Houston Astros Rumors
Kevin Gausman, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2012 draft, made his Major League debut for the Orioles last night. In a poll on Wednesday, roughly 39 percent of MLBTR readers agreed that Michael Wacha of the Cardinals would be the next first-round pick from last year's draft to make the leap to the big leagues. There are less than two weeks until the 2013 draft, and we'll keep track of today's draft-related news here...
- The first mock draft from Jim Callis of Baseball America had the Astros taking Mark Appel No. 1 overall, but his newest version has the Astros taking Jonathan Gray. That leaves Appel to go to the Cubs at No. 2, but it's not clear right now who the Cubs would take between the two pitchers if Houston winds up taking a hitter instead.
- Callis views Sean Manaea as a complete wild card in this year's draft (Twitter link). He likens the Indiana State lefty to Lucas Giolito, who the Nationals drafted 16th overall last year. Like Giolito, Manaea was once considered a possible No. 1 overall selection, but injuries have caused his stock to fall and it's highly difficult to predict where he'll land.
- Prep catcher Reese McGuire will have to make a tough choice between attending college and going pro, but he's eager for the draft nonetheless, writes MLB.com's Doug Miller. While McGuire has a great opportunity to play ball at the University of San Diego, he might not be able to resist the pull of the majors if goes as high as he is projected to. MLB.com currently has the catcher going No. 11 to the Mets.
- McGuire isn't the only high school catcher who is drawing interest from clubs at the top of the draft, writes Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com. Behind him are Jon Denney from Oklahoma and South Carolina's Nick Ciuffo.
MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo was asked on Twitter where high school outfielder Clint Frazier, whom many expect to go in the Top 10 of the MLB Draft, ranks in comparison to high school talents from previous drafts. Mayo notes that it's hard to ignore hindsight and view players in the same light as he did when they were amateurs, but he ranked Frazier as the eighth-best talent among 36 high school hitters selected in the first round dating back to 2009. Here's more on the draft...
- The Astros have six players on their draft board but Frazier looks to be edging out Austin Meadows, leaving them with Frazier, Mark Appel, Jonathan Gray, Kris Bryant and Colin Moran, according to Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle. Bryant and Frazier are seen as dark horses if the team decides Appel and Gray aren't worth the money they're asking. Should Scott Boras and Appel highball the Astros, money will become an issue. Smith notes that it's very close between Appel and Gray, adding that Gray has ties to the Astros and is open to negotiating (All links to Smith's Twitter account).
- Cubs president Theo Epstein, GM Jed Hoyer, top scouting/player development executive Jason McLeod and amateur scouting director Jaron Madison are currently in Oklahoma City to meet with Gray, writes Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. The Cubs are still expected to take either Gray or Appel at No. 2 overall.
- Bill Kiser of MLB.com profiles prep right-hander Hunter Harvey, whose stock has risen enough that he's considered a likely first-rounder. Harvey is the son of former MLB closer Bryan Harvey, who saved an AL-best 46 saves in 1991 and made two All-Star teams. The younger Harvey has a 0.38 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 54 2/3 high school innings this season. Harvey, whose fastball sits in the mid-90s and has touched 97, also features a solid curveball. Mayo had him going 25th to the Giants in his mock draft, while John Sickels of Minorleagueball.com has him going 30th to the Rangers and ESPN's Keith Law (Insider req'd) has him at No. 24 to the Athletics.
Jose Altuve's fling with the Boras Corporation has ended. The Astros' second baseman recently left Boras and signed with Scott Pucino and Wil Polidor of Octagon, where he had been before, reported MLB.com's Brian McTaggart last night. Though Altuve was with Boras for about a year, the switch went under the radar.
"It's not our business," commented Astros GM Jeff Luhnow regarding his players' choice of agency. Asked last week about extending Altuve, Luhnow said, "We'll consider any opportunity to keep him here over the long haul." Boras clients rarely sign team-friendly extensions early in their careers. As far as I can tell, a Boras client has never signed a deal that bought out free agent years with less than two years of big league service, and the only such deal with a Boras client with less than three years was Carlos Gonzalez's precedent-setting contract in January 2011. Bottom line: the switch back to Octagon increases the chances of the Astros getting a deal done, if they're so inclined.
Altuve, 23, is hitting .327/.361/.430 in 180 plate appearances this season and is bidding to represent the Astros at the All-Star game for the second consecutive year. He'll have two years of Major League service time after the season. Alcides Escobar (four years, $10.5MM) and Cameron Maybin (five years, $25MM) may provide a few imperfect points of reference, having signed as low-power players with two-plus years of service. Altuve's resume should look better than those comps, given his strong batting averages and the potential pair of All-Star nods. Perhaps he can get around $30MM on a five-year deal. The Astros have some leverage, however, as home run and RBI power pays in arbitration, and that's not Altuve's game (though he could knock in 70 this year). Plus, he won't be arbitration eligible until after the 2014 season and is under team control through 2017, so there's no reason for Luhnow to make a player-friendly offer.
The Rangers have placed Ian Kinsler on the disabled list with an intercostal strain and recalled middle infielder and top prospect Jurickson Profar, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News writes. Profar already had a cup of coffee last September, collecting 17 big-league at-bats. But the promotion of the No. 1 player on recent top prospect listings from Baseball America, Keith Law, and MLB.com is cause for excitement. The Baseball America Prospect Handbook praises Profar's all-around game, particularly his bat speed, plate discipline and defense, noting that "Profar may not have the most power, the most speed or the strongest arm on the field, but he's typically the best player out there."
Profar, 20, has hit .278/.370/.438 for Triple-A Round Rock so far this year. He is already on the 40-man roster. If he sticks in the big leagues, he would be eligible for free agency after the 2019 season, and he would be a Super Two player, meaning that he would be arbitration-eligible after the 2015 season. Super Two status would only be an issue if the Rangers kept Profar in the big leagues much of the rest of the season, however, and it remains to be seen what they will do with Profar once Kinsler returns from injury.
Here are more notes from the AL West.
- Astros GM Jeff Luhnow and owner Jim Crane watched a potential draft pick in Chapel Hill Saturday (likely UNC third baseman Colin Moran), and Luhnow says he's pleased that Crane came along, MLB.com's Brian McTaggart reports. "We don't comment on Draft-eligible players for obvious reasons, but we continue to put in a lot of time against it, and it was great Jim was willing to go out and see a player with his own eyes," says Luhnow. "We might try another couple before it's all said and done."
- The Mariners blew it by missing out on Michael Bourn this winter, Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times argues. "[T]he Bourn thing, for me, is a classic example of how this rebuilding process has played out for the Mariners," says Baker. "It’s taken a long time to get where we are and I do think we could have seen some better baseball a bit quicker had the Mariners spent some dough this winter and in prior ones to shore-up where they were lacking." Bourn is hitting .311/.363/.473 and has been a key contributor to one of baseball's best offenses with the Indians, while the Mariners have the worst offense in the American League. The Mariners do have the No. 12 overall pick in the upcoming draft, however, and they would have had to forfeit that pick if they had signed Bourn.
Credit Dodgers' scouting director Logan White for ensuring that Clayton Kershaw's big league successes have come in a Dodger uniform, says Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. The club had targeted Kershaw and Evan Longoria in the 2006 draft, but were worried that neither would last until the team's seventh overall pick. Several pieces had to fall into place: Luke Hochevar failed to sign in 2005, leading to his being taken first overall the next year. Meanwhile, with many scouts on hand for the last pre-draft starts of Kershaw and Brad Lincoln, the former struggled while the latter dominated. Lincoln went fourth overall to the Pirates. According to White, with Longoria already off the board to the Rays, the Dodgers "were hoping and praying Clayton would get to us." That's just what happened: consensus top arm Andrew Miller fell, perhaps owing to signabilty concerns, and was nabbed by the Tigers at number six, leaving Kershaw for L.A. The decision to take Kershaw caused some initial consternation when Tim Lincecum, taken with the tenth pick by the rival Giants, began his career with a bang. Now, of course, the Dodgers (and their fans) could not be more pleased with their selection. Here are a few more notes from the leagues' western divisions:
- With the Rockies off to an up-and-down start, the Denver Post's Woody Paige has some harsh words for the team's ownership and management. He says that, with a top-12 attendance but a bottom-7 payroll, the club appears "content to produce a .500 team." Among the decisions Paige disagrees with are the team's apparent intention to rely on veteran pitchers like Roy Oswalt and Jon Garland while former top prospect Drew Pomeranz toils in Triple-A and Tyler Chatwood bounces between the minors and the big club. He also faults the club for going with the now-departed Chris Nelson and Reid Brignac instead of bringing up Nolan Arenado and DJ LeMahieu to start the season. He warns that the Rockies could be in danger of losing the affections of stars Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. Unhappy superstars can always cause problems by demanding a trade, of course, but it is worth noting that Colorado has no immediate need to sell its shortstop and left fielder on staying in town. Tulowitzki is inked through at least 2020 (with a 2021 club option), while Gonzalez is under contract through 2017.
- Despite four starters on the disabled list, the Rangers lead the American League in ERA (3.38). Richard Justice of MLB.com writes that the success of the pitching staff is attributable to GM Jon Daniels's efforts to create a deep, talented organization. Likewise, Justice praises Daniels's confidence to enter the season without prior stalwarts Michael Young, Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Mike Adams, and Koji Uehara, and to bring in veterans Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski on one-year deals. The 37-year-old Berkman, in particular, has hit .299/.422/.465 in 154 plate appearances as the club's primary DH.
- Astros GM Jeff Luhnow says it is still too early for the club to narrow down its likely pick with the first choice in the upcoming amateur draft, tweets Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle. The club will likely have more clarity when it conducts staff meetings in early June, Smith further tweets.
- As the Astros gear up for an important draft, the club is holding a series of four regional player workouts, writes Brian McTaggart of MLB.com. According to scouting director Mike Elias, the workouts will allow the club to "get up close and personal with the process and see some guys further down the list." He further notes that the process was utilized with success by the Cardinals: "It really helps those players get drafted and helps us make better decisions in the draft."
- Meanwhile, Houston is beginning to see returns from its efforts to develop a pipeline of talent from the Dominican Republic. According to another tweet from Smith, Luhnow is excited about the first Dominican prospect that the club's efforts produced. Jose Cisnero, a right-hander that was originally signed in 2007, checked in at fifteenth on Baseball America's ranking of the club's prospects and has been pitching from the club's bullpen this year.
With one-fourth of the season in the books, let's have a look around some injury situations and how they might impact the developing trade market.
- The Cardinals and Yankees provide an interesting case study as we enter the second quarter of the season. Both have excellent records and lead their division. Both have sizeable payrolls as well as large portions of those payrolls sitting idle on the DL. Both have had to insert players onto their active roster that they did not anticipate. But, as Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch well explains, the source of those substitute bodies has been drastically different. While the Yankees spent well over $20MM to bring in players like Lyle Overbay, Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner, and Vernon Wells -- all of whom are 34 or older -- the Cards reached into their minor league system. Remarkably, St. Louis has plugged all of its holes with players making league minimum, including young pitchers John Gast, Shelby Miller, and Seth Maness.
- The Goold piece also includes some valuable insight from GM John Mozeliak. According to Mozeliak, amongst the team's Double-A and Triple-A rosters, "there is almost at any one position, if we needed help at the big leagues, someone we could call on from there." He acknowledges that such cheap, youthful depth cannot always be achieved, and says the team is prepared to pursue other markets as necessary. "I don't want us to go down the path where we feel like we've created this functional model and don't utilize a really robust pro scouting model that makes sure we understand the trade market and understand the free agent market. We can't be scared of those." Yet, by looking internally first, the team has managed to retain salary flexibility to add outside impact down the line. "This organization's way now of staying healthy is not being tied to those outside markets to fill needs," says Mozeliak. "Having some young players step up like they are now gives us additional flexibility when we're going to need it."
- The Cards' internal depth will once again be put to use with starter Jaime Garcia now staring at a strong possibility of season-ending shoulder surgery, writes Goold. Even with fellow starter Jake Westbrook also stuck on the DL, the team has multiple options among its current relief corps and Triple-A rotation that make a look outside the organization unlikely. Of course, it remains to be seen whether Garcia's replacement(s) can match his strong start to the year. He had thrown 55 1/3 innings of 3.58 ERA baseball to open the season. Veteran starter Chris Carpenter is increasingly shaping up as a viable mid-season option for the club. But any setback in his surprising recovery, or hiccups among the team's young hurlers, could lead St. Louis to consider eventually utilizing some of its salary reserves and young minor league depth in a trade.
- The Braves are another National League contender dealing with injured arms. As Matt Snyder of CBSSports.com's Matt Snyder writes, Eric O'Flaherty appears likely to join fellow setup man Jonny Venters as a season-ending Tommy John patient. While the team seems likely to utilize internal options to fill in for the present, the loss of its two late-inning lefties leaves the team with just one southpaw in the pen, Luis Avilan. Ultimately, then, Atlanta could be forced to explore the trade market to re-establish its depth as the season wears on.
- Teams shopping for starters at the trade deadline appear likely to find a limited supply of attractive arms, says ESPN.com's Buster Olney (Insider subscription required). Two Cubs pitchers headline the developing market, with Scott Feldman shaping up as the surprise top option at the moment. (Matt Garza, of course, will begin his potential audition on Tuesday.) In addition to several other well-documented trade candidates in Ricky Nolasco of the Marlins and the Astros' Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell, Olney pegs the Padres' Jason Marquis and Edinson Volquez as likely available. Meanwhile, Bartolo Colon of the Athletics and Cliff Lee of the Phillies could also be dealt, writes Olney, with the A's having other internal options and the Phils still weighing how to proceed with their excellent (but expensive) 35-year-old co-ace.
The Astros will hold one of four regional draft workouts on Sunday, MLB.com's Brian McTaggart reports. Sunday's workout will be near Los Angeles. Others will be held in Florida, Georgia and Houston. About 20 prospects have been invited to Sunday's workout. It's unclear who they are, but some potential No. 1 overall picks are expected to participate in the workouts. Houston-area high schoolers Cavan Biggio, Josh Pettitte and Kacy Clemens -- all sons of former Astros stars -- are likely to be invited to the Houston workout. Here are more notes on the upcoming draft.
- Baseball America's list of the top 250 2013 Amateur Draft prospects is headed by Oklahoma pitcher Jonathan Gray. BA's scouting report (subscription-only) compares Gray's evolution as a prospect to that of former top overall pick Stephen Strasburg, and his stuff to that of another former top pick, Gerrit Cole. Stanford pitcher Mark Appel comes in at No. 2, followed by San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant.
- John Sickels' latest mock draft for MinorLeagueBall.com still has Appel going to the Astros, with Gray going at No. 2 to the Cubs, noting that Appel and Gray are by far the best pitchers available. Sickels' first real outside-the-box prediction is Mississippi State outfielder Hunter Renfroe heading to Miami at No. 6 -- Renfroe's stock has been rising, and Sickels guesses he might appeal to the cost-conscious Marlins.
- Appel isn't worried what fans might think of his decision to turn down the Pirates after they selected him at No. 8 overall in 2012, Chelsea Janes of USA Today sports writes. "I've always been someone that's kind of a people pleaser; I think most people are. They don't like it when people don't like them," says Appel. "I learned very quickly that it's going to be very difficult to please everyone."
The impending return of Franklin Gutierrez from the disabled list could lead the Mariners to designate Endy Chavez for assignment, Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times writes. The M's have no plans to carry six outfielders, and Baker thinks they won't drop Jason Bay or Raul Ibanez, since they've been hitting well. That leaves Chavez without a chair. Chavez has hit .282/.288/.310 so far this season. Here are more notes from the two West divisions.
- Astros GM Jeff Luhnow and owner Jim Crane are in Chapel Hill today to watch a draft prospect, Mark Berman of FOX 26 reports (on Twitter). That would likely be UNC third baseman Colin Moran, who the Astros could be considering selecting with the top overall pick.
- The Angels could form a good team of players they've traded, let go or left unsigned, Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times argues. That includes Matt Harvey, who rejected their $1MM offer and went to UNC after the Angels drafted him in the third round in 2007. DiGiovanna writes that Harvey, Patrick Corbin, Zack Greinke, Ervin Santana and Dan Haren would form a very strong non-Angels rotation. The Angels' 15-27 record naturally leads to second-guessing.
- Dodgers president Stan Kasten says he assumes Don Mattingly will remain the team's manager for the rest of the season, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times reports. Nonetheless, Kasten doesn't exactly offer a ringing endorsement of Mattingly. "I assume so because I assume we're going to play the rest of the year even better than we've played so far and I like the way the ballclub is set up," Kasten says. The Dodgers are currently 17-23.
- Kasten sounds more enthusiastic about about the Dodgers' international scouting efforts. "With this recent group of hirings, we made sure to cover not just Japan and not just the Dominican Republic, but also more in Venezuela and even other countries in South America," Kasten says, noting that the Dodgers are also hunting for talent throughout Europe. Hernandez reports that the Dodgers are also planning to renovate their Dominican facility.
The Astros have trimmed payroll to unheard of levels for today's game over the past year as they look to rebuild their franchise, but it appears that they're not afraid to spend if it meant keeping Jose Altuve around long-term. General manager Jeff Luhnow told Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle that the team "will consider any opportunity to keep [Altuve] here over the long haul" (Twitter links).
Altuve, 23, has established himself as an asset at second base over the past three seasons. Though he stands just 5'5" and weighs 175 pounds, he's an accomplished hitter. Altuve has a .294/.336/.397 batting line in 1,031 career plate appearances. In 2012, he swiped 33 bases and clubbed seven home runs. His defense graded out poorly according to UZR and The Fielding Bible in 2012, but it's been stellar in this season's small sample according to both metrics.
There's certainly no rush for the Astros, as Altuve still has less than two full years of service time and won't be eligible for arbitration until after the 2014 season. As it stands right now, the Astros control Altuve through the 2017 season, after which he will still be just 27 years old.
A look at MLBTR's Extension Tracker shows that Luhnow hasn't yet completed an extension since taking over as the team's general manager, but Altuve's agents at Octagon are no strangers to such deals. Octagon has negotiated high-profile multiyear contracts for Felix Hernandez, Miguel Montero, Ben Zobrist and Yovani Gallardo, to name a few.
Here's your rundown of minor moves for Friday...
- Astros right-hander Philip Humber has accepted his outright assignment to Triple-A Oklahoma City, reports Brian McTaggart of MLB.com (via Twitter). Today was the deadline for Humber to decide to report to Triple-A or elect free agency after being outrighted off the 40-man roster earlier this week.
- The Nationals have acquired minor league catcher Brian Jeroloman from the Pirates, according to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (on Twitter). The 28-year-old was hitting .222/.481/.278 thanks to his nine walks in 29 plate appearances for Triple-A Indianapolis. Mark Zuckerman of CSN Washington adds that the Nats gave up cash for Jeroloman because they needed catching depth with Jhonatan Solano back in the Majors and Wilson Ramos on the DL (Twitter links). Jeroloman is a career .235/.349/.305 hitter in 122 Triple-A games.
- Right-hander Blaine Boyer exercised the out clause in his minor league deal with the Royals and became a free agent, tweets Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star. Boyer hasn't pitched in the bigs since 2011. He has a 4.81 ERA in 234 career innings after being selected by the Braves in the third round in 2000. Boyer posted a 3.00 ERA, 10.8 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9 in 15 innings for the Royals' Triple-A affiliate, though he allowed four unearned runs as well and served up three homers.