June 2011

Astros draft, rounds 1-30.

The Astros have been heavy on the high schoolers in the last couple of drafts, but that trend changed dramatically this time around when they selected 23 of their 30 players from the college ranks.

They selected nine right-handed pitchers (four high school, five college), five lefties (all college), one catcher (college), eight infielders (all college) and seven outfielders (three high school, four college).

Watch Assistant GM/Scouting Director Bobby Heck wrap up the day in this video.  In the meantime, here’s the full list of the Draft so far, rounds 1-30:

Astros lineup 6/7 vs. Cardinals. First pitch 7:05 p.m. CT. Roof closed

Astros held their breath for 10 picks and exhaled when they finally nabbed their guy.

One of the more compelling parts about the Draft is how and when teams celebrate their first-round picks.

It would seem logical that the front office would applaud and shake hands after it has made its own pick. But in many cases – such as the Astros this year — the celebrating begins before they’ve made their pick — when the team before them announces its selection.

As soon as San Diego picked its player — and it was not University of Connecticut outfielder George Springer — the room erupted. Assistant general manager and Scouting Director Bobby Heck knew he had his man, and the only thing left was waiting to hear the announcement by Commissioner Bud Selig that the Astros officially had selected Springer as the 11th overall pick in the 2011 Draft. (Watch the exclusive, behind-the-scenes video from the Draft Room here).

Bobby Heck, Ed Wade and the staff celebrated their pick before they actually announced who they were selecting.

Normally, the first order of business is for Heck to call the draftee and congratulate him. But Springer was playing in the regionals at the time of his selection, so that fantastic photo/video opp was tabled. The next few minutes then became a little dicey — by the time Heck and general manager Ed Wade addressed the media and had resumed their seats in the Draft Room, they received word that Springer had left the UConn-Clemson game early with an apparent injury.

A couple of hours later, they were reassured that the early exit was precautionary — Springer felt a little tightness in his hamstring, and with UConn winning by a landslide, his coach erred on the side of caution and removed him from the game.

Not long after that, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart spoke with Springer, who categorized the situation as a “cramp.”

“It’s just more of a severe cramp,” he told McTaggart. “I was extremely dehydrated from [Sunday] night and it just carried over and that point in the game it was 9-1. We’re obviously playing on Friday and I want to be 100 percent. It was the right thing to do.”

(Whew.)

Some bare facts on Springer:

* He is hitting .350 with 12 home runs, 30 stolen bases and 76 RBIs over 63 games this season. He’s the everyday center fielder and the three-hole hitter for the Huskies.

* He was named 2011 Big East Player of the Year and was a unanimous selection for the 2011 All-Big East First Team. He currently leads the conference in RBIs and ranks fifth in hitting.

* He’s 6-foot-3 and 200 lbs.

* He throws and bats right-handed.

* He is from New Britain, CT.

 

The Astros had only one pick on  the first day. The Draft resumes on Tuesday with Rounds 2-30. In the meantime, enjoy the images from Round One:

Handshakes: Dave Gottfried, Drayton McLane, Heck, David Post, Clarence Johns, Wade.

Watching for the official announcement of their first pick on MLB Network.

More handshakes as Heck makes his way out the door to talk to reporters.

Two media sessions. First up: Heck.

And next, Wade.

 

 

 

 

On Draft Day Eve, a few notes about the farm system, youth and the future.

Early in the 2009 season, when I was still a reporter for MLB.com, a player asked me to look up whether the Astros, collectively, had the most service time than any other team in the Majors.

It was pretty easy to research — I just had to check a web site that details the salaries and service time of players, both individually and collectively. About 30 minutes into the project, I knew I wouldn’t have to actually check all 30 teams — after about 20, it was clear none even came close to having as much service time as the Astros. Even the most veteran teams couldn’t hold a candle to the Houston club, as it was constructed at that time.

Having “the most service time,” of course, is another way of saying a team is old. It’s a distinction for which teams don’t want to be known. Old teams don’t win, and the 2009 Astros didn’t, either.

So when I received this tidbit from media relations maven Sally Gunter during Saturday’s game, I was reminded that this team has indeed made progress, even if we’re still waiting to see a change of fortune in the win-loss record:

The average age of the Astros on Opening Day 2009 was 32.33 years, and there were only five players on the roster below the age of 30. Only three were 27 years of age or younger: Michael Bourn (26), Hunter Pence (25) and Wesley Wright (24).  Others under 30:  Jeff Keppinger (28) and Humberto Quintero (29).

The average age of the Astros as of June 4, 2011 was 28.10, 4.33 years younger than the 2009 Opening Day roster.  As of this June 4, the Astros had 17 players under age 30, 12 of whom are 27 years of age or younger.  27 or younger:  Enerio Del Rosario (25), Matt Downs (27), Sergio Escalona (26), Chris Johnson (26), Jordan Lyles (20), Mark Melancon (26), Bud Norris (26), Aneury Rodriguez (23), Fernando Rodriguez (26), Angel Sanchez (27), J.R. Towles (27), Brett Wallace (24).  Others under 30:  Michael Bourn (28), J.A. Happ (28), Pence (28), Jose Valdez (28), Jason Bourgeois (29).

Only seven players remain from the 2009 roster:  Bourn, Keppinger, Carlos Lee, Jason Michaels, Pence, Quintero and Wandy Rodriguez.  The youngest player on that club was Wesley Wright (24).

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The 2011 Major League First-Year Player Draft will begin with the first round on Monday at 6 p.m. CT. With a five-minute break in between each pick in the first round, the Astros will make their first selection (11th overall) approximately an hour later. The prime-time event will be held at MLB Network’s Studio 42 in Secaucus, NJ, and representing the Astros this year will be former All-Star Jimmy Wynn and current scout Ed Fastaia.

The Astros will also have the 69th pick (second round) and the 99th pick (third round).
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Our super sharp Social Media Twintern Rachel Frey reports on the farm system (stats are through Thursday’s games):

For Triple-A Oklahoma City, OF Collin DeLome has the highest batting average on the team (.296). LHP Andy Van Hekken has the lowest ERA (1.98) of the RedHawk pitching staff, and was recently named one of the Astros’ Triple-A Minor League Players of the Month.

For Double-A Corpus Christi (19-33), OF J.D. Martinez is on the Texas League’s Top 10 Batting list with a .333 batting average and 32 RBIs.  LHP Xavier Cedeno, another Minor League Player of the Month, is pitching with a 3.73 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 62.2 innings. LHP Dallas Keuchel has a 3.04 ERA, and 32 strikeouts through 56.1 innings.

For the Class A Lancaster, (22-32), IF Kody Hinze is batting .328 with 14 home runs, and 46 walks. RHP Jake Buchanan has a 3.15 ERA through 74.1 innings, with only 18 walks.  RHP Kirk Clark also has 12 saves in 13 save opportunities.

The Class A Lexington Legends had the second highest team batting average in the South Atlantic League through Thursday’s games. OF Daniel Adamson is working his way up on the list of Top 10 batters in the league with a .329 batting average. RHP Carols Quevedo continues his lead in the league’s lowest walk per nine innings pitched ratio – 3 walks in 47.2 innings pitched.

The Dominican Summer League started last week. IF Darwin Riviera is batting .500 with two RBIs, and OF Teoscar Hernandez has a  .316 batting average with two doubles and two triples in 19 at bats.

The Tri-City ValleyCats and Greenville Astros will begin their seasons this month.

Follow our affiliates on Twitter: @okcredhawks, @cchooks, @JetHawks , @LexingtonLegend, @ValleyCats, @GvilleAstros.

Astros lineup 6/5 at San Diego. First pitch 5:35 p.m. CT.

The game time was moved back two hours because of the San Diego marathon, which took place early Sunday morning. The game will not be televised because it falls in the ESPN Game of the Week exclusivity window. You can listen on KTRH 740 or follow along on Gameday on Astros.com.

 

Visiting with future SEALs and a former catcher, and some draft talk too.

For the second year in a row, the Astros were invited to visit the Navy SEAL training facility, located at the Naval Special Warfare Training Center in Coronado, CA.

It’s always a privilege to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility, but considering the SEALs’ role in recent events involving Osama bin Laden, this visit was obviously a little more meaningful.

BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) training involves five weeks of Indoctrination and Pre-Training, followed by three phases of training. Included in the first phase is Hell Week, a grueling 5 1/2 days that weeds out those who will make it through the program and those who will not.

I cannot wrap my mind around the simple fact that during Hell Week, students will get 4 1/2 hours of sleep — total. That’s it. Hell Week was described to us as a time to “create as much chaos as possible.” Basically, they put these young men in a real-life situations where they could be harmed, or worse, without actually harming them.

The first three days, before they are permitted to sleep, are the worst. By the end, they’re pretty much delirious, existing solely by the voices of their commanders and a ringing bell, a sound that they hear several times a day and which signifies an invitation to quit the program.

“The bell rings all night,” we were told. “The opportunity to quit is there all the time.”

Around two-thirds of a class will call it quits during Hell Week. Physical discomfort and pain, miserable wet-cold conditions and hypothermia, along with fatigue and sleep deprivation will make many quit. Those who finish will hear their instructors yell the welcomed words, “Hell Week is secured!”

Accompanying the Astros on Friday were J.R. Towles, Mark Melancon and Brett Myers. The rifle portion of the program, where guests were shown about a dozen different (unloaded) weapons used by the SEALs and later invited to “test” them out, was, as you probably guessed, the most popular activity of the morning…

Towles

Melancon

Towles and assistant athletic trainer Rex Jones

Brian McTaggart lives by the same philosophy at MLB.com, I'm told.

The obstacle course at the training facility

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We were wondering if we’d have a Brad Ausmus sighting this weekend in San Diego, and we received our answer on Friday when we spotted the ex-Astros catcher throwing early batting practice to Padres hitters.

Ausmus retired after the 2010 season and now a special assistant to the Padres. He spends time here and there working with catchers in the Padres’ Minor League system.

Friday was the only day Ausmus planned to be at the ballpark. He was headed north to his daughters’ softball tournament — a reminder why he left Houston in the first place and while despite your pleas, it’s going to be a long time before he’d be in a position to return to Houston in a coaching capacity.

Anyway, it was good to see him, and judging from the reaction I received from a lot of you on Twitter, the legend of Officer Brad lives on in H-town…

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General manager Ed Wade and Assistant GM/Scouting Director Bobby Heck met with reporters on Friday to discuss the upcoming draft, which begins with the first round on Monday at 6 p.m. CT.

This year’s draft appears to be heavy on pitching, but the Astros, as is the case every year, are on the lookout for the best player available when it’s their turn to pick. They have the 11th overall selection this year.

Ed Wade

My super Social Media/Broadcasting Intern (Twintern?) Rachel Frey attended the media briefing and passed along these quotables (along with the pictures):

Heck: “It’s about picking the right player and picking a blend of high school players, college players, and even junior college players. We are still on the philosophy of picking the most talented player.”

“We are 60-70 percent done with the draft board. There are still going to be a lot more deep conversations.”

Bobby Heck

Wade said he’s briefed incoming owner Jim Crane and soon-to-be CEO George Postolos on the draft process. Asked how the sale of the team affected the draft budget, Wade offered, “We planned our budget in late November, early December, before talks of a sale began.”

Wade also noted the deep talent projected for the second round, “and that is a good thing when you have the 69th and 99th picks.”

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The Methodist Hospital is hosting a free Men’s Health Expo at Minute Maid Park on Saturday, June 25 from 2-5 p.m., prior to the Astros game with the Rays.

The Expo, which will take place in Union Station, is available to men ages 45 and up. If you register now, you’ll receive two free tickets to that night’s game, based on availability.

The Expo offers health screenings for men, flexibility tests, massages and more. To register, call 713-790-3333 or visit
methodisthealth.com.

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Astros lineup 6/3 at Padres. First pitch 9:05 p.m. CT

Road trip roundup: Great cities, great ballparks, and a hat tip to a great former Astro.

Astros players are invited to bring their families on two road trips every season, and as expected, the Chicago-San Diego excursion the team is currently taking was a popular one to sign up for.

Both cities are fantastic — Chicago for its shopping, nightlife, restaurants and energy; San Diego for its breathtaking beauty and arguably the most perfect weather in the country. Cubs trips are always fun because of the large number of day games played at Wrigley — it gives those in the traveling party a chance to enjoy a nice dinner on the road, a rarity in this line of work.

Padres trips are always fun because of the scenery and the weather. The hotel is right down the road from the ballpark and there’s plenty to do in the area, which helps when the players head to work early afternoon and leave the families to fend for themselves.

The ballparks in the two cities couldn’t be more different. Wrigley is old, rickety and historic and just a fun place to be. PETCO Park in San Diego is among the best of the “new” ballparks (although by now, most of the modern-era stadiums are at least a decade old and probably don’t qualify as such).

Both cities, while completely different, are great places to visit. It’s nice when you can watch your team win a few games, too. Here are the most recent images from batting practice at spacious PETCO Park:

PETCO from behind the cage

PETCO view from the press box

Carlos Lee, Jeff Keppinger, Bill Hall

Angel Sanchez signs autographs for young fans

Brett Wallace

Big congratulations to Darin Erstad, who was recently named the University of Nebraska’s head baseball coach. Erstad played for the Astros only two years, in 2008 and 2009, but he left a lasting impact on pretty much everyone who worked for, played for or covered the Astros during that time.

I think anyone who knew Erstad during his career would agree he was the perfect professional. He was known for his intensity and unwavering focus, yet he was approachable and respectful of the people around him who also had jobs to do. He never had a “I don’t have time for you” attitude, even if he truly was short on time, nor did he bark orders at the support staff when he needed something.

He came to the ballpark every day and got to work, set a great tone in the clubhouse and was a terrific influence on the young players.

Those veterans — while given labels such as “part-time” or “role” or “bench” players — are an essential part of a healthy Major League team. That’s why Erstad was so appreciated when he was here.

This leaves little doubt about what kind of college coach Erstad will be. The Nebraska baseball program is lucky to have him.
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The Astros Player Development Department named the following Players of the Month for May:

Oklahoma City: catcher Robinson Cancel, outfielder Brandon Barnes, left-hander Andy Van Hekken

Corpus Christi: Infielder Jimmy Van Ostrand, infielder Brandon Wikoff, left-hander  Xavier Cedeño

Lancaster: infielder Jose Altuve, outfielder Grant Hogue, right-hander Jose Cisnero

Lexington: outfielder Adam Bailey, infielder Delino DeShields, infielder Mike Kvasnicka right-hander Jason Chowning.

Astros lineup 6/2 at Padres. First pitch 9:05 p.m. CT.

Lyles dominated last night. Now what?

As you can imagine, there was quite a buzz in the cramped, closed quarters of the visitors clubhouse following Jordan Lyles’ fantastic Major League debut last night against the Cubs.

He didn’t get a decision — the win went to Fernando Rodriguez, the first of his big league career — but Lyles still accomplished plenty. He handled himself with the poise of a 10-year veteran and maintained his composure throughout the entire 92-pitch outing, even after he made a wild throw to third base that allowed the Cubs to tie the game in his final inning.

The 20-year-old Lyles is saddled with hype that has surrounded him since Spring Training, where he had virtually no chance to make the team but by the end of the exhibition season had put up the best numbers of any starting pitcher vying for a job.

Brad Mills had a simple greeting for Lyles when the right-hander arrived to Chicago: “You’re here for two starts or 20 years.” In other words, Lyles’ future is largely up to Lyles. How he performs in his next outing on Sunday in San Diego will obviously factor into the decision as to where he goes moving forward.

I’ve heard from some of you who are assuming that a ticket back to Oklahoma City is a guaranteed fate for Lyles when Wandy Rodriguez comes off the disabled list. That is most definitely not the case. If Lyles continues to show that he belongs here, he’ll stay.

Lyles didn’t record his first win, but he did get that first base hit out of the way — although judging from what I heard back on Twitter last night, along with some grumblings in the clubhouse post-game, the general consensus is that Lyles would have logged that first hit earlier, had the umpire not blown a call.

Regardless, Lyles walked away with plenty of door prizes last night — the official lineup card, the ball he used to throw his first pitch and the ball representing his first hit (pictured above).

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A lot of you were not very happy when Mills pulled Lyles from the game in the eighth inning after his errant throw to third. Mills was asked about it after the game and he explained that Lyles had already thrown 92 pitches, that he had gone to a full count on Geovany Soto, that he was starting to “grind.” and with a runner at second base, “I didn’t think we needed to do that right then.” Meaning, the kid had pitched well, he felt good about how he had performed, and he’d had enough, and it was time to get him out of there.

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The trip to Chicago and Wrigley Field is always a highlight of a long baseball season for players across baseball, but for one Astros pitcher, it also signifies a trip home. The question we posed for TwitterTuesday last night was: Which Astros player lives in Chicago in the offseason, and how many blocks does he live from Wrigley?

Answer: J.A. Happ, eight blocks.

Happ grew up in Peru, Illinois, approximately 90 miles from Chicago, and he attended Northwestern University. Chicago — more specifically, the house he owns in Lakeview, near Wrigleyville — is home to him.

“I used to live in that building,” Happ said in the dugout before Tuesday’s game, pointing to a tall building just beyond right-center field. Happ enjoys the area around Wrigley for the same reasons everyone else does: the cozy neighborhood atmosphere, the restaurants and the nightlife — surroundings he’s able to enjoy with the many friends from both high school and college who still live in the Windy City.

Happ grew up a Cubs fan, idolizing Ryne Sandberg while cheering for his team from the cheap seats.

“We’d take the ‘L,’” he said, referring to Chicago’s mass transit system, “And hop off on Addison and buy a $10 ticket.”

How times have changed. Presumably, the seats are better. On Monday, Happ left 43 tickets for friends and family.

Chicago is a wonderful, vibrant city, but the brutal winters can be a bear. Happ doesn’t mind it, though, noting that fall is his favorite time of the year.

He did admit, however, that things slow down considerably during the winter months.

“It’s almost like living in two different cities,” he said. “Nice weather, and not so nice weather.”

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Notes:

Jason Bourgeois is in Kissimmee for an extended spring tuneup before he moves onto Triple-A Oklahoma City to begin a rehab assignment. If all goes well the outfielder will take batting practice on Thursday and play Friday through Sunday.

Astros starting pitchers, entering Wednesday’s finale in Chicago, own a 2.63 ERA over their last 10 games at Wrigley Field.

The pitching matchups for the upcoming series in San Diego:

Thursday: Bud Norris (2-4, 3.76) vs. Tim Stauffer (1-3, 3.60)

Friday: J.A. Happ (3-6, 4.66) vs. Dustin Moseley (1-6, 3.18)

Saturday: Aneury Rodriguez (0-2, 5.40) vs. Aaron Harang (5-2, 3.88)

Sunday: Jordan Lyles (0-0, 2.57) vs. Mat Latos (3-6, 3.97)

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