Sunday, April 24, 2016

This week in... Lancaster!

This year at Astros County we going to report on the Minor League affiliates in a slightly different way.  Instead of regular daily recaps, we have agreed to adopt an affiliate each, and review how they have done at regular intervals over the season.  I have been assigned the Astros' Hi-A team affiliate, the Lancaster JetHawks.  After all, it is the closest affiliate to my home - just a 12 hour flight, followed by a two hour drive, and I am there!!  I should pop across for a game or two!

Lancaster has been the Astros' affiliate since 2009, and they have been blessed with some strong teams.  The 2009 and 2010 teams weren't strong, but they had some legitimate future stars in them, including José Altuve and Dallas Keuchel, and a couple of other major leaguers no longer in the Astros' system (Jonathan Villar and David Carpenter).  Those teams struggled to break the 55-win barrier (the minor-league season is 140 regular season games).  Things started looking better in 2012, with the arrival of Kiké Hernandez, Domingo Santana, George Springer and Delino DeShields, with that team finishing 8 games above .500 and winning the California League.  The serious talent arrived in 2014, however, with the JetHawks boasting a roster with Carlos Correa, Tyler White, Vincent Velasquez and Lance McCullers Jr as the talent who has already made the major-leagues, and highly rated prospects like Brett Phillips and Mark Appel backing them up.  They also secured the California League title.

The JetHawks this year have a different feel to them.  The Crawfish Boxes thinks they are young, but lacking any obvious star-power, whereas WTHB sees a lot of similarities between the 2016 Lancaster roster and the 2015 Quad Cities roster, while predicting that they will struggle due to inexperience and a lack of left-handed pitching.

It is worthwhile noting, at this point, that the JetHawks aren't that young, at least not as far as the position players go.  The California League has an average age of around 22-and-one-half for position players, and 23 years for pitchers.  The JetHawks have four position players (out of 13) younger than the league average and seven pitchers (out of 15) aged 22 or less.  There is a noticeable lack of high draftees at Lancaster this year, with reliever Riley Ferrell (2015 third rounder) being the highest player taken  Ferrell is also the highest of Fangraphs' prospects in Lancaster (Akeem Bostick is the other popular prospect, and he sits at number 18 on John Sickels' list).  So Lancaster could struggle a bit, particularly with their young pitching.

And struggle they have.  The JetHawks currently sit 5-8 on the season, scoring a total of 56 runs while allowing 75.  Hot starts with the bat to Jason Martin, the lefty hitting 20-year-old outfielder, who has 50 plate appearances, and is slashing to the tune to .349/.440/.535.  Nick Taneilu is hitting for power and average (.300/.321/.480 in 53 plate appearances), whatever that means at Lancaster.  Hi-A repeater and super-utility guy, Marc Wik, is also off to a solid start (.267/.371/.400).

Another position player worth mentioning is Garrett Stubbs, the left-handed hitting catcher who the Astros drafted in the eighth round last year.  Stubbs seems to be demonstrating a strong eye at the plate, but little else, with a .212/.341/.303 line in 41 plate appearances.  Given Jason Castro is a free agent at the end of the year (if he makes it to the end of the year), catcher is a position worth watching in the Astros' system, and if Stubbs shows enough bat, he could have himself a career.  That said, he has just been placed on the minor-league 7-day DL.

Kristian Trompiz, the shortstop / infielder from Venezuela is the last position player that I will mention here, purely by virtue of his age.  Trompiz is struggling, with a .186/.239/.209 triple-slash through 46 plate appearances, but his age (20) is the is the other outstanding feature of the Lancaster position players.  I mention him because this is an aggressive promotion, and it will be worth watching his progression.

As mentioned previously, perhaps the highest-rated prospects are two pitchers, Riley Ferrell and Akeem Bostick.  Ferrell is off to a good starting, allowing no runs - earned or otherwise - through five frames.  He has walked one, struck out nine, and has allowed three hits.  I recall that pundits mentioned that he was potentially on the fast-track to the major leagues when he was drafted last year.  People also said that they saw batters swinging at pitches that later hit them in the stomach, such is Ferrell's movement and deception.  We will certainly keep watching him, but I would expect that he will be in Corpus by mid-season.

Akeem Bostick has struggled in three appearances, allowing six runs (all earned) in 10.2 innings of work.  Home runs have hurt him (3) as have walks (8).  He has also managed to strike out only 5.  Botick, like Stubbs, has also been recently added to the DL.  Doing better among the pitching ranks are starters Brock Dykxhoorn (4R/3ER in 9.2IP, 1 walk versus 10 strikeouts) and Dean Deetz (4ER in 14 innings pitched, but 6BB versus 9K) with reliever Ryan Thompson (2ER in 6.1IP, walking two while striking out 7) also doing well.

That wraps up the first 13 games of the JetHawks' season.  We have some names to watch going forward, and I will try to provide a review on a weekly basis.  Like I said, some useful future ML pieces currently reside at Lancaster, but they are low on star power and highly rated prospects.  Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave comments or feedback below.