Results tagged ‘ Jordan Lyles ’

Aluminum bats, Minor League MVPs, and…Bagwell takes BP?

It’s never fun to be one of the many teams NOT headed for the playoffs the final weekend of the regular season, but still, those final moments of a 162-game grind when you know the season is coming to an end can be highly entertaining. While it’s still business as usual in terms of preparing for the game, it is also not uncommon for oddities to pop up here and there in the hours leading up to gametime.

Take “early BP” for example. Normally, early BP involves some of the younger hitters who might not be getting enough at-bats or veteran players who are struggling. On Saturday, a few folks took early BP, including…hitting coach Jeff Bagwell and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg.

Arnsberg had been out early with his son, Kyle, a sophomore at the Arizona State University. Kyle was hitting with the college-issued aluminum bat, and pretty soon, so was Pops. Bagwell took a few swings, too (but I think he might have used a wooden bat).

That wasn’t the end of the aluminum bat cameo. It reappeared a few minutes later when the veteran hitters took BP, and while we all know why Major League players don’t use aluminum bats, Saturday’s session provided a nice reminder.

Hunter Pence hit the light fixture that extends a couple hundred feet above the facade in left center. Carlos Lee came thiiiiiiiiiis close to hitting Drayton McLane’s office window on the fifth floor of Union Station. A couple of balls left the ballpark completely.

It’s been a long year, and while everyone’s experiencing some level of fatigue, it was nice to see the players having a little fun as the season winds down.

We captured images of a lot of laughs, and who can’t use a few chuckles after 160 games (194, if you count Spring Training)?

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Geoff Blum.

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Jason Michaels was the first to hit with the aluminum bat.

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This is Michaels pointing to Union Station and making sure Carlos realized how close he was to actually hitting Drayton’s window. JMike swears he saw Drayton watching from his office.

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Pence takes some aluminum hacks…

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And tips his cap to…well, no one, since it was before gates open. But he was proud of hitting the light fixture.

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Humberto Quintero wasn’t part of the aluminum hitting group, but he’s always good for a pregame laugh or too anyway. 

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The pregame ceremony on Saturday was dedicated to the best and brightest of the Astros’ Minor League system: Pitcher of the Year Jordan Lyles, Player of the Year J.D. Martinez and Player Development Man of the Year, Gulf Coast League manager Omar Lopez. The three also enjoyed an up-close view of batting practice, although they looked slightly out of place being so well-dressed among a bunch of polyester-clad ballplayers. Enjoy the sights.

Lyles and Martinez are greeted at the cage by Bagwell and Co.  

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Lyles as a September callup? I vote no.

General manager Ed Wade does not anticipate calling up very many players once rosters expand on Sept. 1, and while he has a general idea of whom he might have in mind for promotions, I sincerely hope he does not summon Jordan Lyles.

Don’t get me wrong — I believe Lyles is the real deal and could be a long-term fixture at the top of this rotation. But by the time the Triple-A season is over he’ll have thrown somewhere in neighborhood of 160 innings, and for a 19-year-old kid in just his third professional season (and his second full one), that is more than enough.

I like what the Astros have been doing lately and the influx of young players has sparked an optimism among fans and the front office not felt in about two years. But bringing Lyles to the big leagues is not necessary, and it is not in the best interests of the player or the organization.

When it comes to prized arms, especially those belonging to pitchers not yet 21 years old, I’d rather be overly cautious than risk a needless injury. Lyles is still developing physically and I’d rather see him finish out the season in Round Rock, rest his arm over the winter and attend big league Spring Training camp next year.

If the Astros wanted to bring him up in September just to give him some exposure to the big leagues so he’s not so overwhelmed when his time does come, I have no problem with that. I don’t think it’s necessary, but being in this environment for a few weeks can’t hurt. Pitching him too much, however, can, and it’s my hope the club errs on the side of caution and just says no.

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I left tickets for some friends on Friday for the Astros-Mets opener at Citi Field and heard some interesting feedback after the game that I wasn’t expecting. These particular friends are die-hard Yankees fans, complete with the season tickets, the dog named “Jeets” and the desire to name their first, second and eighth born kids after Paul O’Neill. But being baseball fans in general, they also wanted to check out the Mets’ new ballpark. Off they went on the 7 train to Flushing, mentioning more than once that they hoped their deceased relatives weren’t watching for fear they might do that whole rolling over in their graves thing.

And you know what? After the game, they said they liked Citi Field more than Yankee Stadium. Citi Field felt like a ballpark, whereas when they go to Yankee Stadium, they feel like they’re being swallowed by a bunch of corporate hoo-ha.

At Citi Field, the atmosphere is cozy, the concourses are comfortable and the beer is $2 cheaper than at Yankee Stadium. Of course, it helped that their seats were really close to the field and that one of my friends was only about 15 feet away from Jeff Bagwell, his man-crush of 14 years. But for the most part, they appreciated Citi Field being simply a more comfortable, laid-back place to watch a ballgame.

I saw perfection when I visited Yankee Stadium for the first time, whereas at Citi Field, the primary emotion is confusion (it’s easy to get turned around here). My friends’ observations are a nice reminder that baseball fans really do like coming to a ballpark simply to watch a game. Sometimes, less is more.

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Random images from a weekend at Citi Field:

You can always count on Chris Johnson to have some kind of reaction to the camera pointing at him..

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Think ballplayers aren’t superstitious? After wearing these sunglasses while sitting at his locker one day, the Astros won. So now, wearing sunglasses inside (and out) is a pretty regular pregame routine.

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Hunter Pence takes a water break before heading back onto the field during batting practice.

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The view of Citi Field from the press box.

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Continuing the Minor League tour. (Next time, my timing will be better.)

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I planned my visits to the Astros’ two Minor League affiliates this week intending to watch Jordan Lyles pitch, but I knew that by splitting my time equally between Corpus and Round Rock, I only had a 50-50 chance to actually meet that goal.

Lyles was on track to start Thursday of this week, so logic would dictate I probably should have planned to be in Corpus that day. But I had a semi-strong feeling that Lyles just might be in Round Rock by then, and I went with it. Unfortunately, I had it wrong, wrong, wrong.

So I’ll have to settle instead for the nice 15-minute conversation I had with Lyles during my time in Corpus and hope the kid gets an invite to big league Spring Training in 2011. (Meanwhile, if you’re at the Hooks game Thursday night, send me a note and let me know how he looked.)

Lyles is an intriguing study. He was the Astros’ first-round supplemental pick in 2008, has been rated as one of the top 20 prospects in the country and he throws hard. And he’s only 19 years old.

Nineteen. It’s not that the Astros don’t have players that young in their system, but playing as high as Double-A? Not even close. Lyles doesn’t turn 20 until October, yet he’s moving quickly through the Minor League system, one that still carries a stigma of pushing its players a little too gingerly from step to step.

The Astros have become much more liberal with their thinking when it comes to challenging the really special talent, and while they don’t want to place too many early expectations on Lyles, it’s clear he’s the pitching prospect with the brightest future. After spending the 2009 season with Low-A Lexington, Lyles skipped High-A Lancaster and went straight to Corpus to begin ’10, and there’s a chance that’s not his final stop this year, despite there less than a month remaining in the Minor League season.

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A 6-foot-4, 215-pound righty from Hartsville, S.C., Lyles played three sports as a high schooler — baseball, basketball and football. In his earlier high school years, he always thought he would play college baseball at University of South Carolina and join the football team as a walk-on.

He briefly changed his mind his junior year and decided to take that season off from football after deciding maybe that sport shouldn’t be in the mix when he stared college. He thought about going the basketball-baseball route instead, but almost as soon as he quit football, he began to miss it. So he came back, had a great season, and almost immediately began taking recruiting calls from college coaches.

If Lyles had any mixed feelings about exactly what he wanted to do in college or how many sports he wanted to play, that ended when the Astros selected him as their second overall pick in the 2008 draft (Jason Castro was first). The then 17-year-old was offered a signing bonus larger than what he had expected or asked for, and there were no more decisions over which to agonize: he’d forego college and begin his professional baseball career immediately (that’s not an exaggeration. Guys sign their contracts and head out the next morning for Rookie ball.)

Coming out of high school, Lyles had four pitches — fastball, curveball, cutter and changeup. When he went to Rookie ball, they had him table the cutter and focus on the other three, but last year, under the advisement of assistant general manager Ricky Bennett and Minor League pitching coordinator Britt Burns, Lyles brought back the cutter.

He feels the cutter is his second or third best pitch, but “all in all, my pitches have jumped better for me,” he said. “Fine-tuning things, that’s what we work on every day. The four days I’m not starting, I’m working, trying to make the pitches more consistent.”

While young pitchers often have to put in extra time to perfect the changeup, that’s a pitch that doesn’t give Lyles many problems. High school hitters weren’t advanced enough to prompt him to use it pre-draft, and now that he’s worked it back into his repertoire, he feels it’s “one of my better pitches, and has become a plus-pitch for me.”

I’m looking forward to tracking Lyles progress. And I kind of wish I was in Corpus right now.
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That said, I’m glad to finally visit Round Rock during an actual baseball season. I’ve been to The Dell Diamond five or six times during the offseason — the Astros attend a yearly luncheon here as part of their January caravan tour — but I’ve never made it here for a game.

This ballpark is fantastic, which comes as no surprise seeing the Ryan-Sanders families that run the Corpus franchise also run this one. Round Rock has long been affiliated with the Astros organization, first as its Double-A franchise, which won the Texas League championship several years ago.

You can find plenty of photos of former Express players who made it to the big leagues around the ballpark, but the one I posted below is by far and away my favorite. That’s Keith Ginter and Morgan Ensberg with manager Jackie Moore, minutes after the Express won the TL title in 2000. During the on-field celebration, Moore informed both that they were being promoted to the big leagues.

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About a year ago, The Dell Diamond went through a bit of a face lift. They added an Intel Club that hosts private parties, and they massively upgraded their press box area, which now offers plenty of space for reporters, scouts and front office members to work, mingle and, most importantly, eat.

I could get used to it here.

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Optioning myself to the Minor Leagues (for four days)

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Greetings from Corpus Christi, home of the Astros’ Double-A Hooks. This week I’m taking a break from the Major League side of things to tour our top two affiliates. I’ll be in Corpus Monday and Tuesday and then will move to Round Rock Wednesday and Thursday.

I always look forward to these Minor League trips. First and foremost, I’m anxious to see some of the prospects coming through the system, especially considering the Astros are getting younger and have made continuing strides in revamping the farm system in the last few years.

But this is also a nice break from the hectic pace we’ve kept for the first four months of the season. I love coming to Corpus, a beautiful town with a state-of-the-art Minor League ballpark that looks as new now as it did when it first opened five years ago:

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I’m keeping my eye on a handful players while I’m in Corpus, including right-hander Jordan Lyles (although I probably won’t get to see him pitch, seeing he’s scheduled to start on Thursday. I’m still holding out hope he’ll get a promotion to Round Rock by then.) The feeling around here, among those who watch him regularly, is Lyles is definitely the real deal, a future top-of-the-rotation type starter.

Lyles is only 19, however, and the hope among some around here is that they do not rush him to the big leagues too quickly. It’s definitely the “in” thing lately for teams to promote their high picks from the 2008 draft (including the Astros, who brought up catcher Jason Castro a while back), but given Lyles’ young age, it wouldn’t shock me if he spent a good amount of time at Triple-A first before receiving consideration for promotion to the big leagues at some point next year. I’d expect him to be in Major League Spring Training in ’11. 

Other prospects to check out: outfielder J.D. Martinez, outfielder Jon Gaston (who I’ve been told has a cannon for an arm), second baseman Albert Cartwright, and pitcher Henry Villar, who pitched pretty well Monday night against Midland. He gave up one three-run homer but otherwise appeared in control over his seven innings of work.

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Over three rehab games for the Hooks, Geoff Blum played five innings Saturday, nine Sunday and nine Monday. He plans to fly from Houston to St. Louis Tuesday afternoon, arriving to Busch Stadium around 5 p.m. CT. So look for the Astros to make a roster move before the second game with the Cardinals.

Blum said his elbow feels fine but the rest of him is a little sore, which is to be expected when you miss a month of games. That’s what Minor League rehabs are for — get the body moving again and get past the general aches and pains that pop up after not playing for so long.

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The Hooks, like the Astros, have had some hard times this year, and I’ve heard a lot about the 16-game losing streak they suffered through about a month ago. Still, the Hooks found a way to turn it into a positive through a promotion called “Guaranteed Win” night (the lifeline of a Minor League team is promotions — the more creative, the better), which offered fans free tickets to the next night’s game if the losing streak continued that particular day. Bring a ticket stub to that game and get in the next night for free.

Coincidentally, the offer was made the morning of the game that finally ended the losing streak. The Hooks, however, let anyone who showed up with a ticket stub to the game in free the next night anyway.

I’m not sure I like their Guaranteed Win promotion as much as I like Jim Deshaies‘ Guaranteed Win jacket, but it’s a close second.

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Randoms:

* A few of you have asked about infielder Koby Clemens’ injury. He’s out with a hamstring pull but is expected back soon. He hurt the hammy legging out a triple on July 24 at Frisco.

* Hooks catcher Lou Santangelo’s walk up music is Katy Perry’s “California Gurls,” and I’m wondering who thought of it first — Santangelo or Hunter Pence.

* From reading this report from MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart, the Astros’ first-round draft pick, Delino DeShields Jr., will indeed sign a contract. When? Apparently, soon.

“He’s going to be an Astro,” his dad, Delino DeShields, said. “No doubt.”

The deadline to sign draft picks is Aug. 16.

Other stuff:

Tickets are still available for the Astros Wives 21st Annual Black Ties and Baseball Caps Gala, scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 12 at Minute Maid Park. Chaired by Morgan Keppinger and Heather Byrdak, the event benefiting the Houston Area Women’s Center (HAWC) will be attended by current and former Astros players.

Astros Hall of Fame broadcaster Milo Hamilton will emcee the signature event themed “A Night in Paradise.” Supporters will mix and mingle with Astros players during the cocktail reception and silent auction at 6 p.m. followed by a dinner and live auction at 7 p.m.

Tickets to the gala begin at $500. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 713-781-0053.

Among the items up for bid in the silent and live auctions:

A Day on the Ranch with Mary and Carlos Lee: A winner and their immediate family are invited to spend the day on the private Panamanian ranch belonging to Mary and Carlos Lee where they will enjoy fishing and horseback riding.

Heisman Trophy Winners Autographed Helmet: Signatures from 41 elite college football players including Archie Griffin, Barry Sanders, Earl Campbell, Paul Hornung, Herschel Walker, Tony Dorsett, Billy Cannon, John David Crow, Ricky Williams, Hopalong Cassidy, Bo Jackson, Charles Woodson, Reggie Bush, Ron Dayne, Glenn Davis, Jay Berwanger, and Billy Sims.

Golf with the Houston Astros: Two people are invited to golf at the exclusive East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia with Houston Astros pitcher Brian Moehler and second baseman Jeff Keppinger. East Lake Golf Club is a membership by invitation only club that is the home golf course of the legendary Bobby Jones. It has hosted many golf tournaments including the 1950 U.S. Women’s Amateur, 1963 Ryder Cup, and 2001 U.S. Men’s Amateur. It is now the permanent home of The TOUR Championship, the culminating event of the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedEx Cup.

The winner also receives Continental Airlines airfare for two, a two-night stay at the Hilton Atlanta and Towers Downtown and a $600 dining certificate at the Capital Grille.

Castaway with the Houston Astros: A winner and four guests will go deep sea fishing out of Surfside Beach on a 46-foot Hatteras fishing boat, with Humberto Quintero, Jeff Keppinger and Tim Byrdak. Day includes all rods, reels, bait, tackle, food and beverages. Boat courtesy of Tim Wilson of Tim Wilson Investigations.

Vintage Houston Astros Dugout Playhouse: A 100 square foot vintage Astros dugout playhouse completely outfitted with a metal sport locker, Astros signage, memorabilia, Panasonic 32″ LCD 1080P HDTV, swivel wall mount system, Panasonic Blu-ray DVD player, Apple iPod Nano 8GB, iPod sound system with remote, Nintendo Wii system and MLB game, Wii Nerf sports pack, remote camera, 8,000 BTU air conditioner with remote, GE Stainless Steel beverage center and progress LED interior lighting. The playhouse is, fully insulated, fully air sealed and treated for termites. The winning bid includes delivery, set-up and electrical hookup (limitations apply).

George Bush Memorabilia: Own a piece of history. This one-of-a-kind framed item features a picture of George Bush (in his Yale uniform) with Babe Ruth. It also includes a rare (1 of 16) signed George Bush baseball card and a baseball signed recently by former President George Bush at a Houston Astros home game. A must-have for the true baseball aficionado.

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