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Friday Astros Minor Thoughts

One of the newest Houston Astros tested positive for a banned substance in the past year and had his original contract voided. That's why Houston swooped in now to snap him up. My question to you is this: Where is the outrage? Should you feel any? Here's a quote from MLBTradeRumors about 16-year old Michael Feliz:

Feliz reached agreement with the A's on a deal worth $800K in the offseason, but Oakland voided the deal upon the pitcher testing positive for an anabolic steroid and receiving a 50-game suspension.  Scouts who have kept tabs on the hurler this year say that he was regularly hitting 92-93 mph on the radar gun before the positive drug test but has been topping out at 91 mph in recent months.

What they also failed to mention is that Feliz is already 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds. That's huge, especially for a teenager with plenty of years left to grow. Already getting popped with a 50-game suspension? That seems a bit harsh.

Those are the realities in this Wild West of baseball. Latin American players get noticed when they are young and can throw hard. That's why you see so many players from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and elsewhere trying to use fake identities, shaving off years from their actual age. No one is interested in the 22-year old who can hit 93 on the radar gun. Turn him into a 19-year old and scouts are all over him.

Baseball has already responded to this in a way. Former executive Sandy Alderson was appointed as the new head of MLB's operations in the Dominican Republic. He's charged with cracking down on fixers and illegal substances. That's why these players are getting tested now. The temptation must be great. Look at that scouting report. Just two miles an hour difference on his fastball impressed scouts. When a signing bonus of 500,000 dollars would set your family for life, couldn't you feel the pressure to use steroids?

Fans have vilified any player who has ever tested positive since 2004. The Mitchell Report made many players pariahs and it's even carrying over to football now, when I heard a radio host on NFL Radio say he wouldn't vote Brian Cushing into the Hall of Fame in 15 years because of this one positive test. Shouldn't there be some context on judgements like that? I'm certainly not going to point a finger at this Feliz kid. What about you?

The other big thing I wanted to touch on here was the Bud Norris injury. We talked about possible replacements if Norris does end up on the disabled list, but let's go into depth about each of them:

The 40-man Roster Guys

Polin Trinidad - It's been a rocky start to the 2010 season for Trinidad. After lighting up the Texas League last season, Trinidad was promoted to Round Rock for a handful of starts. While his performance didn't sag to heavily, the bottom dropped out of his strikeout rate. Trinidad profiles a little like Abad and Arguello, in that they are all soft-tossers who rely on their command more than pure stuff. Trinidad hasn't been bad with the Express, and could probably post a 5.00 ERA with Houston. I think the Astros are looking for more.

Fernando Abad - Every season, there are guys that the front office really talks up early in the season. Abad fits that bill. Two seasons ago, he was a reliever in Lexington; now, he's on the 40-man roster and is one of the best options to start a game soon. However, Abad has been on the disabled list since April 28th and probably won't be off it in time to make an impact.

Wesley Wright - I don't want to pile on the kid, but his transition to starter has been rocky, at best. He has one more strikeout than walk (22 to 21) and is striking out less than 4.50 per nine innings. His ERA is up near 5.00 and he's giving up a ton of hits. Plus, he's averaging barely 5 innings per start. This is a transition that needs more time and rushing Wright to the majors would be a mistake.

Gustavo Chacin - He doesn't have the best stats, nor does he have a good track record in the majors. Still, new pitching coach Brad Arnsberg has a history with Chacin from Toronto and that might give him a slight edge. The only thing holding him back was his time in the Houston bullpen earlier this month. Will he be ready to stretch out if needed for a spot start? If the Astros view him as the only other viable lefty out of the bullpen, could they afford to slot him in there in case Byrdak gets hurt again? 

The Sleeper

Roy Corcoran - A reliever that Wade is apparently fond of, Corcoran helped teach Chris Sampson the splitter last season. Recently, he was pressed into the starting rotation, throwing two great starts and one terrible one. In the first two, he gave up five hits and two runs in 10 innings of work, while striking out seven and walking two. In his bad start, he gave up seven runs on five hits in four innings while striking out three and walking five. He's moved back into the bullpen, but has pitched two innings in two of his last three outings. I'm not sure why the Astros are lengthening him out, but I could see him getting a surprise call if Norris is more injured than we think.

Andy Van Hekken - Another sneaky guy, Van Hekken was signed by Wade last season and assigned to Corpus. He got called up to Round Rock and has not disappointed, starting eight games with a 4.15 ERA. His strikeout rate isn't great (39 in 54 innings), but he's pretty reliable and has never really embarrased himself in a start. I definitely view him as minor league depth, but in this situation, he might be a surprise roster addition.

The Obvious (If Wrong) Choice

Josh Banks - Guys like Banks are the reasons why statistical analysis and on-the-field scouting can differ so wildly. Look at his 5-3 record, his club-leading 10 starts and 63 innings, and you see a guy who is obviously a great candidate to replace Norris. But, his strikeout rate is the worst of this bunch (3.71 K/9) and his BABiP is down at .263, which means he's been extremely lucky to this point. His FIP is up at 4.79, and that's before you look at his home road splits. It seems Banks has enjoyed pitching at the Dell Diamond quite a bit. Now, Banks is a ground ball guy, but his grounder rate this season is under 50 percent. His type of pitcher can succeed or fail based solely on the defense behind him. Right now, Banks has a good defensive club fielding for him. In Houston, it depends on the day of the week...On the surface, this looks like the right move. Thanks to a few key stats, we can see that Banks would be a terrible choice to join the rotation, even for a couple of weeks.

The Spring Training Hero

Casey Daigle - I can't have been the only one to be impressed with Daigle's performance during March. He started a handful of games and was very good. Unfortunately, he was moved back to the bullpen with the Express. Daigle has been very good as a late-inning reliever with Round Rock, but probably hasn't been stretched out enough to warrant a call up to take Norris' place.

The Double-A Jumper

Douglas Arguello - What did Arguello do to the management? I know he's a soft-thrower who relies on his control, but shouldn't he be moving up to Triple-A by now? He's shown the past two seasons that he can own the Texas League. What else does he have to prove? 

More to this point, Arguello would give Houston a second lefty in the rotation. It would also give them a guy who throws strikes consistently, if he doesn't overpower hitters. There's a chance he succeeds at the big league level, but the fact that he's not on the 40-man roster and that he hasn't played above Double-A make this unlikely.

The Cannon Fodder

Sergio Perez, RHP -  With Perez' obscenely low strikeout rate added to his lack of experience above Double-A, his promotion would be due more to the Astros giving up. Perez has very little chance of being competitive in the big leagues. Yes, he might get lucky and the defense could pick him up over a start or two, but given time, he'd be exposed quickly. The second and third times through a lineup, teams would pound Perez. Since he was recently called up to Round Rock, I have to think this has less than a zero chance of happening, but I cringe at the thought of it.

Conclusions: The Astros are stuck between calling up Wright, Trinidad or Abad to take Norris' place. Chacin hasn't started in a while, so he probably wouldn't be able to slot into the rotation. That means the Astros would have to clear a spot on the 40-man roster to bring up a true starter. The most likely cut here is Yordany Ramirez. I know the Astros like his defense, but his playing time has been cut in half this season because of Bogusevic, DeLome and Bourgeois. If that happens, I could see Corcoran getting the call for a couple weeks. If the injury proves to be more severe, Houston would probably have to look at bringing up Trinidad or Arguello.