For the last several years, I have written a piece for the Greeneville Astros game day program about the minor league system. Here is this year's edition. It was turned in on June 1, 2012. I am posting an updated version with updates in parentheses.
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 2012 Major League Baseball Season, six former Greeneville Astros have worn major league uniforms this year.
- Jose Altuve (2008,09) has made the most of his first time on the opening day roster. As the everyday second baseman at the young age of 21 years old, he burst out of the gate with an impressive .360 batting average in the month of April. Altuve was challenged by the Houston coaches to increase his walks in order to get on base more. He has taken that challenge to heart and has seen his on base percentage increase over 50 points. He has become a fan favorite in Houston and if he keeps playing at his current level; he could become the first former Greeneville Astro to make an appearance in the Major League All Star Game. (Altuve has continued his solid season hitting .291 so far in June. He left last night's game with a hamstring strain. He is currently third in All Star voting)
- J. D. Martinez (2009) also made his opening day debut with the Houston Astros this year as the starting left fielder. He had a solid April, hitting .282 but struggled in the month of May. The highlight of his year so far was hitting the first home run in the new Miami Marlins’ ballpark. J. D. grew up in Miami and was able to share the moment with several family and friends.(J.D. has hit four more home runs in June. He is still struggling some with average. He is hitting .230.)
- Felipe Paulino (2004) started the year on the disabled list with the Royals missing the month of April. In May, he had five solid starts; finishing the month with a 2.03 ERA and 34 strike outs in 31 innings pitched. His best start of the year was his first when he pitched six innings of shut out ball against the New York Yankees. (Paulino recently was diagnosed with a tear in his UCL and will have Tommy John surgery. He is out for the rest of the year.)
- Fernando Abad (2007) continues his up and down relationship with the Astros. He started the season in the majors but was sent to AAA on April 9th. However, after five appearances in Oklahoma City and not giving up a run, he was called back up to Houston on 4/27. Over the next month, he pitched relatively well amassing a 2.56 ERA in 11 appearances in May before being placed on the 15 day disabled list in late May with a right intercostal (muscle in the rib cage) strain.(Abad came off the DL on 6/15 and has pitched in three games since his return without giving up a run.)
- Troy Patton (2004) was on the opening day roster for the first time in his career. Through late May, Troy has already equaled his number of appearances (20) he had in 2011 out of the Baltimore Orioles bullpen. He is 1-0 with a 3.97 ERA in 22 2/3 innings pitched. His work as a part of the Orioles pen has helped the team to a surprising run at the lead in the American League East. (Patton has put together an impressive June with a 1.59 ERA in 11 1/3 IP).
- Jordan Lyles (2008) has split his time between AAA and the majors this season. In his seven starts at AAA he is 5-0 with a 3.54 ERA. In his four starts for Houston, he is 0-1 with a 5.73 ERA. Lyles is just 21 years old and is still developing. As of the end of May, the only person younger than Lyles to appear in the National League is Bryce Harper.(Lyles got called back up to stay in June. He has made four starts and has put together a 4.37 ERA in 22 2/3 IP).
A quick note on a player who was in the major leagues last season. Juan Gutierrez (2004) who was with the Diamondbacks last season had Tommy John surgery on his elbow in the offseason. The Diamondbacks released him and the Kansas City Royals signed him to a minor league contract. He should miss all of the 2012 season as he recovers from the surgery.
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)
Again this year, the AAA roster is full of players who have had at least a cup of coffee in the big leagues. Over 70% of the roster has major league experience. Many of these players are experienced players who can be called up to Houston to fill a need. A few are prospects who are honing their craft at the highest level of the minors. Let’s look at a few of those:
Paul Clemens was acquired from Atlanta in the Michael Bourn trade last season. He throws in the upper 90’s on a regular basis. He is trying to harness that power in OKC. He had a great start to the season with a 2.04 ERA in his four stats in April. He has not been as successful in May (10.29 ERA). He loves pitching at home where he holds a 1.57 ERA. On the road is a very different story (11.00 ERA). (He has had a better June with a 5.40 ERA and has lowered the road ERA to 9.95).
The opposite of Clemens is Dallas Keuchel. The lefty has climbed the Astros ladder after being the 7th round pick in the 2009 draft by the Astros. In his wake, he has left batters frustrated. He doesn’t strike them out with blazing speed but gets them to hit his pitch using control and command. He started the 2012 season off with seven straight starts of six innings or more pitched and three or less runs allowed.(Keuckel got called up and has made two outings. The results have been promising - 1.29 ERA in 14 IP).
Brandon Barnes (2005, 06) was re-signed by the Astros this off season as minor league free agent. He started 2011 in AA and hit .317 in 44 games with seven home runs. He was called up to AAA in the last week of May and got hits in his first two games with the RedHawks.(Barnes has continued to hit in AAA in June. He has hit .358 in 22 games this month and has only struck out 12 times in 81 at bats)
Other names to watch in AAA are Brett Wallace and Jimmy Parades who both spent significant time with the Astros last season but have returned to AAA for seasoning.(Wallace spent some time in Houston while Carlos Lee was on the DL. He showed he is ready to be the first baseman if Lee gets traded in the coming weeks.)
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, as was seen last season by the jumps from AA by J. D Martinez and Jose Altuve. There are several players here worth keeping an eye on. Here are a few of the Hooks to watch closely.
Jonathon Singleton was one of the prize prospects the Astros acquired from the Phillies in the Hunter Pence trade last season. He is seen as the top prospect in the Astros organization and the 34th best on all of baseball according to Baseball America. The 6’2” 235 pound, 20 year old plays first base and left field and bats from the left side of the plate. He is hitting .313 with nine home runs in his first 49 games this season. He could be the Astros starting first baseman as soon as next season. (He has had a rough June, hitting just .133 so far this month, Singleton will be representing the Astros in the Futures Game during All Star Weekend.)
Jonathon Villar is a shortstop who came to the Astros organization from the Phillies in the Roy Oswalt trade in 2010. He spent half of 2011 in Corpus Christi and has shown progress in the first two months of 2012; raising his batting average 20 points, getting on base more and stealing more bases. He just turned 21 at the beginning of May so he still has some time to develop. (He has hit .278 in June, raising his season average up to .259 - so almost 30 points from his stint at CC last year.)
Austin Wates is a Virginia Tech product who was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2010 draft by the Astros. After hitting .300 for Lancaster in 2011, he started 2012 in AA. He can play all three outfield positions but projects best as a left fielder. He is a line drive hitter with good speed and a little bit of power to go with it. He is hitting .298 through 50 games this season. (Waits missed much of June with an injury. He recently started a rehab stint in the GCL and should be back roaming the outfields of the Texas League soon)
Ross Seaton (2008) appears to be showing some of the promise that was expected when he was drafted in the 3rd round by the Astros in 2008. The tall righty is 22 years old and in his second season in AA, he has put together solid numbers through his first ten starts (3.28 ERA). He isn’t going to blow you away with any one pitch but he mixes them well and he doesn’t walk many batters. (He has had two great outings and two bad outings in June. Overall, his season ERA is sitting at a respectable 3.83 for the season in AA)
Brett Oberhotzer is another player the Astros acquired via trade in 2011. He was a part of the Michael Bourn deal with Atlanta. The big left throws in the low 90’s and features very good control. He is repeating AA after struggling there after the trade last year. (Has been promoted to AAA where he has made two starts. His ERA is 6.97 since his promotion)
Jarred Cosart arrived in the Houston organization as a part of the Pence trade with the Phillies. The right handed pitcher, who turned 22 in May, throws a fast ball in the upper 90’s and a good curve ball. He pitched in last years’ Futures Game as a part of All Star Weekend. He has had injury issues in the past but if he can stay healthy, he could be in Houston’s starting rotation for a long time. (He has added a solid June to his resume with a 3.48 ERA and the last two starts have been outstanding).
The AA roster has many more players worth watching including: Chris Wallace (2010), Kody Hinze (2008), Kevin Chapman, Jason Stoffel, and Jake Buchanan.
Other former Greeneville Astros on the roster include: Jose Cisnero (2009), Arcenio Leon (2007, 08), Ryan McCurdy (2010), and Henry Villar (2008)
The Astros begin their fourth season in Lancaster of the California League. There are 18 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.
Domingo Santana was the player to be named later in the Hunter Pence trade last season. Santana through his first 42 games at High A is hitting .275 with half of his 46 hits going for extra bases. The tall (6’5”) right fielder is the youngest player on the JetHawks roster and won’t turn 20 until later this summer. (His June has been solid with a .288 average but his power has dipped.)
George Springer was Houston’s first round pick last season out of the University of Connecticut. He is off to a solid start in his first full season in the minors. Through his first 49 games, he is hitting .303 with eight doubles, six triples and 10 home runs. The center fielder is projected to be on a fast track to Houston, meaning it won’t be surprising to see him in Corpus Christi before the season is over. (Springer finished the first half of the season with a .303 average.)
Jonathon Meyer (2009) is quietly putting together a very strong season in Lancaster. His average, which finished at .264 last season, is up to .284 in his first 50 games. Meyer is still 21 years old and is developing into a solid 3rd baseman. (He has hit .273 for June thus far)
Jiovanni Meir (2009) finished the 2011 season in Lancaster. He returned in 2012 and was showing signs of a break out season. He was hitting .309 through 26 games when he was sidelined with a hamstring injury. (still on the DL)
Telvin Nash (2010) has some of the best power in the Astros organization. In his first 47 games, he has already hit 14 home runs. However, he is going to have to reduce the number of strike outs in order for his power to shine at the upper levels. He appears to have really improved his defense this season. (Nash has hit another four home runs in June but has struck out 42 times in 64 at bats - ouch)
Ruben (R. J.) Alaniz continues to develop into a solid pitcher. Through his first 11 starts, he has an ERA of 3.69 and has only surrendered four home runs in the hitter friendly California League. In fact, he has not given up any home runs in his 26 innings pitched at home. His fastball is in the low 90’s and he mixes it with a solid change up and curve. He is the youngest pitcher on the JetHawks staff. (He has had three rough starts and one great start in June, giving him a 8.74 ERA for the month so far)
Other names to keep an eye on include: Eric Castro, Bobby Doran, Rene Garcia (2008), Tyson Perez (2011). (Doran has been promoted to AA).
Other former Greeneville Astros include: Jorge DeLeon (2008), Brad Dydalewicz (2008), Gabriel Garcia (2009,10), Zachary Grimmett (2008), David Martinez (2009), Brian Streinlein (2011), Jose Trinidad (2008), Pat Urckfitz (2008), Ben Orloff (2009), Alex Todd (2011), and Rafael Valenzuela (2010).
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.
Delino DeSheilds Jr (2010) is showing progress in his second season in Lexington.
His batting average is up to .252 through 51 games. He is leading the league in steals with 32 and has just been caught stealing four times. DeSheilds is also showing progress in his transition to second base. (DeShields broke the Legends season record for stolen bases in just the 69th game of the year. He now has 49 on the season. His average is up to .268 on the season thanks to hitting .311 in June.)
Matt Duffy is a 3rd baseman out of the University of Tennessee. He has put together a solid start to his first full season in the Astros organization. Through the first two months, he hit .320 in 52 games with eight homeruns and 11 doubles. With him already being 23, he might be moved up a level soon to see how he handles the next the challenge at the next level. (Duffy has hit .309 so far in June. He has also added two more doubles and three more HR to his totals)
Jordan Scott (2011) was last years MVP for Greeneville. He is patrolling left field for the Legends this season. The 20 year old has seen his numbers dip slightly as he hit .266 over the first two months of the season. (Scott struggled in June hitting just .167 in 14 games thus far. However, he has a four game hitting streak going since the All Star Break.)
Mike Foltyenwicz (2010) is another prospect repeating the South Atlantic League. He is showing he is ready to move on to another challenge. In the first two months of 2012, he was dominating; putting together a 6-1 record and a 2.27 ERA in 11 starts. (Is looking like he is ready for the next step. In June, he has made three starts and lowered his season ERA to 2.13. His record now stands at 9-1 on the year.)
Luis Cruz (2008/09) is putting together an impressive start to the 2012 season. In his third year at Lexington, the 21 year old made six starts in the month of May with an era of 1.85 in 39 innings pitched. (June has not been kind to Cruz who has allowed 14 earned runs in 17 1/3 IP. His season ERA has risen to 3.70)
Other names to watch on the Legends roster include: John Hinson, Mike Kvasnicka, Nicholas Tropeano, Evan Grills, and Luis Ordosgotti (2011).
Other former G-Stros who are on the roster include: Chan Moon (2011), Jesse Wierzbicki (2011), Roberto Pena (2010), Carlos Quevedo (2009), Murilo Gouvea (2009), Nathan Pettus (2009), and Euris Quezada (2010) (Jay Austin (2008) has been added to the team as he works his way back from a broken hand. Wierzbicki has been moved down to Tri Cities).
Short Season Teams
The Astros operate a facility in the Dominican Republic to host the Dominican Summer League Astros. This facility will help prepare young foreign born 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.
Former Greeneville Players Now Playing In Other Organizations
Sometimes the climb up the ladder requires you make a detour. You move from one organizations ladder to another organizations ladder. Sometimes these moves come as a result of a trade and sometimes it comes when a player becomes a free agent and signs with a different organization. Here is a list of former G-Stros along with their new organization and the level they were playing at on June 1, 2012.
Albert Cartwright (2007/08) High A - Clearwater (Phillies) (has gotten hot in June hitting .333 for the month)
Koby Clemens (2005) Short Season A - Vancouver (Toronto) (Moved up to High A Dunedin as a catcher)
Victor Garate (2005) AAA – Nashville (Brewers) (7.15 ERA in 26 games)
Sammy Gervacio (2005) AAA – Aguascalientes (Mexican League) (15 saves in 22 games)
Ralph Henriquez (2005/06) AAA – Tacoma (Mariners) (Moved back down to AA Jackson of the Southern League)
Jordan Parraz (2004) AAA – Gwinnett (Braves) (On the DL since a broken hand on 5/7)
Wlad Sutil (2004) AA – Mobile (Diamondbacks) (hitting .225 on the season)
J. R. Towles (2004) AAA – Rochester (Twins) (Struggling at the plate with a .205 average for the season)
Tom Vessella (2006) AA – Richmond (Giants) (2.94 ERA in 23 games of relief)
Amandeo Zazueta (2006) AAA – Tuscon (Padres) (hitting .174 on the year)
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 2012, 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.