Dear National Baseball Media ~
With all due respect, Astros fans and bloggers would like for you to shut up about the Astros. Quit writing, quit opining and quit tweeting. In particular, please shut up about the Astros payroll and how it’s supposedly a slap in the face to The Integrity of the Game™.
Believe me when I tell you that Astros fans are well aware that the team lost 213 games over the last two seasons. We are painfully aware of that fact. We are also aware that the Astros will have the lowest payroll in, gasp, all of Major League Baseball. And you have done an admirable job hammering home ad naseum the fact that Alex Rodriguez will make more in 2013 than the entire Astros 25-man roster. Got it. At least I haven’t seen the hackneyed, tired and cliché “Houston, We’ve Got a Problem” headlines yet. (Seriously, it’s time to retire that one and come up with something a tad bit more original.)
For those of us in Houston, those of us who follow the team re-build closely, this year’s payroll is a non-issue. But for a few casual fans who don’t understand the whole concept of a major re-build, no one has really even been talking about it. Until now. Now that national baseball pundits have started claiming that the Astros payroll will somehow compromise The Integrity of the Game™.
The most prominent naysayer was Peter Gammons who tweeted out that it is “Houston’s plan to have no payroll, lose, get the 1-2 pick 4 years in a row and still steal revenue-sharing $.” Buster Olney also piled on implying that the Astros were not even trying to win and comparing the team to Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose in how the team was damaging The Integrity of the Game™.
Anyone who believes that the Astros are planning to lose and not even trying to win has not met this man.
Bo Porter, the new manager of the Astros, is an intense, driven man. He is a charismatic leader. He is a demanding task-master. He is an excellent teacher. In short, he is the perfect manager to inspire, motivate and get the absolute maximum effort from this team. Plain and simple, he will tolerate nothing less. I think this team will end up surprising a few people with their aggressive, hard-nosed style of play.
As to the payroll, are the Astros supposed to spend money just to spend money? That’s exactly how you end up paying Carlos Lee almost $19,000,000 to hit a grand total of nine home runs while blocking the ability to fairly evaluate whether or not Brett Wallace will be a part of the team going forward. At this point in the re-building process, it is more important to evaluate prospects than it is to sign free agents to long-term, high dollar contracts. The vast majority of Astros fans understand that and agree with General Manager Jeff Luhnow’s strategy of signing low-risk, high-reward one-year free agents. Until the team figures out what holes need to be filled from outside the organization in order to complement the talent coming up through the ranks, signing long-term (expensive) free agents could very well prove to be counter-productive, resulting in blocking prospects and tying up resources that would be better utilized in further building up the minor league system.
Let’s look at a few of the free agent signings from the winter and why I’m glad they didn’t sign with the Astros:
- Houston could have signed Shane Victorino to $13,000,000 a year for three years or Michael Bourn to an average of $12,000,000 over four years (and that’s without even getting into the Josh Hamilton’s and B.J. Upton’s of the world). Instead they are signing Rick Ankiel to a modest, incentive-based one-year deal while they wait for George Springer and Domingo Santana to get more experience.
- Houston could have signed 32-year old Jeff Keppinger to an average of $4,000,000 a year for three years or could have given 37-year old Marco Scutaro $20,000,000 over three years. Instead they signed Ronny Cedeno to a one-year contract while Marwin Gonzales and Jonathan Villar get more experience, and are giving 23-year old Matt Dominguez the chance to be an everyday third baseman for the team. Dominguez has already shown Gold Glove caliber defense and appears to be on the cusp of breaking out with the bat as well.
- Houston could have signed Lance Berkman to DH for one year for $10,000,000. Or they could do what they’re doing – add Carlos Pena at less than a third of that to establish a veteran presence and give Brett Wallace the opportunity to share the first base/DH duties with Pena. If Wallace can establish himself as a DH, he will be able to stick with the team when top prospect Jon Singleton joins the team later in the season.
- Houston could have signed 33-year old Jeremy Affeldt to $18,000,000 over three years. Instead they are signing 34-year old Erik Bedard to a fraction of that, hoping to catch lightening in a bottle while minor league lefties Dallas Keuchel, Brett Oberholtzer and Rudy Owens gain more experience.
- There were a number of huge free-agent contracts for right-handed pitching this year. Jeff Luhnow instead opted to go the low-risk, high-reward direction with Brad Peacock, Alex White and Phil Humber while we wait for Jordan Lyles, Jarred Cosart, Paul Clemens, Jose Cisnero and others to get more experience.
It’s funny that, in looking at all the angst over payroll, it is the the Astros that are taking heat for ruining The Integrity of the Game™ by re-building the team efficiently, while the Yankees are given a free pass in the comparisons as if paying A-Rod $114,000,000 over the next five seasons is good for The Integrity of the Game™.
I truly believe that the Houston team will surprise a few people with their play this season. And while it looks to be another tough season for the team, it will be a valuable season in terms of evaluating and developing prospects. In any event, when all is said and done, the Astros and their fans will have the last laugh. With players like Jon Singleton, Delino DeShields, Carlos Correa, Domingo Santana, George Springer, Lance McCullers, Rio Ruiz, Mike Foltynewicz, Jarred Cosart, Nick Tropeano and Jonathan Villar on their way, Houston is poised to field a strong team of home-grown prospects for many years to come. And that, my friends, is very good for The Integrity of the Game™.
Earlier this week, I looked at what the Astros and Blue Jays each netted as a result of the July 2012 10-player trade that sent Astros RHP Brandon Lyon, RHP David Carpenter and LHP J.A. Happ to the Blue Jays in exchange for major-leaguers RHP Francisco Cordero and OF Ben Francisco, and minor-leaguers RHP Asher Wojciechowski, C Carlos Perez, RHP Joe Musgrove, RHP Kevin Comer and LHP David Rollins. From that trade, only Happ remains with the Blue Jays, but not only are the five minor-leaguers still an integral part of the Astros farm system, four of the five appear on Jonathan Mayo’s recently released Astros Top 20 list on MLB.com.
RHP Asher Wojciechowski tops Mayo’s list at #15. He is also the most advanced player on the list, having excelled in his introduction to AA after the trade. In eight starts for AA Corpus Christi, Wojciechowski was 2-2 with a 2.06 ERA and a 1.008 WHIP. According to Mayo, Wojciechowski has a plus fastball and curveball, plus a changeup that is evolving into what may also be an above-average offering. He is projected to be a workhorse and Baseball America puts his ceiling as a #2 starter.
And while Wojciechowski looks to have a promising future, I wondered if he would ultimately prove to be the linchpin of the trade or if one of the other prospects might emerge as a key player in the trade. I discussed this with Mayo last week and got his thoughts on three of the four remaining prospects from the trade.
First we talked about RHP Joe Musgrove and RHP Kevin Comer, two intriguing high school arms drafted by the Blue Jays in the first round in 2011 who are just embarking on their careers. According to Mayo, “They both have tremendous potential and upside. I think that if it comes together for them, they have higher ceilings than Wojciechowski does.”
Comer, who Mayo ranks at #17 in the Astros Top 20 list, signed late in 2011 and did not pitch until 2012. He came to the Astros late in the season as the player to be named later and only pitched six innings for the Appy League Greeneville Astros, but had a respectable first season for Toronto’s rookie league Bluefield team, putting together a 3-3 record with a 3.95 ERA and a 1.177 WHIP. Still very raw, scouts like him for his solid mechanics and repeatable delivery and expect him to, at a minimum, have three average major league pitches.
Musgrove is ranked by Mayo at #19. In 2012, Musgrove was limited to 17 innings pitched due to a muscle strain in his shoulder, but had a solid debut in 2011 with a 4.01 ERA and a 0.987 WHIP in nine games (seven starts). Musgrove at 6’5″ 230# profiles to be a sturdy innings-eater. Add in an above-average fastball, and a curve and splitter that are projected to be at least major league average and you can see why scouts like him.
Mayo went on to talk about the risks and rewards of signing high school pitchers, “Loading up on high ceiling high school arms is the highest risk, but it’s also the highest reward more often than not. Obviously, there are a lot of exceptions, but a lot of the time the guys that end up being the top of the rotation types are those high ceiling high school guys. The nature of development dictates that those kind of young arms are the biggest wild card there is.”
C Carlos Perez is currently ranked by Mayo at #20, “I kept him in the 20 for a reason. There’s enough there to like. Sometimes with catchers, it can take a while. There’s a lot that you’re learning. So I tend to be a little more patient in waiting for catchers to develop. Not everybody’s Buster Posey.”
Mayo continued in his assessment of Perez, “He is at worst a back-up and a good one because not only does he have a good arm, but he also moves well behind the plate. There’s plenty of guys that catch and have strong arms and they can’t do anything else and what good does that do [if] it takes them too long to get rid of the ball and their footwork’s all messed up and things like that. He does all those things well so that will get him to the big leagues. How much he hits will really determine whether or not he’s an everyday guy or a decent back up.” Perez hit .275/.358/.447 in the Low A Midwest League before the trade and .318/.368/.409 in 26 games after the trade with High A Lancaster in the California League.
The final piece of the puzzle is lefty David Rollins. Although Rollins isn’t ranked as a top prospect, he had an impressive season at Low A in his second professional season, putting up a 7-4 record with a 2.98 ERA and a 1.252 WHIP in 24 starts. Since Rollins wasn’t on Mayo’s radar, I contacted Rollins to find out a little more about him and this is what he told me, “My pitch repertoire consists of a fastball (2 and 4 seam), curveball, slider, and my favorite, the circle change. I’d say my changeup is my best pitch. I can command it well and it helps keep hitters off balance. I’ve been working a lot this off season on my curve ball. I stopped throwing it this past season because I lost confidence in it. I’m steadily gaining it back and ready to see it in a game situation. I have been doing a lot of long tossing and band work to get arm strength so I can gain velo. The movement on my fastball and off speed help me get ground outs and pop ups so I just need to learn to command them all to be successful.”
When asked about his strengths as a pitcher as well as what he needs to work on, Rollins stated, “I would have to say I keep the hitters off balance well. I now recognize if the hitter doesn’t hit something well, I’ll go to that pitch. Also I have been working on a pick-off move and it is now in my arsenal of things I have worked the kinks out of. The main thing I need to focus more on and to improve is the command of my pitches and I have been working hard this off season to do that so when I go into spring training I’ll already know the feel for all my pitches.”
It is doubtful that all five of these prospects will end up contributing to the Astros at the major league level some day simply because the odds are against even one prospect making his mark, much less five of them. But I like the talent and potential that GM Jeff Luhnow added to the farm system in this deal – a durable AA righty, two high ceiling high school draftees, a great defensive catcher with a promising bat and an up-and-coming lefty with a plan. Any one of these players could make the Blue Jays rue the day that they agreed to this trade.
Thanks to Jonathan Mayo for taking the time out to talk to me. Mayo’s Prospect Watch for 2013 can be found here. For more on the Astros minor league system, visit What the Heck, Bobby? or follow me on twitter @whattheheck57.
Yesterday, @ProductiveOuts posed the following question:
Which got me thinking, why would a team trade their best prospect when they have a team that won’t be near its peak for 2-3 more years? @ProductiveOuts (I’m not sure if it was Ian or Riley, so I will act as if the are one entity) and Craig Goldstein gave a number of responses which were all plausible, but which one is correct? Note: It was pretty apparent that none of us like the idea of dealing Wil Myers, something Craig noted here.
(1) @HypeProspect – They know something we don’t.
This is the Occam’s Razor answer, assuming that the Royals know something about Myers that other teams don’t know and want to use it in their favor.
Why is it makes sense: Because we really don’t know what teams know and teams absolutely know things we don’t.
Why it doesn’t make sense: It has become increasingly difficult to totally hide a prospect’s misdoings (think Matt Bush), his performance was so strong and his future is so bright that Baseball America named him their 2012 Minor League Player of the Year.
(2) @ProductiveOuts – Conflicting priorities and pressures that are leading to a terrible decision.
This answer is much more nuanced than the first possibility, but still relies upon Occam’s Razor. The Royals were surprise team in 2011 and their fans became increasingly excited about the next few years. The 2012 Royals struggled despite getting full seasons out of many of their young players, such as Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Alcides Escobar, and significant contributions from many young players, such as Salvador Perez and Lorenzo Cain.
Why it makes sense: You may notice that there were no pitching prospects listed, as their prospects have not been able to add value at the Major League level. John Lamb (torn UCL – Tommy John surgery in 2011), Mike Montgomery (general ineffectiveness in the high minors), Chris Dwyer (general ineffectiveness in the high minors), Danny Duffy (torn UCL – Tommy John surgery in 2012), and Noel Arguelles (general ineffectiveness in the high minors) have combined for 133 innings across 26 starts at the major league level, all of which have come from Duffy. There sits Dayton Moore, watching an offense that is ready for prime time (and has reinforcements on the way in the form of Bubba Starling and Jorge Bonifacio) and only sees three pitching prospects left in the minors that look like they may pan out, 2012 #1 pick Kyle Zimmer, Yordano Ventura (whose short-for-baseball stature and lithe frame make him look like a reliever), and Jake Odorizzi. Moore realizes that to compete, he needs more quality starters and has a glut of outfielders, which means he should trade the one that can bring the largest haul: Wil Myers.
The Red Sox should take [the Myers for Lester] offer and run. Same for the Rays with Shields.
(3) @cdgoldstein – Their window is shorter than you think, and they may have brought up their core too soon.
This one builds on the previous option, as the Royals’ surprise contention in 2011 made it seem like a good idea to bring up Hosmer and Moustakas earlier than a point that would have allowed the Royals to squeeze out an additional year of team control.
Why it makes sense: It rests on facts and getting a pitcher for the next few years would vault the Royals to the top of the AL Central to battle with the Tigers (who are aging rapidly). The addition of Odorizzi (who looks ready for the majors on opening day) and Zimmer (shortly thereafter) would mean the Royals suddenly have the makings of a solid rotation to go with their offense.
Why it doesn’t make sense: The Royals window is basically 2014-2016, and it may make sense to let Myers play a season to see what happens. This seems like a panic move made by a fantasy baseball owner.
(4) @ProductiveOuts – Dayton Moore does not know how to build a major league team, but he knows he can build using the minors.
Moore was a scout who worked his way up to the Director of Personnel Management then Assistant General Manager with the Braves. This is his first time as a GM.
Why it makes sense: Moore has done an absolutely amazing job drafting (even if it helps that he has consistently had top picks) and has made some questionable moves at the major league level, including Melky Cabrera for Jonathan Sanchez, extending Jeremy Guthrie, and trading for Ervin Santana.
Why it doesn’t make sense: Moore has clearly realized the Royals need pitching to compete and has traded to get it. He dealt what he viewed as an extra part that wouldn’t be around in a few years in Cabrera to get Sanchez, then dealt the struggling Sanchez to get Guthrie. Guthrie’s contract isn’t much more than the Dodgers gave Brandon League and the Reds gave Jonathan Broxton. Moore also gave up little to get Santana.
So where does that leave us? Sure, Moore would be crazy to deal Myers, but flags fly forever and even “can’t miss” prospects often miss.
Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.
Tampa Bay Rays second baseman/right fielder/shortstop Ben Zobrist has been one of the most productive, versatile, and underrated players in baseball over the past five seasons. It is amazing to see how the man called Zorilla went from a non-prospect to compiling nearly 26 WAR over the past four seasons.
Zobrist grew up in Eureka, Illinois and attended Olivet Nazarene University in Kankakee, Illinois for three years where he pitched, and played shortstop and second base. In the summer after his Junior season, Zobrist played outfield for the Wisconsin Woodchucks of the Northwoods League, where he was voted team MVP as he led his team to the Northwoods League Championship. At the end of the season, Zobrist was named a Small College All-American at second base. For his senior year, Zobrist attended Dallas Baptist University in Dallas, Texas, which has produced a number of baseball players, including Lew Ford and Freddy Sanchez, where he played shortstop.
Zobrist was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 6th round, 184th overall, of the 2004 draft, immediately in front of Cla Meredith. Zobrist signed quickly, as is common with college seniors who were not drafted in the first few rounds, and was assigned to the Tri-City Valley Cats of the short-season A New York-Penn League. Zobrist displayed a keen batting eye, solid contact rate, and enough range to stay at shortstop en route to a 339/438/463 season where he walked 43 times and struck out only 31 across 310 games. After the season, Zobrist was named to the short season A All-Star team, as Baseball America ranked Zobrist the #5 prospect in the New York-Penn League and the #16 prospect in the Astros organization.
For 2005, Zobrist opened the season with the Lexington Legends of the full season A South Atlantic League, where he continued to put up solid numbers, hitting 304/415/413 across 310 plate appearances before being promoted to the Salem Avalanche of the high A Carolina League, where he continued his torrid hitting, putting up a 333/475/496 line with 37 walks and 17 strikeouts. After the season, Baseball America ranked Zobrist as the #16 prospect in the Astros system and said that he has the “Best Strike Zone Discipline” in the Astros’ system.
For 2006, Zobrist was assigned to the AA Corpus Christi Hooks of the AA Texas League, where he continued to hit, putting up a 327/434/473 line before being dealt to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays with Mitch Talbot in exchange for Aubrey Huff and cash. As a show of respect for the prospect status of Zobrist and Talbot, ESPN referred to the Devil Rays’ newest acquisitions as “two minor league prospects” and did not refer to them by name until the fifth(!) paragraph. Zobrist played for the Durham Bulls of the AAA International League for the next two weeks, when he was called up by the Devil Rays to play shortstop. Zobrist appeared in 52 games, putting up a 224/260/311 line for the remainder of the season. After the season, Baseball America ranked Zobrist as having the “Best Strike Zone Discipline” in the Texas League, but did not rank him otherwise as he had exhausted his prospect eligibility when he lost his rookie status. Despite only playing 83 games for Corpus Christi, Zobrist was named to the Texas League All-Star team as its Utility player (the All Star at shortstop was Brandon Wood).
In 2007, Zobrist opened the season as the starting shortstop for the Devil Rays but struggled early, and was sent down to AAA Durham Bulls when he had a 159/156/222 line after the game on May 10. While in AAA, Zobrist hit 279/403/455 before being promoted to start the July 30 game against the Toronto Blue Jays. Zobrist played in most of the games until August 18, when he strained his right oblique, ending his season. Zobrist’s final line for the 2007 season while playing for the Devil Rays was a disaster, as his 155/184/206 line created an OPS+ of 4, one of the worst in the major leagues for all non-pitchers.
In 2008, Zobrist was slated to become the “super utility man” for the newly minted Tampa Bay Rays when he fractured the top of his left thumb, forcing him to miss the first month of the season. After a four-game rehab assignment for the Vero Beach Devil Rays, Zobrist returned to the Rays, playing inconsistently but hitting well enough to put up a 267/353/400 line through May 28. Zobrist was sent down to AAA Durham and promoted reliever Grant Balfour. Zobrist was only in the minor leagues for about a month, as he started the June 25 game against the Florida Marlins, going 2/6 with a home run. For the rest of the season, Zobrist hit 251/338/514 with 12 home runs, the most he hit on any level to that point (in fact, Zobrist’s previous high was eight total in 2007). Zobrist’s final line for 2008 was 253/339/505, good for an OPS+ of 120. By this point, many viewed Zobrist’s defense at shortstop as sub-par and his “super utility” role took hold, as Zobrist appeared in 35 games at shortstop, 14 in left field, eight at second base, five in center field, two in right field, one at third base, and two at DH.
In 2009, Zobrist’s “super utility” role continued, though he was primarily a second baseman and a right fielder, with as he appeared in 1,044 of his 1,209.1 innings (86.4%) at one of the two positions. Zobrist flourished in the rule, putting up a 297/405/543 line with 27 home runs and 17 stolen bases, being elected to his first MLB All-Star Game and placing eighth in the MVP vote, despite having a WAR higher than the winner, Joe Mauer (about 30% of Zobrist’s WAR was attributable to playing second base). Zobrist was also the Tampa Bay Rays player of the year.
After his breakout season, Zobrist and the Rays began negotiating a new contract. Though Zobrist was not yet eligible for arbitration, the Rays are well known for signing players to team-friendly extensions that guarantee financial security for players. In late April, Zobrist and the Rays agreed to a three year extension that left his 2010 salary at $438,100, but increased his salaries to $4.5 million in 2011, $4.5 million for 2012, and $5.5 million for 2013. The Rays also received a $7 million option for 2014 (with a $2.5 million buyout) and a $7.5 million option for 2015 (with a $500k buyout). Zobrist struggled out of the gate, putting up a 241/327/356 line in April, then a robust 352/400/514 line in May. Zobrist’s struggles continued as he put up a 177/294/293 line after the All-Star break en route to a 238/346/353 line for the season, with his batting average and home runs dipping significantly. Zobrist’s defensive flexibility – he played 371 innings at second base and 749.1 in right field out of his 1294.2 – kept his value high, as his 4.2 WAR was fueled nearly as much by his defense (1.4 dWAR) as his offense (2.5 oWAR).
Zobrist bounced back in 2011, putting up a 369/353/469 line while playing second base in 79% of his 1348 innings (not counting his time at DH) and right field the rest of his time playing.
In 2012, Zobrist has his to a similar line as 2011, putting up a 271/376/466 through September 26 while playing mostly right field (42% of innings). The interesting thing about Zobrist is that he shortstop for 26% of innings, a position he has not played for any extended period of time since 2008. Zobrist has been the Rays’ primary shortstop since August 9, during which he has hit exceptionally well, putting up a 311/378/518 line, well above his career 260/254/441 line.
But what should we expect from Zobrist going forward? Is he the 260/354/441 player his career line suggests? If he the 300/400/500 perennial All-Star that his recent play suggests? I think he is neither. I this he’s closer to the 269/369/457 line that he has put up from 2009-2012. Sure, Zobrist won’t be a Hall of Famer, but in an era with hyper-specialized bullpens, a player who can hit and play multiple positions that require real defensive ability has a lot of value. The Rays should be commended for trading for him and, possibly more importantly, being willing to give him time to develop.
Just a few numbers of note from the Astros 2012 minor league season.
.536 – Slugging percentage for RF Domingo Santana (Hi-A Lancaster)
.464 – On-base percentage for SS Nolan Fontana (Lo-A Lexington)
65 – Number of walks drawn by SS Nolan Fontana in 49 games
.358 – Batting average for New York-Penn League batting champ C Tyler Heineman (SSA Tri-City)
161 – Number of hits by IF/OF Jimmy Paredes (AAA Oklahoma City)
39 – Number of doubles hit by OF Brandon Barnes before his major league call-up (AA-Corpus Christi & AAA-Oklahoma City)
10 – Number of triples hit by OF George Springer (Lancaster/Corpus Christi)
108 – RBI by 1B Erik Castro (Lancaster) and by 1B Zach Johnson (Lexington)
113 – Runs scored by 2B Delino DeShields (Lexington/Lancaster)
101 – Bases stolen by 2B Delino DeShields (Lexington/Lancaster)
88 – Walks taken by 1B Jon Singleton (Corpus Christi)
35 – Home runs hit by 1B Mike Hessman (Oklahoma City)
29 – Home runs hit by OF/DH Telvin Nash (Lancaster)
198 – Strikeouts by OF/DH Telvin Nash (Lancaster)
41 – Number of times 3B Matt Duffy (Lexington) was hit by pitches
2.75 – Team ERA from the Tri-City Short Season A staff
1.170 – Team WHIP from the Tri-City staff
14 – Wins by RHP Mike Foltynewicz (Lexington)
5 – Wins in 2011 by RHP Mike Foltynewicz
14 – Wins by RHP Bobby Doran (Lancaster/Corpus Christi)
1 – Wins in 2011 by RHP Bobby Doran
166 – Number of batters struck out by RHP Nick Tropeano (Lexington/Lancaster)
719 – Number of batters faced by RHP Ross Seaton (Corpus Christi/Oklahoma City) and by LHP Brett Oberholtzer (Corpus Christi/Oklahoma City)
0.627 – WHIP by LHP Kenny Long (Tri-City/Lancaster) in 29 relief appearances
15.3 – Strikeouts per nine innings by LHP Kenny Long (Tri-City/Lancaster)
6.56 – Strikeout-to-walk rate by RHP Aaron West (Tri-City)
0.957 – WHIP by RHP Aaron West (Tri-City) in 12 starts
0.960 – WHIP by West’s teammate LHP Brian Holmes (Tri-City) in 13 appearances/12 starts
0.2 – Home runs allowed per nine innings by RHP Jarred Cosart (Corpus Christi/Oklahoma City)
27 – Saves by RHP Jason Stoffel (Corpus Christi)
0.983 – WHIP by RHP Jason Stoffel (Corpus Christi) in 56 appearances
1 – Complete game no-hitter by RHP Chris Devenski (Lexington)
41 – Number of Houston draft picks
31 – Number of draft picks signed
19 – Number out of the top 20 of draft picks signed
6 – Number of prior year first round draft picks obtained by Houston in trades
+1022 – The swing in cumulative run differential for all teams from 2011 (-761) to 2012 (+261)
102 – The increase in cumulative wins from 2011 to 2012 (from .408 to .527 win percentage)
+264 – The swing in run differential for the Corpus Christi AA team from 2011 (-156) to 2012 (+108)
31 – The increase in wins for the Corpus Christi team from 2011 to 2012 (from .357 to .579 win percentage)
.671 – Win percentage for the Tri-City team
4 – Houston’s rank in cumulative win percentage among 30 minor league systems in 2012
30 – Houston’s rank in cumulative win percentage among 30 minor league systems in 2011
8 – Number of Astros minor league affiliates
0 – Number of Astros minor league affiliates with .500 or better records in 2011
6 – Number of Astros minor league affiliates with .500 or better records in 2012
3 – Number of Astros minor league affiliates advancing to the playoffs (Corpus Christi, Lancaster, Tri-City)
2 – Number of Astros minor league affiliates advancing to the finals (Lancaster, Tri-City)
1 – Number of Astros minor league affiliates winning a League Championship Series (Lancaster)
1 – Number of very, very happy Astros minor league bloggers
In many ways Adrian Beltre has had five distinct parts to his career: (1) Signing out of the Dominican Republic and his rapid ascension to the major leagues; (2) Inconsistency with the Dodgers; (3) MVP-caliber 2004 season and his massive contract with the Mariners; (4) Offensive struggles with the Mariners as he became a defensive stalwart; and (5) Signing with the Red Sox and offensive awakenings.
Adrian Beltre was signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Dodgers in 1994 for $23,000 at the age of 15, in direct contravention of MLB rules, which require the signee to be at least 16 at the time of the signing. As a result, MLB suspended the Dodgers’ scouting operations in the Dominican Republic for a year, though they were allowed to retain Beltre.
Beltre did not make his state-side debut until 1996, when he debuted for the Savannah Sand Gnats of the South Atlantic League. As the youngest player in the league, Beltre hit 307/406/586 across 68 games, mashing 14 doubles and 16 home runs. After being promoted to the San Bernardino Stampede of the high A California League, Beltre put up a 261/322/450 line across 63 games despite being the youngest player in the league by nearly two full years (he was 12 days shy of two years younger than Dennys Reyes, the next youngest player). After the season, prospect rankers raved about his batting eye, power, and defensive potential. Baseball America ranked him the #30 prospect in baseball, between Dmitri “Da Meat Hook” Young and Mike Cameron and lauding his potential.
In 1997, Beltre spent the season with the high A Vero Beach Dodgers of the offense-suffocating Florida State League, putting up a sparkling 317/407/561 line while hitting 24 doubles and 26 home runs, stealing 25 bases, and walking more times than he struck out (67-66). After the season, Beltre was on the short list of the top prospects in baseball. His offensive upside became even more apparent, though his defensive shortcomings became more apparent. However, many felt that he would become an average defensive third baseman with elite offensive output. Baseball America ranked Beltre the #3 prospect in baseball, behind only A’s uber-prospect Ben Grieve and Dodgers 1b/3b prospect Paul Konerko, though ahead of Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood and Pirates 3b Aramis Ramirez.
In 1998, Beltre began the year with the AA San Antonio Missions of the Texas League, where the offensive onslaught continued, as Beltre hit 321/411/581 with 21 doubles, 13 home runs, and 20 stolen bases during the first 64 games of the season. Beltre showed his amazing eye and bat control with 39 walks and 37 strikeouts before being promoted to Los Angeles, where he struggled, hitting 215/278/369 as the youngest player in the Major Leagues by more than one full year (over Aramis Ramirez). Despite his struggles in the major leagues, his prospect stock did not decrease in the slightest, with many penciling Beltre into the middle of the Dodgers’ order for the next decade.
In 1999, Beltre’s first full season was much more successful than his previous, putting up a respectable 275/352/428 line (OPS+ 102) while hitting 27 doubles and 15 home runs. In 2000, Beltre had his best year yet, putting up a 290/360/475 line, as if the best was right around the corner. Unfortunately, Beltre seemingly regressed over the next three seasons, putting up a 265/310/411 line in 2001, a 257/303/426 line in 2002, and a 240/290/424 line in 2003.
In 2004, Beltre had a season that anyone trying to prove that the “contract year phenomenon” is real would love to use as an example. Beltre set career highs across the board, putting up a 334/388/629 line while hitting 32 doubles and 48 home runs, putting up an OPS+ of 163. It appeared as if Beltre finally put it all together and he came in second place in the NL MVP vote (to Barry Bonds, who walked 232 times en route to a 362/609/812 line). After the season, Beltre signed a five year contract with the Seattle Mariners for $64 million that included a $7 million signing bonus.
In Seattle, Beltre’s performance was underwhelming, particularly considering his salary. In 2005, Beltre hit 255/303/413 while struggling with hamstring issues. In 2006, Beltre hit 268/328/465, a solid season, but hardly the season the mariners wanted when they agreed to the contract. Beltre was earning is contract in other ways, as he became known as one of the best defensive third basement in the league. In 2007, Beltre hit a respectable 276/319/482 with 41 doubles and 26 home runs, while winning his first gold glove. In 2008, belter hit 266/327/457 while winning his second gold glove. In 2009, Beltre struggled to stay healthy, missing time due to inflammation and, eventually, surgery on his left shoulder to remove bone spurs, and what can only be termed a “fractured groin.”
In the off season, Beltre signed a one year contract with the Boston Red Sox for $10 million, with a $5 million player option for 2011. In Boston, everything finally seemed to click for Beltre as he put up a 321/365/553 line with a career high 49 doubles and 28 home runs, the second most of his career. Finishing ninth in the AL MVP vote, Beltre declined his 2011 option with the Red Sox and became a free agent.
The Texas Rangers signed Beltre, only 31 years old despite being having just completed his 13th season in the major leagues, to a six year contract valued at $96 million. Since the signing of the contract with the Rangers, Beltre has thrived, putting up a 296/331/561 line in 2011 while winning his third gold glove and silver slugger awards. So far in 2012, Beltre has continued putting up monster numbers, with a 320/357/561 line with 32 home runs and 30 doubles through 139 games.
So what do we make of Adrian Beltre? Is he a late bloomer who took nearly a decade to reach his potential? Did he actually figure it out in 2004, with injuries and pressure conspiring to adversely impact his performance? More importantly, what can we learn from Adrian Beltre? Are there other players who would benefit from extra time to figure it out? Was he rushed to the major leagues because the Dodgers were starting Bobby Bonilla at third base at the time?
The short answer is that Beltre was a tremendous talent who forced his way to the major leagues by absolutely destroying the ball, and a combination of injuries and the incredible amount of talent at the major league level made it difficult for Beltre to succeed.
Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.
When people look back at the trade that brought Mark Teixeira to the Atlanta Braves, people talk about Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, and Matt Harrison; but at the time of the trade the main prospect was Jarrod Saltalamacchia, or as he is often known (probably due to his impressively long and difficult to spell last name), Salty.
Ever since he was drafted out of Royal Palm Beach High School by the Atlanta Braves in 2003, Saltalamacchia has been viewed as a potential middle of the order slugger who may be able to remain a catcher. Saltalamacchia signed quickly for $950,000 and appeared in 46 games for the Rookie League GCL Braves, putting up a 239/382/396, showcasing a willingness to walk and some decent power with 11 doubles. After the season, Baseball America ranked Saltalamacchia the #3 prospect in the GCL and the #19 prospect in the Braves’ system.
For 2004, the Braves assigned Saltalamacchia to the Rome Braves of the Sally League, where he shows a little power (19 doubles and 10 homers over 366 PA), some patience (34 walks), and enough defensive chops to keep him firmly entrenched as the Braves catcher of the future. After the season, Baseball America ranked Saltalamacchia the #9 prospect in the Braves system and the #7 prospect in the Sally League.
For 2005, the Braves assigned Saltalamacchia to the high A Myrtle Beach Pelicans of the Carolina League, where he exploded, putting up a 314/394/519 line across 529 plate appearances while hitting 35 doubles and 19 home runs. Baseball America took notice, ranking Saltalamacchia the #1 Braves prospect, the #1 prospect in the Carolina League, and giving Saltalamacchia the “Best Hitter for Average” superlative after the season. Baseball America also ranked Saltalamacchia the #18 prospect in all of baseball (between Conor Jackson and Andy LaRoche), firmly establishing his prospect status.
In 2006, Saltalamacchia was promoted to the AA Mississippi Braves of the Southern League, where he struggled, putting up a 230/353/380 line while he struggled with injuries. Though none of them were considered career threatening, Saltalamacchia had a down season. After the season, Saltalamacchia was again ranked the Braves #1 prospect and the “Best Hitter for Average” in the Braves system by Baseball America, which also ranked him the #10 prospect in the Southern League and the #36 prospect in all of baseball (between Jeff Niemann and Jacob McGee).
In 2007, Saltalamacchia returned to the AA Mississippi Braves and returned to form, putting up an amazing 309/404/617 line before being called up by the Atlanta Braves, where he put up a 284/333/411 line while splitting time between catcher and first base. On July 31, 2007, Saltalamacchia was dealt along with Beau Jones, Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz and Matt Harrison to the Texas Rangers for Ron Mahay and Mark Teixeira. Saltalamacchia spent the rest of the season with the Rangers, putting up a respectable if unimpressive 251/290/431 line for the rest of the season, splitting his time nearly evenly between first base and catcher.
In 2008, Saltalamacchia opened the season with the Oklahoma RedHawks (yes, apparently it is one word), putting up a 291/391/491 line across 15 games before being brought back up to Texas. Saltalamacchia served as the Rangers starter when healthy, putting up a 253/352/364 line. Saltalamacchia was injured much of the season, with a bruised hand, a groin strain, a broken bone in his foot, and an elbow issue.
In 2009, Saltalamacchia was the Rangers’ primary catcher, putting up a 233/290/371 line. At the end of the 2009 season, Saltalamacchia was a 24 year old catcher with a career 251/314/389 line, good for an OPS+ of 83. Furthermore, Saltalamacchia’s skills behind the plate were not improving as the Rangers had hoped; making many wonder if he would ever develop into anything resembling what he displayed in 2005.
After the second game of the season, Saltalamacchia was placed on the DL with upper back stiffness. After being activated, Saltalamacchia was sent to the Rangers AAA affiliate, the Oklahoma City RedHawks, where he put up an unimpressive 248/319/453 line, displaying good power, some patience, and too much swing-and-miss. On July 31, the Rangers dealt Saltalamacchia to the Boston Red Sox for Chris McGuiness, Roman Mendez, Michael Thomas, and cash. Saltalamacchia spent the next month playing sparingly for the Pawtucket Red Sox (or, as they’re more commonly known, the PawSox) of the AAA International League, putting up a 278/350/500 line before being called up to Boston, where he put up a 158/360/316 line across 10 games.
In 2011, Saltalamacchia experienced a rebirth of sorts, putting up a 235/288/450 line as the Red Sox’s primary catcher, showing good power with 23 doubles and 16 home runs, but little patience (24 walks in 358 PA) and a lot of swing-and-miss (119 strikeouts, or more than 33% of his at bats).
The Red Sox were sufficiently pleased with his play that they signed him to a $2.5 million contract in the off season, thereby avoiding arbitration. Through September 13, Saltalamacchia has a 229/290/475 line with 15 doubles and 24 home runs for the Red Sox for 2012.
But what do we make of Jarrod Saltalamacchia? While he was once compared to Joe Mauer and Jason Varitek due to his sweet swing, good plate discipline, and power, Saltalamacchia’s ceiling may be more similar to a lower batting average version of Jorge Posada. Of course, any time a catcher can play good defense and put up near-league-average offensive numbers, that player can expect a long, prosperous career.
As for now, all we can do is say that Jarrod Saltalamacchia appears to be the perfect example of the “Post Hype Prospect,” a player who once showed the upside of a perennial All-Star, struggled, and has become at least a solid major league regular.
Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.
As the career of Chipper Jones comes to a close, it is amazing to look back at how he went from a consolation price as the #1 pick in the draft to a first ballot Hall of Famer.
While it is easy to look back at the 1990 MLB draft and say “of course Chipper was the #1 pick,” Jones was not the top prospect in the draft, that honor went to Todd Van Poppel, who told the Atlanta Braves not to pick him, as he would go to college at the University of Texas rather than sign with the Braves. Instead the Braves went the quasi-local route, taking Jacksonville, Florida-native shortstop with the first pick. After signing for a $275,000 bonus (Van Poppel got $1.4 million from the A’s, who took him with the 14th pick), Jones was assigned to the Rookie League GCL Braves, where he proceeded to not hit, putting up a 229/321/271 line across 164 PA while getting hit by the pitch six times, setting a career high (which is a testament to the poor command of young pitchers more than anything else). Baseball America was not deterred by his poor performance and ranked Jones the #49 prospect in baseball, between Jeff Juden and Robbie Beckett (Van Poppel was #1, with fellow Braves prospect Ryan Klesko as #3).
Undeterred by his slow start, the Braves sent Jones to the full season A Macon Braves of the South Atlantic League. Jones terrorized Sally League pitchers, putting up a 326/407/518 line with 24 doubles, 11 triples, 15 home runs, and 40 stolen bases. More amazingly, Jones walked 69 times with 70 strikeouts – nearly a 1:1 ratio. As a result, Jones jumped up the prospect rankings, as Baseball America ranked Jones the #4 prospect in baseball, behind only Brien Taylor (the 1991 #1 pick), Van Poppel, and Roger Salkeld. The #10 prospect was an undersized righty in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, Pedro Martinez.
To start 1992, Jones was assigned to play for the high A Durham Bulls of the Carolina League, where he put up a 277/353/413 line across 70 games, before being promoted to the AA Greenville Braves of the Southern League. Jones caught fire in Greenville, putting up a 346/367/594 line with 17 doubles, 11 triples, and nine home runs in 67 games. For the season, the 20-year old Jones hit 311/360/504 with 39 doubles, 12 triples, and 13 home runs across two levels. After the season, Baseball America ranked Jones the #1 prospect in baseball, ahead of Brien Taylor (#2), Cliff Floyd (#3), Carlos Delgado (#4 – as a catcher), and Tim Salmon (#5). Van Poppel dropped to #7 in the new ranking as his star began to wane, while one of the hottest prospects was a corner outfielder in the Cleveland Indians’ organization named Manny Ramirez.
In 1993, Jones was assigned to the AAA Richmond Braves of the International League, and he picked up where he left off in 1992, putting up a 325/387/500 line while hitting 31 doubles, 12 triples, and 13 home runs. Jones earned a September cup of coffee, hitting a robust 667/750/1000 across four plate appearances (one single, one double, one walk, and one strikeout) as a 21-year old. After the season, Jones was picked as the #2 prospect in baseball, as Cliff Floyd passed him on the strength of a 329/417/600 season year in AA.
After Braves’ starting left fielder Ron Gant broke his leg in an off-season dirt bike accident, Jones was expected to compete to start in left field, but tore the ACL in his left knee in spring training and missed the entire 1994 season. Despite this setback, Jones was still the #3 prospect in baseball for 1995, with only Alex Rodriguez (#1) and Ruben Rivera (#2) ahead of him, and Derek Jeter (#4) directly behind him. Jones opened the season as the Braves starting third baseman and never looked back, putting up a 265/353/450 line (OPS+ 108) while coming in second place in the NL Rookie of the Year vote behind Hideo Nomo en route to hitting 389/450/833 in the NLDS win over the Colorado Rockies, 438/526/625 in the NLCS victory over the Cincinnati Reds, and 286/385/429 in the World Series win over the Cleveland Indians.
From there, Jones became a true middle of the order hitter for the next 15 years, putting up a 314/411/555 line with an OPS+ of 148 from 1996-2008, which includes an MVP in 1999, leading the league in OPS (1029) and OPS+ (165) in 2007, and batting average (.364) and OBP (.470) in 2008. After three sub-par seasons (well, for Jones, most players would love to put up OPS+’s of 117, 120, and 121), Jones is going out with a flourish in 2012, with a 301/381/500 line through August 28rd.
While he will never be known as a great defender, Jones became a sure-handed defender at third base who could fill in a shortstop in a pinch, though he was banished to left field for two seasons.
But how will Chipper Jones be remembered? Will he be remembered as a middle of the order threat that was never able to win that second World Series ring? Will he be remembered as the guy who tortured the Mets with a career 314/410/553 line (though in my head it seems like his line was actually 400/600/1000) or as the “cheap” #1 overall pick that worked? In the end, most people are unaware that Jones was not the top prospect in the 1990 draft and view Jones as guy who just went out there and played as much as he could, and doing pretty well when it counted, putting up a 288/411/459 line in the post season.
Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.
Arizona Diamondbacks lefthander Tyler Skaggs began his Major League career about as well as he could have hoped – 6.2 innings, two runs, three hits, five walks, and four strikeouts – and a win for his team. Despite having his Major League debut shortly after his 21st birthday, Skaggs was not always looked upon as a top prospect – more of a good prospect with a lot of upside. The amazing thing about Skaggs is that he is the rare projectable prospect who experiences the uptick in velocity, improved command and control, and pitch quality that allows him to jump up the prospect rankings.
Just before his 18th birthday, Skaggs was drafted out of Santa Monica, California by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim with the 40th pick of the 2009 draft, the Angels’ third pick in the first round. The first pick was Randal Grichuk (#24), followed by Mike Trout (#25). After Skaggs, the Angels picked Garrett Richards (#42) and Tyler Kehrer (#48) in the supplemental first round. Skaggs signed for $1 million and was assigned to the Orem Owlz (yes, Owlz) of the Rookie-level Pioneer League, where Skaggs appeared in two games allowing four runs (two earned) across four innings, striking out six. Skaggs was then assigned to the AZL Angels (not Angelz), where he appeared in three more games, starting two, allowing no runs across six innings and striking out seven.
Viewed as a lefty with a low-90s fastball with a projectable frame, prospect prognosticators were cautiously optimistic about Skaggs’ future. Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein ranked Skaggs the #9 prospect in the Angels’ system, stating that “Skaggs oozes projection,” noting his fastball “should gain a few ticks” and that Skaggs’ “command and control” were above average for a teenager. Baseball America ranked Skaggs the #8 prospect in the Angels’ organization, noting his potential to move up significantly.
In 2010, the Angels assigned the 18-year old Skaggs to the Cedar Rapids Kernals of the full-season A Midwest League, where Skaggs began showing his potential. Skaggs began the season pitching very well, and his prospect status began to climb. After his start on May 24, Skaggs’ season line sat at a 2.37 ERA with 41 strikeouts and nine walks across 38 innings. Skaggs had a respectable 3.61 ERA across 82.1 innings with 82 innings when it was announced he had been traded. Skaggs was the Player to be Named Later in the August 10 trade between the Angels and Diamondbacks, where the Angels acquired Dan Haren for Patrick Corbin, Rafael Rodriguez, Joe Saunders, and a PTBNL (Skaggs).
Skaggs was assigned to the South Bend Silver Hawks of the Midwest league and dominated for the rest of the season, allowing only three runs in his final 16 innings, striking out 20. Skaggs cumulative line and great outings at the end of the season bumped up his prospect status. Baseball America ranked Skaggs the #82 prospect (between Matt Dominguez and Chris Dwyer) in baseball, along with the #10 prospect in the Midwest League, the #2 prospect in the Diamondbacks’ system, and as having the Best Curveball in the Diamondbacks’ system. BP’s Kevin Goldstein ranked Skaggs the #83 prospect in baseball, between Delino DeShields and Dee Gordon. Goldstein lauded Skaggs’ “slow, classic 12-6 [curveball] with heavy drop that generates plenty of bad swings,” and ability to throw both his fastball and curveball for strikes.
For 2011, Skaggs was assigned to the high-A Visalia Rawhide of the hitter-friendly California League, where he continued his quality pitching, putting up a 3.22 ERA and striking out 125 (11.2k/9) in 100.2 innings before being promoted to the AA Mobile Bay Bears of the AA Southern League. In AA, Skaggs pitched even better, putting up a 2.50 ERA across 57.2 innings, striking out 73 (11.4k/9). After the season, the accolades came in, as Baseball America ranked Skaggs the #13 prospect in baseball, the #1 prospect in the California League, and the #2 prospect in the Southern League, while noting that Skaggs had the “Best Breaking Pitch” and was the “Best Pitching Prospect” in the California League. BP was just as complimentary, ranking Skaggs #21 overall, between Nolan Arenado and Billy Hamilton, noting that while his fastball used to sit in the average range (89-91), it now “sits in the 91-94mph range with a bit of natural sinking action.” Kevin Goldstein continued, stating that Skaggs can drop his “plus-plus overhand curveball … into the zone for strikes or bury it as a chase pitch.” In ranking Goldstein called Skaggs a potential “star-level starting pitcher.”
For 2012, Skaggs was sent back to the AA Mobile Bay Bears, where he dominated, putting up a 2.84 ERA across 69 innings, striking out 71 (9.2k/9) before being promoted to the AAA Reno Aces of the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. In Reno, Skaggs continued to pitch well, putting up a 2.91 ERA across 52.2 innings while striking out 45 before being promoted to Arizona.
In Skaggs’ first start, ESPN’s Keith Law noted Skaggs’ success:
Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein noted how much he liked Skaggs’ curveball, stating:
Baseball America’s Jim Callis lauded Skaggs’ command and control, stating that Skaggs “has better control and command than Bauer, so Skaggs might be better equipped to make a smoother transition to the big leagues” than Bauer.
So what should we expect from Skaggs for the future? Skaggs should fit in nicely in the Diamondbacks top-flight rotation of the future with Trevor Bauer, Archie Bradley, Ian Kennedy, and Trevor Cahill. Will he become a #1 pitcher? Probably not, but early returns and projections suggest he could become a solid #2, the guy you would love to give the ball to for Game 2 of a postseason series.
Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.
Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow was recently asked about potential September call-ups. One name that surfaced as a possibility was LHP Brett Oberholtzer who is currently pitching for the Oklahoma City Redhawks AAA franchise. So who exactly is Brett Oberholtzer?
An eighth round draft pick by Atlanta in 2008, Brett came to Houston as part of the Michael Bourn trade in July 2011. Splitting his time between Corpus Christi and Oklahoma City this season, Oberholtzer has an overall 10-10 record with a 4.52 ERA, a 1.374 WHIP and a 3.28 SO/BB ratio. That sounds like a solid, if rather uninspiring, pitching resume until you look at Oberholtzer a little more closely. Despite pitching a career high 159 and a third innings so far this season, he appears to be getting stronger, hitting his stride with the Redhawks team. Over his last four outings, he may be 1-3, but that comes with a 2.22 ERA and a 1.165 WHIP, and 25 strikeouts to six walks.
I interviewed Brett back in July and asked him about his pitch repertoire which includes a four-seam fastball, curveball, changeup and cutter. His fastball velocity has been up around 90-93 this season which is up from earlier reports of a 87-92 offering. Jonathan Mayo cites his “outstanding command and control” and his ability to mix pitches well. In discussing Oberholtzer, Baseball America speaks of his “durable, innings-eater frame,” his pitching savvy and his self-awareness as he recognizes his strengths and weaknesses.
When I spoke with Keith Bodie, Oberholtzer’s former manager at Corpus Christi back in June, he described Brett as a tremendous athlete with all of the equipment to succeed, but noted that he needed to develop the mental side of pitching and to avoid falling into a rut of throwing rather than pitching. And that is precisely what his pitching coach in Oklahoma City, the inimitable Burt Hooten, has been working on with Brett. As a student of pitching, Hooten says, “He’s learning discipline, particularly on all of his pitches. He’s learning direction, mainly on his fastball. Learning rhythm, tempo, focus. Doing a good job. Heading in the right direction with all those things. He’s been a good student thus far.”
One thing that doesn’t show up in pitching lines or win-loss percentages, though, is what some call intangibles. To me, those intangibles are what set Brett Oberholtzer apart. In talking with him, I was struck by his focus, determination and maturity as a 23-year old. Yes, he has solid abilities, but it is his work ethic, mental toughness, exemplary attitude and overarching desire that I believe will bring him ultimate success. I hope to see him in Houston in September.