Houston Astros Rumors
Reid Ryan will be named Astros team president Friday, reports MLB.com's Brian McTaggart. Earlier, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported Ryan was the team's likely successor to George Postolos, who resigned this week. Mark Berman of FOX 26 Sports first reported yesterday that Ryan was a strong candidate to become the team's president.
Reid, 41, is a son of Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, who formerly served as president of the Rangers and is now the team's CEO. Reid is the founder and CEO of the Round Rock Express, currently the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate, and the Corpus Christi Hooks, the Astros' Double-A affiliate. In 1994-95, he pitched in the minor leagues in the Rangers organization after being drafted out of TCU.
Catching depth throughout baseball is thin. When I rolled out my Top 100 Prospects list at FanGraphs in March, I had only four catchers included in that ranking: Travis d'Arnaud of the Mets, Mike Zunino of the Mariners, Austin Hedges of the Padres, and Gary Sanchez of the Yankees. Baseball America's list featured the same four backstops. Baseball Prospectus also had that same quartet, followed by two more names in Jorge Alfaro of the Rangers and Christian Bethancourt of the Braves.
As witnessed by the lists, it's an accomplishment for any organization to have one good catching prospect in a minor league system, let alone two. The New York Yankees organization is enviable in that regard. Sanchez, 20, has been a mainstay on the top prospects lists since he signed out of Venezuela in 2009 as a 16-year-old amateur free agent. He showed up as high as 42nd overall on the three lists mentioned above, and no lower than 57th. The offensive-minded catcher has impressive offensive skills, including plus raw power. His ascent through the Yankees system can be best described as slow and steady.
Signed the same year as Sanchez, J.R. Murphy was selected out of the high school ranks in the second round of the amateur draft and he's just beginning to receive the attention he deserves. A front office contact who is familiar with the catching prospect told MLBTR that Murphy "was signed as a player [people] thought would hit and might be able to catch."
The 22-year-old prospect has flashed offensive potential in the past with good control of the strike zone, gap power and the ability to hit for a respectable average -- but inconsistency has been his downfall at the plate. So far this year, the Florida native is hitting .308 with 12 extra base hits, as well as 16 walks and 17 strikeouts in 28 games.
During the early stages of his pro career, Murphy struggled with receiving the ball and throwing out runners, while also dabbling with the idea of playing third base. He turned the corner in his development behind the plate in 2012 with his success rate at gunning down base runners jumping to more than 30 percent for the first time. So far in 2013, he's just shy of throwing out 50 percent of baserunners while playing at Double-A, one step ahead of his fellow catching prospect.
The talent evaluator who spoke with MLBTR said the Yankees organization thinks very highly of Murphy. "Due to his diligence, ability and the focused hard work of our coaches, he has become a defensive plus. He is on track to become a quality major league catcher," he said. "He receives the ball well and is an above-average thrower. He has the intelligence and game awareness to manage a game at the major league level."
Currently in his fifth pro season, Murphy will need to be added to the 40-man roster by the November deadline to be protected from the annual Rule 5 draft. If added, he'll be granted three option years that will allow him to be shuttled between the majors and the minors during that time frame.
The 10th overall selection in the 2008 amateur draft, Jason Castro's career development has been slowed by trips to the disabled list. In fact, he lost the entire 2011 season to a serious knee injury. Perhaps hampered by the lost playing time, the Astros' starting catcher's offense has not developed as hoped. Still just 25, the Stanford alum has time to jump-start his bat, but Houston has accumulated some solid catching depth in the past year.
Acquired last year from Toronto in a 10-player deal that sent J.A. Happ and two other pitchers to Toronto, catching prospect Carlos Perez has enjoyed the change of scenery. After spending five years in Rookie ball and Low-A ball with the conservative Blue Jays player development program, the Astros loosened the reins on the young player and he responded favorably. In less than a year, the 22-year-old Venezuela native reached Triple-A and is hitting above .300 while playing steady defense. Houston will almost certainly want to protect him prior to this year's Rule 5 draft at the Baseball Winter Meetings.
Tyler Heineman flew under the radar a bit as an eighth round draft pick out of the University of California, Los Angeles in 2012. Since signing, though, he's done nothing but hit. The switch-hitter posted a .352 batting average with 26 walks and 12 strikeouts in 55 games during his short-season debut last year. Jumped all the way to High-A to open 2013, Heineman has hit .329 with just eight strikeouts in 23 games.
Not flashy and with below-average power, the catching prospect shares a similar profile to that of seven-year big leaguer Ryan Hanigan of the Reds. The big challenge for the backstop is to continue polishing his defensive skills to meet the high standards set at the big league level. Time is on Heineman's side as he doesn't have to be added to the 40-man roster until after the 2015 season, which would then buy him three option years.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays opened the 2012 season with the most impressive collection of catching depth in baseball with J.P. Arencibia at the major league level and a plethora of impressive prospects including d'Arnaud, Yan Gomes, Perez, A.J. Jimenez, and Santiago Nessy. Since midway through the 2012 season, Toronto has traded away d'Arnaud (Mets), Gomes (Indians) and Perez (Astros) in an effort to improve the pitching depth at the big league level.
The two remaining catchers have the talent to be considered among the club's Top 10 best prospects. Unfortunately, both have also been bitten by the injury bug. Jimenez blew out his elbow during the 2012 season and underwent Tommy John surgery. The club has been cautious with him in 2013 and he's already missed a little time after experiencing soreness in his surgically-repaired elbow. Nessy received his first full-season assignment in 2013 and was off to a respectable start before suffering a concussion while trying to breakup a double play at second base. He has plus raw power and has made huge strides on the defensive side of his game.
Prospect Tidbits: Seattle's Zunino was considered the cream-of-the-crop when it came to eligible catching prospects in the 2012 amateur draft. Fast forward to 2013 and the University of Florida alum has already reached Triple-A. Two other highly-drafted catchers from 2012 are making names for themselves with solid play so far this season.
Perhaps the hottest hitter in the South Atlantic League, the Mets' Kevin Plawecki (drafted 35th overall) is currently hitting .374 through 35 games in Low-A ball. He's also flashed power with 25 of his 49 hits going for extra bases. If he keeps up this pace, a promotion to High-A or Double-A should be in the cards. Rockies catching prospect Tom Murphy (third round) has appeared in only 24 games thanks to a brief visit to the disabled list, but he's hitting .357 with 17 of his 30 hits going for extra bases. Like Plawecki, Murphy is probably too advanced at the plate for Low-A ball.
Another 2012 draft pick, Josh Elander, attracted attention as a second- or third-round talent as a college catcher but questions surrounding his ability to stick behind the dish caused him to slide to the sixth round where he was nabbed by the Atlanta Braves. After catching briefly in 2012, the prospect was moved out from behind the plate and has played 31 games in left field in 2013. The move has certainly agreed with his offense, as he's hitting .314 with an above-average power output.
Even after signing Carlos Zambrano this week, the Phillies might not be done shopping for pitching, tweets Jayson Stark of ESPN.com. When asked if the club is still considering starters with opt-outs, team exec Scott Proefrock said "we're still scouting". Here's more from around baseball..
- It may not be fair, but Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly will be expected to turn things around once Zack Greinke is back in action, writes Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. The banged up Dodgers are 16-22 heading into tonight's game versus the Nationals.
- After announcing the departure of team president George Postolos this week, Astros owner Jim Crane reached out to one of the most beloved figures in club history in Larry Dierker, writes Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle. For his part, the 66-year-old is definitely open to returning to the organization.
- Meanwhile, Reid Ryan, son of Rangers CEO Nolan Ryan, is being strongly considered by the Astros to become the team's next president, according to Mark Berman of FOX 26.
Here are today's minor moves from around the league...
- Astros pitcher Philip Humber has cleared waivers and has been outrighted to Triple-A Oklahoma City, according to Chris Cotillo of CLNSRadio.com (via Twitter). MLBTR has learned that the right-hander has until Friday to accept the assignment or elect free agency. Humber was designated for assignment earlier this week after posting a 9.59 ERA with 5.0 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 in seven starts and two relief appearances.
- MLB.com's Corey Brock tweets that the Padres have requested unconditional release waivers on Fautino De Los Santos, confirming an earlier tweet from Chris Cotillo of CLNS Radio. De Los Santos, 27, was designated for assignment over the weekend. He made only two appearances for Triple-A Tucson this season due to an injury but has a 4.21 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 36 1/3 innings at the Major League level -- all coming with the A's. His release will become official on Thursday.
- The Rangers have signed right-hander Scott Richmond to a minor league contract, according to Jeff Sullivan of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Twitter link). The 33-year-old Canadian hurler has a 5.27 ERA, 7.4 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 in 169 big league innings for the Blue Jays. Richmond, who was pitching in Korea prior to this signing, was on Team Canada's roster for the 2009 World Baseball Classic. He will report to extended Spring Training, according to Sullivan.
Zach Links contributed to this post.
Having dropped their last five games, the Astros own a .256 winning percentage, easily the worst in baseball. Their new division rivals, the Rangers, are at .632, tied for second in baseball. The two numbers are not unrelated, as the Rangers have won five of six contests against the Astros. The latest on the two Texas clubs:
- The Astros announced yesterday that president and CEO George Postolos resigned. Postolos' role with the Astros had little to do with baseball operations, unlike some other team presidents. Postolos "specializes in franchise acquisition," wrote Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports, and his skill set no longer matched with the job description. One of Postolos' tasks involved carriage agreement negotiations, trying to get the Astros and Comcast Sportsnet Houston into Houston homes. CSN Houston is available in "only about 40 percent of Houston's 2.2 million TV homes," writes David Barron of the Houston Chronicle.
- Asked on ESPN's Galloway & Company show yesterday if he has any interest in the Astros' new job opening, Rangers CEO Nolan Ryan replied, "I don't think so." Ryan has not been in contact with Astros owner Jim Crane. There was some springtime drama about Ryan's role with the Rangers, which was resolved in April.
- The Astros are running "extended evaluations" at all three outfield positions, writes Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle. J.D. Martinez, Robbie Grossman, and Jimmy Paredes will hold the starting spots for now, with Justin Maxwell to regain center field when he returns from a fractured left hand. The Astros have already moved Chris Carter to first base and jettisoned Rick Ankiel and Fernando Martinez, though Martinez cleared waivers and remains in the organization.
- Carter, a 26-year-old acquired from Oakland in February as part of the Jed Lowrie trade, is tied for fifth in the league with nine home runs. He also leads all of baseball in strikeouts, however.
- 33-year-old Rangers righty Colby Lewis, a free agent after this season, "has been diagnosed with a mild case of tendinitis in his right triceps muscle" according to MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan. Lewis last pitched in the Majors on July 18th of last year, before undergoing flexor tendon surgery. His current issue is not related to the surgery, and Lewis could make another rehab start next week after receiving an anti-inflammatory injection.
- Rangers long reliever Derek Lowe told Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram he didn't pass the "stats test" when hunting for an offseason job, explaining he leans toward the human element. Apparently mixing stats and scouting, as all teams do, Lowe commented, "If you pump my numbers into the system compared to, let’s say, Tanner Scheppers, of course his stuff is going to outscore my stuff, I’m not naive. He’s a young kid who throws 98 mph with a great breaking ball. Listen, I know I don’t pass the test."
Astros president and CEO George Postolos announced this morning that he is resigning from his role, according to MLB.com's Brian McTaggart (on Twitter). Postolos spent the better part of seven years helping Jim Crane to finalize his purchase of the club, writes David Barron of the Houston Chronicle. Barron's piece includes the following quote from Crane on Postolos' sudden and unexpected departure:
“We appreciate George’s hard work in the acquisition of the Astros and his commitment to the organization. I’d also like to personally thank him for the assistance that he has provided to me over the last several years and wish him the best of luck in the future.”
Barron's colleague, Brian T. Smith, reports that the Astros' "Big Three" (Crane, Postolos and GM Jeff Luhnow) were all adamant that they were on the same page with the rebuild as recently as February. Recently, however, there was an increasing divide and certain members of the Astros organization were not happy with Postolos' decisions (Twitter links).
Postolos' departure from the Astros is expected to have little impact on the team's long-term rebuilding plan or the on-field product itself, writes Danny Knobler of CBS Sports. While many have speculated that this may ultimately free up a spot for Nolan Ryan to join the organization, Ryan himself today addressed the situation on the Randy Galloway radio show in Dallas by saying he isn't interested (via Reid Laymance of the Houston Chronicle).
Here's a special Mother's Day edition of Quick Hits..
- Reliever Francisco Rodriguez has been promoted to the Brewers' Triple-A affiliate in Nashville, according to Adam McCalvy of MLB.com (on Twitter). McCalvy reports in a second tweet Rodriguez will pitch Monday and Tuesday with GM Doug Melvin on hand to scout the outings and, according to Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash, Thursday is the deadline whether to promote K-Rod to the majors and pay him roughly $2MM or let him seek employment elsewhere.
- Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com (on Twitter) notes that three out of the Mets' four highest paid players this year have not contributed to the club for one reason or another this season. Johan Santana is sidelined for the year, Jason Bay is with the Mariners after being cut loose, and Frank Francisco is still working his way back from injury.
- First-year manager Bo Porter admits that the Astros' 10-27 start has been frustrating for him, but he remains hopeful that the club's rebuilding plan will pan out, writes Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle.
The Astros announced that they have signed right-handed pitcher Edgar Gonzalez to a major league contract and designated right-handed pitcher Philip Humber for assignment. Gonzalez elected free agency from the Blue Jays yesterday rather than report to Triple-A Buffalo.
Gonzalez, 30, owns a 5.88 ERA with 5.8 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 across parts of ten big league seasons. He didn't fare well in his eight innings for the Blue Jays in 2013, allowing seven runs, five walks, and three strikeouts. Gonzalez made six starts for Houston last year and posted a 5.04 ERA with 6.5 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9.
Humber, also 30, has an $800K salary for this season with a $3MM club option for 2014 that will not be exercised. The right-hander has struggled in seven starts and two relief appearances for Houston this season, posting a 9.59 ERA with 5.0 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9. Last night, Humber gave up five hits and five runs in two-thirds of an inning.
We'll keep an eye on today's minor moves right here:
- Astros outfielder Fernando Martinez has been outrighted to Triple-A, MLB.com's Brian McTaggart reports (Twitter link). Martinez was designated for assignment by the club earlier this week.
- Edgar Gonzalez has elected to become a free agent after clearing waivers, Sportsnet's Shi Davidi reports (via Twitter). Gonzalez was designated for assignment by the Blue Jays two days ago and he chose free agency rather than report to Triple-A Buffalo. The right-hander posted a 7.88 ERA in eight innings pitched with Toronto this season.
- The Royals have released right-handed relief pitcher Dan Wheeler, tweets Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star. Wheeler, 35, had been pitching for the Royals' Triple-A affiliate, where he struggled to a 9.00 ERA over 15 innings with a substandard 2.200 WHIP. Last year, Wheeler made just twelve appearances for the Indians and was similarly ineffective, pitching to an 8.76 ERA. Between 2003-2011, Wheeler made no fewer than 35 big league appearances per season. His best seasons came with the Astros in 2005-06, when he logged over 70 innings a year and posted consecutive 2.21 and 2.52 ERA marks.
As the season is now over one-fifth of the way through, the likely trade deadline buyers and sellers are becoming more clear. Likewise, analysis is beginning to increase of the development of the market. Let's take a quick look around some recent commentary:
- The starting pitching trade market promises to be deep, but will likely lack impact, writes Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Heyman analalyzes the potentially available starters by likelihood of a trade. His top three are Ricky Nolasco of the Marlins, Bud Norris of the Astros, and Scott Feldman of the Cubs. Other notable arms include Josh Johnson of the Blue Jays (sixth on Heyman's list), Cliff Lee of the Phillies (twelfth), David Price of the Rays (thirteenth), Jake Peavy of the White Sox (fourteenth), R.A. Dickey of the Blue Jays (fifteenth), and Edwin Jackson of the Cubs (twentieth).
- Some possible trade targets may have the right to decline a trade, of course. Wendy Thurm of Fangraphs breaks down the no-trade clauses that may come into play as the trade market heats up. Cliff Lee and Chase Utley of the Phillies each could be moved despite their twenty-one-team list of teams to which they can decline a trade. Likewise, Jimmy Rollins (full no-trade) and Jonathan Papelbon (twelve-team no-trade) could be possible targets. Howie Kendrick could be the member of the Angels most likely to be dealt, in spite of a floating, limited no-trade clause that allows him to decline trades to twelve teams this year. Finally, Thurm notes that the Twins' Joe Mauer is perhaps the most attractive and most expensive potential trade target (however unlikely) who enjoys full no-trade protection.
- Of course, MLBTR has been providing its own original commentary on the upcoming trade market. For instance, have a look at the list of relief trade candidates and trade targets with team control.