Friday Astros Minor Thoughts

He got me. 

When Farmstros started talking about this America-born, Venezuelan-raised pitcher, asking if the Astros should sing the former reptile importer/exporter, I was amused and intrigued. The story was pretty ridiculous, but I never doubted it. Sure, I had my doubts whether he could really throw 104 MPH, but I fell for the whole story hook, line and sinker. It helps that Farmstros did an excellent job of selling the story. Here's a rundown of all his stories, including a song that Venezuelan children sang about Rojo.

One of our own commenters, AstrosAndy, connected the dots over at Astros County. Big League Stew even posted an entry about it. See, Will Ferrell was also appearing at the Dell Diamond Thursday. Pretty random, right? Unless...he IS Billy Ray Johnson!

It seems Rojo Johnson is first cousin to Sidd Finch. The clever folks running the Express Facebook page even posted a picture of Johnson that conveniently failed to load. Then, after the game, they posted this excellent album documenting the whole night. My favorite picture? "Johnson" hitting the other player with a chicken. Comedy gold, folks! 

No official word on how Mr. Johnson did in the game, since he was left off the box score. But, expect another press release shortly announcing his retirement. I guess this is karmic retribution for my little April Fool's joke.

Onto the minor league happenings in the past week. In case you missed it, the Astros released two pretty high-profile players this week. 2006 first-round pick Max Sapp was released after he failed to get back into baseball activities following a life-threatening battle with meningitis two years ago. Sapp had not played in a game since the 2008 season and finished his Astros career with 210 games played, seven home runs and a .220/.310/.313 line in 839 plate appearances.

The other player who was released was Mitch Einertson. The 2004 fifth-round pick was the Appalachian League MVP that same year. Einertson hit 24 home runs for Greeneville that season, but didn't hit another 24 total home runs over the next two. He spent two years at Corpus Christi but was recently suspended again by MLB for testing positive for recreational drugs. It was a pretty sad end to a promising Astros prospect, on both accounts. Let's hope these next prospects do better.

Chris Shelton is showing off his power, hitting three home runs and a double in 23 plate appearances this week. Shelton's .582 wOBA and 11.1 Runs Created are both second on the team. Oh, and hte other oddity to Shelton's week is that his BABiP of .500 is exactly equal to his batting average. Should I even say that's unsustainable?

Of all the players in the Astros system, six are batting over .500 in May. Brian Bogusevic has the best batting average of anyone with at least 10 plate appearances. He has also stolen two bases in two attempts. Of course, he's grounded into a double play, struck out four times and walked just once. Still, he's put together a pretty good week, posting the highest wOBA on the Express roster.

Exhibit A in why I don't understand the minors. Corpus Christi has three young, talented outfielders who fit all three positions nicely. Yet, somehow 28-year old David Cook has more plate appearances than all but T.J. Steele. Granted, Cook has been good, and has played at DH. He leads the team with 4.41 runs created and is tied with Jon Gaston for the team lead in walks with four. Cook should be doing this well, though. He's 28 in the Texas League.

Steele has also rebounded from a rough April, but it's a bit of a hollow rebound. Yes, he is hitting .350/.381/.457 in 21 plate appearances. His only extra-base hit was a triple and he's walked just once. His BABiP of .438 seems high, but for fast players like Steele, it's easy to maintain. Progress like this makes me up my opinion of Steele a bit, as does the fact that he hasn't been injured yet this season. Still, it's just one week. He needs to keep this up if he's going to keep rising through the system.

I get the feeling that Jay Austin is a streaky hitter. He's 9 for 20 this week with a double, two home runs and three steals. He's only walked once, but struck out just twice. The biggest improvement in his game has been running the bases. Austin stole a pretty good number of bases last season, but did so with a low success rate. This season, he's stolen 11 of 12 bases and seems to be picking his spots better. That's also one stat that can't be inflated by the California League, as this article by Baseball America hints.

Mark Ori's another case of an older player excelling at a level they should never be at. Still, it's not easy to go 10 for 20 in a week. Ori didn't have an extra-base hit, didn't walk and struck out once. He also grounded into a double play and stole one base in his only attempt. While he's having success, you can definitely see why the Astros may have sent him back to High A ball.

You may not know much about 25-year old Freddy Parejo. Signed out of Venezuela by Milwaukee, Parejo played in the Brewers system for five seasons, getting 44 plate appearances at Triple-A in 2009. The Astros signed him last winter and sent him back to High A ball as outfield depth while Josh Flores recovered. No one told Parejo that, however, and he's been scalding this season, hitting .325/.356/.373 with four doubles and two stolen bases. He might have higher-profile guys like Brandon Barnes and Austin pushing him for playing time, but Parejo is proving to be a key addition to the Lancaster lineup.

Diminutive second baseman Jose Altuve may have learned something from another small second sacker, Dustin Pedroia. It has to do with the phrase, "Laser show." That's all Altuve seems to be hitting these days. The Astros second baseman doesn't strike out much and walks less, but his speed and hitting abilities will keep his on-base percentage high.

Polin Trinidad had his best start of the season earlier this week. Trinidad threw six innings while allowing four hits and one earned run. He also struck out four and walked one. When Trinidad made the big move last season from Corpus to Round Rock, the first thing that fell was his strikeout rate. Trinidad seems to be more of a finesse pitcher than a hard-thrower, so he probably had trouble getting strike calls. Now, he's adjusting to life at Triple-A, but its anyone's guess if he can transition to the majors.

Don't look now, but Dallas Keuchel is heating up. He's struck out 12 in his last 12 innings while walking three. He has given up two earned runs in each of his last two starts along with 13 hits. Keuchel is a pretty advanced pitcher who's ceiling isn't as high as some of his rotation-mates. But, if he keeps up these peripheral rates, Keuchel could be bumping someone out of the Hooks rotation soon.

Who would take his place? Try Arcenio Leon, a pitcher who the Astros have considered turning into a starter. His only appearance this month was a 3 1/3 inning appearance on Monday. Leon struck out six in his perfect innings. Leon didn't give up a hit, walk a batter or give the other team any free bases. He basically locked down his innings as well as any pitcher this season. With 20 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings, the 6-foot-1, 162 pound righthander has the stuff to move along quickly, but I worry about his stats in Lancaster.

Jonathan Mayo brings it with another great article exploring the world of 'Super Twos.' For those of you unfamiliar, that's a term used to describe players who can be eligible for arbitration a year early, because they had played a certain percentage of games their first season. By pushing a player back, you effectively push back his arbitration. Is there anyone else who wonders about the Towles/Castro drama? The reason Cash came up instead of Castro is a) to save money and b) because the kid isn't hitting yet.

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