Friday Astros Minor Thoughts

I'll level with you readers. I am still working on getting through all the stats for Lancaster and Lexington. I'm working as fast as I can, but haven't had my usual downtime to really plow through them. Next week should be much better so look forward to a wOBA/FIP leaderboard, Runs Created leaders for each team and much, much more. Until then, here are some random notes from this week.

Round Rock starter Josh Banks got roughed up on Friday, allowing eight hits and six earned runs in 5 1/3 innings. It was the first time Banks had not completed the sixth inning this season and still only raised his ERA to 3.69. Of course, his FIP of 4.38 shows he's been lucky to this point. Another fun fact? Banks has given up a home run in all four of his starts so far.

While Jason Castro has been disappointing this season at the plate, he has walked in 12 straight games through Wednesday and his OBP of .379 is solid. Imagine if his batting average were higher than .212?

Round Rock has been pretty speed this season. The Express have stolen 23 bases in 27 attempts. Granted, 13 of those 27 attempts belong to Jason Bourgeois, but it's impressive nonetheless.

Another guy having a solid start at Round Rock is Gustavo Chacin. A rough spring dropped him out of the race for a big league spot, but Chacin has rebounded nicely with a 13/4 K/BB rate and allowing just four earned runs in 20 2/3 innings. His ERA of 1.74 is probably a bit high, but his FIP of 3.78 is still pretty respectable. If his K rate were a little higher, we could be getting a little more excited about his April. You probably read about him when he made the Farmstros Five yesterday, but it's worth mentioning again how solid he's been.

Douglas Arguello lost his first decision of the season, allowing four earned runs over six innings. Arguello struck out six while walking one, giving him a 20/5 K/BB ratio on the season. He's also got a good ground ball rate, which is one of the reasons why his BABiP rate of .304 could be sustainable for longer than a month. It's also one of the reasons his FIP of 2.21 is encouraging.

Obviously, the offensive story with the Hooks is Koby Clemens. He's created 12.18 runs this season with a wBOA of .323. his six home runs also leads the team but he's trailed closely in wOBA by Marcos Cabral, who has started at second base, third base and shortstop this season. Another fun fact about Clemens? He had six multi-hit games out of the 19 he played in through Wednesday. This article by FanGraph's Bryan Smith suggests that Clemens may eventually end up as a major leaguer, but probably not as a starter. My evaluation might not be as seemingly down, but it's not much better. I see Clemens' 27 strikeouts in 82 plate appearances as a big red flag. Yes, he's walking at a good clip, but if he's striking out this much at Double-A, what will big league pitchers do to him?

Unfortunately, one of the Hooks off to a slow start is T.J. Steele, who's 14 for 73 this season with four walks and 14 strikeouts. His wOBA of .193 is one of the lowest on the Corpus Christi roster and his BABiP of .255 is fifty points lower than his batting average. We're less than a month into the season and we're still only talking about 81 plate appearances, but hopefully Steele can turn things around soon.

Wesley Wright had a tough start on Wednesday. In a six-inning game at Iowa, Wright went four innings and gave up six hits and one run. Wright walked one and struck out one, throwing 78 pitches in the process. That brings Wright's FIP to 3.67, which is higher than his current ERA of 2.79. My first thought was his BABiP might be low, but it's actually pretty normal at .304. Where Wright falls down in FIP terms is that he's only struck out nine in 19 1/3 innings. He's going to have to raise that K rate if he wants to get a spot in the big league rotation.

Another guy really scuffling right now at Round Rock is Drew Locke. I'm not too worried about him since he got off to a similarly slow start last April. Still, he's hitting .148/.207/.185 in 58 plate appearances and has effectively lost his starting job to Chris Shelton and Collin DeLome. Locke has hit two doubles, but has also struck out 12 times already. At 27, he's really not a prospect, but is one of the few bright spots from a power standpoint in the system. Since Shelton is not hitting for power (three XBHs, .272 wOBA), it's certainly not going to be hard for Locke to win back the first base job.

Speaking of DeLome, he's certainly making the most of his first taste of Triple-A. In 52 plate appearances, DeLome has a line of .277/.346/.532. The second and third numbers are really important there. His OBP is high (for him) because he's walked four times already. That's a walk rate of almost 10 percent. Considering his walk rate was much, much lower the last couple of seasons, DeLome could stand to show this kind of patience long-term. He has struck out 10 times already, but that's why he's not an elite prospect. Still think he's the best choice to fill in for Carlos 'El Bufalo' Lee in left field in case of an injury.

I also neglected to mention in my last post the job that Andy Van Hekken has done since he was put in the starting rotation. In 21 2/3 innings, the 30-year old has struck out 23 and walked four. He's also given up only 18 hits but has a 1-1 record and an FIP of 1.91. His K/9 rate of 9.55 is only lower than one other Round Rock pitcher Casey Daigle, 10.38). Van Hekken is old for his level and four starts doesn't make a season. Still, he bears watching as long as Bud Norris and Felipe Paulino continue to struggle in the bullpen.

I'm not sure what happening with Fernando Abad. He's pitched well in his four starts this season, but he's topped 77 pitches just once and has only pitched past the fifth once. He's also only struck out more than three batters once. I know he's a control lefty who doesn't throw very hard, sort of like Wandy. So, it stands to reason that his strikeout rate could get higher as his offspeed stuff develops more. I just get a weird vibe when I see his numbers. They should be better than they are, it seems.

Another Hooks pitcher that has an unorthodox start to the season is Tyler Lumsden. The 26-year old (who will turn 27 in May) was picked up from Kansas City two winters ago for outfielder Jordan Parraz. Lumsden spent some time at Round Rock in 2009, but has spent most of his time with the Hooks. To start the 2010 season, Lumsden has pitched in four games and has started two. You might think the Astros are trying to stretch him out. Not really, though. He's alternated starts with relief appearances and just topped 50 pitches on Monday for the first time. So he's a spot starter? Possibly. Corpus hasn't had too many off-days on the schedule, but his first start seemed to be one of those 'don't mess up the rotation' starts. He's done fairly well, allowing 13 hits and two earned runs in 11 2/3 innings while striking out three and walking one. His FIP of 2.94 is actually pretty good as is his .310 BABiP. More importantly, it seems Lumsden has been very efficient, needing just 2.74 pitches per batter faced. Could explain the low pitch counts, but it'll be interesting to follow just how his season progresses.

I would be remiss if we didn't talk about Jordan Lyles. His K rate of 10.23 is the second highest on the team, just behind Danny Meszaros at 14.54. His Pitching Runs Created is at 11.10, which puts him second on the Hooks, behind Clemens at 14.59 and just ahead of Lou Santangelo at 10.28. His walk rate of 1.64 is filthy and suggests his Power/Finesse Ratio of 1.32 is sustainable. He's allowed a line drive rate of 15.8 percent but has a fly ball rate of just 33.3 percent. He's showing no signs of a platoon split, with a .229 average against lefties and a .213 against rightys. He's got a pretty even ratio of called strikeouts to swinging strikeouts at 12/13, meaning his control is excellent but he's got plenty of swing-and-miss stuff. For instance, in his latest start, only seven of the 28 batters he faced were able to pull the ball and four of those were hit on the ground. His fastball might not have enough velocity to wow scouts, but this kid is for real.

Lancaster is known as a hitter's paradise, which is why it's disconcerting to see only two hitters with slugging percentages above .400 this season. One of those (Brandon Barnes) has a sub-.300 on-base percentage while the other (Albert Cartwright) is getting most of his power from doubles and triples. On the flip side, six of the 12 pitchers have ERAs under 4.00, so it's not all bad. Looking at the team as a whole, Lancaster has given up the second-most hits and runs in the California League and are the third-lowest team in strikeouts. In a nod toward Ricky Bennett's comments to Farmstros that makeup matters more than stats at Lancaster, JetHawk pitchers have the second lowest walk total in the Cal League.

One guy who has been struggling on the surface is lefthander Dallas Keuchel. A seventh-round pick out of the University of Arkansas, Keuchel has given up 30 hits and 14 runs (13 earned) in 20 2/3 innings. He's also struck out 7.1 per nine innings and walked just three batters in four starts. A soft-tosser, Keuchel is exactly the kind of pitcher who may get roughed up in ERA in Lancaster, but could have a much better season once he moves up to Double-A.

Another lefty, Brad Dydalewicz, has been one of the few JetHawk pitchers to struggle with his control. The 20-year old has walked eight in 9 2/3 innings while striking out seven. He's also hit four batters, so he may be working on a new grip or a new pitch. It should also be mentioned that Dydalewicz started 2009 slowly after coming back from an injury, so he could just need a few more starts.

Brandon Wikoff has also been showing why I like him so much, but is also tempering my expectations by not showing any power. The 22-year old has nine walks in 61 plate appearances while striking out five times. His on-base percentage is 100 points higher than his batting average, but he has yet to get an extra base hit. Throw that on top of him getting caught on his only two steal attempts and Wikoff hasn't contributed as much offensively as you'd expect. He has been pretty solid defensively, committing just one error in 17 games at shortstop. The fifth-round pick out of the University of Illinois-Champagne is exactly the kind of player Ben Zobrist was in the minors. Let's hope the Astros keep Wikoff around.

Tanner Bushue - Mike Newman over at Scouting the Sally tweeted Wednesday that Bushue was sitting at 87-88 with his fastball and had a killer curve. His third pitch (a changeup) wasn't thrown very much and according to Newman, Bushue hit a wall in the sixth inning. It's a little hard to project Bushue until his fastball velocity rebounds a bit, but his curveball is legitimate. It was already ranked as one of the best in the system by Baseball America. Bushue is averaging a little over five innings per start, but it's good to remember that Lyles and Seaton were limited in innings last season during April. Once they starting pitching in May, they started getting lengthened out. So, Bushue's stamina probably isn't an issue yet. His 26 strikeouts in 25 2/3 innings? That's legitimate, and speaks to the power of that curve.

Newman also tweeted that Jose Altuve hit the two hardest balls he saw on Wednesday night. At 5-foot-5, he was impressed with the diminutive second baseman. Altuve has shown doubles power at Lexington and is hitting above .300 with five walks in 69 at-bats. He's also stolen four bases in five attempts. In the overall picture, I like Altuve more than Cartwright, Duran or even Maysonet to make an impact on the big league roster. Still, it's an uphill battle for a guy that small to make the majors.

Building on my Reds preview theme, here are some surprising facts about Jonathan Meyer: He's committed eight errors in 19 games at third base. He's only walked five times in 76 at-bats. He has the second-most hits on the team but four other players have higher slugging percentages. He's third on the team in strikeouts behind Kody Hinze (21) and Aaron Bray (16). His OPS is almost 200 points lower in road games than in home games. He's hitting just .255 with the bases empty and .483 with the men on base. That's all pretty surprising. What I think this all means is that I wouldn't mind if the Astros drafted Nick Castellanos or Zach Cox to add another third baseman to the system.  Meyer is young but he's no sure thing.

Another pitcher to watch at Lexington is reliever Jose Trinidad, mainly because he has 17 strikeouts and four walks over eight appearances and 17 1/3 innings. Trinidad's ERA is a bit inflated by allowing 23 hits  and 10 runs (nine earned), but he's shown a solid repertoire. With those numbers added to a 1.29 GO/FO ratio, he could succeed if bumped up to Lancaster.

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