The Lancaster JetHawks are the Astros High-A farm team in the California League. For the last few years, Lancaster was the Red Sox' California League team. That changed for 2009 when the Astros changed their affiliation.
Jeff Lasky has been with the JetHawks for what is now his 4th season. As the Director of Broadcasting / Media Relations, Jeff has an everyday perspective on the Astros' prospects. Let's get to it:
AC: What differences have you noticed - if any - from the way the Red Sox handled their High-A team to the Astros' approach?
JL: There are some simple strategy things that are different. The Red Sox were a more patient team, grinding out more at bats, taking more pitches, trying to get into the bullpen that way. I think the Astros are a more aggressive team, looking to swing. The Astros run a lot more, although that may be the product of having so much speed on this team. We only had one player in two years with Boston steal 10 bases, and J.B. Shuck has already topped that. Because of the depth from the big league to the lower level of the minors, the Red Sox could afford to be very conservative in promoting players. The Astros are trying to be more aggressive in their promotions as they seek to fill out the system.
AC: Who do you come to the park excited to see play every day?
JL: I think Shuck is a lot of fun to watch. He handles the bat well with his ability to drive the ball the other way and bunt for hits. And he’s been very successful stealing bases. When he was here I would have said Chia-Jen Lo, as well.
AC: What is life like for a player in Lancaster, California?
JL: In most places there is so much of a grind that players don’t really get out and about all that much around town. Life consists of trying to get some sleep, going to work out, grabbing some lunch and maybe a nap, then heading to the ballpark. The Antelope Valley itself is a pretty quiet community and there aren’t a whole of lot extra-curriculars. But because we are in Los Angeles County, on off-days the players are close enough to be able to take advantage of all that L.A. offers, such as the beaches in Malibu, visits to Hollywood and Santa Monica, etc. I haven’t looked to see if the Astros come to Dodger Stadium in conjunction with an off-day, but it happened once with the Red Sox in Anaheim and a big group of players and staff went to the game.
AC: One of the signings we Astros fans were excited about this off-season was Chia-Jen Lo, what you can you tell us about him?
JL: Lo is the first big signing out of Taiwan for the Astros and he looks like a good one. He has a fastball that dominated at this level at 93 MPH or so with some movement and very good command. At this level with a fastball that good and command like that, you can get away with relying on it. At the higher levels, he’s going to have to establish his secondary pitches. We had a player here last year with Boston named Richie Lentz who through 94-96, but they forced him to throw a lot of sliders just to get feel with the pitch since they knew his fastball wouldn’t be enough once he moved up.
AC: How is Jason Castro handling his first season of professional baseball?
JL: Castro has done a very nice job in his first full-season. There is still a long way to go, of course, but what I have liked offensively is his consistency. He’s only had one mini-slump and has been pretty reliably hit around .275 this year. He’s got a handful of homers, but also a lot of doubles. He’s walked a little more as the season has gone on. He drives the ball well to the gaps. He’s been fabulous defensively. Blocks balls well and he is tops in the league by gunning out around 60% of base stealers. There is no doubt that teams are running less with him back there. It’s tough for me to judge pitch-calling, of course. That’s a big aspect of being a catcher that is tough to get a good feel for unless you’re on the team as a pitcher or coach.
Thanks Jeff, and hey! Only three more years until we can get see these guys in Astros uniforms!