Results tagged ‘ Hunter Pence ’

Second base riddle: Altuve? Or DeShields? Or Paredes? (Answer: all three.)

The decision to move Jimmy Paredes back to second base, the position he’s played more than any other since his professional career began, has little to do with Jose Altuve, or Delino DeShields, or anyone occupying his old position at third base, for that matter.

Ballplayers are evaluated, discussed, scrutinized and sometimes moved around from the moment they join an organization. General manager Jeff Luhnow and his staff kept a close eye on Paredes, acquired a couple of years ago from the Yankees in the Lance Berkman trade, and decided the athletic infielder should move back to second base.

And that’s where he’ll play in the Minor Leagues. The general belief is Paredes will eventually be a mainstay in the Majors. The goal is to get the most out of him in the role he’s best suited for. That role, according to the club’s talent evaluators, is not third base.

When the decision was announced, questions immediately popped up regarding the futures of Altuve and DeShields. It made some wonder if moving Paredes is a direct reflection on the Astros’ confidence, or lack thereof, in Altuve’s abilities.

The answer is pretty simple, really. Decisions regarding Paredes have to do with Paredes, and only Paredes. This isn’t about Altuve or DeShields or any other middle infielders in the organization.

Baseball is unlike the other sports. There are many layers to an organization. Most players who are drafted — save for the very few Stephen Strasburg-like prodigies — won’t reach a big league field for three years, minimum. That’s why the Minor Leagues exist. They are designed to turn young, raw ballplayers into Major League contributors.

Hundreds of players comprise a Minor League system. Around four percent are actually prospects that will make it to the big leagues. Even fewer will last more than a couple of years.

The best organizations have talented players at every position throughout the system. They don’t look at their All-Star shortstop on the Major League level and shrug and say, “Well, looks like we don’t need any other good shortstops in our system.” A dozen roadblocks can mess up even the best plan. Injury. Inconsistency. Free agency. A can’t-miss prospect who gets to the big leagues and blows out his arm. Or finds out he can’t hit a Major League curveball.

Take the Yankees’ Joba Chamberlain, for example. He was a sure-fire, can’t-miss star. Except, of course, that he’s not. First there was the elbow surgery. Now we hear that he has a possible career-ending ankle injury, born from a trampoline mishap.

More than a decade ago, Tim Redding blew through the Astros’ Minor League system with such force that most considered him a better pitcher than Roy Oswalt.

The only problem with that theory was that it was wrong. As it turned out, Redding lacked two things: maturity, and the ability to make adjustments when no Major League hitters were swinging at his 0-2 pitch. Or his 1-2 pitch. Or 2-2 and 3-2.

Staff ace? Not so much. Master of the 100-pitch-count-after-four-innings? Most definitely.

That’s why baseball teams are layered in such a way that gives them Plans B, C and even, in some cases, D and E. There are eight levels in the Minor Leagues. Prospects who go through the system endure a steady climb to the big leagues, some quicker than others. There are no guarantees the player who shows an enormous skill set in Rookie Ball will still have that going for him when he moves up to Double-A.

Altuve has less than a half-season of experience as a Major League second baseman. He shows great potential and will be at second base on Opening Day on April 6. Is he destined for a 10-year career? Is he a future All-Star?

DeShields was a first-round draft pick a couple of years ago and was converted from an outfielder to a second baseman. The Astros like his athleticism and speed and believe he has a future as a big league infielder. Does he?

The answer to both questions is a resounding…maybe. But who out there really knows, with 100 percent certainty?

Baseball organizations — the good ones — are about depth. Having too many good players in a system at one position is a good problem to have. Depth gives teams flexibility. It allows them have a strong Major League team that is built with home-grown players, while giving them trading chips when there’s a need in another area. It also allows teams to replenish the roster with talent when a player prices himself out of payroll parameters.

In certain circumstances, of course, adjustments have to be made. Lance Berkman became an outfielder around the same time Jeff Bagwell signed a long-term contract extension. Jonathan Singleton was clearly going nowhere as a first baseman in Philadelphia’s system, given its recent commitment to Ryan Howard through 2017. And that’s one of the reasons the Astros were able to trade for him.

Why were the Phillies able to land Hunter Pence in a blockbuster trade last year? Simple: they had the surplus of prospects to offer up. They had a solid farm system that was contributing in two ways: it produced Major League talent capable of getting to the World Series, with even more players available as trade bait to make the product at the very top that much more powerful.

If an organization has one good shortstop, or one good catcher, or one good second baseman, and no options coming through the Minor Leagues, well, that’s where you start to see “100″ and “losses” used together in a sentence.

Depth is the single most important component of a healthy organization. Baseball teams cannot survive without it. So don’t fret over the Paredes/Altuve/DeShields conundrum. Be glad it’s here.

____________

Speaking of prospects, several Astros staff members and players involved with the 2011 Arizona Fall League championship team received rings for winning the AFL Championship.

The players: Jay Austin, Jason Castro, Jake Goebbert, Kody Hinze, Dallas Keuchel, Jason Stoffel, Josh Zeid and athletic trainer Eric Montague.

Photos from the ceremony:

Left to right: Dallas Keuchel, Jay Austin, Jason Stoffel, Josh Zeid, Steve Cobb (from the AFL), Jake Goebbert, Kody Hinze and athletic trainer Eric Montague.

MVPs: Jordan Scott, Austin Wates, Matt Duffy, Yonathan Mejia and
Emilio King

Astros are on Facebook

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter

Follow the Astros on Twitter

Jimmy Wynn Training Center opens at Urban Youth Academy

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

By Rachel Frey

The Jimmy Wynn Training Center at the Houston Astros MLB Urban Youth Academy was dedicated today, June 24, in a ceremony that honored the former Astro’s career and community service. Representatives from the Houston Astros, Minute Maid, Grand Slam for Youth Baseball (GSFYB), Major League Baseball, and other civic and community leaders attended the dedication. GSFYB ambassadors Michael Bourn, Hunter Pence, and Brad Mills were also present.

The center is this summer’s field refurbishment project for GSFYB, which is a partnership between the Astros and Minute Maid. The center has 3,412 square feet of multi-use space covered in artificial turf, two cable-suspended batting cages, umpire/staff locker rooms with a shower, and two Yoshida pitching machines, which were donated by Mr. Tadashi Yoshida and shipped in from Chiba, Japan. Major League Baseball also assisted with the completion of this project.

Milo Hamilton was one of the first people to speak, and instructed attendees to, “honor [Jimmy] the way he should be honored. You’re honoring one of the greatest citizens and baseball players.”

Jimmy has been the ambassador for GSFYB over the past six years, and according to Fred Arnold from GSFYB, he cried when they told him the center was to be named after him.

“Come out and learn the game of baseball, learn the facts of life– you have no excuse now,” Jimmy said. “If you need me I’ll be available. I might be slow, but I’m available.”

Jimmy Lee Solomon, who is from the Houston area and is an Executive Vice President of Baseball Development of Major League Baseball, was also present to celebrate the opening.

“This is more than a building– it’s more than the bricks and steel,” Solomon said. “It is a catalyst for change in the community. Kids in areas like this have no chance at the American Dream. We must provide hope to them [through opportunities like the center]. The worst poverty we can leave children in is the poverty of hope.”

Focus Friday: Hunter Pence

0225_pence_ff.jpg

What is Hunter Pence’s favorite meal, when he’s not at the Buffalo Grille? Who has had the biggest influence on his life? What was the first concert he attended?

Welcome to Focus Friday, where we get to the bottom of things regarding your favorite Astros, while talking as little about baseball as possible. Consider Focus Friday a getting-to-know-you session, where we learn about the player — not as a player, but as a person.

The fun twist? The questions come from you, not us. Every week, we’ll ask our Twitter followers to send in their questions, and then we’ll pick the best of the bunch. You can find the video version on Twitter, and a transcript right here on this blog.

We caught up with Hunter during the Astros’ annual sign-everything-in-sight autograph session, hosted by the Community Development department. As you can see from the photo above, there were a few things on Hunter’s proverbial plate. This interview created a nice diversion.
_________________

@vitaliano10: What are your thoughts on professional athletes using Social Media things like Twitter and Facebook?

@HunterPence9: I think it’s awesome. Even for me personally, I love sports and I love competing. I enjoy following some of the players in other leagues. I enjoy, whenever we do fantasy football, following my guys that are going to bring me through. I love hearing what they have to say. I get kind of excited when (Baltimore Ravens running back) Ray Rice is talking about his knee or the game or whatever it may be. I think it’s a great tool that we never had as
kids to really talk to our fans. For me personally, it’s getting feedback from the fans, being able to tell them certain things, kind of giving them an aspect of our personality they wouldn’t otherwise get.

@irishndude4: What are your top three road trip cities, judging by the stadium, city, etc.?

@HunterPence9: That’s a great question because I’ve never had it asked as a whole — the stadium and the city. It’s kind of a counterbalance. You could say that Chicago’s awesome, but the field and what we have to go through there is horrible. Well, it’s not horrible, but it’s definitely not the most comfortable locker room.

I love San Francisco’s stadium. It’s not necessarily hitter-friendly but the view, the bay, the energy of the fans…I’ve always liked that city. Obviously they’re not very nice to me, but they’re passionate about baseball. They’re throwing cans with strings trying to steal the balls from batting practice. We have (bullpen assistant) Strech Suba who gets mad at you if you throw a ball into the stands. So it’s a constant war and it’s kind of fun.

Also, San Diego, just because it’s such nice weather. You walk around the city in the morning, go to breakfast…there’s a mall, you can get a haircut.

The third one, I’m going to say Chicago, even though the locker room’s not that great. The city’s cool, and when you play the Cubs, the fans are wild and rowdy. There’s an intensity on the field just from what they bring. They’re packed in and they’re yelling at you and you want to prove them wrong.

@esandler: First concert? Favorite burger? Dream car? Best vacation?

@HunterPence9: (First concert) I don’t know if I want to admit this. I was in junior high or high school. I want to say it was Sugar Ray or something. There were a bunch of teenage girls there.

(Favorite burger) Grass-fed. We grilled out last night, actually, Cowboy Burgers from Whole Foods. It’s good stuff. We had a bunch of guys over last night. The new guy we picked up, Brian Dopirak, who’s in camp with us this year — he’s an amazing cook. Amazing griller. We’re just going to Whole Foods every day, it’s like our new tradition. We eat lunch, pick up a bunch of stuff, invite whoever wants to come over and we grill out every night.

(Dream car) I’m not much of a car guy. What I like — I would never buy one no matter what I make because I know it’s a waste of money, but I like Lamborghinis and Ferraris because they look cool. I don’t know enough about cars and I don’t think I would ever drive either one. I just like the look of them.

(Best vacation) I’m not a good person to ask, I’m not a vacation guy. I haven’t been on too many vacations. I would want to go to the wineries in Napa Valley. That’s somewhere I want to go.  

@benjamintitter: Who has had the most impact in your life? What did you learn from them?

@HunterPence9: I’ve had a lot of great impacts on my life. I think everyone, in whatever they do, needs a mentor, someone that’s been through something that you want to do. You should look for one and a lot of the people that have gone pretty far should be mentors to the younger kids coming up in your field, whatever it may be.

Obviously, my brother (Howie) has had the biggest impact. He’s four years old than me. A lot of older brothers would have kicked their younger brother to the curb. But he’s been my coach and my sidekick the whole way through. He’s my biggest fan and I definitely wouldn’t be here without him.

There’s been a lot of them along the way. (Darin) Erstad was a big mentor when I made it to the Major Leagues. I still look up to that guy and his values — he’s just a great individual. Orlando Palmeiro is another one that took me along when I was a rookie. He sat next to me every time on the airplane. We played cards, talked hitting. I still talk to him today. Those were my baseball mentors.

@therealxAndrew: What does a day look like during the season? Do you have time for friends/family? Are you able to shop for food without being hounded by fans?

@HunterPence9: Fans don’t really hound me. They’re really nice. If a fan runs up to me and just wants an autograph or picture…how could I be upset when someone’s like, “We like the way you play, keep playing the game the right way.” I don’t mind that. I can go anywhere, do anything. It’s just if I have the energy and the time. It’s all about conserving your energy.

Generally I just wake up, I go eat a big breakfast. I don’t really have time to drive to go hang out with my family but sometimes they come over, sometimes they meet me for breakfast. I might play chess, cards, whatever. Watch videos and start getting ready for the game.

@mom2boystx: Besides Buffalo Grille, what’s your favorite type of food?

@HunterPence9: I have a passion for just healthy food. I’m learning to cook from Brian Dopirak this Spring Training. It’s something I haven’t had time to do or someone to teach me. My mom, if she was around, I’ve done it with her a few times. I like fish, I like vegetables, I like colorful salads. Steakhouses would be one of my favorites. I enjoy sushi. Just anything that’s healthy and fresh.

@luckiexstar: If you could be a rock star for a day, what band would you play for and where do you want to perform?

@HunterPence9: If I’m a rock star for one day I definitely want to perform in L.A. If I was going to be a rock band — this is actually a concert I want to go to and haven’t been able to go to — in their prime, Metallica. The song I would play would be “One.” Just to hear the drum solo and the guitar solo going back and forth at the end. That would probably be the most adrenaline I could get on stage, or even in the crowd. So, Metallica for sure.

@lolunix: What music will you be using this year to com
e up to bat?

@HunterPence9: I have not decided yet. I don’t think we’re going to go cheesy just yet. Unless the team needs a rally. Kesha, Fergie, that type thing. At the start of the year it’s probably going to be some rock. Maybe some Godsmack, Slipknot, Korn, Tool. Something to that effect.

Pitchers throw live batting practice, hitters a little flummoxed

0221_abad.jpg

The first day that pitchers throw to hitters during a live batting practice session is always a little entertaining (if you’re a pitcher), a little befuddling (if you’re a hitter) and not at all telling as to how these guys will perform in another five weeks (if you’re the manager).

Pitchers have a four-day head start on position players, and while that might not seem like a long time, it is. Pitchers have had a head start, getting their arms loose, throwing bullpens and slowly getting back into a (very preliminary) rhythm. Hitters, no matter how well-conditioned they are when they show up to camp and how much they’ve been hitting in the cages over the winter, are nowhere near where they will be in a few more weeks in terms of timing and simply shaking off the rust.

Fifteen pitchers threw live BP: LHPs Fernando Abad (pictured above), J.A. Happ, Sergio Escalona, Wandy Rodriguez, Wesley Wright; and RHPs Jeff Fulchino, Arcenio Leon, Wilton Lopez, Jordan Lyles, Brandon Lyon, Brett Myers, Lance Pendleton, Aneury Rodriguez, Fernando Rodriguez Jr. and Henry Villar.

The Astros will have similar workouts throughout the week, and next Sunday, in anticipation of the first Grapefruit League game the next day, will play an Intrasquad game. These usually run 5 1/2 innings and will likely be the first time the team plays on the main field at Osceola County Stadium.
_____________

Did you know? Hitting coach Mike Barnett was Michael Jordan’s hitting coach at AA Birmingham in 1994. Barnett recalled how focused Jordan was, no matter what the task at hand: “That type of competitiveness, that type of work ethic, he was just a joy to work with every day.”
_____________

Quotable:

General Manager Ed Wade, on what has surprised him about camp:

“I just think the whole tone and tenor has been very, very positive. I think part of it flows from the staff and the attention to detail as regard to the schedule, and Millsie preaching energy to the staff during the eight o’clock meeting before they ever go out onto the field to interact with the players.  Let’s keep the energy up. I think a lot of it flows from the approach they’ve taken. It hasn’t been a case of any particular player standing out. It’s a case of the guys collectively looking like they understand why they’re here and having fun in the process.”
____________________

The final Houston version of Astroline will take place Wednesday at Buffalo Wild Wings on Gray St. in Midtown, beginning at 7 p.m. CT. Our old buddy Phil Garner will join Milo Hamilton for the full hour and they welcome your calls (713-212-5874). The show is open to the public and will air on the club’s flagship station, 740 KTRH. The show will also be streamed live on astros.com and will be available in the archives on the site soon after the broadcast.

There is a twist to this Wednesday’s show: Astroline and Buffalo Wild Wings will be hosting a silent auction benefitting the Wounded Warrior Project, a fundraiser geared toward raising awareness and enlisting the public’s aid for the needs of injured service members. Participants can purchase a $10 ticket, which entitles them to six traditional or eight boneless wings and a beverage. In addition, these guests will receive a ticket to participate in a raffle of one autographed item. The silent auction, which will contain many Astros autographed items, will be open from 6 to 9 p.m. CT.
_____________

On to the photos…

Michael Bourn grunted (in admiration) on more than one occasion while facing Abad.

0221_bourn_bp.jpg

Infielders stand by while pitchers practice faking pickoff throws to second

0221_cj_manz_barmes.jpg
This conditioning exercise involves players bending their knees and flapping their arms. In a group, it looks like they’re trying to fly away.

0221_fly_away.jpg

J.A. Happ and Wandy Rodriguez during morning pickoff drills.

0221_happ.jpg

Mills chats with players at the end of the workout, when players are stretching following conditioning drills.

0221_mills.jpg

Happy to be here: Carlos Lee…

0221_carlos.jpg

…and Hunter Pence

0221_pence_smile.jpg

Astros are on Facebook
Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter
Check out Astros witticisms at AstrosOneLiners 

Questions? Send to afooter@astros.com  

Morning roundup: Bagwell debuts on ‘Grey’s’, single game tickets on sale, and Bobblehead news.

The only connection that ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy has to our fair city of Houston, that I can think of, is Chandra Wilson, who plays the outspoken yet lovable Dr. Miranda Bailey and has been a staple of the show since it first aired six years ago. She grew up in Houston, attended the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and performed at a very young age at the Theatre Under the Stars.

I have no idea if Wilson’s allegiance to her hometown had anything to do with Jeff Bagwell getting a mention on last night’s show — in fact, it’s highly doubtful, considering Wilson is not one of the show’s writers — but it was pretty cool nonetheless.

I was well on my way to falling into a wonderful Ambien-induced slumber when the scene aired, so forgive me if the details are fuzzy. Scene: two guys, both of whom seemed to be fighting over Teddy, got to talking amongst themselves. One of them had briefly pitched in the Major Leagues. Guy 1 to Guy 2: “Did you ever pitch to Jeff Bagwell?” Guy 2 to Guy 1: “Once. It wasn’t pretty.”

That would be the second time the Astros have been mentioned on a hit medical drama. Remember back in 1997 when “ER” aired a live episode? The Astros-Cubs game was playing in the background. It happened to be the night the Astros clinched the division, and if I remember correctly, Brad Ausmus’s home run was playing when the cameras panned on the television.

So, even if our guys are sometimes ignored on the national sports landscape, it’s nice to know we’ve got the prime time, hospital-themed drama market cornered.

___________

Single-game tickets go on sale today at 9 a.m. CT and can be purchased online at astros.com, at the Astros Spanish website, astrosdehouston.com, at the ballpark Box Office on Texas Avenue or by phone toll free at 1-877-9ASTROS (1-877-927-8767).

You can find a full list of promotional giveaways on astros.com, but here are a few highlights to whet your whistle:

On Opening Day (April 8), the Astros are giving away 2011 schedule magnets to the first 40,000 fans. Michael Bourn Bobbleheads — celebrating his second consecutive Rawlings Gold Glove Award — will be given away on April 10.

The Astros are hosting two Dog Days this year: April 17, and Sept. 9. Fans can enjoy the game with their canine friends in designated areas of the ballpark and partake in in a pregame “Pooch Parade.” (Complete with real-live poopie picker-uppers.)

The Astros will again “Play Green” in 2011 and will celebrate Green Week April. 26-May 1. A reusable grocery tote bag will be given away on April 28, followed by a Play Green Bobblehead featuring Play Green ambassador Hunter Pence (April 30).

In early May, the Astros will celebrate Pink in the Park Week (May 9-15) as the ballclub raises awareness and funds for breast cancer research. A variety of events, including a Ladies Golf Tournament, Brunch and Bazaar, Ladies Night (May 13) and Wine and Cheese Night (May 14) are planned. Giveaways that weekend include a Pink Tote Bag (May 13), and a bobblehead featuring Chris Johnson with a pink bat (May 14), which has become synonymous with the league-wide commitment to women’s health and breast cancer research.

____________

FanFest will take place Opening weekend, April 8-10. We’ll reveal the details as it gets closer, but among the highlights will be current player and alumni autograph sessions, Talkin’ Baseball seminars and silent auctions.

___________

On to today’s links:

MLB.com

In Brian McTaggart’s notes roundup, we learn that Ryan Rowland-Smith has chucked his signature glasses in favor of contact lenses and that Jeff Keppinger hopes to get his walking boot off by next week.

Tags also features a brash and bold Brett Myers, now a senior member of the starting staff.

Chronicle

Justice: Jason Castro gets high praise from coaches

I thought it was interesting, but not at all surprising, that it was pitching coach Brad Arnsberg who first took Castro into the video room to study opposing hitters and also familiarize himself with his battery partner for that day’s game. Arnie spends hours studying tape in that video room and apparently pitchers aren’t the only ones reaping the benefits.

Zachary Levine tackles Bud’s stomach flu, Pence’s day in Arizona and prospect Delino DeShields Jr.’s pending day in court.

Pence is auctioning off his Twitter profile, for charity.

Last season, Hunter Pence took the Twitterverse by storm, and over time, we’ve grown accustomed to the flurry of activity that populates his Twitter account, @hunterpence9. He uses the forum to communicate with fans, give updates on his career and, most recently, raise money for charitable causes.

Pence is currently participating in TwitChange, where celebrities auction off their Twitter profiles for charity. Fans bit on a follow, retweet or mention and a package of all three. Hunter is also adding an autographed ball to the winner of each auction.

Pence’s charity of choice is Operation Once in a Lifetime, whose mission is to make the dreams of U.S. Soldiers and their families come true by providing free financial and morale support to U.S Service members, their families and veterans.

There is still time to put in a bid, but the auction ends Saturday. Here is Pence’s TwitChange page, where you can start bidding now:

For a complete list of celebrities participating in TwitChange, check this out :  (Pence is about halfway down, on the right.)
______________

Speaking of Twitter, Astros radio announcer Brett Dolan is the first of the club’s broadcasting team to hop on the Twitter bandwagon, and he’s already amassed over 300 followers. Brett’s funny and entertaining, and he’s going to be tweeting through Spring Training and the regular season. All good news for Astros fans. Give him a follow at @astrosradio for a bird’s-eye view of life in the broadcasting booth.

We also have a Spanish twitter account, @losastros, in addition our English-speaking Astros Twitter account, @astrosblast.

For the first time, Baseball Dinner tickets are now available online

The Astros and the Houston Athletic Committee are now offering the opportunity to purchase tickets to the annual Baseball Dinner on Astros.com.

The Baseball Dinner, presented by Minute Maid, is traditionally held late in the winter every year, serving as an unofficial end to the offseason and as a warm-up to Spring Training and a brand new season.

The banquet, which will be held Jan. 14 at the Hilton Americas Convention Center Hotel, recognizes the best of the best from the 2010 season, and this year’s honorees include:

Hunter Pence, Most Valuable Player;
Brett Myers, Pitcher of the Year;
Chris Johnson, Rookie of the Year;
Geoff Blum, recipient of the Darryl Kile “Good Guy” award;
Barry Waters, Astros traveling secretary, recipient of the Fred Hartman Long and Meritorious Service award;
Carl Crawford, Houston Area Major League Player of the Year.

Additionally, several local folks will be recognized: Mike Rutledge of Kyle Chapman Baseball, Anthony Rendon of Rice University, Rick Lynch of Tomball High School, the Greater Houston area’s top 16 high school seniors and the Pearland Little-League All-Stars team.

The evening will conclude with a live auction featuring a Hunter Pence-themed auction package which includes: four (4) Diamond Level seats for a 2011 Astros regular season home game, dinner in the Diamond Club, in-game recognition and a first pitch, breakfast with Hunter Pence at Buffalo Grille and more. The opening bid starts at $2,500.

Individual tickets are $75, with tables of 10 available for $750. To order tickets, click here.

 

Winter Meetings: some wheeling, some dealing, and a whole lot of lobby trolling.

Fortunately, there’s a giant Christmas tree in the hotel lobby here at the Dolphin Hotel in Orlando, or I might think it was already Spring Training time again. After all, there was a very familiar feel to the ride from the airport — a long drive on Beeline Expressway (including two tolls), an even longer drive in I-4, and at long last, a full view of chain restaurants, t-shirts shops and outlet stores as far as the eye can see.

Orlando. It’s never met a convention it wasn’t willing to host, which is probably why the Winter Meetings end up here every few years. The weather is decent, it’s a convenient plane ride from most East coast cities, and it has first-rate facilities for any size convention known to mankind. We were reminded of this on the cab ride over when dispatch sent out an APB to all drivers: “WE HAVE SEVEN THOUSAND PEOPLE COMING OUT OF THE CONVENTION CENTER RIGHT NOW! WE NEED ALL HANDS ON DECK! YES, I SAID SEVEN THOUSAND! AND THEY ALL WANT TO GO TO DINNER. NOW!!!!”

I was happy that we were instead headed to the Dolphin hotel at the Walt Disney Resort and NOT the Convention Center, although this hotel isn’t exactly barren either. Welcome to the 2010 Winter Meetings, where nearly every member of every front office of every team, plus hundreds of reporters and dozens of agents are sandwiched into one confined area for a four-day baseball free-for-all. Participants fall into three categories: front offices who are looking to wheel, deal, or stand pat; media, searching for trade and free agent rumors, true (sometimes) or not true (most of the time); and agents, who are often the providers of the tidbits that eventually make their way through the information highway of the Winter Meetings — a.k.a. the hotel lobby.

The lobby is where most rumors start. They circulate around, and when valid, make it to the web. The addition of Twitter to the process has added an entirely new element to lobby trolling at the Winter Meetings, because now reporters don’t have to run back to their computers to break a story. Heck, no one even has to talk to each other anymore. They can just take out their handheld device of choice and within a few minutes send the competition into a tizzy. It’s truly a fascinating scene, especially when a high-powered agent or high-profile general manager just happens to be strolling through the lobby. (This is, of course, not the way it actually works. No one just randomly strolls to where a couple hundred reporters are hanging out unless they want to be seen and/or have something to say).

Ed Wade’s entire front office staff is here, along with manager Brad Mills. Wade will address the media at the end of each business day, so be sure to check back for updates on that front. We’ll also be tweeting throughout the Winter Meetings and hopefully bring you a little closer to what goes on at this four-day offseason convention.

__________________

On another note, Hunter Pence and Cincinnati pitcher Mike Leake are engaged in a hash tag war, all for the sake of charity. Fans are encouraged to tweet either #GoAstros or #GoReds, depending on your allegiance. If #GoAstros wins, Leake will donate $1,000 to the Sunshine Kids, and if #GoReds wins, Pence will donate $1,000 to the SPCA in Cincinnati.

The contest goes until midnight Monday and if you follow Pence on Twitter, you’ve probably noticed he’s pretty fired up about this contest. So if you have a moment, please tweet #GoAstros and make the day of your friendly right fielder.

Is Jeff Bagwell a Hall of Famer? Indeedy.

1201_bags.jpg

Anyone who on a daily basis watched Jeff Bagwell play during his 15-year career has no doubt that he is worthy of a spot in the Hall of Fame.

And I truly believe he’ll get there — eventually. But on the first ballot? Probably not.

Before you fire off angry emails filled with statistical data to back up the argument that he is a first-ballot candidate, let me say that I totally, completely, 100 percent agree with you. He is one of the best first basemen ever to play the game, and he played for a long time, and his numbers are tremendous. That, by definition, merits Hall of Fame election. And if he’s a Hall of Famer, then logically, he would be elected this year by the more than 500 members of the Baseball Writers Association of America who recently received their ballots. But that isn’t how it works.

Most players, save for the ultra elite, have to wait more than one try to be inducted. And I doubt Bags will be the exception to the rule.

It’s too bad, really, because this notion that you’re a Hall of Famer but have to wait a while to be recognized as such is just silliness. Is there a separate category — “Hall of Famer, at some point, when we decide it’s time”? To me, it’s black and white. You are either a Hall of Famer, or you’re not.

And in Bagwell’s case, he most certainly is. I’m going to list some of the stat-based criteria that support this argument. But then, we’ll look at this from the perspective of what Bagwell did other than hit a lot of home runs and pile on the RBIs. More on that later.

First, the bare facts:

*His .948 career OPS ranks 22nd in Major League history and 10th among right-handed hitters. Four of the nine right-handed hitters ranked ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame, while four others are not yet eligible for induction.

*His .408 career on-base percentage ranks 15th all-time among right-handed hitters and ninth all-time among first basemen (third among right-handed first basemen).

*He is the only first baseman in history and one of 12 players all-time to reach 400 home runs and 200 stolen bases.

*He is one of five players in history to collect 30 home runs, 100 RBI and 100 runs scored in six consecutive seasons (1996-2001). Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth and Albert Pujols are the others.

*He is the only player in history to record 30 home runs, 100 RBI, 100 runs scored and 100 walks in six consecutive seasons (1996-2001).

Clearly, not only was he the best first baseman of his era, he was one of the best, ever, in history.

But Bagwell wasn’t just a force at the plate. I doubt you could find a smarter all-around ballplayer, one who played his position and ran the bases flawlessly, one who had instincts so keen that it seemed as if he knew what was going to happen 10 seconds before it did. He perfected the 3-6-3 double play, knew exactly when and how quickly to run up on bunters (who would subsequently be nailed at second base after a flawless throw from Bagwell) and rarely received a throw in the dirt from a fellow infielder that he couldn’t pick.

I asked him once why he wasn’t given more credit for his defense. His reasoning: “I’m not left-handed.” So is that to mean that just because left-handed first basemen have an easier time fielding their position, that automatically makes them better? Of course not.

He downplayed his baserunning by stating simply, “I’m not that fast.” He had much better speed than he gave himself credit for, and with over 200 stolen bases, he was clearly doing something right. That’s where the instincts came into play. His timing was flawless. He could read a pitcher better than anyone. Heck, he stole home three times in his career, which is three more times than most players have on their resume. Quite simply, Bagwell was nearly perfect as a ballplayer.

You know a player was good when you can distinctly remember the rare time that he wasn’t. I recall one game in St. Louis in 2004 when, with one out, Bagwell took off from first base on a fly ball. He was halfway to third when the ball was caught by the center fielder and thrown to first for the easy double-up. After the game, I said to him, “I’m so flabbergasted I don’t even know how to phrase the question.” Bags: “I’ll make it easy for you. Obviously, I’m a complete moron.”

I can’t count the number of times I’d watch Bagwell play and think to myself “this is the best baseball player I’ve ever seen.” Over 14 seasons, there were three players who repeatedly floored me with their abilities: Roy Oswalt when he pitched, Adam Everett when he played shortstop, and Bagwell, when he did anything.

So yes, if you watched Bagwell play every day, you grew to appreciate just how superior of a ballplayer he was. A Hall of Famer in every way imaginable. But a few elements will work against him this year: His 449 homers falls short of the 500 that usually guarantees first-ballot election; his shoulder injury ended his career prematurely and prevented him from going over the top in some of the offensive categories; and most of the voters did not watch him play on a regular basis and therefore will judge him only on the offensive numbers. He was so much more than a hitter, but, in some cases, that is not a point of interest when it comes to election time.

And, simply, some voters just like to make players wait. First-ballot Hall of Fame election is reserved for those players whose numbers are so gaudy, so off the charts, that you don’t even need to have watched them play a single game to know there were few — if any — who were better.

Bags was great. Really great. Hall-of-Fame great. But in terms of waiting for that call to Cooperstown, we might have to wait a while longer. And I really, really hope I’m wrong on this one.

(I also think there are enough writers out there who would be tickled pink to have Bagwell and Craig Biggio go in together. Biggio will be eligible in two years, which will be Bagwell’s third time on the ballot.)

______________

Odds and ends as we shift our focus from eating too much pumpkin mousse cheesecake during Thanksgiving to eating too much at the office Christmas party…

Hunter Pence All-Star Camp 2010

Your favorite right fielder is hosting a baseball camp for kids ages 6-18 that will offer one day of training with Pence and other professional ballplayers. Campers can participate on either Dec. 18 or 19 and the cost is $200.

For that cost, you will receive:

HP Play Dri Reebok Camp Tee
HP Reebok Drawstring bag
HP 2010 Camp Bracelet
Instructors and Sponsorship Program
Personalized autograph and picture
Autographs from all instructors

To sign up, visit hunterpencebaseball.com or call 713-254-7520.

______________

Speaking of Pence, he and several other Astros were in the weight room bright and early Tuesday morning, as they are every Monday through Thursday throughout most of the offseason.

Under the supervision of strength and conditioning coach Gene Coleman, the crew — Pence, Humberto Quintero, Wandy Rodriguez, Brian Bogusevic and Ross Seaton – spent most of the morning hitting the weights, the exercise bikes, and several other pieces of workout equipment that I don’t know the names of. In other words, it might be the offseason, but the players are still working. (And more will join the morning routine in the near future, including Bud Norris, Chris Johnson, Jason Bourgeois and Brett Wallace.)

Here’s proof:

Bogusevic, Coleman, Wandy

1201_bogu_workingout.JPG

Pence, Seaton

1201­_pence.JPG

Wandy, Coleman, Pence

1201_pence_wandy.JPG

Quintero, Wandy

1201_quin-wandy.JPG

Wandy

1201_wandy.JPG_______________

And finally, here’s an updated photo of the big empty hole formerly known as the Astros dearly departed (and outdated) scoreboard. The new version will be delivered later in December and will be installed, hopefully, in January. Stay tuned…

1201_scoreboard.JPG 
 

On our TV broadcasters, Astroline and Michael Bourn.

1104_jd_brownie.jpg

While I realize there are still a lot of unanswered questions floating around regarding last week’s announcement that the Astros will partner with Comcast beginning in 2012, I do want to clear up one thing: Astros broadcasters, both for radio and television, are employed by the Astros, not the stations that broadcast the games.

I’ve read and heard a lot of concern about Jim Deshaies and Bill Brown, our lovable TV announcers, as to how the new TV deal affects them. Rest assured, it doesn’t. They’re Astros employees and therefore, they go where the Astros go. Same goes for Milo Hamilton, Brett Dolan and Dave Raymond on the radio side.

Regarding your other questions surrounding what the new TV deal means for you and your current cable carrier, please be patient. Most of your questions do not have answers yet. There are a lot of moving parts and eventually, everything will be clear. For now, it’s not, so giving half-baked answers that may or may not accurately apply in ’12 would be irresponsible on my part. Thank you for your patience.

_______________

 

1104_milo_pence.jpg

Speaking of broadcasting, the Astros’ wildly popular offseason radio show, Astroline, will begin its weekly run beginning Wednesday, Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. CT. Aired on 740 KTRH, streamed live on Astros.com and hosted by Hamilton, Astroline will take place at a new location — Buffalo Wild Wings in Midtown (510 Gray St.)

We’re still waiting for confirmation on the first guest, but we can tell you that the Houston portion of Astroline will include 13 dates: Nov. 17; Dec. 1, 8, 15 and 29; Jan. 5, 12, 19 and 26; Feb. 2, 9, 16 and 23. The show will then relocate to Florida for Spring Training.

As was the case last year, Twitter will have an active role during Astroline. Fans will be encouraged to tweet their questions to me (twitter.com/alysonfooter) and we’ll read them, and answer them, over the air.

________________

1104_bourn.jpg

Next Wednesday, we’ll find out if Michael Bourn won his second National League Gold Glove award. I’m guessing the odds are in his favor, for two reasons: he’s clearly one of the best defensive outfielders in the game, and, it’s a lot easier to win it the second, third and fourth times around. The toughest part is getting the player enough national publicity for voters from far-away teams to take notice, but once his name is out there as a top defender, the ensuing awards come at a much more rapid pace.

In the meantime, Bourn was recognized for his defense last week by another pretty reputable entity. The Fielding Bible doesn’t carry the same glitz and glamour as the Gold Glove, but I like it because of how technical it gets when evaluating the candidates.

The Fielding Bible is a book compiled by John Dewan, who has recruited some of the most respected people in the game to analyze every play (literally) a player makes during the season. Detailed information is recorded on each play, such as the location of each batted ball, the speed and the type of hit and determining how each player compares to his peers in making those plays. An example Dewan uses is: How often does Derek Jeter field a softly batted ball located 20 feet to the right of the normal shortstop position, compared to all other Major League shortstops?

Dewan uses the plus/minus system for plays made and missed, as compared to how often they were made and missed by others at the same position. (For the record, Adam Everett turned in the highest score ever, turning in a +43 at shortstop in ’06. That means he made 43 more plays than the average MLB shortstop would make.)

Anyhoo, in layman’s terms, Bourn being recognized as the best center fielder in baseball by the Fielding Bible doesn’t just mean he made a bunch of plays that drew oohs and ahs by spectators, cable stations and web sites. It means he’s taking good routes to balls, getting good jumps and reading the ball well off the bat. It means he has great instincts, which is something that can improve over time but cannot be taught. He’s making a lot of things look easy that simply are not. All good news for Astros fans.

__________________

And finally, a dip into the photo vault…here we have a very young, fresh-faced Hunter Pence attending batting practice after he was drafted and signed by the Astros in 2004. Other than utilizing a wide array of hair styles over the years, he really hasn’t changed much…

1019_pence_2004.jpg

Astros are on Facebook

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter

Check out Astros witticisms at PumaOneLiners 

Questions? Send to afooter@astros.com 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 254 other followers