Saturday, February 27, 2010

Bourn looking to work on his jump

Nice little article on Michael Bourn today, who is working on bunting more accurately, and getting a jump at 1B.

On bunting:
I know, in my own mind, that I messed up a lot of them. I popped up too many, I got out of the box too fast on some. That's something I came here to work on. That's very important to me, because everyone hits slumps. But if I'm in a slump and I really need to get a hit, I have that opportunity any time to lay one down, and maybe get going right there.

On those first three steps at first:
The first three steps are the key, the rest is just holding your speed. You look at the elite base stealers, like Jose Reyes, Carl Crawford, Willy Taveras. They're not just stupid-fast, but they're quick off the jump, and that quickness is what gets it. It's like a point guard in basketball trying to get by somebody. The first three steps are going to determine if he can get by him.

Justice v. Berkman

So Richard Justice and Lance Berkman had themselves a good sit-down. He spent a lot of time reassuring that he plays hard, and is a leader. What do we learn?

On the public's view of his work-ethic:
It's easy when the interview is on television for people to see it's said tongue-in-cheek. You say some of these things in the print media, and it comes off as serious. I probably should have been a little more guarded with some of my remarks. But I don't want to be a guy that hides behind cliches.

I would like for people to know I do work hard. I worked the whole off-season. The first thing I did was lose about 12 pounds. I follow Gene Coleman's program. They send us home with an off-season training manual.

On his weight:
I like to play at 220. At the end of the season, I was at 230. I was about 10 pounds heavier than I wanted to be. I'm getting older and it's harder to keep the weight off. I don't feel I've ever been fat or unathletic. I joke about it because that's how people perceive me. People tell me I look like I'm 300 pounds on television. I don't run pretty. I'm not the most fluid on the bases. I feel like I always play hard. I run hard. I do care about what we're doing here.

On "dogging it":
Like A-Rod. Until very recently, everything he said was scripted. I'm not going to tell you something because that's what you guys or the general public want to hear. I would hope the people that are truly fans would pay close enough attention to the way I play. I've never dogged it on the field my entire life. If you hit a ground ball to the second baseman, and he's standing there holding it, you may not run 100 percent through first base all the time. You're out halfway down the line. That kind of thing happens.

All I'm saying is that I feel like I've played hard, I've played hurt, I've been on the field, I want to win. I would hope that people that watch the games would know that just by watching.

On the clubhouse environment:
It was really bad. But I don't want people to blame that all on Coop. It was bad because I played bad. I wasn't as good as I can be. Roy was hurt and down. Nobody really played up to what they were supposed to. We had a lot of guys under-perform. In fact, the only guy to perform consistently well was Wandy. He pitched great. Outside of that, everybody had a down year, and that in and of itself creates a horrendous environment. I think people want to say it was the manager. It wasn't all his fault. Certainly, he has some responsibility in that because he was the manager. It was our fault.

McTaggart's Day 8 recap

McTaggart posted his recap of Survivor: Kissimmee, as rain shortened the fourth full-squad workout.

14 pitchers threw, but Mills was impressed with a few of them:
Among the pitchers Mills witnessed throwing, he liked what he saw from Wright, Loux and Byrdak.

And Jason "The Line Drive of Love" Michaels was inducted into the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame on Feb 19. So...congratulations.

Lancaster JetHawks: Jon Gaston

Jon Gaston
How did he get here?: Drafted, 7th Round (2008)
Stats: 6'0", 210 lbs, Bats/Throws: Left/Right
Age as of April 1, 2010: 23

2009 Overview


Career (2008-09)


What happened?

Your guess is as good as mine. Gaston broke out this year, after posting a .193/.292/.285 line at Tri-City. Whether it was conditioning, luck, or thin air. His BABIP in Tri-City was .271, compared to a .331 BABIP in Lancaster. He struck out at a similar rate in Lexington, it's just that the balls made their way out of the park a lot more (35 HR in 2009, compared to two in Tri-City).

Gaston fits the mold of a power-hitting corner outfielder, but committed nine errors in LF/RF, with 16 outfield assits in 121 games.

What went right?

Because of his stint in the Arizona Fall League (.239/.358/.457, 9XBH-19RBI), we don't have his splits from Lancaster. But the increase in power is staggering over what we saw in his first full professional season.

What went wrong?

Against LHP in the AFL, Gaston hit .100/.250/.100 in 20ABs. It's not a big sample size, but the 60% K-Rate is alarming. He does strike out quite a bit, but draws enough walks/has enough power to offset that liability. As with Clemens, we'll be closely watching in 2010.

Lancaster JetHawks: David Flores

David Flores
How did he get here?: Drafted, 18th Round (2008)
Stats: 6'2", 220 lbs, Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Age as of April 1, 2010: 23

2009 Overview


Career (2008-09)


What happened?

Flores had at least three stints on the DL in 2009, leading to him only playing in 72 games for the JetHawks, and just one game after July 20. When he was in the lineup, he had some trouble getting on base. All three of his slash line numbers dropped (.266/.319/.495 for Tri-City in 2008), and he drew five walks all season long. Flores skipped Lexington, so maybe a repeat visit to Lancaster isn't the worst thing.

Flores did improve his defense from '08 to '09, spending all but one game at 3B, committing 12 errors in 160 chances for a .925 Fld%. This is an increase from 2008's .873 Fld%.

What went right?

April. Flores posted his highest OPS split in April, starting the season with a .277/.319/.385 line

What went wrong?

Injuries. I'm not sure what was injured, and if it was hampering him throughout the season. In 2008, Flores hit .315 against LHP, and .243 in 2009. Again, not sure if skipping a level hurt him, or if he was nursing an injury.

Feliz a major upgrade

Bernardo Fallas has an interesting article on new 3B1 Pedro Feliz.

And just by glancing at the stat sheet — Feliz's .970 fielding percentage at the hot corner over the past three seasons ranks third best in the majors over that span — Astros' brass is confident that, when teamed with new shortstop Tommy Manzella, he offers an instant upgrade on the left side of the infield.

“We want to be able to give guys like Pedro Feliz and Kaz Matsui a day off here and there. You got guys like Keppinger and Blum who are very professional players and to be able to have those guys fill in and give those guys a breather, that's nice to have...

He's arguably one of the best third basemen in the National League, if not the majors. Any time you can get a guy like that, such a solid defensive player and bring the experience that he has into this mix, it sure helps shore up that left side of the infield.”

Similar to how we all were thinking, Fallas thinks Feliz will bat 6th or 7th. If that's true, here's how your lineup may look:

1. Bourn
2. Matsui
3. Berkman
4. Lee
5. Pence
6. Feliz
7. Towles/Castro
8. Manzella

If it's Towles coming out as C1, could see him batting 6th, with Feliz batting 7th. If it's Castro, I could envision Mills flipping them to take some pressure off Castro in the #6 spot.

Berkman on HGH testing

Fallas Notes column makes another appearance, this time for Berkman's view of the possibility of an HGH test in baseball:

I think it's good. We have educational sessions here on the minor league side just to make sure our players understand the program and what it entails, what they can and can't take, and we try to make sure they understand the parameters for that program...

...Over the years I think we have done a good job, but players sometimes make bad decisions. I think we have to continue to find ways to improve the program, and this is one more step.”

Fallas then notes that Mitch Einertson and Gabe Garcia have received 50-game suspensions for banned substances. While this is true, it should be pointed out that Garcia was suspended for Nandrolone, an anabolic steroid. Einertson was suspended for a "drug of abuse," not a performance-enhancing drug.

Mills impressed by Paulino, C-Lo

Part of Fallas' Notes column this morning sees Brad Mills impressed by Felipe Paulino and Chia-Jen Lo:

On Paulino:
(He) threw the ball pretty well. To have the velocity he has and to have the command he had today was the biggest thing.”

On C-Lo:
The ball came out of his hand really well. It had some good life on it and a really good finish. That's good to see, especially with this being his first live (batting practice).”

So an exercise in age and numbers here, if you will. Last year the average Opening Day age of the pitching staff throwing in at least 20 games was 31.4 (15 pitchers). That's pretty old.

The Astros have rid themselves (through pink slips or retirement) of Russ Ortiz, Mike Hampton, LaTroy Hawkins, Jose Valverde, Doug Brocail, whose average age was 36. We can't predict who will throw 20 games, but if we can reasonably expect the following:

Roy Oswalt (32)
Wandy Rodriguez (31)
Brett Myers (31)
Bud Norris (25)
Felipe Paulino (26)

Tim Byrdak (36)
Chris Sampson (32)
Alberto Arias (26)
Jeff Fulchino (30)
Brandon Lyon (30)
Matt Lindstrom (30)
Brian Moehler (38)
Wesley Wright (25)
Sam Gervacio (25)

This is, admittedly, a projection based on 2009, and doesn't take into account that Wesley Wright could very well be sent to Round Rock to become a starting pitcher. ANYway, with this loose list, the average Opening Day age is 27.6.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Paulino has "the best pitch in baseball"

Of course, there's a caveat.

Brad Arnsberg to Felipe Paulino:
"Your fastball is the best pitch in baseball if it's properly located. The velocity is second to me. You need to be able to locate."

We all know how Paulino and Quintero got together and started eating vegetables, but Paulino comes into camp with some confidence:
"My stuff is great. I'm a power pitcher and a power arm, and last year I threw everything hard, and this year I am trying to change it to slow, hard, slow, hard. I think that is going to work this year...

...I started working out and tried to be confident all the time. When you have the pitches, [you have to] be confident. You know Houston is going to give me the ball every five days, and you're going to be more confident and stronger in your mind when you pitch the game."

"You know that type of arm when things come together is pretty significant. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't, but I think a lot of it has to do with giving yourself the best chance to succeed, and I think the approach he's taken during the offseason and the focus that he's brought into camp is an indication he's going to give himself a chance to succeed. It's competition. He's got to rise to the occasion."

"I think we'd really like a guy with the ability he has and the talent he has to go ahead and take the bull by the horns and do it. So we're going to wait and see. But a guy with his skills, if he has to go back and develop those a little bit more because of his age, that's not hurting us at all. If it takes a little time to develop and come up and be an everyday starter, that will happen. At the same time, you'd love to have a guy with that type of arm in the rotation."

Ken Rosenthal envisions the NL Southwest

Yep, under Rosenthal's proposal, the Astros would play in the NLSW with the Rockies, Rangers, D-Backs, and Padres.

We talked about realignment last season. What do you think?

Scott Miller's Five Things to Know About the Astros

And some of these are new to me:

1. The Astros look different, but aren't rebuilding. Berkman:
We are not in a rebuilding mode. We've got guys here who can really do things. I think our pitching staff is a lot better than it was a year ago. Our defense is good. Health is a big factor. We've got some older guys who are going to be called on. We've got to stay healthy. Roy (Oswalt) has to stay on the mound."

Question: What's different about the pitching staff from last year to this year? Moehler doesn't have a guaranteed spot? Valverde and Hawkins are gone?

2. 2009's offense sucked. More Berkman:
"Offensively, I really could care less. We went to the World Series with probably the worst offense in history. So you can throw that out right there. If we have pitching and defense, we have enough offense to support that."

Read: All we need to keep the other team to is one run. We got that.

3-5: I have no idea what Miller is saying...

Jeebus. 2000 prospects

MiLB Prospects put out their 2000 prospects for 2010. Could they not have found ten more to make it all clever and what not? Anyhow, here are your Astros:

#24: Jordan Lyles
#50: Jason Castro
#58: Jiovanni Mier
#143: Ross Seaton
#228: Chia-Jen Lo
#261: Koby Clemens
#302: Collin Delome
#309: Jay Austin
#337: Jon Gaston
#371: Kyle Greenwalt
#385: Jack Shuck
#468: T.J. Steele
#481: Sam Gervacio
#489: Jose Altuve
#507: Brian Bogusevic
#543: Jose Vallejo
#571: Chris Johnson
#596: Luca Martone
#601: Brad Dydalewicz
#602: Chad Reineke
#637: Tanner Bushue
#754: Henry Villar
#776: Polin Trinidad
#855: Chris Hicks
#865: Tommy Manzella (validity of list now in question)
#957: Telvin Nash
#1000: Dallas Keuchel
#1065: Fernando Abad
#1114: Mitch Einertson
#1112: Jonathan Mejia
#1138: Sergio Perez
#1155: Jonathan Meyer
#1205: Enderson Franco
#1206: Kilby Pena
#1229: Arcenio Leon
#1250: Leandro Cespedes
#1266: Danny Meszaros
#1277: Enrique Hernandez
#1316: Matt Nevarez
#1336: Yuri Perez
#1421: Wilton Lopez
#1442: J.D. Marintez
#1443: David Duncan
#1499: B.J. Hyatt
#1593: Mike Schurz
#1594: Evan Englebrook
#1595: Edgar Ferreira
#1635: Enrique Hernandez
#1636: Brad James
#1729: Chan-Jong Moon
#1730: Alexander Martinez
#1731: Alejandro de la Rosa
#1750: Phil Disher
#1803: Ashton Mowdy
#1885: Erik Castro
#1892: Brandt Walker
#1893: Zach Grimmett
#1924: Brian Kemp
#1925: Yorman Bazardo
#1953: Brandon Wikoff
#1957: Darwin Rivera
#1996: Garen Wright
#2018: Ben Orloff
#2023: Ronald Sanchez
#2025: Jake Goebbert
#2028: Jarrod Holloway

If you want a good read, check out the comments at the bottom of the post. Let's just take this for what it is...

Wait. It can't that the Astros in the New York Times?

The New York Times' Tyler Kepner was able to tear himself away from the Yankees long enough to write a good article about Brad Mills. It's a lot of stuff we've heard from the Houston media, but here's a good story:

Mills was Francona’s detail man, coordinating spring training and poring through scouting reports for every series. With opposing runners on base, it was Mills’s job to signal for a pickoff move.

In the eighth inning of Game 2 of the 2007 World Series, with the Red Sox leading by a run against Colorado, Mills relayed a scouting report that said Matt Holliday, the runner at first base, might try to steal. Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon rarely throws to first, but on Mills’s tip, he whirled and picked off Holliday.

“It’s one thing to have our scouts provide that information, but at some point that has to translate and be applied in the game,” said John Farrell, the Red Sox’ pitching coach. “That’s where Brad’s attention to detail would not let anything be overlooked.”

Manzella signs deal

Alyson Footer is reporting that Tommy Manzella signed a one-year deal worth $400,000.

McTaggart brings the noise

McTaggart's recap has a whole bunch of stuff to note.

Arnsberg's philosophy = start down in the zone and work up:
"It's easier to get over the top of the bat where they're getting the bottom half of the ball, so pop-ups and grounds are the key to winning."

A week-long Minor-League Mini Camp starts today! Who will be there?
LHPs (6) - Douglas Arguello, Brad Dydalewicz, Dallas Keuchel, Ross Seaton, Jon Switzer, Patrick Urckfitz.

RHPs (10) - Tanner Bushue, Matt Ginter, Kyle Godfrey, Kyle Greenwalt, Chris Hicks, Jordan Lyles, Dan Meszaros, Juan Minaya, Sergio Perez, Brandt Walker.

Catchers (4) - Luis Alvarez, Rene Garcia, Frederico Hernandez, David Williams.

IFs (8) - Jose Altuve, Erik Castro, Koby Clemens, Phil Disher, Enrique Hernandez, Jonathan Meyer, Jiovanni Mier, Brandon Wikoff.

OFs (9) - Jay Austin, David Cook, Collin Delome, Jonathan Gaston, Andrew Locke, J.D. Martinez, Telvin Nash, J.B. Shuck, T.J. Steele.

Alyson Footer's Touching Base debuts

Each Friday throughout the Spring, Alyson Footer will provide a new segment called Touching Base, with a different Astro coach. Today, it's Brad Arnsberg.

Arnsberg's Spring Training work day starts at 5 a.m. and ends 11 or 12 hours later. He has charts to study, data to input, schedules to organize. When he was hired, the Astros' video coordinator, Jim Summers, sent Arnsberg a hard drive of every game the Astros played last year, and he got to work, studying deliveries and pitching motions in a cram session if sorts as he prepared to begin a new Spring Training with a brand new set of students.

"My early days here, it's more about putting the name with the face and putting a face with the delivery I've seen. Mostly just get my feet on the ground and get to know the guys and start to build the pitcher-coach-pitcher bond with the group. I try to establish that real family feel early in camp. I try to go out of my way to get all 28, 29 guys into games as early as possible.

Right now, it's Baseball 101, baseball awareness. Jam sessions on the mound. Most guys are rotating through skill work, doing more mind work and trying to stay ahead of the game. Knowing bunt plays, knowing our signs from the catchers as far as pickoffs and pitch-outs. Knowing when our catcher is throwing through to second base rather than coming up and throwing to third. Those kinds of things to stay a step ahead."

Something you didn't (want to) know:
He loves watching the Winter Olympics. Favorite event? Ice Dancing.

Just when he was about to get a +4, he ends up with a -3.

Lancaster JetHawks: Craig Corrado

Craig Corrado
How did he get here?: Drafted, 14th Round (2007)
Stats: 6'2", 285 lbs, Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Age as of April 1, 2010: 25

2009 Overview


Career (2007-09)


What happened?

Despite playing in the oft-mentioned hitter's park in Lancaster, Corrado posted career lows in batting average and OBP, and his SLG dropped from .349 at Lexington to .326 in Lancaster. He also didn't run as much as he did in 2008, after stealing 43 bases (with only 5CS), Corrado stole 14 bases, and was caught 10 times.

Corrado spent 85 of his 91 games in the field at 2B, committing 10 errors in 361 chances for a nice little .972 Fld%.

What went right?

The second-half of the season. Prior to the All-Star Break, Corrado was hitting .200/.243/.286, but came back to hit .299/.312/.371 over the course of the second half. Corrado also is a pretty slick-fielding second baseman, improving his Fld% from .947 at 2B in Lexington to .972 at Lancaster.

What went wrong?

The lack of walks. Corrado walked once for every 29.6 plate appearances, and for a guy who is apparently as speedy as he seemed in 2008, he should be getting on base more than that.

Lancaster JetHawks: Jordan Comadena

Jordan Comadena
How did he get here?: Signed as free agent, February 2009
Stats: 5'10", 210 lbs, Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Age as of April 1, 2010: 24

2009 Overview


Jimmy Wynn discovered Comadena, who had a decent career at Purdue, and played independent ball before being signed by the Astros. 2009 was his first year in affiliated baseball, and he didn't see much playing time.

What happened?

He was behind Castro and Clemens at Lancaster, so understandably he didn't see much time behind the plate or at bat.

What went right?

Comadena didn't show much pop, getting just two doubles in 15 hits, and it's hard to evaluate a guy who got 80 plate appearances.

What went wrong?

Being assigned to Lancaster. Stuck behind the Astros' #1 prospect for part of the season, and then being behind the guy who was busy hitting .800 really hurt him. Statistically, he threw out just two out of 32 baserunners, for a 6% success rate.

Are you a gambling man?

If so (I'm not), head over to Vegas Watch, where they've posted Over/Unders on the total number of wins for all 30 MLB teams. Check the NL Central:

St. Louis: 88
Chicago: 83
Milwaukee: 80.5
Cincinnati: 78
Houston: 77
Pittsburgh: 71

First three ST contests set

McTaggart is reporting that Brett Myers will get the start for the first Spring Training game next Thursday against Washington.

Wandy will get the second start against Detroit on Friday, and Roy will start Saturday against the Braves. Norris, Paulino, and Moehler will get the other three starts.

"We're going to have some guys piggyback and switch back and forth as we go along. That's where we are right now the first three days."

Bazardo and Wesley Wright will get starts in B-Team games and Split Squad games.

Lancaster JetHawks: Koby Clemens

Koby Clemens
How did he get here?: Drafted, 8th Round (2005)
Stats: 5'11", 193 lbs, Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Age as of April 1, 2010: 24

2009 Overview (with five games at Corpus)


Career (2005-09)


What happened?

This was obviously the breakout year that Clemens had been waiting for. He doesn't really have a position, and will try a whole bunch of them as he moves to Corpus in 2010. A few things to note, before we get into the Lancaster Effect on his stats: His XBH/H rate increased in 2009, but not dramatically (40% to 48%), and his K/PA rate stayed largely the same.

It is worth mentioning that, while Clemens hit .352/.425/.662 at Lancaster, he also hit .338/.412/.610 on the road, and had more extra-base hits on the road than he did at Lancaster.

What went right?

A whole lot of things, but let's discuss three: (1) "Clutch" situations. With the bases empty, Clemens hit .287/.364/.587. With runners on, he hit .406/.472/.739, and with RISP, Clemens hit .447/.494/.837. (2) Post-ASG. Clemens got better as the year went on. Pre-ASG, Clemens it .313/.389/.497 with 22 extra-base hits in 47 games. After the ASG, Clemens hit .365/.437/.723 with 51 XBHs (19 homers, compared to three pre-ASG). (3) BABIP. Clemens benefited from a .412 BABIP, which is ridiculously high, meaning he learned how to hit to the gaps (his doubles rose from 29 in 2008 to 45 in 2009), or his groundballs found holes. While 2009 was a surprise, 2010 is crucial to his status as a prospect.

What went wrong?

How do you even pick this? Don't know? Neither do I.

Oh, that Brett Myers...

KHOU has a little profile on Brett Myers:

"I like to refer to guys like him like their hair is on fire all the time. He pitches like his hair is on fire and he runs like his hair is on fire."

Wesley Wright:
"He brings a lighter side to the game and he allows everyone to get their work done and have fun at the same time."

Hopefully I can bring some of my work ethic to some of the guys around here. You know, I’m not going to be shy to get in someone’s rear end if I have to because I want to win."

Personally I would prefer for someone to get in my face than my rear end, but to each his own. But here's your money quote, when asked if his off-season was tumultuous:

"I don’t even know what that word mean man, you’re throwing big words at me man. I am just a good ‘ol southern boy man, I don’t know any of those big words. It’s not in any book I read."

Jason Bourgeois hearts the Astros

Bernardo Fallas reports that OF Jason Bourgeois - whose father worked in the Astrodome ticket office - loves the Astros. But he's working on his approach to 2010:

"I want to come in and make an impression. It's a new start for me. I don't have too much big league time, so I just want to come in and prove that I can play at this level...

...Pinch-hitting is something I have to adjust to. That's something I worked and concentrated on during the offseason, being able to hit more, first pitch, and I just kind of want to implement that this spring."

Drayton is finding his way in this big, big world

Richard Justice's article paints a picture of a Drayton McLane skipping across Houston, turning, and waving, inviting you to join him.

“There's not just one dimension in life. I'm 72 and think about other things you can do. What do you want to do next in your career, in your life? Can you make a meaningful difference? That's how I've tried to measure my life. I think particularly at my age we've got to hand off to the next generation better than we've done it."

And on changing his ownership style:
It's a huge financial investment, and we haven't played well the last two, three years. We've made some bad choices. The more I work with Ed, the more confidence I get in his ability. I really have a huge amount of confidence in him. We needed a manager that could lift this club, and I think we got it in Brad Mills. I need to see how they function, and maybe I'll spend less time with them and get more involved with other projects.”

On 2010:
“This is going to be a bigger challenge than last year. The economy has not rebounded. People may have jobs, but they're cautious about how they spend their money. I just think we're going to have to play well and sell hard. We're going to have to work harder running the franchise.”

In an article like this, it's hard to see Drayton selling the team, even though Drayton has apparently approached his sons, who aren't sold on running the Astros (who are these guys? And where can we smack some sense into them?). Justice also reports that Drayton doesn't yet have a buyer. And as we've seen, the Astros' payroll will decline siginificantly over the next 3-4 years. So if they can stay competitive with a $95m payroll, Astros fans should continue to come to Minute Maid - though not in the ways they did in 2006, or even 200 - until the payroll shifts dramatically.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Richard Justice's excellent column on Wade

Richard Justice turned in an excellent column on Ed Wade. I'm not even going to pull anything from it.

And I'm still working on that In Defense of Ed Wade post...

"Bees in the handles" and other baseball sayings I've never heard

Ed Wade once said that Pudge Rodriguez "put good fingers down." That's a ridiculous thing to say, but I'm assuming he means that it means that Pudge could call a good game.

We can add Brad Mills' "bees in the handles" to that list of perplexing baseball sayings:

"Also on a day like this it's so cold you start taking some swings and you're going to have some bees in the handles, but I thought everything went well. I thought it was good to see the pitchers get through their routine and get their work in."

One person it did go well for was the aforementioned Chris Johnson, who broke Hunter Pence's windshield with a home run.

Cory Sullivan:
"The conditions aren't what you expected, but it's good to get back in the swing of things. They're anxious to get the opportunity to throw to hitters and we're anxious to see some pitchers. It's a tough scenario, but you get used to it. Every year you're still uncomfortable, so you're not used to it. Your timing is a little bit off. It's tough when you're timing is not on. It's always good to get in a few track pitchers at that pace and that situation."

-Mills threw a round of BP, and caught at 1B for Manzella, who hurt his hand:
"That ball's got good carry. The last one about tore up my hand. It hurt. It was freezing out there, so I said I'm not going to take his throws anymore."

-Brandon Lyon threw for 12 minutes on flat ground, and won't get on a mound until the middle of next week.

Chris Johnson: Swearing at depth chart

(But not really)

In McTaggart's afternoon article we get a glimpse of Chris Johnson, bordering on despair.

Johnson, on advice from his father:
"He said, 'Everything's fine, don't worry about who they've got at third base, just worry about yourself and get your work done and be ready when they call your name,'" Johnson said. "That's my goal. I know what I can do, and when they give me that shot, I know that I'm going to be ready."

Ed Wade:
"We had an opportunity to add a run-producing third baseman and an outstanding player in Feliz, and we took advantage of it, and we still think Chris can be our third baseman of the future and can still make the club out of Spring Training. The message would be to put your best foot forward and see where it all leads. If it doesn't work out that way and he ends up going to Triple-A, he won't be the first guy who's had to wait his turn...

...Our hope is in the future we have a lot of guys knocking on the door, having to wait to get their opportunity here. We think Chris has a chance to be an outstanding big league player. Our feeling hasn't changed about him at all, but if you have a chance to go out and get a guy like Feliz, it makes sense to go ahead and do that and let the chips fall where they may."

That part, the "our hope is that we have a lot of guys having to wait" amuses me. He's right, but it's a funny way to put it.

Johnson, on what he's working on:
"I'm the kind of guy who wants to be aggressive. I want to get the big hit, and sometimes you're going to have to take your walks, and that's one of the things I'm trying to work on."

Johnson is absolutely right. He has a career 3.53 K:BB ratio, and that's going to have to come way down. He drew a walk every 19.9 plate appearances (83 walks in 1650 plate appearances). That's not a good ratio.

If indeed he's back at Triple-A, that's why it's called player development. We're not foreclosing the possibility he ends up here. There is depth there at that position, but he needs to come out and compete and see where it leads."

Interesting note on Castro/Towles

The Race for Round Rock kicks off with the C1 position in question. USA Today has an interesting note on how Mills will decide:

Houston manager Brad Mills will watch the duo closely, comparing everything from their hitting stances to their arm strength to the way they talk with pitchers. While Towles has the edge in experience, Castro arrives with the label as one of the franchise's most coveted prospects.

MLB Network and Astros ST games

Captip to Bleed Cubbie Blue for the schedule, here are the Astros games the MLB Network will be televising (times are Central):

March 9 - 12pm - @ Mets
March 18 - 12pm - @ Tigers
March 31 - 8pm - @ Braves
April 3 - 8pm - vs. Blue Jays

One note, though, via BCB:
The press release says these games will be blacked out in each team's home territory -- that doesn't make any sense if the games aren't being carried in the home markets, but leave it to MLB to do something that makes no sense. It also makes no sense for tape-delayed games. The complete MLB Network spring schedule after the jump.

Nocturnal Emissions: Volume 4

Nocturnal Emissions is a series in which members of the media gush over some member of the Astros with no real reason.

Richard Justice gets in on the NE with a column on Roy Oswalt.

As bad as things got around the Astros last season — and they were very bad at times — Roy O. never lost his love of baseball. He never stopped trying, never stopped caring...

Yes, he was unhappy at times. Through it all, though, there were still those moments when he got to walk out to the mound and do the thing he loves more than almost anything else in the world. None of the ugliness and losing could touch his love of that one thing. If you thought otherwise, he wants you to know you're absolutely wrong.

He tried to be above it all. Lord knows, he wanted to be above it all. He wanted to be the tough-as-a-cheap-steak country boy who did his job and didn't worry about the tension and incompetence around him.

He couldn't. He got caught up in a losing environment. He won't say it publicly, but he had no use — and very little respect — for either the manager (Cecil Cooper) or the pitching coach (Dewey Robinson).

He'd come up through the minor league system when the Astros won at every level, and losing chewed him up and spit him out at times. He remembered when the Astros were considered among the smartest, classiest and most successful teams in baseball, and then here they were, just losing and losing and losing.

Run-DMc was about ready to suit up

In McTaggart's article on Mills' first team-wide speech, ol' Drayton was ready to suit up and be a champion:

"In my 18 years here, that was by far the best comments and talk by a manager that Brad Mills gave to the players and his expectations of them...Forcefulness, his upbeat attitude, and that he's a take-charge kind of guy. He really said he's going to provide the leadership that's necessary."

"It was good. It was the first day and everybody was getting introduced. That was the main thing, getting introduced to the coaching staff. It was a good meeting...I'm certainly more interested to see how the atmosphere is going to be. It's always good to see everybody you haven't seen for a while in the winter and meet the new guys. This is an exciting time of year."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Carlos Lee: Last to show up, maintains party line

What with the subtle digs (last player to show up, "relatively good shape") at Carlos Lee, Brian McTaggart provides us with the quotes that everyone else has been providing:

On Mills:
He seems like a guy who really likes to have fun and is really going to enjoy the game. We had a chance to meet today, this morning, and we went over some things about the team and what I think. We had a really good conversation."

On the off-season:
"The group of guys we've got here are capable of going all the way. We just need to stay healthy. That's the big factor. Just keep the group together for as long as we can. We've got a good group. We've got veterans, we've got young guys, and the veterans need to set an example and try to teach the guys the right way to do it."

On 2010:
"It's going to take everybody to do their part, and I've got to prepare as good as I can and try to do my best, but who knows what's going to happen. I'm going to prepare myself and try to go out there and do my best, and that's all I can say. I can't say I'm going to drive in 120 or hit 40 homers, but every time I go out there, I'm going to give 100 percent. I want to play as many games as I can and see what happens at the end."

Talk: 1
Actions: 0 (so far)

Rob Neyer has some things to say about Berkman

Regarding Lance Berkman's contract year, Rob Neyer has an interesting take:

...As annoyed as Berkman might be, the Astros have every reason to let things play out, see what the Lance Berkman of 2010 tells them about the Lance Berkman of 2011. Considering the recent market for sluggers in their mid-30s -- Berkman turned 34 two weeks ago -- he'll have a great financial incentive to play well this year...

...But how often is Berkman mentioned in the same breath as those others? First he was overshadowed by the original Killer B's, and then by the Astros' descent into irrelevance.

That doesn't mean Berkman is irrelevant. He's been an outstanding player for a long time, and in addition to five 100-RBI seasons he's also scored 100 runs in five seasons (and yes, those count too, even for power hitters). Thanks to a late professional start, because he went to college, Berkman hasn't piled up the big counting stats yet and probably won't reach 2,500 hits (stupid walks!) or 500 home runs (stupid line-drive doubles!), and thus probably has very little chance of getting into the Hall of Fame. But if he puts together another five or six good seasons, some of us will be making our best cases for him.

Live BP tomorrow, and more deelz

Within McTaggart's recap of today's practice, we find out a few things:

-Pitchers will throw live BP tomorrow for the first time. Today was the first day the hitters took BP.

Each pitcher will throw live batting practice every other day before getting a couple of days off and playing an intra-squad game March 3, on the eve of the Grapefruit League opener against the Washington Nationals. Among those scheduled to throw live batting practice on Thursday will be Roy Oswalt, Matt Lindstrom, Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers.

-The Astros have agreed to $400,000 deals with Wilton Lopez and Fernando Abad (kind of hard not to go ahead and get him signed after today's article)

The deadline to sign players to a contract who are on the 40-man roster is next Wednesday.

Those on the 40-man roster who have not signed contracts for 2010:
Jose Valdez, Wesley Wright, Edwin Maysonet, Wladimir Sutil. If I'm wrong about these, let me know.

UPDATE: Bernardo Fallas says the following players have yet to agree: Manzella, Wright, Maysonet, and Bud Norris.

Profile on Albert Cartwright

Hey. Here's a nice little profile on minor-leaguer Albert Cartwright:

Reporter Brent Stubbs:
Cartwright, whose journey took him from Queen's College and Freedom Farm where he started as a catcher to Heritage High School where he was transferred to the outfield, is now playing for a role as a second baseman in the Astros' minor league pipeline.

"I feel good. Last year, I was hitting the ball pretty good until I broke my arm. But I'm back now. So I hope to have a much better season. It's tough, but you have to think about it as a game. And going out there, I just try to have as much fun as I can and not try to put too much pressure on myself...

...Sometimes you think about it and start to put pressure on yourself. But you just have to put in your mind that if you make it, you make it. If you don't, you don't. If it's my time, I know I will make it. In spring training, we're just trying to secure our jobs. The best players in spring training are probably the ones who will start during the regular season. There's a lot of players, like about 2-3 in each position, so you have to go out there and work hard. But I really try to enjoy the whole aspect of the game."

How does he feel now?
"I came back a little too early and I kind of struggled a bit. But it's fine. I'm back to 100 per cent and I'm ready to play."

Berkman: Contract Year

Berkman knows that he will make $2m next year, no matter what. Whether he makes the extra $13m is up to him, and he knows it.

“It may come down to a situation where if things don’t go well they don’t pick up my option, then I probably won’t be back. If they don’t pick it up, I’ll probably take my ball and go home...

...If they don’t pick up my option, then to me that says they may like me to come back at a discount but they don’t really want me. If that’s the case, then I’ll just see what else it’s out there.”

On 2009:
“It was definitely toward the bottom of my statistical performance in years past. Batting average was definitely down, but if you want to go down a list of numbers, heck, on-base percentage was OK, and the home runs and the RBIs for missing a month weren’t too bad. It just wasn’t a very good year. This will be my 12th year, so, heck, if I had 11 great years, that would be unusual. You’re going to have a couple of years when things don’t go well and last year was one of them. I don’t expect it’s going to have a lasting impact.”

I think Berkman is wrong on one point. If the Astros decline his option, it won't mean that they don't want him back. I think there will always be room on the Astros roster for Berkman. They just won't want to pay him $15m. And you know what? If Berkman's 2010 goes like 2009 (and granted, he did pretty well, given the injuries and slow first-third of the season), no one will pay him $15m.

New Poll!

Ed Wade's extension tied to impending sale?

Jon Heyman's Daily Scoop has an out-loud question regarding Ed Wade's extension:

Maybe I'm being cynical, but I'm wondering if GM Ed Wade's two-year extension through 2012 is a clue that the Astros may be about to sell. It might be Drayton McLane's gift to Wade for being a good soldier (as opposed to a good GM) right before McLane unloads the team (and Wade). McLane has been in talks about selling the team to Harvey Schiller and Marc Isaacson.

What do you think?

Highlights from Jason Castro chat

Jason Castro stopped by Baseball America yesterday to participate in a chat. What were some of the highlights?

-For the most part I feel that I just need to continue to get repetitions behind the plate this spring and continue to refine the subtleties of catching. In addition, continuing to gain the trust and build working relationships with the pitching staff in order to work more efficiently on the field.

-I have put in a lot of work this past year and offseason to really round out my game offensively and defensively. I have made some big strides to polish my skills behind the plate (blocking, receiving, calling a game) while continuing to adjust offensively to the levels of competition I have come up against in the recent past.

-This offseason was a good one for the Astros as we were able to make some important acquisitions to strengthen not only the pitching staff but the line up as well. If everything happens the way it should I feel that this is the year to make it back in the hunt for the playoffs.

-A few guys who i've had the opportunity to catch who have a combination of good stuff and makeup this past year are Chris Hicks, Danny Meszaros, and Chia-Jen Lo. They all had solid years last year and continued to get better as the year went on.

-I think as I continue to get stronger with age and with continued work i can see myself being able to add some more power to my game as well as the ability to hit for a good average.

-I think that my development in the past year and a half has greatly increased ever since I signed with the Astros. Catching coordinator with the Astros Danny Sheaffer has helped me quite a bit since i signed and given me a lot of advice to get where i am today.

Click the link for the full chat.

Will Leitch previews the Astros

Deadspin Editor Emeritus Will Leitch is previewing all 30 MLB teams for Deadspin. Today's post is titled "The Charming Incompetence of Ed Wade." It's as pretty as it sounds, drawing a comparison to Isiah Thomas.

Ed Wade is the Astros general manager, and he is current Public Enemy No. 1 in sabermetric schools. The reasons are obvious. The Astros minor league system is a mess, the team is old and overpaid and there seems to be no resolution in sight. Wade is one of those old baseball men that sabermetrics folks have had in their crosshairs for years, and he's one of the last ones left. That he has hung on this long might be related to how he started his career, in public relations. Whereas most teams now realize that building the farm system, keeping young players around and cost controlled, understanding your window of opportunity and punting when it's closed ... Wade and the Astros do none of that. This is a team that employed Darin Erstad last season. Wade is spending cash to tread water, to sneak through a door that slammed shut years ago.

It gets worse from there. I'm working on an "In Defense of Ed Wade" manifesto, and this is forthcoming. Can we all be wrong about Ed Wade?

Bullpen Update

There's a nice little Notes column this morning, regarding various members of the bullpen:

“I'd love to be the closer. But it is something that has to be earned. The expectations I put on myself outweigh what the Astros put on me, I think. I know they expect a lot of me, but I expect a lot of myself, so I'm going to work hard and work on my stuff, and we'll see what happens.”

Threw off flat ground Monday for eight minutes.

Fulchino, via Brad Mills:
“We might have him stay out of a few drills (today). But as far as throwing drills, that's when it bothers him the least.”

Casey Daigle:
Has been working out without discomfort after spraining his ankle.

Tri-City pitching coach Gary Ruby video

Behold, the video from Tri-City pitching coach Gary Ruby (uploaded by the ValleyCats)

Attaboy, Carlos

Bernardo Fallas is tweeting:

It's looking to be a looooong day for Carlos Lee, who reported for the first time to camp this morning. He left Panama at 4 this morning.

Are you freaking kidding me? Let's first give him credit for showing up on time. But it's not like he didn't know today was coming. I once had a roommate in college who studied abroad in Germany, and moved into the house at 7:45am the day classes started. It was funny.

What's the difference? Well, he didn't get $18 million to study. And his first day of class was for crap.

Options: Paulino has them, the Astros...not so much

Bernardo Fallas' article on the need for Felipe Paulino to step up is not lost on Felipe Paulino. Or Ed Wade.

Paulino has an option left, meaning he can get sent back to Round Rock this year. If he gets optioned to Round Rock again, he'll have to clear waivers in 2011 - which might be difficult.

Ed Wade:
“You dream of those kinds of arms. He's got the tools and the repertoire. Having Paulino step up would be a big plus for the organization. It's getting close to high noon.”

“No one wants to reach that limit (running out of options). Last year was a true learning experience. I had an inconsistent year, lots of highs and lows. As a professional, you always want to improve...

...Staying (in Houston) and putting in the work was the right decision. I'm proud because I have felt really good physically and mentally (in camp) and well prepared to fight for a spot and win it.”

And Humberto Quintero helped him lose weight:
“We were a bit overweight, so I talked to him as a countryman and friend,” Quintero said. “I told him to stay and work with me. We made a deal, and it's paid off; we're in excellent shape entering this spring training.”

“It has been a team effort between families,” Paulino said. The wives got in the act, too, with Quintero's wife, Michelle, helping both develop diets and Paulino's wife, Paola, helping him stick to it.

Sleeper Pick: Fernando Abad

Alden Gonzalez' article has a tip for you: keep an eye on Fernando Abad.

Abad has spent pretty much his entire three-year Minor League career as a reliever, but late in the 2009 season, he was converted back into a starter. And though he's projected to begin the 2010 campaign with Double-A Corpus Christi, he could be a member of the Astros' rotation soon enough -- maybe even at some point during the upcoming season.

Ricky Bennett:
"He's really getting close. I think one thing that he does well is throw strikes. If you look throughout the course of his career, he's always shown the ability to throw strikes. [His stuff is] not overpowering, but it's in the strike zone, it's deceptive, and he's got some movement on his two-seamer, so all those things you look at as a left-hander. And when you compete and you throw the ball over the plate, you make the hitters put the ball in play. And that's what he does."

Mills has taken notice, as well:
"You look at the numbers that he puts together, the command that he has really stands out. And any time you can get a left-handed pitcher with the command he has, that's a nice thing to see."

"I have a clear head. I know there are other veterans ahead of me. They know I throw strikes and I'll get outs anywhere. So, it's in their hands to see when I pitch in the big leagues. I'm just going to keep showing what I can do."

Brad Mills is awesome, volume 41

Richard Justice's morning column has plenty of awesome things to say about how awesome Brad Mills is. And he's awesome.

Chris Sampson:
"It's a different atmosphere. That's for sure. He asked me to send him the information (on the opening of Sampson's baseball camp), and he showed up. Just having him call me was a big deal. I appreciated he'd take the time to do that. But for him to go that extra step ...It lets you know he's on your side, that he's going to have your back, that he cares."

“The whole thing of working together is important. That we can try to accomplish something here and build a foundation. It's integrity with one another. It's character and how we go about things. If we don't agree, we can talk about that, too. We don't have to agree on everything. That's what it's about. It opens the door for them to give themselves a chance to be the best player they can be. They don't have to keep worrying about what's going on behind closed doors, behind their backs, whatever. Hopefully, they feel a freedom to be the player they're capable of."

Sean Berry:
“The presence he has brought here has just been incredible. His attitude every morning, his energy. His reminding us that this is what winning teams do. It means a lot. It's hard out there. It picks them up and brings their edge up a little and makes us more prepared for the season.”

Minor League Baseball to test for HGH

Linking to a New York Times report, is reporting that Minor League Baseball will be using a test that busted a rugby player for HGH.

The newspaper, citing an unidentified baseball official with direct knowledge of the matter, reported on its Web site last night that MLB will implement blood tests that can reveal HGH use.

This is good news for purists, and bad news for players. An HGH test was previously thought impossible, but with that poor rugby bastard testing positive, we may be seeing the number of ADHD baseball players increase dramatically in the minors.

The Biz of Baseball's Maury Brown has some reaction here and here:
(There's) no reliable test (for HGH). With blood testing and Survey Test debacle, MLB players will cite privacy concerns...If there were a reason for minor league players to unionize, maybe this will be catalyst.

The Biz also has this report of additional changes to what will be tested in the upcoming season. There are 12 PEDs and 30 stimulants, so I won't list them all.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ed Wade is "big on alternatives" - which makes him pretty much a perfect fit in Houston

Alden Gonzalez' article on the question of who will be the closer reveals a little bit about Ed Wade's thinking:

"I know there have been a lot of successful teams over the last dozen years or so who have used more than one closer to get to the finish line. And years before that, it certainly wasn't uncommon to have more than one guy. Sometimes it means not being automatic that this is Valverde time or this is Brad Lidge time or Billy Wagner time. Obviously, that worked in great success, but that doesn't mean that you can't do it a different way. I'm big on alternatives.

"Whether I'll be in the eighth inning or the ninth inning, it doesn't really matter. I just want to go out there and get the job done. If it means passing the ball over to somebody else, I'm willing to do that."

"The competition for me is not even in effect. I'm going out here, and I'm just trying to get ready for a season. That stuff will all play out by itself. I can't control any of that. All I can do is just go out there and work as hard as I can, be ready for a long season."

"I hope it's a real hard decision. I hope that is one of the hardest decisions I'm going to make all spring. Any time you have a good closer you have confidence in and the ballclub has confidence in, that helps shorten the game. That's the whole purpose of having a good closer is you want to shorten the game and hopefully win the games you're supposed to win. If we can get to that situation and pick one guy we feel is able to do that and he's able to kind of step up to the plate, so to speak, the better off they are."

So if you were to create a scorecard, you'd have to give the checkmark in experience to Brandon Lyon. If you wanted electric stuff, you'd give it to Lindstrom. I could see instances in which if the heart of the opposing team's lineup comes up in the 8th, Lyon gets the nod, and Lindstrom finishes it off. And vice versa. No, it's not LaTroy Hawkins to Jose Valverde. But in how many games did you go to the fridge when Valverde was in to pitch? Never. Because he would either strike out the side in nine pitches, or walk the bases loaded and throw a 40-pitch save.

Baseball America lists Top 100 prospects

(Captip to The Crawfish Boxes for linking it first)

Baseball America released their Top 100 prospects today. Where do the Astros fall?

Jason Castro, #41: Best Tool: Bats; ETA: Mid-2010
Jiovanni Mier, #73: Best Tool: Defense; ETA: 2012
Jordan Lyles, #91: Best Tool: Command; ETA: 2012

Astros release Max Fearnow

The Astros have released Tri-City pitcher Max Fearnow.

Fearnow signed as an undrafted free agent at the end of June, got started in Tri-City's rotation, did well, and got moved to the bullpen, where he did not do so well. He struck out 21 and walked 17 in 36.2IP of work.

Vallejo in camp for rehab

Not one to let the pig get the best of him, butter-fingered infielder Jose Vallejo arrived in camp for rehab.

Paulino agrees to deal

Alyson Footer is tweeting that Felipe Paulino has agreed to a one-year, $415K split deal for 2010.

Bernardo Fallas explains that a split deal means Paulino will make major-league money while he's on the active roster, and a lower rate while he's in the minors.

The fact that the Astros signed him to a split deal probably means they're hedging their bets, in case Paulino screws up, or Moehler/Banks/Chacin dominates for SP5.

Fulchino aggravates ankle sprain

Bernardo Fallas is tweeting that Jeff Fulchino has aggravated his ankle sprain and will be held out of non-throwing drills.

This "Round Rock Rangers" thing is starting to look more inevitable

Zach Levine's article today explains that the Astros are starting to look around for another Triple-A franchise, once Nolan Ryan aligns his teams.

Reid Ryan:
“All I can say is that we'll do what we do any time our contract's up. We evaluate the situation and what's best for our club and our fans. We've had great relationships with everyone working with (the Astros) and everyone who worked with them in the past.”

Ricky Bennett:
We'd love to be with them forever because of (the proximity to Houston). We're prepared to look at other alternatives in the event that we don't continue that relationship.”

Oklahoma City has often been named as the likeliest alternative, but one thing is for sure: it ain't going to be in Sugar Land.

There's an interesting report from the Chronicle saying that the city/suburb/village of Sugar Land has entered an exclusive 90-day negotiating window to bring a team in time for Opening Day 2012, playing in a stadium that would be of Triple-A size.

But there's a hitch. The Astros don't want anything to do with it. Sugar Land mayor James Thompson:
“They informed me that they did not want to be a part of it."

And since it's so close to Minute Maid Park, the Astros can also block other teams from putting an affiliate there. Opening Day Partners chairman Peter Kirk says the likeliest affiliation will be in the Atlantic League or the American Association. Both have their benefits, but Kirk says there's only one goal:

“We want to develop baseball fans. We want people to go see the Sugar Land team and then go see the Astros and vice versa.”

What Drayton and Pam Gardner don't want is a cheaper option for your baseball viewing pleasure.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Brett Myers would rather not read a book, and does not care what you think

Is that out of context? Let's ask Brian McTaggart:

Myers admits he's a complicated man. He views himself as a good ol' southern boy from Jacksonville, Fla., who'd much rather spend time with his two children or helping coach a team of four- and five-year-old kids over reading a book or shooting the breeze in a clubhouse with reporters. The son of a boxing promoter and a former boxer himself, Myers isn't afraid of a little confrontation.

"I was the one who was always outspoken all the time, and I never cared and still kind of don't care what people think about me. If they don't know me, that can't judge me. It takes a while to get to know me. I don't trust too many people, I guess."

"I just think this is a chance for him to come in here on a one-year deal, in a different environment and knowing that he's going to get a chance to be in the rotation. I think it just provides him with a lot of motivation and a lot of opportunity to excel."

More Myers, on the backlash caused by his "stick it to Philly" comment:
"When I say things or do something, it always gets worse. It never gets better. They thought I was bashing the city of Philadelphia. I would never do that. That was my home for 10 years. That organization was my family for 10 years. It's like basically telling my brother to kiss my rear end and then telling him you're going to be there for him...

...It's just one of those things where I found myself in a worse situation. Just like the playoff thing with Hamels that never happened. The thing they were saying -- that me and him almost got in a fight ... he took me home that night and picked me up the next day to take me to the field. We really hate each other...

...I think one of the reasons why Ed signed me is because he knows I'll do anything it takes to win, whether it's using me as a pinch-hitter laying down a bunt late in a game after I screwed up the game before or whatever.

"I'll do anything it takes to win. I think losing [stinks]. I've always felt that way. The one thing I've tried to do is to tell the four- and five-year olds that 'It's not OK to lose, guys.' You don't have fun when you lose."

I like Brett Myers more and more.

Lancaster JetHawks: Marcos Cabral

Marcos Cabral
How did he get here?: Signed as free agent, April 2009
Stats: 5'11", 185 lbs, Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Age as of April 1, 2010: 25 (26 on April 4, 2010)

2009 Overview


Career (2003-05, 2007-09)


What happened?

Cabral was signed out of the Blue Jays organization in April 2009, and took over a utility role in the field, playing mostly at SS, but spending 10+ games at 1B, 2B, and 3B, as well. Cabral posted the best numbers of his career at Lancaster with an .819 OPS. He does not strike out much, and encouragingly, his XBH rate didn't increase dramatically at Lancaster over the rest of his career.

Cabral posted a .958 Fld% at SS for Lancaster, committing 12 errors in 289 chances, but turned 33 double plays for the JetHawks.

What went right?

Plate discipline. Cabral isn't going to be a liability with the bat, but a K:BB ratio of 1.75 will certainly help. He did get some help, with a .335 BABIP. He'll be 26 on April 4, so he is a little old for the Cal League, but he'll most likely head up to Corpus in 2010.

What went wrong?

Thanks to nine games in Winter Ball, his splits at Lancaster have been erased, but if we had to pick something from a limited look at his numbers, I'd like to see a little more speed out of him. He has only stolen 20 bases (and been caught 13 times) in 416 games. Ideally out of a small-ish shortstop, you'd like to get some SBs in there. But admittedly, I'm reaching here.

Lancaster JetHawks: Brandon Barnes

Brandon Barnes
How did he get here?: Drafted, 6th Round (2005)
Stats: 6'2", 210 lbs, Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Age as of April 1, 2010: 23

2009 Overview


Career (2005-09)


What happened?

Barnes was something of a mystery, posting OPS' of .577, .623, .795, and .613 (Greeneville, Greeneville, Tri-City, and Lexington, respectively), until throwing up a .793 OPS in 2009 between Lexington, Lancaster, and seven games in Corpus at the end of the season. Predictably, Barnes' highest SLG came at Lancaster, where the air is as thin as walls at the Super 8.

Barnes is also a solid outfielder, making 14 outfield assists in 118 games, and a .988 Fld%.

What went right?

I don't know that it's fair to say that Lancaster was the best thing to happen to Barnes' bat, because you still have to hit the pitches thrown to you, but Barnes posted career highs in all three slash lines, home runs, and RBI in Lancaster. Unfortunately, since Barnes spent the last seven games of the season in Corpus, MiLB has his splits from Corpus, and he went 2x21 in Double-A, so we won't even mess with it.

But we do see that Barnes' BABIP at Lancaster was .363, which is pretty incredible.

What went wrong?

Plate discipline, but this has been the case throughout his career. He's a free-swinging guy, striking out historically in a quarter of his ABs, with a 4.98 K:BB ratio since 2008. We'll have to see what awaits Barnes in 2010, whether it's a repeat at Lancaster, or a permanent-ish bump up to Corpus. He was 22 on Opening Day 2009, and the average batter's age in the Cal League was 22.8, so he's on par with the rest of the league.

Fulchino still limited

Bernardo Fallas is tweeting:

Jeff Fulchino continues to be limited in practice because of a sore ankle. Precautionary measure, say Astros.

FanGraphs, predictably, isn't a Houston fan

R.J. Anderson's post on Wade's extension merits its own post, rather than getting lumped in with the early reactions post:

Even with some degree of deferment, the Ed Wade extension is hard to grasp. Ignore the slight losing record in Wade’s two full seasons at the helm. There are cases where a losing record for a period is unavoidable and not the kiss of death. Take, for instance, Andrew Friedman’s 127-197 record through his first two seasons. Under Friedman’s watch, the Rays continued to develop their farm system while acquiring and nurturing youth and potentially useful role players alike. Wade hasn’t done that...

...Trading for middle relievers and rentals on mid-rotation starters when you aren’t really in the position to compete for the playoffs seems like a misuse of time and resources...

...he odds of Houston becoming a worthwhile contender during Wade’s tenure are slim to none. Add in that the team could evidently be in the process of being sold, and really, this entire thing makes no sense. I don’t know what Drayton McLane is doing and frankly deferring to him scares me.

Of course the Rays are the model for all MLB franchises, and you can argue about their success in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox. We've gone over how good/bad a GM Ed Wade is. He's certainly not as bad as he looks, and his M.O. in Philly was to rebuild through drafts and augment through trades. Because of the contracts Wade inherited, it seems that he's trying to contend while rebuilding from the bottom up. The fact is he was hated in a city that easily drifts toward hatred, and that sentiment has been attached to him by writers/bloggers who don't spend a lot of time thinking about the Astros. To me, it looks as though the Astros will be in a prime position to take the next step about the time those huge contracts come off the board.

Regard, committed funds by year:
2011: $44.25m (+ arb years from Wandy, Pence, Bourn, Lindstrom, Byrdak, Keppinger, Sampson, Quintero)
2012: $26.5m (arb years from Pence, Bourn, Lindstrom, Keppinger, Sampson, Quintero)

My main problem with this article is the lines about his drafts being too early to evaluate, and following that up by saying that Wade hasn't nurtured talent. He has had the oldest team in baseball. There's isn't any talent at the Major-League level to nurture, unless you don't want to count giving Bourn a season to get his crap together, and to continue to provide opportunities for Pence to grow.

If the main focus of his efforts in Houston has been via draft, then don't evaluate his tenure yet.

Under Wade, farm system returns to being something like a priority

Fallas and Levine's article on the return of the farm system makes me feel all tingly again.

Baseball America's Ben Badler:
"There are three basic ways to build a good farm system — by doing well on the draft, signing international talent and, in the event that your major league club isn't a contender, trading away big league talent for prospects. For years, the Astros didn't do any of them particularly well."

Bobby Heck, on where the Astros should be ranked in organizational systems:
"I would say we’re probably anywhere between 20 and 24, and even on par with that group. Looking at the players and the number of players who jumped levels last year and the number of players who had success out of the 2008 draft, individually there’s a lot of good things."

On how they'll recover:
The Astros abandoned draft-day tendencies of shying away from high school picks and of chasing mostly pitchers, arguably the most prized but also the riskiest commodity in baseball. For the past two drafts, the team has signed its picks, and the international arm of scouting has reached out to Asia. Also, the Astros say they won't hesitate to create an express line for a player to the majors if he proves he can handle it (if Castro makes the roster, he will have skipped Class AAA Round Rock), and the team has opened an academy in the Dominican Republic. Since last year, the team has a Gulf Coast League affiliate.

This answers a pretty important question I was planning on posing this week, but now may not need to: Sure, the farm system is a wreck in Corpus and Round Rock, but where would the Astros rank if you solely looked at the last two drafts? Much higher. While there's nowhere else to go but up, I think we can expect to see the Astros take a dramatic step forward as some Triple-A guys get moved out and Heck's guys take hold in the system. And then there's the all-important 2010 draft, where the Astros have a chance to take a number of early draft picks.

In Buster Olney's blog today, he comments on the Chronicle's article:
Here's the bottom line: The teams that have adhered closely to the slotting bonus guidelines set forth by the Commissioner's Office have seen the quality of their prospects dwindle, and the teams that have painted outside the slotting system lines -- the Tigers, the Red Sox -- have thrived. The Astros have been one of the teams that followed the slotting guidelines.

So screw you, Bud Selig, and your slotting guidelines.

Myers is an emotional guy

In a big-time profile on Brett Myers,'s Paul Hagen takes a look at former Phillie Brett Myers, and maybe how the Phillies should have kept him around:

He's the kind of low-risk, high-reward pitcher the Phillies said they were looking for going into the winter.

Myers, on facing the Phillies:
"And I'd like to stick it up their rear end. Just because, you know? It's just the competitive nature. It's my old team. And I want to beat 'em. I think every guy has incentive to beat his former team. It doesn't have anything to do really with the way they treated me or anything like that. They didn't treat me bad at all. It doesn't have anything to do with that. It just has to do with being competitive and trying to kick their rear end just for the sport of it and try to have fun with it."

Of course that wasn't taken the way Myers meant it, but it'll be nice to have some fire on the mound - Roy goes about his business like he's writing parking tickets, and Wandy showed a little bit of emotion for the first time last year. Not that these are bad things.

Ed Wade:
"I think I know just about everything about Brett, plus and minus. I understand the moving parts. But I do think that when you break down his skill set, which is what our pro scouts did, that there's still a lot left in the tank. That's tough to walk past because I think the other issues or distractions or whatever you want to call them that existed in the past are in the past.

"No matter what way anybody wants to look at it, my personal knowledge of Brett and what he's all about certainly was a factor in our decision. I'm familiar with some of the things that people might view as negatives that went on in Philadelphia when Brett was over there. But I balance that against the fact that he's a couple years older at this time and hopefully we all learn from our mistakes and we all mature and I didn't see any compelling reason not to move forward.

"I look at this as an opportunity for Brett to come in here highly motivated to show people that he's capable of being a mid- to top-of-the-rotation starter. He still has top-of-the-rotation stuff as far as we're concerned. His fastball velocity is not what it was 2 or 3 years ago, but our guys still feel that the tool kit that he brings - his breaking ball and his changeup - are very solid. So we'll run him out there and give him a chance."

Low-risk/high-reward is a perfect way to sum up Brett Myers. He'll provide a bridge for another year of development out of Norris, Bazardo, and maybe Paulino. And if he works out like Wade expects, he'll come back for $8m in 2011. And by the time 2011 is over, we very well could be looking at the Lexington Four making a push for the rotation. If it doesn't work out, it "only" costs $5m.

John Sickels on Felipe Paulino

John Sickels invaluable site Minor League Ball has an update in his "Not A Rookie" series on Felipe Paulino. I won't pull too much from it, but regard the last paragraph:

On the other hand, his FIP was much better than his ERA at 5.11; 5.11 is hardly good, but it indicates that he didn't pitch as badly as the raw numbers indicate on the surface. His tERA was even better at 4.63. Fangraphs indicates consistent 95-97 MPH velocity on his fastball, so the heat he showed in the minors is still there despite the injury issue. Indeed, Paulino's contact% was the second-best among all starting pitchers in baseball last year at 71.8% (see this Fangraphs piece). He pitched more effectively in the second half last year (5.27 ERA with a 42/17 K/BB in 43 innings after the All-Star Break.

Remember that Paulino missed all of '08 with injuries, and should probably have spent most of last year in Triple-A working the rust off. He still has some work to do with his command, and he needs to watch his weight. but there are hints in the numbers that Paulino could take a step forward in 2010. Keep a close eye on him.

We hardcore fans know that Paulino's numbers were inflated due to complete mismanagement by the coaching staff, so overall, this will hopefully be the season Paulino busts out.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

13 position players are early

Ed. note: This post has been updated. And I will step up my game.

Alyson Footer is tweeting that 13 position players are in camp three days early:

Chris Johnson
Jeff Keppinger
Tommy Manzella
Kaz Matsui
Drew Meyer
Chris Shelton
Wladimir Sutil
Jason Bourgeois
Michael Bourn
Jason Michaels
Hunter Pence
Yordany Ramirez
Brian Bogusevic

Survivor: Kissimmee

McTaggart's been busy! With this article on the unspoken awkwardness between J.R. Towles and Jason Castro, Towles know what Castro is going through, and maybe secretly hopes Castro craps the bed.

Wade, on the battle for C1:
"It's huge. If we thought our catching situation was significantly deficient, we would have addressed it during the offseason. Where we thought we had deficiencies during the offseason, we addressed them, and we didn't do anything at catcher because we think J.R. and Jason and [Humberto Quintero] have the ability to give us a solid catching core."

"Similar to last year, I'm coming in with my ears and eyes open, and trying to take everything in and learn as much as I can, and continue to get my work in and do my best out there. Hopefully, I can show some people that I can play."

"Similar to last year, I'm coming in with my ears and eyes open, and trying to take everything in and learn as much as I can, and continue to get my work in and do my best out there. Hopefully, I can show some people that I can play...

..."I always think there are areas you need to improve on no matter what, but right now it's building the relationship with the pitcher so that they have that confidence in me back there and just swing the bat like I'm capable. [Castro] was a first-rounder and was a No. 1 and obviously has what it takes. He's definitely good enough to play up there. It's one of those things where we're going against each other and he's going to push me a little bit and I'm going to push him, and we'll make each other better."

"I'm not really thinking about that quite yet. Hopefully at some point down the road, whenever that may be, I'll be ready for it and I'm excited for camp to get going and excited for what's to come."

Spring Training: Day 2

Within McTaggart's Day 2 Recap we see more info on how happy Roy is with Arnsberg, and a couple of other updates:

-Fulchino's ankle is still sore (but McTaggart notes it doesn't seem to be slowing him down)
-Casey Daigle "slightly sprained" his right ankle. Mills:
It's nothing of any significance. As a matter of fact, they said it's better today than it was yesterday. Doing different things on different days they might aggravate it a little bit, but he was fine."

Oswalt's Back is back

See what I did there? Bernardo Fallas' article on Roy Oswalt's health has a couple of things for us to see:

“Back's feeling good. We're going to do pretty much the same that we've been doing. We'll do two bullpen sessions, two (batting practice) sessions and then start the games.”

And on the topic of leadership:
With Miguel Tejada, a strong clubhouse presence, no longer around, the Astros have been vocal about wanting Oswalt and Lance Berkman to make up for the loss from a leadership standpoint.

It comes as no surprise to Oswalt.

“It all goes back on me and Lance every time,. It all goes back to me and him every time. He's the third hitter in the lineup. If he doesn't hit we don't win; if I don't pitch, we don't win. We know that. That's what we get paid to do and that's what we try to do. And that's pretty much all we can do.”

TSN adds a quote from Mills:
"He's a good pitcher, and he's going to be a good pitcher for a few more years, quite a few more years. There's no reason to think that he's not going to have an outstanding year. I haven't been here in the past, so I don't know exactly what's gone on, how he's performed. I look at numbers. I just want Roy to be Roy, and he'll be fine."

And from Arnsberg:
"It's nice to be able to throw a name out there. You can always go back and reflect and say, 'Well, this worked for this guy. What do you say we give it a try?' If we don't, well then we'll wash our hands of it and we'll go to the next stage or level. I've got to find different ways, too."