It’s a Thursday, and the Astros are off. That’s a good thing, right? I mean, I’d prefer to have the memories of getting shut out by Mike Minor out of my mind ASAP, but this team needed a day off.
At 2-5, it’s our worst start since 2013, when the minor league box scores were like the hopes for a hopeless fan base (if you pick up the riff on Karl Marx, good for you; otherwise, move on).
What’s new in 2019? Two teams have new locations, one moving from Buies Creek to Fayetteville, the other from Fresno to Round Rock. For those looking for a salve, or want to understand how to read minor league progress, here’s a few tips.
- The Internet is your friend. You can download the MILB app, or just bookmark https://www.milb.com/. If you click on scores, and then teams, you can get to the Astros. I may be missing something, but there’s no easy way to bookmark a link that takes you directly to Astro minor league box scores.
- Don’t get caught up in counting stats. Numbers like RBI’s and wins don’t matter a whole lot. If Whitley is 2-4, it doesn’t mean he’s having a bad season.
- No more need for late nights. Three years ago we had two West Coast teams, Lancaster and Fresno. Both played a lot of their games in band box stadiums that inflated offensive stats. Kody Hinze, anyone. Round Rock will still play in some offensive-slanted stadiums, but not as regularly. And games will take place at a civilized hour, so if you’re CST or EST, you can follow along.
- MILB will post video. Some of the teams have good Twitter presences. It’s nice to see video of players you’ve only heard about.
- Fangraphs is great. If you type in a name, you’ll see a stat line easier to read than MILB stats. You can get BABIP, FIP, etc.. this way. Their database is strong. Also, the chats with Kiley McDaniel and Eric Longenhagen sometimes contain eyeball reports.
- Injuries are mysteries. The organization feels no compulsion to update you on Joe Perez. The joke about Weilend Island refers to a piece from the Mark Melancon trade (may be wrong, too lazy to look up), who was like a ghost.
- The teams and leagues: AAA - Round Rock (PCL, American Southern), AA - Corpus Christi (Texas League), Fayetteville (Carolina League), Quad Cities (Midwest League). The short season starts in June, after the draft. Right around then, Tri-Cities (NY Penn), GCL Astros, and the DSL teams will be up and running. QC is in Iowa, and expect lots of rainouts in April. About half of the given players on this team have never seen snow, I suspect, so hitting in a 37 degree drizzle isn’t a fun time. Don’t get mad at Freudis Nova if he starts out 3-40. Baseball players are humans.
- When scouting hitters, look for plate discipline and power. Can a player limit strikeouts while drawing walks, and can they punish bad pitches? Most MILB players don’t do all three. So when taking in a prospect like Jon Arauz, note that he’s always been a good contact hitter. Now that he’s more mature, is he hitting more balls in the gap, or even better, over the fence?
- MILB BABIP tells us something. BABIP is batting average on balls in play. Minor league fields and fielders aren’t great, and they don’t shift as much as at the majors. Lots of elite prospects have BABIPs above .350 or even .400. At the MLB level, that’s a sure sign of regression to come. Likewise, low BABIPs indicate being unlucky (if you want to stew, look at the Astros’ BABIP with RISP this season). Regression means regression to the norm. But for guys like Domingo Santana, high BABIPs weren’t a sign of luck, they were a sign that he hit the ball really hard.
- Don’t fall in love with guys off the radar. I had a mad crush on Joe Sclafani once. There’s a reason he was never a top 30 prospect. Sure, sustained excellence over multiple seasons tells us something. But the Travis Bellews and the Kenny Longs of the world face uphill odds of being major leaguers. I follow the minor league teams because I want to know what kind of help might be on the way. Take a look at some top 30 lists, and read the box scores selectively. If Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker get off to great starts, it is more meaningful than what Josh Rojas does (although he’s a sleeper I like).
- Go to a game. I’ve taken in games in QC, OKC, and Springfield, to see Corpus Christi. You see a lot more. Minor league baseball is one of the best things about America.