‘Cat Watch: Pence, Norris having breakout seasons
This is the first of three ‘Cat Watch posts this week, taking a look at how former Tri-City players have fared since leaving Troy. Today, we look at the players who have spent 2011 on an active MLB roster. All stats as of June 1.
After a breakout 2009 campaign in which he made the All-Star team and earned MVP votes, Ben Zobrist suffered a disappointing 2010 season at the plate, batting just .238 with reduced power. He continued to provide versatility for the AL East-winning Rays, however, starting several games at four different positions and seeing time at two others. A member of the 2004 ValleyCats, Zobrist was traded from Houston to Tampa Bay shortly before his 2006 big-league debut. So far this season, he has regained some of his magic at the plate, slugging .477 despite a recent slump with a team-high nine homers, helping the Rays surprisingly stay near the top of baseball’s most competitive division.
Right fielder Hunter Pence, also a 2009 All-Star and a teammate of Zobrist’s on the team that reached the 2004 NY-Penn League championship series, has been remarkably consistent since a breakout rookie campaign. From 2008-10, he hit between .269 and .282 and slugged .461-.472 every season and is on pace to post his best numbers yet. The 28-year-old Pence is batting .319 through 55 games, including a league-high 17 doubles, and leads the Astros with a .509 slugging percentage.
Bud Norris is enjoying a breakout season in his third year in the big show, ranking second in the Astros’ rotation with a 3.76 ERA through the season’s first two months. Already good at missing opponents’ bats, the right-hander has taken his ability to new heights this season – with 73 whiffs in 67 frames, Norris ranks fifth in baseball in strikeouts per inning.
The Astros’ top prospect entering 2010, catcher Jason Castro struggled after a midseason call-up, batting .205 in 195 major-league at-bats after a late-June debut. The bad news continued for Castro early in 2011, as he tore his right ACL in an early-March Spring Training game. He is expected to miss the entire season while recovering from the injury.
Chris Johnson was one of baseball’s most productive rookies last season, posting a .308 batting average with 35 extra-base hits after being recalled from the minors in the middle of June. Unfortunately, his momentum has not carried into 2011, as the third baseman has flirted with the Mendoza Line for much of the year, batting just .216 through 47 games.
After changing locations twice since the end of 2010, Felipe Paulino is trying to stick as a member of the Kansas City Royals. The right-handed pitcher was traded from Houston to Colorado in the offseason, but he was designated for assignment after allowing 12 runs in 14.2 innings out of the bullpen. The Royals claimed Paulino and purchased his contract from Colorado, and the 27-year-old allowed one hit over 4.1 scoreless innings in his first appearance.
Late in the 2010 season, Fernando Abad was a dependable member of the Astros’ bullpen, posting a 2.84 ERA in 19 innings of relief. He has struggled to repeat that performance this season, allowing 13 runs in as many innings and seeing his role reduced after suffering two losses in mid-May.
A two-time member of the ValleyCats (2005-06), former first-round draft pick Brian Bogusevic opened the season as a member of the Astros’ bench. Largely given pinch-hitting duties, the left-handed hitter reached base 10 times in 31 plate appearances before he was optioned to AAA in late May.
Drew Sutton got his first shot in the pros with Cincinnati in 2009 after a six-year minor league career and spent limited time with each of the two Ohio ballclubs last year. After signing with Boston in the offseason and hitting .307 to start the season at Pawtucket, Sutton was called up on May 20 and received regular playing time for the Red Sox soon after. He racked up five hits in his first three games as a starter, all Boston victories.
The very first ValleyCat to reach the majors, Matt Albers, is still in the big leagues, now a part of the Red Sox bullpen. The right-handed reliever, pitching for his third team after spending the last three seasons in Baltimore, has posted a 3.54 ERA in 20.1 innings while fanning 21 opponents through one-third of the season.
Chad Reineke, who spent all of 2010 and the first two months of 2011 in Triple A, made his first major-league appearance in nearly two years on May 31 when he was called up to start in place of Homer Bailey. After retiring the side in order in the first two innings, the righty ran into trouble in the third, allowing four runs in the frame. Reineke walked five batters and allowed five earned runs in 6.1 innings of work, taking the 7-2 loss.
The consensus top prospect in the Astros’ organization, Jordan Lyles, made his big-league debut on May 31. Starting against the Cubs at Minute Maid Park, Lyles held the opponents scoreless through seven innings, mixing four pitches and showing why he was highly regarded in the minor leagues. Though he committed a costly throwing error that led to a three-run rally in the eighth inning, the Astros rallied in the ninth to win the game 7-3. The 20-year-old Lyles became the youngest active player in the major leagues.