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.
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.
Bushue, Tanner Gulbransen, Dan
Christensen, Pat Kemmer, Jon
Comer, Kevin Mitchell, Ronnie
Fant, Randall Ramsay, James
Feliz, Michael Toney, D’Andre
Lo, Chia-Jen (Rehab)
Moon, Chan Jong
GULF COAST LEAGUE
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
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.
The Astros announced Friday the signing of four selections from the 2013 MLB First Year Player Draft: first baseman Conrad Gregor (fourth round), catcher Jacob Nottingham (sixth round), outfielder Jon Kemmer (21st round) and outfielder Ronnie Mitchell (38th round). Contract terms were not disclosed. The announcement was made by Astros director of scouting Mike Elias.
The team has yet to announce it, but second-round pick Andrew Thurman told MLB.com earlier Friday he had agreed to terms and would be in Houston on Monday for a physical and to put pen to paper.
Gregor, 21, becomes the Astros highest selection to officially sign since last weekend’s Draft. The first baseman/outfielder out of Vanderbilt hit .308 this season with 48 RBIs and a .440 on-base percentage, while finishing tied for sixth in the country with 54 walks. A Louisville Slugger Preseason All-American, Gregor was named to the SEC All-Tournament Team this summer while Vanderbilt advanced to the NCAA Super Regionals. Gregor was signed by Astros area scout Nick Venuto.
“Conrad is an advanced, skilled hitter with a chance to be a dangerous middle-of-the-order bat,” Elias said. “He has a sweet left-handed swing and a very disciplined approach that has worn out opposing pitchers in the SEC and the Cape Cod League. He has big raw power that we expect will continue to emerge as he develops, and with his speed, he could see time in the outfield as well as first base.”
Nottingham, 18, hit .543 with seven homers and 31 RBIs for Redlands High School in California this season. He was named the 2013 Citrus Belt League MVP, while leading his club to a share of the league title, and also earned 2013 California All-Region Second Team honors. Nottingham was signed by Astros area scout Brad Budzinski.
“Jacob is a very promising young catching prospect,” Elias said. “He was a multi-sport athlete in high school and has shown us big game power along with a plus throwing arm. We are thrilled to get a catcher with his tools and leadership qualities into our system.”
The Astros have signed 17 of their 40 draft picks this season, including five of their top 10 (not including Thurman). The players agreeing to terms on contracts are listed below.
Rnd (Pick), Player, School, Ht.-Wt , Assigned to, Date Signed
4 (107), 1B Conrad Gregor, Vanderbilt, 6-2, 220, Tri-City, June 13
5 (137), 2B Tony Kemp, Vanderbilt, 5-7, 165, Tri-City, June 12
6 (167), C Jacob Nottingham, Redlands HS (Calif.), 6-3, 200, GCL Astros, June 13
7 (197), OF James Ramsay, South Florida, 5-11, 180, Tri-City, June 10
8 (227), CF Jason Martin, Orange Lutheran HS (Calif.), 5-10, 175, GCL Astros, June 12
13 (377), RHP Kyle Westwood, North Florida, 6-3, 190, Tri-City, June 10
21 (617), OF Jon Kemme, Brewton-Parker College, 6-2, 215, Tri-City, June 13
22 (647), LHP Sebastian Kessay, Scottsdale CC, 6-2, 200, Greeneville, June 10
23 (677), SS Thomas Lindauer, Illinois, 6-2, 175, Tri-City, June 12
25 (737), LHP Albert Minnis, Wichita State, 6-0, 190, Tri-City, June 12
26 (767), RHP William Chrismon, Christopher Newport U., 6-2, 227, Greeneville, June 12
27 (797), RHP Pat Christensen, La Salle, 6-3, 200, Tri-City, June 12
29 (857), LHP Randall Fant, Arkansas, 6-4, 190, Tri-City, June 12
32 (947), RHP Zach Morton, Northwestern, 6-2, 180, Tri-City, June 12
34 (1007), C Brett Booth, Alabama, 5-10, 205, GCL Astros, June 10
38 (1127), OF Ronnie Mitchel, Dallas Baptist, 5-11, 200, Tri-City, June 13
40 (1187), RHP Tyler Brunnemann, Hardin Simmons, 6-2, 225, Greeneville, June 12
Right-handed pitcher Andrew Thurman, taken by the Astros with the first pick of the second round in last week’s First-Year Player Draft out UC-Irvine, told MLB.com on Friday he had agreed to a contract with the Astros and was set to sign early next week.
Thurman, taken with the No. 40 overall pick, is scheduled to fly to Houston on Sunday and take a physical and sign his contract on Monday. He said he plans to report to the Astros’ short-season Tri-City affiliate.
“I’m just very excited,” he said. “I feel honored and very blessed to have this opportunity.”
Meanwhile, the Astros will soon their attention to No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel, a right-handed pitcher from Stanford. A report by Jeff Passan of Yahoo on Friday indicated the Astros and Appel were “nearing a deal” and could have an agreement by next week.
In a text message to MLB.com, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow wrote the club plans to engage Appel next week. He graduates from Stanford on Sunday. The prescribed slot bonus for the No. 1 pick is $7.8 million.
“I’m hopeful we can move quickly once we start [the] dialogue, but there is no timeframe yet,” Luhnow wrote.
The Astros announced the signing of nine additional draft picks Thursday, bringing the total number signed to 14. That doesn’t include fourth-round pick Conrad Gregor of Vanderbilt, who has signed, or Thurman, who the Astros envision of a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
“It’s what I’ve always been working towards,” Thurman said. “It’s been my dream since I was a little kid to play professional baseball. It’s kind of a surreal feeling, but I still have to work hard. That part of me hasn’t gone anywhere.”
Terms of the Thurman deal aren’t known, but the slot bonus for that pick is $1,397,200.
When asked about Thurman on Friday, Astros scouting director Mike Elias said: “We feel talks are going very smoothly and we expect he will sign at some point, too. Both sides are making progress, everybody’s on the same page. He hasn’t signed a contract yet, so nothing is finalized. We anticipate getting him into an Astros uniform sooner or later.”
Thurman’s fastball could be a plus pitch in the future — he can reach back for a mid-90s heater when he needs to. He throws a curve and a slider, with the former a bit better than the latter, and his changeup is a deceptive offspeed offering.
Thurman’s good command lets his stuff play up and he can move his fastball in and out, going right after hitters with his very strong feel for pitching. That was on full display in the Cape Cod League last summer, when he struck out 49 hitters over 39 innings in seven starts.
“He was somebody we viewed as late first-round talent, and to get him at 40, we were a little surprised he was there,” Elias said when Thurman was drafted. “We’re very comfortable calling him a mid-rotation starter in the future.”
The Astros signed their highest Draft pick to date when they agreed to terms Thursday with Vanderbilt University first baseman/outfielder Conrad Gregor, a source confirmed for MLB.com.
Gregor, taken in the fourth round of last week’s First-Year Player Draft, announced the signing on his Twitter account:
Gregor hit .308 with three homers and 48 RBIs and a .440 on-base percentage for the Commodores this year, starting 65 games. He becomes the 14th of Houston’s 50 Draft picks to sign. Contract terms weren’t disclosed, but the 107th overall pick has a prescribed slot bonus of $481,900.
Earlier Thursday, the Astros announced the signing of nine Draft picks, including Tony Kemp, who was Gregor’s former teammate at Vanderbilt.
The other announced signings Thursday were: center fielder Jason Martin (eighth round), shortstop Thomas Lindauer (23rd round), left-hander Albert Minnis (25th round), right-hander William Chrismon (26th round), right-hander Pat Christensen (27th round), left-hander Randall Fant (29th round), right-hander Zachary Morton (32nd round) and right-hander Tyler Brunnemann (40th round) were all signed to contracts. <p>
Astros president of business operations Reid Ryan met with officials from the Alamodome on Friday in San Antonio to gauge their interest in having the Astros and Rangers play an exhibition game in the Alamo City next spring.
Ryan met with the general manager of the Alamodome and head of the San Antonio Convention Center and informed them the Astros are interested in playing the Rangers there next year. The Rangers, who played two games against the Padres in the Alamodome in March, are under contract for another exhibition game there next year.
“I just basically told all the guys in my family, ‘Hey, maybe we ought to try to put the Astros over here,’” Ryan said. “I came over to meet with the city and just told them that’s what I’d like to do. Everybody’s excited, and now we’re going to have to wait and see how all the schedules work out. I think it could be a really fun event.”
In March, 75,210 fans turned out for two exhibition games between the Rangers and Padres, whose Double-A team is in San Antonio, in what was billed as Big League Weekend. The football stadium was configured for baseball to include a right-field wall that was only 285 feet from home plate.
Ryan said though the feedback has been good from Astros fans and people in San Antonio, nothing can be planned until schedules come out in the fall.
“It’s still a wish at this point,” he said. “The Alamodome is in the business of putting on a lot of events, and that’s why I needed to get over here. I wanted them to know the Astros and Rangers have interest in doing the game and it comes down to the date and making it work with Opening Day and Spring Training.”
Ryan, who said he was having dinner Friday night with his legendary father, Nolan, likes the idea of bringing the Astros to central Texas to try to build up the fan base.
“We have a lot of challenges, starting with people want to see the games on TV,” said Ryan, hired last month. “One of the things I want to do and I helped to do with the Rangers, is build the fan base in the out markets, and this could be a very big step in trying to get back on everybody’s radar.”
No one associated with the Post Oak Little League from a decade ago could have ever imagined any of their young players would ever be the first pick in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, much less be selected by the hometown Astros. That’s fairytale kind of stuff.
Back then, the top concern of coach Cary Gray was hoping the players would make their high school teams in the following few years. All of the Little Leaguers were able to accomplish that, and one went on to do so much more when it came to baseball.
Right-handed pitcher Mark Appel, who was coached by Gray for 3 1/2 years in the Post Oak Little League on the west side of Houston, was drafted No. 1 overall by the hometown Astros on Thursday following a terrific career Stanford, and now a community is bursting with pride.
“It’s surreal,” said Gray, a Houston lawyer. “I saw something [general manager] Jeff Luhnow said about it had to be every kid’s dream come true. We all follow the Astros, watched them play and suddenly to see that happen, who would have thought it? We used to worry about the kids making their high school teams. We never gave any thought to one of them being the No. 1 pick in the Draft.”
Gray still keeps in touch with Appel and exchanged text messages with him Thursday night after the pick was made. He talks with pride about the man Appel has become and is proud of him for returning to Stanford to get his degree.
“He was a really nice kid [in Little League],” he said. “He was a solid citizen and always has been, and he kind of did everything he did with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. He was there to prove himself, and that’s why he’s done so well.”
Gray’s father had season tickets to the Astros since they began playing in the Astrodome, and Gray now has season tickets for Minute Maid Park and attends games when he can. But when Appel makes that first start for the Astros, he will clear his schedule to be there.
“I can barely imagine it right now, to be honest,” he said. “I’m sure it will be a thrill for all of us. It’s been a lot of fun watching this.”
Gray said Appel’s grandparents and other relatives still live in Houston, where Appel lived until he was 12 years old before moving to California.
Here is the transcript of Mark Appel’s conference call with the Houston media on Thursday:
Q: Looking back a year later, not signing with the Pirates and getting drafted by the Astros, did this turn out about as well as you could have imagined?
A: “I don’t think I necessarily had an end goal in mind when I turned down the Pirates’ offer. My goals were to finish my degree, to become a better baseball player, a better person and better teammate. As far as that goes, I think I accomplished those things. No matter what happened in the Draft, I knew I had done everything that was in my control to put myself in the best situation possible.”
Q: How special is this night for you and your family being chosen the No. 1 pick in the Draft?
A: “It’s incredibly special. We’re a tight family. Both my parents were born there [in Houston] and raised there and I lived there for 12 years before moving to California. All my family lives there. It’s very exciting. It was really exciting to have conversations with Mr. Luhnow. “
Q: How big is the signability issue with Scott [Boras] and your agent?
A: “Yes, Mr. Boras is my agent, and he will handle most of the negotiations. I think obviously I will be very involved, but it will go through… I trust him and he’s done a great job so far.”
Q: The extra year, what area of your game improved the most by going back to this past season and getting another year under your belt?
A: “I think the biggest area for me was fastball command and commanding it down in the zone. That really made all my other pitches better. I still think I had a better feel for both my off-speed pitches as the season went on, but the big focus was the fastball command for me and I think once I got that, it really helped my overall game.”
Q: What are you memories of being here in Houston, being a baseball fan and maybe going to the Dome and following the Astros?
A: “I have a lot of great memories. I do remember going to a few games in the Astrodome. My dad’s work had season tickets they split up between a number of people and we got to go to a few games every year. I even remember when Minute Maid Park opened and how great of a ballpark that is. I remember playing Little League baseball at Post Oak Little League and the great summers I had with a bunch of great friends. I’ve gotten some calls and texts from those guys and kept in touch. The friendships and memories I created while I was in Houston were great and still even when I’m back to visit family, new memories have been created every single time.”
Q: How about a timetable when you think you will sign?
A: “That is involved in the negotiation process. As for me, I’m just spending time with my family. I know if at all it would be after graduation. I have a few things planned this summer with family. Obviously, graduation is important. I’m not really sure about the timetable and I really don’t know if I could give you an exact answer.”
Q: Do you have your arms around what’s happened here?
A: “It’s definitely been quite the year. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve had my ups and downs and I’ve become a better person and better ballplayer because of it.”
The Astros player development department has named May’s Minor League Pitchers and Players of the Month at each of their four full-season minor league affiliates. These awards are chosen every month by the field staff of each team.
TRIPLE-A OKLAHOMA CITY
LHP Brett Oberholtzer was named Pitcher of the Month after going 2-2 with a 2.42 ERA (7ER/26IP) and 27 strikeouts in five starts in May. He was named the Pacific Coast League’s Pitcher of the Week for the week of May 6-13 and held opponents to a .198 (18×91) batting average during the month. IF Brett Wallace was named the RedHawks Player of the Month after hitting .324 (34×105) with six doubles, six homers, 26 RBI and a .403 on-base percentage in 28 games in May. Wallace is hitting .319 (51×160) with eight homers and a .948 OPS in 41 total games at OKC.
DOUBLE-A CORPUS CHRISTI
RHP Jake Buchanan went 4-0 with a 0.00 ERA (0ER/27.2IP) in six May outings to earn Corpus Christi’s Pitcher of the Month honors. The Astros 2011 Minor League Pitcher of the Year currently leads all of minor league baseball with a 0.85 ERA and has allowed just five walks all season in 63.1 innings pitched. He was named the Texas League Pitcher of the Week for the week of April 29-May 6. IF Erik Castro was named the Hooks Player of the Month after hitting .360 in 24 May games, raising his season batting average by 88 points from .206 to .294. Castro added 10 doubles, four homers, 20 RBI and a 1.031 OPS (.424 OBP/.607 SLG) during the month.
CLASS A LANCASTER
LHP Theron Geith was named Lancaster Pitcher of the Month after going 3-0 with a 2.35 ERA (4ER/15.1IP) and 10 strikeouts in 10 relief outings for the JetHawks. Geith has posted a 5-0 record with a 2.22 ERA (6ER/24.1IP) on the season. He was acquired by the Astros last year as a PTBNL in the Ben Francisco trade with Tampa Bay. Lancaster’s Player of the Month award went to OF Preston Tucker, who leads all of minor league baseball with 57 RBI. A seventh round draft pick by the Astros last year, Tucker hit .342 (39×114) with seven doubles, one triple, five homers, 30 RBI and a .400 OBP in 29 games in May. He recently had a 17-game hitting streak from May 16-June 2.
CLASS A QUAD CITIES
A pair of Astros 2012 first-round draft picks earned May awards for Quad Cities, with RHP Lance McCullers receiving Pitcher of the Month honors and IF Carlos Correa receiving Player of the Month honors. McCullers earned his first career win while posting a 1.88 ERA (5ER/24IP) and 26 strikeouts over seven outings in May. The 41st overall selection in last year’s draft currently leads the Midwest League with a 1.70 ERA. Correa hit .349 (30×86) with six doubles, one triple, 18 RBI and a .423 on-base percentage in 22 May games. Last year’s first overall selection in the draft entered the season as the third-youngest player in the Midwest League and is hitting .275 (47×171) with 10 doubles, one triple, three homers, 34 RBI, five stolen bases and 26 walks (.380 OBP) in 44 total games this season. Both players were also named Midwest League All-Stars.
The Astros five active minor league affiliates have combined to post a 137-98 (.583) record, which ranks first out of all Major League organizations. Each of the four domestic affiliates are over .500, and three of the four are currently in first place in their divisions.