Rob Johnson (SDP). Most backup catchers hit fairly lightly, it’s true, so the Padres probably aren’t too upset at his complete lack of production, but it’s pretty rare that a Major League Baseball player has an AVG, OBP, and SLG under 250. If Johnson’s slugging falls five points, that’s exactly what he’ll be. Beyond that, he’s lost 0.2 wins defensively. Not a good combination.
Dioner Navarro (LAD). Johnson’s neighbor to the north, Navarro isn’t putting up much better numbers – especially considering he’s had two seasons with an OPS+ of 100 or better, and his 94 OPS+ in his previous stint in Los Angeles (2005). If he continues on his current pace, he will post his third consecutive negative-WAR season since his All-Star year, 2008. Unlike Johnson, however, Navarro has a positive dWAR, so at least there’s that.
Aubrey Huff (SFG). Those of you who remember watching Huff struggle in Houston in 2006, only to turn around and have a couple of strong seasons in Baltimore, already know that he is an often-frustrating player to watch. Imagine, then, Giants fans – who saw Huff post 5 Wins Above Replacement last year, only to put together a -1.3 bWAR so far this season. He’s done it by slugging worse than he ever has in his career, but the real damage has been done on defense, where he’s lost 1.2 wins.
Lyle Overbay (PIT). When the Pirates signed Overbay to a $5-million deal this offseason, they likely weren’t expecting the .230/.306/.356 line he’s put together so far this year, or the seven errors he’s accumulated at the halfway point of the season.
Jorge Cantu (SDP). Even with an offensive decline in 2010, Cantu looked like a solid offseason pickup for the Padres, who was expected to platoon at first base with Brad Hawpe and backup Chase Headley at third for the Friars. But after watching him stumble to a .194/.232/.285 line through 155 plate appearances, the Padres requested release waivers for him on June 21.
Bill Hall (HOU/SFG). Arguably the Astros’ biggest offseason acquisition, Hall’s tenure with the team only lasted 46 games, during which he hit just .224/.272/.340 before he was released from the worst team in baseball. The Giants, no doubt thinking that Hall deserved another chance after the 104 OPS+ he put up in 2010 with the Boston Red Sox. It’s still only 12 games into his San Francisco career, but he’s already lost almost half (0.4) of the Wins he lost in almost four times as many games in Houston.
Dan Uggla (ATL). Uggla is a two-time All-Star, and finished third in the ROY voting in 2006. Last season, he won a Silver Slugger award and finished in the top twenty in MVP voting. This season, he’s hitting just .175/.241/.330 while remaining the butcher in the field he’s been his entire career.
Wilson Valdez (PHI). Certainly, starting Valdez at second base thirty-one times wasn’t Plan A for the Phillies, but it hasn’t exactly hurt in their quest to be the best team in baseball, despite the 0.6 wins he’s lost for them, mostly on the defensive side of the ball.
Casey McGehee (MIL). After two consecutive seasons with an OPS+ well over 100, McGehee looked to be one of the rising stars in Milwaukee, but he’s struggled so far this season, posting just a .221/.272/.305 line, and is on pace to hit just half as many home runs as he did in 2009, his career low (16) – far off of the 23 he hit last season.
Chris Johnson (HOU). Johnson hasn’t exactly hit poorly this season, though he hasn’t hit particularly well, either. He’s well off of the pace he set his rookie season, dropping 65 points in batting average; 53 points in on-base percentage; and 88 points in slugging percentage. But he’s third among NL third basemen in errors, which has helped him lose an amazing 1.6 wins on defense alone.
Jose Lopez (COL/FLA). Another former All-Star, Lopez struggled mightily at the plate in his first season for Colorado – so much so (.208/.233/.288) that the Rockies released him. Enter the Marlins, who picked him up after his release. It took just twelve games, during which he performed even worse (.103/.161/.138) for them than he did for Colorado, before Florida decided to designate Lopez for assignment.
Yuniesky Betancourt (MIL). Sure, the right side of the Brewers’ infield are starting the All-Star game for the National League, but between Betancourt and McGehee, the other half of the infield holds down the fort in the All-Bergen team.
Edgar Renteria (CIN). 1996 ROY runner-up, 5-time All-Star, two-time MVP top twenty candidate, two-time Gold Glove winner, 3-time Silver Slugger. But his tenure in Cincinnati has been less than stellar. Just 1 home run through 150 plate appearances, a .315 OBP, and a .282 SLG is far off of his pace.
Raul Ibanez (PHI). Prior to 2011, Ibanez had posted 10 straight seasons with an OPS+, so the 84 he’s put together so far this year is pretty surprising. In fact, it’s his lowest since 2000, the last year of his first stint in Seattle. He’s on pace to lose as many wins this year defensively as last (1.2,) but is also on pace to drop his oWAR by 2.5.
Tyler Colvin (CHC). Colvin was a pleasant surprise last year in Chicago, so they can be forgiven for thinking that he would continue to grow and flourish. But he’s dropped more than 400 points in OPS this season, which hasn’t offset his improved defense. He’s currently on pace to hit one-fifth as many home runs this year as he did last year. The upside is that Colvin is just 25 this year, and has plenty of time to return to form.
Ryan Spilborghs (COL). Spilborghs has quietly put together a nice career in Colorado, including three seasons with an OPS+ over 100. He’s well off the pace this season this year, however, down in almost every offensive category and losing almost as many wins (.04) defensively as offensively (0.5).
Willie Bloomquist (ARI). What’s always amazing to me isn’t that Willie Bloomquist continues to struggle as a Major League player, but rather that he continues to get chances. The 85 OPS+ he posted last year (split between Cincinnati and Kansas City) was the highest of his career; he has a career .652 OPS; and he’s had a negative dWAR in almost every professional season in which he’s played.
Mark Kotsay (MIL). The 35-year-old Kotsay is down over a hundred points from his career OPS this season, and after posting his worst statistical season of his career in 2010, he’s brought it down even farther this year.
Willie Harris (NYM). Harris has traditionally hit fairly lightly, but this year he’s not hitting too poorly. Unfortunately, his defense has declined in recent years. He had -0.2 dWAR in 2009, -0.3 in 2010, and -0.4 so far this year.
Jerry Sands (LAD). Just 23 years old, Sands has been pressed into service this year for the Dodgers, largely because of a number of injuries they’ve faced. Sands has been a superstar in the minors, however, belting 35 home runs last year between Great Lakes and Chattanooga. He’s a bright star on Los Angeles’ horizon, but his Major League season in 2011 has been far less than stellar.
Eric Patterson (SDP). Patterson hit just .214 in 2010 between Oakland and Boston, but apparently the Padres saw enough potential in him to make him the Player To Be Named Later in the Adrian Gonzalez trade. Through 103 plate appearances, he was hitting just .180/.272/.292, and was designated for assignment on June 9 before he could do any more damage.
Up next: AL Pitchers.
It wasn’t the first hit of Chris Johnson‘s career, but it may have been the most important one. For when the young third baseman hit a sharp line drive to center field off of the Giants’ Tim Lincecum, it may have signaled the beginning of an era.
I got word out of Round Rock this morning that Chris Johnson was moved to the Disabled List retroactive to April 14, but is “doing fine.”
J.R. Towles left last night’s game with a “very minor head injury” and shouldn’t miss any more time.
In other news, the Phillies organization hired David Newhan as a player-coach at the Triple-A level. You don’t see a lot of player-coaches these days, so that’s kind of neat. Good for him; it’s too bad Cecil Cooper is crazy and wouldn’t give him a chance. Best of luck, David!
Thomas “Tip” Fairchild signed on with the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League. They play some high-quality ball there, and are always being scouted, so if he does well there’s a chance he may end up back in the majors.
That’s it for now, except to say that Mark Mulder’s agent, Gregg Clifton, said this morning that “six, seven, or eight teams” are looking at the free agent pitcher. That’s agent-speak, of course, for “The Dodgers are going to sign him.”
Slam of the Night
At around the seventh inning last night, I Tweeted: “You know what’s sad is that, if we win this, I don’t even know what to blog about. Complete lack of snarkiness right now.”
Our good friend Susan, over at Astros Fan in Exile, snapped back: “it is hard to fathom that you might not have anything to blog about!”
Ouch (but true.)
The big winners in WPA (Win Probability Added) last night are:
- Miguel Tejada – .214; You know, if he keeps this up and proves me wrong, I’ll be so ridiculously happy. His current pace is unsustainable, but if he’s learned how to be a contact hitter, I will be thrilled.
- Carlos Lee – .207; 2-for-4 with a 2-run home run, with absolutely no defensive opportunities. That is a perfect scenario for Lee.
- LaTroy Hawkins – .077; I wish he could have done this in the Cubs series, rather than proving all of the
LovableLosers right, but I’ll take it now.
I want one of those green Astros Earth Day hats. I really do. I have no idea why, but I think they’re super sharp.
I mentioned earlier that third-base prospect Chris Johnson had been pulled after one at-bat in Friday’s game against Iowa and hadn’t played since.
I just spoke with Round Rock’s Director of Communications, Avery Johnson, who informed me that Johnson was hit on the hand by a pitch in Friday’s game, and is listed as day-to-day with no significant injury.
Geoff Geary and the Florida sun allowed the Cardinals to tie today’s Grapefruit League game at 3-3 in the bottom of the seventh inning, but Wesley Wright and Jeff Fulchino shut them down in the final two innings, and Michael Bourn‘s single up the middle in the ninth gave the Astros their sixth win in a row.
Right now, we’re winning games in the same fashion we were losing them just a week ago. Back then, Jason Michaels losing the ball in the sun or Jason Smith sprinting across the diamond to drop a pop-up while trying to backhand it just feet from Chris Johnson, whose ball it clearly was, would have spelled disaster.
Today, they were mere bumps in the road.
Of particular note during this streak is Bourn, who went 1-for-3 today with two walks. Bourn’s numbers during this stretch are perhaps the single-most encouraging part of the Astros’ Spring Training: .333/.389/.400 with 2 SB in 4 attempts, 2 BB, 2 K, 5 RBI, and 4 R over six games. It’s a small sample size, to be sure, but holds a lot of promise. If he can continue to get on base at anything near a .350 clip or above, the Astros’ offense will succeed.
For the first time in 2009, I’m disappointed to have a day off.
That day off will be spent by at least one person in Astros camp, Danny Graves, to look for a new job. Graves was assigned to minor league camp, and had until Tuesday to decide whether to accept the assignment or to ask for his release. He asked for, and was granted, his release.
Though his spring wasn’t great, neither was it as terrible as the 6.43 ERA suggests. First of all, he was only given seven innings to show his wares, and though he gave up five earned runs in those seven innings, none were from home runs. He also only issued one walk, didn’t hit any batsmen, and struck out three for a DICE of 2.57 despite a WHIP of 1.71.
Unfortunately, given human nature, most people will see the high WHIP and ERA and fail to give him a chance to show his wares. But based on his ability to keep his walks, HBP, and HR to an absolute minimum – even over such a short amount of time – should at least warrant him the ability to go out and show someone what he can do.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this wasn’t the last we heard from Graves.
off-day. A day for the Houston Astros front office to get together and
decide what in the world they’re going to do. A day to reflect. A day
for the players to visit with their families. With each other. To try
and become a team.
A day when we can’t lose a game. Which is
good, because on Saturday, we have a Split Squad game, so we can make
up for lost time by losing two.
Spring Training records don’t
matter, and thank goodness for that, because ours has been lousy.
Let’s take a moment and recap the statistics of our presumed Opening
Day starters, shall we?
Please note that this does not include exhibition or WBC games. These numbers are what most insiders would refer to as “bad.”
Carlos Lee, our cleanup hitter, has grounded into as many double plays
(1) as he has hits. I’m not worried about him, though. He’ll be
fine. He got to camp late, he went to play for Panama in the WBC.
He’s an older guy, he may take longer to get there but I’m sure he will
In addition, Berkman (our #3 hitter) and Tejada (who will hit fifth or sixth) are doing just fine. The heart of the order is not the concern, though. Hunter Pence (who would hit 5th in an ideal lineup, but will probably end up 2nd or 6th) is striking out a lot as he works on getting deeper into counts, but he’s getting on base for the most part. Michael Bourn is Michael Bourn – he’s doing better than most of us expected.
That leaves Quintero, Blum, and Matsui. Now, we all know that Quintero and Blum would not be starters on most rosters. Blum is an invaluable utilityman who has only had 400+ at-bats twice in his 10-season career. Quintero is an arm behind the plate who has only had more than 150 at-bats once, and that was last season.
These are not big surprises. Matsui is a bit of a surprise, especially as he’s the de facto leadoff hitter for the Astros. The good news is that he’s drastically under-performing right now, so it can generally be chalked up to a bad Spring. Over the past two and a half seasons, he’s gone .297/.350/.427 in Colorado and Houston (admittedly two hitters’ parks, but that’s where he’ll be playing this year, as well.)
So it comes down to uncertainty about Bourn’s supposed progress, hope that Lee and Matsui will pick it up in time, and dread over the catcher and third base spots.
Simply put, Quintero is not an upgrade to Brad Ausmus, who opted to move out west to be closer to his family. His other option was retiring, so it’s not as if we could have retained him. And I realize he didn’t exactly swing a great stick, but over the past 8 seasons with the Astros, he went .240/.311/.319. Quintero career minor league OBP is .311, there’s no reason to think he can be that productive at the major league level – after he “improved” at the end of last season in August and September after he became more or less the full-time catcher, he scraped together a .306 OBP.
Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, among catchers currently in our system, J.R. Towles‘ .302/.386/.476 over five minor league seasons makes him the best offensive option behind the plate, his poor showing in 2008 notwithstanding.
That said, we still may be better served going out and grabbing a catcher from outside of our system. Toby Hall‘s injury spoiled things for him, but Johnny Estrada (.277/.317/.400), Paul Lo Duca (.286/.337/.409), and Ivan Rodriguez (.301/.339/.475) are all still available, and neither would cost us a draft pick.
Third base is a little bleaker. It should be assumed that Christopher Johnson (.353/.409/.588 this Spring) is going to at least begin the season at AAA Round Rock, but will no doubt find his way to the Show as the long-term solution at third base. Otherwise, he could end up in a position similar to what Towles was handed last year – given the reins a bit too early and written off once he’d failed as a result.
Until that time, we can probably look forward to a platoon of Geoff Blum and Aaron Boone. In 2003, when that duo would have combined to go .265/.310/.261, that would have been mildly acceptable. In 2009, when they combined to go .241/.293/.289 the previous year, it’s not quite as exciting (and it wasn’t all that exciting before.)
There’s no help in free agency, unless you were to shift Tejada to third (where he played in the WBC), Matsui to shortstop (where he played before switching positions with Jose Reyes in New York), and getting either Ray Durham or Mark Grudzielanek from free agency. That seems unlikely, so I suppose we’ll have to dig in and wait for the Chris Johnson era to start. I’m cautiously optimistic that that could happen as early as May.
A word of caution, however, as Johnson’s minor league line (.266/.304/.395) is actually worse than the last promotion-from-within at third base, Morgan Ensberg‘s (.271/.381/.472). Ultimately, Ensberg lost all confidence at the plate, but let’s remember that he did give us three very solid years at the big league level – 2003, 2004, and 2005 – before his collapse. Even 2006, the beginning of his “downturn”, he boasted a .396 OBP and a .463 SLG.
Free agent pitchers are less of a sure thing. If we were going to enter the market, we’ve missed the window. All that’s left are a few reclamation projects: Pedro Martinez, Mark Mulder, Ben Sheets, Kenny Rogers, Curt Schilling, El Duque, Sidney Ponson. Upgrades over Mike Hampton and Brian Moehler? Possibly. But it’s unlikely we’d sign any of these guys, and I can’t really blame the FO for passing on them.
All told, it will be interesting to see how our team comes together. If they come together. At this point in Spring Training, the positives are few, but they exist. And honestly, if it means that money goes into development and signing draft picks, I’m okay with no moves being made. Let’s just hunker down and see if we can’t lose us some games!
As you’ve no doubt heard by now, Alex Rodriguez may have to withdraw from the WBC due to a hip injury.
You never like to see such a high-profile player go down to injury, but my thoughts immediately turned in a different direction than most people’s.
If Alex Rodriguez misses the WBC, does this make Miguel Tejada the Dominican Republic’s starting third baseman?
Tejada withdrew from the Classic after hearing a rumor that he was going to be used primarily as a first baseman. Then, with manager Felipe Alou’s eventual assurance that he would play shortstop, third base, and DH, he changed his mind and joined the team.
With Rodriguez in the lineup at third, and Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez at shortstop, it wasn’t immediately clear how much playing time Tejada would get in the infield. Now, that’s all changed.
Barring whomever would replace A-Rod on the roster, the only other third baseman currently with the team is Willy Aybar. Given that option, it seems reasonable to assume that Tejada would become the starting third baseman.
And that, as far as I’m concerned, is a problem for the Houston Astros.
I’m generally pro-WBC. I don’t mind players taking the added injury risk to play for their countries. LaTroy Hawkins, Roy Oswalt, and Carlos Lee are all involved in the classic, and bully for them. These are three guys who performed for the Astros last year. They did exactly the job they were asked to do, and they did it well.
But Tejada’s short tenure with the Astros has been tumultuous, at best. First, he was caught lying about his age. Then, he suffered a mid-season slump that hurt the team in a bad way. Next, he was indicted for lying to federal investigators. Then came the WBC.
Simply put, I feel pretty strongly that Miguel should be in camp. He should be getting reps as a shortstop. He should be preparing himself to earn the money he’s getting paid – an albatross contract, signed under false pretenses regarding his age. That contract, and the five players we gave up to get Tejada from the Orioles, could be singled out as the single-largest reason the Astros were unable to make a move of any merit this offseason.
The news that he may get significant playing time at another position doesn’t sit well with me.
Of course, there is another option, given the Astros’ holes at third base. If Tejada shows himself to be a competent third baseman, perhaps Coop may consider moving him there permanently, and allowing either Tommy Manzella or Drew Sutton to play shortstop, assuming Chris Johnson is sent to AAA at the end of Spring Training.
Knowing Cooper, that seems unlikely, but it is a possibility. Tejada’s still a better-fielding shortstop than he gets credit for (he had a 4.01 RFg in 2008, six points above adjusted league average), but he is aging (three years more quickly than we’d realized.)
In other news, Roy Oswalt will be on The Late Show With David Letterman tomorrow (Thursday) night for the Top 10 list: “Reasons To Watch The World Baseball Classic.”
Apparently, I made the list of “Latest Leaders” at MLBlogosphere today. Truth be told, I’m not entirely sure what that means, but in honor of my debut at #47, I’ll dedicate today’s post to one of the many great #47s that the Astros have had, Joaquin Andujar:
Over at ESPN, fantasy expert Jason Grey has unveiled his list of the top prospects in baseball, based on potential contributions to their Major League teams this season.
It begs the question: What in the world makes someone a fantasy expert?
Rather than answer that question, though, I’d like to talk about the article. Inclusion in this list is something of a double-edged sword. While it means that you have some young players that have at least one baseball (ish) writer excited, it must be remembered that this is a list of players expected to contribute this year.
Which means your Major League roster can’t be all that solid, now, can it?
Be that as it may, we Astros fans are ravenous to see our few prospects show up on lists that have numbers next to their names, so even if this was a list of the best fifty minor league baseball players at spelling “dichotomous,” we’d be pleased as punch to see four of our youngsters on the list.
Never mind that one of the guys, Lou Palmisano, may not actually be an Astro this year, since he was a Rule 5 selection.
The names aren’t necessarily new to Astros fans. In fact, all four players are currently in Spring Training and doing just fine, thank you very much.
Topping the list at #46 is infielder Drew Sutton. At the moment, Sutton may be best known to Astros fans as the guy with the really embarrassing error in the really embarrassing Spring Training loss to the Mets. To be fair, he was playing first base – a position where he has spent all of two games since his professional career began in 2004. In real life, he’s a second baseman who plays some third as well, and has experience at shortstop and, in theory, the aforementioned first base.
Which begs the question: Why in the world would Drew Sutton play first base in a Spring Training game? The only answer I can come up with is that Cecil Cooper is strongly considering him for a utility infielder role, and wants to see how he does at each infield position. With Lance Berkman at first base, there’s no hole to fill; Geoff Blum and Darin Erstad are 25-man roster guys who also play the position, and Mark Saccomanno is the minor leaguer most likely to fill in if needed. So it seems to be purely a matter of seeing how Sutton responds, and getting him as many at-bats as possible this spring.
Next on Mr. Grey’s list, at #50, is our good friend, pitcher Bud Norris. Norris is high on management’s list of prospects, and for good reason. His single inning in Spring Training yielded no hits, no walks, no runs, and two strikeouts. The article, however, mentions that Norris is largely a sleeper because “Here is the projected Astros rotation behind Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez as of this writing: Mike Hampton, Brian Moehler and Brandon Backe . And LaTroy Hawkins is Jose Valverde’s primary set-up man.”
He says this as a means of maligning the Astros’ pitching situation. Normally, I would be all for maligning them, but Hampton is very good when he’s healthy, Moehler pitched very well in 2008, and Backe will probably not be the fifth starter. And LaTroy Hawkins? Well, as much as people like to downplay Hawkins as a set-up man, since 2000, he’s only had one season where his ERA+ was under 100. Even in 2008, after his tumultuous run with the Yankees, he came to Houston and posted the following line:
21.0 IP, 2-0, 0.43 ERA (992 ERA+), 0.762 WHIP, 25 K, 5 BB
Admittedly, a tiny sample size, but it hardly makes one run screaming to the phone to look for Norris as an emergency set-up man. Hawkins’ career numbers are skewed because he was terrible as a starter and terrible as a closer, but as a set-up man he’s actually been pretty darned good. His line from 2000-2008 with the Twins, Cubs, Giants, Orioles, Rockies, Yankees, and Astros(which does include some stints as a closer):
612.7 IP, 33-33, 76 SV, 3.35, 1.267 WHIP, 449 K, 192 BB
Not really all that shabby, honestly. Certainly nothing that means that Bud Norris is likely to replace him as the primary set-up guy.
Next on the list, at #61, is 3B Chris Johnson. Had you asked me a month ago (and many people did,) I
would have told you that Chris needed at least half a year in AAA before he was ready to see action at the major league level. Then came Spring Training, and so far, he’s looked very comfortable:
6 G, .500/.500/1.000, 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 R, 5 RBI
Still very early, but his confidence at the plate – combined with his glove at third base – is likely to keep him in the conversation.
Of course, the article also cited Geoff Blum as the “incumbent at third base” (Blum, though technically an incumbent, was never a full-time starter in Houston… he was a utility infielder while Ty Wigginton was the starter) and Aaron Boone as the backup (Boone is auditioning for a spot, and wasn’t even really considered a favorite coming into camp).
The third base spot, like fifth starter and catcher, is very much up for grabs. To label Boone and Blum as the odds-on favorites to play the position is reaching, at best. Irresponsible at worst.
Last on the list, at #92, is catcher Lou Palmisano, who the Orioles chose in the Rule 5 draft and gave to the Astros for cash money. The only problem is that the Rule 5 draft forces a player into waivers if they don’t stay on the roster of the team that drafted them for the entire MLB season. If they clear waivers, they are returned to the team. With quite a few options at catcher, the likelihood of the Astros committing o
ne of only two spots to Palmisano, who hasn’t played catcher since 2007 because of a torn meniscus, seems unlikely. Even with all of our question marks at the position.
His early Spring Training results, 0-for-5 in 3 games, aren’t helping him much. Grey goes on to note that “even if he is sent back to Milwaukee, there’s a chance he could earn a backup role there.” However, with Vinny Rottino, Angel Salome, and Mike Rivera – all good hitters – vying for the backup spot behind Jason Kendall in Milwaukee, the likelihood of Palmisano (who’s never played above AA) earning that spot seems far-fetched, at best.
I’m sure you all heard the news today. A high-profile name linked to steroids, threatening to tear the ballroom dancing world apart.
I’m sorry, did you say ballroom dancing?
That’s right, folks. In her blog today, Dancing With The Stars contestant Jewel revealed that she came down with tendinitis in her knee. She went on to say:
“Hopefully these steroids will really do the trick and I can keep bad flare ups at a bay in the future.”
So there it is – admission that she’s juicing.
If you’re anything like me, your first response was: Jewel has a blog? And people read it?
If Jewel pulls this thing out and wins it, I think we’re going to have to talk seriously about an asterisk.
In other news – this a little more baseball-related, it was great to be at work this morning and see the Astros-Braves game on ESPN. For a baesball addict with serious withdrawals, this was precisely what the doctor ordered.
Though Sergio Perez and Rule 5 pick Gilbert De La Vara (two pitchers not expected to make the 25-man roster out of camp anyway) blew the lead established by the Astros offense, Roy Oswalt, Brandon Backe, and Alberto Arias, there were a lot of positives in this game.
First and foremost, Christopher Johnson. With the quagmire that is the Astros’ third base situation – where all talk has been of Aaron Boone and Geoff Blum creating the worst platoon situation mankind has ever envisioned – Johnson is emerging as the guy to beat at third. He still probably needs some time in AAA before he’s called up full-time, but the way he’s seeing the ball right now, he’s making the most of his time in Spring Training.
It’s still very early, of course, but this is very promising. Aside from Blum, he’s the most competent defender at third base, as well, so the faster he proves himself ready, the better.
The second player to make the organization notice him is John Gall. Gall has always shown an ability to hit in the minors, but hasn’t gotten regular work at the Major League level. With the lack of outfield depth in the Astros’ organization, this may well be his time to break through.
He’s been putting together some very nice at-bats in this very young Spring Training, and looks like he may be forcing a tough decision. We’ll see if he can keep it up.
The big question for the Houston Astros this offseason may well be: Can this team compete this year? We’ve all heard the naysayers. Baseball Prospectus recently released their 2009 PECOTA rankings, projecting us as the fifth place team in the NL Central, with 98 losses.
The good news: Historically, the Astros tend to out-perform their PECOTA rankings. They also tend to out-perform their Pythagorean W-L%. In 2008, we outdid PECOTA (74-88) by 12 wins, and our Pythageorean W-L% (77-84) by 9 wins.
This could be viewed as a positive, of course, but it could also be viewed as a false positive. Giving fans hope beyond expectations heading into the 2009 season. When you look at this team, not a lot distinguishes it from the 2008 San Diego Padres after Chris Young went down: One of the best aces in the game (Peavy/Oswalt), a good-hitting first baseman (Berkman/Gonzalez), a good corner outfielder (Lee/Giles), a streaky but overall above average shortstop (Greene/Tejada), a patchy starting rotation made of largely of “maybes,” a decent ‘pen with a top-notch closer (Hoffman/Valverde), and not a lot off of the bench.
That Padres team put together 99 losses. This Astros team is predicted, by PECOTA, to lose 96 games.
I don’t say this to be a naysayer at all. Like most Astros fans, I will still live and die with each game. I will still cheer just as loudly for each win. I will still try to put a positive spin on even the worst game. But it’s important to be realistic, and with that in mind, I believe it’s time to see what the youngsters can do.
The buzz has it that the Astros organization is pretty low on talent. That’s not untrue, but there are a few standouts, and I suspect we’ll get a look at a great many of them. Let’s take a look at some of these young men and what we may have to look forward to. By and large, this could very well be a glimpse at the Astros’ 2010 lineup. For now, let’s view it as a look at the silver lining. Because while the organization may not be in the best shape, it does have some decent prospects who could earn valuable playing time this season:
C Lou Palmisano – The catcher position is an awkward one for the Astros. They actually have a pretty decent stockpile of talent at the position, at least in terms of quantity, but not a lot of quality. That situation wasn’t exactly remedied when the Orioles chose Lou Palmisano from the Brewers organization in the Rule 5 Draft and then sent him to Houston for cash. For those unfamiliar with the Rule 5 Draft, basically if you select a player, you must keep him on your Major League roster for the entire season. If you do not, he can be claimed off waivers by another team (who must then keep him on their major league roster) or return him to the original team. Palmisano is a promising offensive option behind the plate, but has yet to play above AA ball. Because of medical issues, he hasn’t played catcher in a game since 2007. Anything but a sure-fire major league prospect at the moment. Projection: With Toby Hall out due to injury, if Palmisano shows any promise at all at the plate, he will probably break camp with the big league team. Still, it’s hard to imagine Towles and Quintero both being sent down, and since catcher is one of the few positions with some organizational depth, I suspect Palmisano will be returned to the Brewers organization.
SS Tommy Manzella – Despite hitting a major bump when he got to AAA Round Rock, Manzella is one of my favorites among the Astros’ minor league players. His Round Rock line is anything but impressive: .219/.273/.294 in 228 at-bats, but his 2008 line in AA Corpus Christi was .299/.346/.446 in 224 at-bats. He’s improved his defense, and with a good spring and a few more months of AAA ball, he could well be poised to step up and claim his place as the Astros’ shortstop of the future. Projection: Manzella will wear a Houston Astros uniform this season. Expect him to make the club sometime in late May or early June and compile somewhere in the vicinity of 100-120 at-bats.
SS Edwin Maysonet – Maysonet is a versatile infielder – he’s mainly played the shortstop position, but has also played a lot of second base, and has occasionally been asked to fill in at third and in the outfield. He’s shown remarkable consistently through the minors, clocking in right around .260/.330/.360 each season. Last year at Round Rock, his line was .271/.343/.379. Nothing that will blow anyone away, and his glove isn’t the best in the organization, either. Still, he’s a serviceable-enough backup infielder. Projection: Maysonet will likely be pressed into service at some point this season, but don’t look for anything more than 50 or so at-bats.
2B Drew Sutton – Sutton is a promising young infielder who plays primarily second base, but also third. He has yet to make a plate appearance at any level above AA, but his 2008 Corpus Christi line sure does look good: .317/.408/.523 with 20 stolen bases in 27 attempts, 20 home runs in 520 AB, and 76 walks to 98 strikeouts. His glovework isn’t dazzling (16 errors in 99 games), but he’s one of the better prospects currently in the organization. Projection: With the revolving-door that third base promises to be this season, as well as Kaz Matsui’s inevitable injury woes, Sutton figures to see the big leagues. I don’t know that I’d expect him to perform extraordinarily, but don’t let that put you off. He may be a year or two away, but expect Sutton to continue to do well in the organization.
SP OF Brian Bogusevic – The Astros drafted Bogusevic as a position player out of Tulane University, then moved him to the pitching mound, where he struggled, never posting a season ERA under 4.61. He’s since been moved back to the outfield, and has responded by becoming one of the Astros’ highest-rated prospects, thanks largely to his .371/.447/.556 line in 124 at-bats at Corpus Christi in 2008. In case you’ve never heard of “baseball” before, that’s pretty darned impressive. Projection: Bogusevic hasn’t played above AA yet, but expect a meteoric rise through the system this year. With so many questions in the Astros’ outfield, I expect him to get some time at the big league level, perhaps even breaking through as a starter late in the season if there are injuries to Lee or Pence.
OF Yordany Ramirez – With the unfortunate departure of Jordan Parraz in the Tyler Lumsden trade, Ramirez and 17-year-old Jay Austin may be the two best “fast guys” in the Houston Astros organization. Ramirez didn’t have a stellar year at Round Rock in 2008 – in fact, it was pretty lousy (.231/.254/.382). But he’s shown flashes throughout his time in the minors, and he’ll be 24 this year. He was widely-regarded as the Padres’ top defensive outfield prospect, has stolen 108 of 140 in his minor league career, and just happens to play centerfield, a position of need for the Astros. Projection: It’s tough to know which Yordany we’re going to see. If he can strike out less and walk more (he has 67 career minor league walks to 322 strikeouts), then the sky is the limit. As it is, he projects as another Michael Bourn type. I’d love to think either of them is going to turn it around this year, but I’m not overly optimistic.
C Jason Castro – Since I became an Astros fan in the mid-eighties, I can remember four times when I threw my hands up at an Astros’ draft choice. It all starts with the time we made Phil Nevin the #1 overall draft choice… ahead of Derek Jeter. Second was when we took catcher Max Sapp over Joba Chamberlain. The third-most egregious pick, in my opinion, was when we selected Mike Rosamond ahead of Carl Crawford. Last year’s selection of Jason Castro, a contact-hitting lefty catcher out of Stanford University, ahead of switch-hitting first baseman Justin Smoak, may well break those ranks. I’m reserving judgement for now, but I have to say that every time I see Astros fans pinning the hopes of the team’s future on Castro, who went .275/.383/.384 in 138 at-bats at Short Season Tri-City. He inexplicably received a Spring Training invitation this year, and has definitely been tagged as the catcher of the future. Oh, and Smoak? .304/.355/.518 for Texas’s Midwest League affiliate, the Clinton LumberKings. Projection: Don’t expect Castro to play in the big leagues this year. He’ll need to prove himself over the course of a full minor league season first, and the Astros have plenty of depth at the catcher position.
C Brian Esposito – Esposito will be 30 years old coming into the 2009 season, and has amassed a grand total of one inning of major league experience since being drafted by the Red Sox in the 5th round of the 2000 draft out of the University of Connecticut. The Astros are his sixth organization in the past nine seasons, and he’s likely to start the season in Corpus Christi, his twelfth team in that same nine seasons. In that time, he’s put together an unimpressive .214/.251/.305 line. The fact that he is in Spring Training this year, instead of a more-deserving candidate like, say, Eli Iorg, is a testament to the Astros’ trainwreck of a catching situation. Projection: Esposito will not play as an Astro this season.
C Lou Santangelo – In 2008, 109 baserunners tried to steal a base against Santangelo. 34 of them were caught. And that sums up Santangelo behind the plate. At the plate, he generally registers in the .240/.310/.420 mark, though he did hit a major speed bump in limited play at the AAA level last year. At the moment, he shouldn’t be considered a big league catching prospect, and only makes this list because he received a Spring Training invitation. Projection: Santangelo may actually be pressed into service at the big league level to protect Castro from being rushed, but not much should be expected of him.
3B Chris Johnson – Finally, the Bataan Death March of catchers ends and we return to an area that seems to have at least some organizational depth – the infield. Johnson was a bright spot in the organization last year, going .324/.364/.506 at Corpus Christi before being called up to Round Rock, where
he hit a bit of a speed bump to the tune of .218/.252/.287 in just 101 at-bats. I think with a full year of AAA behind him, he could be a legitimate starting option at third base in 2010. He needs some work defensively – 23 errors in just 230 chances isn’t exactly sound – but I’m confident he’ll do whatever it takes to get to the big league level. Projection: Johnson will likely see some time in the big leagues this year, with the large question mark surrounding third base in Houston, and may post some decent numbers. I still think he’d be better served with another year of seasoning and serious defensive work – or even a move to first base.
3B Mark Saccomanno – It’s no surprise that I’m a big Mark Saccomanno fan. He led Round Rock in home runs (27) and total bases (275), and was in the top five in doubles (33), triples (2), RBI (84), SLG (.521), and… er… errors. In fact, his 24 errors was 11 more than Maysonet, who was second with 13 at a tougher position. In fact, only Tacoma’s Matt Tuiasosopo had more errors in the PCL with 27. So make no mistake: Saccomanno is a butcher in the field. But his stick is something to be reckoned with, even beyond the fact that he turned the very first big league pitch he ever saw – an Ian Snell fastball – into a home run. Projection: Saccomanno should find his place as the everyday starter at third base by late May, and aside from ceding some late-inning defensive innings to Geoff Blum, should see a lot of time there. I expect a big season from him.
OF Eli Iorg – If Eli’s name sounds familiar to you, it should. His father, Garth, played for the Blue Jays for nine seasons from the late eighties to the late nineties. His uncle, Dane, played outfield and first base (and even pitched three innings!) for the Phillies, Royals, and Padres – but mostly the Cardinals – over the span of 10 seasons from 1977-1985. His brother, Cale, is a shortstop in the Tigers’ organization. As for Eli, he’ll be entering his fifth season in the Astros minors, and has put together a nice little .274/.325/.450 line in his time at Greeneville, Lexington, Salem, and Corpus Christi. Projection: Eli’s been moving right along, and should start the season in AAA Round Rock. I do think he has an outside shot at cracking the big league squad this season, and I’m pretty confident he’ll rise to the challenge. Definitely one to watch.
C Koby Clemens – Clemens started life in the Astros organization as a third baseman, but in 2008 he was moved to catcher, because apparently someone thought that there wasn’t enough depth at that position. He hasn’t exactly exploded offensively, but in 2008 with Salem, he put together a very respectable .268/.369/.423. He threw out 45 of 130 basestealers (meanies, picking on the new catcher) – 35%. Not bad, all things considered. Projection: I actually wouldn’t be too surprised to see Koby crack the big leagues at some point this season, but I do expect he’ll spend the majority of the season between Lancaster and Corpus Christi.
Up next: The fresh-faced pitchers.