Midday notes from the farm: Goebbert, Villar and learning how to be a Major League player.
One thing that intrigues me about the Minor Leagues is how the players are coached and managed at this level.
To state the obvious, in the big leagues, the only thing that matters is winning. That means doing the little things to generate runs in addition to the long balls and extra-base hits. Situational hitting. Moving runners over. Driving in a run by hitting that ground ball in the perfect spot that lets the runner on third score easily.
Minor League rosters are loaded with players whose main goal is getting to the Major Leagues. Not everyone will make it. Most will not, in fact. Individual stats become hugely important, and it’s understandable if players in the farm system are more concerned with how they fared at the end of the night over whether or not the team won.
I imagine it would be hard for a Minor League coaching staff to find that perfect balance between teaching these players the importance of doing the little things to win games and tempering their desire to try to knock every ball out of the park while scouts and team execs watch and judge from the seats behind home plate.
This has to be a challenge for Minor League managers. In speaking with Hooks manager Tom Lawless yesterday, it’s obvious that he has to handle different players in different ways, depending on the position they play.
To his middle infielders, he stresses defense, defense, defense. You don’t have to tear the cover off every ball, he tells them. You cannot, and will not, play in the Major Leagues if you cannot catch the ball. You must be able to make every routine play, and if you can’t, there won’t be a place for you in the Majors.
At the more traditionally offensive positions — corner outfield, first base, third base, catcher — Lawless stresses hitting. He has told Hooks left fielder J.D. Martinez — by far the Astros’ top hitting prospect — “You can’t play left field and be a singles hitter in the big leagues.” (Go ahead, Astros fans, get the snarky comments out of your system. I’ll wait.) “You have to drive the ball to the gaps and hit home runs.”
“I think he understands that now,” Lawless added.
Mid-day notes from Corpus:
* He wasn’t on my target list when I arrived to town yesterday, but it bears noting that outfielder/first baseman Jacob Goebbert is receiving rave reviews from the people who work for and cover the Hooks. The 23-year-old is hitting .308 (60-for-195) with 15 doubles, three triples and four home runs with 24 RBIs. He also was named Hooks Player of the Month after compiling a .984 fielding percentage with six outfield assists.
Last night, Corpus Christi Caller-Times beat writer Greg Rajan sent out this tweet: “Jacob Goebbert drew an 11-pitch walk and scored. Dude is a player for @cchooks, but doesn’t get enough respect from #Astros brass.”
* Shortstop Jonathan Villar, obtained from the Phillies in the Roy Oswalt trade last year, has, according to Lawless, “talent oozing out of him.” Villar is just 20 years old, however, and has some maturing to do. “He can make the defensive plays that have the ‘wow’ thing,” Lawless said. “He has to understand that you have to make the routine plays, too. He has plenty of arm, plenty of range.”
During Thursday’s game, Villar made a spectacular off-kilter play that showed that above-average range. An inning later, he fielded a simple grounder and threw wide to first base. So I understand where Lawless is coming from on that one.
* Here’s something I didn’t know: in the Minors, the players often coach first base. Apparently, when the hitting coach prefers to be in the dugout when his team is batting, a player not in the game can serve as the base coach. Jimmy VanOstrand coached a few innings at first Thursday night. Interesting.
* The rules in Corpus dictate that players are not allowed to talk on their cell phones inside the clubhouse. Lawless made one exception to that rule, the day Jose Altuve learned he’d be playing in the Futures Game on All-Star Sunday in Phoenix.
“I said, ‘I figure your phone’s going to blow up today, so you don’t have to go outside every time someone calls,’” Lawless recalled.
Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org