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

__________________________________

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.

1 Comment

Great work putting this report together. Saved me a few hours at the computer and at my age, I appreciate that!

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