Blog Entry

Astros Minor League Players of the Month: June

Posted on: July 13, 2009 9:49 am
Edited on: July 19, 2009 3:04 pm
I have had this post sitting on my desktop for awhile and I am finally publishing it.  This marks my first post in exactly a month and I apologize for that.  I have some interesting topics coming up, however, and I hope to get on here more consistently.  The Astros are .500, so let's celebrate the first half of the season. 

A quick note about yesterday's Futures Game, which I watched in it's entirety despite a four hour rain-delay.  The Astros' Chia Jen-Lo recorded the win, pitching one inning and striking out one, with the bases loaded and two outs.  He was throwing in the low 90s with a good slider in the mid 70s.  Jason Castro also looked impressive.  He belted a hanging curve off a lefty to deep right field, scoring a three-run homer.  He also threw out Luis Durango at third on an attempted steal.  Durango had a good jump and the pitcher, Dan Duffy, was slow getting the ball to the plate but, Castro threw a strike down the third base line to nab Durango just in time.  His arm is definitely a plus tool despite throwing out only three of fourteen would-be basestealers. 

I have a couple of topics planned.  I am going to grade individual (major league) players on their performance thus far.  I also plan to take a trip across state to see Houston's New York-Penn League team, Tri City ValleyCats.  They are probably the minor league affiliate of Houston's I know the least about (their players that is), but they are far and away the closest in proximity (I can see them at three locations in the next month, including their home ballpark outside of Albany, within a two and a half hour drive).  So, I plan on having some form of scouting reports on some of their top prospects.  I may also review my top 15 Astros prospects at some point, but we'll see how things go. 

Without further ado, here are the Astros' top Minor Leaguers for the month of June.

Round Rock Express
Pitcher of the Month : Bud Norris RHP
Norris reclaims the monthly honor, having won it in April, but narrowly losing out to Bazardo in May.  That's not to say Bazardo made it easy.  He pitched 28 innings over four starts (7innings/start), posting a 3.21 ERA with a 1-0 record.  He struck out 15, while walking only 5 batters, and also gave up 29 hits.  For Bazardo it was another solid, but not dominant month.  Norris also pitched 28 innings over four starts (obviously still 7 innings/start).  He did it with a 0.96 ERA and 1-1 record though.  He gave up only 18 hits, but did walk 12, and stuck out 26 batters.  A couple things to note about Norris' month are that his strikeout rate did drop, for the first month this year his k/9 was under 9, but his ground out to air out ratio was much higher, and he gave up only one HR last month.  I continue to be inpressed by this duo, and very much look forward to seeing them in Houston soon.  Maybe one, or both, of them will become important parts to the Astros' second half. 
Batter of the Month: Chris Johnson 3B
Round Rock position players continue to underwhelm me, especially this month, when Brian Bogusevic , Mark Saccomanno , J.R. Towles and Tommy Manzella all had weak performances.  I was left with two options for the award.  Johnson, my number seven Astros prospect last offseason, or, John Gall a first basemen, with a season.255 AVG, who was born in the '70s.  Statistically they had very similar months, but Johnson had more extra base hits, and that was enough for me.  Johnson hit .280, with a poor .301 OBP, and .460 SLG%.  He hit 2 HRs, along with a total of 11 XBHs (extra base hits), and 28 hits total.  Now for the bad stuff, Johnson struck out 23 times, in 100 ABs, and walked only 3 times.  Wait a moment, let it sink in...  He walked only 3 times.  He played in 26 games last month, and walked... 3 times.  His K:BB ratio was 7.7 to 1.  That is absolutely terrible.  I love Johnson.  I think he provides a lot of offensive potential, along with solid defense from the hot corner, but he cannot, and will not become a ML contributor until he learns to take a walk, and raises his OBP. 

Corpus Christi Hooks
Pitcher of the Month: Polin Trinidad LHP
No contest.  Trinidad was the lone bright spot on a terrible Hooks pitching staff.  Trinidad pitched 37 and a third innings over five starts (>7 innings/start), accumulating a 3-2 record.  His ERA for the month was a spectacular 0.72, allowing only three earned runs all month.  He struck out 21 batters, walked four, and gave up 27 hits - a WHIP of .83 over 5 starts!  In July we'll see if Trinidad can give Bazardo and Norris a run for the AAA monthly crown, as he has been called up to Round Rock once the AA All-Star game is over. 
Batter of the Month: Wladamir Sutil SS
This was a very close four-horse race between Sutil , Drew Meyer 2B, Jason Castro C and perennial contender, but never winner, Colin DeLome.  Meyer was the runner up, he hit for a good average, on-base percentage, and provided enough power, I just liked what Sutil had to offer a little bit more.  Castro was a hitting machine upon getting called up, however, he began to slow down a little as the month ended, and he has yet to hit for power in AA, only two of his seventeen hits went for extra bases.  On top of that, Castro only walked twice in 16 games, but he also only struck out six times.  DeLome once again showed off some power, collecting nine extra base hits, including four homeruns, he also stole three bases.  However, per usual, he also struck out a lot, 27 times in 98 ABs (28 games).  DeLome still had one of the higher OPS' this month, though, his was .821, lifting his season OPS to .811.  Sutil is typically the leadoff hitter, and was a Texas League All-Star.  Usually I overlook Sutil, but this month I want to give him his due.  In 109 ABs, he hit .312 with a .390 OBP.  He hit no homeruns but, eight of his thirty-four hits were doubles.  He scored sixteen runs, and stole four bases.  Finally he stuck out only nine times (remember 109 ABs, 29 games) and walked 11 times, hooray for a prospect with a K:BB ratio less than one!

Lancaster JetHawks High
Pitcher of the Month: Fernando Abad LHP
Just about every pitcher in Lancaster is a whose-who of bad performers.  It was so bad that I had to dig into the Lancaster bullpen, to grab a pitcher with only one save this season and shower him with this award.  Don't get me wrong, Abad had a good month.  In seven appearances, and seventeen innings, he posted a 1.06 ERA, struck out twelve, walking only three batters, and giving up only eight hits. 
Batter of the Month: T.J. Steele OF
I may consider dropping the high A pitching award and in its place, honor two Lancaster batters, because there are more than those deserving of being recognized.  Before I continue, I suppose I am obligated to tell you, the California League is an extreme hitters League.  That's why the Lancaster pitchers' numbers are terrible and their hitters' numbers can be extraordinary.  Still, big numbers are more fun to talk about.  Steele is one of my favorite prospects in the system, and he is finally healthy enough to win a monthly award.  He leads a stellar group of six contenders.  In 104 ABs, Steele hit .394, with a .439 OBP and .692 SLG%.  He hit four homeruns and added thirteen other extra base hits, including six triples.  He also knocked in twenty-six RBIs and scored another twenty-eight himself.  However, like most Astros prospects, Steele had trouble with his plate discipline.  Striking out twenty-three times, while walking seven times.  Steele stole five bases in ten attempts.  Other numbers of note on the offensive end of Lancaster: Gabriel Suarez hit .328 over 67 ABs with a .392 OBP.  Brandon Barnes was called up from Lexington and hit .327 over 49 ABs, and added 7 XBHs.  Jack Shuck hit .296, and struck out only 8 times over 98 ABs, he walked 7 more times than he struck out, 15.  Jon Gaston hit .311, he did not however match his May homerun number, the unbelievable 9 he hit last month, but he did hit 4, with a SLG% of .566.  Koby Clemens took over for Jason Castro as the starting catcher, making the most of the opportunity, he hit .329 with an OPS of .955.

Lexington Legends Low A
Pitcher of the Month: Jordan Lyles RHP
Before I talk about the two guys who battled for this award, I'll touch on several of the young Lexington pitchers I've been highlighting since April.  Robert Bono and Henry Villar both had their typical, also very good, months.  In five starts Bono had an ERA of 2.43, but only struck out six.  Henry Villar made eight appearances out of the bullpen, pitching thirteen and two thirds innings, with a 3.29 ERA and striking out eighteen.  Both Kyle Greenwalt and Brad Dydalewicz took a small step back, but on the season, both are still performing very well, and both of their first starts in July were very good.  That brings us to our winner, Jordan Lyles and runner-up, Ross Seaton.  Seaton started five games, pitching thirty-two and a third innings, with a 1-3 record and 2.51 ERA.  He finally started to show an ability to strikout batters, he struckout twenty-three of them last month, while walking ten and giving up twenty-eight hits.  Lyles has continued to be one of the very best pitchers in the South Atlantic League , I am amazed he, and Seaton as well, have not been called up yet (although if the plan is to wait till the end of the year, then move them both up to AA next season.  I am ok with it.  Why send your top two pitching prospects to a hitters league, the California League, if you can avoid it, right?).  Lyles made five starts in June, pitching twenty-eight and a third innings, with a 2-2 record and 3.18 ERA.  He struck out forty-three batters, while allowing only six walks, and giving up only twenty-two hits.  From the scouting reports I've seen Lyles has his fastball sitting in the 90s, with a developing and improved curveball and change, along with very good command.  All signs are pointing to good things from Lyles moving forward.  I would assume Lyles and others from this crop would have made the jump to high A, except for the fact that the front office doesn't want to throw them into the launching pad of Lancaster, which is probably a wise move.  Hopefully they can skip a level and start next season in AA. 
Batter of the Month: Brian Pellegrini OF
There's no one else in Lexington even challenging him at this point.  Ebert Rosario had a bad month, Brandon Barnes was called up, and although April's winner, Albert Cartwright returned from injury, he has not performed well either.  Pellegrini hit .437 over 87 ABs, with a .495 OBP and .816 SLG%, that's an OPS of an astonishing 1.311.  Need I say more?  He hit nine homeruns.  Is that enough for you?  Good, because the rest is less than stellar, although he "only" struck out 18 times, he only walked 9 times. Pellegrini is 24, and playing in low A, so he should be expected to dominate, as he has been.  I would say call him up, but the Lancaster outfield is crowded, as is the Corpus Christi outfield, and Pellegrini did not fare so well when he started the season off in Lancaster, anyways. 


Since: Feb 19, 2007
Posted on: July 16, 2009 4:29 pm

Astros Minor League Players of the Month: June

I assume Geary and possibly Q will be non-tendered in Decemember. 
That seems like a logical move.  Q is wasting a roster spot at this point; he's not going to get better, and despite having a couple more arbitration years, I can't really see the team keeping him.

It may be a little early to presume that Castro is the starter at catcher in 2010.  I think it may be better to re-sign Pudge for a year and have Castro serve as his backup, unless Castro absolutely goes off in the second half.

I would be surprised if they didn't re-sign Blum, even if it's just for depth.  With Chris Johnson performing so badly at Round Rock, having Keppinger and Blum almost seems like a must.

Some of the minor league pitchers like Norris, Bazardo, Trinidad, and Samuel Gervacio might have to fill spots in the bullpen in 2010.  Norris may even end up being the fifth starter, depending on what happens with Russ Ortiz.  Personally, I can't see Ortiz sticking; he whines too much.

The big news today is Wesley Wright coming back up and replacing Paulino.  I can't really complain about that, since Paulino sucked, for the most part.  Looks like our rotation is going to be Oswalt, Rodriguez, Moehler, Hampton, and Ortiz for the foreseeable future.  That's not bad, I guess, but it'll be a strain on the bullpen if the last three only throw 4-5 IP/start.

Since: Aug 16, 2006
Posted on: July 16, 2009 4:07 pm

Astros Minor League Players of the Month: June

Thanks for the spreadsheet link, I wish I had had that when I was trying to figure out salaries. 

I did know about Villareal. 

I assume Geary and possibly Q will be non-tendered in Decemember. 

Since: Feb 19, 2007
Posted on: July 16, 2009 2:03 pm

Astros Minor League Players of the Month: June

One last thing: Did you know that the team is on the hook for $1.6 million for Oscar Villarreal this season?

Wow, that was a really bad deal on Wade's part.  Makes the Matsui contract almost (but not quite) look good.

Since: Feb 19, 2007
Posted on: July 16, 2009 2:00 pm

Astros Minor League Players of the Month: June

Wandy's in his fifth season, next year will be his final year of arbitration According to , 2010 will be Wandy's second year of arb., with 2011 his last.

Since: Feb 19, 2007
Posted on: July 16, 2009 1:54 pm

Astros Minor League Players of the Month: June

It looks like Bourn, Keppinger, Sampson, and Byrdak will all be arbitration eligible.

I don't think Pence will be, but I'm not sure.  It depends on his service time, and I'm too lazy to calculate how many days he's played.

Since: Aug 16, 2006
Posted on: July 16, 2009 1:53 pm

Astros Minor League Players of the Month: June

Here's my best guess starting lineup, Opening Day 2010 (pos/name/bats from the...):
CF Bourn L
SS Tejada (resigned as explained in my previous post) R
1B Berkman S
LF Lee R
RF Pence R
3B Chris Johnson/Keppinger (I think they're both right handed batters, no platoon) R
C Jason Castro L
2B Matsui L

Looking at that, Houston doesn't need much help on the offensive side of the ball, Johnson or Keppinger may struggle in a full season (non-platoon situation) and it's tough to know what Castro would do (See Towles, J.R.).

Wandy's in his fifth season, next year will be his final year of arbitration. 

Since: Feb 19, 2007
Posted on: July 16, 2009 1:43 pm

Astros Minor League Players of the Month: June

Honestly, I don't think they'll re-sign Valverde or Hawkins.  Tejada is another one I wouldn't even bother with, though I don't like Maysonet or Manzella to replace him.  They committed a lot of money to the bullpen over the offseason; both Valverde and Brocail have missed substantial time, leaving Hawkins as the only bright spot.  And he's obviously fallen off what he did last year, surprise, surprise.

Wandy just got a huge raise in the offseason.  I'm not sure what year of arbitration he's in either.  I figured it was his first due to the huge jump in pay.  But maybe not.

The team really is hamstrung by the contracts of Berkman, Lee, and Oswalt, though they're all critical to the success of the team.  What really makes it worse is the no-trade clauses that were handed out like candy.

If Pence and Wandy keep going like they have been, they'll definitely get raises.  And Keppinger, for the amount of playing time he's received, has played pretty well too.  Well, I think all three would get raises if they're eligible to; their level of play just helps them get BIGGER raises than might be expected.

I would be surprised if Drayton signed any free agents this offseason.  His hand was essentially forced with Pudge, due to the absolutely pathetic performances of Towles, Quintero, and the third guy (Palmisano, maybe?  I forget) in spring training.  So I doubt he'll be amenable to raising the payroll.

Since: Aug 16, 2006
Posted on: July 16, 2009 12:51 pm

Astros Minor League Players of the Month: June

I can't believe I left out Wandy Rodriguez.  I don't think he's a free agent (correct me if I'm wrong please), so I assume he's going into his final year of arb.  He makes shy of $3 million this season, but expect a bump to $5 million-ish.  Which brings the available payroll space to a meager $6-$15 million-ish.  Again I was a little high on the arbitration figures, but light on the 15 players at league minimum, so I think that number will end up being fairly accurate... what do you think?  Stupid Carlos Lee and his back-loaded contract!

Since: Aug 16, 2006
Posted on: July 16, 2009 12:43 pm

Astros Minor League Players of the Month: June

I just did a little bit of math and the results aren't great, in regards to this off-season. 

The Astros have $53 million going to four players:
Oswalt - 15 M
Berkman - 14.5 M
Lee - 18.5 M
Matsui - 5 M

Brian Moehler has a mutual option - I don't know how much for, though, so I am going to ignore him, assume someone declines.  Brocail also has an option, but if the season were to end today, Houston would decline. 

Then, I believe Houston has six arbitration eligible players, I could easily be wrong, do for raises.  I have inserted projected 2010 salaries.  I am purposefully inflating these a little because I would rather project a number too high and have more money in the budget than be wrong and end up with less.  Also, a couple of these guys may not be arbitration eligible, this is my best guess as to who is, very little research involved in this.  That's why it's a blog comment rather than a post.  There may also be someone who is arb. eligible who is not listed, I'm trying my best with little effort. 
Sampson - 2 M
Pence - 6 M
Bourn - 5 M
Keppinger (I think) - 2 M
Geary (If tendered a contract, I wouldn't) - 3 M
Byrdak (if he's arb. eligible, might be a free agent but haven't seen him listed anywhere) - 2 M

That brings payroll up to $74 million for 10 players. 

Next I added 15 players at (around) league minimum, which adds another $6 million. 

We're up to $80 million.  I'm projecting an approved payroll budget of $90 million, although I assume Ed Wade will convince Drayton to go close to, but not exceeding $100 millon.  Which means there will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $9-18 million for free agents. 

Valverde will cost $8-$12 million/year to resign
Tejada will cost somewhere between $5-$10 million to sign (I project a two-year $16 million deal, with a team option for a third year)
Hawkins will take $3-$6 million to resign (I hope)

When you look at the budget like this, it's a little sombering.  I'll likely turn this into a blog post in the near future. 

Since: Aug 16, 2006
Posted on: July 16, 2009 11:29 am

Astros Minor League Players of the Month: June

I actually can't blame you for having reservations about Pence.  I suppose I have forgotten all to easily the heartbreak we've suffered in the recent past.  Ensberg and Lane are both great examples of players who showed great promise, Ensberg finished top ten in MVP voting, but left us tattered when they fell from grace.  I don't expect the same from Pence, maybe I'm nieve, or, more likely, unrealisticly optimistic and/or idealistic.  Afterall, Ensberg looked like a perenial .285 BA 30-35 homerun guy for a couple (every other) years.  Still, Pence has made the necessary adjustments to be a good a hitter, and I would expect to see him continue to make adjustments in order to shore up the holes in his swing.  He definitely has the drive and passion to get better and he's unlikely to become complacent with where his came is.  By the way, Pence has the second best OBP on the team (behind Berkman), which is a bit of a surprise due to his aggressive approach at the plate. 

I'm very interested to see what Houston will do this off-season, with so much money coming off the books.  I know Drayton wants to get payroll down to the 80-95 million range, but that would still give Houston (my quick quesstimate) 10-20 million to play with.  Although Pence is do for a big raise (5 million?) going into his first year of arbitration. 

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or