Brooks Conrad who replaced Hunter Pence in the Arizona Fall League is tearing it up and giving the Astros the option of trading Chris Burke if it nets them a #2 or #3 starter. His batting average in 11 games is an impressive .359 with a .480 on base percentage and .612 slugging for an OPS of 1,092. Pence before he was sent back due to his DUI had an avg of .345 with an .868 OPS in 15 games.
Others that are doing well in the Arizona Fall League are pitchers Mark McLemore and Matt Albers. McLemore is 2-0 with a 4.76 ERA in 10 games with 1 start. He has pitched 17 innings with a WHIP of 1.24. Albers, a native of the Houston suburb of Sugarland is 0-1 but has an impressive ERA of 3.14 in 6 games started with a WHIP of 1.25 in 16 innings pitched.
An honorable mention goes to Troy Patton, also from the Houston area, for posting a 2-0 W/L record with a 4.80 ERA and 1 save in 9 games and 15 innings pitched with a WHIP of 1.33.
Down south, in the Venezuelan Winter League, the Astros have three players they are keeping their eye on. Former Astro and Venezuelan native Richard Hidalgo has slipped a bit from his torrid start to post a current average of .252 with 6 HRs and OPS of .766.
Round Rock Catcher Hector Gimenez is faring better in his native Venezuela with an average of .302 in 18 games with an OBP of .377 and OPS of .924.
The nicest surprise and feel good story from the Venezuelan league may just be Carlos Hernandez who pitched for the Astros’ AA team in Corpus Christi in 2006. Carlos is a guy the Astros don’t want to give up on it seems–Since his pinch-start debut in the bigs in 2001 until his freak injury while running the bases in 2002, Hernandez was the Astros most promising lefty starter–equal to Roy Oswalt in prospect status. Carlos underwent shoulder surgery for a torn labrum in 2002 and was never quite the same. He has worked hard to regain the velocity in his fast ball ever since then. In 2004 he went 1-3 in 9 games started for the Astros, posting an ERA of 6.43.
The Astros have a reputation of being an organization that takes care of its people and they certainly showed it with the way they have handled Carlos Hernandez–they always invited him to spring training and gave him spots in AAA and AA in 2005 and 2006, rewarding his hard work and effort to come back from such a difficult surgery. They gave up on Wade Miller in 2004 after Miller had similar surgery due to the fact that he wasn’t willing to change his pitching mechanics nor work hard in rehab. Miller just signed a new contract with the Cubs although he pitched less than 25 innings for them in 2006.
Carlos Hernandez will be afforded yet another chance to make the big league roster based on his VWL stats if they hold up. While MIller posted a 4.57 ERA in 5 starts for the Chicago Cubs, Carlos has posted a record of 2-2 with an ERA of 3.35 in 8 starts and 40.1 innings pitched.
Hernandez and Miller both went thru basically the same surgery and based upon what Hernandez’ stats are, it will take Wade Miller another year still with a whole lot more committment to rehab to get to the point that Carlos is at now. It’s a very long road to recovery from torn labrum surgery and Carlos Hernandez has shown that he is willing to be one of the few who ever recover from it to pitch in the bigs again.
Richard Hidalgo is playing for the Navegantes del Magallanes in Venezuela this winter. While that in itself isn’t big news, it could mean the return of Dawgie to Houston as a bench player.
The Magallanes are managed this year by Al Pedrique the new Head of Astros Latin American Operations. If Richard is mounting a comeback, at least right now he seems to be well on his way. After a slow start, he is hitting .333 with 4 home runs in the last 10 games.
A good impression in the Venezuelan Winter League will probably result in a non-roster invitation to Kissimmee in 2007. I wouldn’t mind seeing Hidalgo back in an Astros uniform because he may be a better righty option off the bench than Lane, who could be traded as part of a package for a starting pitcher. If Pettitte doesn’t make up his mind soon or decides to retire, it will be imperative the Astros sign a decent free agent like Wolf, Williams or Lilly and add one more veteran starter via trade if they have any hopes at all of a return to the playoffs in 2007.