In continuing to evaluate the 2010 Greeneville Astros, we will now examine the corner infielders. This is an older group of players with the youngest starting the season at 20 but finishing at 21. We will look at them in order of combined games played at the two positions. You will notice the games add up to more than the number of games the Astros played. That is because some of the appearances were as defensive substitutions.
Marcus Nidiffer (Games Played by Position 1B- 47, DH-1)- He was the old man of the bunch at 23. He was a NDFA who played catcher at Kentucky. He is also from nearby Bristol which made him a fan favorite from the beginning. Nidiffer played a solid first base, only making 4 errors on the season. He wasn't spectacular but he improved as the season progressed.
At the plate, Nidiffer started of the year hot and even though he faded in August, and was promoted to Tri Cities with half a month of games to play, he finished tied for the 9th best batting average in the league at .303. His 11 home runs were tied for 5th and .981 OPS was 2nd best. He was named to the Appy League All Star Team.
He exploded out of the gate in Tri Cities hitting two HR in one of his first games. He has since cooled off as he hit just .154 in his last 10 games in Tri Cities with only one extra base hit, a double.
Those close to the team gave Nidiffer high marks for his character and leadership as well. He will have a tough road to climb to make it very far in the system. His age and his status as a NDFA are working against him.
Expectations for next year - Tri Cities
Rafael Valenzuela - (Games played by position 1B - 22, 3B - 17) - Signed as a NDFA out of the University of Arizona. The 22 year old has played all over the diamond in college but played 1st & 3rd for the G-Stros. He was called up to Greeneville after spending 16 games with the GCL Astros.
In the field, Valenzuela was adequate but unremarkable for the G-Stros at either position. He was regularly used as a defensive replacement late in close games at 1st. After Nidiffer left, he was the best option the team had a 1st. Therefore, he spent a the last half of August at 1st.
At the plate, he made contact most of the time. However that contact resulted in ground balls over half the time. He was one of the few left handed bats in the line up.
Valenzuela has been offered the chance to play winter ball in Mexico.
Expectations for next year - Tri Cities if not released.
Jhonny Medrano - (Games played by position 1B - 11, 3B - 21, DH - 19) The 22 year old from Venezuela was the starting 3rd baseman for the season. He had been slated to be on the Greeneville roster in 2008 but he hurt his knee the day before the season started and had to miss the whole year. The next year, he had a disappointing year in Tri Cities. This year, it was expected he would show the ability that was the buzz when he was on the roster in 2008.
The injury bug bit Medrano again this year. On July 16th, he banged his elbow on a slide home and was out of the line up for much of the rest of July. When he returned, he didn't play 3rd any longer and after a failed attempt at him playing first, he was relegated to the DH role for much of August. At the last game of the season, he was seen in the dugout with a bulky brace on his elbow.
His hitting suffered after the injury. He had 23 of his 49 strike outs in just 71 at bats in August.
Expectations for next year: This was his sixth season after signing as a free agent as a 16 year old. Therefore, he will be a minor league free agent this off season. If the elbow requires surgery with significant rehab time, I don't see the Astros re-signing him.
Hector Rodriguez - (Games played by position 3b - 29, SS - 13, LF - 1) He was the baby of the group, starting the season at 20 years old. Rodriguez made the jump from the DLS Astros to Greeneville this season, with no stop at GCL. He was one of my favorite kids on the team this year. Not because of his play necessarily but because of his attitude. He was the first guy out of the dug out to welcome players off the field when an inning ended. He had a unique whistle noise he would make in the field or in the dugout when some one made a good play or when a pitcher made a good pitch. Occasionally, you would hear other players echo the whistle back to him. It was clear, he was having fun at the ball park.
In the field, he is a bit small to be playing 3rd at 6 foot and 150 pounds. He looks more like a shortstop than a 3rd baseman. He has the soft hands of a SS and ranges to his left well. He also made several nice plays coming in on the grass on bunts and dinks. He made one catch of a line drive over his head that showed off a quick reaction time and a solid vertical leap. he made 5 errors at 3rd. Most of those were on throws.
At the plate, he quietly put together a good season. He didn't have enough at bats to qualify for any league or team rankings, but he finished the year with a solid .303 average. He hits a bunch of ground balls and it might be that he is just getting lucky. Time will tell. He didn't strike out (25 K in 120 AB) but he also took only one walk all year. So he makes contact but will need to learn to be more selective.
Expectations for next year: Greeneville or Tri Cities
Chris Lovett - (Games played by position: 3B - 12, 2B -3, DH - 1. The 2009 12th round pick of the Braves was picked up at the end of July with the Braves released him. He started off getting a great deal of playing time but as his struggles at the plate grew, his playing time shrunk. Not a great sample size to pull from but hitting under .180 in 50 AB is not encouraging.
Expectations for next year: Released
In summary, there were not many prospects in the corner infield crop in Greenville this year. But what do you expect when three of the players were NDFA college kids, one is a oft injured soon to be minor league free agent.
Best Bat: Nidiffer
Best Glove: Rodriguez
Best Arm: Medrano (pre injury)
Best Overall Prospect: Rodriguez (though I considered putting none of the above)