Astros: Where they are now, part 1

I received an email from the blog founder, Chip Bailey, who had some brainstorms on posts, but no time to write them and passed a few ideas to me. Being the off-season and being that the Astros’ news is evaporating a bit, new ideas are always welcome and here is the first one.

Chip was thinking that it might be fun to follow up on some players, who looked like they might be a big “thing” here in Houston, but never quite were. One thing I found is that some of these guys go underground when their career is done. So here we go…..

Brett Wallace. Ol’ Moon Pie was a pretty highly considered prospect as he was chosen 13th overall in the 2008 draft by the Cardinals out of Arizona State. Wallace was a two time Pac 10 Player of the Year. The last Arizona St. player before him to be Pac 10 Player of the year? Some schmuck named Dustin Pedroia. Prior to the 2010 season, Brett was ranked as the 27th overall prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America. But even though he was producing so well in the minors, why wasn’t he an untouchable? Thirteen months after he was drafted he was included in the package for Matt Holiday from the A’s. Five months later he was traded straight up for outfielder Michael Taylor from Toronto. Seven months later he was traded for the “pass-through” outfielder Anthony Gose, who the Astros pulled in from the Phillies in the Roy Oswalt trade. Far from being an untouchable, Brett Wallace seemed like the ultimate hot potato.

Over parts of four seasons, Wallace never rose above the meh level with the Astros. His slash line over 311 games was .242 BA/ .313 OBP/ .704 OPS. He combined a poor K% (29.5%) with low power numbers (<8% XBH) and after the 2013 season he was released. After spending 2014 in the minors with Baltimore and Toronto, he was signed by the Padres before the 2015 season and had a partial year that was most similar to the success he enjoyed in the minors as he slashed .302 BA/ . 374 OBP/ .895 OPS in 64 games. This was possibly buoyed by an unsustainably lucky .400 BAbip (batting average on balls in play). He crashed back to earth with San Diego in 2016 and after a similarly bad Spring Training in 2017, he left the game for good.

Wallace is only 34 years old (2 years younger than Yuli Gurriel). In Houston, he will always be remembered as the poster boy for the AAAA player. The guy who hit well in the high minors and never translated that to the majors.

Interesting fact. His LinkedIn page shows that Wallace is back in the Phoenix, Arizona area and works as a Self Employed hitting instructor. Yes, you read that right.

Jordan Lyles. Lyles’ pitching career has had one of the most unusually long MLB careers for someone who a) Has such poor numbers and b) Is not left-handed. He was drafted out of high school by the Astros in 2008, the 38th overall pick in that draft. He may have been badly hurt by how crummy the Astros farm system was in those days. He rose quickly as the sole bright pitching star in their organization and made his debut as a 20-year-old. He probably could have used some more seasoning or development, but he was thrown into the fray and over three seasons he put up a 14-29 record with a 5.35 ERA. He was then sent to the Rockies after the 2013 season with Brandon Barnes in exchange for OF (oops, I should say CF) Dexter Fowler.

Lyles working as a part-time starter/ part-time reliever posted similarly below-average stats at a number of stops along the way – Colorado (13-16, 5.22 ERA), San Diego (3-7, 5.53 ERA) and Pittsburgh (5-7, 5.36 ERA). His only true success came in two shortstops in Milwaukee. In the second stop after a trade from the Pirates at the 2019 trade deadline, he put in a strong showing in the Brewers’ starting rotation and playoff run, toting up a 7-1 record with a 2.45 ERA. This earned him a 2 year, $16 million contract with the Rangers for 2020-2021. He was not quite what they hoped for in 2020 as he went 1-6 with a 7.02 ERA and led the majors in most earned runs allowed (45).

The Rangers are stuck with him for another season and $8 million more bucks. But the 30-year-old Lyles (how can he be that young) may turn it around for them and even if he doesn’t he will have more than $28 MM in career earnings to fall back on in his “old” age.

Interesting fact. Lyles was a top football player in high school, holding receiving records at Hartsville High back in South Carolina. He turned down Division 1 football scholarships to join the Astros’ organization.

Matt Dominguez. Unlike the two gentlemen above, Dominguez ended his career with a positive WAR rating, though it was a modest 1.2. He had been drafted 12th overall in the first round of the 2007 draft by the then Florida (now Miami) Marlins. He made his debut with the Marlins in Sept. 2011. He was then sent to the Astros with Rob Rasmussen (who never played for the Astros and was soon traded for John Ely who never played for the Astros) in exchange for Carlos Lee.

He showed sparks of a decent glove and at times a powerful bat for the Astros in 2012 through 2014, but by the off-season after the 2014 season, articles such as this one were popping up…..

The worst player in baseball, and why he still has a job – Beyond the Box Score

By mid-2015 the Astros DFA’d him and he was picked up by the Brewers organization. Between 2015 through 2017 he had 5 hitless major league games with the Blue Jays, while mostly playing in the minors for the Brewers, Blue Jays and Red Sox. In 2018, he tried to rejuvenate his career by heading to Japan. He had similar poor hitting numbers in Japan and then disappeared from the radar screen.

He is only 31 years old and a corner infielder who can’t hit consistently is not much in demand these days. After fairly extensive searching, I could not pick up a sniff on where he is now, though a good guess is that he is back in California, where he grew up. Any tidbits about Matt would be welcome here.

So, a few questions for you…..

  • Did you think these guys had a chance to be valuable Astros back in the day?
  • Who else would you like a little review on? I have quite a list of the “almosts” from the dark days of the team?
  • Do you like this type of article?

41 comments on “Astros: Where they are now, part 1

  1. Lyles, Wallace and Dominguez all had one thing in common: They couldn’t hit. Only Lyles got away with it and that is why he is still around.
    On a similar note, Biagini signed a minor league deal with the Cubs, which tells you something about the Cubs.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Tonight will be fun for me, as Chas McCormick and Forrest Whitley will be on Astroline at 6 pm CST. If you’re abroad, you can catch that on iHeart radio Sirius, or 790 AM local.

    Sparks and Ford will be a little more in-depth I imagine than the typical “your ERA was high in the minors, can we finally expect you to be any better?” I can almost guarantee that if you listen closely, you will be able to hear that he’s had a plan mapped out clearly for him, and since Astros have never had any room whatsoever, he is On Schedule.

    Speaking of that, I would recommend he start 5 games or 30 innings in Sugar land, then call up specifically for a good matchup team to build his confidence at this level. No matter what his past results, the “stuff” is off the charts. It’s really up to the coaches at this point to deploy proper sequencing, etc. Now that he has professional catchers, watch for incremental improvement in 2021.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. A few thoughts….
    – I have to imagine that there are very few pitchers with lifetime 5.22 ERA (5.21 as a starter) who were allowed 150+ starts like Lyles has been allowed.
    – I remember how Wallace just did not look like a ball player out on the field with those wide short looking legs. Once in a while he looked like a hitter, but it always went away
    – I always thought Dominguez would break out and he had spurts of it, but he was kind of like Chris Carter where he was just an ineffective hitter
    – I would love to see Whitley step in and show something, because we will need as many arms as possible with McCullers and Greinke being free agents after the season

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  4. Great topic! I liked Matt D a lot at one point. Looked like we might have gotten something for the last few months of Carlos Lee’s contract. Sadly, aside from some nice defensive plays and his weekly Home Run Matt just could not contribute.

    Side Note: I wonder if Carlos Lee would have gotten a chance to play another year at 1B or DH if he didn’t annoy some people by refusing trades. I believe he turned down trades to the Dodgers and the Yankees.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, Mike – I think it has been awhile since you have commented (did you used to join as Mike Sand?). Yeah – Matty D was a guy of flashes and not enough of them. I remember soft hands (not personally – at a distance) and he could hit some corkers for homers, but just not enough.

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      • If I had to guess, some of that weight might have included body fat, which he didn’t want. This year he decided to gain muscle weight.
        When I started at the gym two years ago I weighed 203 lbs. When the pandemic forced me to stop I weighed 200lbs, but it was obvious I had traded fat for muscle over a year’s time. Now, after not working out, it’s obvious I have traded back.
        Once I get my second vaccination I will wait a couple of weeks and rejoin the gym.

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      • I imagine Bregman just exaggerated a bit. They used to list him at 190 lbs, so if he did go up to 207 that would already be a significant jump. The thing to remember is that during the season a lot of players lose some weight. It would shock me if he actually fell down to 180 during the 2020 season…especially given how he looked in Sept/Oct. Then again, he may be reporting the difference between his current weight and his weight when he showed up at LSU.

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      • On a lighter note, if Bregman gains any more weight, the Ron Cey Penguin comps will persist.

        I am glad Bregs is stepping up. He’s better than I gave him credit for initially. Pretty sure he had a nasty hand injury in ALCS. Just as Kiermaier was hurt in our series, with the added week to get to WS, I think he had a much better series after healing up a bit.

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  5. I did come away with something from the Astroline podcast from last night.
    Forrest Whitley and the Astros have identified the four pitches he is gonna throw. Whitley said that he was spending way too much time on pitches that were good, but didn’t work together.
    He is moving forward with a four=seam fastball, a cutter, a curve and his changeup.
    His cutter and his changeup are the two pitches MLB described as being some of the best pitches among prospects, but Whitley has always had a high velocity fastball and a good curve, so it looks like he is content to go with those four.

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    • So glad you heard it Op, I struck out last night trying to find it — made me so mad! Tuned in and all they talked about on 790 was Texans.

      This comment you made reminds me of one I posted here over a year ago. My buddy’s son played for Dodgers’ Tulsa team. They gave him the option before Corpus series to play in Bailey or Whitley’s game. He chose Whitley because “Bailey throws 3 pitches for strikes”. Whitley’s arsenal was not yet refined and he was blending 3 different fastballs, struggling with command.

      I think that’s a great idea.

      Anything else noteworthy you can add from him, or Chas is much appreciated.

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      • Whitley said that it was a struggle getting back from the shoulder injury last summer but that he started coming around late and that his final appearance in summer camp was the best he has ever thrown. He has worked on those four pitches exclusively this winter and thinks he can throw any of them where he wants to in any situation.
        He commented that not walking people is his focus and that his command has been good this winter.
        He said he had a terrible spring training last year trying to master 6 or 7 pitches and that he is ready to roll this spring. He cannot wait to throw in games.

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      • Four pitches is a reasonable amount to master. I mean someone like Zack Greinke may need to throw 6 or 7, but a young guy has enough stuff that he does not need that many.

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  6. This is out of sync with the topic, but I gotta put it out there. I’m trying to back off from being inside the mind of the Astros a trying to get a drone like view of their situation. So, here goes nothing:
    *Money! It is imperative that the club stays under the luxury payroll line this year because they were over it last year and the penalties double if you go over two years in a row. It affects the draft for 2022. It affects the amount of money you are allowed to spend for international free agents. It cost the team penalty money in a time when fans may be scarce. The Astros are around $12-14 million below the luxury tax line, depending on Correa’s arbitration salary.
    * The Astros know they don’t have a regular CFer. They know that they can’t afford Bradley. Right now they are going to fill their outfield with the players they have and that includes Tucker, Brantley, Straw, McCormick, Siri and Souza in the mix with Diaz and Alvarez in the background of this picture.
    * The Astro appear to be satisfied with their prospects to fill in holes that develop in their pitching staff. When you step back and see what they have done with their pitching, you have to see that confidence in the picture. Remember that you have to view the picture with the guys they already have, not guys you think they should go out and get.
    * The Astros will be even better in 2022. Their pitching prospects will develop into major leaguers, their upper minors position players will be ready and they will have a ton of money to spend if they want to and on who they want to.

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    • Sounds right – and remember if they make a move in July they will almost certainly either absorb the remaining salary owed to that player or have to send more over in return for the trade partner providing relief. Unless an amazing deal on a player pops up now it’s hard to see them making any moves until the end of Spring Training.

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  7. 1OP, I do think your comments are relevant to the topic because if we think we have prospects that will produce for us, then we shouldn’t overspend to get “proven” talent. The question is, will our prospects step up and contribute in the Majors or will they be AAAA all-stars?

    Here are a few more guys we thought might be gold but sank like lead:
    Jon Singleton, Preston Tucker, Tyler White, AJ Reed, James Hoyt, Michael Feliz.

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    • Senor Nut: It has bothered me for over 70 years. What is the difference between a star in AA or AAA that goes to the majors, one becomes a solid player and one stinks. No other sport comes to mind that you have such a disparity between good minor leaguers/college baseball payers that soar or crash. If you can determine the answer, we can become multi-millionaires. I am depending on you. I don’t have a clue.

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      • Yes, comparing our farm to anything prior to 2016 is apples to oranges. Not only in talent but especially development.

        With having drafted so many pitchers, in order to get all of them the work using tandems, ya can’t look at what level they pitched at like we used to. Martes pitched in DSL in ’19 for goodness sake because we didn’t want to interrupt the others on their schedules. Jose Bravo pitched at almost every level in 2019 for the same reason. The Astros do not focus about ERA’s and such, but simply pitch quality and what new thing they are trying to tweak. They know that if a player can make strides, when they finally get Strom that product, he and Murph can do the rest.

        Hey, if Strom could fix Tony Sipp, I’m convinced there’s always hope. My next exam for the is Jayson Schroeder. May have to eat a big crow sammich on that one!

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      • GS1, the reason I have hope for Schroeder is that he was a four-pitch pitcher in HS. I think a guy who has that going for him has an advantage. But I also think it takes a lot more development to change the mindset of a HS pitcher who always mowed down his competition. They are just not used to failure. Some can handle it and some can’t. Sometimes the guys who take forever to learn, turn out to be real good. That is my hope for him.

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      • The reason I think he’ll fail is watching him and Kyle Serrano who couldn’t get out of the 1st inning to save their lives in low-A ball, when they were expected to take on 6 IP per game. I still don’t believe it, and like Nova hype trying to retain *some* trade value on big $ prospects eventually.

        Anyway, as you know, a RHSP HS pitcher is about the most volatile risk out there. Would be great if as Putila says, things are starting to come together as planned.

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      • Speaking of High School prospects, I loved the supposedly true story of the minor league pitching coach helping a high school signee with his changeup. The coach asked the youngster how he was told to hold the changeup by his high school coach. The kid said, “They couldn’t hit my fastball, and they couldn’t hit my curve. I didn’t need any other pitches.”

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  8. The Bauer turns on the Mets like a mad dog. Dodgers got a lot better and are way over the luxury tax limit. I don’t think they care.
    Holy cow. The rich get richer.

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    • I think the Mets thought Bauer was playing them and they put a deadline on because they wanted to go after their next best target, whoever that might be, before the next guy got away.

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    • The Dodgers just decided to hand a guy $40M who has had two great pitching seasons in his career. I’ll give him extra credit for pitching in the biggest joke of a ballpark in the majors last season, but let’s also remember he started 3 games against teams that had winning records at the end of the season…and all of those teams played in the city of Chicago. If we normalize against competition I’m not sure 2020 was great upon review. I imagine the Dodgers are only ponying up so much money to keep it to a short deal given his age. At the same time, they probably saw their margin for error disappear with SD loading up.

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  9. Looks like my prediction that Crane would do the right thing and settle with Jeff Luhnow has come to pass. I didn’t read the chron article, but I’m just guessing the 2nd part of my hopes are dashed — bringing him back on since we are paying him anyway in some kind of Hunsicker FO capacity.

    FTR, I think the real demons in that scandal were Koch-Weser, Goldstein and Crane paying to fund their dark arts. I’m sure Crane knew about it in 2017, but he’s since denied it (probably part of agreement with Manfred to keep the gambling lawsuits at bay). I’ve noticed that little weasel Goldstein went public recently trying to draw sympathy, and he is back writing articles at Fangraphs coincidentally. Tthe Wall Street Joural article was a hit piece on Jeff, because they portrayed him like some kid in candy store re algorythms, when in fact it was the other two who were down in the minors filming other teams’ signs.

    At any rate, I’m glad they made good with The Architect. Luhnow did a LOT of good for this team. Then again, many in press said he was responsible for toxic environment. Maybe so — that is the McKinsley way, cold hard data. Not being a revenue sharing team, HOU is never going to be a league darling like LA, NY, so I can see where Jeff had to do his best to tighten up the Astros’ secrets, which frankly should be proprietary.

    I noticed Jeff was very frank and open his first few yrs granting interviews with Jayne Hansen and taking fan questions. It probably became apparent to him that he was blamed for intentially losing games, in order to get top picks. The media showed their true colors by nailing him for Osuna then Taubman, then Fiers, when they wouldn’t do the same for Yankees’ eye in sky; or Aroldis Chapman shooting at and abusing his grilfriend.

    Maybe dave will get his wish and someone will write a book. Even then, it may only be shades of the truth. With as much rivalry in baseball, even among scouts in some cases, there’s always going to be different perspectives.

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  10. Astros will pay Correa $11.7m, and avoid binding arbitration. I thought someone had said that was the original offer, but too lazy to confirm it. Anyway, looks like a milllion less than he was asking and 2 million more than we offered officially.

    Listening to a podcast last night with ex-pro, Clay Hensley, and he said all along he expected Brantley to come back because he’d typically test the market [Click apparently moved quickly to match, or better TOR offer last minute.] Is this a preview of how it will go down with Carlos Correa? I would say so. He’ll be competing with so many other stud shortstops that he’ll likely set the price at what others are willing to pay. Otherwise, if both parties meant what they said about wanting each other, they’d have moved forward on it already imo.

    In other words, there is so much to be determined before 2022.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If I were going to pick a player to sign to a long term deal, it would be Correa. Having your good SS tied up long term eliminates another position to worry about. It would probably be an incentive for Bregman and Altuve to finish their career here as well.
      That move would open the door to having Pena for years as your super utility guy at a very economical salary, no offense to a more expensive Aledmys Diaz. Pena is a better fielding SS and 3B than Marwin was and would probably be a better than average, backup 1B/OF. The guy has a great glove.
      I believe the Astros will use Norel Gonzalez a lot at 1B in Corpus to get him time at that bag and see if he might be one of the heirs-apparent at 1B for the Astros along with Taylor Jones. Gonzalez has a big bat.
      The Astros will probably have Jason Castro as the main catcher in 2022, but will be grooming all of the young catchers GS1 has been touting to replace him eventually behind the plate in 2023 or sooner, starting with Korey Lee.
      I think the Astros will try to groom Leon to be their CFer for 2022, in between Brantley and Tucker, while they continue to develop another young corner outfielder to be ready by 2023, when Brantley’s contract ends.

      Liked by 1 person

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