The Break: We interrupt this fall from the top …

Not in first place any longer. Check.

The offense is sputtering like that motorcycle I could never get running again. Check.

Chinks in the pitching staff’s armor seem to have appeared. Check.

Injuries have finally exposed the lack of depth at the top level of this system. Check.

Yeah, that’s not what I’m here to talk about. Plenty of time to fuss about the slipping fortunes of the 2015 Astros once the All-Star break is done. No, today, the day after two top prospects helped the U.S. team to a win in the Futures Game. So, I’d like to take this break to talk about a couple of future Astros — particularly on the offensive side — who might be able to help with that 2017 World Series championship.

A.J. Reed: The Astros still haven’t found the answer at first base. It’s not Chris Carter. The guy seems like he’s earning a moral victory because he’s flying out instead of striking out. Yeah, and Jon Singleton is doing his best Brett Wallace impersonation.

Meanwhile Reed, a Golden Spikes winner, is an all-out hitter. He was just promoted to AA after spending half a season in Lancaster hitting .346/.449/.638. Power? He hit 23 homers and a total of 43 extra-base hits. Hit tool? Aside from that high average, he’s struck out just 73 times in 318 ABs. And he’s committed just six errors at first base. This is a guy who won 12 games as a pitcher his junior year at Kentucky.

The other spot that’s still a big disappointment is third base. Sure, if Jed Lowrie comes back he might make a good replacement for Luis Valbuena at third. But eventually the Astros need to grow their own third sacker.

The obvious choice is Colin Moran. He’s hitting .279/.337/.387 at Corpus. Not a lot of power, but he’s had an injury-plagued career thus far with the Astros. But by 2017 we all might be talking about J.D. Davis. At .277/.360/.464, he might be our real future third baseman. Well, at least until Alex Bregman pushes Carlos Correa to the hot corner when he takes over at short stop.

Yes, we still need to get a decent catcher. Apparently, pitch framing isn’t the hidden skill that is sweeping the sport after all. Here I would say don’t be fooled by Tyler Heineman‘s .314 BA in Fresno. The guy has a .679 OPS in Fresno and zero homers between AA and AAA this season. Yeah, I’m thinking no. Instead, we have Jacob Nottingham at Lancaster. Yes, Lancaster numbers can be deceiving, but this kid is batting .362 with a 1.114 OPS in 11 High-A games. And he’s in Lancaster because he equally made a fool of the pitching in the Midwest League at Quad Cities. Oh, and he’s 20 years old. Power, average, relatively low K numbers; if Nottingham can frame a pitch (gag!), he’ll probably make it to AAA by the end of 2016.

And, finally, we need another great outfielder. And what team from Texas wouldn’t do great with a kid named Brett Maverick Phillips. Currently at Corpus Christi, Phillips has a combined 2015 batting line of .319/.378/.567. Strikeouts? Just under 20 percent for the season thus far. And he has 15 homers. Oh, and he’s another center fielder.

All this, and I haven’t even talked about Tony Kemp or Derek Fisher. No looks at Josh Hader, Mark Appel (who is slowly learning to be effective) or Chris Devenski.

1. So, with all the focus on the Major League club this season, what farm hand has impressed you thus far?

2. Is there enough pitching in Houston’s system to fill in those rotation and bullpen holes in 2016 and 2017?

3. Which slugger still in the minors has you checking our farm team box scores every day?

4. Are reinforcements getting close enough, fast enough to help this team in 2016? Any help available for 2015 other than the ones the Astros has plucked thus far?


49 comments on “The Break: We interrupt this fall from the top …

  1. Thank you, Brian. I still check daily to see:
    1. If Joe Sclafani is still riding the pine at Fresno for some unfathomable reason;
    2. how many HRs, RBIs and Runs Scored our organizational offensive machine [the man,the legend – A.J. Reed] has accumulated;
    3. Is Alex Bregman all that – or another Nolan Fontana or Chris Burke,
    4. how Akeem Bostic, Chris Devenski, Frances Marte’ are faring, and
    5. can Santana still play the blues.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sclafani’s numbers are down, but if I was given a no-confidence vote by my organization, I’d be hitting poorly as well.


      • What trips me out is that Fontana wasn’t even a good hitter in *college*. If a guy can’t break .300 with an aluminum bat, what hope does he have in the pros?


      • Billy, he was just a bad pick. And apparently it is just very hard to give up on a high, bad pick, even when you have a dungeon full of stat geeks telling you that a guy is a bust.


  2. Nice uplifting post Brian – we needed this today.
    1. With our first base and third base problems – how about Tyler White? He is not a youngster – he is 24 headed towards 25 and has hit well at every level. .305 BA / .415 OBP / .896 OPS in 862 minor league ABs and….. he has walked more than he has struck out in that time. I don’t care if he only has 11 AAA games under his belt. I would love to see someone who will actually connect with the baseball.
    2. There never is enough pitching, because someone always fails when going to the higher level, or has Brady Aiken Surgery (I’ve renamed it) or gets picked off in Rule 5 along the way. But there is enough talent that supplementing with one solid starter from outside would be helpful.
    3. A.J. Reed has me checking (though truth in advertising – not every day). The guy seems to get a big hit every game.
    4. Most of the minor league help is going to come in 2016 or later at this point – the low hanging fruit like VV, LMJ, Tucker and Correa have been plucked. Man, I would love to see Nottingham and Reed added to this bunch by mid to late 2016….


    • If we could find hitters who at least make productive outs, I’d be thrilled.

      There’s a reason you need to find historical examples of winning teams with high K rates: It rarely happens!

      Reed and Nottingham are the players I look forward to seeing. Yes, if we can get them in Houston no later than September 2016, then 2017 may indeed be the year.

      I’m just tired of looking at out offense and knowing we can’t win unless (and even sometimes when) Altuve has a great game.

      But it’s nice to remind ourselves that as much as Luhnow has plucked some fruit from the farm, there is still plenty there.


  3. Hold on there! Correa is not moving to 3B for Bregman. Neither offensively nor defensively are they in the same conversation at this point. The only way Correa moves to 3B is if he bulks up or is slowed by injuries. Mr. Bill hit it above – Bregman is closer to Chris Burke than Carlos Correa.


    • I should clarify, Devin, that all I am saying is that SO FAR [and it is very, very early – just 17 games into what will hopefully be a long and successful pro career] Alex Bregman’s numbers at Quad Cities look more like what I would expect from Chris Burke than what I would expect from Carlos Correa. A .268 average and a .694 OPS does not excite me. I do see he has only struck out 5 times in 76 PAS, and has walked as many times as he has struck out. I still hope that he is just adjusting, and that soon he starts getting it together in a way that we wonder what we are going do with Carlos Correa.


      • Bregman also has an unbelievably low BAbip. I’m guessing we will see something closer to Correa but with less power and more consistent contact.


  4. Well Brian, since you refer to 24 year-old Heineman’s .679 OPS in Fresno after two whole weeks, I’ll refer to Castro’s OPS of the last two years at .658. And this is after five years in the bigs. What was Heinemans OPS in AA, where there is a decent sample size? Which of the two players showed a propensity to hit for average in the minors and not strike out? Did Castro show a lot of power in the minors or is that something he’s gotten better at? Did Castro throw out 50% of his steal attempts in AA or is that something he’s gotten better at? How fast is Heineman supposed to develop in AAA when he sits half the time while Stassi plays?
    Don’t discount Colin Moran. he is improving every day and has hit better this month than ever. Moran’s problem is that he improves and then gets traded or injured. Moran was one of the youngest college players in his draft class and it will take a guy like that longer to catch up. He was drafted with Appel, so he’s had about two years in the minors and it has been a wild ride for him.
    Moran has always been considered to have a great hit tool. Let’s give him a little time to mature and develop that tool. All it could take is a couple of terrific months to get a player with a plus hit tool to get it going.


    • My problem with Heineman is that in 750 non-Lancaster ABs, he has all of one homer. I’m not looking for the next Carlton Fisk, but a little pop would be nice.

      I’m sure Nottingham’s defense is a bit raw, but if he can block a few pitches and throw out some runners, I’ll take him. That kid is raking.


      • Yes, but if you have most of Correa, Springer, Tucker, Reed, Nottingham, Fisher, Altuve, Phillips, Santana, Kemp, Moran, Lowrie, White and maybe even Gattis on your team by August of 2016 or by April of 2017, couldn’t you use a switch hitting catcher who might bat .260 with an OBP of, say, .320, who doesn’t strike out much and can get on base for all those other power guys?
        Oh, and his salary is half a mil and he throws out a lot of base stealers?
        What I’m saying is Heineman may not be a power hitting catcher, but if the rest of your guys hit for avg and power, he may be just what you need to keep rallies going from the catcher position, rather than being a catcher who hits ten homers, drives in 35 runs and kills rallies every day because he can’t hit but .200 and costs $10 mil a year.
        I like Castro defensively(who thought that would happen) but he is murder in a lineup and is going to be expensive because of arbitration. He got a huge raise this year after a bad year last year and I expect the same thing to happen in the offseason again.


      • BT: I think the GM has to determine the composition of his team. This year he chose to bring in power and Ks. Actually it has worked quite well (2nd place at All Star break is not that bad). LAA decided they wanted a more defensive catcher in Perez (.226) from the Astros to pair with Iannetta (.191) probably because they had actual hitters at other positions. Now to sound like Tim, 3 years into the Lowrie to A’s trade what do we have. Carter (.185), Stassi (.182 in Fresno), and a hurt Peacock. (Plus Lowrie is now hurt again). We paid $22 Million to correct the error. But the major mistake may be trying to hang on to “what we got.” The point is you have to build the entire team. Typically 1B is where a team hides a “hitter” with arm, speed, or defensive weaknesses. Normally you need a good defensive catcher and it is a bonus if he can hit and/or hit with power.


  5. Question 1, Who has impressed me? Obviously Reed has. Nottingham has just floored me and until he started hitting homers to left and center in Davenport, I was worried about his power being not real because of the 318 ft fence in RF there. And I’m not sure Nottingham is good enough defensively to be a big league catcher.
    But White has to be the biggest surprise because of his average and SLG in the Texas League and then winning the Home Run Derby at the All-Star game. That tells me that his sudden power is probably not a fluke.
    2.Is there enough pitching in the system to fill the holes. Yes, but not this year.
    3.Reed is who I look for first in the box scores. It used to be Correa.
    4. I think the reinforcements are there for 2016. I think Kemp would help us this year.


  6. Tyler White, 33rd round pick, is one of those guys long shot guys I’m rooting for. Interestingly, another 24 year old guy in Corpus has put up better numbers than White did there. Kemmer, the 21st pick, has played 57 games in CC, White had 59. White has those 862 minor league at bats as mentioned above, Kemmer has 727. Might as well let these two relatively old guys go play. Heck, send Kemmer out to Fresno and put him at first. He’s gotten better at every level. Maybe these two guys can do something in Houston before long, even if only to bridge the gap.

    And as I requested last night, it’s time to give Santana a real look. How many AAA outfielders have a .433 OBP and a 1.003 OPS? I know, he’s not Marisnick in the outfield, but he’ll do a better job in right than Tucker. Tucker should be in left or at DH. We need to shake things up and try to jump start the offense!


    • I agree with you on just about everything. BUT! July 2015 is “thin the herd month” Before we make these moves, let’s see how trade season works out. I’m pretty sure a lot of groundwork for trades is going to be made when all the GMs are in the same spot for the next four days.
      I’m for moving the players around after all the trades are made because moving them first could result in chaos. Maybe there will be more room for Kemmer, Santana, White after the trades are made.


      • Yep, I agree, we should see some movement soon as the result of trade(s). But if not, let’s at least get Santana up here at the end of the week.


  7. We lament the high K, high power guys but don’t lament the high K, low power guy – Marisnick. I really love Jake in the outfield but wonder how much we lose defensively if we put Kemp out there and let him bat ninth. Of course that means we have to make a spot on the 40 man for him but I can see that happening soon if the offense continues to sputter. Heck, we did it for Presley for crying out loud.

    One of the consequences of Springer’s injury was that Marisnick had to be brought back. If he could have stayed in Fresno for an extended rehab assignment and worked on his hitting it would have done him a lot of good.

    Besides his offensive numbers being otherworldly I think Reed is a student of the game. He was a very effective pitcher in college so he understands the full spectrum of the game. I see him being a big star for a long time and with our 1B situation so dismal maybe he’ll be able to make the jump later next year. Will really like seeing him in spring training next year.

    I see Lowrie being more of a solution for 1B when he returns more than 3B. Lowrie hurt his right thumb and while the thumb is not as critical for throwing as it is for hitting I still expect the throwing demands of 3B to be trouble for him. Valbuena has done a laudable job defensively and with our ground ball pitchers I think you want him there.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. A few questions related to the minors:
    – I know he supposedly cannot break a dinner plate with a hammer, much less his fast ball, but could Thomas Shirley be of assistance even if it is just as the newer cheaper, Tony Sipp? His 3.07 ERA and 1.049 WHIP are the best among those who are mostly starters at AAA.
    – Could Tyson Perez help the bullpen? Has anyone seen him pitch. His 0.75 WHIP is eye catching.
    – Luis Cruz is a small left hander who is going to turn 25 in September. I know he was put on the 40 man to avoid the Rule 5 draft. He is pretty meh right now. If they take him off the 40 man is he released or offered to other teams? (or is his ERA California-ized?)
    – Do you think they will leave Josh Hader at AA the whole season at his age? He is pitching well, but he is only barely 21.
    – Has Devenski been moved up yet? His CC numbers are great.


    • Wow – that is well deserved, but a little surprising. He has been so consistent and so impressive – this is a nice feather in the Astros’ cap (though Dallas would trade it for some run support in the second half of the season).


  9. Prospects are prospects. We are in the middle of a pennant chase. We are still very much in this thing. AJ Reed isn’t playing 1B for Houston at the moment. I’ll talk about 2016 in the offseason. I am not even sure Reed is ticketed for 2016, it maybe second half of 2016 or even 2017. You can pick any given minor league team in any given year and they had 4-5 guys that look like future stars in any given year that turn out not to be. In 2007 JR Towles had a .425 OBP in CC. JR freaking Towles.

    The question is how to fix 1B right now. If you are of the mindset that Carter isn’t an answer it would seem internally the Astros would have to turn to Singleton.

    He was awful last year, and that awfulness has probably left the bad taste in the mouth – which in turn leads to the quick ho hums and sighs of angst, but it has been only 29 plate appearances. He may go 7 for 18 in the next 4 games and sit around .250. I am not sure if its between the ears or lack of preparation, or both. Last year at AAA he sat at 22% strikeout rate, a perfectly acceptable rate, but was 37% in the majors. This year, even better at 20% at AAA, but he is sitting at 41% in small sample in the majors. Guys don’t typically jump 15-20% K rate on promotion, most go up around 5-7%. Maybe he should carry his own bags and wear a Fresno jersey, and the coaching staff can keep telling him he is still at AAA – and while they are at it, insist he watch a little video of the pitchers he is facing that day.

    1 – I don’t watch enough minor league daily action to keep up. Kemp seems like an OBP machine – and got to play in the futures game (though getting picked off wasn’t the highlight of his day). I got no idea if he can duplicate that OBP in the majors – but he did lead the inning off with a walk in the futures game. The starter for the World team looked like a minor league pitcher though – 96 cheddar with some movement, but he was missing the zone by a mile when he missed it. Even I wouldn’t have swung at those pitches. Can Kemp draw walks in the majors when guys are going to miss the zone by an inch and not a foot?

    2 – You can always fill in. Can you win though. I don’t think they can make the playoffs this year without adding another rotation piece. Maybe Feldman ends up being that piece though.

    3 – See number 1.

    4 – I don’t watch daily, but I do watch. The best of our minor leaguers have arrived. Correa, Springer, McCullers, Velasquez, Singleton, Tucker they are the cavalry. I am interested in Phillips and Reed. I do check their stats every now and again, even if I don’t box score watch Lancaster. I am not sure if Appel will be a lot of help, but I have a gut feeling that the Astros feel like they are getting close to a now or never take on him and will give him a shot in the majors despite some inconsistencies in the minors, sooner than later.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. * Is there enough pitching in Houston’s system to fill in those rotation and bullpen holes in 2016 and 2017? *

    Yes. And if for some reason [injuries] there isn’t, we aren’t likely to do a whole lot better on the trade market unless somebody suddenly really wants to trade some really good pitching for some combination of the expendable guys we have, namely Chris Carter, Jon Singleton, Evan Gattis, Marwin Gonzalez, Joe Thatcher, Tony Sipp, Roberto Hernandez, Jake Buchanan, Jake Marisnick, Robbie Grossman, Brandon Meredith, Hank Conger, Andrew Aplin, Joe Sclafani [the way the management seems to look at him], and Domingo Santana.


  11. Prospects at least are prospects. Dudes who take up 40 man and 25 man space, draw big boy salaries, and do not perform anywhere close to major league average, those are the hopeless failures of a system.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Well, we agree on that point. Carter is not performing like a 4 million dollar player.

      To be honest, Reed would probably outperform Carter right this second. But that’s not the discussion, because we know the Astros aren’t going to release Carter, and they aren’t going to call up Reed. It is what it is. The better discussion is how to piece meal this thing to stay in it today. Better at first, aye, but who?


      • My personal answer to that question, for 2015, would be Jed Lowrie – and in the meantime teach corner outfielders like Preston Tucker and Domingo Santana to play 1st at least well enough to sub for Lowrie when needed. Alternatively call up Tyler White or Matt Duffy from Fresno – neither of whom could be worse than Carter has been. Personally, as I see it, Carter and Singleton can’t be gone fast enough. Carter is so drastically far from the ‘model’ for the kind of corner infielder that it is going take to win a pennant, much less a world series, that if nobody wants to trade for him I would send him through waivers, or even unconditionally release him, rather than have him ever put on an Astros uni even one more time. Since Singleton hasn’t had much of a second shot yet, I’d give him until September call-up tim to platoon with Lowrie, and see if he can put it together enough to justify not doing the same thing with him.

        Of course, I have the luxury to look for a long-term internal solution to the 1B problem, because unlike most on this blog I just do not see the Astros having any realistic shot at a pennant – or even a serious pennant race – in the 2nd half of 2015. Wanting to see the team win – i.e. being an incurable homer – is one thing, but being realistic about how we line up against the Angels and the Rangers – if not the As and Mariners – in light of our present slate of injuries and the inexperience and pressing of our talented rookies is something altogether different. Instead of being a pennant contender at this stage of the season I see us instead as in a pretty drastic free fall, looking desperately for any parachute string that will just keep us from disappearing into the great abyss yet another year. We’ve been just trying to tread water since June 1 – and have been playing under .500 ball now for six weeks straight. The arms and legs that have been doing all the treading water are getting very, very tired. We are sinking like a stone, and we have a big albatross named Chris Carter chained around our neck.


      • Bill – you don’t have to tell me. I told Chipland in 2008 that the Astros were heading for disaster. My arguments with folks were classic. I am pretty sure that Chip created the glass half guy and glass half empty guy for the arguments with Holmes and H I used to have. I have never been guilty of indulging in homerism or being overoptimistic. I consider myself amongst the most realists here.

        That said – check this out. The Astros are right there going into mid-July. Even when they get “better” – as I assume will happen in 2017-2018 when Correa and Springer are household names and Keuchel is still Keuchel (and McCullers and VV should be better) – you never know in any given year if better is still contending. This isn’t fantasy baseball. You can enter with what you think is a young core capable of winning, and two injuries and one underperformer later you are 38-45 at the break thinking where did your season go. You take your shots where you can. If this team can add a Cueto or Kazmir without losing the farm, go for it. You don’t know where you will be next year or 5 years from now. Take your shots when they present themselves. Don’t sell the farm, everyone here is right, Reed is the answer at first, but in 2017. Don’t trade him for fools gold in Cueto, but take that fools gold for cheap if it presents itself.

        I agree there will be struggles. The roster is a young roster, centered around the youngest major leaguer in baseball. Ages 22-24 is stacked with talent, not experience. Tough road. I’m fine with not making a move, but I would like to see roster decisions geared towards winning, not developing. The only reason to replace Carter with Lowrie is you want to win now. Otherwise you would be content with letting the 27 year old play and see if he works himself out of it or sticking the 23 year old out there every day and seeing if he is the future of it. I vote, win – since you are right there. If we were 10 games out, I would want Singleton out there every single day.

        In the end though – I think you are right, in that is how the Astros are rolling. They seem content to let the young guys take their lumps and not pursue veterans. It appears to me Luhnow isn’t interested in the opportunity either.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. A few things I didn’t know about A.J. Reed – he is one of the winners of the Golden Spikes Award to not be drafted in the first round, though he was the first pick of the 2nd round.

    92% of GS winners went on to major league careers. Of all the GS winners that have completed their careers, the average WAR is 15. I would think he will perform above the average.

    Another great thing to note – you can see the scouting improvement on college players versus the 80s and even 90s just by looking at a list of GS winners for this decade – it looks like a whose who list of all stars.

    But thats more than I wanted to talk about with “prospects.”


    • Not many Golden spikes winners were the top power hitter in college ball and their team’s Friday night starting pitcher. This is new ground we are dealing with.


  13. My wife and I were watching “Escapade in Japan” just now and spotted Clint Eastwood in it as a rescue pilot. He had two short lines and was in it for about ten seconds. The movie was from 1957.
    I only bring this up in the blog because I am also an OTMG.


    • I love those early cameos old pro. Like the next time you watch Psycho at the very end of the movie a policeman has no lines and just is shown opening a door in the hallway and the policeman was the late Ted Knight of Mary Tyler Moore and Caddyshack fame….

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Try watching the old Twilight Zone shows if you wan to be surprised by some of the future actors in the series. Robert Redford, and Nick Adams come to mind.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s