One of the things I did at my website last season was dole out awards each month to the best hitters and pitchers at each minor league level. Since April ended Friday and it'll take a while for another Friday to get here, think of this as a special edition of minor league news to go with our normal big league awards (have you noticed my fondness for awards? What can I say, I like gimmicks).
Hitter of the Month: Michael Bourn, OF - There were times when Craig Biggio was an Astro that the leadoff hitter was the best one in the lineup. That's exactly what Bourn was in the first month of 2010. His wOBA of .385 led the team (well, Felipe Paulino had a higher wOBA, but in less at-bats). His BABiP was a very high .431, which was over 100 points higher than his batting average. As we've talked about before, fast players like Bourn can maintain high BABiP numbers and Bourn is certainly fast, stealing 11 bases in 14 attempts.
Pitcher of the Month: Roy Oswalt, RHP - Though his record (2-3) wasn't great, Roy Oswalt sure bounced back from his bad 2009 campaign. His ERA of 2.73 is a little better than his FIP of 3.80 or his xFIP of 3.67, but that's probably due to a low BABiP of .278. Still, 28 strikeouts in 33 innings means his K rate is back to 2004 levels. Continuing a trend, Oswalt's ground ball rate is still lower than it was in 2007 and 2008 and is even down from his career rate of 47 percent.
Defender of the Month: Michael Bourn, OF - According to the defensive data at FanGraphs, Bourn had 53 balls hit into his 'zone' and made plays on 50 of them. He's also made 22 plays on ball hit out of his zone. That leads to a plus-6 DRS, but just a -7.0 UZR/150. We've seen Bourn make highlight reel catch after highlight reel catch. His speed allows him to play pretty shallow but also get back to balls hit up on Tal's Hill.
Triple-A Round Rock
(Indicates age, round and year drafted)
Hitter of the Month: Collin DeLome, OF (23, 5th 2007) - It's not often that an older player improves much with the jump from Double-A to a higher level. That's what DeLome managed to do this April, putting up a fine line of .275/.351/.529 in 57 plate appearances.There are a lot of reasons why I like DeLome that have nothing to do with his skill set. He's from Buna, a little town near the Golden Triangle where I grew up. He went to Lamar University, where my dad got his degree. He was the first player signed in an awful draft class in 2007, so if he does well, some of the taint will be taken off that class.
At the same time, I recognize DeLome's flaws: he strikes out too much, he doesn't walk enough and he doesn't get enough hits to prop up his low OBP with a high batting average. Plus, while he has speed, he's not a good baserunner yet. Imagine my surprise when he's walking 8.7 percent of the time this season and has been successful on both of his steal attempts. That walk rate, if he sustains it, would be his highest rate at any minor league stop since getting drafted. DeLome also had more extra-base hits than any other Express player in April and leads the team in home runs (3) and wOBA (.313). In short, he had a good month.
Pitcher of the Month: Gustavo Chacin, RHP (29, signed by Toronto in 1998) - One of the things Round Rock manager Marc Bombard told me when I talked to him a few weeks ago was that the Express were going to need to get many of their starters stretched out, since they hadn't gotten that opportunity during big league camp. Gustavo Chacin appears to be one of the guys affected by this, as he's increasingly pitched deeper into games through his first four starts.
His game score has also gone up in each start and Chacin has not allowed more than one run in any start this season. His K rate isn't great at 5.66, but his BB rate of 1.74 is pretty awesome. His Pitching Runs Created score of 9.41 would put him fifth on the team in runs created. Though Chacin has a 1-1 record, his expected winning percentage is .871, so he's definitely given Round Rock the opportunity to win games he starts. What more can you ask of a guy?
Double-A Corpus Christi
Hitter of the Month: Koby Clemens, 1B (23, 8th 2005) - Behind all the home run totals, the 18 RBIs and the .575 slugging percentage, Clemens was still the best hitter in Corpus Christi. Only two players (Lou Santangelo and Marco Cabral) had higher wOBA than Clemens' .301, though Clemens topped the Hooks' in Runs Created with 15.5. On the downside, his 28 strikeouts was more than any other player in the Astros system. Granted, he did walk nine times, but he wasn't getting base with the same frequency as last season. It's been a good transition to Double-A for Clemens and he deserves HOM.
Pitcher of the Month: Jordan Lyles, RHP (19, Supplemental 1st 2008) - We've gone over this before, but Lyles' 10.23 strikeouts per nine innings is the best total of any Corpus Christi starter. His 11.1 Pitching Runs Created ranks him second on the team behind Clemens. His run support hasn't been good, but he has a great FIP of 2.20 and a solid ground ball rate of 45.6 percent. Strikeouts and lots of ground balls? That makes for a pretty effective pitcher. Did I mention he's still a teenager?
High A Lancaster
Hitter of the Month: Albert Cartwright, 2B (22, 36th 2007) - Cartwright had three triples in April and five stolen bases in seven attempts. he also struck out 15 times in 77 plate appearances but has a .356 wOBA, which is higher than all but one other Astros minor leaguer with as many plate appearances. His 24 hits were also the second highest total in the Astros farm system.
If Cartwright, DeLome and our next player make good on the promise they have shown, that'd make three players coming out of the 2007 draft. While it doesn't excuse the Astros not signing their top two picks, it does make it less of a disaster, doesn't it?
Pitcher of the Month: Kyle Greenwalt, RHP (21, 20th 2007) - He's the next guy I mentioned from the 2007 draft. Greenwalt has transitioned well into the unfriendly confines of Lancaster. His ERA of 2.67 in 27 innings over five starts is good enough, but his FIP of 2.31 is just sterling. That comes from 21 strikeouts to five walks and one hit batsman. Greenwalt also has given up just 27 hits in 27 innings, a pretty solid total for the Clear Channel Field.
Oh, and what's that? His BABiP is at .338, which means this isn't just because he's lucky? Even better. There are two ways to succeed at Lancaster: don't walk many people and get a lot of ground balls. Greenwalt has the highest number of ground ball outs of any JetHawk pitcher. That's why Greenwalt and David Berner (16 strikeouts, one walk in 15 innings) have been successful when Brad Dydalwicz (eight walks in 9 1/3 innings) has struggled.
Low A Lexington
Hitter of the Month: J.D. Martinez, 1B (22, 20th 2009) - Though his home run power hasn't come online, Martinez has flashed plenty of potential. He leads the South Atlantic League with 36 hits (35 of which were in April), he's got 105 plate appearances already and is in the top seven in the Sally League in total bases. What, you need more? His .940 OPS is even a little low. When you adjust for ballpark and league factors, that number jumps up to .972. He's got a .413 BABiP, which doesn't seem too irrational, since his batting average is at .365. His wOBA of .363 is the highest in the Astros system as is his Runs Created total of 21.9. The only blight on his record is seven walks, but that correlates strongly to his walk rate in 2009. The stats speak for themselves with Martinez. If he keeps this up, he'll shoot up prospect charts quickly.
Pitcher of the Month: Tanner Bushue, RHP (18, 2nd 2009) -26 strikeouts in 25 2/3 innings. That's pretty impressive. His starts have gotten better as he's gained stamina and pitched deeper into games. While he's given up an alarming number of fly balls, hits and walks, he's flashed a lot of potential. For instance, he hasn't given up a home run yet and his game score average is at 54, while only one of his starts has been below average. He's also been remarkably consistent with his strikeout totals, getting at least five in each of his five starts.
Astros Stock Watch
Carlos Lee, slowly rising - Give credit where credit's due, that's my motto. Since getting a day off on April 26th, Carlos Lee is 7 for 25 with a double, two walks and five strikeouts. That's a .280 batting average, which is almost 100 points higher than his current average. When hitting third in the lineup, Lee is 8 for 24 with a double, a triple, a walk and five strikeouts. He also stole a base in two attempts. El Bufalo has not been nearly as horrendous as he was early in the season, but he, like the rest of Houston's roster, needs to show some more pop. As Richard Justice tweeted today, it's been since Sept. 17th of last season that Lee hit his last home run. 18 million dollars for Darin Erstad?