Results tagged ‘ Astros ’
Triggerettes, Earthmen, epic homers and soul-crushing losses: Brownie’s new book covers all the bases.
I always said if I could hop on a time machine and live through whatever era of Astros baseball I wanted, I’d definitely plant myself around the 1986 team. It had everything — personality, fun, a little intellect sprinkled in here and there, and, most importantly, those zany guys won 96 games. What could be better?
But after reading through Bill Brown’s new book chronicling five decades of Houston baseball, I’m thinking I’d like to try out 1964-ish, just before the Colt .45s moved out of their smoking hot, skeeter-infested outdoor stadium and into their new air-conditioned domed wonder.
It’s not that I’m anxious to witness outdoor baseball in Houston in August. Goodness no. I just think it would be fun to be a Triggerette.
Tiggerettes were, as best as I can tell, neatly dressed and presumably perfectly coifed young women who guided patrons to their seats. They fit in with a full-blown Wild West vibe that was working at Colt Stadium back in those days, when parking attendants wore orange Stetsons and workers in The Fast Draw Club dressed in old-style saloon attire.
Had I made it through a sweltering summer at the old ballpark, I probably would have had a good chance to make the cut and move with the team to the Astrodome. But I would have had to change my title from Triggerette to Space-ette, a small price to pay considering the Stetson-wearing parking attendants were renamed Space Finders, and if you wanted to be part of the grounds crew, you had to answer to “Earthman.”
You have to love how different things were back then. The notion that an entire baseball team would dress in matching blue suits and pose on the steps of their team plane HOLDING GUNS (guns!) sounds absurd in today’s age, of course. But that’s part of why history is so fascinating. It takes us back to a time that was, more or less, completely foreign to anything that has to do with everyday life as we currently know it.
Brown’s book, “Deep in the Heart: Blazing a Trail from Expansion to the World Series,” was a labor of love he started years ago, and with the assistance of co-author and Astros employee Mike Acosta, the longtime Astros broadcaster has produced a fabulous 192-page pictorial look back at Houston’s 50-plus years of baseball history.
The book will be ready for sale on March 31 — Opening Night — at Minute Maid Park. The cost will be $39.95.
How long and hard did Brownie work on this book? He pretty much summed it up with this comment to MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart:
“If there were such a thing as a woman being pregnant for three years and being relieved when she finally has a baby, it’s somewhat akin to that.”
What took this book so long to complete is probably what makes it so good: it seems that Brownie talked to every living figure who significantly contributed to Astros history. As you thumb through, you’ll find descriptions of every epic moment in history, told by the very people who were directly involved.
I loved Billy Hatcher describing his 14th-inning home run in Game of the NLCS as “probably the closest thing I’ll ever do to get to heaven.” Brad Ausmus gave some great insight into the 18-inning Division Series clincher in ’05, which ended with a Chris Burke home run into the Crawford Boxes. Larry Dierker, a gifted writer in his own right, is quoted multiple times throughout the book — fitting, given how much he has been a part of every decade of the franchise’s history.
Brownie was kind enough to send along a few pages so we can give you a sneak peek of “Deep in the Heart.” For die-hard fans (and newbies too), this will make a great keepsake.
I took a slightly bold approach yesterday after the Hall of Fame announcement revealed that Craig Biggio did not get elected this year, his first on the ballot.
I suggested to Astros fans that Biggio not making the Hall this year is a good thing.
This was risky, obviously, given that I live in Houston, have spent most of my career either covering or working for the Astros and have spent most of the last several years communicating — via email, Twitter, blogs, whatever — with a more passionate segment of the Astros fan base. But hear me out. I really do believe Biggio not making the Hall was the best thing for not only Biggio, but also for Houstonians and Astros fans who have waited this long — precisely 51 years — to see a Houston player elected to the Hall of Fame.
The Hall voting process this year was complicated, controversial and brought out all kinds of emotions from writers and fans, from angst to anger to downright confusion. The conversations began pretty much the day after last year’s induction ceremony and gained steam in the weeks and months leading up when to the voters — 10-year members of the Baseball Writers Association of America — received their ballots and filed their selections.
The debates were atypical from those that usually surround Hall of Fame voting. Most of you followed along through the process. Performance-enhancing drugs and the “Steroid Era” were discussed more than statistics. Writers were conflicted about what to do with the stars from the 1990s and early 2000s who are on the ballot for the first (or second, or third) time.
Their opinions varied, which seemed to irk readers more than if everyone had taken one sweeping stance. Some voted for the best of the best, regardless of if they were presumed “dirty” or not. Some flatly refused to vote for anyone who had been implicated, either by failing a test or admitting to taking PEDs, or anyone who had large upper bodies that didn’t pass the eye test. Others opted not to vote for anyone from the era, yet, even if they were presumed clean — a sort of way to punish the entire generation that belonged to a union that didn’t seem all that interested in implementing stringent testing a decade ago.
The point is, the narrative went on and on. And on. And on. It hasn’t stopped. The debate continues, and probably won’t truly die down until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in about a month and the writers have something else on which to focus.
That brings me to Biggio. Let’s pretend for a moment that he did get elected. Do you honestly think the attention would have immediately switched from scathing articles about the PED era to trumpets and pageantry and celebration, just like that? Do you really, truly believe the writers and networks (other than MLB Network) would have spent an adequate amount of time lauding Biggio’s stellar career and giving it the recognition it deserves?
Mark me down for “no.” I believe Biggio would have had a bit part in a larger, ongoing story that the media has fixated itself on for months. It wouldn’t be so much about who got in, but rather, about who didn’t. Whether we like it or not, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa will continue to come up in conversation more than anyone else, and this is going to drag on for a while.
In his press conference with media on Thursday (photo above), Biggio was asked more about the era he played in and the players he played with and against than what he actually did during his 20-year Major League career. I believe locally, Biggio would have been properly lauded had he been elected to the Hall. But on a grander, national scale, I think we would have witnessed something quite different. And I think the trend would have continued right up until induction day this summer.
Through my years around the Astros, there were many times where I would wonder if they were somehow prone to “hard luck” situations. Don’t get me wrong — this isn’t some melodramatic cry that the team is cursed. It’s nothing close to that. Simply, it seemed like there was just always…something.
Jeff Bagwell, for example, was the greatest hitter in franchise history, but instead of his career ending with proper adulation from the fans and a fitting retirement for a player who never bailed for the greener pastures of free agency, his tenure as an Astro ended with a bum shoulder and messy arguments that involved Bagwell, ownership and insurance companies.
The Astros finally won the pennant — their only pennant — in 2005. And, they were swept in the World Series, mainly because they developed an inexplicable inability to score runs. A couple of years later, before a packed house and frenzied home crowd, Biggio logged hit No. 3,000 — and got thrown out at second trying to stretch it into a double. I remember shaking my head and thinking, “It’s always…something.”
So, when the Hall announcement was looming, and I was trying to gauge if Biggio would make it in or not, my first assumption was, if he makes it, he’ll barely squeak in. He’s either not making it with around 70 percent of the vote or just getting in with 76 or so. Is that truly how you want this to go? Biggio making it in with one of the lowest vote totals in history so that he can always be known as “the Hall of Famer with one of the lowest vote totals in history”?
Then, as the minutes crept toward the 1 p.m. CT announcement, the sentiment through Social Media was that if anyone gets in, it’ll be only one person — Biggio. And my thoughts turned to what the scene would be in Cooperstown. The Hall of Fame folks would make it a spectacular day for Biggio, for his family, the Astros and the fans who traveled to Cooperstown. They do things first rate, always have, always will. But it’s the peripheral stuff — the media, the line of questioning, the storylines in general — that are cause for worry.
Biggio would be stamped as the first true PED-era player to make it to the Hall. He’d be asked about it ad nauseum. He’d have no choice but to talk about Bonds and Clemens and Sosa and others.
And I thought, my goodness. There’s a really good chance Biggio will be a footnote at his own Hall of Fame induction.
So count me as one who’s kind of glad the way things turned out. There is no doubt in my mind that Biggio is getting into the Hall of Fame, and it will probably happen next year. He has 3,060 hits. His 668 doubles are the most ever by a right-handed hitter. He’s the only player in history with at least 3,000 hits, 600 doubles, 400 stolen bases and 250 home runs. It is ludicrous that he was not elected to the Hall of Fame this year. He will get in.
But as absurd as it is that he garnered only 68 percent of the votes this time, I think Biggio dodged a bullet this year by not making it. Next year, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas appear on the ballot for the first time. All three will merit first-ballot consideration. It’s entirely possible Biggio will be on the dais in Cooperstown with players who be celebrated for simply being great, and nothing else.
Is that so terrible?
OK, I’ll be the first to say it — this one doesn’t pass the smell test.
Oh, sure, I believe Roger Clemens truly does want to try his hand at pitching professionally, and on a much lower scale than the big leagues, as he gives his 50-year-old arm a test against real-life hitters.
But forgive me if I don’t think this is a one-game only experiment, a good-will gesture, a way for Clemens to sign some autographs, and, as he put it on Tuesday, “just have some fun.”
I have no idea what is actually going on inside Clemens’ head as he prepares to take the mound for his Independent League Sugar Land Skeeters debut on Saturday. Heck, maybe this really is just a case of a former superstar pitcher wanting to see if he can still bring it.
If that’s the case, heck, why not? It’ll be a fun night at Constellation Field. If it’s just about Houston resident wanting to inject some baseball life into a nearby suburb only 20 minutes from home, then so be it. It isn’t hurting anyone. Go for it.
But you’ll forgive me for being suspicious. I don’t claim to know Roger Clemens well. I am not in his inner circle. Most of my conversations with him were filtered through his agents (which was always a hoot). But I did cover him as a reporter during the Astros’ glory years in the middle of last decade, and I learned a few things. First and foremost, when it comes to competing, Clemens doesn’t do anything just for rips and giggles.
He competes because he lives for it. It defines him. It’s all he knows. And it’s hard for him to give it up, which is why he unretired in 2004 to pitch for the Astros, why he stayed on with them for three years, why he went back to the Yankees in 2007 and why he now plays in a 50-and-over softball league (and why he boasted at his presser that he hit two home runs in his most recent game).
Clemens was dutifully self-deprecating with his responses as to whether his Skeeters debut was a precursor to signing on with the Astros, possibly in September, when rosters expand.
No, no, no, Clemens said. Loosely translated, it likely means maybe, possibly, and probably.
“I’ve come out of retirement three times. But I’m 50 years old. It’s not realistic.”
“There’s a big difference between pitching and training at a high level. I’m not at that level, by any means.”
“I’m nowhere near where I was five years ago. I’m 50 years old. I have to be conscious of that.”
“Mentally, I’m going to go out and feel 35 again. When I throw my first couple of pitches, I’m going to feel 50 and say, “what the heck am I doing?”
Just a minute, Sonny.
It’s one thing for Clemens to take a safe and harmless aw-shucks approach. It’s quite another for him to predict that he’ll soon be second-guessing himself.
Sorry, I’m not buying it. That’s not Clemens. It wasn’t Clemens at 30 or 35 or 41. It’s certainly not him at 50. It just doesn’t compute.
I could be wrong on all of this. He could be using this angle to protect himself in case he does indeed blow up Saturday. He could very well hit 83 mph on the gun and get torched by opposing hitters. If that happens, he probably will sign some autographs, shake a few hands and ride off into the Sugar Land sunset by way of Highway 6 and U.S. Route 59.
But what if this experiment isn’t a disaster? What’s next?
I agree it’s a stretch to think any 50-year-old, even one seemingly as ageless as Clemens, could realistically have success against Major League hitters 25 years younger than him. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned after years of covering Clemens, it’s that the only thing I know for sure is that I know nothing for sure.
Clemens hasn’t lost the burn to compete. The Astros thought enough of Monday’s warmup session to send their scouting director to watch. And there are a few empty seats at Minute Maid Park these days, if you haven’t noticed.
Perfect storm or far-fetched fantasy?
Three years ago, Roy Oswalt, a native of Weir, Miss., (pop. 500), built a restaurant smack dab in the middle of his hometown and near three others, intending to give people who lived nearby a place to go for a nice dinner without having to drive 30 miles into town to do so.
Oswalt promised me that when the restaurant was complete and ready for public consumption, he would invite me to come to town so I could cover the grand opening. True to his word, when the date was finalized, he sent a text message that he was ready, and he offered up a room in his lodge located on his sprawling white tail deer ranch.
Roy’s friend, Joey, showed me around the place while Roy was busy at the restaurant preparing for the opening. Joey drove me around the hundreds of acres of land on a four-wheeler, doing his best to explain the country life to a city girl whose idea of “getting back to the land” was hiring someone to trim the six feet of grass that sits in front of her townhome off Washington Ave.
Joey was a great host. He showed me the lake Roy built with the bulldozer Drayton McLane gave him years earlier. He drove me by several wooded areas where white-tail deer freely roamed. And, much to my delight, he got as close as he could to the deer, even as they freaked out and sprinted in the opposite direction, which is what deer do when intruders (me) show up.
After a long afternoon on the ranch and a tasty dinner at Roy’s new restaurant, Joey ticked off the list of activities for the next day. First up: waking up at 5 a.m. to artificially inseminate the white-tail doe, with contributions from super-special, well-bred deer from an undisclosed, far-away place where super-special deer apparently are raised.
“It’s going to be great,” Joey said, excitedly.
“You know, that sounds fascinating,” I said. “But I think I’m going to go ahead and sleep in,” I said.
That visit to Roy’s hometown occurred a few months after I began a new job with my old team, a position designed to bring the fans closer to the Astros through the annals of Social Media and blogging. That trip was the first of many in-depth glimpses to our team, for our fanbase, with the intention to give insight as to who these players are and what makes them tick. We wanted to show them not as robots but as people, beyond what you can see for yourself by watching on TV and reading in the paper.
We felt the best way to implement that plan was to provide a never-ending stream of behind-the-scenes access through storytelling, photos and videos. To illustrate the ins and outs of the Houston Astros. To make fans feel like they were part of the process.
Simply put, the last three years have been an absolute blast. But now, as is the case with most elements of life, it’s time to move on.
Over the last 16 seasons, I’ve had three jobs: first with the Astros, then with MLB.com, and then back with the Astros. In another week, I will leave my post with the Astros to go back to MLB.com for an exciting new opportunity. I’ll be a national correspondent, working with all 30 teams on a variety of levels. My first assignment will be All-Star week.
While I’ve obviously had plenty of experience changing jobs, this one is a huge leap, because although I’ll still be based in Houston, for the first time, I will no longer be working exclusively with the Astros. So this, in many ways, is goodbye.
I’m not really into “farewell” columns writers post when they’re on the move, but I do want to express my gratitude to you, the readers. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Thanks for all of it — the good, the bad and the loud disagreements. For the give and take, the back and forth, the laughter and the spirited debates. Mostly, I thank you for trusting me, for knowing you could ask me just about anything, and accepting my answers as candid, honest and forthright. That was hugely important to me.
Those of you who are regular readers of this blog know I like to ramble on about a bunch of completely unrelated topics. I figure that would be a fitting way to end this chapter. So here we go:
* Your Astros are in extremely good hands. I refer to Jeff Luhnow as a rock star (although I’m not sure if I’ve ever told him that. Guess he knows now). He understands what it takes for an organization to sustain long-term success and is building the Astros accordingly. Sure, he’s smart and savvy, but he has that little something extra that makes you believe he’s going to be in this job a long while. He gets baseball, he gets people, and let’s face it, he’s just a really cool dude. The first thing he said to me when we met at his introductory press conference was “I follow you on Twitter.” I think @drjohnreyes phrased it perfectly when he said, “Jeff Luhnow being on Twitter is like finding out your parents skydive.”
* Jim Crane also gets it. The worst thing an owner can do is take over a team, put a sound plan in place to build a winner, and then blow a jillion dollars on a free agent past his prime, messing up the team’s financial structure for the next decade. This will not happen with Crane. He hired smart, capable people to run the baseball operation, and he’s leaving it up to them to do just that. The plan is in place and they are sticking to it. Trust me, it’s a good plan. My money’s on it working.
* Despite the Astros’ current record, the organization as a whole is in a very good place. The Minor League teams are winning, a lot. This would be in stark contrast to the last several years, when the Minor League teams were losing, a lot. If it sounds simple, that’s because it is. Luhnow’s mantra: build the Minor League rosters with winning in mind. That means disregarding who was drafted in what round and feeling a need to push former high picks through the system just for the sake of moving them. Now, it’s about performance and development, and little else.
* Minute Maid Park is still one of the premier ballparks in baseball. For the last 10 years, my top three have not changed: Minute Maid Park, AT&T Park (San Fran) and PNC Park (Pittsburgh). Working from Minute Maid Park has been a pleasure, and I’m guessing the fan experience isn’t much different.
* For all of the grief Ed Wade took, he did a lot of good work here. There’s a lot of talent in the Minor League system and many of those players were obtained under Wade’s watch. You haven’t heard a lot about them, but you will. Soon.
* I don’t care what Chris Snyder’s batting average is. He’s been a great addition to this team. He has that certain something that makes him a perfect presence in a big league clubhouse. Every team needs that veteran guy who keeps things steady, can relate to all teammates and handles winning and losing with an unwaveringly calm approach. He’s a ballplayer, in the truest sense. He needs to stick around.
* I hated the hot sauce packet mascot race. Mascots who run in races, by definition, need eyes. When you put faces on inanimate objects, it’s funny. And what’s up with Mild Sauce losing every day? I know Texans like their spicy toppings, but come on. Totally fixed.
* Six years ago, Oswalt and I made a friendly wager. He insisted that when his contract ran out after 2011, he was going to retire. I disagreed, guessing he’d keep pitching. The wager: dinner. Roy, changing your cell number doesn’t get you off the hook. Pay up.
* When the Astros were winning and winning and winning in 2004 and ’05, the rosters were comprised mostly of players who had never played for another Major League team. Most were drafted by the Astros (Berkman, Biggio, Oswalt, Ensberg, Lane, etc.) and others were obtained through trades as Minor Leaguers (Bagwell, Everett). This created a sense of unity among teammates that made the winning that much more meaningful. When the modern-day Astros start rolling again, the rosters again will be filled with mostly players who were drafted and developed by this organization. That’s significant.
* Best moment: Covering the clubhouse scene when the Astros won the pennant. What I remember most about the World Series was not that the Astros were swept, but that Craig Biggio said to me at least three times, “You know, this was totally worth the wait.”
* Worst moment: Covering the clubhouse scene the day Darryl Kile died, 10 years ago today. The grief was overwhelming. I’ve never witnessed such complete devastation and I sensed that some of Kile’s friends would never be able to get past the loss.
* Best quote: Billy Wagner. You just never knew what was going to fly out of his mouth. A reporter’s dream, a team’s (occasional) nightmare.
* Most nerve-racking non-Astros moment: Watching, in person, Brad Lidge attempt to nail down the save in the World Series clinching game for the Phillies in 2008. I was covering the Series for MLB.com and my assignment was to document the postgame celebration on the field. I snuck down to the seats right behind the third-base dugout and watched the ninth inning from there. I was so nervous for Lidge that I actually feared I was going to either pass out or toss my cookies. Fortunately everything turned out well for both of us.
* Most challenging moment: Covering Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS. Reporters have to turn in game stories five minutes after the last out is made, and with two outs in the ninth, no one on base and Lidge on the mound, I had 700 words written about the Astros’ pennant-clinching win over the Cardinals. Ten minutes later, Albert Pujols launched his moon shot to left field, and I had no choice but to highlight the story, push delete, and start over. (Honorable mention: the 18-inning win over the Braves in the NLDS. When games go that long, paragraphs that were important three innings ago eventually become irrelevant. So for three hours, it was type, delete. Type, delete. Rinse, repeat.)
* Favorite memory that I couldn’t write about: I finished my game coverage around 3 a.m. after the Astros clinched the pennant in St. Louis and walked back to the media dining room to pour a Budweiser beer from the single tap located near the eating area. I propped my feet up, savored the moment and realized I was probably drinking the very last Bud beer ever to be poured in old Busch Stadium. The ballpark was razed the next morning.
That should just about do it. Thank you again for your friendship. I will continue blogging and tweeting in my new job, so I hope you’ll continue to follow along. In the meantime, please continue to follow @astros for information about your hometown nine.
Be well, Astros fans!
Collectively, as an organization, the Astros got past the Jose-Altuve-is-too-short-to-play-in-the-big-leagues thing quite a while ago.
Two-and-a-half months into the season, I think we can all agree Altuve’s height is holding him back from nothing. That conclusion was established here in Houston a while ago. Now, several folks outside of our city are now catching on as well.
As you peruse this delightful blog written by Tyler Kepner of the New York Times, please also enjoy this latest nugget:
In addition to putting up All-Star caliber numbers so far this season, Altuve is also on pace to become one of the few NL second basemen since 1985 to lead his team in singles, doubles and triples.
The list of predecessors is impressive:
Steve Sax, Dodgers, 1986: 157 singles, 43 doubles, 4 triples
Craig Biggio, Astros, 1994: 84, 44, 5
Jeff Kent, Giants, 2000: 115, 41, 7
Freddy Sanchez, Pirates, 2007: 126, 42, 4
Jose Altuve, Astros, 2012 (through 66 games): 57, 18, 4
All-Star voting is coming to close in the not-so-distant future. In-stadium balloting ends Wednesday, while the cutoff for online balloting is June 28 (next Thursday).
To boost the numbers in Houston and give one final push for Altuve and shortstop Jed Lowrie, the Astros are hosting an All-Star voting party tomorrow (Tuesday, June 19) during their game with the Royals.
The party will take place at the Conoco Pump Alley in left-center field and the more times you vote, the more times you’ll be entered to win a bunch of Astros prizes (game-used balls, hats, goody bags).
Tickets can be purchased here. Or you can call 1 877 9 ASTROS.
Hall of Famer Joe Morgan will be in town this weekend to receive his Walk of Fame honors, as well as throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Astros game with the Indians.
Morgan, who played for the Astros from 1963-71 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990, will sign autographs on the main concourse from 6-6:30 p.m. on Friday. Autograph vouchers cost $25, with proceeds going to the Astros In Action Foundation.
Altuve-mania is sweeping the greater Houston area, and it’s becoming exceedingly clear that your second baseman is going to find himself in Kansas City in about a month.
No, no, no…the Astros didn’t make another trade with the Royals. Rather, Kansas City is the site of the 2012 All-Star Game, and Jose Altuve, who’s maintained an average well over .300 the entire season, arguably is the leading candidate to represent the Astros this year.
Don’t count out Jed Lowrie, either, who as of Sunday is leading all big league shortstops with 12 home runs and should be in any conversation at this point about the Astros and the All-Star Game. It would be nice to see both Lowrie and Altuve — with his .326 batting average, 17 doubles, three triples and 22 RBIs — head to Kansas City.
I have no idea how many Altuves it takes to get from Houston to Kansas City, but I’m pretty sure of one thing: every time someone mentions his height (or lack thereof) Altuve gets a hit.
Athletes from the other Houston sports teams are jumping on the Altuve bandwagon, too. On Sunday, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt tweeted: “Hey Houston, @JoseAltuve27 hit a HR & stole home today and is hitting .326 on the year. Get your votes in, make him an All-Star #TeamHouston”
…and you can also Tweet the Vote here, using a slew of hashtags that identifies the Astros and your favorite players.
In addition to signing their first-round pick in less than 72 hours, the Astros have been busy working on signing as many of the remaining 40 players they selected during the Draft last week.
So far, they’ve inked 18, including their third-rounder (RHP Brady Rodgers) and their fifth-rounder (OF Andrew Aplin).
The full up-to-date list, as of Sunday night:
1 SS Carlos Correa
3 RHP Brady Rodgers
5 OF Andrew Aplin
9 RHP Daniel Minor
12 OF Terrell Joyce
13 LHP Brian Holmes
14 IF Joseph Sclafani
15 RHP Erick Gonzalez
16 OF Daniel Gulbransen
17 RHP Aaron West
18 C Richard Gingras
19 IF Austin Elkins
28 IF Angel Ibanez
29 RHP Christian Garcia
30 RHP John Neely
31 C M.P. Cokinos
34 RHP Jordan Jankowski
37 RHP Michael Dimock
(Update: the Astros signed three more: LHP Joseph Bircher (10th round), RHP Travis Ballew (23rd round), 1B Michael
Martinez (36th round).
Speaking of the Draft, it wasn’t at all surprising when the announcement regarding the Player To Be Named in the trade with the Royals from a few months ago came down this weekend.
The Astros traded Jason Bourgeois and Humberto Quintero to Kansas City during Spring Training for left-hander Kevin Chapman and that always-mysterious Player to Be Named, who was to be named, well, later. Much, much later.
We now know that player is 20-year-old outfielder D’Andre Toney. He was drafted by the Royals in 2011, and because a player has to be in the system for a full year before the team who drafted him can trade him, the Toney transaction couldn’t happen until the 2012 Draft was complete.
Hence, the timing.
Jeff Luhnow hinted in March the PTBNL was the cornerstone of the trade, and if early returns are any indication, it appears the Astros acquired a speedy outfielder with offensive potential. Last year while in Rookie Ball, he hit .340 with 12 doubles, five triples, five home runs and 29 RBIs and a .432 on-base percentage.
In trading two bench players, the Astros acquired a young lefty pitching prospect and outfielder, moving the organization forward as it continues to build the farm system and plan for the future. Looks promising.
(Chapman, by the way, has a 3-2 record with a 2.30 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 27 1/3 innings in 24 appearances for Double-A Corpus Christi this season and was named the club’s Pitcher of the Month in April.)
‘Twas a long, eventful day for Carlos Correa. Next up: his high school graduation. And then, baseball.
When Jeff Luhnow mentioned on Tuesday that top Draft pick Carlos Correa would be visiting Houston two days later, the GM indicated he hoped negotiations would move forward quickly once all parties involved — Luhnow, scouting director Bobby Heck, the scouts pursuing him, Correa and his parents — were together, face to face.
As Luhnow continued talking with reporters, however, it became evident he didn’t view Thursday’s visit as a time to simply exchange pleasantries with the family. To Luhnow, Thursday was THE day. Take the physical, sign the contract, officially join the Astros organization.
(Side note: If I’m to understand this correctly, if a team has only “x” dollars to spend on its first 10 or 11 picks, then it behooves the draftees to sign up quickly. If you’re a first-rounder and the other nine or 10 picks sign before you, and there’s only $2 million left over, then you get $2 million and there’s no negotiating, other than an extra five percent a team can pour on top of that without being penalized. If that’s the case, it looks like the absurd nature of the prior parameters that allowed free spending and led to negotiations often going down to the final minute, as was the case with two of the Astros’ top picks last year, are for the most part, over. )
It’s been quite a week for the 17-year-old Correa (featured in the behind-the-scenes footage above), who signed on with the Astros three days before his high school graduation and five days before he’ll head to Kissimmee, Fla., to join the club’s Gulf Coast League affiliate.
Correa definitely looks like a teenager, but he handled the day’s events with the poise of someone much more experienced. As soon as he stepped off the elevator on the fifth floor of Union Station to sign the contract, all eyes — and recording devices — were on him. This seemingly did not faze him. He shook dozens of hands, met all of the top Astros brass, including owner Jim Crane, and seemed very at ease.
He sounded sincere and answered questions eloquently at the press conference and even managed to ignore the cameras and few dozen reporters who were waiting for him as he made his way to the field. He seemed to mingle well with the Astros players as he took batting practice, and it helped that he crushed a few balls to left-center early in the session.
A few notes:
* Because Correa is a minor, his parents had to co-sign the contract.
* The men front and center of Correa signing are Luhnow and Heck, but two equally important figures shouldn’t be overlooked. Drafting Correa came on the recommendation of area scouts Larry Pardo and Joey Sola, who ultimately
are responsible for the signing.
* Correa’s entire family was ecstatic with the day’s events, with one exception — Correa’s three-year-old sister, who seems to have figured out this is going to lead to big bro leaving home. Apparently, she has said more than once, “Don’t sign.”
* Correa had a little rock star mojo going during the signing and press conference, but as soon as he stepped into the clubhouse, he was treated like any other teammate who has no Major League experience and is about to put on a big league uniform for the first time. He was greeted with catcalls of, “Your locker’s in the bathroom,” while Chris Snyder told Correa he’d fine him $20 for every ball he hit to the right side of second base.
* Correa picked uniform No. 12 for two reasons: he was honored to be the first pick in the 2012 Draft, and he was paying homage to his baseball hero, fellow Puerto Rican Roberto Alomar.
Photos from an eventful day:
Between third-round pick Brady Rodgers signing his contract with the Astros on Wednesday and reports that Carlos Correa, the first overall pick in the Draft, will sign by the end of the day Thursday, we might have to rename your hometown team the Houston Fastros.
Sure, Jeff Luhnow and Bobby Heck made it clear, on more than one occasion, that they expect to sign all of their top Draft picks. And there’s no reason not to believe them. It’s just that the process, at least for the top picks, usually takes longer than this. You have to wonder if the new Draft rules, which give a team a set amount of money it can spend on its top 10 (or 11) picks, is speeding up the process. The deadline to sign picks is a month earlier than it has been in the past, which might be a factor as well.
Whatever the reason, no one’s complaining. Having covered the deadline last year, which involved two of the Astros’ top three picks holding out until there were, quite literally, 2 1/2 minutes left on the clock, I can say this is much more enjoyable. What would you rather have — players signing up and immediately shipping out to their Minor League teams, or a club having to explain why, because negotiations ran too long, there’s little to no time left for the player to actually, well, play?
Anyhoo, the 21-year-old Rodgers, a right-handed pitcher from Richmond, Texas and a product of Lamar Consolidated High School in Rosenberg, will spend the next few weeks working out at the Astros’ Gulf Coast League facility in Kissimmee, Fla. He will then fly to Troy, NY, to begin his professional career with the Short Season A Tri-City ValleyCats.
Rodgers played collegiately at Arizona State, where he was 10-3 with a 2.27 ERA in 2012. In his college career, he totaled 286 innings and posted a 2.39 ERA, the second-lowest in school history.
Ring-a-bling-bling: As you probably remember, Luhnow was hired away from the St. Louis Cardinals last offseason to take over here as general manager. Soon after he was hired, he began plucking several of the brighter minds from his former organization and made them Astros.
The Cardinals are in town this week, and on Wednesday, Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. and general manager John Mozeliak presented World Series rings to four members of the Astros staff who were with St. Louis last year: Luhnow, Sig Mejdal (director of decision sciences), Mike Elias (special assistant to the GM) and bench coach Joe Pettini.
The impromptu ceremony took place in Luhnow’s GM booth just before first pitch, and they group was gracious enough to let the cameras in to capture the moment:
MLB.com provided thorough scouting reports on most of the top players who were expected to be selected in the Draft. Here is the rundown of the Astros’ top five picks:
On No. 1 pick Carlos Correa:
High school middle infielders who have the tools to stay at shortstop long term aren’t always easy to find. That’s a big reason why Correa is so high on Draft lists at this point. Defensively, Correa is above average across the board — range, arm and actions — leaving no question about his ability to stay at short. He can swing the bat, too, with the potential to be an above-average hitter with outstanding power. He’s a solid baserunner who is better underway and has off-the-charts work ethic and baseball instincts. Correa’s swing can get a little long at times and he will occasionally get out of his game plan at the plate. But that’s just nitpicking and the only thing that could keep Correa from being the highest draftee from the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy is his commitment to Miami.
On supplemental round pick Lance McCullers:
Major League bloodlines are always a plus and the younger Lance McCullers has the chance to be much better than his father, who spent parts of seven seasons in the big leagues. McCullers is pure power. His fastball can easily touch the upper 90s and it has above-average movement in on right-handed hitters. When he stays on top of his slider it’s an above-average, hard and tight breaking ball. He does have a changeup, but it’s behind the other two offerings. He’s got a feel for it, but doesn’t need to use it much at this level. McCullers is fearless on the mound, with a closer-type mentality (and the stuff to match it).McCullers does struggle with his command at times, which keeps hitters from being too comfortable at the plate. He will need to refine that, along with his offspeed stuff, to be an effective starter at the highest level. But there’s nothing to indicate he won’t be able to do just that with time and experience.
On second-round pick Nolan Fontana:
Take each of Fontana’s tools individually and none of them may overwhelm you. Add them up and you’ll like what you see a lot more. Fontana can swing the bat a little bit, showing a solid approach and an ability to make adjustments. He even has a little power to the pull side and will turn on a mistake. Fontana’s instincts on the bases allow his average speed to play up and he does all of the little things offensively to help a team win. He’s the same way on the other side of the ball, always putting himself in the right position to make the plays, with a solid arm and range and very good hands. Fontana could be a very good second baseman, a decent shortstop or the kind of super utility man championship-caliber teams tend to have. Whatever the case, his abilities and instincts should allow him to help a big league club out quickly.
On third-round pick Brady Rodgers:
While he’s not a soft-tosser — his Major League average fastball will sit in the 90-91 mph range and he can reach back for a little more and maintain his velocity deep into starts — Rodgers is more about the art of pitching than anything else. He has three secondary pitches that should at least average. Rodgers’ slider is a sharp downer that can be a strikeout pitch and his changeup is very deceptive, with both looking like future above-average offerings. His curve isn’t quite as good, but with a 12-to-5 break, it’s more than just a show-me pitch. Rodgers throws all of those pitches for strikes and should have plus location down the line, showing outstanding knowledge of how to mix pitches. His ceiling might be the middle of a big league rotation, but it shouldn’t take him too long to reach that goal.
On fourth-round pick Rio Ruiz:
He’s from SoCal. He hits left-handed. It’s not a real shock Ruiz gets Eric Chavez comps. Unfortunately for Ruiz, he became even more similar to the oft-injured Chavez in March when he had to undergo a procedure to break up a blood clot near his clavicle by his right shoulder.Ruiz has the tools to be an everyday Major League third baseman. He has a terrific left-handed swing, a short stroke with good bat speed. He makes consistent hard contact and there’s more than enough loft and leverage for him to have good power at the next level. He’s a solid, instinctive defender at third, with good lateral movement and a strong arm. Ruiz doesn’t run well, but given his other skills, that doesn’t matter so much. He doesn’t need to run if he’s going to develop into a run-producing third baseman as a professional. That potential should put him in many beginning-of-the-Draft conversations.
To the rest of the baseball world, it really came down to two players the Astros would decide between to be their No. 1 pick in the Draft: college pitcher Mark Appel, and high school outfielder Byron Buxton.
GM Jeff Luhnow and scouting director Bobby Heck and a roomful of execs and scouts watched MLB Network with amusement from the Draft room, knowing that the answer was actually c): neither.
As the analysts on Network speculated who the Astros would ultimately take, while surmising Luhnow was likely both nervous and excited to be running his first draft as a GM, Luhnow sat back in his chair looking about as jittery as he would if he was sitting on a lounge chair, on the beach in the Bahamas, holding an umbrella drink.
In other words, Luhnow, as has been the case since he took over as GM last November, was one cool cat throughout the process. Heck was as well, especially when he called the Astros representatives who were at the Network studios in Secaucus, NJ, to tell them who they picked.
Clearly, the Astros surprised some people by picking shortstop Carlos Correa, a 17-year-old high school kid who played amateur baseball at the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy in Gurabo, Puerto Rico.
This wasn’t an open and shut case for the Astros. They’ve spent weeks discussing, dissecting and analyzing all top prospects expected to go in the first round. Their ultimate decision didn’t arrive until just before they were, as Commissioner Bud Selig phrased it, “on the clock.”
“This afternoon,” Luhnow said, asked when he decided Correa was their guy. “We were working on it all day.”
Watch the behind-the-scenes video from the Draft room
High School: Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Gurabo, P.R.
Will Correa stay at shortstop?
“He’s 17 years old. He has a big frame, advanced feet, advanced hands. He can really throw. Even if he stays at shortstop, he will be a middle-of-the-order bat.”
“Carlos has a chance to be a star. Anyone who saw him play recognizes that. He has the type of bat that can produce at the Major League level — a 20, 30-type home run (hitter) playing at a premium position, whether that is shortstop or maybe third base. He will hit in the middle of the order.”
Luhnow, on Correa’s background:
“He had a 4.0 (grade point average) in high school. We asked for the transcripts. He has gotten A’s in every class he’s taken. He’s an overachiever. He’s driven to be successful.”
Is there concern he’ll ultimately decide to attend the University of Miami, where he committed to play baseball?
“I suspect Miami will not see him, unless he’s visiting friends.”
MLB.com Scouting report:
“High school middle infielders who have the tools to stay at shortstop long term aren’t always easy to find. That’s a big reason why Correa is so high on Draft lists at this point. Defensively, Correa is above average across the board — range, arm and actions — leaving no question about his ability to stay at short. He can swing the bat, too, with the potential to be an above-average hitter with outstanding power. He’s a solid baserunner who is better underway and has off-the-charts work ethic and baseball instincts. Correa’s swing can get a little long at times and he will occasionally get out of his game plan at the plate. But that’s just nitpicking and the only thing that could keep Correa from being the highest draftee from the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy is his commitment to Miami.”
“Correa has plenty of tools. He is a quality defender at shortstop with soft hands and a well above-average arm. He’s an above-average runner and also has excellent potential with the bat, profiling to hit for average and power. Correa has drawn comparisons to Troy Tulowitzki and Ryan Zimmerman.
Photos from day one of the Draft: