September 2011

Move to AL wouldn’t be so bad

As I ponder the many ramifications of the Astros possibly moving to the American League in the near future, one of the first things that popped into my mind was how weird an interleague series in St. Louis would be. Never mind the designated hitter, the bevy of West Coast games and being able to see them play in Arlington three times a year.

As the Astros await approval of a transfer of ownership to a group led by Houston businessman Jim Crane, an industry source has confirmed for commissioner Bud Selig has asked Crane to agree to move the Astros to the American League if he’s approved as owner.

Crane signed a sales purchase agreement in May to buy the team from Drayton McLane for $680 million, but Major League Baseball has yet to approve the deal.  The possible league switch has kept the deal from being approved, the source said, but it could still get approval without Crane’s consent to switch leagues.

McLane declined to comment Thursday, and Crane didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

Why the Astros? Simple geography. Baseball would like two 15-team leagues, which means six five-team division. The problem is the AL West has four teams and the NL Central has six. Because the Astros are farther west than any other team in the NL Central, they would be the most logical team to change leagues.

It’s hard to fathom the Astros leaving 50-plus years of NL tradition behind to join the AL, but it is exciting in a way. The Yankees and Red Sox — baseball royalty — would come to Houston once a year, and we’d be no longer subject to watch pitchers try to hit. Sure, I’m with most of you. I like the NL game and the strategies involved with pitchers hitting, but I could be sold on baseball AL-style.

Plus, we’d have year-round Interleague Play. With 15 teams in each league, at least one team from the AL and one team from the NL would have to be playing each other all the time.

AL baseball is higher scoring, but that comes with longer games. Just ask the Yankees and Red Sox, who seem to play four-hour games on a regular basis. I would miss the rivalries with the Cardinals and Cubs and making trips to PNC Park and Wrigley Field. Of course, this is coming from a guy who hasn’t been to Fenway Park in 20 years, either.

Of course, the Astros could wind up staying in the NL, which would be fine with me. I grew up on the speed and defense and great pitching of the Astros teams that played in the Astrodome in the 1980s and 1990s. But you’re always intrigued by what’s on the other side of the fence, and the Astros might find out soon.

A look back on the 2011 Minor League season

The Astros’ eight Minor League affiliates went a combined 337-488, with no team finishing with a winning record. Of the four full-season clubs, Triple-A Oklahoma City finished with the best record at 68-75 in the Pacific Coast League. Double-A Corpus Christi went 50-90 overall, Class A Lancaster was 55-85 overall and Class A Lexington was 59-79 overall.

Astros director of player development Fred Nelson wished the teams’ collective performances would have been better, but the club pushed players aggressively through the system this year and continued to send players to the Major Leagues.

“I would say we’re disappointed from a team standpoint, but I spent some time over the weekend looking at some things and our clubs have been very young,” Nelson said. “And so it makes it difficult at times to compete. That’s no excuse, but certainly our clubs have been young and we’re also just one of seven other clubs that field seven teams here in the United States, so you spread your players a little bit thinner. The individual performances have been very rewarding.”

The system sent several players to the Major Leagues, including third baseman Jimmy Paredes, second baseman Jose Altuve and left fielder J.D. Martinez, each of whom made the jump from Double-A to start in the big leagues. Twenty-year-old pitcher Jordan Lyles made 15 starts for the Astros.

“We moved a lot of players this year, some of it by need,” Nelson said. “Also, just the domino effect. When you take guys to the big leagues it creates holes and opportunities, and we really pushed a lot of kids and most have held their own and done quite well and positioned themselves to be pretty good players for us.”

The biggest impact on the system came when the team traded away Jeff Keppinger, Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn near the Trade Deadline. The Astros received 10 players in return, including four of the Phillies’ top prospects – pitchers Jarred Cosart, first baseman Jonathan Singleton, pitcher Josh Zeid and a player to be named later that turned out to be outfielder Domingo Santana.

Pitcher Henry Sosa, who came from the Giants in the Keppinger deal, joined the Astros rotation and has pitched well. Two players acquired from the Braves – outfielder Jordan Schafer and pitcher Juan Abreu – are in the Major Leagues.

“The influx of players, especially the pitchers we got in the trades, have helped us at the Double-A and Triple-A levels moving forward,” Nelson said. “And some of the young kids, the Singleton kid and the signing of [first-round pick George] Springer and the Santana kid that we got from Philadelphia, has really helped us get younger.”

Springer is scheduled to go the instructional league in Florida, and the team is exploring the possibility of trying to find him a winter ball spot in a less competitive environment that Venezuela or the Dominican Republic.

“I think he’ll have a busy offseason playing and that should position himself well to come to Spring Training with a good idea of what’s expected and what’s here,” Nelson said.

The Astros were, of course, thrilled with what Kody Hinze was able to do while splitting the season between Class A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi. He hit a combined .306 with 29 homers and 98 RBIs. He had a .458 on-base percentage and a 1.083 OPS in 80 games at Lancaster, which is in the hitting-friendly California League.

One of the players that opened eyes this season is left-handed hitting outfielder Jacob Goebbert, who began the year in Lancaster and finished in Triple-A Oklahoma City. He hit a combined .290 with 12 homers and 67 RBIs with a .352 on-base percentage.

The Astros were pleased with the progress of shortstop Jonathan Villar, who was acquired last year in a trade with the Phillies. He began the season at Lancaster and finished up at Corpus Christi and began to mature and settle into his new surroundings.

Nelson was also impressed with right-hander Jake Buchanan, a starter who was drafted in the eighth round in 2010. He went 5-10 with a 3.91 ERA at Lancaster, walking 35 batters and striking out 102 in 158 2/3 innings in the hitter-friendly California League.

“He pitched exceptionally well,” Nelson said. “We moved him for his last start, with [Lucas] Harrell coming to the big leagues, and he went to Double-A and threw seven innings and gave up a run. That was a nice ending to the season. You’ve got to be excited about what he did.”

Outfielder Austin Wates, the team’s third-round pick in 2010 out of Virginia Tech, batted .300 with nine triples, six homers and 75 RBIs this year in 526 at-bats at Lancaster.

“He’s somebody that had not played a lot in the organization,” Nelson said. “He signed late and went to Tri-City and for the first time and in a full season to go out to the Cal League and do what he did, ending up at .300 and driving in 70-plus runs, that’s good.”

As far as the team’s most recent first-round selections, 2010 pick Delino DeShields Jr. batted just .220 with 30 stolen bases in Class A Lexington of the South Atlantic League, but the Astros were pleased with the way he made the transition full-time from the outfield to second base.

“Delino DeShields actually played outstanding in the Sally League when you look at the fact he played all year at 18,” Nelson said. “I believe he may have been the youngest player in the league. To go from being a converted outfielder to the infield and what we saw of him a year ago in the instructional league to where he stands now defensively is pretty remarkable on his part.

“You have to give him a lot of credit, and a lot of credit to the development people who worked with him. He has a long way to go. He’s just 18 years old, and I could see him being a player that repeats in that league.”

Shortstop Jiovanni Mier, the team’s No. 1 pick in 2009, split the season between Lexington and Lancaster and batted a combined .239 with seven homers, 52 RBIs and a .345 on-base percentage.

“After the All-Star game, we moved him to California League and he played outstanding defense,” Nelson said. “He did get hurt; he missed two-to-three weeks with a knee injury. He has made some adjustments offensively and I think he’s had some challenges offensively. He’s positioned himself to come back and compete for a job in Double-A next year.”

Meanwhile, Vincent Velasquez is making progress in his return from Tommy John surgery. Velasquez was the Astros’ second-round pick in 2010 out of high school in Southern California, and he injured his elbow pitching at rookie-league Greeneville.

Nelson said he’ll throw some innings in the instructional league later this month.

“We’re excited about the progress he made, and we’re looking forward to him getting back into action,” he said. “It’s almost like we acquired another [player through the draft].”

Barmes would like to return

Astros shortstop Clint Barmes is facing free agency this off-season for the first time in his career. He’s certainly open to exploring his options, but he’s had a good experience in Houston and would like to return to the Astros.

The Astros are rebuilding and could use some veteran influences, and there are no top shortstop prospects on the immediate horizon.

“I’d love to come back here, but I haven’t put a whole lot of thought into that yet,” he said. “Coming up to the off-season, I haven’t talked to my agent much about that at all to even know what other options there even are. There’s going to be a lot of changes [with the Astros] and a lot of things going on, which is another reason nobody knows what direction it’s going to head.”

Barmes, traded to the Astros from the Rockies last year, has been a valuable commodity on and off the field. A broken hand suffered in Spring Training led to a slow start at the plate, but he’s one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball. He’s hitting .243 with nine homers and 29 RBIs in 104 games.

Astros’ lineup for Sunday

Here’s the Astros’ lineup for Sunday:

CF Jordan Schafer

3B Jimmy Paredes

LF J.D. Martinez

RF Brian Bogusevic

2B Matt Downs

1B Brett Wallace

SS Clint Barmes

C Carlos Corporan

LHP Wandy Rodriguez

Minor League Players of Month

The Astros player development department has named its August players of the month, as chosen every month by the field staff of each team.

Triple A-Oklahoma City

RHP Lucas Harrell, Pitcher of the Month: 3-2, 2.10 ERA (8ER/34.1IP), 22 SO  in 6 starts in August

IF Anderson Hernandez, Offensive Player of the Month: .380 (49×129), 9 2B, 2 3B, 15 RBI, .504 SLG in 30 games in August

IF Brett Wallace, Defensive Player of the Month: 26 games at 1B, .986 FP (1E/254TC) this season

Notes: Lucas Harrell, acquired by the Astros on waivers from the Chicago White Sox in July, was called up to the big league club on September 1…in nine starts with the RedHawks, he went 5-2 with a 1.72 ERA (10ER/52.1IP) with 38 strikeouts…Anderson Hernandez earned Oklahoma City’s Offensive Player of the Month behind the strength of an active 29-game hitting streak, the longest in the PCL this season and the longest by a RedHawk since the franchise moved to the PCL in 1998…he’s hitting .382 (71×186) with 11 doubles and 28 RBI after the All-Star break…after starting the season with the big league club, Brett Wallace had a .986 fielding percentage in 26 games at first base for Oklahoma City.

Double A-Corpus Christi

RHP Paul Clemens, Pitcher of the Month: 2-1, 2.35 ERA (8ER/30.2IP), 26 SO in 5 starts in August

IF Kody Hinze, Offensive Player of the Month: .260 (26×100), 2 HR, 15 RBI, .342 OBP in August

IF Brandon Wikoff, Defensive Player of the Month: 94 games in the IF (2B, SS and 3B), .980 FP (7E/348TC) this season

Notes: Acquired from Atlanta as part of the Michael Bourn trade, Paul Clemens tossed 28.1 innings between Double A Mississippi and Double A Corpus Christi without allowing an earned run (spanned six starts; July 21-August 21)…Clemens was promoted to Triple A Oklahoma City on September 1…Kody Hinze hit .300 (54×180) with seven home runs and 27 RBI in the second half with the Hooks…also spent time this season at Class A Advanced Lancaster (80 games) and hit .323 (92×285) with 22 homers and 70 RBI…Brandon Wikoff posted a .980 fielding percentage in 94 games in the infield for the Hooks, turning 37 double plays this season.

 Class A Advanced Lancaster

RHP Kyle Greenwalt, Pitcher of the Month: 1-1, 1 SV, 1.45 ERA (3ER/18.2IP), 14 SO, .212 (14×66) opponents avg. in 9 relief apps. in August

IF Jonathan Singleton, Offensive Player of the Month: .330 (37×112), 8 2B, 4 HR, 14 RBI, .400 OBP, .527 SLG in 29 games in August

OF Austin Wates, Defensive Player of the Month: 120 games in the OF (61 games at CF), .981 FP (4E/214TC) this season

Notes: Kyle Greenwalt, former Rookie Greeneville Team MVP in 2008, owns a 1-1 record with one save and a 1.16 ERA (3ER/23.1IP) in 11 relief appearances with Lancaster through August this season…started the season with Double A Corpus Christi and posted a 2-5 record with two saves and a 5.79 ERA (18ER/28IP)…acquired from Philadelphia as part of the Hunter Pence trade, Jonathan Singleton is hitting .342 (40×117) with nine doubles, four home runs, 14 RBI and a .538 slugging percentage in 31 games with Lancaster…Austin Wates, a third round selection of the June 2010 draft, has played 60 games in center field and 45 games in left field, posting a .981 fielding perecntage with eight assists.

Class A Lexington

LHP Alex Sogard, Pitcher of the Month: 1-0, 2.77 ERA (8ER/26IP), 33 SO, .235 (23×98) opponents avg. in 7 relief apps. in August

OF Emilio King, Offensive Player of the Month: .337 (30×89), 13 R, 9 2B, 4 HR, 12 RBI, .573 SLG in 24 games in August

OF Emilio King, Defensive Player of the Month: 94 games in the OF (52 games at CF), .980 FP (4E/202TC) this season

Notes: Alex Sogard has gone 2-4 with a 4.26 ERA (48ER/101.1IP) in 30 games (10 starts) this season for the Legends…is 2-1 with a 3.42 ERA (28ER/48.2IP) in 20 games as a reliever…Emilio King earned South Atlantic League Player of the Week honors for the week of August 28, hitting .556 (15×27) with six doubles, two homers and seven RBI in seven games…King has posted a .977 fielding percentage this season, primarily in center field.

Short Season A Tri-City

RHP Nick Tropeano, Co-Pitcher of the Month: 2-0, 0.00 ERA (0ER/17IP), 27 SO, 5 BB, .121 (7×58) opponents avg. in 4 starts in August

RHP Dayan Diaz, Co-Pitcher of the Month: 3-2, 2 SV, 0.89 ERA (2ER/20.1IP), 29 SO, .155 (11×71) opponents avg. in 8 apps. (1 start) in August

IF Rafael Valenzuela, Offensive Player of the Month: .343 (35×102),  9 2B, 2 HR, 18 RBI, .391 OBP in 28 games in August

C Ryan McCurdy, Defensive Player of the Month: 28 games at catcher, .988 FP (3E/256TC) this season

Notes: Nick Tropeano and Dayan Diaz share Pitcher of the Month honors for August…Tropeano, a 2011 draftee, is 3-2 with a 2.36 ERA (14ER/53.1IP) on the season and currently owns an 18-inning streak without allowing an earned run, spanning his last five starts…Diaz is 7-3 with a 1.94 ERA (10ER/46.1IP) and 66 strikeouts  in 18 games (one start) this season with Tri-City…Rafael Valenzuela began the season with the GCL Astros, hitting .231 (3×13) in four games before being promoted to Tri-City…he owns a .343 average (36×105) with 10 doubles and 18 RBI in 29 games…in 28 games at catcher, Ryan McCurdy has a .988 fielding percentage…McCurdy, a former four-year starter for Duke University, is hitting .330 (33×100) with six doubles and 16 RBI in 31 games with Tri-City.

 Rookie Greeneville

LHP Jeremiah Meiners, Pitcher of the Month: 2-1, 2.95 ERA (6ER/18.1IP), 20 SO, .229 (16×70) opponents avg. in 9 relief apps. in August

IF Joshua Magee, Offensive Player of the Month: .376 (32×85), 6 2B, 10 RBI, .421 OBP in 23 games in August

IF Chan Moon, Defensive Player of the Month: 45 games in the IF (37 games at SS), .947 FP (9E/171TC) this season

Notes: In 20 relief appearances this season with Greeneville, lefty Jeremiah Meiners is 2-3 with a 2.90 ERA (13ER/40.1IP) with 42 strikeouts…his solid month earned him a late-season promotion to Lancaster…Joshua Magee broke a minor league and Appalachian League record by recording 12 hits in 12 consecutive at-bats this season…the 19-year-old second baseman hit .283 (52×184) with nine doubles in 53 games with Greeneville…signed by the Astros as a non-drafted free agent from Korea in 2009, Chan Moon turned 25 double plays and posted a .947 fielding percentage, primarily as a shortstop this year.

 Gulf Coast League

LHP Evan Grills, Pitcher of the Month: 2-0, 1.84 ERA (3ER/14.2IP), 12 SO, .259 (14×54) opponents avg. in 4 apps. (2 starts) in August

IF Justin Shults, Offensive Player of the Month: .246 (17×69), 6 2B, 12 RBI, .464 SLG in 19 games in August

IF Jose Fernandez, Defensive Player of the Month: 43 games at shortstop, .926 FP (15E/203TC) this season

Notes: Selected in the 10th round of the June 2010 draft, left-hander Evan Grills went 3-1 with a 3.00 ERA (11ER/33IP) in 13 games (2 starts) for the GCL Astros this season…in his last 10 games of the year (August 13-26), Justin Shults hit .333 (12×36) with five doubles and eight RBI…Jose Fernandez played all of his 43 games for the GCL Astros at shortstop, posting a .926 fielding percentage.

Dominican Summer League

LHP Ambiorix De Leon, Pitcher of the Month: 2-1, 3.97 ERA (5ER/11.1IP), 11 SO, .227 (10×44) opponents avg. in 3 starts in August

IF Jose Solano, Offensive Player of the Month: .320 (24×75), 5 2B, 9 RBI, .378 OBP in 20 games in August

IF Yoel Silfa, Defensive Player of the Month: 73 games in the IF (58 games at 2B), .965 FP (9E/255TC) this season

Notes: Ambiorix De Leon earns his second consecutive Pitcher of the Month honor (July and August)…in 14 games (10 starts) for the DSL Astros, De Leon went 2-4 with a 4.47 ERA (28ER/56.1IP)…Jose Solano hit .315 (57×181) against right-handed pitchers this season and had a .282 average (67×238) with 21 RBI on the year…Yoel Silfa, the club’s primary second baseman, earns his second consecutive Defensive Player of the Month honor…he turned 34 double plays in 74 games with the Astros.

Astros lineup and preview vs. Brewers

The Astros will try for their fifth win in a row tonight against the Brewers at Minute Maid Park. The Astros are 7-1 in their last eight home games and 9-6 in their last 15 games overall.

The key for the Astros has been pitching. Houston’s pitchers have posted a 1.81 ERA in the last seven games, and the starters have a 1.76 ERA in that span. Lucas Harrell, called up from Triple-A Oklahoma City to start in place of Brett Myers, will try to keep it going tonight. He’s the team’s ninth different starting pitcher this year and fourth rookie starter.

Before we get to the lineup, here are some pregame notes:

  • The Brewers are 9-3 against the Astros this year, outscoring them by an average of 5.6-3.3 per game. Milwaukee has a .307 batting average against the Astros this year and has held Houston to a .216 average. What’s more, Brewers starting pitching has a 2.56 ERA against the Astros, compared to a 5.45 for the Astros against Milwaukee.
  • The Brewers are coming off one of their best road months in history, going 10-3 in August away from home.
  •  The Astros are 7-2 at home since Aug. 8, averaging 5.2 runs per game.
  • Astros LF J.D. Martinez has posted the highest batting average with runners in scoring position in the NL since Aug. 1 at .448.
  • Ryan Braun is a .339 career hitter against the Astros, just ahead of teammate Corey Hart (.337).

Here is the Astros’ lineup:

CF Jordan Schafer

2B Jose Altuve

LF J.D. Martinez

1B Carlos Lee

RF Brian Bogusevic

3B Jimmy Paredes

SS Clint Barmes

C Humberto Quintero

P Lucas Harrell

Astros Minor League news

Here is some Minor League news release by the Astros on Thursday:

The Astros have promoted amateur scout J.D. Alleva to East Coast Supervisor. RHP Jordan Lyles and prospects OF Jordan Scott and RHP Jake Buchanan are among the players signed by Alleva, who had been covering North and South Carolina prior to his promotion.

RHP Jarred Cosart has posted a 2.78 ERA (10ER/32.1IP) in his six starts with Double A Corpus Christi…19-year-old OF Domingo Santana (6-5, 200 lb) has five HR and 17 RBI in 13 games at Class A Lexington while hitting .389 (21×54) with a .722 slugging pct…Class A Lancaster 1B-OF Jonathan Singleton is hitting .336 in 30 games with four HR, 14 RBI and a .540 slugging pct….Cosart, Santana and Singleton were acquired from PHI as part of the Hunter Pence trade.

RHP Paul Clemens is 2-1 with a 2.35 ERA (8ER/30.1IP) in five starts at Corpus Christi with a .200 opp. batting avg….LHP Brett Olberholtzer is 2-2 with a 3.71 ERA (11ER/26.2IP) in five starts at Corpus with 27 strikeouts in 26.2 innings pitched…Clemens and Olberholtzer were acquired from ATL as part of the Michael Bourn trade…the other two players acquired, OF Jordan Schafer and RHP Juan Abreu, are currently on the Astros Major League roster…Schafer is hitting .324 in 10 games with the Astros with a HR, five RBI and three SB, and Abreu was 1-0 with a 1.86 ERA (2ER/90.2IP) and three saves in seven appearances at Triple A Oklahoma City before being called up last week…Note: Clemens was promoted to Triple A Oklahoma City and is scheduled to make his first start there tonight.

IF Anderson Hernandez takes a 29-game hit streak into Triple A Oklahoma City’s game at New Orleans tonight…Hernandez is hitting .386 (49×127) during his streak, which is the longest by a RedHawk since the franchise moved to the Pacific Coast League in 1998, and the longest in the PCL in 2011.

2011 first-round draft pick OF George Springer homered in his first at-bat in his first home game for Short Season A Tri-City on Monday…Springer ended up hitting .278 (5×18) in his five games with the ValleyCats with three doubles, a HR, three RBI and four stolen bases…four of his five hits were for extra bases (.611 SLG, .409 OBP).

Class A Lexington OF Emilio King was named South Atlantic League Player of the Week on Monday after hitting .556 (15×27) with two HR and seven RBI (8/22-28)…Rookie Level Greeneville OF Jordan Scott (.337) and 1B Chase Davidson (.335) finished 3rd and 5th, respectively, in the Appalachian League in batting…Davidson was named to the App. League All-Star squad…Greeneville led the App. League in attendance for the 8th consecutive season (45,015)…for the eighth consecutive season, Short Season A Tri-City set an attendance record, drawing 156,279 fans to Joe Bruno Stadium in 2011, which included 13 sellouts


LHP Dallas Kuechel and OF J.D. Martinez were named to the Texas League Postseason All-Star Team, and hitting coach John Moses was named winner of the Mike Coolbaugh Texas League Coach of the Year Award…Kuechel, who has since been promoted to Triple A, was 9-7 for the Hooks with a 3.17 ERA, which currently ranks 3rd in the league…Martinez hit .338 at Corpus prior to his callup to the Major Leagues with 25 doubles, 13 HR and 72 RBI.


Triple A Oklahoma City right-handed pitcher Jeff Fulchino was claimed on waivers by the San Diego Padres today…Fulchino, 31, had two stints with the Astros Major League club this season, going 1-4 with a 5.18 ERA in 36 appearances…he was 1-0 with an  0.56 ERA in 17 appearances at OKC. The Astros originally claimed Fulchino off waivers from Kansas City on December 8, 2008.  He is 9-10 in 160 career Major League appearances with a 4.74 ERA (93ER/176.1IP).