Greg Rajan is the beat reporter covering the AA Corpus Christi Hooks for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. He very graciously agreed to an emailed interview about the state of the farm in extreme southeast Texas, and I am very happy to present it to our readers:
CFB: Any explanation as to why the Corpus Christi Hooks, a team located in a city on the east coast of Texas, are in the Texas League West Division?
GR: You know, I never really thought about that. I'm not sure why it's that way, but at least it makes more sense than the Atlanta Braves playing in the NL West for all those years. Come to think of it, the division names in the Texas League probably should be changed to North and South since all of the teams in the West are Texas-based and the ones in the East are out of the Lone Star State.
CFB: The last time the Astros debuted a new team in their high minors system, the Round Rock Express set all kinds of League Attendance records, and basically waltzed to a championship. While Corpus Christi has done reasonably well, are you surprised that there's not a larger groundswell about this team?
GR: The support for the Hooks isn't disappointing at all. First, you're not going to have another franchise come in and have an impact as dramatic as Round Rock did. Corpus Christi isn't as big as the Round Rock/Austin market and the same disposable income isn't there. And second, Whataburger Field's capacity is less than the Dell Diamond's. The stadium in Corpus has roughly 5,200 fixed seats and room for about 2,000 to 3,000 more fans on berms. The Hooks already have had multiple crowds of 8,000+ and they are the hottest ticket in town.
CFB: Hector Gimenez was # 6 on Baseball America's prospect list for 2004, but fell off for 2005, and now is hitting about .253, and has had his playing time evenly split with Dax Norris, who, although he is a candidate to manage in Houston's system in the future, is hardly anyone's idea of a prospect. Are we to take from this that the organization has given up in some way on Gimenez' prospects for reaching the majors?
GR: Gimenez was pretty much regarded as the Astros' top catching prospect heading into the spring. Of course, they've acquired Humberto Quintero since then. I think for Hector, the biggest question this year is his hitting. I don't think anyone questions his defensive prowess. He started slowly at the plate, but has heated up lately, improving his average from .227 to .274 in the first four games of the current homestand. That includes a monster homer to right field on Saturday night into the Corpus wind that was blowing to left in 20 mph gusts.
CFB: With Ezequiel Astacio called up from Round Rock the other day, Fernando Nieve might be the best pitcher in the organization who hasn't yet seen Minute Maid Park. He's got a mid-90's fastball, he's got a curveball, but does he have the makeup? What has his reaction been to the way his Hook teammates have kind of shortchanged him in the runs department?
GR: Nieve hasn't been the recipient of much run support, but he hasn't really displayed much frustration. The main thing for him is to get high-quality starts, which he's done in six of his seven outings. I don't think his win-loss total is that big of a deal for the organization.
CFB: I've seen that Danny Fatheree is on the roster, but doesn't have any stats. Given his history with the rare blood disease Factor II, that's disconcerting and worrisome to see. Has he had a relapse of some sort?
GR: Fatheree is on the DL, but it's with a strained right shoulder. He's been throwing batting practice regularly the past couple weeks, so it appears he's on the mend.
CFB: Charlton Jimerson has a history of high strikeout totals, and I remember reading a column of yours a week or so ago how the Hooks weren't all that worried about it, but really, as Jimerson now has over 17 K's per homer: don't you think that hitting coach John Tamargo Jr. should work with Jimerson to cut down his swing a little bit?
GR: I asked Sean Berry, the Astros' roving hitting instructor if he was concerned about Jimerson and he said he wasn't. The strikeout total is alarming, but not surprising given Jimerson's history. He himself admitted he's been a slow starter and he has picked it up recently, although not really in the power department (two homers through Sunday).
CFB: Jason Hirsh had a good season at Tri-City in 2003, and was a winner at Salem in 2004, but he has never been as dominant as he has been so far for Corpus Christi. Has there been any consensus on why there's been a spike in his performance as he makes the most difficult jump a minor leaguer can make--from High A to Double A?
GR: I think what's stood out the most about Hirsh has been the way he attacks hitters and the fact he's pretty unflappable on the mound and has pretty good command. That said, he is making his first trip through the Texas League. But so far, he really hasn't had a bad start.
CFB: Another player who appears to have switched over to the fast track is Josh Anderson. In looking at his stats, you're reminded of Willy Taveras, who had a similar kind of game in the Texas League last year, and of course is now in Houston. Is there anything about Anderson not showing up in the numbers that says he might--or might not--be able to make that same kind of jump?
GR: The Taveras-Anderson comparison has been made by some, but I think Taveras might have been a little more advanced at Round Rock last year. Anderson has the same potential, but like manager Dave Clark has said, is a work in progress. He needs some more seasoning and work at Double-A, though. He's a throwback whose enthusiasm is infectious and he has quickly become a fan favorite in Corpus.
CFB: I'll use this as the catch all question: is there anything that I've not covered that anybody interested in the Astros' minor league system should know about the Hooks or its players?
GR: Jailen Peguero has been pretty much lights-out out of the bullpen so far and has taken over the closer's role. He's a guy whom Clark says has a chance to move up through the organization. Another guy who's intriguing is Clark himself. I think he has the attributes to work at the big-league level at some point. He has a good rapport with his players and they seem to like playing for him.
I think Astros fans should make the trip down to Corpus and check out the Hooks if they get a chance. Houston has a unique situation with its top two affiliates within a three-hour drive of Minute Maid and the entire experience at Whataburger Field is one fans have enjoyed immensely. It's a miniature Dell Diamond with a Corpus Christi touch with the ship channel behind left field, the old-school cotton presses by the scoreboard and the USS Lexington and Corpus Christi Bay out past right field.
CFB: I'm a long way from Corpus Christi, but you can be sure I will make very effort to catch a Hooks home game at some point. Those living in Houston--or even Austin-- should have no excuse not to check it out, I'd think.
Thank you again, Mr. Rajan.