Tagged: Spring Training

Gathering Speed

As word spreads of the gross injustice committed by Bud Selig’s office, the Sunshine Kids are getting donations from baseball fans all over the country.  ESPN and other news organizations reported this story and the Houston Chronicle’s John Lopez is blogging about it. 

One way for all Astros fans and baseball fans all over the world to protest is to email the commissioner and to call his office on Monday morning.  You can email him at bud.selig@mlb.com and call his office at 212-931-7800.

Another way is to donate to the Sunshine Kids and wear the pin and/or yellow shirts at Opening Day.  In Houston, when Biggio leads the position players out to the field, the fans should give him a standing ovation.  There is no better way to let the Commish know he screwed up royally than to have 40,000 plus fans wearing yellow being shown on Sports Center.

This is a gathering firestorm and the longer Bud Selig and his office keep Craig Biggio from wearing the Sunshine Kids Pin, the more destructive it will be for Major League Baseball and Commissioner Selig’s image.

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Die Hard The Hunter

The Big Hoopla:

Hunter Pence has certainly opened up many eyes and got many tongues wagging in Kissimmee and Houston this month.  Unfortunately it’s gotten to the point where some fans now believe Pence is the second coming of the Messiah. 

From sports radio hosts to newspaper columnists’ blogs, everyone in Houston is on the Hunter Pence bandwagon.  Phrases such as "a five-tool player like Carlos Beltran", "special player", "phenom", and "next super star" are flying all too wildly around Houston right now.  Granted, Pence is hitting for an unbelievable average of .750 so far this spring.  But, Hunter has also stood in the batter’s box only 12 times so far.  The sample is too small to extrapolate greatness or bust from. 

Too many people, fans and reporters alike, are calling for Pence to get a slot on the 25 man roster based on the 12 at bats in 6 games.  No one is thinking of the pressure this will put on a kid who’s at his first major league spring training camp.  Hunter Pence may be 24 years old and possibly ready to play at the major league level, but, I believe as the Astros management appears to do that he needs at least some seasoning at the AAA level. 

Tim Purpura is publicly saying that they want him to get some exposure to better pitching than he’s seen so far in AA, but, my personal belief is that they remember the DWI incident in Phoenix last year and just want to give the kid some time to mature as a person before thrusting him into the limelight of having to perform at the major league level in Houston.

Houston fans may not be as bad as New York or Philly fans as far as booing their own players is concerned, but just ask Morgan Ensberg, Jason Lane and Brad Lidge how they felt as they went from hero to fall-guy in just a few months as they got booed by the fans at Minute Maid Park in 2006.

My opinion certainly isn’t popular with Astros fans right now, but, I do believe as do Tim Purpura and Phil Garner, that Pence needs to start and play regularly in Round Rock in April instead of riding pine in Houston. 

While Pence is getting all the attention, a few of the minor league and non-roster invitee pitchers are quietly making a very strong case for being inserted into the number 5 slot of the Astros starting rotation.  Paul (pronounced Pah-ool) Estrada (3 innings, 0.00 ERA), Matt Albers (4 innings, 0.00 ERA), and Rick White (4 innings, 0.00 ERA) have not only not given up any earned runs, but they have also looked very sharp with good command of their pitches.

Other Astros Notes:

Roger Clemens was once again pitching batting practice to the minor leaguers in the back fields at Osceola County Stadium today.  One non-minor league batter that he pitched to was none other than Astros owner Drayton McLane.  In other Clemens news, he’s expected to attend the Yankees game tonight to lend moral support to Andy Pettitte.

The Venezuela-Texas Pipeline

Spring is in the air and all the position players have reported to camp.  As practice begins in earnest, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the players who will make or break the Astros’ playoff hopes in years to come.

The Astros farm system has produced superstars like Roy Oswalt, Craig Biggio, Lance Berkman, and those that got away like Bobby Abreu, Johann Santana, and Freddy Garcia.

The Astros were the first MLB organization to tap the Venezuelan pipeline.  It garnered them players like Abreu, Santana, and Hidalgo.  The future for the Astros is still in Venezuela as catcher Hector Gimenez, pitchers Fernando Nieve, Juan Gutierrez, and Paul Estrada go through the workouts in Kissimmee and try to impress manager Phil Garner.

In recent years however, the Astros have also tapped into the homegrown talent pool by signing prospects from Texas such as Lance Berkman (New Braunfels), Hunter Pence (Dallas), Troy Patton (Tomball), Matt Albers (Sugarland), Koby Clemens (Houston), and Chris Sampson (Channelview). 

They have also signed and traded for major leaguers from Texas or with Texas ties like Woody Williams (Houston), Brandon Backe (Galveston), Jason Jennings (Dallas), and Carlos Lee (owns cattle ranch southwest of Houston).  There is always a chance that the "Katy Rocket" will put on the Astros pinstripes for one more year in June.

Believing greatly in giving second chances to hometowners, the Astros have invited quite a few players with Texas ties to spring training this year.  Among those given an invitation to the big league camp are pitchers Stephen Randolph (Houston), Kevin Walker (Irving), and Venezuelan-born, but part of the Astros family, outfielder Richard Hidalgo.

Of course, not all of the non-roster invitees or young Venezuelan and Texan prospects will make the 25-man roster this year. Next year, however, after staff ace Roy Oswalt, the Astros could very well have an all-Texan rotation in Jason Jennings, Woody Williams, Brandon Backe and either Matt Albers or Chris Sampson. Of course, a Clemens return could make it Oswalt and the all Texas team this year too.

For 2008 and beyond, it will be up to the youngsters in the organization like Pence, Patton, Nieve, Gutierrez, Gimenez and others like Luke Scott, Chris Burke, Chad Qualls, Dan Wheeler, Brad Lidge and Morgan Ensberg to show they belong in the same clubhouse as proven performers like Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee.  If these players can be as good as the Astros believe they can be, they will make the Astros a truly elite organization and a perennial playoff team.

Who Let The Dogs Out?

Who let the dogs out?  Who? Who?

That song may just start blaring again at Minute Maid Park, three years after it was last heard.  If this brings back memories of Richard "Doggie" Hidalgo, then you’re right.  "Doggie" may just be back in an Astros uniform in 2007.

There are rumors circulating around Houston that the Astros are considering offering Hidalgo a minor league contract and an invitation to spring training based on his performance in the Venezuelan Winter League.  Al Pedrique, the manager of the Navegantes del Magallanes and head of the Astros Venezuelan Baseball Operations is said to be pushing strongly for him.

Richard Hidalgo won’t get a starting spot in the outfield, but, he could very well take a bench spot, mainly as a defensive replacement for Chris Burke in Center Field or platooning with Luke Scott in Right Field.  He finished the Venezuelan Winter season with a batting average of .273, OPS of .840 and was tied with the 2nd most home runs in the entire league with 9.   Richard used to have a cannon for an arm while an Astro and as late as 2005, he was still putting up a .989 fpct in Right Field and the few games he played at Center, he was perfect.

If Hidalgo is invited to and does well in spring training, Jason Lane will lose his roster spot.  Lane, who also played a few games in Venezuela this winter, finished his stint there with a .143 batting average and a .502 OPS.