Optioning myself to the Minor Leagues (for four days)

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Greetings from Corpus Christi, home of the Astros’ Double-A Hooks. This week I’m taking a break from the Major League side of things to tour our top two affiliates. I’ll be in Corpus Monday and Tuesday and then will move to Round Rock Wednesday and Thursday.

I always look forward to these Minor League trips. First and foremost, I’m anxious to see some of the prospects coming through the system, especially considering the Astros are getting younger and have made continuing strides in revamping the farm system in the last few years.

But this is also a nice break from the hectic pace we’ve kept for the first four months of the season. I love coming to Corpus, a beautiful town with a state-of-the-art Minor League ballpark that looks as new now as it did when it first opened five years ago:

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I’m keeping my eye on a handful players while I’m in Corpus, including right-hander Jordan Lyles (although I probably won’t get to see him pitch, seeing he’s scheduled to start on Thursday. I’m still holding out hope he’ll get a promotion to Round Rock by then.) The feeling around here, among those who watch him regularly, is Lyles is definitely the real deal, a future top-of-the-rotation type starter.

Lyles is only 19, however, and the hope among some around here is that they do not rush him to the big leagues too quickly. It’s definitely the “in” thing lately for teams to promote their high picks from the 2008 draft (including the Astros, who brought up catcher Jason Castro a while back), but given Lyles’ young age, it wouldn’t shock me if he spent a good amount of time at Triple-A first before receiving consideration for promotion to the big leagues at some point next year. I’d expect him to be in Major League Spring Training in ’11. 

Other prospects to check out: outfielder J.D. Martinez, outfielder Jon Gaston (who I’ve been told has a cannon for an arm), second baseman Albert Cartwright, and pitcher Henry Villar, who pitched pretty well Monday night against Midland. He gave up one three-run homer but otherwise appeared in control over his seven innings of work.

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Over three rehab games for the Hooks, Geoff Blum played five innings Saturday, nine Sunday and nine Monday. He plans to fly from Houston to St. Louis Tuesday afternoon, arriving to Busch Stadium around 5 p.m. CT. So look for the Astros to make a roster move before the second game with the Cardinals.

Blum said his elbow feels fine but the rest of him is a little sore, which is to be expected when you miss a month of games. That’s what Minor League rehabs are for — get the body moving again and get past the general aches and pains that pop up after not playing for so long.

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The Hooks, like the Astros, have had some hard times this year, and I’ve heard a lot about the 16-game losing streak they suffered through about a month ago. Still, the Hooks found a way to turn it into a positive through a promotion called “Guaranteed Win” night (the lifeline of a Minor League team is promotions — the more creative, the better), which offered fans free tickets to the next night’s game if the losing streak continued that particular day. Bring a ticket stub to that game and get in the next night for free.

Coincidentally, the offer was made the morning of the game that finally ended the losing streak. The Hooks, however, let anyone who showed up with a ticket stub to the game in free the next night anyway.

I’m not sure I like their Guaranteed Win promotion as much as I like Jim Deshaies‘ Guaranteed Win jacket, but it’s a close second.

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Randoms:

* A few of you have asked about infielder Koby Clemens’ injury. He’s out with a hamstring pull but is expected back soon. He hurt the hammy legging out a triple on July 24 at Frisco.

* Hooks catcher Lou Santangelo’s walk up music is Katy Perry’s “California Gurls,” and I’m wondering who thought of it first — Santangelo or Hunter Pence.

* From reading this report from MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart, the Astros’ first-round draft pick, Delino DeShields Jr., will indeed sign a contract. When? Apparently, soon.

“He’s going to be an Astro,” his dad, Delino DeShields, said. “No doubt.”

The deadline to sign draft picks is Aug. 16.

Other stuff:

Tickets are still available for the Astros Wives 21st Annual Black Ties and Baseball Caps Gala, scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 12 at Minute Maid Park. Chaired by Morgan Keppinger and Heather Byrdak, the event benefiting the Houston Area Women’s Center (HAWC) will be attended by current and former Astros players.

Astros Hall of Fame broadcaster Milo Hamilton will emcee the signature event themed “A Night in Paradise.” Supporters will mix and mingle with Astros players during the cocktail reception and silent auction at 6 p.m. followed by a dinner and live auction at 7 p.m.

Tickets to the gala begin at $500. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 713-781-0053.

Among the items up for bid in the silent and live auctions:

A Day on the Ranch with Mary and Carlos Lee: A winner and their immediate family are invited to spend the day on the private Panamanian ranch belonging to Mary and Carlos Lee where they will enjoy fishing and horseback riding.

Heisman Trophy Winners Autographed Helmet: Signatures from 41 elite college football players including Archie Griffin, Barry Sanders, Earl Campbell, Paul Hornung, Herschel Walker, Tony Dorsett, Billy Cannon, John David Crow, Ricky Williams, Hopalong Cassidy, Bo Jackson, Charles Woodson, Reggie Bush, Ron Dayne, Glenn Davis, Jay Berwanger, and Billy Sims.

Golf with the Houston Astros: Two people are invited to golf at the exclusive East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia with Houston Astros pitcher Brian Moehler and second baseman Jeff Keppinger. East Lake Golf Club is a membership by invitation only club that is the home golf course of the legendary Bobby Jones. It has hosted many golf tournaments including the 1950 U.S. Women’s Amateur, 1963 Ryder Cup, and 2001 U.S. Men’s Amateur. It is now the permanent home of The TOUR Championship, the culminating event of the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedEx Cup.

The winner also receives Continental Airlines airfare for two, a two-night stay at the Hilton Atlanta and Towers Downtown and a $600 dining certificate at the Capital Grille.

Castaway with the Houston Astros: A winner and four guests will go deep sea fishing out of Surfside Beach on a 46-foot Hatteras fishing boat, with Humberto Quintero, Jeff Keppinger and Tim Byrdak. Day includes all rods, reels, bait, tackle, food and beverages. Boat courtesy of Tim Wilson of Tim Wilson Investigations.

Vintage Houston Astros Dugout Playhouse: A 100 square foot vintage Astros dugout playhouse completely outfitted with a metal sport locker, Astros signage, memorabilia, Panasonic 32″ LCD 1080P HDTV, swivel wall mount system, Panasonic Blu-ray DVD player, Apple iPod Nano 8GB, iPod sound system with remote, Nintendo Wii system and MLB game, Wii Nerf sports pack, remote camera, 8,000 BTU air conditioner with remote, GE Stainless Steel beverage center and progress LED interior lighting. The playhouse is, fully insulated, fully air sealed and treated for termites. The winning bid includes delivery, set-up and electrical hookup (limitations apply).

George Bush Memorabilia: Own a piece of history. This one-of-a-kind framed item features a picture of George Bush (in his Yale uniform) with Babe Ruth. It also includes a rare (1 of 16) signed George Bush baseball card and a baseball signed recently by former President George Bush at a Houston Astros home game. A must-have for the true baseball aficionado.

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