Saturday, March 28, 2015

Happy Birthday - 3/28

Happy Birthday to ~

SS Marcos Almonte (19)
Almonte played his first professional season in 2014 for the Dominican Summer League Astros. In 67 games, he hit .233/.359/.353 with 13 doubles, one triple and one home run. He is from the Dominican Republic.

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

1B Glenn Davis (54)
Davis, a first round draft pick (fifth overall) for Houston in 1981, played for the Astros from 1984 to 1990, hitting .262/.337/.483 with 150 doubles, 10 triples and 166 home runs over 830 games. Davis was a two-time All-Star and also won the Silver Slugger Award before being traded to the Orioles in January of 1991 for Pete Harnisch, Curt Schilling and  Steve Finley. After a disappointing tenure with the Orioles, he ended up back in the minor leagues and eventually played for two seasons in Japan. According to Baseball-Reference:
He returned in 1996 [to Japan] and became the 10th player in Nippon Pro Baseball history to hit a sayonara (walk-off) grand slam home run to win a game; he was the first gaijin to accomplish that.
Ironically, he never hit a grand slam in the MLB.

[Side note: Last year, I was taken to task by one of my readers for my use of the word "ironically" in the above. According to Merriam-Webster, one of the definitions of "irony" is as follows.
incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result
 I stand behind my use of the word.]

RHP Mark Melancon (30)
Drafted by the Yankees in the ninth round in 2006, Melancon came to Houston along with Jimmy Paredes in the Lance Berkman trade in July 2010. Melancon pitched in 91 games for Houston in 2010 and 2011, going 10-4 with a 2.85 ERA, a 1.211 WHIP and 20 saves. Melancon was traded to Boston in December 2011 for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland and was subsequently traded to Pittsburgh in December 2012 where he has played for the last two seasons.

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Friday, March 27, 2015

Happy Birthday - 3/27

Happy Birthday to ~

1B Felix Lucas (18)
Lucas was signed out of the Dominican Republic during the July 2013 international signing period. In his first professional season in the Dominican Summer League, he hit .144/.285/.242 with four doubles and three home runs in 39 games.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

An Interview with Astros OF Jon Kemmer

After a somewhat lackluster freshman season in 2013, Jon Kemmer broke out in a big way in 2014, finishing the season with a .291/.345/.523 slashline in 91 games. He collected 25 doubles, two triples, 16 home runs and 50 RBI and had the third highest slugging percentage in the organization for full season teams, right behind Teoscar Hernandez and Brett Phillips and just ahead of Carlos Correa. Not shabby company! I spoke with Jon at length last week and thoroughly enjoyed our conversation.

Jon Kemmer - June 2014
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Kemmer's 2014 season was cut short in August when he suffered a broken ankle. Of the injury he told me, "It was a hit and run ... that didn't go as planned. It was a tough pitch to hit and run on and I couldn't decide whether I wanted to slide head first or feet first. I decided feet first way too late and I just hit the bag wrong to where I couldn't stop myself and I just kind of rolled over my ankle." But Kemmer assured me that the ankle was "absolutely, definitely 100% right now."

Another part of Kemmer's eventful season included his being pulled out of the outfield in Quad Cities and sent back to Extended Spring Training to work on playing first base, a position which he played rather adeptly when he returned to Quad Cities. He embraced the chance to become more versatile, "It was definitely fun to learn. That's for sure. Just kind of keeps you in the action a little more than the outfield does so it was fun being in the action on almost every play." After Kemmer's promotion to Lancaster, though, he ended up mostly back in the outfield and has been playing corner outfield and DH-ing during Spring Training as well. But he always carries his first baseman's glove with him, just in case.

When I asked Kemmer to characterize himself defensively, he said, "I'd just say a solid all-around player. I'm not going to make a ton of spectacular plays, but I'll make the routine plays and just do whatever it takes to help the team."

As to Kemmer's offense, I spoke with 2014 Quad Cities Manager Omar Lopez about Kemmer last season and Lopez told me that Kemmer is a very aggressive hitter, sometimes too aggressive. Kemmer agreed, "I'm going to have to agree with him 100%. That's probably the biggest part of my game that I'm going to have to fix. I'm an extremely aggressive hitter. I swing at pitches that probably aren't my best pitches, but I feel like I can still hit them. But I'm starting to became a bit more of a disciplined hitter. Like Omar said, just stay a little more disciplined at the plate and not get myself out."

One of the biggest changes for Kemmer between 2013 and 2014 was that he expanded the field for himself. Kemmer said, "My first year I got myself out a lot by trying to pull the ball too much, trying to hit home runs. Last year, I worked with all the hitting coaches working gap to gap a lot more, just kind of opening my game up a little bit more because my first year I was very much dead pull." And Kemmer recognizes that expanding the field is the most efficient way to beat the shift.

After Kemmer's July promotion to Lancaster, he admittedly hit better in the hitter-friendly home environs of The Hangar (.339/.349/.774) than he did on the road (.264/.292/.495), but he still managed to hit five of his 12 California League home runs on the road. When asked about the 'Lancaster effect,' Kemmer said, "I'd be lying if I said a couple of the home runs weren't 'Lancaster' home runs, but a lot of those home runs I don't think I got cheated on. There's just something that clicked up there that this is what I needed to do. The wind factor gives you a little more confidence maybe, but something clicked and something just made me move forward."

What does Kemmer think he accomplished in 2014? "I think I proved that I do deserve to be here. I proved that to myself. My first year definitely wasn't a very good year for me. I didn't put up great numbers. I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder to kind of prove to myself and to other people that I deserve to be here. I think I might have been able to do that this past year and hopefully keep it moving forward," said Kemmer.

As to what he needs to do to keep that forward momentum, Kemmer told me, "Probably the little things like we talked about earlier. Plate discipline. I know my walk to strikeout ratio was not very good at all at Lancaster and that's definitely a part of my game I wanted to work on this offseason." Kemmer's goal is to be productive at both corner outfield positions and first base in order to offer the versatility that can help a team.

When asked what Astros minor league pitcher he'd least like to face in the batter's box, Kemmer replied, "I'd have to say [LHP] Josh Hader, just him from the left side, that three-quarters (delivery), the way he's been looking at Spring Training." Kemmer wants to face Hader because he wants to face the best, but emphasized that Hader had been looking 'unreal' in Spring Training. Kemmer went on to single out LHP Tommy Shirley and RHP Kyle Westwood as pitchers who have been looking very good this Spring.

What teammate makes Kemmer laugh? Not surprisingly, he singled out Brett Phillips. "It would have to be Brett Phillips, just being around that kid. Goofy, funny, hilarious, everything. Once you see his laugh ... there's no other laugh in the world like his laugh. He's a good teammate to play with. Everything about him is real."

Kemmer didn't particularly like the next question. What would he do if he couldn't play baseball? "That's kind of scary to think about, but I definitely would try to coach or do something like that. Just kind of give back. I got to do hitting lessons this offseason. I absolutely loved working with younger kids, watching them grow. Maybe do something outdoors ... hunting, guiding, something like that."

Asked to name a guilty pleasure, Kemmer mentioned his taste in movies which he said could sometimes be a little embarrassing, citing "Mean Girls" as one of his favorites. But his favorite movie of all time was "Fox and the Hound." According to Kemmer, "I watched that movie so many times on VHS that it actually came undone."

As a final question, I always ask players if they can tell me something about themselves that most people don't know and might be surprised to hear. Occasionally I get an interesting answer, but often the responses are completely unusable and end up in the scrap heap. Not this time. Kemmer came through for me in a big way. He responded, "I 100% believe in ghosts. When I was about seven or eight years old, I am 100% positive that I saw a ghost and I am 100% a believer in ghosts. It was a ghost of a leprechaun. Seven or eight years old and you see the ghost of a leprechaun? You never forget that! It was at my house. I just happened to wake up one night and my door's always shut, but my door was open which was really weird. And I just sat up and I saw a leprechaun standing there and he tipped his hat to me and went around the corner and he was gone."

Thank you for your time, Jon, and best of luck in the coming season. I thoroughly enjoyed talking with you and I hope your leprechaun spirit leads you to a pot of baseball gold!

>>>>>>><<<<<<<

Minor league baseball season is almost upon us as the full season teams start play only two weeks from today! The best resource for information on Astros minor leaguers is the 2015 Houston Farm System Handbook, now available on Amazon. Purchase this 5-star treasure today and wow your friends and family with your astounding knowledge of the Astros minor league system!


Happy Birthday - 3/26

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

RHP Shane Reynolds (47)
Drafted by the Astros in the third round in 1989, Reynolds pitched for Houston from 1992 to 2002. He had a 103-86 record over 274 appearances (248 starts) with an ERA of 3.95 and a WHIP of 1.292. His best season was 1998 when he went 19-8 with a 3.51 ERA and a 1.329 WHIP. In 1999 he led the National League in SO/BB ratio and sacrifice hits, and was finally given an All-Star nod in 2000.

IF Jose Vizcaino (47)
Vizcaino played in 18 seasons for eight different teams, five of those for Houston from 2001 to 2005 where he batted .276/.316/.369 in 559 games. He led the National League in fielding percentage and assists by a shortstop in 1995 for the Mets. In 2000, he had the game-winning hit for the Yankees in Game 1 of the Subway World Series between the Yankees and the Mets. He is currently a Special Assistant for Player Personnel for the Dodgers.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Roster Moves and a New Manager

The Astros announced last week that the Manager for the Greeneville Astros would be Lamarr Rogers, a long-time minor league player and independent league coach. The full story on Rogers is here.

Also, the Astros picked up two minor league free agents this month:

RHP Robert Stock: Stock was drafted by the Cardinals in the second round in 2009 and was converted from catcher, making it as far as the Advanced A Florida League prior to his release by St. Louis.

RHP Christian Powell: Powell was originally drafted by the Twins in the 8th round in 2012 and made it as far as the Low A Midwest League prior to his release in May of last year.

In addition, I had not previously posted this, but former Astro RHP Ross Seaton signed with the Tigers in February as a minor league free agent.

And finally, if you missed this from yesterday, there were several minor league player releases as well.

The updated 2014-2015 Off-Season Transaction List can be found here.

Happy Birthday - 3/25

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

RHP Mike Nagy (67)
Obtained in a trade from the Cardinals in December 1973, Nagy only pitched in nine games for Houston in 1974 at the end of his major league career with less than desirable results.  His best season was his rookie season in 1969, when he was 12-2 with a 3.11 ERA and a 1.469 WHIP in 33 appearances (28 starts) for Boston.  He was second only to Lou Pinella in AL Rookie of the Year voting that year.  According to Baseball-Reference:
After his stint in the US ended, Nagy starred in the Mexican League from 1976-1979. He led the Liga in ERA in 1978 and his 2.01 career ERA is the lowest in LMB history among hurlers with 500+ innings.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Astros Minor League Player Releases

This is the part I hate. The Astros have announced several player releases today. They include:

LHP Colton Cain: Obtained in the Wandy Rodriguez trade in July 2012
OF Ydarqui Marte: International Free Agent signed out of the Dominican Republic in July 2009
OF Tanner Mathis: Signed as a non-drafted free agent in June 2013
RHP Chris Munnelly: Signed as a non-drafted free agent in July 2013
RHP Francis Ramirez: International Free Agent signed out of the Dominican Republic in November 2008
OF Jose Solano: International Free Agent signed out of the Dominican Republic in March 2010
RHP Vince Wheeland: Drafted in the 24th round in 2014

Most of these players are just names to Astros fans. I assure you they are much more and they will be missed.



Rule 5 Astros in Spring Training

As you probably recall, the Astros lost three players in the major league portion of the Rule 5 Draft in December. These players will need to stay on the drafting team's 25-man roster for the entire 2015 season or they will otherwise have to be offered back to the Astros. Let's check in with the trio and see how they have fared so far in Spring Training.

LHP David Rollins/Seattle Mariners
In seven games (8.1 innings pitched), Rollins has done extremely well, going 1-0 with a 1.13 ERA and a 0.625 WHIP. He has walked zero batters and struck out seven.

RHP Jandel Gustave/Kansas City Royals
In five games (7.1 innings pitched), Gustave is 1-0 and has converted one of two save opportunities. He has a 3.68 ERA, 1.227 WHIP and has walked three batters while striking out six. [UPDATE: Gustave was placed on waivers today by the Royals. This post from MLB Trade Rumors explains the process, but in a nutshell, if another team doesn't claim his Rule 5 rights, he will be offered back to the Astros.]

OF Delino DeShields/Texas Rangers
DeShields has appeared in 11 games for the Rangers, hitting .185/.214/.333 with two doubles, one triple, one RBI, one walk, and five strikeouts. He has stolen one base and has been caught stealing twice.

Happy Birthday - 3/24

No future Astros with birthdays today, but these former Astros mark the day ~

RHP Josh Zeid (28)
Drafted by the Phillies in the 10th round in 2009 from Tulane, Zeid came to Houston as part of the Hunter Pence trade in July 2011. In 48 games for the Astros from 2013 through 2014, Zeid had a 5.21 ERA and a 1.552 WHIP. Zeid was claimed by Detroit off waivers in November 2014.

OF Jesus Alou (73)
Alou originally came to Houston as a part of the Rusty Staub trade with the Expos in January of 1969 and spent 1969 through part of the 1973 season with Houston and returned to the team for the 1978 and 1979 seasons as well. In 553 games for Houston, he hit .282/.313/.366. He spent all or parts of 15 seasons in the major leagues playing for four different teams, including the 1973 and 1974 World Series champion Oakland teams. He is the brother of Felipe and Matty Alou and uncle to Moises Alou.

RHP Jose Cabrera (43)
Acquired in a trade with Cleveland in May 1997, Cabrera pitched in 93 games over four seasons for Houston with a 4.32 ERA and a 1.302 WHIP before being claimed off waivers by Atlanta in April of 2001. He had his most successful season in the majors for Atlanta that year, going 7-4 in 55 games with a 2.88 ERA and a 1.298 WHIP. After one final season in the majors with Milwaukee in 2002, he kept playing in the minors, in independent ball and in Mexico. He last played for Tobasco in the Mexican League in 2012 where, at age 40, he went 1-0 with 23 saves, a 1.14 ERA and a 0.663 WHIP in 30 games.

RHP Jose "Papa Grande" Valverde (37)
Acquired in a trade with Arizona for Chris Burke, Juan Gutierrez and Chad Qualls in December 2007, Valverde pitched for Houston for two seasons, going 10-5 with 69 saves, a 2.93 ERA and a 1.159 WHIP. A three-time All-Star for Arizona and Detroit, he was the league leader in saves three times as well. After four seasons with Detroit, he played with the Mets briefly in 2014 until his release in May.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Astros Minor Leaguers in Spring Training

The Astros announced today that minor leaguers RHP Mark Appel and OF Andrew Aplin will be reassigned to minor league camp, a move that was not unexpected. Time to check in on how all the minor leaguers have fared in their time playing with the big league club. (Unfortunately, boxscores for the games on the backfields during Spring Training aren't available so this is really the only info readily available.) The following includes all stats to date with those players who appeared in the past week in bold.

POSITION PLAYERS
SS Carlos Correa - 8x30 4R HR 3RBI 2BB 8SO SB (.267/.313/.367)
OF Andrew Aplin - 1x14 5R 5BB 2SO 2SB
C Max Stassi - 5x13 4R 2B HR 3RBI 3BB 2SO (.385/.471/.692)
OF Domingo Santana - 0x10 RBI 6SO
IF Nolan Fontana - 1x9 2R RBI 2BB 4SO
3B Colin Moran - 4x9 2R BB 2SO CS
IF Ronald Torreyes - 0x8 RBI BB 2SO
IF Joe Sclafani - 3x8 4R
OF Preston Tucker - 0x8 2BB 3SO
1B/3B Matt Duffy - 2x7 R HR RBI 2BB SB
C Tyler Heineman - 1x5 R 2B BB
C Roberto Pena - 0x5
OF Brett Phillips - 2x4 R HR 2RBI 2SO
OF Teoscar Hernandez - 1x2 2B SB
OF Jason Martin - 0x2
OF Derek Fisher - 0x2 2SO
3B J.D. Davis - 0x1
2B Tony Kemp - 1x1
C Luis Flores - 0x1
1B Telvin Nash - 0x1 SO
OF Ruben Sosa - 0x1
SS Mott Hyde - 0x0 CS

PITCHERS
RHP James Hoyt - 5G 6.0IP 0.00ERA 0.500WHIP BB 7SO
RHP Asher Wojciechowski - 4G 12.0IP 0.75ERA 1.000WHIP 4BB 9SO
RHP Mark Appel - 3G 7.0IP 2.57ERA 1.143WHIP 3BB 5SO
RHP Brady Rodgers - 3G 3.1IP 16.20ERA 2.700WHIP 3BB SO
RHP Jason Stoffel - 3G 3.1IP 2.70ERA 1.200WHIP 3BB 2SO
LHP Luis Cruz - 2G 3.2IP 2.45ERA 1.090WHIP 2BB 4SO
RHP Michael Feliz - 2G 3.0IP 0.00ERA 0.667WHIP BB 3SO
RHP Jordan Jankowski - 2G 2.0IP 22.50ERA 3.000WHIP BB 4SO
LHP Kent Emanuel - 1G 0.1IP 27.00ERA 6.000WHIP SO
RHP Tyson Perez - 1G 1.0IP 0.00ERA 1.000WHIP BB SO
LHP Chris Lee - 1G 1.0IP 0.00ERA 0.000WHIP 2SO
RHP Lance McCullers - 1G 1.0IP 0.00ERA 1.000WHIP SO

Happy Birthday - 3/23

Happy Birthday to ~

SS/2B Chan Moon (24)
Signed as a NDFA from South Korea in 2009, Moon split his 2014 season between Quad Cities and Lancaster. In 127 games, he hit .286/.341/.398 with 18 doubles, 10 triples, six home runs, 60 RBI and 35 stolen bases.

Two former Astros also celebrate today ~

LHP Danny Coombs (73)
Signed as an amateur free agent by the Colt .45's prior to the 1963 season, Coombs spent parts of seven seasons playing for Houston. In 90 appearances, he was 8-7 with a 4.22 ERA and a 1.551 WHIP. His best season for Houston was 1968 when he went 4-3 in 40 appearances (2 starts) with a 3.28 ERA. In 1970 he was used primarily as a starter for the Padres, compiling a 10-14 record with a 3.30 ERA. 1971 was his final year in the major leagues.

1B Lee "Big Bopper" May (72)
According to Baseball-Reference, here is how May came to Houston and how he left Houston:
  • November 29, 1971: Traded by the Cincinnati Reds with Tommy Helms and Jimmy Stewart to the Houston Astros for Ed Armbrister, Jack Billingham, Cesar Geronimo, Denis Menke and Joe Morgan.
  • December 3, 1974: Traded by the Houston Astros with Jay Schlueter to the Baltimore Orioles for Rob Andrews and Enos Cabell.
In between, he played in 448 games for Houston, hitting .274/.317/.471 with 81 doubles, five triples and 81 home runs and one All-Star appearance. All told, May played in 2071 games over 18 seasons for four teams, hitting 354 home runs and making three All-Star appearances.

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Happy Birthday - 3/22

Happy Birthday to ~

RHP Ezequiel Madera (19)
An international free agent from the Dominican Republic, Madera got his first professional experience in the Dominican Summer League in 2014. In nine appearances (11 innings), he had a 7.36 ERA and a 1.455 WHIP.

Several former Astros have birthdays today as well ~

OF Dexter Fowler (29)
Originally drafted by the Rockies in the 14th round in 2004, Fowler came to Houston in the December 2013 trade that sent Brandon Barnes and Jordan Lyles to the Rockies. In 116 games for Houston in 2014, he hit .276/.375/.399 with 21 doubles, four triples and eight home runs. Fowler was traded to the Cubs in January 2015 for RHP Dan Straily and 3B Luis Valbuena.

3B Sean Berry (49)
Drafted by the Royals in the first round in 1986, Berry came to Houston in a trade with the Expos in 1995 and played for the Astros from 1996 through 1998. He hit .283/.342/.476 with 79 doubles, three triples and 38 home runs in 330 games. Berry served as hitting coach for the Astros from July of 2006 until July of 2010. Most recently, he has served as the minor league hitting coordinator for the Padres.

IF Billy Goodman (died October 1, 1984 at 58)
After having spent the majority of his playing days with Boston, as well as stints with the White Sox and Orioles, Goodman played in 82 games for the Colt .45's in 1962 at the end of his career. He hit .255/.306/.292, but his career line over 16 seasons was .300/.376/.378 in 1623 games. He was a two-time All-Star and led the American League in batting average in 1950 when he hit .354 over 110 games.

MGR Matt Galante (71)
Matt Galante managed the Astros for 27 games in 1999, going 13-14, as Larry Dierker recovered from brain surgery.

RHP Jeremy Griffiths (37)
Drafted by the Mets in the third round in 1999, Griffiths pitched in a total of 10 games in his major league career, one of those for the Astros in 2004. Griffiths came to Houston with David Weathers in the Mets trade for Richard Hidalgo in June 2004.

I would also like to wish Ryan Dunsmore, Crawfish Boxes contributor and photoshop king, a very happy birthday.

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