Friday, February 24, 2012

Drayton didn't want Jeter

Yeah, we're back to this for now - because otherwise we'd be talking about Ryan Braun, and I just don't want to do that.

Phil Rogers had a little note this morning about the 1992 draft, and that Phil Nevin pick:

According to the guy that we spoke to, the Houston Astros were poised to select Jeter with the first overall pick in the 1992 draft. Their area scouts in Michigan had been all over him for years and scouting director Dan O'Brien Jr. was sure that the high school shortstop was the best player in the country.

Unfortunately for them , Drayton McLane wanted them to take a college player who could get to the Astrodome quickly. And because McLane had just purchased the team from John McMullen, his word was the only one that counted.

How did the four teams behind the Astros whiff on Jeter? Because the Yankees called his parents and said they'd take him with the #6 pick. So when the Indians, Expos, Orioles, and Reds called Jeter's family they said that he was intent on going to the University of Michigan. And then the Yankees called.

Updates on Wandy, Escalona

Zachary Levine has your morning update on the HurtStros:

Wandy's alright, but will throw his next bullpen tomorrow.
Escalona is skipping his next bullpen after hyperextending his elbow swinging a bat - which makes perfect sense for a reliever.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mills hasn't picked a closer, but why would he?

Brian McTaggart's new post talks about what in the world Brad Mills is going to do about the closer spot. It could be Lyon. It could be Carpenter. It won't be Mark Melancon. What is a manager to do!?

How about let Spring Training play out? There's no point anointing a closer at the end of February.

Astros had the 29th-best off-season, according to Jon Heyman

Despite the Angels getting a first baseman they "don't really need" (and isn't that the American dream, after all?), Jon Heyman says they had the best off-season OF ALL!

More appropriate for our purposes, the Astros were ranked 29th, only better than the Mets. Why so low?

They took a flyer on the oft-injured Fernando Martinez but after failing to unload Wandy Rodriguez, Carlos Lee or Brett Myers, they basically return the same team. Which is not necessarily good news when you lost 106 games.

So, to recap, the Angels had a great off-season because they got a player they didn't technically need (yes, I know, if you can add Albert Pujols, you should do it). The Astros didn't dump their three highest-paid players, and took a chance on a young outfielder who could turn into something, didn't add unnecessary payroll, continued looking beyond 2012, and sucked the high hard one.

Got it.

Wandy tweaks his back

Wandy must have been trying muscle it up to 93mph, "felt a little tightness" in his back this morning, but does not expect it to be serious.

Paging Carlos Lee

According to Zachary Levine, every possible combination of the starting lineup is in camp, with one notable exception. And I'll give you three guesses who it is, and your second two guesses don't count.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Qs, As with Mark Appel

Appel pitches against Vanderbilt on February 17, 2012.
(Photo by Matthew C. Ersted /

This afternoon Astros County had the opportunity to talk to Houston native and Stanford ace Mark Appel - who just happens to be a prospective #1 overall pick in the 2012 June Draft. By virtue of Houston's 106 losses in 2011, there's a chance Appel could be returning to Houston. Here's the transcription:

AC: First off, I appreciate you taking the time to do this.

MA: Absolutely, not a problem.

AC: With the arrival of pitchers and catchers and the start of the baseball season, it's officially Spring. Over the past weekend, in the season opener, you held Vanderbilt to one run on two hits over seven innings - which, I'll just tell you right now, I live in Nashville; opening weekend against Stanford caused Vanderbilt and Nashville sports radio great weeping and gnashing of teeth. How does it feel to be playing baseball again?

MA: It feels great. It obviously feels a lot better that we were winning some games, and we're just glad to be playing some guys in other jerseys. All these scrimmages have prepared us for the season, and now we're glad to be playing some other guys - fortunately for our pitching staff we don't have to be facing our own hitters every week now...

AC: (short, stilted laugh)

MA: ...and we get to face some other guys now.

AC: (awkward, hesitating pause) What are your expectations, both for yourself and for Stanford in 2012?

MA: Personally, I don't really have any expectations for myself, and that's just more of a mental thing. If I play good or if I play bad, I want to have a steady mindset and prepare for the next time out, no matter what the results are. I just want to focus on each and every pitch, the best one I can, and the results will take care of themselves. For the team, I wouldn't put it past us to, hopefully, win the Pac-12, and potentially a National Championship. I think we have the guys to do it. Our hitters have proven that they can put up some runs and now it's time for our pitching staff to prove that we can limit some offenses to one or two runs per game.

AC: You spent the first 12 years of your life in Houston, your uncle is the Dean of the Architecture school at Rice, and then moved with your family to the Bay Area. Do you go back to Houston often, and what does Houston mean to you?

MA: Oh, it means a lot. I still tell all my friends that I'm from Houston, even though I've lived in California for eight years now. But I just really enjoyed living in Houston when I did, and that's not to say I haven't enjoyed California - but it has a special place in my heart, with a lot of family and a lot of childhood memories, just so many great things that I remember about Houston. Like you said, my uncle is the Dean at the Architecture school at Rice, and my family has been a Houston family for as long as I can remember - both my parents are from the Houston area, as well as my grandparents. As long as I can remember it's been Houston, and moving to California was kind of a big change for us. But it definitely holds a special place in my heart.

AC: It was in doing some reading and preparing for this interview that it was in high school there in California where you found God. Some people might find that strange, because if there’s one thing you can get a lot of in the South (and in Houston, specifically), it’s religion. What changed?

MA: I wouldn't say that I "found God" in California -

AC: (hangs head in shame)

MA: - I became a believer at a young age when I was 10 years old back in Houston. I was getting baptized and my pastor at my church - I went to Bethel Presbyterian over by Chimney Rock - asked if I knew what it meant to be a Christian, and I kind of knew all the little things. I knew who Jesus was, and all this stuff, but I never really understood what it meant to be a Christian and actually live that lifestyle. I guess God became real to me when I moved to California because that was when I first experienced adversity and different tests and temptations in my faith. I went to Second Baptist in Houston, this small, private, Christian school - I never really heard anything other than, "what it meant to be a Christian, and what the Bible said." But once I moved to California and went to public school, I started hearing how guys would talk about girls, a lot of different things that I never really understood. Going through those doubts and really tough questions about my faith was what really made my relationship with Christ real to me.

AC: Stanford has had quite a bit of success in the draft, for a long time, but most recently, as well. The Astros have been comfortable drafting Stanford guys - from Jason Castro in 2008, Brandt Walker in 2009, Kellen Kiilsgaard in 2010, etc. How do your coaches prepare you for the draft?

MA: They don't really prepare me any differently from the way they prepare anybody else. Their focus is on the season, and on winning games, and it's also on trying to maximize the talents of all our players because by maximizing our talents, we're going to have better chances of winning some games, and then the draft will come when it comes. Coach (Mark) Marquess does a really good job of keeping all the players focused on the season. He is kind of a buffer for scouts - obviously scouts will want to talk to some of the players on the team this year. Coach Marquess does a great job at really making sure that the scouts are still satisfied by allowing meetings to happen, but also that the players will still be focused on the season, because that's the most important thing right now. And when the draft comes, we can start worrying about that a little bit later.

AC: You've sort of alluded to my next question - there's a lot about the draft you can't control. At what point did the possibility of being the #1 pick, and the number one pick being Houston's, when did that sink in, and how do you feel about it?

MA: Ever since people started putting out mock drafts or projections, and I saw my name next to Houston, it was pretty cool. Maybe even having the opportunity of going back home and play for the team that I grew up watching play, it's just cool to think about. God is just too good for something like that to happen. It's a really cool opportunity and obviously I can't control whether the Astros take me, all I can control is how I play on the field. If the Astros decide to pick somebody else, that would be fine with me, I understand it's a business, but it's also a dream of mine to be able to play baseball in the Major Leagues at some point.

AC: Last question - I'm sure that the question you get asked most often is about you and Andrew Luck. I'm not going to ask you about that because I'm not much on what they call "football." Do you get asked about yours and Andrew Luck's draft projections most often?

MA: I guess that is a fairly common question. Andrew is a great guy - also from Houston - so I guess we have that in common. Our families have some mutual friends, and I've met the Lucks once or twice because of that. So it's a cool thing to think about, but it's not really high on my priority list right now. I'm focusing on the season, preparing for Friday night against Texas, and try to go out there and take it one pitch at a time.

AC: That sounds great. Good luck this season, and hopefully we'll see you in Houston after the draft. Thanks a lot. Have a good one.

MA: Thank you. God bless.
Big thanks to Mark Appel for taking time out of his day to answer these questions, and thanks to Stanford's Media Relations department for helping to make it happen. And follow Mark on Twitter.

Qs, As with Larry Dierker

Coming up on February 27, Larry Dierker will host the Reader Cup, a golf tournament to benefit Literacy Advance of Houston. Astros County had the opportunity to ask him some questions. So you better get out there and play some golf - or it will be obvious that you don't like reading, or people.

AC: 1998 was your 2nd full season as manager of the Astros, after going 84-78 (good enough to win the Division) in 1997. What were the most important lessons you learned, going from the 1997 season into 1998?

LD: The most important lesson was to be patient when things weren't going so well (although that seldom happened in 98. It happened a lot in 99) . And the other thing was that with our power/speed attack, bunting and using the hit-and-run were not as effective as just stealing when we could and slugging away.

AC: The amazing thing for me, looking at that 1997 team, is that only two players - Biggio (.916) and Bagwell (1.017) - had an OPS over .800. As you reflect on the 1997 team, what were you most excited about, leading into 1998?

LD: First of all, the pitching improved enough in 97 to allow us to win the division with only 84 wins. Most of our important pitchers were still in their prime or even approaching their prime at that time. I thought we would continue to pitch well, and I really got excited when we got Moises Alou and Carl Everett because I knew we would have a more potent offense.

AC: Heading into 1998, the pitching staff was undergoing a transition: Darryl Kile would head to Colorado via Free Agency, Jose Lima would be moving from the bullpen into the rotation. As a former pitcher, what were your thoughts on your pitching staff at the beginning of the season?

LD: I was worried about Lima. He was no Darryl Kile. But he didn't know it. He reminded me of something Mark Twain reportedly said, "All you need in life is ignorance and confidence and you will surely succeed." His stuff was mediocre but he wasn't afraid to throw strikes, which worked well in the Dome. It didn't work well at Enron, and once he lost the confidence, it didn't work anywhere.

AC: At the end of April, the Astros were 17-10 (still the most April wins in franchise history), but ended the month tied with the Brewers (16-9) for 1st, and a game ahead of the Cardinals. The team wouldn't relinquish its hold on 1st for the rest of the season. At what point did you know the 1998 team was special?

LD: I knew the team was special on opening day. But, I also knew that special teams sometimes don't fulfill their promise. Even before we got Randy Johnson near the end of July, I was pretty sure we would win the decision. With him, I thought we'd go all the way. Then came Kevin Brown. As they say, on any given day...

AC: The turning point of the season - and one of the most exciting days in Astros history - was July 31, 1998, when the Astros traded Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen, and John Halama to the Mariners for Randy Johnson. Were you aware that Hunsicker was going for Johnson, and what was the reaction in the clubhouse when word came down about the trade?

LD: Everyone was excited about getting Randy, but he was not having a great season in Seattle. We knew he would help us, but never dreamed he'd go 11-1.

AC: You won eight straight games from September 5-12, and then finished the season 6-7. What was the feeling in the clubhouse leading up to the postseason?

LD: Clinching early can be a problem. The veterans want and need rest, but they don't want to get rusty. Still, when they play with nothing on the line, it's not the same as when you're trying to clinch. Still, we were confident we would beat the Padres and, for that matter whomever we played in the NLCS. Randy hadn't lost a game, had only given up a few runs in all his starts in the Dome. The bench guys got to play a lot during the last two weeks and I think that helped their confidence too.

AC: In the post-season against the Padres, the Astros fell 3-1. Looking back, how do you feel about that 1998 team?

LD: The '98 team was the greatest Astros team ever in terms of total wins. But we weren't as well balanced as the '86 team. Our pitching wasn't quite as good and weren't as well balanced as that team offensively. We had both speed and power, but didn't have many left-handed hitters. We weren't very good at playing "little ball." and that's what you have to do sometimes against the league;s top pitchers, which are usually the ones you face in post season.

AC: On February 27 you'll host the Larry Dierker Golf Classic, benefiting Literacy Advance of Houston. Obviously you're very involved in charitable works around the city - what does Houston mean to you?

LD: I do a lot of charity work because I have the time. My favorite charity is Literacy Advance of Houston. It is an adult education agency and am a volunteer there. We have a diverse city and that is one of Houston's great attractions. But we are way too diverse at the bottom end of the literacy scale. Adult illiteracy is a problem everywhere, and an even bigger problem here. It is a contributing factor in joblessness, homelessness, broken families and crime. Every time we get a person educated, it opens up their world and makes our world better. More importantly, it also improves their kid's chances for success in school. So we not only enhance the lives of the people we teach, but also the lives of their children.

Check out Literacy Advance for more information about how you can sponsor, play, or support.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Now this is some good news

Zachary Levine's latest post lets everyone know that the Astros are "keeping an eye on" the next-biggest Cuban prospect, Jorge Soler.

“I have seen him before,” Luhnow said, adding that he’s been in contact with Soler’s camp. “He’s still not at the point where he’s a free agent yet, but we’re keeping tabs on him.”

Of course, everyone is in on Soler, trying to out-A's the A's with their signing of Yoenis Cespedes. But at least the Astros are interested...

Baseball America Top 100 Prospects

Baseball America has released their top 100 prospects and there aren't really any surprises.  The Astros come in with Singleton at #34, Cosart at #50, and Springer at #59.

"Grab a cup, you're gonna need it"

If you had "Mike Kvasnicka" in the First Astros Player to Three Posts In the First Two Days of Spring Training pool, come to the window to collect your money. Zachary Levine says that moving behind the plate was Kvasnicka's idea.

“I put in a lot of work and I didn’t shy away from any of the extra work at third base, but I just let them know at the end of the year that I didn’t feel quite natural back there. I was just wondering if they could give it a thought over the offseason. Then I got a call probably a couple months ago and they said ‘dust off your gear, grab a cup, you’re gonna need it.’”

"Grab a cup, you're gonna need it" should definitely be the slogan for the 2012 Astros.

Pepperdine rocking old-school Astros unis

Click here to see the new Pepperdine unis, which look quite familiar.

This reminds me of the Book of Opinions, in the Bible, in which it says "Thou shalt not covet another team's uni."

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Astros can spend $11,177,700 on their first ten picks rounds

Baseball America has a table up listing how much each team is allotted for the 2012 June draft.

The Astros are allowed to spend $11,177,700 on Rounds 1-10.

As BA explains:
Any team that exceeds its bonus pool by 0-5 percent must pay a 75 percent tax on the overage. The penalties escalate, with a 75 percent tax and the loss of a first-round pick for a 5-10 percent overage; a 100 percent tax and the loss of first- and second-rounders for a 10-15 percent overage; and a 100 percent tax and the loss of two first-rounders for an overage of 15 percent or more.

A Rundown of the Catchers

With Mike Kvasnicka moving back behind the plate, let's take a look at who's in the pipeline behind the plate in the organization, shall we?

Jason Castro (24 years old) - 2011: N/A, Injuries
Chris Snyder (31) - .271/.376/.396 in 119 PAs for Pittsburgh
Humberto Quintero (32) - .240/.258/.317 in 272 PAs for Houston
Carlos Corporan (28) - .188/.253/.253 in 173 PAs for Houston
Chris Wallace (23) - .271/.343/.507 in 411 PAs for Lexington/Corpus
Mike Kvasnicka (23) - .260/.328/.368 in 536 PAs for Lexington
Rene Garcia (21) - .242/.288/.303 in 326 PAs for Lancaster
Ben Heath (23) - .252/.310/.408 in 365 PAs for Lexington/Lancaster
Jordan Comadena (26) - .295/.389/.432 in 115 PAs for Lancaster
Roberto Pena (19) - .217/.266/.310 in 308 PAs for Lexington
Miles Hamblin (23) - .264/.346/.398 in 229 PAs for Tri-City
Ryan McCurdy (24) - .320/.385/.379 in 119 PAs for Tri-City (and 1PA in Lexington)
Bubby Williams (22) - .206/.223/.397 in 139 PAs for Tri-City
Luis Alvarez (21) - .271/.353/.376 in 151 PAs for Greeneville
Ernesto Genoves (20) - .280/.375/.464 in 144 PAs for Greeneville
Cristian Moronta (22) - .242/.242/.303 in 33 PAs for Greeneville

That's about as far as we need to go right now. If I were to eyeball the rankings of the Top 5 catchers (after we get through Castro, Snyder, and Quintero), it would probably be as follows:

1. Chris Wallace
2. Ben Heath
3. Mike Kvasnicka
4. Mikes Hamblin
5. Ryan McCurdy

What say you?

Profile on Chris Johnson

Culture Map had a profile on Maybe 3B Chris Johnson as he prepared to leave for Spring Training, and that dude had some interesting things to say.

What happened in 2011 for Johnson?
“Last year was tough. I came into the season thinking I was the shit. I had to get out of my own way. Pitchers and teams started looking at me and they had a game plan of how to handle me at the plate."

And on realism replacing optimism for 2012:
“We’re a young team. There’s no denying that. As a team we need to stay away from super lofty goals and keep improving. We’re headed in a really good direction — there’s really only one way to go."

Click the link for the full piece, it's a good one.

And here's where I would disagree with J.A. Happ

Zachary Levine's Camp-opening story has a little quote from J.A. Happ, who is obviously ready to put 2011 behind him:

"We’re anxious to put last year behind us and start on a new foot. I think everyone knows we’re better than the way we ended up last year."

I'm not so sure that's right. The Astros were bad, historically bad. They finished in the bottom four in the NL in: runs scored, homers, walks, SLG, OPS. And on the pitching side? ERA, complete games, saves, hits allowed, runs allowed, earned runs allowed, and walks allowed.

So nope, I'm pretty sure the Astros were appropriately rated - especially on a Major-League level, in 2011.

Kvasnicka back to catcher

We're going to save you all the minutiae of the Astros' opening of Spring Training ("Everyone looks good." "Here's someone walking around." "Look at this f-ing hipster center fielder." Et cetera.) but we do already have an important note on the minor-league side:

Mike Kvasnicka has been moved back to catcher.

Kvasnicka was a catcher at the University of Minnesota, but the Astros drafted him as a 3B, and in 141 games at 3B between Tri-City and Lexington, Kvasnicka had an .895 Fld% while hitting .251/.320/.357. Obviously this slash line is more suited for catching things the pitcher throws, rather than what gets smashed down the left field line.

So the Astros have moved him back behind the plate.