Monday, April 6, 2015

Fresno Grizzlies Season Preview

After playing in Oklahoma City for the past four seasons, the Astros AAA affiliate moves to Fresno, California. The OKC RedHawks ended the 2014 season with a 74-70 record, tied for second place in their division while Fresno, a Giants affiliate in 2014, was in last place in their division with a 68-76 record.

As the Fresno Grizzlies, the AAA Astros will now have the Reno Aces (Diamondbacks), the Sacramento River Cats (new Giants affiliate) and the Tacoma Rainiers (Mariners) as their division rivals. Baseball America has organizational talent rankings for these four teams as Diamondbacks (#6), Astros (#14), Mariners (#25) and Giants (#27).

Jon Singleton - March 2014
Photo by Jayne Hansen

The preliminary opening day Fresno roster below (subject to change) only has one of the Astros Top 10 prospects (Domingo Santana), but that situation will probably change by mid-season with the likely promotions of SS Carlos Correa and RHP Mark Appel. Depending on their seasons, these other Top 10 prospects currently on the Corpus Christi roster ... 3B Colin Moran, LHP Josh Hader, RHP Lance McCullers and OF Teoscar Hernandez ... may also make appearances in Fresno at some point during the season. Another Top 10 prospect, RHP Vince Velasquez, is slated for Corpus Christi after he finishes his rehab for a lat strain. Depending on when he gets started, he could also be looking at Fresno by the end of the season.

Depending on how well the Astros bullpen performs, I think it is likely that Jake Buchanan and Kevin Chapman, who are both on the 40-man roster and who both have MLB experience, will be among the first pitchers called upon for help in Houston (RHP Josh Fields will be first, if healthy). Buchanan can either start or relieve as needed, but starters (such as LHP Luis Cruz and RHP Brady Rodgers) will have a harder time finding a spot anytime soon, particularly considering LHP Brett Oberholtzer and RHP Brad Peacock will be the first options considered once they get off the DL. Oberholtzer, Peacock and Fields may appear in Fresno on rehab assignments, but could as easily rehab in Corpus Christi (or other venues) depending on schedules.

The Grizzlies position players who are on the 40-man roster are Stassi, Singleton, Torreyes, Dominguez, Hoes and Santana, with Torreyes being the only one without MLB experience. I would predict that, barring injuries, the first of these to be recalled to Houston would be Singleton. He started out doing quite well in Spring Training before cooling off; once his bat gets hot again, I can't see him biding his time in Fresno.

Of those players who are not currently on the 40-man roster, there are several that may challenge for a roster spot prior to the end of the 2015 season. RHP Jordan Jankowski and LHP Tommy Shirley can start or relieve and, when they are on, they can be devastating. RHP Jason Stoffel really has nothing left to prove at AAA; he was a solid late inning guy at the level last season. 1B/3B Matt Duffy is a sleeper with a consistent bat and solid defense who will be available if Luis Valbuena stumbles. IF/OF Joe Sclafani is a very smart, very versatile, very solid utility player with great instincts. OF Ruben Sosa also has a great deal of versatility in a possible utility role. Both Sclafani and Sosa are switch-hitters which should also help their cause. And, although OF Preston Tucker's big bat and OF Andrew Aplin's spectacular defense will put them on a short list to fill any outfield needs, they will likely have a tougher time because of the VERY crowded Houston outfield.

I'm not going to make any bold predictions this year, but I feel that this will be a very strong team with a good blend of talent and experience. I will predict that there will be A LOT of roster movement throughout the year, but the talent level should actually increase as the season progresses and the top prospects start working their way closer to Houston, and I think their final record will reflect that.

The Grizzlies first game will be at 9:05 CST on Thursday, April 9th. They will host the Las Vegas 51s, the AAA affiliate for the New York Mets.

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!

PITCHERS

RHP Jake Buchanan
LHP Kevin Chapman
LHP Luis Cruz
LHP Darin Downs
RHP James Hoyt
RHP Jordan Jankowski
RHP Brady Rodgers
RHP Richard Rodriguez
LHP Tommy Shirley
RHP Jason Stoffel
RHP Dan Straily
RHP Alex White

CATCHERS

*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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