Saturday, January 2, 2016

New Years' Astros News

Two quick bits of Astros news for the first day of 2016.

Firstly, the Astros signed an outfielder and a pitcher to minor league contracts, which included Spring Training invites.  The Astros also issued Spring Training invites to those not on the 40-man roster, which seems waaaaay early to me, and makes me wonder whether they are done for the offseason.  None of these moves are sexy or exciting, but are noteworthy by virtue of the total absence of interesting or stimulating Astros-related news.

Firstly, Spring Training invites to those already within the organisation have been extended to the following players (who aren't currently on the 40-man):
  • Alex Bregman, SS
  • A.J. Reed, 1B
  • Derek Fisher, OF
  • Colin Moran, 3B/1B
  • Tony Kemp, 2B/UT
  • J.D. Davis, 3B
  • Tyler White, 1B/DH
  • Tyler Heineman, C
  • Roberto Pena, C
  • Joe Sclafani, IF/UT
  • Jon Kemmer, OF
  • Chris Devenski, RHP
  • Brady Rodgers, RHP
  • Brendon McCurry, RHP
  • Jake Buchanan, RHP
  • James Hoyt, RHP
  • Jordan Jankowski, RHP
I don't have a lot to say about this group, other than there is a distinct lack of left-handed pitchers being invited.  As things stand, the Astros 40-man has three lefties on it: Dallas Keuchel, Tony Sipp and Kevin Chapman.  For now, it looks like the Astros are set for one lefty in each of the rotation and bullpen, barring additional trades (Andrew Miller?) or free-agent signings (Wei-Yen Chen?).

Secondly, the Astros signed outfielder Eury Pérez (formerly of the Braves organisation) and RHP César Valdéz (formerly of the Diamondbacks organisation) to minor-league contracts.  

First, lets deal with the righty, Valdéz, who is listed as a 30-year-old 6-foot-2 righty from the Dominican Republic.  He was signed by the Diamondbacks as an amateur free agent in 2005, and made nine appearances for the big-league club in 2010, sporting a total ERA of 7.65, and a FIP of 4.73.  He has one major-league win to his credit, which occurred on his debut, when he went 5 innings, allowing 8 baserunners (5 hits, 3 walks) while striking out two.  He allowed only one earned run in that performance.   

Valdéz's major-league win also happened to occur at a time when the Diamondbacks were managed by A.J. Hinch.  The opposing team???  The Astros!!  Valdez held down a lineup of Astros greats such as Jeff Keppinger, Pedro Feliz, Tommy Manzella, Cory Sullivan and Humberto Quintero (and, to be fair, late-career Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman).  The starting pitcher for the Astros was Felipe Paulino, who allowed 4 earned runs in five frames.  Tim Byrdak relieved, Sammy Gervacio relieved Byrdak, and Scuffy Moehler finished the last two innings of the game in mop-up.  The final score was 9-1.  Goodness, how times have changed looking at that box score - that was truly and awful team that the Astros ran out there that day.  And the game was played on May 3 - it was not a September roster full of minor leaguers up for a cup-of-coffee.  The Astros dropped to 8-17 that day.  Not sure how I remained an Astros fan over that period.

And just as the Astros have journeyed through transition since 2010, so too has Valdéz.  He spent parts of 2011 in the Pirates and Marlins organisations.  He then played in the Mexican League (as well as various other winter-leagues) from 2012 through 2015.  His last year in the Mexican League was by far his most successful - he went 11-6 for Tabasco, with a 2.63 ERA over 160-and-two-thirds frames, striking out 161 and allowed 28 walks.  He allowed only 0.5 HR/9, with 5.75 K/BB ratio.  These were all by far his best career marks in any decent league since high-A in 2008 which is obviously highly unusual.  There is obviously a story behind that improvement, and I am sure that we will learn it in the event that he makes the big league club.

Eury Pérez's time in the Major Leagues is a little more recent, and he has more of a typical career trajectory.  He is a 25-year-old Dominican who is the veteran of 156 big league plate appearances.  He appeared in the majors briefly in 2012 and 2013 with the Nationals, then in 2014 with the Yankees, then in 2015 with the Braves.  He wasn't tendered a contract at the end of 2015 by a Braves team bereft of good players.  Pérez has a relatively underwhelming big-league line: .254/.307/.282 with 29 strikeouts against 7 walks.  He is yet to hit anything more assertive than a double at the big-league level, but his body of work in the minors suggests more a little more upside: he is a career .305/.361/.383 hitter over nearly 3200 plate appearances, with 191 walks against 455 strikeouts, and 22 home runs sprinkled in there somewhere.  He has been young for nearly every level he has played as well, so perhaps there is a little more potential for development than with Mr Valdéz.

Pérez's major-league defensive work has been at all three outfield positions - in the major-leagues, he has spent most time in LF, whereas CF has been the position he has played the most of in the minor-leagues.  He seems like an Alex Presley replacement to me.

So not much to talk about in the midst of a slow news cycle for the Astros - and rightly so, given the time of year and all.  The Astros take a flier on a pitcher with an unusual career trajectory, and gain some outfield depth with a potentially interesting signing.  And there seems to be few surprises in the Spring Training invites, other than the time of year that they have been publicised.

I neglected to mention that - as things stand - the Astros have invited 57 players to Spring Training, and that pitchers and catchers report on February 18.  Not that we at AC are counting down the days or anything.  But only six-and-one-half weeks to go!!

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