A 21-year-old second baseman may be on a “fast track to the big leagues.”

It’s not often that a player’s exploits in the lower levels of the Minor Leagues draw much attention from the fan base in the parent city. Then again, it’s not every day, or year, or decade for that matter, that a player flirts with a .400 batting average at five levels of the Minor Leagues over five seasons, and is just now barely 21 years old.

Jose Altuve was recently promoted to Double-A Corpus Christi after blistering California League pitching for Class A Lancaster, logging a .408 batting average over a 52-game, 213 at-bat audition that included 25 extra-base hits, 34 RBIs and 19 walks against just 26 strikeouts.

His amazing consistency, and cumulative .445 on-base percentage over five seasons, are just two reasons why general manager Ed Wade continues to hear from his baseball people that Altuve “has a chance to fast track to the big leagues.”

“When I saw him in Lancaster, I was ready to bring him up to the big leagues,” Wade said, smiling at the memory. “I had to have people remind me that he was only 19.”

The Venezuelan-born Altuve was signed as a non-drafted free agent at the age of 16 in September of 2006. He’s listed at 5-foot-7, which in baseball terms means he probably really is 5-foot-7 — if he’s wearing platform shoes and standing on his tippy toes. His small stature was seemingly never an issue, however. He started his career in the Venezuelan Summer League in ’07 and hit .343. He played for the Rookie League squad in Greeneville in ’08 and again hit .343. He started ’09 again in Greeneville and hit .324, so he was moved up to Short Season A Tri-City, where he hit .250.

In ’10, Altuve began the season in at Class A Lexington and hit .308 and then moved to Class A Lancaster, hitting .276. He began ’11 at Lancaster and hit .408, so the Astros decided to challenge him by bumping him up to Double-A Corpus Christi. At this writing, the second baseman was hitting .383.

Wade is hoping Altuve makes the All-Star Futures Game, which will be held in Phoenix on Sunday, July 10 and will kick off the Major League All-Star festivities. Roster spots for the Futures Game are reserved for the best of the best of Minor League talent, and Wade feels Altuve belongs there.

A lot of the talent in the Astros’ system appears to be slowly migrating to Corpus Christi. In addition to Altuve’s recent arrival, a few of his new teammates were recently named to the Texas League All-Star team: outfielder J.D. Martinez (who is being groomed to someday take over left field), shortstop Wladimir Sutil and left-handers Xavier Cedeno and Dallas Keuchel.

It is for that reason that I’m taking my talents (and by talents, I mean, my Toyota Rav 4 and an overnight bag) to Corpus Christi in July. I’ll be there July 7-9 and judging from what I’m reading and hearing about the players there, we should
have plenty to talk about.

____________

Interesting blog by Richard Justice in the Chronicle , which speculates that the Astros may have erred by not drafting University of Texas pitcher Taylor Jungmann, selected by the Brewers in the first round — one pick after the Astros passed on him and went with outfielder George Springer.

By the time the first round had concluded on Draft Day, I had already heard from dozens of angry observers wondering how the Astros could have passed on a sure-fire future Major League pitcher in Jungmann. While there are obviously no sure-fire guarantees in the Draft, the Astros’ logic was simple: the Draft was loaded with outstanding college arms, and the Astros felt there would be plenty to choose from in the ensuing rounds. They felt Springer was the best athlete available — a special combination of power, speed and defense — and they badly wanted him. They knew he would not be available when their turn came around again in the second round.

I’ve heard from a lot of fans who have asked, “Can’t they see we need pitching? Draft a pitcher!” There are two schools of thought on that: First, the Astros ended up drafting seven pitchers in the first 10 rounds, so they definitely went heavy on pitching in the early going. Second, it’s dangerous to equate deficiencies on the Major League level with holes in the Minor Leagues.

Obviously, you can never have too much pitching, so going heavy on that in the first round or any of the remaining 49 rounds is never a bad thing. But over the last 15 years, the Astros really have developed only two indisputable sluggers — Lance Berkman, who spent nearly a full decade as one of the league’s most feared hitters, and Hunter Pence, who is more of a streaky hitter than Berkman but at the end of every season has very good numbers that reveal top-notch consistency.

Other than that, the pickings have been slim. Morgan Ensberg, Jason Lane and Richard Hidalgo, drafted and developed by the Astros, were good, but not for very long. There have been other position players here and there who have contributed offensively, but in terms of that middle-of-the-order bat that can carry the team over long periods of time, the pipeline has been somewhat narrow.

So while I would have been perfectly happy had they taken a pitcher as their first-rounder, I was just as happy to see the Astros draft a tall, strong, speedy slugger. Will Springer be a slugger in the big leagues? Who knows? The pick could backfire on them, as could the first-round picks of the 29 other teams. What I can tell you is Springer was several rungs ahead of Jungmann in the pecking order on the Astros Draft board, and they celebrated when Springer was still available when it was time to pick.

As is the case with every draft, it will be interesting to look back at this in three or four years.

___________

The Dodgers, off the field, are a well-documented mess, but Dodger Stadium continues to be one of the premier venues in baseball. Here’s proof:

Presumably, pitching coach Doug Brocail was talking about pitching with our broadcasters -- former pitcher Jim Deshaies and current pitching aficionado Dave Raymond -- when this picture was snapped during batting practice.

Jeff Keppinger, Brett Wallace, Clint Barmes

Brandon Lyon, Matt Downs, Chris Johnson, J.A. Happ

Bud Norris recites the starting lineup for FS Houston.

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10 Comments

Hey I’m up late too!

Yeah the draft complaints are nutty. Jungmann is definitely having a good college career, but any one of the pitchers we drafted may make it to the majors before he does. The Ryan Wagners and Houston Streets of the world are few and far between.

The Astros may have missed a great pitcher by not drafting Taylor Jungmann, but I can’t fault the idea of taking the best available player. If nothing else, it could provide a good trade for a needed pitcher down the road. If he develops into the slugger many people think he will, no one will be complaining about George Springer.

Leni

Never understood the fascination with Dodger Stadium, honestly. The video/scoreboards are small and old, the outfield wall is straight, un-interesting and cluttered with too much signage and the 1970s-mustard-yellow-colored seats are easily the ugliest in baseball.

Yeah I saw the seats last night. HORRENDOUS!

Richard Hidalgo was drafted? I thought he was from Venezuela

Yeah Hidalgo was 160lbs and 16 when the Astros found him down there and brought him up through their Academy…. he ended up 240 and a powerhouse. Had lots of assists in RF and that home run swing for a few years.

Wow, Who would have thought that Richard Justice would think a Houston team made a mistake by not drafting a Longhorn? I just can’t believe he would say that. Please not the sarcasm in my statement.

given the astros history in the draft, it’s not unfair to wonder if they should not have taken jungmann. time will tell. let’s hope they got it right

I understand taking Springer for his terrific tools but he is still raw. We made the same selection last year (slightly different tools & different position… but still a raw high-upside position player) in Deshields Jr. and he has started his career hitting .205 this year. By no means am I throwing in the towel on DDJ, it’s just frustrating to continue to pick high risk/high reward players that have a good chance of busting … instead of taking the more proven player that has a better chance of reaching the majors (ESPECIALLY at the SP position). Springer is proven at the college level but still has holes in his swing that make him more of a project.

Jason Castro was a similar prospect to Jungman (IMO). Less star potential but high floor at a valuable position. Although you could have argued that Justin Smoak was the right decision in ’08 b/c he was still a proven player with a higher ceiling.

The whole point to my rambling is … that if you’re going to take these high risk/high reward players …they better hit on a few of them. Jay Austin, Tanner Bushue, Jiovanni Mier, DDJ … all 1st or 2nd round picks and they’re not looking too well. It seems they’ve made 1 right selection (in the early rounds) in the past 4 years with Jordan Lyles.

I’m sure the fact that Richard is a UT alum had nothing to do with his opinion there. Everyone knows the front office’s philosophy is best player available, and think about the prospects of an OF with Pence, Bourn, and Springer in a few years. If Springer is anything close to what the scouting reports say, that could be pretty fun to watch. Also, the MLB draft is so often such a crapshoot, while I think Jungmann has a bright future ahead of him, we shot plenty of arrows in the next couple of rounds, a few of them are bound to hit the target. Let’s have this conversation in 5 years, speculating on it now is a waste of time.

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