July 2010

Dominican signing is huge for Astros

Astros general manager Ed Wade announced Tuesday that the Astros signed 16-year old Dominican free agent outfielder Ariel Ovando to a 2011 Minor League contract. The Astros’ front office was giddy over the signing of Ovando, who got a signing bonus of between $2.6 and $2.8 million. That’s the equivalent of a high first-round draft pick.

Needless to say, this guy isn’t a chump.

Ovando will turn 17 on Sept. 15 and is expected to spend this season at the Astros’ Latin American complex in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic. He will then participate in the instructional league in Kissimmee, Fla., in September.

“We’re extremely excited to get Ariel into the Astros’ organization,” Wade said. “Felix [Francisco] did a lot of work on this kid and we also were able to have some of our other evaluators scout him over the past several months. Ariel profiles as a middle of the order power hitter with excellent defensive skills and should move quickly through the Minor League system.”

Here are scouting reports on Ovando: 

Felix Francisco, special asst. to the G.M./Latin American operations: Darryl Strawberry type body. Large frame. Long arms and legs with a lot of room to fill out. Everyday right fielder with the ability to hit for average and power. Ball carries off bat. Will be an above average right fielder with an average to above-average arm. Smart kid who has a clear goal in life and is dedicated.

Clarence Johns, Eastern regional supervisor: 2XL frame. Long, lanky features. High waist with extra long arms and legs. Has the frame of Fred McGriff with the long arms and legs of Darryl Strawberry. Will be a middle of the order bat with 30 plus home runs and 100 RBI potential. Will drive the ball to all fields. Future strong defender with arm strength to hold runners in check. Makes solid contact with ease. Plays the game with confidence and youthful exuberance. Very engaging personality. Reminiscent of Jason Heyward (Braves) and Dominic Brown (Phillies) as amateurs.

Bobby Heck, assistant G.M./scouting director: Impact player. Large, lean and loose frame. Broad, sloped shoulders. High, trim waist. Body similar to Carlos Delgado. Will hit 3-4 in a lineup. Advanced hitter for age. Quiet confidence with a boyish smile.  Will be a big man.  Easy, fast bat with hitter’s hands. Reminds me of Jason Heyward, Fred McGriff and Carlos Delgado.

Ricky Bennett, assistant G.M./player development director: Tall, athletic frame, good build with room to fill out; body type similar to Cliff Floyd. Corner OF with power to all fields. Good bat speed and plate coverage. Ball jumps off bat and has 25-30 home run type power. 


Astros announce Minor League Players of the Month

Here are the Astros’ Minor League players of the month for June, as chosen by the field staff of each team:

  • Triple A-Round Rock: RHP Josh Banks posted a 3-1 record and a 1.50 ERA in four starts in June to earn his second consecutive Round Rock Pitcher of the Month honors. Outfielder Drew Locke was named Offensive Player of the Month after hitting .317 with 14 extra-base hits, including 10 doubles, and 15 RBIs in 28 June games. C Jason Castro, who’s been playing with the Astros since June 22, received Round Rock’s Defensive Player of the Month honors after playing in 15 games with the Express this month. On the season, he posted a .994 fielding percentage and caught 13 of 34 attempted base stealers at Triple-A.
  • Double-A Corpus Christi: After posting a 1-2 record and a 2.10 ERA in five games, four starts, in June, RHP Jordan Lyles was named Pitcher of the Month for the Hooks. Lyles, 19, was also named to the XM All-Star Futures Game and the Texas League All-Star game in June. OF J.B. Shuck was named Offensive Player of the Month for the second straight month after hitting .347 with a .426 on-base percentage and seven RBIs. 3B Jhon Florentino, who has played 70 games at third base this season, earned Defensive Player of the Month honors and owns a .936 fielding percentage at the hot corner in 2010.
  • Class A Advanced Lancaster: JetHawks Pitcher of the Month LHP Patrick Urckfitz owned a 1-0 record and a 2.08 ERA, while striking out 25 and walking only three in six games (one start) in June. OF Lee Cruz hit .400 with 11 doubles, three home runs and 21 RBIs en route to receiving the Offensive Player of the Month award. The Defensive Player of the Month was OF Brandon Barnes, who has posted a .969 fielding percentage with 15 outfield assists while playing primarily right field this season.
  • Class A Lexington: Pitcher of the Month RHP Zach Grimmett finished the month 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA and posted a 0.85 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) in seven relief appearances for Lexington. OF J.D. Martinez was named Offensive Player of the Month for the second time this season after hitting .356 with 14 extra-base hits, a .420 on-base percentage and 13 RBIs in 25 games. OF Jacob Goebbert received Defensive Player of the Month honors for the second time this season and owns a .985 fielding percentage as Lexington’s left fielder in 2010.
  • Rookie Level Dominican Summer League: LHP Francisco Baso posted a 3-3 record with one save and a 2.93 ERA in six games to earn Pitcher of the Month honors for the DSL Astros. The Offensive Player of the Month honor was awarded to 2B Yonathan Mejia, who hit .310 with seven RBIs. OF Ydarqui Marte earned the Defensive Player of the Month for the Astros after posting a .983 fielding percentage with four outfield assists in 31 games in the outfield this season.


Blum to undergo surgery

Astros infielder Geoff Blum is scheduled to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow on Wednesday morning at 8 a.m., general manager Ed Wade announced this evening.

Dr. Tom Mehlhoff examined Blum this evening at Minute Maid Park and will perform the surgical procedure tomorrow morning at Texas Orthopedic Hospital in Houston. After the procedure, a determination can be made as to how long Blum will be out of action.

Blum was placed on the 15-day disabled list Sunday after experiencing swelling and discomfort in his elbow follow¬ing Thursday night’s game at San Diego (started at shortstop). Blum underwent an MRI on his elbow while the club was in San Diego. Outfielder Jason Bourgeois was recalled from Round Rock on Sunday when Blum was placed on the DL.

Blum, 37, is hitting .241 in 59 games this season with seven doubles, a triple and 14 RBIs. He is second in the Majors with seven pinch RBIs and is hitting .261 as a pinch-hitter overall. Blum has made 31 starts, 10 at first base, shortstop and third base and one at second base.


Bourn named to All-Star team

Astros CF Michael Bourn will be making his first All-Star Game appearance after being selected as a reserve by NL manager Charlie Manuel of the Phillies, the organization that drafted Bourn in 2003 out of the University of Houston.

Bourn, 27, leads the league with 25 stolen bases and is well on his way to winning another NL Gold Glove Award, an honor he won last year for the first time. He’s hitting .260 with one homer and 20 RBIs from the leadoff spot with 48 runs scored and a .336 on-base percentage, and he carried the Astros by hitting .311 in April while much of the club was struggling offensively.

He also leads league in outfield assists, infield hits and bunt hits (tied).

All three Astros starting outfielders now have All-Star nods on their resumes. Right-fielder Hunter Pence went last year, and left-fielder Carlos Lee went for the Astros in 2007.

The Astros at the halfway point

After 81 games — midpoint in their 162-game schedule — the Astros are 32-49, which puts them on pace to go 64-98, which would be their worst record in club history. I once thought the club was a shoo-in to reach 100 losses, but it is 15-15 in its last 30 games and has been playing better for the most part.

Will that continue? A lot of it will depend on what happens by the end of this month and the trade deadline. If the Astros trade Roy Oswalt, who pitched terrific on Friday, for some prospects, and perhaps even Brett Myers, they will be in a full-fledged youth movement and there figures to be some growing pains.

The Astros are already committed to rookies Chris Johnson at third base and Jason Castro at catcher, and it appears 26-year-old Angel Sanchez will get substantial playing time at shortstop until rookie Tommy Manzella returns from his broken finger. If the Astros do get some top-notch prospects for Oswalt, the second half of the season will be worth watching if the future of the club is on display.

This is one of the few seasons in last 20 years the Astros are pretty much out of it at the All-Star break, due in large part because sluggers Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman and Hunter Pence struggled collectively to begin the season. At the end of the season, they could wind up having decent numbers, but their inability to hit — along with Pedro Feliz and Kaz Matsui — early in the year buried the Astros.

Lee is on pace to hit 20 homers and drive in 82 runs, which would way below his career averages, not to mention he’s hitting .238. Berkman is hitting .240 and has seven homers and 35 RBIs at the midpoint, but he did miss the first two weeks of the season. Pence? He’s on pace to hit .257 with 22 homers an 77 RBIs.

On the mound, Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez — the top two pitchers in the Astros’ rotation — are on pace to lose 20 games. That’s a shame for Oswalt, considering he’s delivered 14 quality starts in 17 outings and has a 3.32 ERA. He’s stuck at 142 career wins, leaving him two shy of Joe Niekro for the club’s all-time lead. Whether gets a chance to get it or gets dealt will be one of the biggest story lines for the second half of the season.

Here’s predicting the Astros play better in the second half of the season and avoid 100 losses, whether it’s from the veterans stepping up at the plate or the infusion of youth paying dividends.

Here are my Astros awards at the midpoint:

Astros Player of the Year: Michael Bourn. He’s hitting .264 with one homer and 20 RBIs from the leadoff spot with on on-base percentage of .340, but he’s stolen 25 bases, is among league leaders in outfield assists and is on his way to a second Gold Glove.

Astros Pitcher of the Year: Matt Lindstrom: He’s got 19 saves in 23 chances for a team that has only 32 wins. He’s posted a 2.97 ERA and proven to be a terrific pickup from the Marlins. He’s got a chance to make the All-Star team. A case could certainly be made for Oswalt or Myers.

Astros Rookie of the Year: Wilton Lopez. The durable reliever is 3-0 with a 3.98 ERA in 30 games. At the end of year we may be giving this to Chris Johnson or Jason Castro, but they haven’t been around long enough at this point.