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
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
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
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?