October 2011

Arizona Fall League update

There will be more on the Arizona Fall League and some other Astros playing in winter ball when the story posts on Astros.com later today, but here’s a sneak peek:

Astros general manager Ed Wade came away impressed after spending some time earlier this month getting a close-up look at the club’s prospects that are participating in the Arizona Fall League, which is about halfway through its schedule.

The seven players from the Houston organization are competing for the Salt River Rafters.

“We’re pleased with the way things are going there,” said Wade, who traveled to Arizona early in the month with assistant general manager David Gottfried. “We missed Jason Castro while we were there. I had seen him in instructional league the previous week and we had given Jason permission to be in a wedding and we missed him when we were out there. All reports we have gotten have been very solid.”

Astros Major League scout Paul Ricciarini is currently in Arizona and has sent positive reports back about Castro, who tore his right anterior cruciate ligament running the bases early in Spring Training and had season-ending knee surgery in March.

Castro, who’s expected to be the team’s starting catcher next year, was hitting .167 with five strikeouts in only 12 at-bats in four games (he was slowed by a ribcage injury), but he went 2-for-4 with a double, a run and an RBI on Thursday and, more importantly, is in good shape physically.

“Paul was very impressed with the way Jason has progressed since the last time he had a chance to see him,” Wade said.

The player putting up the best numbers for the Astros is first baseman Kody Hinze, who slugged 29 homers last season between Class A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi combined. He was hitting .294 with two homers and nine RBIs through nine games.

Jake Goebbert, a left-handed-hitting outfielder who progressed from Lancaster to Triple-A Oklahoma City last season and hit a combined .290 with 12 homers and 67 RBIs, was batting .162 with two homers and three RBIs in 10 games. Speedy outfielder Jay Austin had appeared in five games and was hitting .263 with three stolen bases.

“From the position players we did see, Kody Hinze was swinging the bat well and driving in some runs,” Wade said. “Jay Austin was out there on a taxi squad and played a couple of games and got on base, and we see the same tools and same out of Jay since we drafted him and signed him. He just needs to continue to be given opportunities. He’s probably one of those guys that’s going to take a level at a time to get his feet on the ground and show what he’s capable of doing.

“Goebbert played in a couple of games and swung the bat well. He knows how to play the game the right way and we like what we saw out of him.

Left-hander Dallas Keuchel, who went 9-7 with a 3.17 ERA at Double-A before getting his feet wet at Triple-A last season, is 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA in three starts in Arizona.

“He’s one of those guys you have to ignore the radar gun when he’s pitching because he’s not going to put up big gun numbers,” Wade said. “In the game I saw him pitch, he was consistent with what I’ve seen out of him every time he’s pitched. He commanded his pitches well and he’s got an excellent changeup and changes speeds.”

Right-hander Jason Stoffel had appeared in six games and allowed five earned runs and eight walks and struck out nine batters in five innings. Right-hander Josh Zeid was 1-0 with a 9.00 ERA in six games, but he had allowed only one run in his past three outings entering play Monday.

Astros’ Minor League player killed

Dustin Kellogg, a right-handed pitcher who signed with the Astros after being selected by his hometown team in the 34th round of this year’s First-Year Player Draft, was killed early Tuesday in a traffic accident, a team official confirmed.

“It’s extremely tragic news,” Astros assistant general manager/director of scouting Bobby Heck said. “Not even from an Astros standpoint, but just from a young person starting his life and starting his career, whether it’s baseball or anything else.”

According to the Conroe Courier, Kellogg, 18, was killed when his pickup truck was struck head-on by an 18-wheeler around 1 a.m. CT on Tuesday in Montgomery County, Texas. The Astros selected Kellogg out of Caney Creek High School in Conroe, which is in about 45 miles north of Houston in Montgomery County.

“He’s a good kid full of life with lots of athletic ability and a baseball future ahead of him,” said former Astros scout Rusty Pendergrass, who signed Kellogg.

The Astros invited Kellogg, 6-foot-4, to their pre-Draft workout and monitored him throughout the summer before sending him to the Gulf Coast League in Kissimmee, Fla. He pitched in six games, going 1-1 with a 4.26 ERA.

“He made it known all along he wanted to go out and play and wanted to be an Astro,” Heck said. “When he signed, we pulled the pen of his hand and he said, ‘Let’s go.’”

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