TCB Tuesday Mailbag: You've got questions, we've got answers

Bob Levey

On the Arizona Fall League, Coaching Changes and Raw Players

Happy Tuesday again, Astros fans! Only five games remain in another terrible season; in the meantime, we've collected a few more questions from some of our readers. Away we go.

Luhnow said Porter was safe but all other positions would be evaluated. Any idea on possible changes, if at all?- Christopher E.

Porter is totally safe, as he should be. There's no reason to fire him considering the low expectations that were placed on this team. We don't really know how good Porter is as a manager yet, because he hasn't had any talent to work with. It won't be until the team is actually competitive that we can fairly evaluate Porter as a big league manager.

In terms of other staff positions? I think Doug Brocail might be the only coach who could be let go. He wasn't brought in under the current front office, and they might want a fresh face to coach the young pitching talent still coming through the system. Still, the Astros staff finished last in the majors in ERA, BB/9 and second to last in HR/9. Sure, there's not a ton of talent there to work with, but the numbers certainly aren't in Brocail's favor. If there's any coach not retained, my guess is him.

What can you tell me about the fall instructional league? Who goes, who doesn't go, and why? I heard the players don't even get paid for this league.- Susan B.

Many players take the winter to play in fall leagues in the Caribbean. Some guys compete in various Caribbean leagues, some spend the winter rehabbing injuries, and some work out at spring facilities in Arizona or Florida. The league you're thinking about is the Arizona Fall League, which has become a point of interest for many fans, especially hardcore prospect followers, during the winter months of the offseason.

The AFL is composed of six teams in the Greater Phoenix area and showcases some top minor league talent from the past season. Each of the six teams are represented by players from five MLB teams. For example, the players representing the Astros, Mariners, Padres, Phillies and Royals.

The Astros representatives this fall are Jonathan Meyer, Japhet Amador, Jonas Dufek, Andrew Robinson, Nolan Fontana, Delino Deshields Jr., Matt Heidenreich and Alex Sogard. There's no real rhyme or reason to the roster selections; if you've followed the Astros minor league system, you can tell some of the Astros representatives are legit prospects, while others don't seem to have much upside. Regardless, the AFL is a great opportunity for these guys, especially the lesser-knowns like Dufek, Robinson and Sogard, to play in front of a large base of scouts and executives.

Dufek and Robinson were both very good in the Corpus Christi bullpen in the second half of the season. We'll see if scouts buy into Nolan Fontana's bat, which will determine his ultimate role on a big league team. Amador will have a chance to continue his American debut following his short stint in Oklahoma City to end the season. Singleton can prove everyone that 2013 was simply a lost season, while Deshields, the crown jewel of the Astros AFL contingent, can keep up his spectacular last two years in pro ball.

If you're not really into the MLB postseason when the Astros season ends next weekend, I highly recommend following the Astros crew on the Javelinas, and the AFL in general. It's always been a highly touted league, and that is certainly the case this fall as Byron Buxton and Kris Bryant will also participate.

Cody Clark: Great catcher, or greatest catcher of all-time?- Tyler B.

In the midst of a pretty forgettable season, a 32 year old catcher with a .086 batting average provided what I thought was the best escape for the players from some tough losses. Let's be honest here; Clark isn't a major league caliber player, even as a back-up catcher. But his teammates were rooting for him to get that mythical first big league hit, especially when it seemed he could be designated back for assignment as the hitless at-bats kept mounting. Here's the video of Clark's hit.

Clark's long journey to the bigs reminds me of a guy named Alan Zinter, who made his MLB debut in 2002. Zinter spent 14 years in the minors after being drafted in the first round in 1989. I remember following his story as a kid in '02, and watching on T.V. as he homered for his first major league hit, a ball that he crushed pretty well into the visitors in bullpen in right. The "little things" are what make baseball such a great sport (especially in a season like this one for the Astros) and the stories of Clark and Zinter epitomize the little things.

Will Jonathan Villar be able to figure out the difference between aggressiveness and stupidity when running the bases?- Richard

Villar has a lot of skills and tools, but he commits errors at short and hasn't been the smartest baserunner since his call-up (okay, that's putting it lightly). If I'm Bo Porter, I try my best to ingrain something in Villar that yes, aggressiveness isn't always the best answer on the bases or playing a position like shortstop. But in a season like the one the Astros are having, I wouldn't get too upset over it. I'd let Villar fly out there and see if he can refine some of those tools.

Does Paredes' raw ability mean a future with this team or does he need to find an actual position first?- Richard

Wait, let me stop you there Richard. "Raw ability" means just that; a lot of tools, but no real production or results to show for it, and that's what the Astros have in Paredes. He's slashed just .237/.277/.314 in 392 plate appearances with K rate near 30%. Sure, Paredes has gotten somewhat of a raw deal in terms of playing time; he's been moved around a lot from his natural position at second base and he's barely collected a half-season's worth of plate appearances for his career. I would be okay with keeping him on as a bench player next season, but I realistically see him as a roster cut this offseason to clear some room for other guys like Marc Krauss, Robbie Grossman or a Rule 5 selection.

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