Saturday, January 5, 2013

Minor-League Managers and Staff

Building on some news from yesterday, the Astros have announced minor-league staffing assignments. 

Morgan Ensberg: Roving Instructor. "Will be with Lancaster for home games and scout the Cal League or serve as a roving instructor while Lancaster is on the road."
Adam Everett: Infield Instructor. Will shuttle between the Major-League team and minor-league infielders. 
Vince Coleman: Outfielding/Baserunning Development Specialist, Quad Cities

Oklahoma City: Tony DeFrancesco
Corpus: Keith Bodie (2012 Texas League Manager of the Year)
Lancaster: Rodney Linares (Returns for 2nd season with JetHawks)
Quad Cities: Omar Lopez (Greeneville's manager for 2011-12)
Tri-City: Ed Romero (manager of Greeneville in 2010
Greeneville: Josh Bonifay (managerial debut, Lexington's hitting coach in 2012)
GCL Astros: Edgar Alfonzo (previously GCL Astros' hitting coach)
DSL Astros: Johan Maya

Tom Lawless is an infield developmental specialist for OKC, and Mark Bailey will be the catching developmental specialist for Corpus. Former Gold-Glove OF Cesar Cedeno will be Bonifay's hitting coach in Greeneville. 

Quad Cities GM Stefanie Brown:
"It's a somewhat unique set-up, but it shows the emphasis on development that is taking place throughout the Astros organization. We're excited about the staff that Houston has sent us in the first year of our affiliation with them."

Lance Berkman's last 24 hours

When the Astros signed Carlos Pena, that indicated to us (and most everyone else) that it meant there would be no return to Houston for Lance Berkman. That may not be the case.

With Pena holding down 1B/DH duties, where would Berkman fit? I can't imagine that the Astros are interested in signing a full-time DH, as it limits flexibility with the rest of the defensive positioning. The team is looking for maximum value, and if Berkman can't play in the field, then Bo Porter wouldn't be able to cycle players in and out of the DH spot to keep them fresh.

So, with the news that the Astros are interested in Berkman, it means that: (a) Berkman's knee is actually okay, or (b) Crane is pushing this move.

Let's rundown the last 15 hours of Berkman news, by team:

Astros: Luhnow was in talks with Berkman on Thursday and Friday. In the linked Mark Berman piece, Nolan Ryan says Berkman is still deciding if he wants to continue his career.

Rangers: The Rangers have an offer on the table of an undetermined length, but "two industry officials" say Berkman wants a two-year deal. The Rangers intend to primarily use him as a DH.

Rays, Phillies, Orioles, and Red Sox: Linked by former Astros writer Rafael Rojas Cremonesi (and Jon Heyman)  as having interest in signing Berkman. Cremonesi says the Astros have extended an offer to Berkman, as well.

Yankees: The Yankees are interested, according to the New York Post, but writer Dan Martin says the team doesn't want to add 2014 payroll, indicating that they're looking for a 1-year deal.

Cardinals: Berkman told the Post-Dispatch that his daughters want to go back to St. Louis, but it won't happen. Derrick Goold says that Berkman is working out as though he'll be at Spring Training somewhere. On compensation, Berkman said:

"In a way they have to buy me out of retirement, and I know that sounds crass - I wish it didn't - but it's a big commitment...If I'm going to play, I'm going to give my heart and soul to the team. But if the carrot's not big enough, the mule isn't going to want to go."

So if we're ranking likely destinations for Berkman, I'd peg it as such:

1) Rangers
2) Astros
3) Yankees
4) Everyone else

Berkman has history with Nolan Ryan, they have money, and a better chance to get to the post-season in the two years Berkman is seeking. If that happens, it'll be fun to bring this up, from February 2012:

"Did you really want the Rangers to win? Being from Houston, I felt like I was doing this city a favor. I don’t want Dallas to have the first ring in the major leagues here."

Friday, January 4, 2013

Astros hire Alan Ashby

According to a number of accounts, the Astros have hired Alan Ashby to be "a color" commentator on television broadcasts. More to come...

Just Get the Call Right

"Get the call right."
-Joe Girardi, following ALCS Game 2

"Fans need to feel good about the fact that we're going to try to get the call right. I think umpires feel like if there's an easy way to do it, they want to be able to get the call right, too. It helps the game, I think. I think it helps the fans...the objective is to get the call right."
-Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.

Both of these statements were made in reference to the expanded use of replay, where the goal is to simply get the call right. If an umpire makes the wrong call, everyone wants him to ask for help. Whether that's getting the opinion of another umpire on the crew, or wider-ranging instant replay, just get the call right.

BBWAA voting member Phil Rogers took this position following the aforementioned ALCS Game 2, where the Yankees found themselves trailing 3-0 instead of 1-0 going into the bottom of the 8th thanks to a blown call where the umpire in question could have asked for help.

I bring this up in reference to a Twitter conversation between myself and former Astros beat writer (and current BBWAA voting member) Jose de Jesus Ortiz, when I tweeted a hunch that Biggio wouldn't get elected into the Hall of Fame at next week's announcement. Ortiz - who covered the Astros from 2001-2009 - replied that he did, in fact, vote for Biggio (full ballot, with explanation, published here).

I then asked if any other voting member of the BBWAA called or emailed him and asked about the suspicions regarding Bagwell or Biggio and the hated Performance Enhancing Drugs. His reply:

No, but I wouldn't expect them to do that. All of the voters have seen enough baseball to form their own opinions.

This is what I simply cannot understand. There are between 575-600 voting members of the BBWAA. From what I can gather, exactly two of them covered the Astros during Bagwell and Biggio's career: Ortiz and Richard Justice. Yet not one single other voting member contacted Ortiz and asked him about whether he thought Bagwell/Biggio were clean. Why? According to Ortiz, "they have seen enough baseball to form their own opinions."

This may be true. But where did they see Bagwell and Biggio? In the 3-to-18 games per season when Houston played whichever team they covered? Or the zero games they covered? Or were the only times they saw Bagwell play baseball was when he was Hittin' Mad Jacks on SportsCenter?

Morgan Ensberg, who played with both on a regular basis from 2002-2006, said on December 26 that he thought Bagwell was clean. I asked Ensberg if anyone had asked him about their suspicions. No voter asked Ensberg for his opinion on the "cleanliness" of either candidate.  I'm still waiting to hear back from Richard Justice to see if any voting member asked his opinion, but I'm going to go out on a thick, well-supported limb and say that they didn't.

If you have suspicions about a player's integrity, character, or any other intangible that the BBWAA tries to make tangible, is it not a journalistic responsibility to try to get to the bottom of your suspicions? No voter asked Jose de Jesus Ortiz and Morgan Ensberg for their opinion. They had already made up their minds, and "facts" would get in the way.

Were I a voting member from Houston trying to decide on Mike Piazza, I would most certainly take 90 seconds to email Tyler Kepner and ask, "Hey, do you think Piazza used PEDs?" or even "Are you voting for Piazza?" If he responds, I would be happy to adjust my vote accordingly. After all, Kepner would know Piazza better than I, because I would have only covered Piazza six times per season.

Why didn't anyone do this? Because it's typical BBWAA. No one can outthink them. No one can tell them that their eyes are wrong. The BBWAA might as well be summed up by our old pal Evan Grant who tweeted the following regarding the AL MVP vote:

For those carping about the BBWAA awards, a quick reminder: They are OUR awards.'s Eric Wilbur had this to say about the BBWAA following the AL MVP vote:

But the whole process showed, yet once again, what is wrong with the hierarchies of the press box. The BBWAA reeks of arrogance and entitlement, dismissing any argument as uneducated, uninformed, or archeological.

Joe Sheehan, yesterday:
The one certainty is that the voters, rather than the players, are now the primary focus of the Hall of Fame process.

Lazy, vindictive, dismissive, ignorant, uninformed, and unwilling to ask for help. Just get the call right.

Ensberg back with Houston

Morgan Ensberg has signed a contract as a roving instructor for the Astros. That is all.

John Royal's interview with Brett Dolan

The Houston Press's John Royal (full disclosure, Royal is also basically Astros County's version of Roger Cossack) interviewed former broadcaster Brett Dolan on just what happened towards the end of his and Dave Raymond's tenure with the team. Just read the whole thing...

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Astros County Top 25 Prospects: 10-1

Ok, I've teased this out enough now. Let's get down to business and check out the top 10.

10.  Nick Tropeano

Tropeano took a big step forward in 2012, adding a few mph to his fastball which helps make his already good changeup that much tougher. Even more impressive was the way he excelled in Lancaster, which can chew up and spit out pitching prospects. He should get his first real test in 2013 at AA. Tropeano was a 5th round pick by Houston in 2011.

9.  Jarred Cosart

Cosart is a fiery competitor with outstanding stuff that has never consistently translated to his results. Blister problems kept him from breaking out the way many hoped he would in 2012. That said, Cosart still has a chance to quickly become a top of the rotation starter or, should that fail, a good bullpen piece. Cosart will likely begin the year in AAA, though he has an outside shot of making the big club out of spring training. He was a 38th round pick by Philadelphia in 2008 and came to Houston in the Hunter Pence trade.

8.  Nate Freiman

Freiman is a big first baseman which a very promising bat. He's consistently hit for good average with plenty of doubles, tape measure homeruns, and a respectable strikeout rate, especially for a big guy with power. As a rule 5 pick from the Padres organization, he'll be given a shot to stick on the roster out of spring training, though he's competing with Carlos Pena and Brett Wallace for playing time. Freiman was an 8th round pick by San Diego in 2009.

7.  Domingo Santana

Santana is a corner outfielder with a huge swing that generates home runs and strikeouts. Despite being roughly three years younger than his competition, he has shown marked improvement each of the last two seasons. His real test will come this season as he faces AA pitching for the first time at just 20 years old. Santana was originally signed by Philadelphia out of the Dominican Republic and came to the Astros in the Hunter Pence trade.

6.  Mike Foltynewicz

Folty made good strides in 2012 while repeating at Lexington. He's another starter who has the stuff to become a top of the rotation starter but can't quite figure out how to consistently dominate hitters. His mound presence can seem to get shaken at times, but I doubt that will be an issue going forward as he gains experience. There has been some talk that he could skip Lancaster and open the season in AA. Foltynewicz was the Astros' 1st round pick in 2010.

5. George Springer

Springer is often described as being a five tool prospect and he showed that potential in his first full season. At this point, the only real knock on his game is a high strikeout rate, although that's one fault that has ruined many a promising prospect as they face more advanced pitching. Springer will get a chance to test that theory as he starts the season in AA. Springer was the Astros 1st round pick in 2011.

4.  Lance McCullers Jr

McCullers was regarded by some as one of the steals of the 2012 draft. With a triple digit fastball and developing slider and changeup, Lance has the chance to develop into a true #1 starter with a fallback as a closer. It will be interesting to see if Houston goes ahead and gives him a shot at full-season ball this year. McCullers was a supplemental 1st round pick for Houston in 2012.

3.  Delino DeShields Jr

If not for the Reds' Billy Hamilton, DeShields would have been the biggest story in the minors this season. Not only did he steal over 100 bases, but his batting average, power, and defense at second all made significant strides in 2012. DeShields can be described as quiet but intense, though his body language can be a bit off-putting at times.  He will likely start the season in Lancaster. DeShields was a 1st round pick by Houston in 2010.

2.  Carlos Correa

I usually wait about a year before ranking any prospect this highly, but Correa has the chance to be something truly special. The size of a third baseman with the athleticism of a shortstop, combined with his big bat potential and first-class makeup should take this kid very far. It will be interesting to see how much the Astros push him through the system, as I could see him in either Tri-City or Quad Cities to start the year. Correa was the Astros 1st round pick in 2012.

1. Jon Singleton

Singleton continued his steady march towards the big leagues in 2012. We started to see the power potential materialize to match his strong batting average and walk rates. Singleton will start the season in AAA and has a good chance of seeing some time in Houston in September. He was originally drafted in the 8th round by Philadelphia in 2009 and came to Houston in the Hunter Pence trade.

So there you have it, the Astros County Top 25. I think this top 10, especially, is as strong as Houston has had in at least 20 years and should start getting the fans excited in the next couple years.

Hall of Fame Announcement

MLB Network will be airing the Hall of Fame announcement live on January 9, at 2:00 pm ET. Coverage will start at 12. It will be a two hour event, and "will include interviews with electees."  Unless MLB has enlisted the help of a necromancer, the electee interviewed would have to be someone elected by the BBWAA, rather than the veterans committee. 

Right now Biggio and Bagwell are leading the way, with 71% and 69% of the vote respectively, with 15% of the vote counted. (Source The 2013 Hall Of Fame Ballot Collecting Gizmo!Could it be that the remaining 85% were enough to get one or both over the 75% threshold? Its hard to believe MLB would host a 2 hour live show to announce no one got in, and it looks like Biggio is the most likely choice. Other possibilities include Piazza, Raines and Morris, who are all over 60 % according to the Gizmo. Things just got interesting. 


Checking out the Astros ZIPS Projections

Dave Szymborski’s ZiPS projections for the 2013 Astros went up on Fangraphs this morning. They are, as expected, pretty grim. As noted in the summary, every pitcher on the Astros roster is projected to have a below average ERA, (save Wesley Wright) and Matt Dominguez's projected 1.9 WAR is second best on the team. The Astros projected starting lineup is projected to post 11.8 total WAR. Better than Trout's 10 from last year, but not by much. But enough with the bad news. Are there any positives?

Well, for starters, several of the Astros prospects have been projected as well, and they hold up quite well against the current roster. Ranked by projected WAR, Singleton is 5th with 1.5, Deshields and Springer are tied for 11th with .9  and Grossman and Villar are just outside the top 15 with .7 and .6 respectively. Given these prospects ages, its a very good sign that ZIPS projects them to hold their own in the majors.

As far as the current major league roster, the projections show some progress. It doesn't expect Dominguez to be a world beater, but shows him holding his own offensively, while showing off that all-world glove. The projections for Lowrie, Maxwell and Castro are based on less than 400 ABS. If they play full seasons, they could near double their projected outputs. Altuve is expected to continue to make progress, and is expected lead the team with 2.5 WAR. 

As for the pitchers, well, there is not much good news. As noted above, none of the starters are expected to be even league average. The three major additions to the rotation, White, Humber and Ely are all projected to have ERA's over 5.00.  The FIP's are all lower, which I guess means ZIPS projects the defense to be sub-par. A 4.22 projected ERA from the closer will result in a lot of blown leads. The good news, I guess, is that these are just projections. I personally expect the Astros starting rotation to be better than this, though not by much. 

Overall, this confirms what we already know. The Astros are not supposed to be very good next year.  Shocker. But you can also see, even in these projections, the next wave of Astro talent coming. Its going to be rough, maybe for a while, but help just might be on the way.     

Unzipped: Projecting the AL West

The ZIPS projections for the 2013 Astros season will be released later today, but instead of waiting for that, I decided to do a little projecting of my own.

Using I established a home run  rate, strike out rate, and hit rate for each of the starting 9 of the 5 clubs in the AL West. I used's depth chart to determine what players would be included. Using these numbers I projected what each player would do with a minimum number of major league at bats (486) if they started every game at that position. I did not include walks or obp because I was using the at bat stat for these projections and not plate appearances.

Instead of posting the actual numbers for each player, I decided to use the numbers to compare the overall output, in regards to these stats, by each team, giving a better idea of where the Astros could end up in relation to the rest of the AL West.

Disclaimer: These numbers are pulled from 2012 batting stats. Small sample size, potential FA signings, and pitching adjustments be damned.

Home Runs:
1. Houston Astros
2. LA Angels
3. Oakland Athletics
4. Texas Rangers
5. Seattle Mariners

Top 3 players home run rate:
1. Josh Hamilton - LA Angels 13.069 AB/HR
2. Chris Carter - Oakland Athletics 13.62 AB/HR
3. Justin Maxwell - Houston Astros 17.5 AB/HR

I found the biggest surprise to be the home run numbers. The Astros and the Angels were neck and neck in the total home run numbers.The Angels line up has more proven AB's while the Astros line up is a projection based on a smaller sample of AB's. So I figure Houston's players may experience greater periods of slumps than the Angels line up. Or maybe they will take some developmental strides and surprise some people. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

Maxwell, Lowrie, and Dominguez project as the top 3 home run hitters on the Astros.

Strike Outs: (greatest to least)
1. Oakland Athletics
2. Houston Astros
3. Seattle Mariners
4. LA Angels
5. Texas Rangers

Top 3 K rates:
1. Mike Olt - Texas Rangers K/2.5 AB (very small sample size)
2. Carlos Pena - Houston Astros K/2.7 AB
3. Justin Maxwell - Houston Astros K/2.76 AB

Oakland barely edges Houston in strike out totals with Seattle not far behind. The Angels and Rangers show the most discipline at the plate and it's not very close.

Carlos Pena, Justin Maxwell, and Bret Wallace project to have the most strike outs for the Astros.

Batting Average:
1. LA Angels
2. Texas Rangers
3. Houston Astros
4. Seattle Mariners
5. Oakland Athletics

Top 3 Hit Rates:
1. Mike Trout - LA Angels Hit every 3.07 AB.
2. Adrian Beltre - Texas Rangers Hit every 3.11 AB.
3. Craig Gentry - Texas Rangers Hit every 3.27 AB.

Top Astro: Jose Altuve Hit every 3.44 AB

Jose Altuve, Matt Dominguez, and Jason Castro project to have to top 3 batting averages on the club..

The Rangers and Angels team batting average each projected about 25 points higher than Houston's team average, which projects about half as much of that over Seattle and Oakland.

So what can we take from this? Not a ton. This wasn't the most scientific method of projection and later today when Houston's ZIPS projections come out we can get a more precise estimate of how Houston's players will perform on an individual level. This was meant as more of sizing up the AL West in these categories to get a better idea of how Houston will compete in 2013.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Astros County Top 25 Prospects: 15-11

These five and the previous five are virtually interchangeable. As a matter of fact, if I were to re-rank this group, my number 15 would be number 20 today. If you missed it, check out the first two posts 25-21 and 20-16 first, then come back to check out this one. 

15.  Kevin Chapman

As a lefty reliever, Chapman finally showed some ability to get out right handed hitters in 2012, though his walk rate remains too high. Admittedly, it's risky to rank a minor league reliever this high, but with a floor as a lefty specialist I think Chapman has a good shot of reaching the majors some day. He was originally a 4th round pick by the Royals and came to the Astros in the Humberto Quintero deal. He should spend most of the season in AAA and has the chance to earn a cup of coffee this season.

14.  Andrew Aplin

Aplin is a centerfielder with a little pop and a lot of speed. As is the case with many of the prospects added to the system recently, he also shows some patience at the plate. Aplin was taken in the 5th round of the 2012 draft by the Astros. He should spend the season in A ball.

13.  Preston Tucker

Tucker is a corner outfielder with some power, a decent walk rate, and a low strikeout rate. I could see him and Aplin playing side by side for a few years to come. Tucker should also be in A ball in 2013. He was the Astros 7th round pick in 2012.

12. Austin Wates

Wates is best known for his Sportscenter Top Plays catch over the wall, but the attention he received afterwards is warranted. As a left fielder who can play a little center, Wates' best tools are his defense and his strong batting average. He's also very engaging with fans on Twitter. Wates was the 3rd round pick by Houston in 2010 and earned a shot at AAA pitching this year.

11.  Nolan Fontana

Fontana got a lot of attention for walking 65 times in just 49 games in 2012. That said, he also struck out a lot and only hit .225, though that's a direct result of him taking so many pitches and working to two-strike counts. A more balanced approach will help this shortstop going forward. Picked in the 2nd round by the Astros in 2012, Fontana should spend the year in A ball.