Friday Astros Minor Thoughts

In my recap of the Round Rock/ Corpus Christi game, I left some things out. I know, you’re probably shocked right now. What I wanted to do is give you a game story for the exhibition match, hitting the high points of what actually happened before delving into my general impressions of the proceedings. After all, I was there to see the players more than care about the outcome.

Wesley Wright was the starter for the Express. I saw Burt Hooton walk into the clubhouse as we were going in to talk with Bombard, so afterwards I tracked him down to ask him about Wright. He gave me the usual platitudes about how he did, coach-speak at its finest. We didn’t talk for long, but he did tell me something that was worth noting. I’ll move to a quote here.

"I've never done it [turn a reliever into a starter]," Hooton said. "That's what we're trying to see. I don't know if you'd necessarily call it an experiment. He's the kind of guy that we want to see if he can start and if he can give us winning innings."

First, some fun Burt Hooton facts. He was drafted with the second overall pick in the 1971 draft by the Chicago Cubs. He made his big league debut that same year, pitching 21 1/3 innings for the Cubs and going 2-0 with a 2.11 ERA. He ended up playing 15 seasons in the big leagues with a record of 151-136 and an ERA+ of 108. He pitched for the Cubs, the Dodgers and retired with the Rangers. He also holds the University of Texas record for lowest career ERA (1.14) and batting average against (.158) in 291 career innings. More impressively, he struck out 11.94 batters per nine inning in his collegiate career, which is also tops in Longhorn history. He threw two no-hitters at Texas and another in his second season with the Cubs. He won a World Series with the Dodgers in 1981, outpitching Tommy John in Game 5 to clinch the Series. Hooton was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and the Collegiate Baseball Hall of Fame. His number was retired by Texas in 2009.

That’s a pretty impressive career, isn’t it? If this guy, who’s been all over baseball, been a pitching coach for a number of years in both the majors and the minors, if he has never seen this before, what does that tell you about this move? It’s certainly not the most bizarre thing I’ve every heard, nor is it that outrageous. After all, guys like Elmer Dessens, Ryan Dempster and John Smoltz have gone from reliever to starter before. What this underscores for me is that Wright’s transition is still unusual. As Hooton said, it’s not an experiment, but it doesn’t have a whole lot of precedent. Which is why it’ll be one of the more interesting things to watch at Round Rock.

 

  • We’ll break the rest down bullet-point style, just to be cool:
  • One of the first guys that jumped out at me was Brian Bogusevic. Every ball he hit was on the nose. They might have been pulled because he was sitting on Jeremy Johnson’s breaking stuff, but he hit them with some force when he did. He didn’t have many plays in the outfield, but he did misplay that one, leading to Corpus’ game-winning single by Clemens. The one play that impressed me most about Bogey was in the bottom of the first inning. He was on second base with Oswaldo Navarro in front of him on third. Navarro scored on a Andrew Locke grounder to third base. Bogey hesitated while watching the third baseman, not far enough off the bag to draw a throw, but as soon as the third baseman went to first with it, Bogey took off for third. He beat the relay by sliding under the tag, but it was a really heady play. I’m not sure what role he’d have on the big league club, but he’s definitely got the skills to be a bench guy.
  • Jason Bourgeois, Brian Bogusevic, T.J. Steele, Matt Kata and one of the coaches for Corpus all were rocking the high socks. This delighted me. Also, seeing Steele in the high socks made me soften on my criticism of him, just slightly.
  • The paid attendance was reported as 4,914, but there were maybe 200 people there. I generously estimated it at 2,000 in Thursday’s story, but it was less than that. I saw a very rare thing in the game.
  • Collin DeLome took a walk. It’s like seeing a ghost orchid. Doesn’t happen very often and when it does, you better appreciate it.
  • My impressions of T.J. Steele were mixed. While he did make the spectacular play in center and obviously has enough confidence in his speed to play fairly shallow, he didn’t look that fast out of the box. He also looked a little frustrated at the plate, throwing his bat in anger after a strikeout and pounding his helmet in disgust after a popup later in the game. I seem to remember something from a Fixler Files post about him destroying a water cooler. I could definitely see where that could come from. One game doesn’t make a scouting report, but I was underwhelmed.
  • The other interesting thing that I sort of touched on in the game story happened in the top of the sixth. With two men on, Steele was asked to bunt the runners over rather than take his hacks with no outs. For a guy who’s supposed to be a five-tool, Cesar Cedeno clone, why would he be asked to bunt? Was it like when Carlos Lee bunted in spring training? Just a weird situation.
  • They may not be much to see offensively, but Wladimir Sutil and German Duran looked slick in the field. They turned one 4-6-3 double play where Duran took a grounder, shuttled it to Sutil without the ball every leaving his glove as Sutil effortlessly made the relay to first. It was such a simple play because the two of them made it look simple and beautiful. Anyone going to Corpus this year could have some fun watching those two play defense.
  • Saw some weird things in this game. For instance, Edwin Maysonet was throwing in the Round Rock bullpen at one point. Chia-Jen Lo was playing catch with the outfielders between innings. Hooks reliever Erick Abreu pitched for Round Rock while still wearing a Hooks uniform. It was a strange little game to attend.
  • First impression of Matt Nevarez? He’s a BIG DUDE. Didn’t expect him to be as hefty as he was. Looked like a young Rich Garces out there. Not that it affected his pitching (he was lights out), just the first thing I thought when I saw him.
  • Another play you probably won’t see in the regular season. With Jason Castro in to catch, Koby Clemens checked his swing on a ball in the dirt. Castro smothered it and asked for an appeal to first, since there were two strikes. The home plate umpire didn’t acknowledge him for at lest 15 seconds. Castro walked around, got more in front of the umpire and more vocally asked and pointed to first. Finally, the home plate guy asked for an appeal and the first base ump rung Clemens up. I think Castro may have a little Crash Davis in him.
  • Jon Gaston was as thickly built as I had been led to believe, but he didn’t do anything to stand out either way in this game. He struck out badly in the ninth, swinging over a curve ball, but put good swings on the ball for the rest of his at-bats.
  • My last observation of the game was about Hooks reliever T.J. Burton. While older for a prospect, Burton put up good numbers with Corpus last season. What stood out to me was his pitching motion. I’ll try my best to describe it, but I won’t blame you if you get confused. Burton pitches out of the stretch, but it doesn’t look like you’d expect. He puts his front foot pretty far in front of him, almost to the end of rubber and with his heel at the toes of his back foot. He then strides back across his body when in the windup, whipping his arm around and across his body. I bet it hides the ball pretty well from hitters and could be why he has success at Double-A but maybe why the Astros are reluctant to move him up.

 

In other news, the minor leagues opened their regular season on Thursday. Farmstros treated us to a new song, as well as updated links to all the affiliates’ rosters. They also played some pretty good games. Tanner Bushue pitched 4 1/3 innings of one-hit ball, striking out six and walking one. J.D. Martinez and Jonathan Meyer backed him up at the plate, both going 2 for 4 while Jio Mier was 1 for 4 with a double.

At Lancaster, Brandon Barnes built on his strong spring performance with a solid opening day. The outfielder was 2 for 5 with a solo home run and two strikeouts. Catcher Federico Hernandez went 2 for 4 and Ebert Rosario had a double. Kyle Greenwalt got the start and allowed five hits and two runs in five innings while striking out five. David Berner also threw two perfect innings in relief with one strikeout. My notes from draft day on Berner: 

14) David Berner (LHP, San Jose St., 6-2, 205, 21) Notes: Now here is a kid I really like. This press release by San Jose State is full of some good quotes from the coach and Berner. He's an older guy who can probably advance quickly. Pitching in the WAC, he also had to play at altitude some, so he's probably used to hitter-friendly environs, meaning he won't be phased by Lancaster's band box. He also led his conference in ERA, opposing batting average and strikeouts. The latter two tell me that the former was no fluke or product of excellent defense. I have high hopes for this one. Lefties that strike people out don't grow on trees.

In Tulsa, Corpus Christi’s Sergio Perez threw five shutout innings, allowing four hits and one walk while striking out four. He was relieved by Henry Villar, Chia-Jen Lo and Erick Abreu. Lo had the best night of all the relievers, striking out four in two innings of work. Offensively, Jon Gaston, T.J. Steele and Koby Clemens all had doubles while Wladimir Sutil and Jhon Florentino each went 2 for 4.

Round Rock opened in New Orleans, as Josh Banks gave up a solo home run as one of only three hits in his six innings of work. Roy Corcoran took the loss, giving up the winning run in the ninth. Jason Castro was hitless in four at-bats, but Brian Bogusevic continued to look strong, going 2 for 4.

Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this story that Astros County put me on to. The newspaper up in Oklahoma City is bracing itself for the team to change hands. Some interesting quotes in there, including the one about how these agreements are marriages and that the Astros would not necessarily get the OKC team if the Rangers move on. Would that set up a scenario where Portland moves to San Antonio and the Astros run the Missions as their Triple-A club? Or would Houston go back to New Orleans? The Astros were affiliated with the Oklahoma City club from 1962 to 1972, before a host of turnover that saw them affiliate with six different cities in a span of eight years. They finally settled on Tucson as their Triple-A team and maintained that affiliation from 1980 to 1996, the longest Triple-A affiliation Houston has had in its history. What do you think? Who’s the logical affiliate choice if Round Rock joins the Rangers organization?

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