(For the last few season, I have been fortunate enough to be asked by the Greeneville Astros to contribute an article for the game day program. Here is my 2011 submission.)
When you attend a game at Pioneer Park, you never know if the player you are watching today will make it to the big leagues in a few years. In the first two months of the 2011 Major League Baseball Season, six former Greeneville Astros have worn major league uniforms this year.
1. Juan Gutierrez, who pitched here in 2004, is in his third season in the bullpen for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Juan had a rough April and a better May before being placed on the disabled list with shoulder soreness.
2. Felipe Paulino (2004) was traded from Houston in the offseason to the Colorado Rockies. His time in Colorado was not effective (7.36 ERA in 18 relief outings) and he was then traded to the Kansas City Royals. Since arriving in KC, Felipe has done well. He did not give up a run in his first two outings (9 1.3 IP).
3. J. R. Towles (2004) earned one of the catching spots out of spring training. He started of the year with a hot April (.364 avg.) but struggled in May (.100 avg.). Due to the injury to Jason Castro in spring training, Towles should get plent of time to work things out at the big league level.
4. Fernando Abad (2007), broke spring training with the Astros but wasn’t very effective. He has was sent down to AAA Oklahoma City in May.
5. Troy Patton (2004) got called up for a cup of coffee with Baltimore and appeared in one game before being sent back down to AAA.
6. The most recent call up was Jordan Lyles (2008). The number one prospect in the Astros system was called up in late May to make two spot starts for Houston. He made his debut in Wrigley Field on 5/31. He pitched outstanding! He didn’t get his first MLB win but he did get his first MLB hit.
Those Still Climbing
Here is a glance team by team at the Houston Astros’ minor league system and which players there are making some noise early in the season.
Oklahoma City RedHawks (AAA)
Many of the AAA leaders last year graduated to the big leagues. There are not many top prospects in AAA this year. In fact, this year’s AAA roster is dominated by players who have MLB experience. Thirteen of the 24 players on the 6/4/11 active roster have at least one game of MLB experience.
Jordan Lyles was the big name to watch here prior to his promotion. There are still a few others to keep an eye on. Some of them are familiar to Greeneville fans.
Koby Clemens (2005) is getting his first taste of AAA baseball. He had a solid April but cooled off some in May. He is one of the youngest position players on the roster, so some growing pains were expected.
Brandon Barnes (2005, 06) continues to show improvement as he climbs the minor league ladder. He started 2011 in AA but was called up to AAA at the end of April. He hit 8 HR in the month of May to take over the team lead. He was also named the teams defensive player of the month.
J. B. Shuck is the baby of the bunch in AAA. The speedy center fielder continues to make a strong impression and is definitely one to keep an eye on.
The final player to watch on this roster is Daniel Meszaros. He was drafted in the 48th round of the 2008 draft. He has quickly climbed to AAA and could be seen in the Houston bullpen before the year is out.
Other former Greeneville players on the roster include: Fernando Abad (2007), Henry Villar (2008) DL, and Douglass Arguello (2004)
Corpus Christi Hooks (AA)
Players who reach AA are very close to the majors. It is becoming more and more common for players to make the jump directly to the big leagues from AA. There are several players here worth keeping an eye on. Here are a few of the Hooks to watch closely.
Former Greeneville fan favorite, Jose Altuve (2008, 09) was promoted to AA on the 1st of June. He had dominated the California league hitting .408 over 52 games with 13 doubles, seven triples and five home runs. He got off to a solid start at AA, getting two or more hits in 6 of his first 8 games at AA. As of 6/10/11, his .412 season average and 101 hits leads all of Minor League Baseball.
Jonathon Villar is a middle infielder who came to the Astros organization from the Phillies in the Roy Oswalt trade. He and Altuve were promoted to AA together and were a solid middle infield together at Lancaster. At just 20 years old, he is very young to be in AA.
J. D. Martinez (2009) is spending his second season in AA. He was promoted here straight from Lexington last season. He is putting up solid numbers despite missing some time with a nagging hamstring pull. He had 23 RBIs in 22 games in the month of April.
Dallas Kuechel has registered a quality start in 6 of his first 9 starts of 2011. The 7th round pick from the 2009 draft might not blow anyone away with his fastball but he knows how to get batters out.
Pat Urckfitz (2008) raised some eyebrows with his performance in both the Arizona Fall League and in the Astros’ spring training where he was one of the final cuts. He has had ups and downs this year in the bullpen but is definitely worth watching.
The AA roster has many more players worth watching they include: J. T. Steele , Xavier Cedeno, Ross Seaton (2008) , Jimmy Parades, Jacob Goebbert, and Kyle Greenwalt (2007, 08).
Other former Greeneville Astros on the roster include: Wlad Sutil (2004), Arcenio Leon (2007, 08), Federico Hernandez (2008), and Sammy Gervacio (2005- rehab from shoulder injury). Brad James (2004, 05) is on their disabled list but at last report was still rehabbing in extended spring training.
Lancaster JetHawks (High A)
The Astros begin their third season in Lancaster of the California League. There are 13 former Greeneville players are with the JetHawks this season. Lancaster is known as a hitters paradise and as such is tough on pitchers. Here are a few players to watch.
Jay Austin (2008) is repeating Lancaster this season. Through 47 games, he is hitting .261 with 12 doubles, three triples and two homers.
Kody Hinze (2008) has put his name out to be watched by virtue of his power bat. The big 1st baseman, who was signed as a non drafted free agent, is leading the California League with 14 HR. His .328 batting average in 53 games is nothing to sneeze at either.
Austin Wates was the 3rd round pick of the 2010 draft out of Virginia Tech. He jumped from Tri Cities to Lancaster this season and has shown it was a wise move. The 22 year old OF is hitting .303 on the season.
Jose Thompson was signed by the Astros this offseason. The Cuban defector is slightly old for the league at 23 but is playing a solid infield and could move quickly up the ladder.
Jonathon Meyer (2009) is the youngest player on the roster. He continues to show improvement in the field as well as at the plate.
Jake Buchanan is a 21 year old right handed pitcher who played college ball at North Carolina State. Through two months of the season, he has a 3.15 ERA in the California League, which is 5th best. He pitched a complete game shutout earlier this year.
Other names to keep an eye on include: Rene Garcia (2008), Grant Hogue (2009), Ben Heath, Jose Cisnero ( 2009), Zachary Grimmett (2008) and Colton Pitkin (2007, 08).
Other former Greeneville Astros include: Miguel Arrendell (2009), Bryce Lane (2010), Hector Rodriguez (2010), Wander Alvino (2008), and Jose Trinidad (2008).
Lexington Legends (Low A)
Lexington is the first stop where players have to adjust to a full season of baseball. This tests a player’s mental and physical toughness as well as giving them a better level of competition. This is a very young team this year. Here are a few guys who started the year 20 or younger and are growing up in the South Atlantic League.
Jiovanni Meir (2009) is spending his second season in Lexington. His numbers are up, especially his power numbers. His defense has improved and he was named a Sally League All Star.
Delino DeSheilds Jr (2010) is learning 2nd base this year in Lexington. He has struggled to make contact, hitting just .219 on the year through the first week in June. However when he makes contact, he is showing some power. He has hit 5 HR and has a total of 17 extra base hits out of 44 hits. Overall, not bad results for one of the youngest players in the league.
Mike Foltyenwicz (2010) is another teen who is growing up in the South Atlantic League. His May statistics indicate some of the progress he is making. During that month, he went 2-2 with a 3.67 ERA.
Tanner Bushue, who will turn 20 this season, was the 2nd round pick in 2009. He is leading the team with 6 wins through his first start in June. He is repeating Lexington this year and is showing solid progress.
Greeneville’s MVP last year, Telvin Nash (2009), was showing great improvement from his solid 2010 season. His season was interrupted by a hand injury after hitting .310 in his first 15 games. He was slated to miss 4 to 6 weeks and it will be interesting to see how he does when he returns to Lexington.
One older guys to pull for is former Greeneville Astro Jorge De Leon (2008). He was here as a shortstop and is now in Lexington as a pitcher. He has acted as the closer for much of the season. He has 7 saves and 21 strike outs in 23 1/3 IP. It is reported that his fastball is in the upper 90’s.
Other names to watch on the Legends roster include: Chris Wallace (2010), Mike Kvasnicka, Carlos Quevedo, and Juan Minaya.
Other former G-Stros who are on the roster include: Luis Cruz, Gabriel Garcia, Ruben Alaniz, David Martinez, Brian Streinlein, Murilo Gouvea, Garrett Bullock, Brad Dydalewicz, Juri Perez, Emilio King, Ben Orloff, Bryce Lane, Roberto Pena, Jhonny Medrano, and Ryan McCurdy.
Short Season Teams
The Astros have opened a new facility last year in the Dominican Republic to host the Dominican Summer League Astros. This facility will help prepare young players for life moving up the ladder both on and off the field. The Gulf Coast League Astros play their games at the Astros’ spring training complex in Kissimmee and will be the first stop for many young draftees and those coming to the United States from the Dominican Academy. The Greeneville Astros as a result, should get players with a little more seasoning. The Tri Cities ValleyCats of the NY Penn League will continue to be the top rung of the short season team ladder.
The overall goal of any player is to traverse the many challenges they face in the minor leagues resulting in a Major League career. The players will push themselves to climb as high as they can to achieve their dreams of playing Major League baseball. In 2011, sit back and enjoy a season of players learning, growing, and hopefully winning as they chase their dreams and reach for the next rung on the ladder.