August 2009

Here We Go Again…

Two straight series wins against the Marlins and the Diamondbacks, and the Astros are still hanging around in the standings – 10 games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central; 9 games behind the Rockies for the NL Wild Card.

38 games left to play, beginning tomorrow with a 9-game roadtrip against the Cardinals, Cubs, and Diamondbacks.  Two series left against the Phillies.  It could be shaping up to be the exact worst-case scenario: The Astros playing hard until the final out of the season, getting within sniffing distance but missing the playoffs entirely.

Without a playoff berth, a good season will continue to hurt this team in subsequent drafts.  The longer they stay competitive, the louder the cries for high-priced free agents.  If this team is going to blow itself up and rebuild, it shouldn’t ideally come after a season where they compete until the very end. 

And, as much as I hate to side with Richard Justice, let’s say the Astros miss the playoffs by six games: Is it unfair to say that manager Cecil Cooper has cost the Astros at least that many games?

A Few Moves That Won’t Get Us Over The Hump

The Houston Astros signed Armando Benitez to a minor league contract.  Benitez had been pitching with the Newark Bears of the independent Atlantic League.  Since 1994, he’s pitched for the Orioles, Mets, Mariners, Marlins, Yankees, Giants, and Blue Jays.  He last pitched in Toronto in 8 games during the 2008 season, during which time he was 0-1 with a 5.68 ERA, but a 0.947 WHIP.

Benitez is a two-time All-Star with a career 3.13 ERA and 1.217 WHIP.  It’s doubtful that he’ll get the Astros over the hump, but it’s very possible he’s still got something left in the tank, even at “thirty-six” Dominican years old.

You probably don’t know, but the film Open Road is set to release this weekend, with Justin Timberlake as a baseball player for none other than our Double-A Texas League affiliate, the Corpus Christi Hooks. 

He won’t help the Hooks much, as it turns out, as they now stand dangerously close to elimination from the playoffs.  The Round Rock Express, Greeneville Astros, and DSL Astros have already been eliminated.

Former Astros pitcher Russ Ortiz was inked to a deal by the Colorado Rockies.  Turns out he may make the playoffs, after all – and have something to say about the Astros getting there in the process.  The Rockies also picked up Jason Giambi.

Will Lancaster Make The Playoffs?

The California League Lancaster Jethawks are trying like mad to get into the playoffs in their first year as an Astros affiliate, but could use a little help from their friends.  Four games behind the High Desert Mavericks (SEA), the Jethawks won yesterday – but so did High Desert, who has won four in a row.  Hot on the Jethawks’ back is the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes – winners of three straight, and just a game behind Lancaster in the standings.

Lancaster is the only Astros affiliate with any realistic shot of making the playoffs.

The Lexington Legends snapped their 11-game losing streak, but it’s likely a case of too little, too late, as they now stand at the very bottom of the South Atlantic League, 13.5 games out of first place.

Eric Bruntlett

No doubt you’ve heard by now, but former Astros shortstop Eric Bruntlett made history yesterday, becoming just the second player in Major League Baseball to get the last three outs of a game with an unassisted triple play.  Bruntlett – along with Brad Lidge – was traded to the Phillies late in 2007 for Michael Bourn, Geoff Geary, and minor leaguer Mike Costanzo, who was turned around and sent to the Orioles as one of the five players traded for Miguel Tejada.

Congratulations, Eric.

What Happened Was…

Round Rock Express (AAA) – Polin Trinidad is having a little trouble adjusting to the Pacific Coast League, and his struggles were front and center during yesterday’s 6-1 loss to the Memphis Redbirds (STL).  2B Jose Vallejo – one of the players acquired in the Ivan Rodriguez trade – was 2-for-4 with 2 doubles, and scored the only Express run of the game.  A tip of the cap to OF Yordany Ramirez, with an outfield assist at home from center field.

Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) – It’s not a good omen with the big leaguers going into a series against the Cardinals when their minor league teams keep beating ours.  The Hooks dropped a 3-1 decision to the Springfield Cardinals (AA) yesterday, with OF Andrew Locke collecting two of the Hooks’ only 3 hits.  The third was a solo home run by 2B/3B Felix “No Relation” Molina

Lancaster Jethawks (A+) – Five runs in the first inning helped the Jethawks put away the Visalia Oaks Rawhide (ARI), 6-4.  LF/C Koby Clemens was 2-for-4 to raise his season line to .339/.415/.607 between Corpus Christi and Lancaster.  SS Marcos Cabral went 2-for-3 with a walk, a home run, and 3 RBI.  Leandro Cespedes struck out 6 in 5.2 innings; Fernando Abad did him one better, striking out 5 in 3.1 innings, walking just one, and allowing only two hits and no runs to help keep the Jethawks in the playoff race.

Lexington Legends (A) – It wasn’t always such a surprise when Lexington won a game, but after eleven straight losses, a 5-2 victory over the Greensboro Grasshoppers (FLA), who were no doubt looking ahead to tonight’s game, where they will be hosting Waffle Appreciation Night.  That’s right.  Waffles.  No word on whether or not Richard Justice will be the guest of honor.  Kyle Greenwalt earned the win, allowing 2 earned runs on 5 hits and no walks through 6 innings.  Brian Pellegrini and Brandon Wikoff each had two hits – unspurprisingly, as they’ve been about the only offensive highlights for Lexington all season.

Tri-City ValleyCats (A-) – It was a tight game for four innings, but runs by the Vermont Lake Monsters (WSN) in the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings did the ValleyCats in as they fell, 3-0, in Game 1 of the doubleheader.  Losses don’t get a lot harder-luck than the one Wander Alvino suffered, giving up just one hit, one earned run, and three hits with 5 strikeouts in as many innings. 

Game two ended with a postponement.  The Monsters led in the middle of the third, 3-0.

Greeneville Astros (R) – Tied at 1-1 entering the sixth inning, the Astros’ game against the Elizabethton Twins (MIN) looked like it might be a classic pitchers’ duel.  Carlos Quevedo was looking very good on the mound, as was his counterpart, Edgar Ibarra.  By the end of the sixth, though, things had changed drastically.  Quevedo gave up a total of five runs, two of them earned, while Ibarra struck out ten in seven innings of work to earn the win in the 9-1 game.  Astros manager Rodney Linares was ejected by the home plate umpire; one wonders if we wouldn’t have been better off getting 3B Jonathan Meyer, C Carlos Mojica, and 2B Miguel Arrendall ejected instead.  It would have saved us the three errors they combined to make, at least.

GCL Astros (R) – The GCL Astros had a scheduled day off, in sharp contrast to all of the unscheduled days off they’ve been having lately.

DSL Astros (R) – The DSL Astros’ season is over.  They will not make the playoffs.  Steroids all around.

Nevarez Pitches

It was only a third of an inning, but 6’5″ 220 lb. reliever Matthew Nevarez threw in his first game within the Astros organization yesterday, allowing a hit and recording a strikeout – the last out the Lexington Legends would record in their 7-5 loss to the Kannapolis Intimidators (CWS).

Along with Round Rock second baseman Jose Vallejo, Nevarez was a part of the trade that sent Ivan Rodriguez to Texas.

The most puzzling part of this trade to me, quite honestly, is watching the reactions of Houston fans.  I really and truly don’t understand how anyone can think that this trade was a bad move.  Pudge had a .280 on-base percentage.  That means that when he went to the plate, there was a 28% chance that he’d get on base via either a hit, a walk, or by getting hit by a pitch.

That’s not bad; that’s terrible.  Last season, Michael Bourn was heavily maligned for his failures at the plate.  He had a .288 on-base percentage.  Jose Cruz, Jr. was ridden out of town on a rail after posting a .283.  The Pirates’ Jason Jaramillo had the next-lowest OBP for a starting NL Central catcher this season, and that was 37 points higher – .317.

The fact that we were able to get anything for Rodriguez is a testament to our front office.  We got two young players, at least one of whom has some upside; and potentially a third.

That, dear friends, is a win.

Houston’s Dallas

“There are three rules that I live by: never get less than twelve hours
sleep; never play cards with a guy who has the same first name as a
city; and never get involved with a woman with a tattoo of a dagger on
her body. Now you stick to that, and everything else is cream cheese.”

–Coach Bobby Finstock, Teen Wolf

It might not be wise to play cards with Dallas Keuchel, the Astros’ 7th-round pick in this year’s draft, but it’s not a bad idea to play baseball with him.  Keuchel is a 6’3″ left-hander out of the University of Arkansas – Fayetteville, and so far he’s been a very pleasant surprise in his tenure for the Tri-City ValleyCats.

DallasKeuchel.jpg

1-2 in his first 8 games (all but one of them starts), he boasts a 1.94 ERA and a striking 0.935 WHIP.  He ‘s allowed just 3 walks and struck out 30 batters in 41.2 innings, and opposing hitters are .228 against him.  If he can keep this up, he’s going to be very exciting to watch.


Back in the Sadler Again

On August 18, the Astros signed Billy Sadler, a free agent pitcher released by the San Francisco Giants on August 10.  Sadler has been with Triple-A Fresno for all of 2009, but has spent parts of two seasons in the big leagues.  In 2007, he broke camp with the Giants, but struggled with his control and earned a demotion.  In 2008, he was called up late to replace Brad Hennessey. 

BillySadler.jpgWith a fastball in the low nineties and a curveball he throws to keep hitters off-balance, Sadler has looked very good at times.  He seems to have added a slider and a split-finger, and still throws his changeup for strikes.

He’ll be 28 soon, so don’t expect him to get heaps better, but this is a very nice low-risk signing by the Astros, and he could provide depth late into the season.  See below for details of his first start for the GCL Astros.

What Happened Was…

Round Rock Express (AAA) – An 8-2 loss to the Las Vegas 51s (TOR) was the 4th loss by the Express in their last 5 games.  It stands to reason that their season made a downturn when pitchers Bud Norris and Yorman Bazardo were called up, but this team has gone from bad to worse.  Their Elimination # now stands at 3, and the only way that can feel good is if they win tonight, effectively knocking the 51s out of the playoffs first.  1B Mark Saccomanno continued his hot second half with a home run, but also showed himself to be the butcher in the field he’s always been with an error.  SS Tommy Manzella was 1-for-2 with 2 walks and 2 stolen bases.  Josh Muecke earned a hard-luck loss, giving up 5 runs in 5.2 innings – none of them earned.  Chris Sampson gave up three runs of his own in an inning of work.  His ERA since being demoted to Round Rock now stands at 22.50.

Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) – It took 12 innings for the Arkansas Travelers (LAA) to score their second run of the night to beat the Corpus Christi Hooks 2-1.  Kenny Baugh pitched well, though not dominantly, earning no strikeouts in 6 innings of work, allowing a single run on 3 hits.  Daniel Meszaros was brilliant, allowing no runs and two hits in three innings of work, with 6 strikeouts.  3B Aaron Boone was 0-for-3 with 2 strikeouts.  Several Hooks had decent nights at the plate, despite the lack of runs.  SS Wladimir Sutil was 2-for-4; DH/OF Andrew Locke and C Jason Castro were 2-for-5.

Lancaster Jethawks (A+) – The Jethawks put together 4 runs in the top of the second, cruising to a 5-2 victory over the Lake Elsinore Storm (SDP).  The win keeps them three games behind the High Desert Mavericks (SEA) for the California League South Division.  The victory came in complete-game fashion for Christopher Salamida, who struck out 5 and allowed 4 hits.  Both runs came on a James Darnell home run in the first inning.  C Koby Clemens was 3-for-4, a home run away from a cycle; OF T.J. Steele was 2-for-3 to bring his season line up to .353/.393/.578.

Lexington Legends (A) – Despite stellar pitching from Ross Seaton, Jordan Lyles, and Brad Dydalewicz this season, the Legends’ offense simply hasn’t been able to make anything happen.  A 7-5 loss to the Kannapolis Intimidators (CWS) yesterday keeps them squarely in the basement of the Sally North Division.  Kyle Godfrey, who’s been fairly outstanding since being promoted from Tri-City, earned the loss with a rare bad outing, striking out 2 and giving up 2 runs on 2 hits in 1.2 innings.  His ERA for the season “balloons” to 2.02.  8 of Lexington’s 9 starters combined for 10 hits, with only OF Steve Brown going hitless.

Tri-City ValleyCats (A-) – Dallas Keuchel earned his first win yesterday, giving up 2 runs in 5 innings against the Staten Island Yankees (NYY).  He picked up a little help from his friends, including 2B Jose Altuve, who was 1-for-3 at the plate with a walk, three stolen bases, and three runs scored.  The ValleyCats eked out 7 runs on 8 hits, only two of them for extra bases: Doubles by 3B Erik Castro and DH/3B Jhonny Medrano.  At 20-37, the ValleyCats are dead last not just in the Stedler Division, but in the entire New York-Penn League.  But they’re getting a couple of nice individual performances that are certainly encouraging.

Greeneville Astros (R) – There’s very little in baseball more exciting than the “Battle of the ‘villes.”  I just made that up, but Greeneville and the Danville Braves (ATL) do seem to have their share of very good games against one another, and yesterday’s 3-2 Danville win was no exception.  The Astros’ hitters were absolutely shut down by the Braves’ staff (when have I heard that before?), scoring two unearned runs on just two hits.  Murillo Gouvea earned the loss, striking out 4 in 3 relief innings, giving up just one hit and one unearned loss.  First-round pick Jiovanni Mier was 0-for-2 with 2 walks earned.

GCL Astros (R) – While the Astros’ Wandy Rodriguez was helping the big leaguers over the Marlins for a big series win, the teams’ Gulf Coast League affiliates battled it out in decidedly-different fashion, as the Marlins downed the Astros, 8-1.   The Astros, already eliminated from the postseason, had as many errors as hits (2).  Only DH/C Jose Lopez managed to get on base more than once, going 1-for-2 with a walk, as a quartet of Marlins farmhands combined for the two-hit victory.  Astros starter Billy Sadler, who the Astros signed as a free agent two days ago, struck out the side in the first inning and left the game.

DSL Astros (R) – The DSL playoff picture is very nearly set, with the DSL Yankees2 and Twins vying for one remaining spot; the Mariners and Cardinals for the other.  The Giants and Rangers2 have already locked up their spots; so no one really cared all that much when the Astros and Rangers1 were rained out and didn’t play.

Well, You KNEW I was gonna comment on this…

August marches on, and it seems like we’ve been playing the Marlins for the last three and a half years.  And as the Houston Astros drop a few series to fall behind the Milwaukee Brewers, possibly for good, I was desperate for good news.

Bud Norris earned his first loss.  Nope, not good news.

Wandy Rodriguez threw quite possibly his worst outing of the season.  Nope.

Yorman Bazardo is set to make his debut as an Astros starter.  Maaaaybeee….

Wait.  Nope.  Here it is.  The Houston Astros have agreed to a trade with the Texas Rangers, sending Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez to Arlington for 6’5″ right-hander Matthew Nevarez and second baseman Jose Vallejo, provided he clears waivers (and at .245/.290/.316 between Double- and Triple-A, it’s hard to imagine he won’t).  The word is that there may be a third player coming to Houston in the deal if the Rangers make the playoffs, so… er… go Rangers!

I wasn’t shy about how I felt regarding Rodriguez’s tenure with the Astros.  Even at the discount price of a million dollars, I felt it was a silly move – sideways at best.  I thought J.R. Towles deserved a chance to show that 2008 was a fluke, and he had simply been rushed into the job.  Rodriguez came through with a pathetic .251/.280/.382 line, and will serve as a backup to the Rangers’ Taylor Teagarden moving forward into the season.

For the Rangers, who entered the season with Teagarden, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Max Ramirez making up a logjam at catcher, it makes for a very interesting move.  But I don’t care about them; what does it mean for the Astros?

Well, with the free agent acquisition of Chris Coste (.222/.288/.296 as an Astro), another light-hitting backstop, it could mean a battery involving him and Humberto Quintero (.238/.292/.324).  Or it could signal a possible call-up for either Towles (.287/.400/.457 in Triple-A Round Rock) or for last year’s #10-overall draft pick, Jason Castro (.299/.363/.387 in Double-A Corpus Christi.)

Big Red.jpgWithout knowing the Astros’ plans for the battery, it’s hard to evaluate what this does to the organization – a Towles promotion seems likely, and in my opinion the most prudent move possible… one that should have been made before the season began.

Using Minor League Splits, I was able to determine the MLEs of Castro and Towles, compared to the trio of catchers the Astros have employed on the active roster this season:

I. Rodriguez: .251/.280/.382
C. Coste: .222/.288/.296
H. Quintero: .238/.292/.324
J. Towles: .232/.325/.359
J. Castro: .216/.272/.309
In other words, if there’s any justice in this world at all, we may see Big Red emerge from Round Rock to his rightful place: As the starting catcher of the Houston Astros.

So how does this look in terms of the prospects we received?  Well, it’s nearly impossible to judge a prospect-for-veteran deal immediately; but right away, it’s easy to see that a farm system in desperate need of rebuilding will benefit from having two 22-year-olds – and possibly a third guy.

Vallejo doesn’t exactly set off any fire alarms, but Nevarez has looked awfully good in Single-A Hickory this season: 1-4, with a 2.83 ERA, a 1.057 WHIP, and 50 strikeouts to 15 walks in 35 innings pitched.  He’s twenty-two, which fits into the South Atlantic League, and makes a marked difference in an already-formidable Lexington Legends pitching staff.

Early results all look positive for Mr. Wade & Co.

Catching Up On Boone

Twelve plate appearances into his post-heart surgery career, and Aaron Boone appears to be Superman.  Only two hits in nine at-bats (a single and a double), but three walks gives him a weighty .222/.417/.333 line in five games at Corpus Christi.  He’s played some games at each corner infield spot, and doesn’t appear to have missed a beat in the field, according to local sources.

The fact that he’s even playing baseball right now is more than enough.  The idea that he may still prove to be a valuable asset to the 2009 Houston Astros defies the imagination.

Quick Entry

Today, the Astros begin a weekend series against the Milwaukee Prince Fielders. 

Last night, however, was the Black Ties and Baseball Caps Astros Wives Gala.  Alyson Footer did a nice write-up on it, complete with pictures, some highlights of which are below.

Geoff and Kory Blum.jpg

Geoff and Kory Blum.

Hunter Pence and Heidi.jpgHunter Pence and his “date,” Heidi.

Jeff-Morgan Keppinger Brian-Dee Moehler.jpgMorgan Keppinger.  And… some other people.

That’s nice, but it got me to thinking.

There are many things that are unfortunate about Aaron Boone having to undergo open-heart surgery during Spring Training.  The least – the very least – is that we were robbed of pictures of Laura Cover, Boone’s wife, dressed up for the Wives Gala.

Finding a non-risque picture of Mrs. Boone, the former Playmate, is difficult.  So I will leave that to the Internets.

But I have a story about Laura. 

I was born on April 15, 1977, in Bucyrus General Hospital in Bucyrus, Ohio.  I was a bit premature, so they made me stay at the hospital for several weeks before releasing me.  During that time, in the same hospital, Laura Cover was born.

We were in the same nursery together, at the same time, without any clothes.  Therefore, Mr. Boone, I have to tell you that I have in fact been naked in the same room as your wife.

Speaking of Boone…

He begins his rehab assignment on Monday in Corpus Christi.  The fact that he will even play baseball this year is crazy.  Congratulations to him for his speedy recovery, and whether or not he plays an inning for the Astros this season, my hat is off to him.

AaronBooneAstros.jpg

Watch Out For Prince

The Houston Astros are not primed to make any sort of a serious run at the playoffs.  Alright, fine.  The only thing I ask is that the Milwaukee Brewers stay firmly out of the picture, too.  For years, the rest of the National League Central has been able to hinge their fortune and pride on being better than both Milwaukee and Pittsburgh.

Those of us who frequented the Astros.com boards saw the results of a few paltry years of success by the Brew Crew.  They showed themselves to be every bit as insufferable as Chicago Cubs fans, with far less reason.

If the late mid-season has been frustrating for Astros fans, who have seen their team weave in and out of the playoff picture for the past 12 seasons, imagine how it has been for the Brewers and their fans.  Their quick four-game playoff appearance in 2008 was the team’s first since 1982 – when current Astros manager Cecil Cooper teamed with Robin Yount and Paul Molitor to carry the Brewers to a World Series Game 7.

CecilCooperBobblehead.jpg

The real Cecil Cooper only nods his head when asked if a
sacrifice hit is in order.

Back then, of course, the Brewers were in the American League.  Then, after five losing seasons behind the stewardship of former Astros manager Phil Garner, the Brewers’ owner (who just so happened to also be the commissioner of baseball) moved them into the National League Central.

The move created the only six-team division in baseball.  And between 1998 and 2006, only twice did those Brewers finish out of the bottom half of those six teams.  Not once did they finish in first or second.

Until 2007, when they surprised the rest of the division by coming in second, just two games behind their hated Chicago Cubs.  Of course, they were still 6.5 games out of the playoffs.  Then, in 2008, they secured the NL Wild Card, and promptly lost their first playoff series in 26 years in 4 games.

The point I’m trying to make is that they’ve been bad for a while now, and a taste of success has given them expectation.  With expectation, as folks in Milwaukee are starting to learn, comes frustration from not meeting that expectation.

And I’m convinced that that, my friends, is exactly what went on with Prince Fielder, who lost his freaking mind last night in Dodger Stadium.  After Dodgers slugger Manny Ramirez was hit by a pitch earlier in the game, former Brewer pitcher Guillermo Mota, who cashes checks with the Dodgers logo on them these days, retaliated by placing 97mph worth of gas on Cecil Prince’s thigh.

His thigh.

Apparently incensed, surprised, and thinking he’s above the unwritten rules of baseball that dictate how ever other human being in the major leagues is treated, Prince took his fight to the streets.  Or, to be more precise, to the Dodgers clubhouse, where he was restrained by security and by Brewers teammates from tearing into the locker room and… well, I’m not really sure what he would have done once he got there.  Eaten their snacks, I suppose.
PrinceAngry.jpg

“Hey, Guillermo! I drink your milkshake.  No, literally.”

Milwaukee fans, welcome to August.  It’s a long, draining month.

Plenty of Moves

The Astros were quiet at the trading deadline, but that hasn’t prevented movement within the organization entirely.   Recently, they went out and signed Kirk Clark to a free-agent deal.    Clark, who had been with the Glacier Pilots of the Alaska Baseball League, has been assigned to the Tri-City ValleyCats.  He made his debut tonight (see “What Happened Was…” below.)

Jordan Parraz, who was traded to the Kansas City Royals for Tyler Lumsden, was feeling a bit saucy during an interview with the Omaha World-Herald. 

“I didn’t think Houston ever really gave me the benefit of the doubt,”
he said. “I played every day, but I never got a chance to really move
up or get a confidence boost. It’s a good organization, but I think
this one is a little better — especially for me fitting in.”

If this is your idea of fitting in, hitting a catcher who is giving you the plate during a play in the infield, then by all means, Jordan.  Go fit in there.

There is a very real chance that Parraz will spend some time in the major leagues for Kansas City this year, while Lumsden is working on inconsistency issues.  But I, for one, am happy to be rid of him.

When the Seattle Mariners optioned Roy Corcoran to Triple-A Tacoma, he thought better of it and refused the assignment, making him a free agent.  Today, the Astros signed him to a free agent deal.  He will probably make an appearance or two for Round Rock, and then be asked to fill in for the depleted big league bullpen.

Corcoran has pitched in parts of five seasons in the major leagues, with the Mariners and the Nationals/Expos.  He had a very good 2008 for the Mariners, posting a 6-2 record with a 1.390 WHIP, a 3.22 ERA, and a 3.81 FIP.  His 2009 has been a real disappointment thus far, but he could still be a key ingredient to the depleted Astros bullpen.

In another bizarre news story, recently-released Astros pitcher Russ Ortiz has been given new life – by the New York Yankees, who signed him to a minor league deal.    Look, I think Russ was misused by Cecil Cooper, and was fired prematurely after a shaky July that led many to overlook the fantastic June he’d had.  Mike Hampton would have been a better cut, in my opinion.

Ortiz will be lacing up now for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.  It remains to be seen what’s left in his tank.

No Justice At All

I like to poke fun at Houston Chronicle reporter Richard Justice.  He seems to change his mind hourly, get all of his Astros news by reading every third paragraph Alyson Footer writes, regurgitate Stats, Inc. stories, and generally just brood like the overpaid curmudgeon that he is.

I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that he had never, in his life, seen the Astros play a game of baseball. 

Proving that even a broken clock is right two times a day, he wrote this week something that I’ve been saying since November: J.R. Towles should be playing catcher every day in Houston.

I take very little satisfaction from a blowhard hack agreeing with me, but I recognize the weight his voice often carries with the Astros fanbase in Houston, and I’m hoping this leads to a much bigger push to get Towles back into an Astros uniform once he’s off the Disabled List in Round Rock.

Towles, a twenty-five year old catcher, is hitting .287/.400/.457 in Round Rock this season.  Since his demotion after a disappointing 2008 in the majors, all he’s done is respond by going .292/.373/.471 between Round Rock and Houston.

What Happened Was…

Round Rock Express (AAA) – Yorman Bazardo‘s campaign to make the big league roster is not going particularly well at the moment.  Bazardo took the mound for the first time since his July 31st loss, and somehow managed to look even worse on the mound.  5.0 IP, 5 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 4 K.  He was particularly owned by Matt Tuiasosopo (yes, the brother to that Tuiasosopo).  Worse than that, however, was the dominance that Andrew Baldwin showed against the Express.  Baldwin threw a complete game shutout, lifting the Tacoma Rainiers (SEA) over the Express, 8-0.  One of the few bright spots was the campaign by OFs Reggie Abercrombie and Brian Bogusevic to replace Jason Michaels on the big league 25-man roster.  Each was 2-for-4, Abercrombie with a double.  And yes, okay, he had an error.  Shut up.

Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) – The Hooks offense showed up today, putting together 16 hits in their 5-2 win over the San Antonio Missions (SDP).  Andy Van Hekken did exactly what a man of his age should do in the Texas League: Dominate hitters.  Well, okay, he didn’t exactly dominate them, but he did limit them to a single run in 7.0 innings.  Chia-Jen Lo had a rare bad outing, giving up a run in his sole relief inning.  OF Darin Erstad, in the second game of his rehab assignment, was 2-for-5 with a double.  But the story of the night was OF Drew Locke, who was 4-for-5 with a double.

Lancaster Jethawks (A+) – 3B Ebert Rosario logged his first home run of the season, but pardon the Lancaster fans if the moment got lost in the excitement of a 25-hit outpouring of offense, leading the Jethawks to an 18-5 pounding of the High Desert Mavericks (SEA).  C/OF Koby Clemens, Rosario, and 1B Matt Weston all had three hits.  OF Brandon Barnes was 4-for-4 with a triple and 3 RBI.  And OF Jack Shuck was an impressive 5-for-6 with a double.  Everyone was piling on, beginning with a 5-run first inning and an 8-run second.  High Desert starter Mauricio Robles recorded only one out and gave up 5 earned runs before being pulled from the game, in favor Juan Zapata, who pitched only an inning himself, giving up 8 runs (7 earned).

Lexington Legends (A) – It was a familiar refrain for starter Jordan Lyles.  He went seven innings, gave up 7 hits, no walks, and struck out 6.  He allowed three earned runs, but the offense couldn’t back him up, and he earned the loss in the 3-1 decision to the Greenville Drive (BOS).  Greenville’s pitching duo of Fabian Williamson (a silent talent, now at 8-3 with a 2.10 ERA) and Jeremy Kehrt, didn’t strike a single Legend batter out, but still managed to keep them off the board.  SS Brandon Wikoff had a rare 0-for-2 performance, but also drew 2 walks. 

Tri-City ValleyCats (A-) – So far, so good for Kirk Clark, one of the newest members of the Astros family.  He pitched 2 innings in his debut, giving up a hit and striking out 2.  Recent GCL Astros callup Michael Schurz matched him, pitching 2 innings of his own, giving up a hit and a walk and striking out 3.  Mike Modica pitched an inning in relief, giving up one hit, striking out one, and keeping the offense off the boards, to lower his ERA to 0.93 on the season.  But none of it was enough to remedy the performance put in by Colton Pitkin, who earned the loss, 5-3, to the Mahoning Valley Scrappers (CLE).  3B Jhonny Medrano hit his first home run of the season in the losing effort.

Greeneville Astros (R) – The only good thing about the 7 errors in this game was that three of them weren’t by the Astros.  Still, 2B Jose Altuve continues to struggle in the field, and C Bobby Williams didn’t inspire a lot of confidence with his two errors.  Still, it took until 5 runs between the seventh and eighth innings for the Bluefield Orioles (BAL) to down the Astros, 10-7.  1B Aaron Bray was 2-for
-4 with a double, and drew a walk.

GCL Astros (R) – A night off in baseball, especially minor league baseball, is a godsend.  The everyday grind really wears a lot of guys down, which is why it was wonderful that the GCL Astros got a night off tonight.  Less fortunate for them, however, is that their opponents – the GCL Marlins (FLA) – decided not to join suit.  5-0 Marlins, largely on the strength of a 4-run first inning.  Lefty Ricardo Batista steadied after his shaky start, but by then it was too late, as Marlins starter Saul Gonzalez was only a warmup to Ricardo Hernandez, who pitched four no-hit innings in relief, walking one and striking out 7.  Two solitary base hits by the Astros in this one: OF Geber Suniaga and 2B Pedro Feliz

DSL Astros (R) – The 8-2 final score isn’t really quite fair.  The DSL Astros and DSL Braves (ATL) were locked in a 2-2 score from the top of the third inning all the way to the top of the 11th, when the Braves tacked on 6 runs.  OF Jose Lopez was 3-for-3, and give SS Raymer Lopez credit.  At 2-for-5 with a double, he had the Astros’ only extra-base hit. 

The Entry In Which I Quote A Lot of Other People

An interesting article over at Hooks Insider.  Greg Rajan, of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, is almost always informative.  He’s a great resource for anyone who wants to try and follow the Houston minor leagues.  This article is called “Astros’ New Farm-System Philosophy.”

Once I got over my initial, cynical, response (“The Astros have a farm system philosophy?”), I gave it a read.  It’s something of a much-deserved love letter to Bobby Heck.  Heck, one of the Astros’ biggest acquisitions of the last five years, is the team’s director of scouting.  He used to cash paychecks written by the Milwaukee Brewers, whose system has pushed out guys like Ricky Weeks, Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, and Yovani Gallardo – all drafted by Heck.

The new philosophy, created by Heck, is essentially two-fold.  First, the scouting process itself is much more in-depth, so that on Draft Day, the Houston front office is exceptionally well-informed on the available players.  Second, and this is the interesting part:

“What we’re trying to put in place is guys who determine their own pace
to the big leagues. We let the player tell us when he’s ready to move
up to the next level. The two guys who’ve embraced that are (Jason) Castro and
(Daniel) Meszaros. Those guys have seized their opportunity.”

In previous years, the Astros’ farm system was a kind of paint-by-numbers.  Player A begins in Rookie Ball, moves to low A or A ball the following year.  If he was particularly well-regardeed, he might play on the A-Advanced team, which experienced a lot of liquidity.  The following year, it was either more of the same, or on to AA ball.  After that, three things could happen: a player could move up to AAA, down to A-Advanced, or linger at AA.

The A-Advanced team (which was the Salem Avalanche from 2003-2008) generally felt like a bunch of guys who hadn’t made it in Double-A (which has been Corpus Christi since 2005.  Before that, it was the Round Rock Express.  The Express, of course, are now our Triple-A affiliate; but while that team was in New Orleans, Round Rock was in the Texas League.)

Bud Norris, who recently made his debut as a starter by blanking out the Cardinals, is the first – and, possibly, only – player from the 2005-2007 drafts to make the Major Leagues for the Astros.

Nice Seeing You, Send Us A Postcard

In last night’s Twitter feed, Alyson Footer made this Tweet:

Astros option gervacio to Round Rock. Call up Paulino.

Samuel Gervacio came up as part of an effort to bolster the fatigued bullpen.  He didn’t throw a single inning.  While Bobby Heck might think that the organization now embraces younger players, no one has mentioned it to Cecil Cooper. 

Felipe Paulino will start tonight against the San Francisco Giants and Jonathan Sanchez.

Paulino has struggled at the Major League level, going 2-5 with a 7.04 ERA and a 5.54 FIP this season.  Of course, a terribly-unlucky .377 BABIP doesn’t help much, but even with a .274 BABIP in Round Rock, he’s posted a FIP of 4.43.  He’s an organizational player who should never really amount to much – outside of 2005, which he split between the SAL Lexington Legends and the NYPL Tri-City ValleyCats – he’s never had a WHIP lower than 1.357.  That mark was set in 2007 with the Corpus Christi Hooks.

Like His Life Depended On It

Watching Mike Hampton on the mound last night made me wonder if releasing Russ Ortiz wasn’t the best decision Ed Wade has made since coming to the Astros.  Ortiz had a monster June, but when things looked like business as usual in July, Wade released him – hours after a poor start against the Cubs.

Hampton hasn’t had a monster anything, and seemed equally as likely – if not more likely – to lose his job if he continued to pitch the way he had been.  There’s very little doubt in my mind that last night, he was playing for his job.

Not only have the Astros already gotten 105 innings out of Hampton – the most he’s pitched in a season since 2004 – but releasing Ortiz seems as if it might have shaken the rest of the staff, particularly Hampton, into getting into line.  Sometimes, you need to send a message.  If last night is any indication, message received. 

Still, reading Gene Duffey’s gamer, I couldn’t help but be startled by one quote from Hampton:

“So many times I’ve been one pitch away from a quality start,” said
Hampton, who returned to the Astros this season after pitching for them
from 1994-99. “I made that pitch tonight and all that emotion came out,
to see all that hard work pay off.”

Mr. Hampton, on what planet have you been one pitch away from a quality start “so many times” this season?  The way I see it, you’ve often been fifteen or sixteen pitches from a quality start.  More frequently, 40-55 pitches away.

I was also a little startled to read this quote from Cecil Cooper:

“You’ve got to hope he makes a mistake,” Astros manager Cecil Cooper said of facing Cain.

Now, I don’t want to diminish anything about Matt Cain.  He’s a terrific starter.  But that isn’t Walter Johnson up there.  It isn’t Pedro Martinez in his prime.  There are a handful of pitchers that you have to “hope he makes a mistake,” and Matt Cain isn’t one of them. 

The fact that the Astros hitters got 8 hits off of Cain, 5 of them for extra bases, and two for home runs, should speak for itself.  Did Matt Cain make 8 mistakes?  If so, was it a result of extra hoping by the Astros hitters?

Delusion – Not Just a River in Delusionville

Ever wonder why “baseball people” tend to ignore fans’ suggestions and questions?  Wonder no more:

BackeForHalladay.JPG

Catch The Fever

Here’s how the Astros’ catchers are looking this season:

AstrosCatchers.JPG
Today’s Slice of Cheesecake

So as to protect my readers who access the blog while at work, I’m burying today’s cheesecake behind a link.

Jennifer Love Hewitt, playing tennis in a bikini and freaking wedge sandals.  Jennifer has long been crazy, but God bless her for being so completely and utterly hopeless.  This is a girl who reeks of desperation to be in the press, at any cost.

What Happened Was…

Round Rock Express (AAA) – T.J. Burton has managed to make the leap to Triple-A look every bit as awkward and as painful as it could possibly be.  Following a rare good outing by Jose Capellan (5.0 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K), Burton wandered out to the mound.  He promptly gave up 3 runs in as many innings, on 4 hits and 3 walks, with 2 strikeouts.  He threw in a balk, too, in case no one was paying attention.  The Express connected for 11 hits in the 5-2 loss to the Oklahoma City Redhawks (TEX), but not one of them was for extra bases.  And not one of them walked.  OF Yordany Ramirez led the singles parade, gathering three of them in five tries.  OKC DH/1B Justin Smoak, who should have been an Astro, homered in the game.

Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) – The Hooks were tired of being smacked around by the Midland Rockhounds (OAK), and decided to do a little smacking themselves, to the tune of a 12-5 win.  17 Hooks hits, combined with 3 Midland errors, helped the runners keep moving around the basepaths.  Another solid relief performance by Chia-Jen Lo, who struck out two and allowed just a hit in 1.2 innings, and another home run by OF Drew Locke, who added an outfield assist.  Seven different Hooks had doubles, including two by SS Wladimir Sutil, who was 4-for-6 on the night.

Lancaster Jethawks (A+) –  The entire California League had a scheduled day off yesterday.  The Jethawks are home against the High Desert Mavericks tonight.

Lexington Legends (A) – Ross Seaton pitched another Sally League gem, going 6 innings, striking out 5, walking none, and giving up 5 hits but no runs.  Daniel Urckfitz earned his 11th save in the Legends’ 3-1 defeat of the Charleston RiverDogs (NYY).  2B Albert Cartwright had an uncharacteristically-good day at the plate, going 2-for-4 with a double. 

Lexington Legends (A) – The Legends fought back hard in the second game of the double-header, but a five-run 4th inning proved to be too much to overcome, as they fell 6-5 to the Charleston RiverDogs (NYY).  Albert Cartwright continued his hot day, going 2-for-4 again, matching the numbers of OF Steve Brown.

Tri-City ValleyCats (A-) – The resumption of the previously-suspended game against the Oneonta Tigers (DET) ended with Tri-City on top, 4-1.  Nathan Pettus bended – walking 3 and giving up a hit in 2.2 innings – but didn’t break, as he earned the win without letting a run score.  OF J.D. Martinez stayed hot, going 1-for-2 with a double and an RBI.

Tri-City ValleyCats (A-) – The nightcap of the double-header was a different story.  The Tri-City offense went home early, and the pitching wasn’t far behind, as they fell to the Oneonta Tigers (DET) 10-0.  3B Erik Castro flashed the leather on two errors, and OF Jacob Goebbert was 1-for-2 at the plate, with a double and one of Tri-City’s two walks.  Oneonta’s Clemente Mendoza handled the ValleyCats in the complete-game shutout, and my least-favorite Astro, Scott Migl, even made an appearance.  Whenever he’s on the mound, you know you’re in trouble, and last night was no different, as he allowed 3 hits and 2 walks in a single inning of work, leading to 4 earned runs, inflating his ERA to 14.54.

Greeneville Astros (R) – The Appalachian League had the day off.  Greeneville is at home tonight against the Bluefield Orioles (BAL).

GCL Astros (R) – A scheduled day off for the Astros, who are back in action tonight against the the GCL Nationals (WSN).

DSL Astros (R) – A scheduled day off for these Astros, too. Back in action tonight against the DSL Rangers2 (TEX).

I’ve Got Some Questions To Ask Scott Migl

Namely, why is he so terrible?

Still, this article was probably a little more fair to the hometown kid out of Texas A&M drafted in the 34th round this June. 

Q: How did your experience at St. Pius High School influence your career?

A: I
was a member of two state championship teams at St. Pius. Also, we made
the state semifinals my sophomore and senior years. I really began
developing as a senior. This opened the door for options in my baseball
career.

I’d be willing to go out on a limb and say that Migl could not pitch St. Pius to a state championship anymore.  Yes, folks, he’s really that bad.

Gotta Have Faith

There was something metaphysical in the air yesterday at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The hometown Reds, who had recently pulled the trigger on one of the worst deals of the new millennium, were squaring off against the Colorado Rockies, current frontrunners for the NL Wild Card.

And it was Faith Night at the old ballpark.

The 31,142 fans in attendance were treated to “testimonails” from Reds players and coaches, and Pastors competed in a potato sack race on the field to earn the right to throw out the first pitch at a later game.  One of the sponsors on the night was the Creation Museum.

You read that correctly.

Now, I’m no stranger to Creation Museums.  I attended one in Santee, California a few years ago.  The only downside to them is knowing that not only is everyone not in on the joke, but that many of them are very much not in on the joke.  While there, I learned many interesting and valuable things, like that there were dinosaurs on the Ark:

2007_0421ICR0026.JPG
And that Evolutionists are responsible for Slavery and Genocide:

2007_0421ICR0043.JPGThe Reds fans in attendance wished and prayed their way through two Cincinnati comebacks, only to fall in the 11th inning, as the much-fitter Rockies survived with a 6-4 victory.

It’s hard to have faith when your starting shortstop is hitting .191/.239/.268.  Former Astros farmhand Drew Sutton – who the Astros sent to Cincinnati as the PTBN in the deal for Jeff Keppinger – was out in left field, and leading off for the home team.  So far, in his first 24 major league plate appearances, Sutton is .174/.208/.261 – obviously leadoff material.  I suppose that’s what happens when you call up a guy who’s hitting .261/.381/.471 in the International League.

In addition, he has played in left field, right field, shortstop, third base, and second base.  It was his fourth game in the outfield – somewhere he has never played in the minors.  The Reds have put him at second base, his natural position, for just two of his 41 defensive innings.

Talk about putting a guy in a position to fail.

Like many Americans, I love a good road trip.  One lifelong dream has been a trip around the country, seeing one home game in every Major League Baseball stadium, with minor league games peppered in, on off days and travel days.  I wonder, if I had rolled into Cincinnati to see a matchup with the Rockies, and had inadvertently found myself at Faith Night (which, let’s be honest, means Christian Faith Night), how I would have felt about that.

And on the Sabbath, no less.

Bud Norris

I don’t have to tell you about Bud Norris‘s debut as an Astros starter.  7.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 5 K.  Others have already written the hell out of the rookie, so I won’t add too much to the catalogue.

He struck out the first batter he faced, Skip Schumaker, and kept chugging along. He carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning, when the opposing pitcher broke it up.  And he got his first big league decision, a win, in the 2-0 gem.  Adam Wainwright didn’t deserve a loss, but we’ve all seen that happen before.

BudNorrisStarterDebut.JPGIt’s a long season, and I don’t want to get too high on Norris’s performance and what it says or doesn’t say about the Astros’ chances this year.  I’ll just say congratulations, kid, and here’s hoping for a few more of those beauties.

How Was Your Day?

I didn’t watch Norris’s debut, sadly.  I was out on the old road – U.S. Hwy 66 – gathering information for my documentary.  Though I only went as far as Upland (had I gone just a little farther to San Bernardino, I could have watched the Jethawks-66ers game, I suppose), but it was a very relaxing drive.  Of course, it couldn’t have been hotter out in the Inland Empire, but that’s nothing new.

2009_0802Route66-8-2-090051.JPG

What Happened Was…

Round Rock Express (AAA) – Polin Trinidad still doesn’t seem to have his strikeout pitch working, but the Round Rock hitters showed up to bail him out when he needed it – with a little help from three errors by the Oklahoma City RedHawks (TEX) – to give him the victory in the 5-3 decision.  OF/DH John Gall was 3-for-4 to lead the Express, whose ten hits were all singles (though Yordany Ramirez, Brian Bogusevic, and Jason Smith all created doubles by stealing bases).  Of some note: The starting pitcher for the Redhawks was Kris Benson.  Benson’s name was bandied about quite a bit as a potential free agent option for the Astros in the offseason.  He is also still married to one Anna Benson:

AnnaBenson.jpgNo word on whether or not all Express hits were singles because Mrs. Benson was playing first base, and the runners didn’t want to advance.

Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) – I don’t know what we ever did to the Midland Rockhounds, but I really wish they’d stop beating up the poor Hooks.  Yesterday, it was a 13-5 debacle that saw them score 5 runs in the first inning, 2 in the second, and 6 in the third.  Those came at the expense of Brad James and Tyler Lumsden, who seemed to have turned a corner and had been pitching well recently.  Only Ryan McKeller, who allowed just one hit in three relief innings, pitched well in this one.  OF Mitch Einertson was 3-for-4 from the plate, with a double, and OF Drew Locke continued his torrid summer, 2-for-5 with a double.

Lancaster Jethawks (A+) – Christopher Hicks looked incredible through his first five innings against the Inland Empire 66ers (LAD), but fell into a bit of trouble in the sixth.  After giving up two runs, he got out of the frame, and was replaced by Fernando Abad.  Abad pitched 3 innings in relief, earning h
is fourth save of the season in the 5-2 decision.  C/LF Koby Clemens (is it safe to call him a utilityman yet?) hit his 14th homer of the campaign, and added a double and 3 RBI in his 3-for-4 night.  OF Jonathan Gaston left the game in the third inning.  No news yet on the reason.

Lexington Legends (A) – Lexington’s game with the Charleston River Dogs (NYY) was postponed due to rain.

Tri-City ValleyCats (A-) – The ValleyCats and Oneonta Tigers (DET) were able to complete the game suspended back on July 11, with Tri-City fighting back to win it 7-6.  OF Jacob Goebbert was 4-for-5 with a triple to lead the offense.

Tri-City ValleyCats (A-) – After making one game up, the ValleyCats and Oneonta Tigers (DET) set up to play a second game… which promptly got postponed due to fog.  Fog.

A Whole Lotta Nothin’ Goin’ On

There’s not much to report.  The Astros lost to the Cardinals, 4-3, with Brian Moehler on the mound. 

Moehler pitched well, but once again it was the oft-used bullpen earning the loss – this time, Alberto Arias was on the mound when the Cardinals finally got their acts together to push ahead and stay there.  There was to be no magic against Ryan Franklin this time around.

Is it just me, or does it suddenly feel like the Astros have just rolled over on the season?  The only good news is that Albert Pujols was held hitless, reaching base only on an intentional walk.  But these are not your father’s Cards: They actually have a cleanup hitter now.  His name is Matt Holliday, and he was 4-for-4 with a double and two RBI.

Tonight, we should see a nice pitchers’ duel between Wandy Rodriguez and Chris Carpenter, both of whom were solid in July.  And since Julio Lugo is now a Cardinal, it gives me an opportunity to post a completely-unrelated picture that I’ve been dying to post since I first saw it:

Michael Bourn and Julio Lugo.jpgYes, that’s Michael Bourn running from Lugo like they were married.

Non-Waiver Non-Trade Deadline

Last night was the deadline to make trades, and the Astros weren’t having any of it.  It’s actually encouraging to see GM Ed Wade stand pat, refusing to leverage what little future the Astros have for a run at another division title.  It might have been nice to see a deal involving Miguel Tejada or Jose Valverde for some prospects, but it was not to be. 

I Waited Too Long

Ever since I heard that former Astros 20-game-winner and mental case Jose Lima was pitching for the Long Beach Armada, I’ve been trying to find a time to go to a game.  Unfortunately, the Golden League doesn’t seem to play much on weekends, and it’s been hard to find a time to get down to Long Beach to see Lima Time.

Jose and Mrs Lima.JPGWell, it turns out I waited too long, as Lima has now been traded to the Edmonton CrackerCats Capitals for former White Sox first-round pick Kris Honel.  Honel’s minor league career was an interesting one.  He pitched very well for a few years, then not as well.  He was rarely downright bad, but fell into the injury bug in 2004 and never fully recovered.  In 2008, he pitched just 3 innings for the Texas League’s Springfield Cardinals (STL).

Even then, though, he recorded 6 strikeouts and just 2 walks. He ended up winning 30 minor league games in his career before signing into the independent Golden League.  Lima won 21 major league games in a single season.  Plus, he leads the league in crazy and has a hot wife (see above).  The man was designed to sell tickets.

With no games scheduled for the remainder of the season between Long Beach and Edmonton, it looks like I missed my chance.

Prospects On The Move

Since we, as Astros fans, have grown unaccustomed to hearing the word, I turned to Dictionary.com to define what exactly a “prospect” is:

pros⋅pect

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1. Usually, prospects.
a. an apparent probability of advancement, success, profit, etc.
b. the outlook for the future: good business prospects.

So, basically, in baseball terms, a prospect is a player with a good probability of enhancing a Major League team in the future.  And in Baseball America’s most recent Prospect Hot Sheet, a surprising number of Astros farmhands’ names were mentioned.

Simon Castro.  Oops, Castro isn’t an Astros prospect.  I’m not quite sure why what looks to be Jordan Lyles is pictured in Castro’s entry, but I’ll take it for now.

Polin Trinidad.  Unfortunately, Trinidad is listed in the “Not-So-Hot Sheet.”  Trinidad pitched in the Futures Game in 2008, spent some time on the Spring Training roster, and generally felt like he might become an overpowering arm sometime pretty soon.  But this time around, he got cited for this amazing gem:

It’s nearly impossible for a
team to win when the starting pitcher gives up six home runs. Tim
Wakefield gave up six home runs for the Red Sox on Aug. 8, 2004 in an
11-9 victory over the Tigers, but that’s the only time in the last 50
years that a major league pitcher has given up six home runs or more
and still been on the winning team. In Tuesday’s start for Triple-A
Round Rock, Trinidad surrendered six home runs in five innings,
allowing nine runs total. Unfortunately Trinidad, 24, wasn’t quite as
lucky as Wakefield, as Memphis crushed the Express 14-5.

Now, to be completely fair, Trinidad has looked pretty darned good for most of his Texas League appearances this year, but hasn’t fared quite as well in just five games with Round Rock. In Corpus Christi, though, he’s thrown 82.2 innings this year, striking out 53, walking 10, and accumulating a 7-5 record with a save, a 2.91 ERA, and a 1.17 WHIP. 

A Tale of Woe

It’s hard to imagine, but I actually feel bad for Mark Prior.  Prior was a stud coming out of high school, and was drafted in the first round by the New York Yankees.  He opted to go to USC, though, and it paid off.  He made an immediate impact as the #2 overall draft choice for the Chicago Cubs in 2001.  Two years later, he made 30 starts and earned a win in 18 of them.  With 245 strikeouts at the tender age of 22, the future was bright for Prior, but he ran into major injury issues.

He struggled on until 2006, when he went 1-6 in 9 starts, with a 7.21 ERA.  Then he was out of baseball.  Before the 2008 season, his hometown San Diego Padres signed him to a contract worth just $1m, and again before this season, they signed him to contracts that would have been worth another $1m had he made it to the big leagues.  But he hasn’t pitched with April, and all indications now are that he will be released soon.

Prior serves as something of a cautionary tale.  A dominating pitcher who was unable to overcome flawed mechanics, and found himself out of baseball before the age of 30.  Names like Stephen Strasburg and Tim Lincecum may well be compared to Mark Prior for years to come.

Speaking of Strasburg

The #1-overall draft pick remains unsigned by the Washington Nationals.  The Nats, despite being on pace to finish with 100 losses or more, held firm at the trade deadline.  Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham, and Austin Kearns could have made attractive trade bait, but the Nationals – even in the post-Jim Bowden era – don’t seem to have any sort of organizational plan.

Signing Strasburg would likely provide an immediate boon at the Major League level.  They’re hurting for pitching in Washington, and if they could get Strasburg and a solid #2 guy, they might be able to win some games next year.  Failing to sign him in the next two weeks is not really an option.

Of course, there’s one guy who knows all of this: Scott Boras.

Peavy to Chicago

The rumor mill had Jake Peavy going to Chicago all through Spring Training.  Cubs fans were extolling the virtues of the golden-armed righty, and rightfully so.  Despite home-road splits that weren’t exceptional, Peavy would still have made an excellent ace for the Cubs, and would likely have virtually assured that they would run away with the NL Central.

PeavyDrinks.jpg

Even rumors of a trade to the Cubs will make you start drinking.
Heavily.

Well, it happened.  Peavy went to Chicago.  But not to the Cubs.  Instead, he was traded to the White Sox for Dexter Carter, Aaron
Poreda, Clayton Richard and Adam Russell… and the White Sox will absorb the majority of Peavy’s remaining salary.

Now, for those of you who don’t follow prospects that much, let me break it down:

Aaron Poreda.  #63 in Baseball America’s preseason Top 100 prospects list, Poreda is a Major League-ready left-hander, and the second-rated pick in the White Sox organization, which is a loaded one.  He stands 6’6″, with a plus fastball, and has pitched most of the season with the Southern League’s Birmingham Barons – where he struck out 69 batters in 64.1 innings, with a 2.38 ERA and a 1.275 WHIP.

Clayton Richard.  Richard, another lefty, was the third-ranked prospect in the White Sox organization, behind Poreda.  Casual fans might remember the 6’5″ pitcher best from the 2008 playoffs, when as a rookie, he pitched in 2 games against the Tampa Bay Rays, striking out 6 in 6.1 innings, with a 1.263 WHIP and a 1.42 ERA.  This season, he’s progressed nicely in the majors: 4-3, with 66 strikeouts to just 37 walks in 89 innings.  A 4.65 ERA and a 1.472 WHIP.

Dexter Carter.  A 6’6″ righty, Carter has already pitched 118 innings for the Kannapolis Intimidators of the South Atlantic League, where he has struck out an impressive 143 batters and walked just 32.  He’s 6-2 with a 3.13 ERA and a 1.144 WHIP.  In the month of July, he was 3-0 with 37 strikeouts and 6 walks in 36 innings, a 1.75 ERA, and a 0.861 WHIP.

Adam Russell.  And you thought the other guys were tall.  Russell is 6’8″, 255 pounds out of North Olmsted, Ohio.  In 56.1 innings for the Charlotte Knights of the Triple-A International League, he’s struck out 51 batters and issued just 18 walks.  He’s 2-2 with a 3.20 ERA and a 1.012 WHIP. 

This should make it clear to those few Astros fans who thought the team should have made a move for Peavy that we simply didn’t have the arsenal to compete in these kinds of trade talks.

The Padres clearly won this trade, but the White Sox do end up with a Cy Young-caliber arm for the remainder of the season, once he recovers from the torn tendon in his ankle.  And, more importantly, the Cubs lose out to the South Siders.  And that’s always nice.

What Happened Was…

Round Rock Express (AAA) – A breezy seven-inning affair against the Memphis Redbirds (STL) may have ended in a 5-2 loss for both the Express and for Yorman Bazardo (who allowed 5 earned runs in 6 innings), but it did provide a rare baseball moment: Neither team made a single substitution in the entire game.  The eighteen players who began the game also finished the game, including the starting pitchers.  The Express mustered just 4 hits off of Memphis starter P.J. Walters, who struck out thirteen batters in seven innings of work.  OF Reggie Abercrombie reached twice, once on a single and another on a walk, and stole two bases.  Minor victories.  3B Chris Johnson fell victim to the K three times, which is very impressive in a seven-inning game.

Round Rock Express (AAA) – In the second game of the double-header, it was more of the same.  The Express got three runs on a Brian Esposito home run in the top of the 7th to make the score look a little better, 5-3, but were otherwise completely dominated by the Memphis Redbirds (STL).  Oneli Perez handled the Express batters almost as effectively as Walters had in the earlier game, striking out 7 in 6 innings.  Chad Paronto struck out two in a perfect inning of relief work. 

Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) – Old Man Andy Van Hekken is getting too old for this sh*t.  He gave up four runs over the first two innings against the Midland Rockhounds (OAK), who really just aren’t very nice to the Hooks, en route to a 4-1 loss.  Kyle Middleton, a former Hook who was sold to the Athletics a little over a week ago by the Pensacola Pelicans of the independent American Association, handled his old team, allowing a single run in 8 innings, striking out 6, walking 2, and allowing 4 hits.  His ERA in his first 15 innings back in the Texas League is 0.60.  Chia-Jen Lo continued to pitch well, allowing just a hit and striking out 2 in 2 innings of work.  Tyler Lumsden continues to improve, as well, allowing 2 hits but no runs or walks in a single relief inning.

Lancaster Jethawks (A+) – I’m not sure you even need to look at a box score to understand a 14-0 loss, and that’s exactly what the Jethawks suffered Friday night at the hands of the Inland Empire 66ers (LAD).  The offense did manage five hits, two of them off of the bat of OF Brandon Barnes.  66ers starter Mario Alvarez earned the win in the complete-game shutout.  He struck out 12 batters, including every single person who batted for the Jethawks at least once.  Leandro Cespedes didn’t fare quite as well, allowing 8 runs in just 3 innings before getting pulled, though he did find time to strike out 6 batters in that stretch (the same number he walked).

Lexington Legends (A) – Sometimes, though, the shoe is on the other foot.  The Legends’ pitching staff has been great this season, so it’s nice when the offense decides to show up.  Yesterday, the combination resulted in a 11-0 win for Lexington over the Charleston River Dogs (NYY).  Jordan Lyles struck out 8 batters in 6 innings, allowing all three River Dogs’ hits and two walks.  Henry Villar struck out 2 in a perfect 7th and 8th, and Patrick Urckfitz struck out another in a perfect ninth.  1B Brian Pellegrini hit his 18th home run of the season – the only one of the Legends’ 14 hits that went for extra bases – and he also stole a base.  SS Brandon Wikoff was 4-for-5 at the plate, but just 1-for-2 on the basepaths.  In 4 games since his callup from Tri-City, he’s now .563/.588/.563.  OF Jay Austin didn’t have as much trouble on the bases, swiping two bags to raise his team-leading season total to 22.

Tri-City ValleyCats (A-) – Another day, another postponement due to rain between the ValleyCats and the Oneonta Tigers (DET).

Greeneville Astros (R) – Angel Gonzalez is not very good.  After giving up 3 runs (2 earned) in 5 innings of work yesterday, allowing 6 hits, and walking one with 3 strikeouts, his ERA fell to 10.08.  The Astros were on the wrong end of a 10-2 score against the Kingsport Mets (NYM) yesterday, earning more errors (5) than hits (3).  Just to make his point, Gonzalez himself committed one of those errors, on a pickoff attempt.  OF Grant Hogue chimed in with two of them.  OF/DH Frank Almonte had one of the Astros’ three hits – a solo home run in the fourth inning.  He also had one of only two walks.

GCL Astros (R) – The Astros score 8 runs in the 4th inning against the GCL Marlins (FLA), but watched their lead get chipped away steadily, finally relinquishing it by allowing 3 runs in the top of the 8th.  In the bottom of the frame, though, they fought back for 3 runs of their own and held on to win, 12-11.  Once again, the story of the game for the Astros was the errors: 4 of them this time, including SS Luis Bryan‘s 9th and 10th; 2B Enrique Hernandez‘s 9th; and 3B “The Other” Pedro Feliz‘s 11th of the season.  Hernandez at least compensated at the plate, going 3-for-5 with 2 triples and 3 RBI.

DSL Astros (R) – An 8-4 loss to the mighty DSL Rangers2 (TEX).  3B Raymer Lopez, who has been terrible this season but for an ability to dr
aw some walks (.229/.365/.343), provided some highlights, going 3-for-5 with 2 doubles.  Then, to throw off the media pressure, he committed an error before anyone thought he might be any good.  Quick thinking, Raymer.  Back to the “trainer” for you.  C-1B Cristiand Hirland earned 2 of the Astros’ 3 walks.

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