2014 Astros: The minor league review


This is going to be a review of the Astros’ 2014 minor league performance, highlights and lowlights. Folks like old pro can throw in their more detailed 2 cents into the mix on these reviews. The review will not include rookie ball or Dominican league players.

Class AAA – OKC Redhawks

Preseason review – https://chipalatta.com/2014/04/03/okc-redhawks-preview-players-on-the-cusp-or-hanging-by-a-thread/

Well, we won’t have the OKC Redhawks to kick around any more to paraphrase the pre-Watergate Richard Nixon.  Next season our AAA kids will be stowed safely away on the roster of the Fresno Millipedes. (Be honest – how many of you know they are called the Fresno Grizzlies?)

Team Performance – The Redhawks ended the season 74-70 and tied for second 2-1/2 games back of the Omaha Storm Chasers in their division. They had a shot at the playoffs, but a 4 game losing streak to end the season killed that shot. It is tough to get too down on the Redhawks performance-wise when you consider how many players were either injured or promoted to the majors.

Highlights – The good news – 12 of the Redhawks everyday players and 18 of their pitchers spent time with the big club in Houston. This included 8 of the 9 players with the highest OPS with OKC. The everydays who shone included Jon Singleton who showed what happens when he bats .267 instead of .167 (.267 BA/ .397 OBP/ .941 OPS), Domingo Santana (81 RBIs, .296 BA/ .384 OBP / .858 OPS in his age 21 year), IF Joe Sclafani (.339 BA / .420 OBP) and RBI machine OF Preston Tucker (51 in 73 games). Ronald Torreyes put up decent numbers in the infield in his age 21 year – probably needs to show he can play a decent SS to supplant Jonathan Villar in the pecking order.  On the pitching side the most effective starters (if you don’t count the cameo of Collin McHugh) were Nick Tropeano (3.03 ERA and 0.987 WHIP) and Jake Buchanan (3.87 ERA) who both earned call-ups to the big club.

Lowlights – C Max Stassi has to be considered the lead here as someone who the Jason Castro doubters were hoping would put up numbers not to be ignored at AAA. He put up numbers that were ignorable until September. Similarly, Jonathan Meyer might have forced a 3B call-up with a good season – perhaps Matt Duffy should have been called up instead – but .221 BA / .568 OPS attract no one. The long time injured Rudy Owens, Alex White and Asher Wojciechowski all returned to mixed reviews. Asher W had a few nice starts down the stretch and Owens was decent, but this was not a position of strength beyond Tropeano and Buchanan.

Class AA – Corpus Christi Hooks

Preseason preview – https://chipalatta.com/2014/04/06/2014-hooks-cc-and-i-dont-mean-sabathia-preview/

Team Performance – The team’s 67-73 record and 4th place first half finish paired with a 3rd place second half finish in their 4 team division helped show long time manager Keith Bodie the door. Whether this was a performance based decision or a philosophy based decision like Bo Porter‘s dismissal may never be known. A quick look at the team’s stats seemed to show quite a few good individual performances that did not result in team success.

Highlights – As is normal in the minor leagues, many of the best performances were based on partial seasons with players either being promoted up or promoted on to the Hooks. OF Preston Tucker (17 HR / 43 RBI / .885 OPS in 65 games), 1B Telvin Nash (Chris Carter-ish – with 22 HR  . .227 BA / .814 OPS), IF Nolan Fontana (.418 OBP) and the youngster 2B Tony Kemp (.292 BA / .381 OBP / .806 OPS) really stand out on the offensive side. Thomas Shirley (sparkling 1.88 ERA / 0.927 WHIP) and 40 man rosteree Luis Cruz (3.14 ERA / 1.106 WHIP) were the aces while Jordan Jankowski,  Chris Devnski, David Rollins and Mark Appel (in a late year appearance) all pitched solidly for the Hooks.

Lowlights – Not surprisingly, quite a few youngsters who flashed big sticks at hitter friendly A+ Lancaster – strained to succeed at sea level. C Tyler Heinemann, OF Delino “Diva” Deshields Jr., 1B MP Cokinos, IF Carlos Perdomo – among others struggled after putting up big numbers in 2013. 3B Jonathan Meyer and SS Jiovanni Mier (which I think translates from Italian as Jonathan Meyer) crossed paths with Meyer’s bad first half at OKC leading to a bad second half at CC and Mier’s bad first half at CC leading to a bad second half at OKC. Mike Hauschild, Brady Rodgers and Kyle Smith (who is only 21)  were on the wrong side of a 4.00 ERA, Aaron West was south of 5.00, Colton Cain was 6+ and Matt Heiendreich was 8+ looking at the other main starters.

Class A+ Lancaster JetHawks

Preseason preview – https://chipalatta.com/2014/04/18/ladies-and-gentlemen-your-world-champion-2014-lancaster-jethawks/

Team Performance – The team easily won the California League South first half and then played mediocre ball in the second half after losing Carlos Correa to injury and a slew of others to in-season promotions. They re-grouped and won the California League championship after an inspirational visit from Mr. Correa.

Highlights – As you would expect at Lancaster – the best numbers are on the offensive side. Partial season guys like 1B Conrad Gregor (.367 BA / .449 OBP /  1.126 OPS), OF Brett Phillips (.339 BA / .421 OBP / .980 OPS), 1B Tyler White, OF John Kemmer, IF Tony Kemp and Correa (all with OPS over .900) lit it up – while longer term assistance came from youngsters 3B Rio Ruiz (76 R / 77 RBI / .296 BA / .387 OBP / .823 OPS) and OF Teoscar Hernandez (72 R / 75 RBI / .294 / .376 OBP / .925 OPS).  Might as well give kudos to Tyler Brunnemann, a reliever who won the championship MVP for the JetHawks. Young pitchers like Josh Hader (9-2 / 2.70 ERA), Kyle Smith (4-0 2.60 ERA) and Vincent Velasquez (7-4 3.75 ERA) did well in this big hitters’ league. Even folks with ERAs between 4 and 4.50 would be considered successful here – such as Devenski, Hauschild and Kyle Westwood.

Lowlights – It is hard to call guys with +.700 OPS as lowlights – so probably the two biggest “disappointments” are 1-1 draftee Mark Appel (9.74 ERA) and 1+ draftee Lance McCullers Jr. (5.47 ERA) though each has a side story.  Appel had his appendix out, struggled with the tandem pitching philosophy, but eventually pitched better at AA. McCullers is only 20 years old and still is one of the best strikeout starters in the top 1/2 of the Astros’ minor leagues, but needs to tame his wildness.

Class A  Quad Cities River Bandits / A- Tri-City ValleyCats

Team Performance – The River Bandits were almost a perfect mediocre team finishing the first half of the season at 35-35 and the second half at 35-34 for a 5th place finish in their division in the Midwest League. The ValleyCats had a very successful season with a 48-28 record and playoff run – falling to the State College Spikes in the finals of the New York – Penn League.

Highlights – Making a splash for Quad Cities at a young age were OF Brett Phillips (68 R / 58 RBI / .883 OPS), 3B JD Davis (32 RBI in 43 games / .879 OPS) and 2nd round pick 1B AJ Reed (7 HR / 24 RBI in 34 games / .854 OPS).  They received solid pitching help from Evan Grills (2.70 ERA) and former horror film star Christopher Lee (3.66 ERA). Blaine Simms – the 25 year old who is learning the knuckleball is intriguing – somehow squeezing a solid 3.40 ERA out of a bad 1.760 WHIP.

At short season Tri-City, both Reed and Davis posted big numbers before being promoted on to QC. C Jamie Ritchie is apparently one of those on-base machines – putting up a .335 BA / .455 OBP / .920 OPS line. LF Derek Fisher, the supplemental 1st round pick put up decent numbers (.303 BA / .378 OBP) after his promotion from the Gulf Coast Rookie League. Troy Scribner (7-1 / 1,38 ERA / .962 WHIP) and Joseph Musgrove (2.81 ERA / .961 WHIP) led a good pitching staff.

Lowlights – For Quad Cities, Michael Feliz who appeared on a number of top 10 prospect lists was not terrible (4.03 ERA), but was definitely a lot more hittable on this stop on his way to the top. Former 2nd round pick Andrew Thurman posted a very pedestrian 5.38 ERA and it will be interesting to see where he starts out next season.

For Tri City – OF Ariel Ovando (.576 OPS) has never lived up to his large foreign free agent signing bonus he received a few years ago.

So, which players intrigue you moving forward? Who do you hope to see in Houston in the next couple of years?

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47 comments on “2014 Astros: The minor league review

  1. I want to apologize to Matt Heidenreich for misspelling his name.
    I also wanted to point out that based on the run differential, the CC Hooks underperformed their Pythagorean record by 6 games – 67-73 vs. a 73-67 record. So – would that difference have saved Bodie’s job. I’m guessing not.

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  2. Thanks for the recap, Dan. You left off two guys I wanted to mention: Lent Emanuel was pretty good down the stretch for Lancaster, until giving up 6 runs in his last start of the season. He isn’t a high K/9 guy, but might excel at CC with his arsenal of pitches, if given a promotion next spring.

    The other is Colin Moran (happy birthday to Colin…22 years old today). He was promoted to CC when acquired and improved over his FS league (A+) numbers. He’s not likely to make a Bagwellian challenge in ST, but between him and Ruiz we should have two 3B prospects who can hold their own with the bat. I’m assuming he gets the promotion to become a Millipede (let’s petition Crane to get that name adopted) so Ruiz can audition at CC.

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    • I considered including both those guys – just can’t hit everyone – glad you included them in the discussion, Devin. Moran could easily be seen up with the big club next season with a good 2015.

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  3. How long before we see Conrad Gregor at 1B? He moved through three levels last year. Soon Jon Singleton’s paranoia could be based in reality.

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  4. The Grizzlies strength should be in their outfield with Tucker in LF, Aplin in CF and Santana in RF. They should have a pretty strong rotation with Luis Cruz, Wojo, White, Owens, Buchanan and Martinez, Clemens to choose from. I strongly suspect Tyson Perez may be in their mix for closer.
    Their infield is intriguing. I personally would like to see Moran and Ruiz to start the year where they ended last year, strictly because of their ages and advancement, but I just don’t know what Luhnow will do there. An infield of Meyer, Mier , Sclafani, Torreyes and Duffy seems like the ticket to me for Fresno. I am not down on Stassi at all since I think he would have been in AA last year if playing for most organizations in baseball. If they still have Perez, that is a good young combo at catcher.

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      • I think there is a less than 50 % chance of losing any of those 5 to the draft, but there could be a better chance that some of them get released or moved by the end of July, especially if the players in CC and Lancaster are raking.
        If I had to pick a couple of those guys that have a chance to be drafted I would pick Owens, because he’s a lefty and could be a bullpen arm, or Meyer because he is a 3B with some power and a cannon arm.

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  5. Corpus Christi should be loaded. They have at least eight starting pitchers on their roster right now and a good core of relievers. They have Garcia and Heineman at catcher, with Roberto Pena pushing them at that position.
    They have an outfield of Brandon Meredith(soon to be 25), Heras, Teoscar and Deshields, but Lancaster is so loaded with young outfielders that Jon Kemmer may be moved up to OF in Corpus. I just don’t see Meredith or Heras as having a long future with the Astros, with the guys Lancaster has stacking up in their OF.
    But Corpus Christi could have the most bejeweled infield in MILB ball. If they start the year with Moran at 3B, Correa, at SS, Kemp at 2B, and Gregor at 1B, that is some kind of team. And you have guys like Fontana, Nash, Cokinos and Perdomo that are just hanging in there.
    I just see some real minor league prospects getting traded this offseason for a major league arm and a major league position player, unless, and I say this with no sarcasm intended, Luhnow’s plan considers 2015 to be one more year of building, rather than spending.

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    • I think CC will have a strong team – their final record will be tied to how many of their best players get slung up to the Millipedes along the way.
      You would think that Deshields and Nash might be players they could package in a trade. I keep wondering if Deshields is one of those headache players who is worth the pain or has more value offered to someone who thinks he will mature.

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      • I’m not concerned with his attitude yet. It certainly seems as if the blogosphere likes to call him a diva or highlight the time he was removed for not running out a pop-up, but I think you are seeing those because of a combination of his youth (drafted before 18th birthday) and cockiness rather than a truely bad attitude.

        If you need a reason to protect him as an asset, other than his age and track record, go back and look at last night’s wild card game.

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      • We are obviously making judgments on someone we have never seen play and never seen misbehave – so Devin you make a great point.
        I’m sure they will either protect him or trade him based on what they know from working with him close up – does his talent over-ride his attitude – is his attitude an age problem or a personality problem.

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      • Dan, I’m prepared to see prospects moved for major league talent at this point, but we’ve got to be ready to give up a lot more than guys like Deshields or Nash, unless it’s a salary dump. And I don’t see Luhnow taking on a salary dump. If and when Luhnow decides to start moving prospects for proven talent, the initial reaction will probably be negative. We’ll be losing guys we’ve got high hopes for. Teams are going to want top 20 prospects for proven talent.

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      • Daveb, the Royals used speed and small ball to pressure the Oakland defense. They stole 7 bases and sacrificed a few times too. One outfielder was basically on the roster to be a pinch runner.

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      • Totally agree that they would have to be packaged with someone else daveb – and yes there may be pain along the way.

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      • Devin, I thought that was what you might be referring to. No doubt Deshields will steal bases, but he’s got to hit more at AA in 2015, and by the time he might sniff MLB, we should have three guys established in the outfield that will produce quite a bit more offensively, play solid defense, and at least in the case of Springer, steal a base when needed. If the strength of our farm system soon includes having too many quality outfielders, I think Deshields is expendable.

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  6. My thoughts also , time to move some folks and maybe get and arm and a bat. OP where will our Minor leaguers of the year Phillips and Hader be?

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  7. I think Hader will stay in CC and get tangled in that maze of starters. He will certainly be tandemed there. If we had a High A team on the East Coast I would still have his 20 year old arm there, but he was so mad at Appel getting promoted from the Lancaster hellhole and not him that he almost forced their hand in moving him to CC late in the year. He has so much promise, and I don’t think he is a complainer, but he just pitched so much better as a starter in Lancaster than they expected that it threw their plans for him out of whack.
    I see Phillips starting the year in Lancaster in the outfield. He only turns 21 at the end of May. How he does there determines when he gets moved up to Corpus, along with how Preston Tucker does in AAA. If Tucker gets moved up to Houston in July, that may start a chain reaction in the outfields down the line in our minors.

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  8. Dan i agree, but they are all prospects right now, and we know how that can go, I’m hoping Lunhole and Craneage can at least get us 2 proven players for 2015. A couple 2 year deals to improve the team until a few of these kids are ready to rock.

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      • IF they ever arrive. Who were those lexington five being touted here a few years ago, and where are they now? We always think the prospects are good until we are (usually) proven otherwise. I call this the Eric Anthony syndrome.

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      • Well Steven – if I recall correctly – Lexington was a lot lower on the food chain – so those were much less likely to make it prospects than some of these guys

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  9. I understand all the concern about “prospects” and their chances at making it in the majors, but this is not your ordinary minor league prospect list. The Astros absolutely have extraordinary talent in their system.
    For example: in November of 2012, John Sickels had Danry Vasquez listed as the #5 prospect in the Detroit Tigers’ system. Two years later and two championship rings later, Vasquez cannot crack the Astros top 20 prospects. Think about that. This guy has started for QC and Lancaster, won titles, has hit right at .290, is only 20 years old, yet he already has good playoff experience and isn’t good enough to be in our top 20.
    The other thing I wanted to mention is Kike. Here is a guy that is 22 years old, never cracked our top 20 prospects list and has already had some modest success in the majors.
    I think the Astros have the most talent in their minor leagues of any organization and tons ahead of most. I just hope they know what to do with it.

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    • Good examples old pro. There will always be guys falling by the wayside – but with the quantity and depth invlved there have o be some big hits coming

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  10. Old Pro, Will A.J. Reed start the season in Quad City or Lancaster. I see several college games each Spring and I thought he was pretty special for Kentucky. I saw Kemp play for Vanderbilt and was shocked the Astros could get him in the fifth round and I certainly thought Reed wouldn’t be there for us in the second round. I guess we all should be glad I’m not drafting for the Stros.

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    • Larry I guess you are saying you would have taken them earlier. Hey better that than passing on Reed and Kemp who may both be special

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    • I really like Reed, but he did not conquer the Midwest League at Quad Cities. At Tri City he played in 34 games and had 22 BB and 22 K’s. But in QC he had only 8 walks and 36 K’s in the exact same number of games and his BA was 34 points lower. I would like to see him start in QC and earn a promotion. The Astros may think differently, because they have Borchering and Chase McDonald at 1B in Lancaster and they might not be happy with that.
      As far as Kemp, well, his size had everything to do with his getting to round 5, but the Astros love small second baseman with speed, savvy and great eye-hand coordination.
      I am so pulling for Reed to hit because having a lefty 1B with an accurate pitcher’s cannon for an arm and huge power sure makes you not worry as much about Singleton.

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  11. Oldpro a few weeks ago we took a look at the top 10 prospects headed into 2014 and you gave the following solid list of the top 10 going into 2015
    1 Correa
    2 Appel
    3 Santana
    4 Moran
    5 Velasquez
    6 Feliz
    7 Ruiz
    8 McCullers
    9 Hader
    10 Kemp

    Where do you see Teoscar Hernandez, Shirley, Phillips, Deshields, Cruz or do you have a 11 – 20 list?

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  12. Teoscar, Phillips, Delino, Tucker, Stassi, Fisher, Davis, Reed, Emanuel, Torreyes.
    I actually thought I went all the way to 20 in that particular blog but this is my best guess today.
    I think Shirley will be a bullpen guy eventually. Cruz probably would be in any other team’s top 20 but I’m partial to position players.
    The player that scares me more than anyone is Santana. I have been a big fan of his, but I never thought a guy could look so hapless as he did this year. I put him at 3 because everybody else does, but, man, I really did not think he looked like a prospect at all when he was here. I honestly would take DDJ right now over Santana. That’s how scary he looked to me.

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  13. Luhnow is HIGH on Teoscar Hernandez, so you can bet your last nickel he won’t be in any package deal. I’m ok letting Deshields, and Wojo go……….but not Hader or McCullers. I tried to keep up with some of the guys in the minors, an I was quite impressed! A.J. Reed is gonna move up the system fast. I see him in Corps before the end of next season. We can’t over look the gold glove Tony Kemp won this week! The real talent is in AA ball, and some of those guys very well might make the jump to the big club by the end of July 2015………that’s a tall order, but I’m the girl with the glass half full! By the way, Collin Moran can PLAY 3rd. the heck outta 3rd. base!

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  14. Moran made one error in his last 77 games! He made no errors at all in Corpus.
    I am higher than most on Mark Appel. He apparently made another bullpen session in MMP after his season ended. The reason I like Appel is that he has four pitches. I think his appearances have been jam sessions with Strom to look at his pitches and really focus on the ones that are weaker to bring them up. I would imagine Strom looked at his different grips and made suggestions on some things that will give him more movement, based on Appel’s arm angle. I also guess he made suggestions on working Appel’s arm slots so that picking up his pitches coming out of his hand look the same. The reason I like Appel is that real good major league starters all have at least four pitches. Now it’s a matter of getting them up to major league levels and get that head on straight.

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  15. Did any of you guys see Finnigan play last night? He was the 8th. round pick of the
    Royals THIS YEAR. The kid was playing in the College WS four months ago. He was brought up after *13* starts in the minors this year……..now THAT’S FAST…..AND he struck out the only three batters he faced!
    Oldpro……..I’m optimistic that Mark Appel will continue to flourish, and we will see him sooner than later!

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    • We have not struck lightning like that Becky – you could not expect that out of Correa at his age, but we sure were hoping that Appel would have been closer than AA after a year + in the system. I hope he gets it straight and gets a callup next season.

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      • I think we have struck lightning in a bottle like that. We signed a free agent 17 year old, 5’5″ Venezuelan kid who never hit less than .300 in the minors, got to the Bigs at 21, was an all-star at 22 and a batting champion and 6.0 WAR player at 24.
        Jose Altuve’s story is a story they make into movies.

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