March 2012

Spring Training 2012: Final Day Recap

My final day at Spring Training was an eventful one. With camp day taking place for the minor leaguers and the big league club hosting Prince Fielder and the Detroit Tigers, there was plenty to capture. Not to mention that MLB Network was filming their “30 Clubs in 30 Days” Astros episode that premiered Wednesday night.

Here are some early morning photos of the MLB Network set:

MLB Network set for 30 Clubs in 30 Days

Production truck

Dan Plesac interviewed many Astros including manager Brad Mills:

The crew filmed the situational fielding session taking place on one of the backfields. Minor leaguers were brought over to serve as runners for the drills.

Johnson & Johnson. Neiko & Zach that is.

Jason Castro

Pitchers stand in waiting

Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris & Livan Hernandez

Before the major league game at 1pm, J.D. Martinez & Brett Wallace got some at-bats in a minor league intersquad game:

Stubby Clapp’s family was in town and here he is with his boys Cooper & Cannan:

Astros GM Jeff Luhnow speaks with manager Brad Mills during batting practice:

We spoke with Jeff right after and will be posting that video tomorrow. He is a big fan of the New York-Penn League and we look forward to seeing him at “The Joe” this summer.

Here are a few photos of Prince Fielder during batting practice:

Fielder’s boys were tossing the baseball around behind the cage:

Tigers manager Jim Leyland and Dan Plesac:

2008 All-Star ValleyCat J.B. Shuck:

2010 ValleyCat Jake Buchanan:

To see more photos from spring training, click here to view the photo album on our Facebook page.

In five full days at spring training, I’ve taken lots of photos, interviewed many former ‘Cats and current Astros, learned alot about the daily grind these players face and got a little sunburned at the same time. Okay, very sunburned! I hope everyone enjoyed the photos and I look forward to posting videos of many of the interviews conducted at camp. We’ll also be showing them throughout the 2012 season on our video board.

Opening Day is just 83 days away and individual tickets will be going on-sale Wednesday, April 4 at 10am. Stay tuned to tcvalleycats.com for all the latest news and ticket promotions leading up to the season!

Spring Training 2012: Day 4

Another early morning for me, as I arrived at the Astros complex at 8:30am. That is actually not early compared to when the players arrive. Shuttle busses pick the players up at 7am and arrives at the complex around 7:20. Being here four days now, I’ve pretty much got the hang of the daily routine and have adapted to it in order to accomplish our objectives for the trip.

Here’s how the days have typically gone: Get some footage of stretching and drills on the minor league side until about 10am, head over to the major league side for batting practice, head back to the minor league side to talk to players as they head in and out of lunch, then back over to the major league side to interview our former players after BP, then back to the minor league fields to talk to more players before the scrimmages.

At times during the scrimmages, coaches will be working with other guys on another field. Today, Stubby Clapp and Tom Lawless were working with Matt Duffy and Chan Jong Moon on fielding short hops and in-between hops.
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Once the scrimmages end, that is the last opportunity for me to get my interviews before the players head to the locker rooms to shower, change and catch the vans back to the hotel.

Some interesting tidbits I learned today: George Springer used to participate in gymnastics, Tyler Burnett and I share the same favorite movie of “Blue Streak” with Martin Lawrence and Dave Chappelle, Jason Castro and Brandt Walker both went back to Stanford in the fall of 2010 to take the same class and were part of a group project together.

Tomorrow the Astros host the Detroit Tigers at 1pm while it’s a camp day for the minor leaguers. MLB Network is at Astros camp and will be filming their “30 Clubs in 30 Days” show. Dan Plesac was here Monday taping interviews.

MLB Network video crew:
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It’s also the last day in Florida for me as I’ll be catching an 8:30pm flight back to Albany. With some time to kill, I’ll try to post a recap and pictures from the airport.

Here are a few more photos from Monday’s minor league action:

George Springer:
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Evan Grills:
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Spring Training 2012: Day 3

It’s amazing how fast five days can go. I feel like I just got here but only have 2 more days left. Thus far the trip has been very productive. The main objective is to gather content for our website, social media, video board and more.

On Tuesday morning at 9:15, ‘Cats manager Stubby Clapp will be a guest on Big Board Sports with Rodger Wyland on FOX Sports 980. He’ll talk about last season, his time spent coaching Team Canada in the Pan-Am Games, the upcoming season and more. Make sure to tune in or listen online.

On Saturday at the Osceola County Stadium, the Astros hosted a split-squad game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at 1pm while the AA and AAA squads hosted the Detroit Tigers minor leaguers. One of the highlights from the day was when 2009-10 ValleyCat Ben Orloff got his first ever taste of major league action. Orloff was a defensive substitution for Jose Altuve in the top of the 8th inning in the Astros game against the Pirates, and he didn’t waste any time flashing some leather.

The first batter hit a ground ball up the middle and Orloff made a great diving stop and an even more impressive throw for the out. Then in the bottom of the inning, with the go-ahead run standing on third base, he hit a slow ground ball deep in the hole that the shortstop had to rush to field, making a late throw to first base not in enough time to nail Orloff. It went in the books as an RBI single, which was great to see since Ben is one of the nicest guys in the Astros minor league system, and works extremely hard on his game. He was a key member of the ‘Cats 2010 championship team and plays like a winner.

Here are some photos from Orloff’s first major league experience:

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More photos from the big league game:

J.A. Happ:

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J.D. Martinez:

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Brian Bogusevic:

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Jarred Cosart:

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Now some photos from the minor league side:

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The room where all the minor leaguers eat lunch before the 1pm scrimmages:

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Those on the road get to take a boxed lunch:

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Tomorrow the big league team is on the road, so I’ll be spending the day on the minor league side as the Astros & Braves Class-A teams play.

Spring Training 2012: Day 2

It was a HOT day today in Kissimmee, with temps getting into the mid 80’s. From what I hear, the average temperature this time of year is 78 degrees. Plus the sun is extremely hot and much different than back home in upstate New York. That means globs of sunscreen!

Today the Astros big league club had an away game in Bradenton against the Pirates, but there were some guys who stayed back. Out of who I saw, that list included Jose Altuve, Chris Johnson, Chris Snyder, Carlos Lee, Bud Norris, Wandy Rodriguez and some others.

My first stop in the morning was to the big league side of the complex. Jordan Schafer, Carlos Lee, Jose Altuve, Chris Johnson and Chris Snyder were taking BP.

Chris Snyder and his son:

A picture perfect moment occurred when Chris Johnson hit an absolute shot on top of the clubhouse roof in left field and everyone looks on in awe.:

I had the chance to speak with 2009 ‘Cat Jose Altuve after batting practice and will share that interview upon my arrival back home.

From there I headed over to the minor league side where they were taking batting practice & doing some base running drills. The Lexington & Lancaster squads had scrimmage games against Nationals affiliates Potomac and Hagerstown, while Oklahoma City and Corpus Christi had games on the road at the Nats complex in Viera.

Here is a picture of the Astros lineups:

Lexington & Lancaster

Oklahoma City and Corpus Christi (notice the fence shadow)

Not meaning to ignore other minor league guys that are also having good springs, but from just what I have heard, Zach Johnson, Chris Epps and George Springer are all performing very well. There are most definitely others, but those are all I have heard. I will try to dig up some minor league spring stats and share them with everyone if possible.

Here are a few things I uncovered today after speaking with some of our former players. Justin Gominsky likes to write poetry, Kike Hernandez will be playing with Team Spain in the World Baseball Classic qualifiers in September, Brandt Walker is progressing nicely after surgery on a torn ACL and Matt Duffy’s biggest inspiration is his sister, who passed away following a battle with a blood disease.

Now onto the pictures from a hot day in Kissimmee. (Please ignore the first few duplicate photos)

Spring Training 2012: Day 1

ValleyCats Media Relations Manager Chris Chenes has arrived in Florida for Astros spring training. Below is his recap from day one:

Hello from sunny Florida! After arriving Thursday evening, Friday was my first full day at Osceola County Stadium complex in Kissimmee, Florida. It happened to be a camp day for the minor leaguers, which basically means they don’t play other minor league organizations. They go through morning meetings, stretch, run, throw and play a little pepper. Pitchers and catchers do side work and non-throwing pitchers go through conditioning. All of that takes place from 8-11am.

On camp days they will then play intersquad scrimmages. Friday was Oklahoma City vs. Corpus Christi and Lancaster vs. Lexington.

The major league club hosted the Washington Nationals at 1pm, but before that game, some of the Astros pitchers and position players got some extra work in a “B game” on the backfields. It’s a mix of big leaguers and minor leaguers.

I began interviewing former ‘Cats and will continue throughout the weekend. I will be uploading them upon my return to Troy on Wednesday. Our Assistant GM Matt Callahan will be joining me on Saturday and we will be talking to Astros GM Jeff Luhnow to ask him about the overall #1 pick the Astros own in this years MLB Draft, as well as some other questions.

Below are a bunch of great pictures from the scrimmages and a few from the big league game against the Nationals. Until tomorrow ‘Cats fans…look for tweets throughout the day on Saturday and another blog post recapping Day 2 with more pictures.

-Chris

Spring Cleaning: Catching up on the ‘Cats!

Although spring training is over half-way complete, today marks the official beginning of the spring season!

We want to catch everyone up on how many of our former players are doing throughout camp. Listed below are updates on some notable former ‘Cats who are either looking to make an impact in the big leagues this year or in the near future. The list is in order of when they played in Tri-City.

(Spring stats listed below are current through March 20)

Matt Albers (2003):

Albers was let go by the Baltimore Orioles after the 2010 season and was signed by the Boston Red Sox. He made the team out of spring training last season and had a very successful first half. Through July 21 he posted a 2.09 ERA, holding opponents to a .213 batting average and striking out 43 in 43 innings of work.

Albers struggled in the second half with an ERA over 12, allowing 27 hits in 17 innings of work. He’ll look to learn from last years experience and try to be part of the Red Sox bullpen in 2012.

This spring Albers has only thrown one inning giving up one hit. He is scheduled to pitch Tuesday afternoon (March 20) for the Red Sox.

Hunter Pence (2004):

Pence, who was once the face of the Houston Astros organization, was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011 and finished the year with a .314 batting average, 22 home runs and 97 runs batted in.

After being traded from the worst team in baseball to one of the best, Pence played a big role in the 2011 postseason.

Pence on the playoffs:

“They are a different emotion. But you still have to be able to control it. It’s like being called up to play in your first big leaguer game…it’s a birth of a new experience. I don’t know what you can really take from it other than it’s the same game at all times.”

He will play an even bigger role in 2012, as slugger Ryan Howard will be out until May or June as he recovers from an ACL injury he suffered in the 2011 NLDS. Pence is a candidate to take Howard’s 4-spot in the lineup.

“Pence could hit cleanup,” Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel said. “There are guys who could hit cleanup. We have time. We’re a long ways from opening day yet.”

Spring stats: .267 (12 for 45), 2 HR, 5 RBI, 1 BB, 12 SO

Drew Sutton (2004)

Sutton was traded from the Astros to the Cincinnati Reds in 2009 and made his major league debut shortly after. He played in 42 games for the Reds that year before being sent back down to the minor leagues. He also bounced around from the minors to the majors in 2010 before being placed on waivers and claimed by the Cleveland Indians.

Sutton played in 13 games with the Indians and was then outrighted to their Triple-A club. He refused the minor league assignment, filed for free agency and signed a minor league contract with the Red Sox.

He was called up to Boston on May 20 when Kevin Youkilis was banged up, played five positions and hit a career-high .315 in 31 games before breaking a finger in August.

This past offseason, the Atlanta Braves signed Sutton to a minor league contract that included a non-roster invitation to spring training. He’s looking to win a utility role with the club.

Spring stats: .333 (8 for 24), 0 HR, 1 2B, 1 3B, 0 RBI, 6 BB, 6 SO

Ben Zobrist (2004)

Zobrist played a career high 156 games in 2011, batting .269 with 20 home runs and 91 runs batted in. He committed himself during the offseason to gaining more strength and flexibililty in order to begin 2012 as healthy as possible.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon:

“He played at a high level again last year. You watch him. The refreshing part about Zo is regardless of where you put him, he’s fundamentally sound. He takes his craft seriously. He’s got the best footwork among all of our outfielders regarding just throwing the baseball. … He just does things properly all the time.”

Zobrist on his plan for 2012:

“We’re planning on winning the World Series this year. That’s the goal, and from Day 1 here looking forward, that’s what we’re focused on. I feel very prepared going into this year. I feel like my offseason was great. I feel very healthy, and I worked extremely hard again to try and be ready to move around and play as many games as I can for the club.”

Spring stats: .174 (4 for 23), 0 HR, 2 2B, 0 RBI, 2 BB, 6 SO

Brian Bogusevic (2005)

Bogusevic, originally drafted as a pitcher, has hit just .271 in two seasons in the Majors since making the switch to the outfield in 2008. In 2010 Bogusevic batted .179 in 28 at-bats, but regrouped last season to hit .287.

One of the biggest hits of his short career came on August 16th, when he blasted a grand slam off Carlos Marmol to give the Astros a come-from-behind, walk-off victory over the Cubs.

VIDEO: BOGUSEVIC WALK-OFF GRAND SLAM

Astros Manager Brad Mills:

“You’ve seen the progress, and there’s no reason to think that he’s not going to continue to progress since we moved him from a pitcher to a position player.”

Bogusevic on his fight for an outfield spot:

“I don’t know if you ever feel comfortable when there are people competing for spots. The situation is pretty open, all-around, with almost every spot on the team. I don’t think anybody is really comfortable.”

Spring stats: .125 (3 for 24), 0 HR, 1 2B, 0 RBI, 2 BB, 7 SO

Jordan Parraz (2005-06)

A New York-Penn League All-Star in his second stint with the ‘Cats in 2006, Parraz was traded from the Astros to the Royals in 2008. After being bounced around from the Royals to the Red Sox and Yankees, he signed a minor league contract with the Atlanta Braves this past November.

The deal included an invitation to spring training and he is currently in a battle for one of their outfield roster spots.

Spring stats: .391 (9 for 23), 1 HR, 1 3B, 5 RBI, 1 BB, 3 SO

Troy Patton (2005)

Patton made his major league debut with the Astros on August 25, 2007 but was forced to end his season early because of a torn labrum. He underwent shoulder surgery and was part of the trade that sent Miguel Tejada from the Orioles to the Astros.

This spring, Patton is looking to make the team as a multi-purpose reliever. He is out of options so the Orioles can’t send him down without exposing him to waivers.

Spring stats: 0.00 ERA, 6.1 IP, 6 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K

Felipe Paulino (2005)

Paulino made his MLB debut in 2007 with the Astros and in 2010 was traded to the Colorado Rockies for Clint Barmes. He appeared in 18 games for the Rockies in 2011 before he was traded to the Kansas City Royals.

Paulino is looking to win a spot in the Royals starting rotation.

Spring stats: 7.20 ERA, 5 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 2 K

Chris Johnson (2006)

Johnson made his debut with the Astros in September 2009 as a late season call-up. The following year he put up stellar numbers as a rookie and was appropriately named the 2010 Astros Rookie of the Year. (2010 stats: .308, 11 HR, 52 RBI)

Last year Johnson won the starting third base job out of spring training but struggled during the season. He was shifted in and out of the lineup and was even sent down to the minor leagues.

Johnson on being sent down:

“I get jacked up thinking about it. Being in the big leagues is where you want to be and getting sent down is not really a good feeling. I’ll just work that much harder not to let that happen again.”

Johnson will look to rebound from his sophomore season in hopes of regaining his 2010 form. He has even been working out as first base this spring in order to increase his flexibility.

Spring stats: .370 (10 for 27), 1 HR, 5 2B, 4 RBI, 0 BB, 5 SO

Bud Norris (2006)

Since making his major league debut in 2009, Bud has put up a 21-24 record and a 4.33 ERA. His ability to strike out batters has been quite impressive (388 in 395 1/3 innings) and he will enter the 2012 season as the Astros number two starter.

Norris and the Astros management are looking forward to him having a breakout season.

Astros GM Jeff Luhnow:

“Bud has been developing into a good major league starting pitcher. He has the potential to be an All-Star-caliber pitcher and to be a key part of the Astros’ future. There are times when he takes the mound where he competes like a top-of-the rotation starter — being both efficient and effective.”

Astros Manager Brad Mills:

“We’re just waiting for this guy to turn the corner, and he’s close. He’s very close. We all know he’s got the great stuff to do it. So our expectations are that we’re hoping it’s this year. We talk about guys maturing and just growing up through experience. It’s just a process he has to go through, getting better as he goes. Everybody has to do it. I mean, he got to the big leagues really quick. He’s done a lot of that work at the major league level. So he’s just getting to the point now where now everything’s catching up. The maturity. The emotions. Knowing what he can and can’t do.”

Bud Norris:

“Nothing is going to come to you that easy. You have to go out and earn it, earn those accolades if you want them. I think I have a real opportunity to keep enhancing myself and getting better, and that’s what I’m striving for. Yeah, I believe it’s there at times. I’m just trying to hone it and make sure it’s there every fifth day.”

Spring stats: 7.50 ERA, 6 IP, 5 H, 5 ER, 5 BB, 2 Ks

Fernando Abad (2007)

Abad made his MLB debut in July of 2012 out of the Astros bullpen. He pitched quite well that season, giving up only 14 hits in 19 innings while striking out 12 batters. He struggled last year and was sent down to Triple-A Oklahoma City.

He is in the mix for a left-handed role in the Astros bullpen.

Spring stats: 1.93 ERA, 4.2 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 Ks

Brandon Barnes (2007)

A 6th round draft pick in 2005, Barnes made steady progress through the Astros minor league system before hitting a bump in the road in Triple-A Oklahoma City. He hit .238 with 15 home runs and 54 RBIs in 125 games between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Oklahoma City in 2011.

This winter Barnes decided to play for the Australian Baseball League and is sure glad he did. In 29 games he hit .322 with six home runs and 30 RBIs.

The Astros invited Barnes to spring training as a non-roster invitee and he will most likely start the 2012 season in Triple-A.

Barnes went 1 for 6 in nine games with the Astros this spring before being sent over to minor league camp.

Jason Castro (2008)

A 2008 first round pick, Castro moved quickly through the Astros system. He played in the MLB Futures Game in 2009, in which he hit a home run, was ranked 53rd on Baseball America’s 2009 Top 100 Prospects list and made his major league debut with the Astros on June 22, 2010 (He singled off of San Francisco Giants ace Tim Lincecum).

Castro was projected to be the Astros starting catcher in 2011, but unfortunately he tore his ACL in spring training while running to first base. He had surgery and was out the entire season. Then in December he had another surgery on his left foot.

Following a lengthy rehab and lots of conditioning, Castro is back in 2012 to be the man behind the dish on Opening Day for the Astros.

Spring stats: .364 (8 for 22), 0 HR, 1 2B, 4 RBI, 2 BB, 6 SO

J.B. Shuck (2008)

Shuck, a New York-Penn League All-Star in 2008, is the most recent former ‘Cat to make his major league debut. In his first MLB at-bat on August 5, 2011, Shuck singled off of Milwaukee Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo and then stole second. Shuck hit .272 in 81 plate appearances.

He can play all three outfield spots and has put himself in the mix to win an Opening Day roster spot with the Astros.

Astros GM Jeff Luhnow on JB Shuck:

“J.B.’s got some tools and he’s always been a guy that’s exceeded expectations, and that’s why he’s continued to progress to the point he’s seriously being considered for an outfield spot at the major league level. Certainly, he’s a hard-working kid and has tools and can run and swing the bat.”

Spring stats: .333 (8 for 24), 0 HR, 1 3B, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 1 SO

Jordan Lyles (2008)

Lyles made his MLB debut on May 31, 2011 against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.  Rated the #42 prospect by Baseball America heading into the 2011 season, he appeared in 20 games with the Astros, posting a 5.36 ERA in 94 innings. He was then sent back down to Triple-A at the end of August.

Lyles is currently battling for the 5th spot in the Astros rotation.

Spring stats: 6.00 ERA, 6 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 3 Ks

Jose Altuve (2009)

At 5′ 5″, Altuve hasn’t let his height slow him down. Last year he hit .389 at Double-A, skipped Triple-A altogether and was called up to the Astros on July 19. He had a hit in each of his first seven games, finishing with a .276 batting average with 12 RBIs in 57 games. He also played very well on the defensive end, only committing two errors in 460 innings at second base.

Altuve was named the Houston Astros 2011 Minor League MVP and was presented with the award in a pregame ceremony at Minute Maid Park.

Astros GM Jeff Luhnow on Altuve:

“He’s got incredible bat control, and when he swings, he rarely misses the ball. We’ve been talking to him and he’s aware he needs to be more selective early in the count and try to get himself into better counts, because a walk is as good as a single. He knows he needs to improve, and he will.”

Jose Altuve:

“Last year was my first year in the big leagues, and I tried to do the best I can. This is my first big league camp and I have to work hard. I’m ready for this, ready for everything. I’m going to play hard and do whatever I can to help the team win.”

Altuve will be the Astros starting second baseman on Opening Day 2012.

Spring stats: .304 (7 for 23), 0 HR, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 5 SO

Rene Garcia (2009)

Last year Garcia hit .242 with one home run and 27 RBIs in 86 games for Class-A Lancaster. For the second straight year, Garcia spent time as a non-roster invitee in Astros camp.

Astros Manager Brad Mills on Garcia:

“Last year when he was here, we sent him out early because there were some issues that were happening and we weren’t happy with it. We addressed it with him and sent him out, and he came back and was a completely different player.”

Jake Goebbert (2009)

Another non-roster invitee to big league camp this year, Goebbert hit a combined .290 in 2011 with 12 home runs and 67 RBIs at Triple-A Oklahoma City, Double-A Corpus Christi and Class-A Lancaster.

He was 0 for 5 with the Astros this spring and then reassigned to minor league camp.

J.D. Martinez (2009)

A 2009 All-Star with ‘Cats, J.D. made his major league debut with the Astros last season. He proved what many felt all along, that he was going to be successful every step of the way.

Martinez began last season at Double-A Corpus Christi and put up astounding numbers, hitting .338 with 13 home runs and 72 RBIs. After sending Hunter Pence to the Phillies in July, the Astros then called upon J.D. and he didn’t disappoint. Martinez hit .274 with six homers and 35 RBIs in 53 games.

Rewinding a bit, the minor league stats for Martinez are amazing to look at:

2009 Greeneville (A): .403 avg, .740 slg
2009 Tri-City (A): .326 avg, .540 slg
2010 Corpus Christi (AA): .302 avg, .407 slg
2010 Lexington (A Full): .362 avg, .598 slg
2011 Corpus Christi (AA): .338 avg, .546 slg

Like Altuve, Martinez made the jump from Double-A straight to the Astros. Here is what ValleyCats Manager, and former coach of Martinez’, Stubby Clapp had to say when he was called up last season:

Astros GM Jeff Luhnow on Martinez:

“He’s clearly exceeded expectations to this point, where he was drafted [20th round in 2009], and I hope he continues to do that. He could be one of those players we talk about at the end of the year, talking about his success.”

J.D. Martinez on his upcoming season:

“We can’t sneak up on anybody. People weren’t aware of us and they were testing us out. I feel people are still going to test us because we’re not established and still don’t know, but people have more of a book. And I feel like they’re going to go by it a little bit more and try to pick at our weaknesses.”

Martinez looks to be the Astros three-hole hitter in 2012.

Spring stats: .393 (11 for 28), 1 HR, 4 2B, 12 RBI, 1 BB, 5 SO

Jorge De Leon (2009-10)

Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2006 as an infielder, De Leon was the ‘Cats shortstop in 2009 and converted to a pitcher following the season. Coming back in 2010, De Leon was a big contributor for the ValleyCats championship team. As one of the ‘Cats closers, De Leon posted a 0.64 ERA giving up 26 hits while striking out 29 over a total over 28 innings. He also saved some crucial games down the stretch, leading the ‘Cats to their first ever New York-Penn League Championship.

Last year De Leon continued to post good numbers while pitching for full season Class-A Lexington (3.42 ERA, 55 IP, 48  H, 51 K, 13 BB).

In major league camp this spring, the right-hander appeared in two relief outings for the Astros. (2 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 1K)

De Leon was then optioned to minor league camp, although he remains on the Astros 40-man roster. He will most likely begin 2012 with Class-A Lancaster or Double-A Corpus Christi.

Mike Kvasnicka (2010)

Kvasnicka was the Astros supplemental first round pick in the 2010 MLB Draft out of the University of Minnesota. He was drafted as a third baseman despite never having played the position more than a handful of times.

In college, Kvasnicka was primarily a catcher but also spent some time in the outfield. He played mostly at third base and in right field with the ‘Cats, catching only five times.

Last spring, Astros great Craig Biggio spent time teaching Kvasnicka the third base position, and for Class-A Lexington last season he played all but one of his games there.

The moving around caught up with Mike as he struggled at the plate. He hit .234 with the ValleyCats and .260 with the Legends. At the end of the 2011 season, Kvasnicka let the Astros know he wasn’t too comfortable at third base and inquired about possibly moving back to catcher.

Mike Kvasnicka on the move:

“I put in a lot of work and I didn’t shy away from any of the extra work at third base, but I just let them know at the end of the year that I didn’t feel quite natural back there. I was just wondering if they could give it a thought over the offseason. Then I got a call probably a couple months ago and they said ‘dust off your gear, grab a cup, you’re gonna need it.’”

Kvasnicka was invited to Astros  camp this spring to help catch bullpen sessions and is now back on the minor league side working on his game as a catcher.

Chris Wallace (2010)

Another big key to the ‘Cats 2010 championship squad, Wallace was also invited to major league camp to help catch the many pitchers that needed to get in their work. With the numbers he put up last season, he definitely deserved the invite.

Wallace split the 2011 season between Class-A Lexington and Double-A Corpus Christi and combined to hit .271 with 20 homers and 78 RBIs. He finished third behind Kody Hinze and 2010 ‘Cats teammate Adam Bailey among all Astros minor leaguers in home runs and RBIs over the 2011 season.

Chris Wallace on his progression:

“I would say I have progressed really fast from college to right now. I have worked really hard this offseason with Dr. Gene Coleman at Minute Maid Park. I have figured a lot of things out in my swing since college. It’s happening at the right time. I’ve got to keep getting better. There are a few things I need to improve behind the plate. My throwing is still something that needs to get better. I’m working on it, so it will get to where it needs to be. I’m looking to put myself in good position for this season. I am going to continue to work really hard.”

Wallace had one hit in three at-bats while in big league camp for the Astros. For more on Chris Wallace, click here to check out Farmstros’ “Chris Wallace Report.”

George Springer (2011)

The Astros number one pick in the 2011 MLB Draft (11th overall) signed with the team right at the deadline and joined the ‘Cats in late August. He only played two games in front of the home crowd at “The Joe,” but showcased his talent in both.

On the very first pitch he saw at home, he smacked a homer way over the left-center field wall. He also stole a three bases and even slid head first into home plate to score the tying run. Springer, in the limited time we got to see him in Troy, was very impressive and looks to be a big part of the Houston Astros future.

Springer is rated the Astros’ third-best prospect by MLB.com and was invited to major league camp this spring. In eight games, he went 3 for 8 with a double. One of his best showings came against the New York Yankees in Tampa. In two innings, he made an acrobatic catch in center field, hit a go-ahead RBI double and stole third base to set up what ended up being the winning run.

Astros GM Jeff Luhnow on Springer:

“He has all the tools to be an impact big leaguer, and I think we saw an example of that (against the Yankees). Not only making the catch out there, but hitting that double, stealing third base and making an incredible slide at home plate for that run. It felt to me like he’d been playing that game to win.”

George Springer talks about how he is preparing to compete for a job in Houston this spring:

http://mlb.mlb.com/shared/video/embed/embed.html?content_id=20108587&width=400&height=224&property=mlb

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ValleyCats Media Relations Manager Chris Chenes will be in Kissimmee at Astros spring training from Thursday the 22nd through Tuesday the 27th. He’ll be posting a blog recap each night he is there right here on ‘Cats Corner.

He’ll also be posting updates throughout the day on the ValleyCats Facebook page and Twitter. Feel free to post any suggestions/questions you would like Chris to ask while he is there or e-mail him at chrischenes@tcvalleycats.com.

If you are not already, click here to like us on Facebook and click here to follow us on Twitter. A link to the blog updates will also be located on the ValleyCats website at www.tcvalleycats.com.

The Tavern in Troy!

St. Patrick’s Day is this Saturday, and you can be sure that many people will be flocking to the South End Tavern in Troy for a delicious meal.

Tavern Entrance

The Tavern was established in 1934 by Marty Burke. Notice the “Ladies Entrance” sign. In the 1930s, the bar was considered to be “men’s territory.” Since Marty wanted to be able to accommodate female customers, he bought the building next door and converted it into a restaurant. To separate the bar from the restaurant, he put up the now-famous Ladies Entrance sign.

Marty’s son Bud was ordered to remove the sign during the women’s liberation movement in the early 70’s, but the Troy City Council stepped in and passed a resolution declaring the South End Tavern a historical site. This let him keep the controversial sign, but women were now permitted in the bar as well as in the restaurant.

Fast forward to today and the South End Tavern is still a family favorite and a staple in the city of Troy. The third generation of Burkes now run it, led by Butch (son of Bud) pictured below.

Tavern Mr Burke

The most popular meal this time of year is corned beef & cabbage. St. Patrick’s Day is by far the biggest day of the year for the tavern and Butch says about 2,000 customers will make an order on that day. About 500 of that is all take-out orders. They will cook over 1,000 pounds each of corned beef, cabbage and potatoes.

Right now, we are offering a $10 gift card to the South End Tavern as part of our St. Patrick’s Day 6-game mini-plan package.

Here are a few more photos from inside a “calm before the storm” South End Tavern. Be sure to stop by and have some of their delicious home cooked food! They are located at 757 Burden Avenue in Troy, right down the hill from “The Joe!” Click here to view their menu.

Cheers!

Tavern Bar

Tavern Cook

Tavern Tables

Bracket Breakfast

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament begins this week, and this morning The Sports Foundation of the Capital Region held their 4th Annual Bracket Breakfast at the Recovery Sports Grill on Hoosick Street in Troy.

WNYT sports anchor Andrew Catalon moderated the event and was joined by former Siena basketball star Prosper Karangwa. Each gave their selections for the tournament and the rest of the attendees listened intently.

Prosper and Andrew:
Catalon Karangwa

For those wondering what Prosper is up to these days, he is the founder and CEO of Global Scouting Services, a top notch scouting service that offers in-depth basketball talent evaluation of college players who have the potential to play professionally. Prosper watches many basketball games throughout the year, so his picks were definitely worth listening to.

The Sports Foundation puts on this event each year to raise money to help promote sports in the Capital Region. Its goals are to improve the quality of life and enhance economic development throughout the region by maintaining and acquiring diversity of amateur sporting events, and by creating other special events.

For more information on The Sports Foundation, click here to visit their website.

Who do you have reaching the Final Four?

100 Days Until Opening Night!

There are exactly 100 days until Opening Night at “The Joe” and the weather certainly makes it feel like it’s right around the corner.

Actually, baseball at “The Joe” will begin much sooner than the ValleyCats home opener on June 20th. The Hudson Valley Community College baseball team begins their home schedule on April 1st. Not fooling!

In fact, stadium groundskeeper John Hudson has officially settled into “The Joe” for the baseball season. His “office” sits behind the scoreboard in left field and today he was here extra early to wax his tractor.

Hudson Waxing Tractor

Because of the frost during the winter, the infield dirt becomes very soft and needs to be “turned.” This is done with a roller:

Hudson on the roller

Here’s a video of Hudson in action:

We in the ValleyCats front office aren’t as lucky as John to be able to spend a beautiful day entirely outside. Each of us are working on a number of things to get ready for Opening Night and the events leading up to it.

Here’s a brief rundown on what we’re working on:

Skinner Desk 3_12

Fan Development Manager Michelle Skinner has been creating some info sheets and flyers for Girls Night Out on Sunday, August 26. There will be a Diamond Dig following the game, where the ladies in attendance will get the chance to dig for a diamond!

Michelle is also organizing the Relay For Life jersey auction on Saturday, July 7. The team will be wearing custom purple jerseys and the proceeds from the auction will support the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life.

Here’s an idea of what they may look like:
Relay For Life Mock Up Jersey

Box Office Manager Jess Kaszeta has been spending the day taking many St. Patrick’s Day Package orders over the phone.

Kaszeta Desk

It’s really one of our most popular packages of the year, and with St. Patrick’s Day this Saturday, the demand is heating up. Here’s what the package includes:

  • Ticket to six of the ValleyCats best games of the year
  • One of those games is Irish Night on September 4, with a pregame concert by award-winning Irish band Hair of the Dog.
  • Food voucher for a corned beef & cabbage dinner and a Guinness on Irish Night.
  • $10 gift card to the South End Tavern in Troy.
  • St. Patrick’s Day ValleyCats t-shirt
  • Guaranteed bobblehead giveaway

This limited time offer can be purchased for just $65! (a $90 value). You can order by calling Jess at 518-629-CATS or online by clicking here.

Tom Lloyd

Where would we be without our interns? They are such a crucial part of our organization. Today, College of Saint Rose Senior Tom Lloyd is busy getting the New York-Penn League replica championship trophy mailing list in order. Tom is from Ithaca, NY and is a big Yankee fan!

After some adjustments…here are what the replica trophies look like:
Replica Trophy

Today, not only has Account Executive Kyle Wheeler been setting up meetings, but he has also been reviewing ‘4 in 24′ entries.

wheeler

Last year, the ‘4 in 24′ field renovations were a huge success that we look to build off of for this year. About 25 entries were submitted from leagues around the Capital Region. Those not selected for the ‘4 in 24′ in April will be considered for our Community Grounds Crew tour this summer.

Click here for more information on our Community Grounds Crew.

Michael Johnson Desk

One of our other AE’s, Michael Johnson, has been spending the day looking for different groups that would like to have an outing at “The Joe” this summer. Specifically camps & scout groups. We have two Camp Days this year, the first on July 24 and the second on August 6. Both games begin at 11am.

Scout Night is being held on Saturday, June 30 and all scouts in attendance will be allowed to camp out on the field overnight. There will be fun activities throughout the night and a movie shown on the video board before lights out.

If you want to bring your group to a ValleyCats game this year, you can call Mike or one of our other representatives at 518-629-2287.

Dawson desk

Speaking of our other representatives…Chris Dawson has also been busy answering the phones. “People are starting to think baseball!” he says.

video board

Media/Production Manager Chris Chenes turned on the video board for the first time since the fall, and it seems to be responding very nicely!

He has also been busy catching up on all the former ValleyCats who are currently at the Astros spring training camp in Kissimmee, Florida. He is a regular reader of two other great MLBlogs including Alyson’s Footnotes by Astros social media guru Alyson Footer & Tag’s Lines by Astros beat reporter for MLB.com, Brian McTaggart. He also makes it a point to read everything posted on the Ultimate Astros page of the Houston Chronicle’s website. He’ll also keep up-to-date by checking the Twitter status updates of former ‘Cats.

Chenes will be down at the Astros spring training facility from March 22-27 and will be speaking with many of them. He’ll also be gathering content for the 2012 ValleyCats Yearbook and video board.

Have any ideas or suggestions for Chris?? Send him an e-mail at chrischenes@tcvalleycats.com or send a tweet to @ChrisChenes. He’ll be blogging on ‘Cats Corner and tweeting each day while he is down in sunny Florida.

Callahan Desk

‘Cats Assistant GM Matt Callahan has been busy contacting many of the ValleyCats corporate partners, working on player housing for the 2012 season, sorting out the summer internship program and approving samples of our 2012 bobbleheads.

Once the bobblehead images are approved, we will be sure to post what they look like. The Derek Jeter bobblehead as an Albany-Colonie Yankee will be given away to the first 1,500 fans through the gates on Monday, August 20 as part of Capital Region Baseball Heritage Night.

You can guarantee the bobblehead by ordering our Heritage Mini-Plan package, which includes tickets to six of the ‘Cats best games and the benefit of a guaranteed bobblehead on August 20.

Our other bobblehead giveaway will take place on “We Love New York Night” on Monday, July 9. Look for the announcement of that bobblehead at the end of March.

Click here for information on ValleyCats mini-plan packages.

Sweeney Field of Dreams

Stadium Operations Manager Keith Sweeney was outside checking on the group area formerly known as The Cat-tle Ranch, that will now call the “Field of Dreams” home.

The Field of Dreams is a brand new group area being introduced along the stadium’s left field concourse. This unique, baseball-themed picnic area will be ideal for youth sports teams as it provides a one-of-a-kind experience at “The Joe.”

Here is a mock-up of what we are planning on having the area look like (actual look may vary):
Field of Dreams Generic Mock

The Field of Dreams area will cater to youth sports organizations as the perfect spot to host end-of-season award ceremonies and picnic outings. This brand new picnic area will replicate the look and feel of a real baseball field.

With cornstalks, turf, and an outfield fence-style wall, this outstanding atmosphere will provide great ballpark fare at an excellent value.

The Field of Dreams will feature a one-hour, pre-game buffet that includes the following menu items and additional benefits:
-Individually wrapped hot dogs & hamburgers
-Watermelon
-Kettlecorn
-Soda & water
-Each guest will receive the opportunity to have their very own souvenir baseball card produced for FREE in The Field of Dreams area.
-Opportunity for your group/team to take the field with the ValleyCats for the national anthem as part of the Baseball Buddies program. Includes a special PA welcome message.
-Grandstand seats for your entire group to enjoy the game together.
-Cost: $15 per person

You can book your outing in the “Field of Dreams” now by calling the ValleyCats front office at 518-629-CATS (2287).

One last thing of note…Individual tickets will be going on-sale Wednesday, April 4 at 10am. It’s also Major League Baseball’s Opening Night.

For those season ticket holders who have not yet renewed their tickets for 2012, in order to guarantee your same seats you will need to renew by April 1.

Make sure you get outside this week, enjoy the great weather and think baseball!

Called up to the bigs!

Today is a bittersweet day in the office, as it is the last day for ValleyCats Food & Beverage Manager Gian Rafaniello. Although we will definitely miss him here, he is taking a step forward in his career by heading to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx where he will serve as Assistant Concessions Manager.

We wish him the best of luck and continued success!

Here are a few classic photos of Gian throughout the past 2 1/2 years.

Tasting a Helmbold’s Hot Dog at “The Joe”:
G_Hot Dog

Making Kettlecorn for the annual holiday party:
G_KettleCorn

Ready for his at-bat in the big leagues!
G_Baseball

All about the kids!

This past weekend was all about the kids, as SouthPaw made visits to both the Troy Family YMCA for their Kids Carnival and the Hannaford Kidz Expo at the Empire State Plaza in Albany.

The YMCA Kids Carnival featured games, craft tables, and a bounce house for the community to enjoy. It was also part of the Capital District YMCA’s kick off for summer camp registration. Spring Training is officially here and summer is just around the corner.

Here is a link for more information on the YMCA’s summer camp programs:

http://www.cdymca.org/youthdevelopment/summercamp.aspx

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SouthPaw with Capital District YMCA District Child Care Director Kelly Sturgis and Childcare Coordinator Annah Bravata.

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Now some photos from the 7th Annual Hannaford Kidz Expo at the Empire State Plaza, where there were more than 80 family friendly vendors and exhibits including our speed pitch machine.

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Sticking with the kids theme…information on the 2012 ValleyCats Academy Camps is now available. Campers will receive instruction from professional baseball coaches and players. Majors camp for ages 10-12 is going to be held from June 26-28 and Minors camp for ages 6-9 is going to be held August 1-3. Both take place at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium.

Click here for more information or to sign your child up now.

Quick highlight video of the ValleyCats Academy Camps:

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