Dan P: Age is sometimes more than a number – Part 2


Dan Peschong is back today with the second part of his look at age and how it may affect the Astros.

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OK – in the last blog we looked at top youngsters in the system age 18 to 21. Today we are looking for slightly older youngsters 22-23 many of whom have shown their faces in the majors. Anybody who watched the Cardinals winning game 2 of the World Series saw them win that game using two 22 year old pitchers (Wacha and Martinez) and one 23 year old (Rosenthal).

So here are some of the folks of that age in the Astros’ system.

Age 22

Made the Big Show

Jordan LylesLyles, a first round supplemental pick from 2008 in my mind will be a critical player going forward in figuring out what Jeff Luhnow’s philosophy is. He has had three shots at the big time and has ended up with ERA’s at the wrong side of 5, an inability to pitch deep into games tied to an inability to close hitters out with a K pitch. Does Luhnow see him as someone who has been promoted too quickly, needs to be sent down, needs time to mature or needs to be sent packing if someone else wants him? He turned 23 last week – but even at his age his time may be running short.

Jonathan VillarVillar’s rise to the majors may be more a testament to the badness of the high level minor league middle infielders in the organization than to his own value. In the minors, this SS picked up in the Roy O trade has had decent offensive numbers – scores runs, walks some, steals bases has a little pop. In the minors his fielding has been consistent. Consistently terrible. He would make an error approximately every 3.5 games whether he was playing SS or 2B.  He got called up to the majors and guess what – he was making errors approximately every 3.5 games. Watching him in the field and on the bases – you would think his nickname is Brain F@%t. Is it all due to being 22?  I don’t know, but I hope Pat Listach can figure it out because there is some talent under there.

Max StassiHe did not have a cup of coffee at the majors – he had a tiny 3 game espresso before taking a pitch flush in the face. Part of the Jed Lowrie trade – Stassi began the year injured, but it was no wonder he got the call when Jason Castro was hurt. He had 17 HR and 60 RBIs in only 76 games at CC and was throwing out 37% of base stealers. Here is hoping he comes back 100% and can push Castro over to first base with this club.

Top 22 year olds in the minors

Nolan FontanaThe poster boy for Luhnow’s Money Ball tendencies – 2012 2nd rounder Fontana has had more walks than hits in both of his first two seasons and has a combined .430 OBP. He is also a run scoring machine 88 runs in 100 games in 2013 at Lancaster and has a little power. He will hopefully make it to the majors ahead of Correa and then it may be a coin flip for who plays SS and who moves to 2B or 3B – once Carlos joins him.

Nick Tropeano – This 2011 5th round pick and native New Yawkah (OK – Yorker) has risen fairly quickly through the system – hitting his first snag last season with an average year at AA. His WHIP has been decent and he has had good walk and K rates. I’m guessing they give him another go-round at AA hoping he earns an early promotion.

Andrew AplinAnother 5th rounder – this time in 2012 – Aplin had a great 2013 at High A Lancaster. I don’t care if it is a good hitter’s league, 102 runs scored and 107 RBIs in 128 games is truly impressive. AA or AAA ball in 2014 may tell the tale for Aplin.

Tyler HeinemanAfter being drafted in the 8th round out of UCLA in 2012 – this young catcher has been very impressive at stops at Tri-City (A-) and Lancaster (A+).

Both seasons his OPS has been well over .800, he’s been a good run producer (71 RBI in 2013) and most impressively has thrown out over 40% of base stealers both seasons.

Others of Note – Preston Tucker (Insanely good at Lancaster / above average at CC),

Carlos Perez (Catcher in the Happ trade – average offensively but gunning down ½ the runners who test him), Luis Cruz (High K pitcher who looked a lot better at Corpus than at Lancaster). Brian Holmes (13th rounder in 2012) – this lefty has put up great numbers at 3 stops so far.

Age 23

Young guns in the majors

Jarred CosartCosart is another good young player from the Hunter Pence trade. Cosart’s 2013 season, where he put up solid numbers at OKC and then had a fine 1.95 ERA in 10 starts with the big club might be the biggest highlight of the year. He was walking too many and striking out too few with the Astros, but with a bit of a Oswalt bulldoggedness kept the scoring to a minimum. Will he continue to develop into a top of the rotation starter? Well, he has certainly earned the opportunity.

Brett OberholtzerOberholtzer was obtained in the Michael Bourn trade with the Braves and last season may have been one of the most unexpected surprises of the year. Looking at his minor league stats the last couple of seasons would lead one to expect a very middle of the road pitcher, OK ERA, OK walk rate, OK K rate. Last season once he was put into the rotation – he excelled – his ERA in his 10 starts was an excellent 2.23 with a WHIP just above 1. He showed great control and had a knack for making the hitters swing at his pitch. It would be exciting if he is the real deal.

Matt DominguezMatty D came to the Astros in the Carlos Lee trade with the Marlins – which was amazing considering we thought we might to have to send more players along with El Caballo just to get someone to take on the rest of his contract.  Dominguez has shown enough in his 1+ years in the majors for everyone to want more. Positives are his good consistent glove and a solid run producer with power – 21 HR and 77 RBIs. If he could raise that BA and miserable OBP by about .40 to .50 – he might be the long term solution at the hot corner.

Robbie Grossman – The Pirates sent Grossman along with a couple other prospects for long time Astro Wandy Rodriguez. Grossman showed enough in a second half call-up (shortened by an early September injury) to leave the fan base intrigued. It was mostly flashes but he showed a quick bat and in a small sample the switch hitter batted better against lefties than righties. 2014 will show whether he is a backup or a starter until the cavalry makes it to the majors.

LJ Hoes – Hoes did a decent job after coming over as the only MLB ready piece in the Bud Norris trade (.287 BA/.337 OBP/.708 OPS). In the minors he tended to walk about twice as often as he did in his 46 game tryout with the Astros. The impression I got is that he will be a likely 4th outfielder down the line – but again he is young and may develop.

Jose AltuveWeird to think about – Altuve is younger than Hoes, Grossman, Dominguez, Oberholtzer and even George Springer. He’s only about 3 weeks older than Cosart. The hope with Jose is that the slump in stats he experienced in 2013 from his All-Star 2012 was due to how he was used, the lack of protection in the lineup and plain old trying too hard to lead a putrid offense. He will never be a Fontana OBP machine, but they really need him to do a better job of choosing which pitches to attack, or he may become expendable when and if Correa/Fontana make it to the majors.

23 year old top guns in the minors

George Springer – My wife and I have 4 kids, so I’m used to the process of waiting for the baby to be born, but this is really ridiculous. That the 2011 first rounder had 106 R, 37 HR, 108 RBI and 45 SB in only 135 games and could not be brought up to a team whose leaders in each of those categories was 64 R, 29 HR, 82 RBI and 35 SB was preposterous. Bring him up put him in CF and third in the lineup and fuggettaboutit…..

Jake Buchanan – An 8th rounder from the 2010 draft – Buchanan has moved up steadily thru the minors and split the 2013 season between AA Corpus and AAA OKC. He was brilliant at CC and average at OKC. He does not strike out a high rate, but his extremely low walk rate (1.5/9 IP) kept his WHIP around the 1.0 mark last year. He should be given a chance to earn a mlb spot in the next spring training.

Others of note – Two draft choices Brandon Meredith and MP Cokinos put up strong 2013 stats, especially OBPs near .400. Now can they do it when they leave the friendly confines of Lancaster? David Rollins another asset from the JA Happ trade had a solid year pitching mostly at Lancaster. He will probably spend 2013 at AA and see if he gets in the mix by 2014.

So, this part of the review featured some guys who have made it to the big show and other guys who are (age-wise) either closing in on mlb careers or closing in on career minor league status. How do you look at these folks and are there others you think should be featured?

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41 comments on “Dan P: Age is sometimes more than a number – Part 2

  1. Lyles, if he is not packaged in a trade, is here through next year. After that he goes to arbitration and becomes an annual non-tender candidate. It will be nice if Ensberg can teach Matt how to take a walk and Everett can show Villar how to play SS. Matt, however did double his walk rate in the second half last year.

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    • It would be wonderful if Lyles clicked in – he had one great month last year where I thought he was finally going to find “it” but it soon went away.
      I have a lot more hope for Matty D than Villar. Dominguez seemed to get better, Villar worse the longer they played last year.

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      • I think Lyles was a victim of our barren system. He never really had remarkable stats in the minors. Learning by fire has not worked for him. I think it’s worth putting him back at AAA and seeing if he can develop something he has not over the three years in Houston.

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  2. Lyles, Peacock, Cosart and Ober all have good arms and they are young. If Luhnow had though Brocail could make them better he wouldn’t have gone and gotten Strom, a teacher of pitchers. The Astros have huge depth of talented young pitchers throughout the minors that need to be taught. We can’t give up on the ones with big live arms, we need them to be pitchers and get better, and they will.
    Now, about Villar. He got to the majors and we found out that he is as immature on the field as he is in the dugout. We have infield coaches and head coaches and running coaches and hitting coaches. He’s made the Bigs and now he has to play like one. If he keeps up the same terrible habits in all those areas, he is going to hurt the team and will get dumped. The errors, the baserunning blunders and the ridiculous K’s have to stop or he will be gone. His game is glaringly lacking for a guy with his years in the minors. He has a great arm and great speed. His bat may take him out of the starting lineup and his glove may get him back in the minors. He needs to improve a lot. This is a big year for Villar. I don’t mind him struggling, but he has to field the ground balls and throw out the runner if he wants to be a major league SS.

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    • On the other hand – if you don’t think Brocail can teach them – why do you make him the minor league roving instructor??
      Let’s face facts – there is a lot more time and opportunity to learn in the minors vs. the majors. And I think there is an additional attitude component – some of the guys think that they don’t have to listen once they get up.
      There were times with Villar that I thought – wow – that was a play that nobody else on the team could make due to his speed. At other times I thought that was a play that nobody on the team should make because of the stupidity of it. Totally agree that he needs to make 2014 count because he could be backup or gone by 2015 when somebody like Fontana may be here.

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  3. daveb – I’m drinking your Kool Aid on Lyles. I think there is something there that was missed because of the quick skip up the ladder. He is missing the out pitch and he throws too many strikes in the wrong place in the strike zone. He has decent stuff – but it just never comes together.

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  4. Don’t overlook my poor man’s version of Nolan Fontana. That would be Joe Sclafani from Dartmouth, a pretty good cold weather baseball school. Lot’s of similar stats. Sclafani was 16/3 in steals, Fontana 16/5. Sclafani had 52 BB and 60 K’s. Not quite the same eye as Fontana with 102 BB and 100 K’s, but Sclafani put the ball in play more and has shown a bit more pop. Steven, I’m waiting for you to remind us that Lancaster is a tough place to judge hitting ability, but both guys have at least earned a trip to Corpus.

    Check the surface stats out:

    Sclafani .302/.396/.474/.870
    Fontana .254/.418/.399/.814

    Of course, Sclafani is a year older at 23, but he’s only played in 28 more minor league games than Fontana. If nothing else, I’m hoping that Sclafani, the underdog, will continue to challenge our 8th ranked prospect.

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    • Combined those with the BB/K stats and they just aren’t surface stats. Good Job! Sometimes a guy’s ranking and draft slot hide everything about him and affects his status. Let’s hope our GM notices gold gleaming in the stream that somehow never made its way to the pan.

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    • Yeah – I had noted about Sclafani in a look at some of the draft results. He is a little older – but he has very good overall stats. Hey, we need as many different guys challenging to the climb the ladder as possible.

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  5. Not on the Lyles bandwagon here. The guy doesn’t have an out pitch. Saying he has “good” stuff is just being fluffy, they all have good stuff, that’s why they are there.

    He has consistently posted negative pitch values on EVERY pitch type he throws according to fangraphs. His fastball has been atrociously bad. Can’t see him pitch, so I can’t comment on if its from location, velocity, or a combination. His average velocity has been creeping forward, albeit slowly, but at least forward.

    Generally guys that fit that profile, low 90’s throwers without an outpitch, end up as long relievers before being shuffled out of baseball. I know everyone likes to use the Glavine analogy, when they are bad at the start at a young age, but 95% of the time it doesn’t work out, Glavine, and a few others, are teh special case.

    I am down with Cosart. I know his K numbers were bad, but his 9.4 pitch value on his fastball gives him a foundation to build on.

    Think of it as the Norris thing. We knew, from the time he showed up in the big leagues, that he had a big league slider. We all knew he was just improving his fastball location and use away from becoming a star. It never happened. It can for Cosart, if he improves his other pitches, he can become a star. Like Norris proved, it doesn’t always happen, but it’s there. Lyles doesn’t have that to build on, he is just a guy with the same “stuff” as the rest of them, and doesn’t have that pitch to fall back on when the inning starts getting rough.

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    • Steven – watching Lyles (and I know this is the scouts vs. the stats argument from Moneyball – he has a good fastball but has real placement problems. At times I really like his curveball too. When he was pitching well for a stretch this season, he seemed to have really good control on his fastball. The rest of the time he just seemed to let that pitch end up in the fat part of the zone too often. And if you do that it does not matter if you throw 89 or 99 – the hitters will hammer it and they did.

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    • Steven, you make a great point about Lyles. But!!!! Nobody thought that Chris Johnson, after several seasons in MLB, was gonna get traded to Atlanta and hit .320 over a full year. BABIP, yadayadayada. The guy made some changes in his swing and fooled everyone.
      Now Lyles is here and Mills and Brocail are gone, and who is to say that someone new can’t get Lyles to come up with another pitch, an out pitch. Peacock said that the pitch he developed in OKC this summer changed his game. Rodon said the pitch he learned this summer pitching for Team USA change his game.
      Maybe Lyles doesn’t have to learn a new pitch, but Strom can help him get better with the four he already has. At 23, Lyles still has time to get a whole lot better if he listens and works with the right guy. With the situation he has had in Houston the last three years, I’d bet he can be taught a bunch of good stuff about pitching that he didn’t get since he came up!

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      • Is the worst thing giving up on Lyles and having him figure it out three years down the line or keep him and have him slowly improve while getting big arbitration raises? The best would be for him to figure it out next season and be a solid starter for us while the even younger yougsters climb the ladder towards the mlb.

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      • The problem is after next year Lyles starts to get more expensive and pitchers with greater potential start moving up. I wouldn’t be opposed to letting him spend the entire year at AAA to see if we can tap his potential. But as Steven pointed out, he has more than a couple of things to work out before we can expect him to get through a ML lineup three times.

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      • Pro – not advocating releasing the guy or anything. He will probably pay for the penance of $500,000 or so this year, and I would even open with the guy in the rotation. I am skeptical, but not sold. He should be given his opportunity. On the button with CJ and BABIP, I was the first guy pointing out 3 years ago that he was gonna disappear, and he did for a short time, but man did he have a comeback season. BABIP though is still not his friend, and I while he may prove to be a serviceable hitter, he will likely never see a .330 average again.

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  6. I have real concerns about Villar and Altuve. Altuve’s baserunning gaffes last year were worse than Villar’s IMO. Both of these guys seem to be the great athlete type relying on innate ability and not interested/capable of the mental discipline to get better. Makes me nervous having them in the middle infield. Lyles may also be in that same boat. I think his problems are primarily between the ears compounded by somewhat limited natural ability.

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    • DrBill – I think all fair points – The disturbing thing about Altuve was really that there was a regression – I don’t remember him being near this careless the previous 2 years. I don’t know if that was him trying to force things to happen or him giving up a bit on a lost year. Villar would just be young/foolish from the get go. Lyles as I wrote above needs to have better location or his location is going to be in OKC.

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  7. What’s up with these young pitchers getting sent down………only to come back up and being lights out? SOMEONE in OKC, has a magic wand, because these guys
    have made HUGE strides when they come back up.
    I *love* Nolan Fontana, and Nick Tropeano. Both of these kids look to make an impact next season. GEEZE…….it’s nice to have so many good players in our
    minor league system! Bedard filed for free agency yesterday…….
    Don’t get me started on Villar, this kid *might* be able to turn it around, but I doubt it.

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    • Becky –
      Since a lot of these kids were in OKC before they came up the first time – I’m not sure if someone in OKC turned them around by themselves or:
      1) When they got sent down a list of things to work on went with them
      2) The second time up the newness and anxiety was a lot less and they could better tap into their ability.

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  8. oldpro – On Brocail – I think I misunderstood what his new position was – I thought he would be going throughout the minors instructing players but it sounds like he will be the liaison to the teams and pitching coaches – I assume he will be making sure that the same message, processes, tools, will be available and being used at the different levels – so you are right sir!

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  9. I think the story on Villar might be (A) the Lowrie trade, and (B) Jiovanni Mier . There was no answer on the Astros roster, and Mier, along with Castro and Lyles, were the top prospects in 2010. Somebody has to play short so by default Villar got the job. Lets hope he solves his fielding and head problems. But in a perfect world, he would have been allowed to work on some things in the minors.

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    • Yep – he is the everyday version of Lyles promoted due to their being no other options.
      It certainly says something that they promoted Villar and not Springer. He is not the future in their eyes and they did not mind starting his clock.

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  10. Villar had six years in the minors. Not sure how much more he’ll learn or if he’ll suddenly quit making so many errors. I thinks he’s showing pretty much what we’re going to get.

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    • Davb – earlier this year when they were talking about bringing him up, I looked up Cal Ripken and Derek Jeter and their minor league fielding. Villar had similar numbers. Not saying he will be comparable to either in the majors – but its Winter – so lets hope and pray he improves. (His base running is a different issue)

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    • Like I said – he was very consistently bad in the error department in the minors and majors. I never kept note of the type of errors but it felt like a lot were bad throws. I think some of that could be mechanics (which have not been fixed in 6 yrs) but a lot were mental – not knowing when to hold the ball or throwing to the wrong place. I think he is who he is – but 2014 will confirm that.

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  11. Tough to compare Villar to Ripkin or Jeter in any way. But, yes, both Jeter and Ripkin made their fair share of errors in the minors. I’m well older than both guys, so I saw quite a bit of each, even in their first couple of seasons. Ripkin and Jeter, from the start, looked like they belonged on a ML diamond. They didn’t do dumb things. They both understood the game very well when they reached the majors at ages 20 and 21. And checking stats from their first real look in the bigs, Ripkin made 19 errors in 162 games. Jeter 22 in 157. Our guy made 16 boots in 58 games. For whatever reasons, the two Hall of Fame guys were ready when they got their shots. Villar, not quite so.

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    • Whoa, DaveB, this shortstop stuff is not important. But when you say “well older” I my have to challenge you to a debate sitting on a park bench. We can argue over who has the best heart doctor, who has the cuter great grandkids, compare joint pain, and whether Metamucil Orange tastes better than Metamucil Sugar Fee. This looks like a “throw down.” (But we always enjoy your insight)

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      • Astro45, in spite of the fact that Mickey Mantle was my idol when growing up (or not growing up), I’m not the park bench type. I figure the longer I stay away from sitting around, the longer I’ll last. My back is kind of sore this morning though.

        In other news, Brad Ausmus is taking over the big shoes of that old codger Jim Leyland. Makes me wonder if we’re letting opportunities for our own club pass us by. I can’t seem to forget that Bo Porter is in the midst of a 14 game losing streak.

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      • Sorry, got off topic. Glad we have a moderator. Thanks again, DanP. (and I apologize to every follower). And no, to date, Villar is not on his way to Cooperstown.

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    • Good question Dan P. I think he was hired more for having a level of patience essential to keeping a really bad team on an even keel. He’s pretty much succeeded in that area, in spite of displaying a bit too much public laundry at times.

      But I’ve not seen much smart managing going on. How many times have we said, “what a great move by Porter”?

      He’ll be judged a bit differently this year, especially if Luhnow actually goes out and builds a more competitive squad. First of all, the fans won’t be real patient. And if the losing streak continues, then things will get tough for him quick. But I do think he was hired with the hope that he’d wade his way through the transition and come out of it still in the dugout. If he survives, Luhnow looks good too.

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  12. Astro 45 – No problem wandering from topic – I was being a bit facetious in there.
    And Villar has a shot at Cooperstown – it would cost him the same to get in there as it would cost us for a ticket.

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