the good news is that there are other players waiting in the wings, such as top prospects OF Brett Phillips and RHP Michael Feliz who will be starting the season at Lancaster.

The AA Corpus Christi team has the Frisco Roughriders (Rangers), the Midland Rockhounds (A's) and the San Antonio Missions (Padres) as division rivals. Baseball America has organizational talent rankings for these four teams as Rangers (#11), Astros (#14), A's (#23) and Padres (#24).

It's hard not to be excited about this team. In addition to the loaded roster, the Hooks also have a new skipper in Manager Rodney Linares. Linares guided the Lancaster team to the playoffs for three straight years from 2012 through 2014, winning it all in 2012 and 2014. He has managed the vast majority of these Hooks players in the past. I know that Rodney hates it when I make bold predictions so I'll just say that I think he'll be challenging for a third ring in four years and leave it at that.

The Hooks will start their season on the road at Springfield on Thursday the 9th at 7:10 p.m. CST and will have their home opener on Thursday the 16th at 7:05 p.m., once again playing the Springfield Cardinals.

You will find more detailed information on virtually every player in the Astros minor league system in the 2015 Houston Farm System Handbook. Purchase your copy today!

PRELIMINARY HOOKS ROSTER (SUBJECT TO CHANGE)

PITCHERS

RHP R.J. Alaniz (Restricted List)
RHP Mark Appel
RHP Angel Baez
RHP Travis Ballew
RHP Chris Devenski
LHP Kent Emanuel
RHP Jandel Gustave
LHP Josh Hader
RHP Mike Hauschild
LHP Mitch Lambson
RHP Lance McCullers
RHP Dan Minor
RHP Tyson Perez
RHP Vince Velasquez (Will likely start the season on the DL)
RHP Aaron West
RHP Kyle Westwood

CATCHERS

Brett Booth
#Tyler Heineman
Roberto Peña

INFIELDERS

Carlos Correa
*Conrad Gregor
*Tony Kemp
Jio Mier
*Colin Moran
Telvin Nash
Tyler White

OUTFIELDERS

*Leo Heras
Teoscar Hernandez
*Jon Kemmer
Brandon Meredith

*Left-handed hitter
#Switch-hitter

For more information on where these players came from, see Dustin's post from last week.

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