Results tagged ‘ Brian McTaggart ’
When the American League Championship Series gets underway Friday, Astros president of business operations Reid Ryan and executive advisor Nolan Ryan will be keeping a close eye on the battle between the Orioles and Royals.
Both teams feature familiar faces for the Ryans in the dugout, front office and coaching staff from their years in baseball. There are some former Rangers playing for the Orioles, including Chris Davis and Nelson Cruz, as well as a handful of players who came through the Ryan-owned Minor Leagues clubs in Corpus Christi and Round Rock, including Bud Norris and Jimmy Paredes.
Nolan Ryan, former president of the Rangers, is also friends with Royals legend George Brett, who was inducted in to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999 alongside Ryan.
“I’ve kind of pulled for Kansas City for a while now because of the fact that I know a lot of people over there, and I’ve been watching them progress the last few years,” Nolan Ryan said.
The Ryans know plenty of people with the Royals considering the two clubs share the same Spring Training facility in Surprise, Ariz.
“The Orioles and Royals are my sentimental favorites,” Reid Ryan said. “I know a lot of guys over there, as well as John Russell, who was instrumental in my dad’s career.”
Russell, the Orioles bench coach under former Rangers manager Buck Showalter, caught Nolan Ryan’s sixth no-hitter on June 11, 1990.
“He played at [the University of Oklahoma] and so we’ve had fun over the years keeping up with him and his wife, who’s a good friend who I knew at TCU,” Reid Ryan said. “We watched him go through his Minor League managing career and Major League coaching ranks. He’s one of those guys you’re going to hear his name in the next few years as a manager candidate.”
California prep left-handed pitcher Brady Aiken, the No. 1 overall pick by the Astros in the First-Year Player Draft, arrived from San Diego on Monday with his parents in preparation for signing a contract with the Astros in the next few days.
Aiken, 17, was taken by the Astros out of Central Catholic High School in San Diego, making him only the third left-handed high school pitcher to be selected with the first overall pick, joining Brien Taylor (Yankees, 1991) and Houston’s David Clyde (Rangers, 1973).
The Astros could announce a deal with Aiken as early as Tuesday.
“It feels great,” Aiken said. “I’m excited. I’m really excited to take this next step in my life.”
MLBPipeline.com’s Jim Callis reported earlier this month the Astros and Aiken had agreed to a $6.5-million signing bonus, which would tie the record for the largest given to a high school pitcher. The Pirates gave Jameson Taillon a $6.5-million signing bonus after taking him with the second pick in 2010.
The slot value for the No. 1 overall pick is $7,922,100.
“It means a lot,” Aiken said. “It means the Astros really invested in me and they’re really looking forward to having me do what I can do for them.”
Aiken arrived with his parents, Linda and Jim Aiken, and his sister, Halle, who plays volleyball at San Diego State.
“We’re very, very excited to be here,” Jim Aiken said. “(Tuesday) is a big day for us. We’re really looking forward to it.”
Aiken posted a 7-0 record and a 1.06 ERA in 11 starts in his senior season. He was a 2014 Perfect Game first team All-American and an All-Region first team in California. He led Team USA to the gold medal at the 18-and-under World Cup in Taiwan last September by winning both of his starts — including a championship-game performance against Japan in which he struck out 10 and allowed one run over seven innings.
Once he officially signs, Aiken will likely be sent to the team’s Spring Training complex in Kissimmee, Fla. He will likely be held to a strict innings limit this summer once his season starts.
“I know all the fans and everyone are looking forward to this and I’m looking forward to it this just as much as they are,” he said. “I’m more excited than they are probably to be honest with you. I’m really excited to see what the future holds.”
The Astros announced Saturday they had signed popular second baseman Jose Altuve to a four-year contract extension with a pair of option years, marking the team’s first significant contract commitment under general manager Jeff Luhnow. The deal was first reported by MLB.com.
The extension begins in 2014 and runs through the 2017 season and provides the club with options for the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Additional terms were not disclosed, but Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reported the deal is worth $12.5 million for four years with two club options for $6 million and $6.5 million.
“Jose values security and we value Jose, and it starts with that,” Luhnow said. “He’s done a terrific job for us ever since getting called up from Double-A two years ago, and he’s been a consistent force in our lineup. He just knows how to hit and he’s a good defender at second base, and when you get a player like that who can add value, not only when he’s at the plate but on the base paths, but also when he’s out there at second base, those are the types of guys we feel we need to have and have long-term. Removing some of the uncertainty for him and for us at this point makes sense.”
The Astros are essentially buying out Altuve’s three arbitration years (though 2017) and doing it in a relatively cost-friendly manner for the team.
Luhnow spent most of his first year on the job trading away players who were in the midst of multi-year contracts in exchange for prospects as the Astros went full-bore in their plan to rebuild through the Draft and player development. The Astros opened this year with a payroll of about $22 million, with Bud Norris ($3 million) as the highest-paid player.
The Altuve deal, which has been in the work for a couple of weeks with talks intensifying in the last few days, means the club is taking the next step in its rebuilding process by locking up some young players it feels will be building blocks for the future. All-Star catcher Jason Castro could fit that mold.
“This won’t be the last time we tie up one of our young players,” Luhnow said. “In this case, it made a lot of sense, both in terms of timing and length of deal and so forth, but it’s something we’re going to look at.
“We’re going to have a lot of exciting young talent coming through our system and to the big leagues and once we feel there’s enough certainty on our side that the player is going to be around and be able to contribute at the level we need him to for the long haul, we’re going to try to get deals done. It eliminates some of the back-and-forth that goes on year in and year out with arbitration and gives the player some security and gives us some certainly know the player is going to be there for us.”
Altuve, 23, was promoted from Double-A Corpus Christi in 2011 after the Astros traded Jeff Keppinger and plugged into the starting lineup. He batted .284 with three homers and 28 RBIs in 85 games as a rookie before a breakout season in 2012, when he hit .290 with seven homers, 37 RBIs and 33 steals en route to an All-Star Game berth.
He is hitting .280 with three homers, 28 RBIs and 21 stolen bases through 86 games this season.
The second day of pitcher and catcher workouts went off without a hitch, with Astros manager Brad Mills getting his first look at pitchers like Rhiner Cruz, Livan Hernandez and Paul Clemens when they threw in the bullpen for the first time.
“Watching the guys throw, that’s always the biggest thing,” Mills said. “I thought Rhiner Cruz threw the ball really well. I thought Bud Norris threw the ball well and Paul Clemens, too. Livan’s command of his pitches was pretty impressive. The guys are doing the things to get themselves ready. Today was a much better day. Guys knew better where to go and what to do.”
General manager Jeff Luhnow was impressed with Clemens, who came to the Astros in the Michael Bourn trade.
“He’s got a big arm,” he said. “We’re going to develop him as a starter. My philosophy for the better arms is until they prove to us they don’t have three pitches and don’t have command to start, we’re going to start them, and it looks like [Clemens] has got everything he needs.”
Let’s get right to the photos:
My colleague Richard Justice and myself take a look at the Astros’ outfield situation in this video. There will be more to come.
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.
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].”
University of Connecticut outfielder George Springer, taken by the Astros with the No. 11 overall pick in the first round of Monday’s First-Year Player Draft, told MLB.com shortly after his team beat Clemson to advance to the NCAA Super Regionals that he was living a dream.
“I really don’t have any words I can put how happy I was at the time [he was drafted],” he said. “It’s something as a player and as a kid you always dream of. My friend, Matt Barnes, told me in the fifth inning, and I was blown away.”
A 21-year-old junior, Springer was hitting .350 with 12 homers and 76 RBIs though 63 games for the Huskies. He had a .628 slugging percentage with 35 walks, 38 strikeouts and 31 stolen bases in 38 games.
Springer started in center field for the Huskies in Monday’s regional championship game in Clemson, S.C., and went 1-for-3 with two runs scored before being removed from the game as a precaution because of cramps. UConn won, 14-1.
“It’s just more of a severe cramp,” he said. “I was extremely dehydrated from [Sunday] night and it just carried over and that point in the game it was 9-1. We’re obviously playing on Friday and I want to be 100 percent. It was the right thing to do.”
Springer said he and his advisors have had quite a bit of contact with the Astros.
“My advisors had been going back and forth with them since this process started, and it became a reality today,” Springer said.
When asked about his willingness to sign a contract with the Astros, Springer didn’t hesitate.
“100 percent,” he said. “I’m good to go.”
The Astros plan to keep Springer in center field, but scouting director Bobby Heck said he could possibly profile as a corner outfielder down the road because of his power.
“I would not have a problem playing right, center or left field,” Springer said. “I really don’t have a preference, but I would hope to stay in center field.”
Because his college team was still alive in the NCAAs, Springer didn’t get a chance to come to Houston last week’s pre-Draft workout at Minute Maid Park. In fact, he’s never been Houston.
“We actually played this year at Whataburger Field [in Corpus Christi] and that’s about as close to Houston as I’ve been in my lifetime,” he said. “I know that’s where Houston’s Double-A team is, the Hooks. I have not had the pleasure to go to Houston, but hopefully in the next few months or so I’ll have the pleasure of going down to Houston.”
Springer said getting drafted in the first round and then advancing to the NCAA Super Regional is a matter of hours is a dream come true.
“I don’t have any words I can describe it,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable feeling, especially topped off by a huge win in the last three games for our team and program. I’m beyond happy right now.”