MAY 18th, 2013-A step up from Class A ball lies, of course, Class AA.
Double-A is the dividing line for many minor-leaguers, the level at which an organization gets a true feel for the future of any given prospect. Double-A seasons are the same length as that at the Major League level, the pitching gets exponentially tougher, the fielders are dramatically quicker and the hitters sling some heavy lumber. The jump between Class A and AA is much greater than that between AA and AAA, no matter which league you're in.
This is where many players truly stumble, experiencing their first real difficulties in pro ball. Minor-league ball is natural selection at its finest: only the strong survive.
For the Astros, AA ball resides in the Sparkling City by the Sea: Corpus Christi, Texas. The AA representative for Houston in the Texas League, a league which is slightly skewed towards hitting (compared to the Eastern and Southern Leagues), the Corpus Christi Hooks have only a few of 2012's Legends on their current roster. Since Lexington is a step below High-A, many of last year's Legends team are in Lancaster right now.
On the hitting side of things:
Zach Johnson, 1B-DH
Lancaster-20 games, 95 PA, 12 R, 25 H, 10 2B, 2 HR, 20 RBI, .298 BA, .362 OBP, .897 OPS
Corpus Christi-13 games, 42 PA, 5 R, 6 H, 1 HR, 1 RBI, .162 BA, .487 OPS
Johnson, last year's RBI machine, was picking up right where he left off in 2012 with Lexington when he hit the California League. He had 20 ribbies in 20 games when he got the call to AA. Oh, and he had smacked 10 doubles in the process, as well. Now, I know the Cali is a hitter's league, and the JetHawks play in something of a launching pad, but still...ten doubles in 20 games. Because he hates pitchers, that's why.
Anyway, he's yet to have much opportunity to punish the Texas League. But it won't be long. Johnson has historically taken his fair share of walks, and he'll have to continue to do so since his BA usually hovers around .250-.260, but as long as he's a run producer like he's been the walks won't be quite as important.
Somewhat overlooked at this point, his defense is actually pretty strong now. He keeps a low center of gravity in the field, and is quick to either side for low grounders. He may even end up as one of the best defenders at his position in the league; if not this one, then in the future.
Drew Muren, OF
Lancaster-12 games, 49 PA, 12 R, 16 H, 2 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 8 RBI, .372 BA, 1.054 OPS
Corpus Christi-17 games, 61 PA, 4 R, 10 H, 3 2B, 3 RBI, .182 BA, .474 OPS
Muren is hitting the same early speed bump that most players run into when they reach AA. He is batting .238 for this month, however, so he's making progress in that respect. Drew has a good arm and covers ample space in the outfield; I'm hoping to see him get plenty of playing time in CC, to see what he can do with it. While he carried a .321 BA in Lancaster during his 2012 call-up, then followed that up with a .291 average in 33 games in Double-A, he will likely have a tough go of it to maintain an average near those marks. He's got a very good swing with a slight uppercut to it, but being 6'6” at the plate means you've got a lot of strike zone to cover, and Muren could still stand to put on a bit more weight. I'd really like to see what he could do with another 20 pounds on him; it could mean a lot for his power development. If it's going to happen, now's the time.
On the mound, CC has a considerable amount of talent by way of Lexington:
Mike Foltynewicz, RHP
Lancaster-7 games, 5 starts, 1 game finished, 26 IP, 31 HA, 16 R, 11 ER, 4 HRA, 14 BB, 29 K, 3.81 ERA
Corpus Christi-3 games, 2 starts, 1 game finished, 1 SV, 13 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 1 HRA, 4 BB, 14 K, 1.38 ERA
Folty has been used primarily as a starter this year, though he has seen action as a closer as well. Considering that in 10 total games in 2013 he's been a starter in 7 of them, you'd think that Houston is still grooming him as a starter. But then there's two appearances in which he closed out games. With the talent he has, the Astros certainly have options. As a starter with Lexington in 2012, Foltynewicz finished 14-4 with a 3.14 ERA and in the process solidified his prospect status. In thirteen innings at AA he hasn't looked all that impressed by the Texas League batters. Of course, that's 13 innings, a small sample size. But I watched him pitch last year here in Lexington, and I'm certain a lot of you would agree: this is one legit mound marksman. Barring catastrophe, you're looking at a guy who'll be taking the ball every 5th day in Houston, come 2015. Perhaps the greatest area for improvement would be that he'll have to be careful with the walks; in Single-A, they're not such a big thing. But in AA, they can sink you.
It always seemed to me that he normally didn't walk batters because of control issues. It seemed more like he might have been too fine around the zone and the batters just didn't bite. It wasn't often that he would come out with less-than-excellent stuff.
Carlos Quevedo, RHP
Corpus Christi- 1-3, 4.50 ERA, 10 games, 3 starts, 1 game finished, 28 IP, 32 HA, 17 R, 14 ER, 8 HRA, 9 BB, 21 K
Quevedo has, for the most part, thrived in a relief role for the Hooks. Having allowed 8 homers in 28 innings is a concern, though this is his first exposure to AA hitters. At 23, he's exactly where he should be age-wise, and it appears he may move faster if they keep him throwing out of the 'pen. Quevedo is solidly built and has very simple, easily repeatable mechanics, which also helps to keep his results fairly consistent. His fastball sits in the low-90's and he throws a solid curve (though it can get a little loopy, at times) and change, usually staying low in the zone.
Nick Tropeano, RHP
Corpus Christi- 0-2, 2.25 ERA, 10 games, 5 starts, 4 games finished, 4 SV, 40 IP, 37 HA, 13 R, 10 ER, 4 HRA, 11 BB, 38 K
Tropeano works magic with his low-90's fastball, quality curve and outstanding changeup. It's his feel and instinct for pitching that has made him more than another face in the crowd. Tropeano always has an idea out on the mound; he never seems shaken, and I don't think I ever saw him overthrow (at least, not repeatedly). He's been able to get out of a lot of spots with just his change; it's that good. He always seems to keep it low, knows how to set the hitters up, and has a way of controlling the game that implies instinct beyond his years. I'd say he's a shoe-in to make The Show.
That's all, for now. Next up I'll be posting the first of my scouting reports for the current Legends on Kings of Kauffman. Stay tuned.