Results tagged ‘ Chris Sampson ’

Round Rock, Day Two: Catching up with Mark Melancon.

Mark Melancon was diplomatic when I asked him about how he felt to be traded from the Yankees to the Astros, calling the whole experience exciting and different, while expressing his appreciation to his former club.

But I’ll bluntly say what Melancon did not: this trade was a very good thing for him, because he went from an organization that is stacked from top to bottom to one that has more holes than swiss cheese.

Holes create opportunities for unproven players. When you’re an unproven player in an organization deep in talent, those opportunities are far fewer than if you’re in one working its way out of troubled times.

An organization’s first responsibility is to build a farm system with its own players by drafting them, signing them, developing them and getting them to the big leagues in a reasonable amount of time. But another very important element is an ability to identify its own weaknesses, find a team with a surplus in that area and, if all of the stars are aligned, strike a deal.

Melancon wasn’t touted as a top Yankees prospect at the time of the trade, but if you dig a little deeper, the Astros appear to have something here. He’s 25, throws between 92 and 94 mph and has four pitches: a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, curveball and changeup. And he’s working on a cutter.

Melancon has Major League experience, having been up with the Yankees three separate times last year and twice this year. Originally a ninth-round selection of the Yankees in 2006, the 6-foot-2, 215 pound right-hander has a 2.84 ERA over 123 Minor League appearances and in the big leagues, he has a combined ERA of 4.87 over 15 relief appearances.

He’s not years away from the big leagues as are the low-level prospects teams often get in return when they trade away a high-priced veteran. Look for Melancon compete for a job during Spring Training next year and don’t be surprised if he makes an appearance with the Astros when rosters expand to 40 on Sept. 1.

I wonder if this is sort of like the Dan Wheeler trade from six years ago. The Astros got him from the Mets for Adam Seuss, and before the year was over, Wheeler was one of the most reliable arms in the back end of the bullpen on a team that made it all the way to Game 7 of the NLCS.

Wheeler was behind a bunch of veteran relievers with the Mets, so to them, he was expendable. But he came to the Astros and soon, he was invaluable.

Time will tell if Melancon turns out to be that type of pitcher. He was endlessly lauded after the ’06 draft, but Tommy John surgery in 2007 slowed the development process and pushed him lower on the Yankees’ depth chart. Still, he seems to be someone who was still very highly thought of in the Yankees organization and who’s still young enough to develop into a pitcher who has staying power in the big leagues.

I asked him about his walk totals, which were unusually high this year. He walked 22 in ’08 and 11 in ’09, but by the time he was traded to the Astros, he had issued 31 walks over 56 1/3 innings. A change in mechanics may have something to do with that — after he was sent down to Triple-A earlier this year, Scranton coaches told him he needs to get the ball down a little more consistently. That led to a change in arm slot, dropping it from above the shoulder to more of a mid-range level. Melancon hesitates to use that as an excuse but acknowledged location issues can pop up when “you’re changing a lifelong habit.”

He hadn’t thought much about being traded from the Yankees, mainly because he had not heard his name come up in any rumors leading up to the July 31 non-waiver deadline. He said he was “completely shocked” when his manager called him in and put him on the phone with Yankees GM Brian Cashman. He didn’t sweat it, though, and realized pretty quickly this could work in his favor.

“If you’re established in the big leagues, (being traded is) probably more stressful, just depending on the situation. But going up and down between the big leagues and the Minor Leagues, you just try to establish yourself up there. You’re playing for all 30 teams, not just for one team. I feel this is a great opportunity for me. About five minutes after the trade, I was excited to be on board with the Astros.”


Some images from a Thursday in Round Rock (Thirsty Thursday, no less: discounted soda and beer. Might explain the very healthy crowd on hand for the Express-Grizzlies games.)

That’s Melancon walking to the clubhouse from batting practice. After covering baseball at the Major League level for so long, the BP attire here — shorts and t-shirts — still takes me off guard. But as I mentioned during the Corpus leg of this trip, the heat is off-the-charts oppressive in the mid-afternoon hours this time of year (it was 102 at 4 p.m. on Thursday), so wearing uniform pants would be absurd.   


The view of Dell Diamond from the press box. This is one of the best facilities in Minor League baseball, especially from a working standpoint. It really doesn’t get any better.



Ran into Chris Sampson in the dugout (in this picture, he’s playing catch with his son). He pitched a scoreless inning Thursday night and has allowed two runs over 4 2/3 innings since he was sent to Round Rock not long ago.




Meanwhile, back in Houston, the Astros officially announced the signing of their first-round pick, Delino DeShields Jr. The deal was completed much later than the Astros had hoped — the goal after the draft is to sign them and get them playing as quickly as possible — but the important thing is they signed him. Some images from an eventful afternoon at Minute Maid Park:

Before addressing the media,  DeShields signs the contract.


He’s then congratulated by Asst GM/Scouting director Bobby Heck.


Putting on the jersey…


…and shaking hands with club owner Drayton McLane.


Posing with Heck and Astros amateur scout Lincoln Martin, who signed DeShields.


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Hunter Pence is tweeting, just in time for a long homestand.



A couple of months ago, Chris Sampson (@csampson43) jumped into the Twitter craze, and on Thursday, the Astros added one more tweeter to the list — outfielder and fan fave Hunter Pence.

You can follow Pence at @HunterPence9, and he also invites you to check out his Facebook fan page at

Astros players pretty much fall three categories: 1) Those who don’t really understand social media and aren’t interested; 2) Those who do understand social media but still aren’t interested; and 3) Those who understand social media, like it, and want to participate. Pence definitely falls into the third category and I’m glad he’s on board. Not only is he one of the Astros’ most popular players, he’s also a fun guy and loves engaging the fans. So really, in that respect, Twitter and Facebook are tailor-made for people just like him.


Turn Back the Clock

The Astros have completed a 3-3 road trip and will open an extended homestand on Friday, beginning with a three-game set with the Reds. Saturday’s game will be another Throwback day, this one harkening back to the 1980’s. The Astros will wear the shoulder rainbow jerseys during the game, and the fans will receive a Throwback Jersey t-shirt, courtesy of ABC Pest Pool & Lawn.

Additionally, tickets will be cheap, cheap, cheap. View Deck II and Outfield Deck seats will be only $5.

I indicated in a past blog that there would be an autograph session with members of the ’89 team, but that was cancelled because of a low number of players who were available that day.



The Astros have teamed up with LIVESTRONG and the Methodist Cancer Center to host Cancer Survivors Day During the 1:05 p.m. game vs. the Reds on Sunday  (July 25). Cancer Survivor Day, the first Astros game of its kind, will celebrate the lives of those affected by cancer while generating needed funds for cancer research.

A portion of the ticket sales purchased through the link will benefit LIVESTRONG and the Methodist Cancer Center. Groups of 20 or more that would like to attend the game and support the cause should contact Joe Schiavi at 713-259-8314 or

In addition, the first 10,000 fans at the game will receive a free LIVESTRONG bracelet courtesy of LIVESTRONG. All fans are encouraged to show their support by wearing yellow.

In America alone, there are over 11 million people living with a history of cancer. Individuals that have survived a cancer diagnosis are invited to share their victory story and by doing so have the chance to be selected to be part of this special day. Fans may e-mail their stories or those of their loved ones to Nicky Patriarca, one of the Astros Cancer Survivors Day coordinators, at


Whataburger signing

Second baseman Jeff Keppinger will meet fans and sign autographs at the Whataburger restaurant located at 23540 Westheimer Parkway, Katy, TX 77494 from 11:00 a.m. to noon on July 27.

The appearance, part of the Whataburger Ultimate “Whatafan” promotion, gives fans the chance to register to win the title of Ultimate “Whatafan.” The Ultimate “Whatafan” will win suite tickets, autographed jerseys and caps from the Astros, Round Rock Express and Corpus Christi Hooks, an on-field batting practice visit, the chance to participate in a pre-game ceremony and an opportunity to throw out a ceremonial first pitch.

Love is in the air. Astros wives dish about their hubbies.


Kory Blum met her future husband, Geoff, while out with friends one night in L.A., and within minutes, both knew they had found “the one.”

Nicole and Roy Oswalt have known each other for most of their lives, but it was a chance meeting at a high school choral competition that sped up the course of their casual friendship.

Nicole Oswalt and Kory Blum spilled the beans about marital bliss in the February edition of Houston Lifestyles & Homes magazine, available in stores around town and online at

The Astros wives were refreshingly candid about what makes their marriage work, and while this might generate some ribbing from their husbands’ teammates when Spring Training starts next week, their words offer a peek into a side of baseball players we normally aren’t privy to.


 “I have never laughed so hard or been so carefree,” Kory says of her courtship with Geoff. “I loved his easy-going personality, his love of life, and was delighted to find we had dreams of common goals.”


Writes Nicole: “I could tell at a young age that he would be a good man, hard working, responsible with good morals and values, and he’s never let me down.”


Sampson’s new pitch: a changeup

Chris Sampson revealed plenty of notable nuggets during his appearance on Astroline Wednesday night, including the news that he’s developed a changeup to add to his repertoire this season.

“It’s been six years coming,” he said. “When I got sent down to Round Rock last year, there as a pitcher on that staff — Roy Corcoran. He had a good changeup. I asked how he held it, played catch with it. It felt comfortable in my hand for the first time in six years. When I throw it right, it’s pretty good.”


College Classic

Tickets are available for The 2010 Houston College Classic, which will take place at Minute Maid Park from March 5-7. The field of teams includes TCU, Houston, Texas Tech, Missouri, Texas and Rice.

Daily admission is $13 or $30 for all three days. Kids ages 4-14 can enter for $6 a day, or $15 for a three-day pass. You can order tickets online by clicking here, or by calling 1-800-ASTROS2.

FiveSeven Grille wins an award. Chris Sampson is opening a baseball academy.


The new FiveSeven Grille in center field at Minute Maid Park is eye-catching with its modern decor and splashy photographs of Jeff Bagwell (Five) and Craig Biggio (Seven), and apparently, these attributes didn’t go unnoticed by the experts.

Earlier this week, the Astros revealed that the Texas Gulf Coast chapter of ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) awarded Houston-based architecture firm Kirksey the First Place Interior Design Award in the hospitality category for the FiveSeven Grille.

The competition was open to licensed interior designers and architects in Houston and the Gulf Coast area, and projects could be located anywhere if they were completed within the last two years. 

“The Astros are thrilled with the work that Kirksey did in bringing FiveSeven Grille to life,” said Astros President of Business Operations Pam Gardner. “The design work captures the feel and excitement of a fun, clubby destination, while showcasing Astros’ icons Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio in dynamic fashion. It has been a great gathering place on game days and provides a wonderful location for private parties on non-game days.”

The FiveSeven Grille pays homage to Bagwell and Biggio with various photos taken during their tenure with the club that are displayed throughout the restaurant and bar. It is available year-round for private parties and events. For booking information, please call 713-259-8808.



Chris Sampson didn’t get the callup when rosters expanded on Sept. 1, but he had plenty of offseason projects to keep him busy when his season in Round Rock concluded a month ago.

Sampson and former Brewers farmhand Kade Johnson are building a baseball academy in Baytown, which, according to their new web site — — will be opening soon.

The academy offers private baseball and softball lessons, clinics and cage rentals for baseball and softball teams or individual players. It also includes five extra wide 70 foot batting tunnels, an Iron Mike pitching machine, baseball and softball pitching machines, indoor pitching mounds and video analysis.

Baby alert, broken noses and a visit from Booooone.

Interesting notes from Astros camp…

Chris Sampson’s wife, Heather, is thiiiiiis close to delivering the couple’s second son, but apparently, she’s even closer than originally thought. The Sampsons were anticipating a delivery sometime during the July 31-Aug. 2 range, while the team is in St. Louis, but it looks like the little guy doesn’t want to wait that long.

Sampson flew home to Houston today to be with Heather, who was experiencing early contractions yesterday and appears to be ready to deliver. We’ll keep you posted.

****Update: Sampson was placed on the 15-day DL with muscle spasms in his right shoulder. The transaction is retroactive to July 10, which means he’ll be eligible for activation on July 26. To replace Sampson on the roster, the Astros purchased the contract of right-hander Chad Paronto. He’ll be in uniform for Saturday’s game in Los Angeles. (No news on the baby). 


Speaking of babies, congratulations to the Booooooooones — Aaron, and his wife, Laura — who welcomed daughter Bella James on Wednesday. Aaron will join the Astros in Houston on Thursday to begin his comeback from his March 27 heart surgery. The last time we spoke with Boooooone — in mid-June, during the Astros trip to Arizona — he said he’d love to play again this year and mentioned a September return as a very real possibility.

That would require him to spend at least a month rehabbing in the Minor Leagues, and it appears that the timetable is working in his favor. I love the idea of Booooone playing with the Astros in September, especially if they’re in a playoff race. Rosters will expand to 40, so no one would have to be sent out in order to make room for Boone, and he would be a tremendous presence in the clubhouse during the stretch run.

He’s been through everything — division races, October baseball (who can forget his Game 7 homer that won the pennant for the Yankees in ’03?) — and there’s no doubt the Astros could only benefit from that kind of veteran presence during such an intense time.


Brandon Backe sought a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews after Astros team doctors diagnosed a tear in his rotator cuff, and Andrews recommended Backe rest for another few weeks before making any definitive decisions regarding surgery.

If Backe, who was released last month, does decide to eventually have the surgery, the Astros will still be on the hook to pay for it. As of Friday, however, he’s going to rest and rehab route.



Medical marvel Doug Brocail (left, with Jason Michaels) will begin a rehab assignment Monday in Round Rock and will make a second appearance with the Express Wednesday. He’ll then move on to Double-A Corpus Christi, where he will pitch on July 25, 26, 28 and 30.


Strange news from Round Rock…Triple-A catcher J.R. Towles broke his nose in a tractor mishap during the All-Star break, but he is still able to play.


News from…

Puma sits out with calf strain

Sampson DL story

And finally, for the ladies…


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Sampson tweaks his back. Backe has one more start.

Manager Cecil Cooper was leaning toward giving Chris Sampson a night off Tuesday in an effort to give him two full days following a “stressful” outing in Chicago over the weekend. But after tweaking his back while playing with his son on the offday, Sampson may have no choice but to sit out the opener with the Brewers.

Sampson was sitting on the floor at his home and while playfully grabbing his two-year-old son, C.J., he felt a pain in his back.

“I went to grab [C.J.] while he was running by, and I kind of tweaked my lower back,” Sampson said an hour before Tuesday’s game. “It’s loosening up a little bit. I’m just going to treat it all day today and keep some heat on it, see if it won’t loosen up enough to possibly pitch tonight. If not tonight, then should be ready to go tomorrow. It’s not serious.

The back issue has nothing to do with the hip problem he experienced a couple of weeks ago.


Brandon Backe is scheduled to complete what could possibly be the longest rehab assignment in history when he takes the mound for a seventh time in a Minor League game on Saturday. For Double-A Corpus Monday, Backe threw eight shutout innings,
allowing five hits and one walk while striking out five. He threw 98 pitches, 74 for strikes.

If he’s deemed ready to rejoin the team next week, the Astros will have some decisions to make. Does Backe go into the rotation, and if he does, who leaves? Felipe Paulino? And if that is the case, does Paulino go to the Minor Leagues, or does he rejoin the bullpen?

“I’m sure we’ll have discussions what to do,” Cooper said. “It’s a good problem to have.”

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Wanted: pitching coach?

Since Lance Berkman came forward with his desire to become the head coach at the University of Texas after he retires, he’s been besieged by current and former teammates hoping to become his fugure pitching coach. OK, maybe besieged is a little bit of an exaggeration, but it’s worth noting that Chris Sampson, Doug Brocail and Scott Linebrink — remember him?– have submitted their verbal resumes to the Puma.

Linebrink sent Berkman a text message declaring his candidacy: “If you end up getting that job, I’d love to be your pitching coach.”

Sampson is already planning for his two sons — C.J., class of 2025, and his not-yet-born son [to be named later], due in August, to play for Puma.

“They’ll both play for Lance, and me,” Sampson said. “I want to be his pitcing coach. I’m going to take some on-line [college] classes so I can get my degree.”

LaTroy Hawkins wants in, too, as the bullpen coach. Colleges don’t necessarily have bullpen coaches, but Puma’s pretty sure he can change that.


My spies tell me right-handed pitcher Jordan Lyles, the 38th overall pick in the ’08 draft, is the real deal. Watching from the stands in Lexington, they sent this observation: “Filthy. Nine Ks through 5. Excellent poise and command. This kid is going to be very good.”

Unfortunately for Lyles, the pitcher on the other side of the diamond was better. Charleston’s Hector Noesi threw seven no-hit innings and the Legends were one-hit, losing 3-1.


There are various ways to pass the time in the hours leading up to batting practice on the road. On Wednesday, some players watched the Giants-Nationals game, others played chess, while still others played Connect Four. The competition during Connect Four games can get pretty heated, but that’s standard for professional athletes. They could turn a random act of brushing their teeth into some sort of contest. It’s how they’re wired.

From batting practice in Denver:

Puma, stretching.


Carlos Lee


Humberto Quintero and Pudge Rodriguez


Miguel Tejada.


Geoff Blum.