June 2009

Astros sign third-round pick Meyer, 33 players total

The Astros signed three players selected in the First-Year Player Draft, including third-round supplemental selection Jonathan Meyer, a third baseman out of Simi Valley High School in California. He’s a switch-hitter who will report to the Greeneville Astros of the Rookie Level Appalachian League.

Also signing Friday were right-hander Brandt Walker out of Stanford and outfielder Jacob Gobbert out of Northwestern. Walker, 21, is a Texas native picked in the eighth round, and Goebbert was taken in the 13th round.

Astros assistant general manager in charge of scouting Bobby Heck said talks are still progressing with No. 1 pick Jiovanni Mier. Don’t be surprised if a deal is reached soon.

The Astros have signed a total of 33 players from the 50 they selected in the draft.

On Thursday, Houston annonced the signing of eight more picks: shorstop Enrique Hernandez (sixth round out of American Military Academy), third baseman Erik Castro (10th round out of San Diego State), left-hander David Berner (14th round out of San Jose State), center fielder Garen Wright (29th round out of Putnam City High School), outfielder Sean Barksdale (38th round out of Temple University), right-hander Daniel Sariska (40th round out of Oglethorpe University), righthander Michael Schurz (44th round out of University of Iowa) and left-hander Spencer Hylander (50th round out of Oklahoma Baptist).



Cooper apologizes during team meeting

Astros manager Cecil Cooper called a team meeting prior to Thursday’s game in which, according to more than one veteran player, he apologized to the team for forgetting to congratulate Ivan Rodriguez following Wednesday’s game. Rodriguez caught his 2,227th career game Wednesday, breaking the all-time games caught record.

Cooper was angry with how his team played in Wednesday’s 5-4, 10-inning loss to the Rangers and held a team meeting following the game in which players said he criticized their play. This didn’t set well with some players, who believed the story of the night was Rodriguez.

The players bought Rodriguez a bottle of Cristal champagne and signed it for him, while each had a bottle of champagne they got Pudge to sign for them. Cooper eventually congratulated Rodriguez after addressing the media Wednesday night.

Astros owner Drayton McLane arrived in Arlington prior to Thursday’s game and himself congratulated Rodriguez during batting practice, giving him a hug. McLane also chatted briefly with Cooper at the batting cage before disappearing to participate in a ceremony with former President George W. Bush, who lives in Dallas and was at the ballpark to participate in the re-naming of the owner’s suite.

Bush, who owned the Rangers when Rodriguez was a younster, paid a visit to the Astros clubhouse and congratulated Pudge on his record-setting game. Rodriguez responded by giving Bush one of his bats he used from the game last night.

The former President made his away around the clubhouse and stopped in manager Cecil Cooper’s office. Astros pitcher Tim Byrdak asked Bush if he could hug him, and after the embrace he yelled at his teammates: “And you said it couldn’t be done.”

Bush responded with, “Just as long as he didn’t kiss me.”

Here are two pictures, courtesy of Astros senior director of digital media Alyson Footer:



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Astros' draft pick Keuchel shines again in CWS

Arkansas pitcher Dallas Keuchel, selected by the Astros in the seventh round of last week’s First-Year Player Draft, won his second game for the Razorbacks in the College World Series on Wednesday night.

Keuchel came on in relief for the first time in his career and threw four scoreless innings, escaping a bases-loaded jam by getting a double play in the ninth inning. Arkansas won 4-3 in 12 innings.

“I tell myself I’ve been through this before,” he said. “I didn’t want to let them go out like that. They kept swinging through the slider and missing.”

Coincidentally, Arkansas scored twice in the ninth to tie the game on a two-run homer from Brett Eibner, who was drafted by the Astros in the fourth round in 2007 but didn’t sign.


Astros left-hander Mike Hampton, placed on the disabled list following Tuesday’s game with a strained left groin, doesn’t think the injury will keep him out more than one or two starts. He’s eligible to return from the DL on June 29.

“Hopefully, I’ll just miss two starts and this isn’t something that lingers on instead of taking a chance and trying to pitch and battling mechanics,” he said. “It [stinks] and it’s something you don’t want to do, but I’d rather get it taken care of as soon as possible.”

Make-or-break start for Backe?

With Mike Hampton going on the disabled list with a strained groin, Brandon Backe will make his first start of the season in Thursday’s series finale against the Rangers. Simply put, this could be Backe’s final chance to show the Astros he can be a capable Major League pitcher.

Backe struggled last year, going 9-14 with a 6.05 ERA in 31 starts in his first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery. He led the league in earned runs (112) and home runs (36), but signed a $1.55 million contract and was competing for a spot in the rotation before missing two months when he injured a ribcage muscle in early March.

As a reliever, Backe hasn’t distinguished himself so far this season in four appearances. He’s pitched nine innings and allowed 17 hits and 12 runs while striking out 10 batters. He’s 1-2 with a 7.77 ERA in six career games (three starts) against the Rangers.

Hampton can come off the disabled list on June 29, but don’t be surprised to see the Astros reach down to Triple-A Round Rock at some point soon and summon Bud Norris. He’s 3-4 with a 2.34 ERA in 12 starts, allowing 62 hits and striking out 72 batters in 73 innings.


Astros sign 22 picks, including second-rounder Bushue

The Astros wasted little time signing a handful of players from last week’s First-Year Player Draft, announcing Monday they had inked 22 selections. Houston signed 22 of the 51 players it selected in the draft, including second-round pick Tanner Bushue, a right-handed pitcher from Illinois, and Georgia high school outfielder Telvin Nash, a third-round pick.

Bobby Heck, Houston’s assistant general manager in charge of scouting, said all players were signed within recommended slot and said the struggles of the economy have been evident.

“There’s a little more value of a dollar this year than there’s been in past year,” he said. “Talking with the players and their families, it seems like everyone, whether it’s immediate family, extended family or friends or neighbors, has somebody affected by the economy. That puts things in perspective. It hasn’t been long and drawn out stuff.”

The signed players are either heading to Houston for physicals or heading out to begin their pro careers at Tri-City, a short-season Class A club. Heck and scout Doug Deutsch are still negotiating with first-round pick Jiovanni Mier, a high school shortstop from southern California.

“It’s been very positive,” Heck said. “Doug Deutsch has had multiple meetings with the family since his selection, and we’ve been given all indicators it’s going to happen sooner than later.”

Some of the high school players taken by the Astros later in the draft might not be signed until closer to the Aug. 17 deadline. Houston will spend the summer evaluating some of the players, while hoping some asking prices come down.

“There’s some guys in there that slid (down in the draft) because of signability, and we took them later to see if there’s a chance for them to come off that number,” Heck said.

Here are the rest of the players signed, listed with round, name, position, school, height, weight and hometown:

4th Brailon Hyatt RHP U. of S. Carolina (Sumter) 6-4 205 Taylors, SC
5th Brandon Wikoff SS U. of Illinois (Champaign) 5-8 170 Peoria, IL
9th Ben Orloff SS U. C. Irvine 5-11 175 Simi Valley, CA
11th David Williams C Crowder College 6-0 190 Blue Springs, MO
15th Ryan Humphrey OF St. Louis C.C. Meramec 6-0 190 Blytheville, AR
16th Ronald Sanchez 1B Manuela Toro HS 5-10 180 Caguas, PR
17th Justin Harper RHP Oklahoma City U. 6-3 225 Pheoniz, AZ
18th James MacDonald RHP Boston College 6-2 190 Danvers, MA
19th Brian Kemp OF St. Johns U. 5-10 180 E. Rockaway, NY
20th Julio Martinez OF Nova Southeastern U. 6-3 210 Hollywood, FL
21st Barry Butera 2B Boston College 6-0 180 Madisonville, LA
22nd Mark Jones RHP Manheim HS 6-7 205 Lancaster, PA
23rd Robert Donovan RHP Stetson U. 6-5 215 Royal Palm Beach, FL
24th Mike Modica LHP George Mason U. 6-1 185 Sewell, NJ
25th Nicholas Stanley 1B Florida Southern 6-2 195 Largo, FL
27th Aaron Bay 3B U.N.C. Charlotte 6-0 180 Charlotte, NC
31st Travis Smink LHP Virginia Military Inst. 6-2 200 Dalmatia, PA
33rd Brenden Stines RHP Ball State U. 6-2 190 Granger, IN
34th Scott Migi RHP Texas A&M 6-3 190 Houston, TX
35th Jackson Hogue OF Mississipi State U. 6-0 190 Hattiesburg, MI

Draft pick Keuchel shines at College World Series

Dallas Keuchel, a left-handed pitcher from Arkansas selected in the seventh round of the First-Year Player Draft by the Astros, started for the Razorbacks and threw six solid innings in a 10-6 win over Cal State Fullerton in the first game of the College World Series on Saturday night.

Keuchel allowed five hits and four runs (three earned), walked one and struck out two batters to improve to 8-3 for Arkansas, which will play LSU on Monday night in a key game. Keuchel was the first Arkansas player taken in the draft and is the only Astros’ draft pick playing in Omaha this year.

“They’re a good base-hitting team,” Keuchel said of CSF. “We knew they were good at the little stuff. I was more focused on the hitters and I told coachI would throw over to first. We did a good job of holding them today.”

Big night in Corpus Christi

Astros closer Jose Valverde and second baseman Kaz Matsui played together at Double-A Corpus Christi on Wednesday night during a Minor League rehab stint in a game that also featured the Double-A debut of former No. 1 draft pick Jason Castro, a catcher taken No. 10 overall from Stanford last year.

Matsui, on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring, went 1-for-2 with two runs scored and a walk. He was scheduled to play seven innings Thursday and nine innings on Friday and Saturday.

Valverde, on the disabled list with a strained right calf, pitched a scoreless inning, walking two batters and striking out two batters. He threw 24 pitches (14 strikes) and hit 97 mph. He will throw again tonight and likely be activated in time for Friday’s series opener at Arizona.

Meanwhile, Castro went 1-for-4 with a run scored in his first game since being promoted from High-A Lancaster.

But the star of Wednesday’s show was Hooks starting pitcher Polin Trinidad, who threw seven shutout innings and allowed only one hit while striking out five batters to lower his ERA to 4.01. After giving up a one-out single during the first, Trinidad retired the final 20 batters he faced.


Mier's one-liner, Geary's exit and a catching shuffle

It was one line in a conference call, a line delivered by a teenage No. 1 draft pick. Just the same, it was about a former MVP and an All-Star who plays the same position.

What exactly did Jiovanni Mier say when asked by reporters about playing shortstop for the Astros, who drafted him No. 21 overall in Tuesday’s First-Year Player Draft?

“When I was down in Houston for the workout, one of the scouts was saying they wanted to get rid of [Miguel] Tejada and were looking for a shortstop,” he said. “I got big-eyed.”

Pause. Awkward silence.

You could call it a rookie mistake, if Mier was actually even a rookie.

In any case, the Astros brushed off the comment.

“I think it’s irrelevant,” general manager Ed Wade said. “We’ve got one guy who’s an All-Star shortstop who has a pretty good history of performing at this level and is having another All-Star-caliber season. We have an 18-year-old who’s hopefully beginning his professional baseball career pretty soon.

“Who we selected [in the draft] today or yesterday and how it impacts the composition of the big club in the short term is irrelevant.”

Wade even made light of the situation.

“Hopefully that’s not part of the recruiting speech,” he joked.


The Astros’ decision to outright relief pitcher Geoff Geary is certainly a curious one. He was one of the team’s most dependable members of the bullpen last year and had only pitched in 16 games, though ineffective, this year before going on the disabled list.

If Geary wants to continue to get paid by the Astros, he’ll have to accept his Minor League assignment and report to Round Rock and work his way back to the Majors. If not, he’s a free agent and will have to convince another team to give him a paycheck.


Speaking of curious moves, manager Cecil Cooper had Humberto Quintero – and not Ivan Rodriguez – behind the plate for Wednesday’s game. I-Rod had caught each of Wandy Rodriguez’s previous 12 starts and had been praised for helping the left-hander blossom.

Wandy allowed nine hits and five runs in 4 2/3 innings in his previous start five days earlier against Pittsburgh, and Ivan Rodriguez told general manager Ed Wade afterwards he thought Wandy was tipping pitches. Wandy said repeatedly he couldn’t find anything on videotape.

“He and Pudge had worked together for 10 or 12 starts, and I just said a change might be what’s needed for awhile,” Cooper said. “I’m going to start it today and see what happens. It’s not something Pudge is really happy with but I understand that. He wants to be an everyday guy and he and Wandy have had a good run.

“I think Q is playing pretty good. Let’s change it up and see what happens. It’s like changing Lance [Berkman] from third to fifth [in the order] or Hunter [Pence] from fifth to sixth. You have to make changes sometimes.” 

Can the Astros strike gold at No. 21?

When the Astros make their first-round pick at about 6:15 p.m. in tonight’s First-Year Player Draft, they will be hoping to find someone like Jason Varitek or Todd Worrell and not Greg Gohr or Hiram Bocachica.

Varitek (Twins, 1993) and Worrell (Cardinals, 1982) are two examples of success stories taken with the 21st overall pick, while Gohr (Tigers, 1989) and Bocachica (Expos, 1994) are examples of busts.

In addition to Worrell and Varitek (who didn’t sign with the Twins), other players draft at 21 who had good careers including Gorman Thomas (1969, Pilots), Rick Sutcliffe (1974, Dodgers), Atlee Hammaker (1979, Royals) and Jake Westbrook (1996, Rockies). The Yankees took left-hander Ian Kennedy at No. 21 in 2006 out of USC.

The last time the Astros picked at No. 21 was in 1990, when they took Minnesota high school shortstop Tom Nevers, who never panned out. Nevers was taken the pick after the Orioles selected Mike Mussina out of Stanford. The Astros did strike it rich in 1987 when they nabbed Craig Biggio at No. 22, one pick after the Tigers took outfielder Steve Pegues — who? — at No. 21.

There have been more misses than hits at No. 21 through the years, but the entire history of the draft for any team is littered with can’t-miss prospects who did just that. The Astros appear to have got it right when they took catcher Jason Castro at No. 10 overall last year in the first draft for scouting director Bobby Heck, and Houston hopes to hit the jackpot at No. 21.

Castro promoted to Corpus Christi; Heck continues draft preparations

Jason Castro, the Astros’ No. 1 prospect, was promoted to Double-A Corpus Christi from High-A Lancaster following Sunday’s game and is expected to join the Hooks on Wednesday against Midland. Castro hit .309 with seven home runs and 44 RBIs for the JetHawks, hitting .328 with four homers and 32 RBIs in May.

“We’re very excited about where he is in his development process,” assistant general manager Ricky Bennett said. “[Minor League field coordinator] Al Pedrique just left Lancaster yesterday and [catching coordinator] Danny Sheaffer has been in there, Mike Barnett, our hitting coordinator, has been in there, and we’re all seeing the same thing.

“He’s handled every challenge we put in front of him. His game-calling is better, his blocking is better, his throwing has been outstanding and he’s ready for another challenge. We are ready to move him through the system.”

Castro, 21, hit .275 in 39 games last year at rookie-league Tri-City after being drafted by the Astros out of Stanford with the No. 10 overall pick. The Astros have said they would like Castro to compete for the starting catcher’s job next year, and his promotion likely keeps him on that track.

When asked if it would be too much to expect Castro at Triple-A Round Rock later this year, Bennett didn’t hesitate.

“Yes,” he said. “We’re going to evaluate him on a daily basis. But I think realistically he’s going to benefit more from being in Double-A this year with a little bit better pitching staff, where the speed of the game is going to be a little different.”

Castro will also get a chance to work closely with Corpus Christi manager Luis Pujols, a former Major League catcher.

“I think he’s really going to develop under those circumstances and if he stays in Corpus for the rest of the year, that’s fine,” Bennett said. “I think the experience he’s going to get at this level will more more than anything else he’s ever really faced before in terms of competition and speed of the game and those types of things.”

The arrival of Castro in Corpus Christi has forced the Astros to shuffle some other players. Jonathan Fixler, who was the backup to Brian Esposito at Corpus Christi, will go to Lancaster and back up Koby Clemens, who will now be the No. 1 catcher at Lancaster.

“That’s kind of been the through process all along,” Bennett said. “When we started this season, I sat down with Koby in spring training and I told him in the first half of the season it maybe tough to get him time behind the plate, but hopefully at some point during the course of the summer he’ll get more playing time, and that time has come.”


Astros assistant general manager in charge of scouting Bobby Heck met with the media Monday after at Union Station to talk about the First-Year Player Draft. Heck didn’t give any insight on what the Astros might do with the No. 21 overall pick, simply saying the team was going to take the best available player.

Heck said the draft is getting a bad rap for not having much talent. He said it’s deep in high school pitching and lacking some college bats.

Heck’s draft team with the Astros consists of national cross checker David Post, East Coast supervisor Clarence Johns, Midwest supervisor Ralph Bratton, West Coast supervisor Mark Ross, area scouts J.D. Alleva and Joe Graham and coordinator of scouting Mike Burns.

Here are some excerpts from Heck’s comments:

Heck on draft preparations: “This drafted started the day after last draft. Within a week after last year’s draft, we had follow lists due for the players coming up, and we followed them all summer, we followed them all fall. We used those lists to prioritize guys as we attack them in the spring, but we’ve been in here for a week [spending] anywhere from 10- to 14-hour days, and that’s on the heels of last week having three days of regional meetings. Every scout has seen more 100 games and probably spent more than 90 nights in a hotel since the of January. We’re getting after it pretty good.”

Heck on his feelings: “Your nerves are controlled by how prepared you are. Our preparation has been good, but I think we’re tired more than we are nerve-wracked, especially picking at 21. A lot of it is out of our hands. our ideal thing is to have guys in place, guys on our board when it gets to 21 and the first 20 guys go, we better like the 21st guy.”

Heck on taking best player available: “Where we’re at as an organization it’s still adding a depth of quality to our organization. If there’s one thing that we might walk past, all things being equal, is catching. Jason Castro is on his way to Double-A right now and there’s a lot of young catching we like in our system. If I have two players at positions that are side by side and one’s a catcher, I’d opt for another position.”

Heck on the groundwork laid last year: “I need to add a few more classes like that. We’re only going to be as good as that type of depth. Truly, those players have gone out from last year and have performed. It’s very gratifying, but they’ve been healthy.I want to read in the boxscore they played the night before. That being said, some of those guys are going to break our hearts and not be everything we think they are and some of them are going to get hurt so we need to keep adding those types of players to our system to absorb that type of attrition.”

Heck on the draft’s talent pool: “This draft if getting a lot of bad knocks. This is a deep draft. I think more as we work our boards and put our boards together, there’s depth to it. Would I like to be picking 10 this year? No. I think the first half of the first round there’s a bit of decline in that type of talent, but after that the players that went in the second half of the first round last year are similar to this year. After that, there is depth.