Friday, October 24, 2014

A Look at the Astros in Arizona - Part II

The Salt River Rafters continue to dominate the Arizona Fall League, sitting with a leagues best 11-3 record and a 3 game lead in the East Division. And Astros prospects continue to be in the middle of it.

Mark Appel 

Appel continues to impress, as he now has 12 innings with 0 runs, 4 hits, 3 walks and 12 strikeouts, in 3 starts. His last start was his best, going 5 innings, with only two hits and zero walks allowed. Scouts have liked what they've seen with his stuff, for the most part, and he seems to be regaining some of that top prospect sheen. Really, best case scenario for Appel in the desert.

Vincent Velasquez

Velasquez has had two starts, and they could not have been any more different. He was shelled his first go round, going three innings and giving up 5 runs on 6 hits and two home runs. He struck out two, against zero walks, which as the only positive to be gleaned from that outing. His second start was a different story. Against a tough Peoria lineup, he went 4 scoreless innings, allowing only 1 hit, again striking out two. His AFL season numbers are still ugly, but they are trending in the right direction.

Andrew Aplin

Aplin has cooled off considerably, going hitless in his last 4 games. He is still hitting .300/.344/.500, which only looks good if you forget he was hitting .500 just over a week ago.

Rio Ruiz

As Aplin has cooled, Ruiz has taken off, as he is hitting .294 with a .415 OBP in his last 10 games. The power is still not showing up, as he has only two doubles and no other extra base hits. He is showing a good eye, and I'm sure the power is right around the corner.

Tyler Heineman,  Tyson Perez,  Mitch Lambson and Joe Sclafani continue to perform well in limited roles. Perez, in particular, has pitched 7 innings, allowing zero runs on 5 hits with 7 strikeouts, against only 1 walk. Lambson hasn't been quite as good in his 6 innings. He's matched Tyson with 7 strikeouts and allowed two fewer hits, but has been plagued by 5 walks. He's got a 3.00 ERA on the season. Heineman has only appeared in three games, going 2-5 with 2 walks. Sclafani has seen action in 4 games, and has gone 4-14 with two walks and a homer un.

Obviously, these are incredibly small samples, and nothing meaningful can be gleaned from these numbers. But it's still fun to see the Astros prospects perform well. The AFL All Star Game is set for November 4, and I think you can expect to see some Astros prospects take part in that.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Dallas Keuchel Is a Gold Glove Finalist

Now, ordinarily, I have great disdain for the Rawling Gold Gloves. This is the organization that has given Derek Jeter FIVE awards for fielding excellence, and once gave Rafael Palmeiro the award at 1st Base in a season in which he started only 28 games at the position. But...this year I care deeply.

Because Dallas Keuchel has been named a finalist for AL pitcher, along with Mark Buehrle and Felix Hernandez. And Keuchel really should win, based on advanced stats. This year, Keuchel ranked first in the MLB in Defensive Runs Saved with 10. Buehrle has the reputation, and has already won 4 Gold Gloves, but the advanced numbers don't like him as much this year. I'm not sure why Felix is there.

So....Go Keuchel! I'm kind of desperate for a win at this point. If he loses, just remember, this is the organization that gave Derek Jeter FIVE awards for fielding excellence, and once gave Rafael Palmeiro the award at 1st Base in a season in which he started only 28 games there. The Fielding Bible Awards are much better. I'm sure he'll win that.

Some quick thoughts on the MLB Hate Map.

Our friends at SB Nation continue to produce solid baseball analysis in the form of an MLB Hate Map.  I had no idea this existed until fellow AC writer and non-Oceania resident Cockroach alerted me to its existence, and requested me to explain why the Oceania region is so out of step with the rest of the world.

Before we get to the juicy bits, however, some quick thoughts.

1) No one hates the Astros.  My first reaction?  Excellent!!  However, after further consideration, I have come to the conclusion that either (i) the Astros are too insignificant to be hated or (ii) they may not appear on the "Hate Map", but they could be the Yankees of the "Laugh Map" - universally laughed at the world-around.  The world may not hate the Astros - they may just be too funny to hate.

2) The only hated AL West team inside the US is the Angels, who benefit from the combined wrath of the Texas baseball fans.

3) The San Diego thing (in Canada) is totally random, and well explained by the authors.

4) I am not sure how scientific this survey is.

Moving to to address the question that Cockroach actually wanted answered.  What the heck is up with Oceania??  I am assuming that the concern expressed by Cockroach is that (i) hating the Yankees is a sign of great baseball taste and (ii) Oceania seems out of step with the more sophisticated everywhere-else.

Firstly, I must say that Oceania is normally defined as Australia, New Zealand the islands of Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia.  And, looking at the map, the Papua / West Papua region (which is part of Indonesia, which is part of Melanesia, and therefore part of Oceania) is identified as hating the Yankees.  So not all of Oceania hates the Dodgers - Melanesia hates the Yankees.

This is not just geographic nit-pick-ery by the way.  There is a point to this.   Oceania doesn't hate the Dodgers.  Australasia (NZ and Australia) seems to.... but do they??

With my eye-of-faith, I sense that New Zealand is filled with the darker midnight-blue of the Yankees.  This reflects the vastly superior taste of the Kiwis when compared to the Australians, who are a nation composed nearly entirely of boorish rednecks.  And are therefore less likely to hate the Yankees, because they don't realise how detestable the Yankees actually are.

Not buying that explanation?  Ok, here is an another one.  People from Australasia love the National League, and like to pretend the AL doesn't exist.  I, for one, vastly preferred the NL when the 'stros were in the NL Central.  That said, now the Astros are in the AL, I have pretty much reversed my stance - not out of preference to the rules, but rather out of preference enjoying the stronger league.  So, according to the Australasians, the Yankees don't exist, and the most detestable team in the NL is.... the Dodgers!  Excellent work, Australasia - ignoring the self-promoting Yankees is far more damaging to them than hating them.  Hate is, after all, a form of attention.

The weak point in that argument is that the Australian Baseball League uses the DH, and is therefore unlikely to be senior-circuit traditionalists.  Dammit!

Finally, then, I can only really point to the unscientific nature of the survey.  Or perhaps a small sample size bias.  Or perhaps something is lost in the translation of the accents of the (predominantly) Australians sampled.  Or some other lame excuse to explain why people from Down Under are so out-of-step with the rest of the world.

Or perhaps people from this part of the world just have crap taste.  Like... crocs, Mel Gibson and Russell Crowe, potty mouths, dressing all in black... or worse, canary yellow, horrible national anthems, and terrible BBQ habits (most people don't slow-cook or smoke down here).  Perhaps the argument for poor taste has some solid backing.

But then again, let's not lump Kiwis in with Australians.  Kiwis have Ghost Chips, Kimbra* and Lorde, hobbits, and fast yachts**, so one could also make the case that Kiwis aren't too bad.  So perhaps New Zealand is filled with Yankees midnight-blue after all.

* - yes, I know Gotye is Australian - although born in Belgium
** - yes, I am also aware that the Kiwi's lost the America's Cup in the most agonising fashion possible.  Grr!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Breakfast Links

Palm Beach County commissioners meet this morning to discuss a request for $108M to help fund a new Spring Training complex to be share by the Astros and Nationals.

Mark Appel continued his strong AFL showing with 5 scoreless innings. He's now thrown 12 scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts, 3 walks, and 4 hits.

Baseball fans in San Antonio have a tough time being fans due to a variety of TV and radio roadblocks.

Astros players are scattered around the world this fall and winter.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Look at the Astros in the Arizona Fall League

The Astros sent 8 players to Arizona this fall to play for the Salt River Rafters, including big names like Mark Appel, Rio Ruiz and Vincent Velasquez. The Salt River team also contains other big name prospects, including Byron Buxton and Archie Bradley. They have now played 7 games and are playing like the star studded team they are, going 6-1. And the Astros prospects have had a lot to do with that.

Mark Appel

Mark Appel's fall appearance is helping to erase the memory of the disastrous 2014 season. He pitched well in AA after his promotion, and so far in Arizona has been close to dominant. In two starts, he has pitched 7 innings, allowing only 2 hits and three walks compared to 8 strikeouts. He has yet to allow a run. Keith Law (insider) wrote up his first outing, and noted his velocity and slider were good, but he was lacking fastball command.

Andrew Aplin

Aplin has been pretty clearly the MVP of the Rafters so far, batting .500/.500/.857 in 14 at bats. His biggest game came on October 10, in a 12-2 walloping of Peoria. The Rafters scored 11 runs in the 5th inning in that game, and Aplin was 2-2 with a grand slam in that inning alone. He that day 4-5. He also drove in the only run of the night last night, with a triple in the 8th. 

Rio Ruiz

Ruiz has struggled a bit in the early going, batting only .217/.308/.268 in in 23 ABs, although he went 2-2 with a walk last night. Law (insider) commented on some extra weight and a resulting slower bat speed.  

The remainder of the Astros have received minimal playing time. Velasquez has only pitched in 1 inning, and gave up two hits and a walk, but avoided any runs by striking out 2. Mitch Lambson and Tyson Perez have both pitched 4 innings, with a Lambson home run the only run allowed between them. Perez earned the save last night. Tyler Heineman has gone 2-5 with two walks and Joe Sclafani is 0-3 so far. 

For more on the Astros in the Arizona Fall League, go read these first hand account of a very Astros-Centric game last night over at What the Heck, Bobby?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Historical Scouting Reports - Bobby Abreu

The National Baseball Hall of Fame did something really cool last year when they made thousands of historical scouting reports available to the public. This post is part of a series in which we'll look at the reports of players that have passed through Houston during their career. A lot of these are, understandably, difficult to read, so I'll do my best to transcribe them as-is while including pictures of a few of them.

Today we'll look at Bobby Abreu. While Abreu is best known for having a long career as a power/speed/patience guy for the Phillies, among other teams, he actually started his career with the Astros. Originally signed as an international free agent out of Venezuela, Abreu was left unprotected in the 1997 expansion draft and was taken by Tampa Bay and immediately traded to Philadelphia, where he averaged about 6 WAR over the next 7 seasons. Hard to imagine two franchises not realizing the talent he possessed. He did get to play 74 games for Houston before 1997, where he hit .248/.325/.362 with 3 HR and 7 SB. For his career, he hit .291/.395/.475 with 288 HR and 400 SB before retiring following this season.

We have three scouting reports for Abreu, two from 1995 (from his time in Tucson) and one from 1997.

The first from 1995 was from Yankees scout John Cox.

Arm 55/60 Run 55/60 Baserunning 60 Hit 50/60 Power 40/55 Field 50 Hustle 60.
Prospect type: Outstanding
Average size, strong athletic body, has body strength. Will be solid player. Fair contact. Can drive ball. Solid avg arm. Good speed when underway. Still young.
Other comments: Average size, long arms and legs, well proportioned, appears heavier than 160. Good body strength. Hustles, plays hard, aggressive. "Grows" on you! Makes fair contact. Still trying to figure out breaking ball, can drive fastball. Tries to pull too much now. Needs to use the whole field. Should have average power in future. Solid avg speed. Better when underway, fun to watch go 1st to 3rd! Good arm - inconsistent - but when everything works is impressive. Still young. Learning to play. Has tools. Needs time.

The next from 1995 is from White Sox scout John Kazanas.

Physical description: Athletic actions, frame has chance to carry more strength.
Scout Judgements: Definite ML Prospect

Strong points: Outstanding approach to hitting, sweet short compact stroke w/outstanding balance, knowledge of K-zone, good 2-strike hitter, spray ball to all fields. Gap to gap guy, run well especially 1st to 3rd, arm avg to above w/ good carry and rot (rotation?), 4.16 speed to 1B, can play LF-RF fairly well occasionally gets good jumps.

Weak points: Not strong yet, pop not there for corner guy, occasionally does not get first step quickness stealing bases, trouble occasionally vs LHP front shoulder goes. Routes in OF still can get better - needs work in CF for experience.

Summation: Young good looking hitter. Mark Grace type and when strength comes he should be able to linedrive some HRs. Defense skills are a little short and experience will help improvement. 3 tool guy now with a high ceiling.

LD hitter. Contact 50. Quality contact 50. Instincts 50. Aggressiveness 55. Arm accuracy 55 strength 50. Base running instincts 50 1st step 45.

Attitude: Competes - knows he is good
Instincts: Still learning feeling out process

The final one is a short one from Cubs scout Hugh Alexander from about a month before Abreu was lost to the expansion draft. As a bonus, it includes looks at Scott Elarton and Richard Hidalgo.

Good looking young hitter. Average power. Good speed.