June 2013

Porter calls Scioscia to apologize

Astros manager Bo Porter called Angels manager Mike Scioscia on Saturday morning and apologized for an incident that occurred in Friday’s game.

In the sixth inning of the Angels’ 4-2 win, Astros outfielder Chris Carter hit a pop up in front of the Astros dugout. Angels catcher Hank Conger was camped under the ball at the dugout railing with first baseman Mark Trumbo charging in, but no one caught the ball. Conger charged with an error that was overturned after the official scorer learned someone had yelled something to Conger from the Houston dugout.

Porter acknowledged someone yelled at Conger, but he wouldn’t say if it came from a player or a coach or what exactly was said.

“It came from our dugout,” Porter said. “I called Mike this morning and he and I had a good conversation about it. I apologized to him on behalf of our ballclub. It’s nothing I condone, but I take full responsibility and it won’t happen again. It was handled the way it should be handled.”

Said Scioscia: “It’s nothing. I appreciate the call, and it’s not an issue. We’re not holding any grudges. We’ll go out and play like we do.”

Earlier this year, Porter apologized to Scioscia for inadvertently making an illegal pitching change, a move that led to the two-game suspension and fine of crew chief Fieldin Culbreth and fines for the rest of his crew.

Astros sign 9th-round pick Holberton

The Astros have signed ninth-round pick Brian Holberton, a catcher from the University of North Carolina.

Holberton’s mother, Tobie, told MLB.com on Friday her son signed with Houston on Thursday night in Charlotte, N.C. He will take a physical in the next few days before reporting to rookie-league Tri-City next week.

The signing of Holberton means the Astros have only one unsigned top 10 pick — third-round pick Kent Emanuel, a left-handed pitcher who was a teammate of Holberton at North Carolina.

Holberton hit .308 with 12 homers and 58 RBIs while helping the Tar Heels to the College World Series this year.

Which Astros prospect has you most excited?

It’s a good chance by the end of the year some of the Astros’ top prospects will begin making their way to Minute Maid Park. Right-hander Jarred Cosart, first baseman Jonathan Singleton and outfielder George Springer are all in Triple-A Oklahoma City and could be promoted later this season. Then there’s right-hander Mike Foltynewicz at Double-A Corpus Christi.

So which Astros prospect are you most excited about seeing in Houston?

Springer, Buchanan promoted to Triple-A

Outfielder George Springer, one of the Astros’ most promising prospects, joined teammate and right-handed pitcher Jake Buchanan in getting promoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City on Sunday. They will join the RedHawks after participating in the Texas League All-Star Game Tuesday at Northwest Arkansas.

Springer said he would fly to Oklahoma City on Thursday, where he will join top prospect Jonathan Singleton in the middle of the RedHawks lineup.

“I’m excited about it,” he said. “It’s another opportunity and another chapter and I’m looking forward to it.”

Springer was leading the run producer in the Texas League in the first half of the season, hitting .297 with 19 home runs and 55 RBIs. At the time of his promotion, he ranked among league leaders in hitting (sixth), home runs (tied for first), runs batted in (tied for second), stolen bases (23, tied second), hits (81, tied for fourth), doubles (20, fifth) and runs scored (56, first).

Springer fell one long ball short of becoming the second Hook to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases in a season. Drew Sutton hit 20 home runs and stole 20 bases in 2008.

“I’ve just got to continue with the same thing, keep hitting the ball hard and string together good, quality at-bats and results will happen,” Springer said. “Don’t press and go out and play.”

Buchanan helped anchor a pitching staff that carried the Hooks for much of the first half, going 7-2 with a 2.09 ERA in 18 games, 13 of them starts. He earned Astros Minor League Pitcher of the Month in May after he did not allow an earned run and posted a 4-0 record. Buchanan led the Texas League in WHIP (0.93), ranked fourth in batting average against (.226) and fifth in innings pitched (82.0).

In 2012, the 23-year-old North Carolina State product went 5-6 with a 5.00 earned run average in 19 starts before a move to the bullpen. Houston drafted Buchanan in the eighth round of the 2010 draft. He earned the Astros Minor League Pitcher of the Year award in 2011 after he went 5-10 with a 3.91 ERA for Class A Lancaster.

Corresponding moves have yet to be announced.

Astros to sign No. 1 pick Appel

The Astros have announced that they will sign right-handed pitcher Mark Appel, who was selected with the first overall pick in the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft, to a contract on Wednesday. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The announcement was made by Astros director of amateur scouting Mike Elias.

Appel, 21, went 10-4 with four complete games and a 2.12 ERA as a senior this season at Stanford University. He recorded 130 strikeouts in his 106 1/3 innings pitched and allowed just a .203 opponent’s batting average. Appel is one of just 10 semifinalists for the National Pitcher of the Year Award as named by the College Baseball Hall of Fame.

“Drafting and signing Mark Appel was a top priority for our organization this year,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “We are an organization focused on winning championships in the future and we expect Mark to be a big part of that effort.”

Appel finished his Stanford career as the program’s all-time strikeout leader and his 372 career strikeouts rank second among active NCAA hurlers. The Pac-12 Baseball Scholar-Athlete of the Year this season is sixth in program history with 28 career wins and fourth with 377 2/3 innings pitched.

Appel grew up an Astros fan in West Houston before moving to California at the age of 12. He played his youth ball at the Post Oak Little League and attended Astros games at the Astrodome and Minute Maid Park. Most of Appel’s extended family lives in the Houston-area, including his parents.

Appel becomes the third right-handed pitcher selected first overall in the draft in the last five years, joining Gerrit Cole (2011, Pittsburgh) and Stephen Strasburg (2009, Washington). He is also the third right-handed pitcher taken by Houston in the first round in the last five years, a list that also includes Lance McCullers (2012-supplemental) and Mike Foltynewicz (2010).

“Mark has been one of the premier talents in college baseball for the past few years, and he cemented that status this spring with his best season yet,” Elias said.  “He possesses a bulldog mentality, an ideal pitcher’s frame, an elite track record, and he commands three plus pitches – everything we look for in a pitcher.  We feel the potential is there for him to become a mainstay at the very forefront of our rotation for a long time.”

The Astros have signed 23 of their 40 draft picks this season, including seven of their top 10.

Astros deal Martinez for Minor League arm

Outfielder Fernando Martinez, who appeared in 52 games for the Astros over the past two seasons, was sent to the Yankees in a trade on Tuesday. The Astros acquired right-handed pitcher Charles Basford, who will report to Tri-City.

Martinez, who was at Triple-A Oklahoma City, hit .182 with one homer and three RBIs in 11 games with the Astros this year before being designated for assignment. He batted .237 with six homers and 14 RBIs last year for Houston, but had an inability to stay healthy.

Basford, a 37th-round pick by the Yankees last year, made his first appearance of the season Monday for Staten Island and allowed four hits, including a homer, in two innings. The 22-year-old right-hander was drafted out of Samford University.

A former top prospect of the Mets who was claimed off waivers prior to the 2012 season by Houston, Martinez battled for a spot in the Astros’ outfield to start the season, but wound up beginning the season on the disabled list.

Martinez in February was among five baseball players connected to a South Florida clinic that’s been linked to performance-enhancing drugs, according to an ESPN “Outside the Lines” report.

Boras in town to wrap up Appel negotiations

Scott Boras, who represents No. 1 overall Draft pick Mark Appel, arrived in Houston on Tuesday afternoon and was scheduled to meet with Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow later in the evening in an effort to wrap up negotiations.

The Astros took Appel, a right-handed pitcher and Houston native who didn’t sign with the Pirates after being taken in the first round last year, with hopes they could sign him quickly. Boras told MLB.com no agreement has been reached, but the agent’s presence in Houston is a clear sign a deal is imminent.

“Jeff and I are going to talk about things tonight and we’ll see,” Boras said. “We’re certainly close enough for me to come here and talk, that’s for sure.”

When asked if a deal could be announced as early as Wednesday, Boras said he didn’t want to put a timetable on negotiations.

“Obviously, we’re in a position we think we can work something out,” he said.

The Astros have signed six of their top 10 picks, including second-round pick Andrew Thurman from UC-Irvine, who officially signed on Monday. The assigned slot value for the No. 1 pick is $7.8 million, but several reports late last week indicated Appel could sign for somewhere around $6.5 million.

Regardless, Boras doesn’t see money as a stumbling block.

“I’m here because I think there’s obviously enough fruit on the tree to think you’re going to get something done,” Boras told MLB.com.

Appel’s decision to return to Stanford after being picked No. 8 overall by Pittsburgh last year, bypassing a $3.8 million bonus, has paid off. He was actually better than he was as a junior at Stanford, finishing 10-4 with a 2.12 ERA, a .203 batting average against, 130 strikeouts and just 23 walks in 106 1/3 innings this year.

And being drafted by the Astros, the team he cheered for as a kid, has been a dream come true, Boras said.

“I don’t think there’s any question from the start that if Houston was an option, he wanted to pursue it, being able to have his family near and being raised an Astros fan,” Boras said. “Mark Appel got to go to a great college and his work ethic and perseverance and confidence in himself says a lot about the character that he takes the path he takes.

“Whenever you’re able to get better and go through the process he went through in the last year, it says a lot about why Houston took him and a lot about why he chose Houston.”

Astros still hopeful to sign Appel soon

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said Monday the club is “fully engaged” in contract talks with No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel, the right-handed pitcher from Stanford, and hopes to be able to complete a deal this week.

While it was reported late last week the Astros and Appel had reached a deal, Luhnow said he wanted wait until Appel’s commencement exercises at Stanford on Sunday to ramp up negotiations.

“We’re trying to move it as fast as we can,” he said. “We wanted to give him the weekend to enjoy his commencement. We’re optimistic we can move it pretty quickly.”

Luhnow said the Astros have yet to meet with Appel or his representative, Scott Boras, face-to-face, but there have been solid conversations.

“We feel good about where it’s headed,” Luhnow said.

When asked if Appel could be in the fold this week, Luhnow didn’t hesitate.

“I hope so,” he said.

Appel, a Houston native, went 10-4 with a 2.12 ERA this year as as senior at Stanford. He held opponents to a .203 batting average, had 130 strikeouts and issued just 23 walks in 106 1/3 innings.

Astros set Tri-City, Greeneville and GCL rosters

The Astros have set the preliminary 2013 Minor League rosters for the Class A short season Tri-City, rookie league Greeneville and Gulf Coast League clubs. The announcement was made by Astros director of player development Quinton McCracken.

The rosters are subject to change and will not be officially finalized until each club begins league play. Tri-City is scheduled to begin its season tonight while Greeneville begins play Thursday. The Gulf Coast League Astros will start their season on Friday.

Last year, Tri-City set a club record with 51 wins and advanced to the New York-Penn League Championship Series for the second time in three seasons.

The combined record of the Astros’ Minor League clubs this season is 162-125 (.564), which ranks third among all 30 MLB organizations. The Astros’ top three affiliates are currently in first place while Corpus Christi (Double-A) and Lancaster (Class A advanced) each clinched first half titles in their respective leagues to qualify for the postseason.

TRI-CITY

PITCHERS                OUTFIELDERS

Bushue, Tanner           Gulbransen, Dan

Christensen, Pat          Kemmer, Jon

Comer, Kevin               Mitchell, Ronnie

Fant, Randall               Ramsay, James

Feliz, Michael              Toney, D’Andre

Frias, Edison

Garcia, Christian

Grills, Evan

Houser, Adrian

Lo, Chia-Jen (Rehab)

Minnis, Albert

Morton, Zach

Walter, Andrew

Westwood, Kyle

CATCHERS

Alvarez, Luis

Genoves, Ernesto

INFIELDERS

Dineen, Ryan

Fernandez, Jose

Gregor, Conrad

Kemp, Tony

Lindauer, Thomas

Moon, Chan Jong

GREENEVILLE

PITCHERS                  

Abreu, Alan

Brunnemann, Tyler

Chrismon, William

Franco, Enderson

Gustave, Jandel

Holley, Krishawn

Kessay, Sebastian

Lee, Chris

Mills, Jordan

Osborne, J.D.

Tiburcio, Frederick

CATCHERS

Gingras, Ricky

Gonzalez, Alfredo

Moronta, Cristian

INFIELDERS

Gomez, Edwin

Ibanez, Angel

Mayfield, Jack

Rivera, Darwin

Santana, Juan

OUTFIELDERS

Gonzalez, Wallace

Mathis, Tanner

Wik, Marc

GULF COAST LEAGUE

PITCHERS                         OUTFIELDERS    

Barrios, Agapito                    De La Rosa, Luis

Connolly, Ryan                     Laguna, Mesac

Culbreth, Brandon               Marte, Ydarqui

De Leon, Ambiorix               Martin, Jason

De Los Santos, Samil           Reynolds, Javaris

Ferguson, Kevin

Montero, Jose

Ramirez, Gerardo

Rivera, Raul

Scribner, Troy

CATCHERS

Booth, Brett

Clements, Brett

Coa, Pedro

Nottingham, Jacob

INFIELDERS

Gonzalez, Alexander

Hipp, Parker

Mejia, Yonathan

Reynoso, Luis

Silfa, Yoel

Solano, Jose

White, Brian

Starting pitching fuels Astros’ strong month

Remember that catch Brandon Barnes made with his back against the wall in Detroit on May 15? The Tigers had the bases loaded and were trailing by two runs in the bottom of the ninth when reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera launched what appeared to be a walk-off grand slam off the bat. That was until Barnes tracked it down in deep right-center field to secure a 7-5 win.

That snapped a six-game losing streak and improved the Astros to 10-30 at roughly the one-quarter point of the season, which meant they were on pace for 120-plus losses. When Barnes caught Cabrera’s ball, the Astros celebrated and exchanged high-fives like they’ve done after every win, but you got the feeling that win meant something more. And a month later, that’s now clear.

That win over the Tigers began a stretch when the Astros have gone 16-14 — a solid month of baseball from a team many thought would be the worst of all-time. They key has been starting pitching, with Bud Norris, Lucas Harrell, Jordan Lyles, Erik Bedard and Dallas Keuchel combining to post a 3.03 ERA in those 30 games, as the Astros carry a 26-44 record into Monday night’s game against the White Sox.

If you remember, the Astros went 15-15 in their final 30 games last year, with interim manager Tony DeFrancesco pushing every button he could to get the most of an expanded roster. The Astros exploited every match-up on a nightly basis with their deep bullpen and managed to finish strong, though you certainly can’t fooled by performances in September.

This time, it’s different. Norris, though on the trading blocking, and Harrell, Lyles and Keuchel could be key pieces to the future, as long with hitters Brandon Barnes, Matt Dominguez, Jason Castro and Jose Altuve. They’ve all done their part at one time or another at the plate.

And now the kids are knocking on the door. Top pitching prospect Jarred Cosart and top hitting prospect Jonathan Singleton are both at Triple-A and could be in Houston later this summer, and we all know about the talent at Double-A. We could start to see some of these guys in the next few months, but for now the Major League club is performing better than most had imagined.

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