Astros excited about signing of Alaniz, a non-drafted free agent
Astros assistant manager Bobby Heck was so excited about the signing of 6-foot-4 right-handed pitcher Ruben (AJ) Alaniz as a non-drafted free agent Saturday that the club took the unusual step of issuing a separate press release to announce the deal.
Alaniz, a product of Juarez-Lincoln High School in La Joya, Texas, signed for $160,000, which is slightly more then the $154,000 bonus they gave fifth-round pick Brandon Wikoff, a shortstop from the University of Illinois.
Heck said Alaniz was the classic case of a player slipping under the radar before the draft. Astros scout Rusty Pendergrass first saw Alaniz during a tryout in South Texas in June, and the team made a run to sign him that night. The Astros waited to see Alaniz pitch in a game with a travel team out of Dallas, and soon other teams were on his trail.
“From there, the pursuit was on,” Heck said. “At the end of the day, a lot of this is because of Rusty’s due diligence and the relationship he built over time with the kid.”
Heck said both Pendergrass and East Coast scouting supervisor Clarence Johns believe Alaniz has the stuff to be a Major League starter. His fastball has been clocked at 94-mph, and he has a plus curve ball. Alaniz, 18, will report to the Gulf Coast League Astros in Kissimmee, Fla., on Monday.
Meanwhile, Heck said the Astros were hoping to sign at least one more draft pick before Monday’s deadline. They’ve signed 25 of their top 26 picks, leaving 12th-round pick Geoffrey Thomas, a right-handed high school pitcher from Georgia, as the highest unsigned pick.
Thomas is among three players the Astros are still negotiating with, but the Southern Mississippi commit doesn’t have the team as enthusiastic about his chances of signing as the two other players they’re negotiating with.
“I’m hoping to get another guy,” Heck said. “We’re engaged in three different ongoing negotiations now with significant money on the table for all three. We’re trying to keep adding to the list. There’s just a lot of moving parts and dynamics to them, especially with a lot of the other signings coming in. I’m going to be happy if I get one, and if I get more than that it’s a bonus and icing on the cake.”
Astros manager Cecil Cooper, who spent 11 seasons in Milwaukee as a player and has worked in several other capacities in the Brewers organization, and bench coach Ed Romero paid a visit to Commissioner Bud Selig on Saturday.
Selig owned the Brewers when Cooper and Romero played in Milwaukee.
“He’s special to me, but it hasn’t always been warm,” Cooper said. “He’s always been pretty good to me. I remember when I first left here after the ’87 season, we didn’t have the best of relationship. Because of his kids, they kind of smoothed it over and got us to be friends again, I guess you could say. They started recruiting me to come back as a coach and be part of the organization. We’ve always talked through the years.”