Friday, February 25, 2011

Towles taking grounders at 1B

In one of the what I'm sure will be, "Huh." moments of the Spring we learn that J.R. Towles is taking grounders at 1B "to increase versatility."

Would you rather see Carlos or Towles at 1B if Brett Wallace struggles?

One bullpen session, one cortisone shot

McTaggart tweeted this morning that Alberto Arias took a cortisone shot in his shoulder after being examined by the team physician.

So this isn't looking good for Arias.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Wesley Wright is no longer a starter

McTaggart has an article for you on Wesley Wright, who is no longer a starter.

"We feel with the competition we have going on right now [for the fifth spot in the rotation] and the guys that are stretched out and in position to assume more of the longer innings, Wright's probably in the bullpen at this stage."

Wright, on the importance of getting lefties out:
"You ask any left-handed reliever, and that should be their main focus," Wright said. "Now the way the game is specialized, your opponents' batting average against lefties is very, very important. Most teams feel they should be able to get righties out and you need to the lefties to be able to come in and get lefties out, especially in this division."

Now BP is just being mean

A few hours after projecting the Astros to go 10-152 in 2011, BP's Ben Lindbergh posted a column on ESPN (Insider-Only) calling Hunter Pence "among the worst Team MVPs" in baseball.

The problem with Pence is that he's, at best, a complementary player in a good lineup. Most clubs would be happy to have him audition for a supporting role, but he would be miscast as the leading man in a championship-caliber production. From 2008 to 2010, NL right fielders as a group produced a .266/.341/.443 triple-slash line, comparable to Pence's .278/.330/.466 performance, although the Astros' unremarkable offense was bolstered by his above-average work in the field and on the bases.

If the Astros do the unthinkable this season and go to the playoffs, it's stories like this that I will refer to when I explain why I set cars on fire and urinated off high-rise buildings while screaming.

Thankfully, we don't have to actually play these games in 2011

Because Baseball Prospectus' projections are out! And it's ugly.

So ugly that, at 67-95, the Astros have the worst record in baseball, four games behind the Pirates.

SI has a nice little recap

SI's Joe Lemire has a nice article up on the off-season, and it's not a "Jeebus, you guys suck" article.

Lots of good stuff, but we'll pull our favorite part - click it and read.

The Astros have the makings of a nucleus that should contend in the NL Central in a couple years.

Much of that group -- largely at the urging of All-Star rightfielder Hunter Pence -- worked out together at Minute Maid Park four days per week in November and December and five days per week starting in January. Among the young players working out regularly alongside Pence, 27, were third baseman Chris Johnson, 26; Norris, 25; catcher Jason Castro, 23; Wallace, 24; and outfielder Brian Bogusevic, 26.

In all, about a dozen major leaguers and the rest minor leaguers gathered to have their butts collectively kicked by Coleman.

"When they went to walk out the door," Coleman said, "they could barely walk to the door."

Lyles could open the season as SP5

It's something we've heard about for a while: If Jordan Lyles goes out and earns the SP5 job, they'll give it to him. But Ed Wade is okay with Lyles going back to Triple-A.

"His performance and the level of competition around him will dictate the timetable as to when he gets here or if he stays here. If we're only focusing on the fifth spot, we do have competition and we do have some experienced guys there who conceivably could put Jordan in a position where he's back at Triple-A getting more experience...

..."I've said all along, in a perfect world, he gets more time [in the Minor Leagues]. His performance could dictate otherwise, and he could be here sooner rather than later. We're not closed-minded about it, but at the same time, he shouldn't be putting added pressure on himself."

Don't underestimate the allure of keeping him in the minors until the All-Star Break, so the Astros don't give him a Super-Two status, and give him an extra year of arbitration (see: Pence, Hunter).

The Astros will continue to play like it's August 2010

Fox Sports Houston has an article up on whether or not the Astros can carry the success they enjoyed in the 2nd half of 2010 to the 1st half of 2011:

Chris Johnson:
"We're a group of guys who are going to work hard and come to play every day. That's how it happened. We just gelled. But we still have a lot to prove, and we can't wait to get into the games and continue to progress. That's the key. We want to build and improve on what we started. We're not banking on anything. So even in spring training, we're going to take a different approach, with more intensity, ready to play and ready to win."

"We were very loose and we didn't just throw the season away when things weren't going well. We just relaxed and concentrated on playing baseball. I see the same thing this year. Even though this is a different season, we still have the same energy that we had last year. You can feel it in the clubhouse."

Drew Meyer retires

According to the South Carolina State, former Astros prospect Drew Meyer will retire from baseball.

I missed my friends and family. Over the years, being away made me realize there’s more to life than just baseball.”

He'll return to USC to finish up his business degree.

Meyer was the Rangers' 1st Round pick in 2002, and played in Corpus in 2009, hitting .291/.362/.395, and played 46 games in 2010 at Round Rock, where he hit .241/.339/.352. He was released last July, and finished up the season with the Angels' Triple-A team.

Arias' shoulder now beyond rest

McTaggart has an update on Alberto Arias, whose shoulder has not loosened up after reporting tightness over last weekend.

"He's still a little on the stiff and sore side, and we kind of want the doctor to take a look at him."

Arias was scratched from his scheduled BP session yesterday.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Not to be outdone, Jim Bowden ranks his Top 50

With a captip to Steve Campbell, Jim Bowden ranked his Top 50 prospects.

Jordan Lyles comes in at #37:
He has a smooth, easy delivery with deception. A consistent release point allows him to throw four different pitches average or above with his change-up being his best pitch. His up-side looks to be a middle of the rotation starter unless his velocity improves from 89-91.

And Anthony Gose, who was an Astro for about eight minutes before getting traded for Brett Wallace? He's #43:
Acquired in a deal of top prospects with the Houston Astros, Gose is expected to be the Blue Jays long-term solution to CF and the leadoff spot in the lineup. Gose is a burner but still need to improve his base-running and base-stealing. He has above average range in CF, a strong arm and a solid glove. His batting needs to improve and he needs to learn how to bunt and slap the ball to better utilize his speed. He won’t be fast to the big leagues and his bat will determine his future success.

2011 Astros = 2005 Brewers

McTaggart has a Q&A with Bill Hall, who was asked what he thought of this team:

"This team is what you would say is in a transition period with Roy [Oswalt] being gone and [Lance] Berkman being gone, and they have some younger guys who are expected to go out and produce and help this team win. In Milwaukee, I was one of the first guys to come - prospects - and I was in the clubhouse first and got to be with all those other guys who are turning into superstars now, with Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Rickie [Weeks] and J.J. [Hardy], when he was there. All of us came up at the same time as a group and had to learn how to win together and know the meaning of going out and competing every day. That's the knowledge I can give to these guys, being that I was through it before and I know what they're feeling."

Hell no the rotation isn't set yet

While it looks like Myers is lined up for the Opening Day start vs. Roy Halladay, the rest of the rotation isn't set, as far as Mills is concerned:

"No, no, not at all yet. We come up and read in the paper some clubs are already announcing their rotation for the season. This is just our club I'm talking about, but if we start to make those plans now, we don't know what's going to happen as far as injuries, how guys throw the ball, how guys do things.

"We're going to utilize this time to the best of our ability to kind of let guys get in shape and do the things they need to do to be ready. There's enough first time through that we can kind of map things through later."

There's also a sad funny story about Carlos Lee's conditioning in Footer's blog.

What sign should grace the Astros' clubhouse?

With the news yesterday, or the day before (who really cares?), that the Yankees have a sign in their clubhouse that just says, "Compete," that got us thinking:

What sign should the Astros have in their clubhouse? This is a photo contest, so send your signs to astroscounty (at)! We'll get you started:

(And there's nothing we can apparently do to get it to be in the right orientation.)

Astros sign three more

The Astros have agreed to terms with:

Matt Downs ($421,000)
Cesar Carrillo ($414,000)
Lance Pendleton ($414,000)

As Zach Levine notes, the only unsigned players are now J.A. Happ, Tommy Manzella, Angel Sanchez, and Mark Melancon.

You, too, can take a shot at Ed Wade!

I'm a fan of Rob Neyer, and was insanely jealous when he spurned writing for Astros County to join SB Nation. But today, he has a post in which he reference Justice's post on the Brandon Lyon signing last December.

All heck broke loose when Astros GM Ed Wade gave Brandon Lyon a 3-year, $15-million contract in December 2009. They said Ed got taken to the cleaners. They said Ed would end up looking real bad. Let's just say I'm real glad I was on Ed's side.

Neyer, today:
I don't remember all heck breaking loose, if only because it's real hard to look real bad when you're committing only $15 million over three years...

...We might expect Lyon to wind up giving the Astros around $10 million in value, for their $15 million. Was three years and $15 million an overpay? Absolutely. But Ed Wade has done far, far sillier things since taking over in Houston.

That's interesting. On the day of the signing David Cameron wrote:
Ed Wade is the GM equivalent of a bad SNL sketch. The first time he overpaid a middle reliever, we figured out that he didn’t really know how to build a roster. Now, when he gives Brandon Lyon a 3 year, $15 million deal, we just shrug our shoulders and say, “Yeah, that’s Ed Wade for ya.”...

...They don’t have any money to spend to fix the rest of their bad, old roster, but they can commit $5 million a year to Brandon Lyon through 2012. Moves like this are why the team isn’t good, and won’t be good any time soon. This move is just the latest act in a joke that’s gone on far too long.

Neyer, referencing Cameron, on Dec 10, 2009:
I'm glad Cameron said it instead of me ... but, yeah...

...The No. 1 argument against Ed Wade's competence is not this ridiculous contract. The Astros should be able to blow $5 million per season on freely available talent like Brandon Lyon and still win. The No. 1 argument against Wade's competence is that the Astros have been outscored by 232 over the last four seasons, and there's no reason for optimism about 2010 or beyond.

It's not hell breaking loose, and Neyer was somewhat consistent from December 2009 to today, but at what point is Wade allowed some slack? We're just one year into a three-year deal. Lindstrom was expendable - and traded - because Lyon was solid, more solid than Lindstrom, and brought in two prospects. Was Lyon lucky in 2010? Apparently that's what giving up two home runs in 2010 means. Neyer quotes FanGraphs as saying that Lyon was worth approximately $4m in 2010. If he does as well in 2011 as he did in 2010, the Astros will have gotten out of him almost what they put in.

Lyles, Villar part of BA's Top 100 prospects

Over at Baseball America, they have their Top 100 prospects, and Jordan Lyles (#42) and Jonathan Villar (#94) are right on there.

Levine on the waiver wire

And the final catch-up post of the morning has Zach Levine talking about the waiver wire, and how effectively the Astros have used it. Seven players on the 40-man roster were waiver wire pickups, meaning that 18% of the Astros' 40-man roster consists of players other teams didn't want.

Ed Wade:
“Our pro scouting staff does a tremendous job all year long in putting ourselves in position to evaluate talent. In the case of Wilton Lopez, Fulchino, Bourgeois, any number of guys wearing our uniform right now, it’s a direct result of the work our pro scouting staff does.”

Steve Campbell breaks down everyone else's "Big Three"

Here's an interesting article from Steve Campbell about how the Astros' rotation compares to the rest of the NL Central.

Meat Wagon Update!

With the arrival of Bill Hall, who is now off diaper duty until October, everyone's in camp.

With that, we get a couple of Meat Wagon updates:

-Angel Sanchez is about ready to hit him some singles. Mills:
“He’s stepping up a little bit, and we’re hoping that he can hit against live pitchers tomorrow."

-Alberto Arias might not be able to throw live BP tomorrow. Mills qualified his scheduled appearance with a "hopefully."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bald Barmes is ready to get this going

McTaggart has an article up on Bald Clint Barmes, and his role in 2011.

"I was excited to hear they said the majority of my time was going to be at shortstop. Hearing that and getting an opportunity to get back to the other side [of second base] and play every day, I was very excited about that. Colorado was starting to look at moving me into a utility role, and I feel I have a lot of years left to play and I want to do it as long as I can. I was very excited to get an opportunity to come over here and do that...

..."I like the direction this team is going and I would like to stay here. I'm going to go out and have a solid year and compete, and every team's coming in looking to try to get to the playoffs and win a championship, and this team is going in that direction. I'm not saying this year could be one of those years, but I'm excited to be thrown in the middle of it all. Hopefully I stick."

Click the link for info on what exactly happened with his numbers over the last two seasons...

McTaggart's Update

Brian McTaggart has his update from today's Spring Training:

-Keep Nelson Figueroa in your thoughts and prayers, as his grandfather has passed away, and Figueroa will miss some time to attend the funeral.

"He instilled that hard-work mentality into my father and he instilled that into me, and dad still works as hard as ever. I go and play this game with a workman mentality and take nothing for granted, and realize I'm blessed to play this game. I've paid my dues time and time again, and will continue to do so in [his grandfather's] honor. We're a very close family, and this will make us even tighter."

-Bill Hall is expected in camp for the first time tomorrow, as he has been with his fiancee for the birth of their child.

Astros agree to deal with Abad

Zach Levine says the Astros have agreed to the one-year deal with reliever Fernando Abad for $418,000.

Abad not a candidate for the rotation

Fernando Abad is no longer in the running for the SP5 spot, according to Zach Levine.

“In the meetings that we’ve had, we think that the role that he’s capable of playing in the bullpen as a key lefty for us probably takes precedent at this point in his career. That doesn’t mean that at some point he isn’t going to be a successful starter, but for the time being, we’re going to focus on him as a reliever.”

So that leaves the candidates for SP5 as such:
Rule 5 picks Lance Pendleton and Aneury Rodriguez, as well as Ryan Rowland-Smith, Nelson Figueroa, and Jordan Lyles.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. The Astros do already have two lefties in the rotation with Happ and Wandy (and Rowland-Smith is a lefty), but Abad dominated in the Winter Leagues this off-season. It is comforting to note that the Astros haven't completely ruled Abad out for the rotation. Ah, so be it.

No one gets this excited when I put on 20 pounds

Jiovanni Mier has done some working out this off-season, apparently.

Director of Player Development Fred Nelson:
"One of the things that we were hoping he'd be able to do over time would be to add some weight, hopefully body strength, and by the same token not lose any quickness or running speed."

Wade, on what Mier needs to develop:
"It's consistency and plate discipline more than anything. He's going to grow into a little bit of power with the body he's got, but it's really just a case of getting professional at-bats."

As Levine mentions, Mier is kind of behind the eight-ball with the Astros trading for Jimmy Paredes, who's officially one-step ahead of Mier in the system. Mier's 2011 destination is up in the air, but it's logical to think he'll be back in Lexington to start the year.

Well, not having a cyst in your shoulder will help that

Brad Mills noted yesterday that Brandon Lyon was "light years ahead of where he was last year."

Monday, February 21, 2011

Matt Musil breaks down Day Two

KHOU's Matt Musil has a pretty nice rundown of the 2nd full day of full-squad workouts. Among the nuggets:

-Apparently Chris Johnson looks much more comfortable at 3B than he did last year.
-Nelson Figueroa's grandfather isn't doing so well in New Jersey.
-Hunter Pence wants to win every Spring Training game.

Bourn tried to recruit Crawford

So apparently it came up in conversation between Bourn and Carl Crawford that Crawford should take his talents to the Gulf Coast.

"Yeah, I said something to him, but whenever you've got the Yankees and Boston involved, it's kind of hard. He didn't say he wouldn't play in Houston, but you know, it's kind of hard to turn down $142 million."

Yeah, especially when the Astros can't offer more than $14.2m...

Here's some good news

Hunter Pence just tweeted:

This team has come together more than any I've been a part of.

Considering the team has been together as a whole for approximately 36 hours, that's damn skippy.

Pendleton and Rodriguez are under the microscope

While other pitchers and position players hope to impress, Rule 5 picks Lance Pendleton and Aneury Rodriguez have to impress, if they want to stay with the club, according to McTaggart (and the general rules of baseball).

"To some extent, they're under more scrutiny. There is a timetable that dictates you have to make your determination sooner rather than later. Every time one of those guys steps on the mound, you're going to have to be bearing down on what they're seeing."

Click the link to see how both are dealing with the pressure, and words of wisdom from Wesley Wright.

Lyles isn't so much with the Twitter

A nice little piece on Jordan Lyles from his hometown paper gives us a glimpse into the life of a 20-year old, who in his very hands holds our hopes and dreams. A vulnerable, creepy feeling, no?

(Lyles' agent Lee) Long and his marketing team at Palmetto Sports Group wanted him to start a Twitter account, but he passed on the idea.

“His response was, ‘that brings more attention to myself,’” Long said. “It is refreshing to see that a kid with all the accolades and praise he has maintains that kind of humility.”

More Long:
“He has shown a maturity and commitment this offseason. His post-workout evaluation was just off the chart. He has really grown and proper nutrition and putting time in the weight room.”

So what do you think? September? Or earlier?

More Long:
“I would never bet against Jordan Lyles. He might be considered to some as an underdog, but any time he has been in that role he has thrived. So it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if he creates a situation where the Astros have a very tough decision to make. Ed Wade has made it clear that if Jordan Lyles is the best guy to win the position, that it will be his job.”

Apparently it took Mills' Panama trip for Carlos to feel wanted

USA Today's Seth Livingstone talked to Carlos Lee, who was downright flattered by Mills going to Panama this off-season.

"I didn't know he liked me that much. It means a lot. It makes you feel like you're part of the main guys. We talked about the team and expectations. We talked about everything. "We had a great time. He was there for 50 hours. We talked baseball for 52."

I don't get it.

Plutko impressive for UCLA

This will likely be the last time we bring this up, but we feel bad for leaving you hanging out to dry for the weekend and most of Monday. Remember 6th Round pick Adam Plutko, who turned down the Astros' reported offer of $1m+ to go to UCLA? Yeah...he threw 6IP, 2H/0ER, 6Ks in his college debut against San Francisco. Ah, well.

How pumped would you be to go 1-2 to start the year?

Especially with's Todd Zolecki's report that it looks like the Astros will face Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Roy Oswalt to start the season...

Astros agree with Arias

And speaking of paying the protected, the Astros have signed Alberto Arias to his requisite one-year deal for $439,500.


Astros to treat Arias like he's carrying eggs

Brian McTaggart lets everyone know the Astros are treating Arias like he's got a Johnny Damon arm after feeling some tightness in his surgically-repaired shoulder.

"We're going to have to give him a couple of more days off and see how he comes back and how he works with that. He wasn't able to throw the ball like he really wanted to [Sunday], but we'll see how he is after a couple of days off. We're going to bring him along slower to build up that range of motion and everything else."

We also learn that Manzella is going to consider himself a Jeff Keppinger-esque player, all over the infield:
"I'm a pretty strong believer, and I think a lot of people will agree, that if you can play shortstop, a lot of the other positions -- I don't want to say easier -- but they're easier to transition to rather than if you were a second baseman who tried to switch to third or tried to learn third base, or a third baseman trying to learn second. Just from seeing the game from the shortstop's perspective, it makes those two a little bit easier to transition to."