Results tagged ‘ 'Cat Watch ’

‘Cat Watch: J.D. debuts

Outfielder J.D. Martinez joined the Houston Astros at around 5 p.m. central time on Saturday, officially reaching the major league team. It didn’t take long for Martinez to see some action: he pinch-hit for reliever Aneury Rodriguez in the bottom of the eighth inning, stepping to the plate for his first big-league at-bat.

Martinez took the first pitch for a strike and then swung at a low fastball, driving it deep to center field. The ball short-hopped the fence off the warning track two panels to the right of the 400-foot mark in dead center, going for a stand-up double that scored Humberto Quintero from first base.

(VIDEO: Watch Martinez double in his first big-league at-bat)

ValleyCats manager Stubby Clapp was Martinez’s hitting coach at two stops on his way up the minor-league ladder – at Rookie-League Greeneville in 2009 and at Low-A Lexington in 2010. He was not surprised to hear how Martinez debuted.

“That’s baseball as usual for him,” Clapp said. “That’s what he does – he hits. I’m very happy for him, he’s worked hard to get to that point and I hope that he has a solid career.”

Martinez, who played for the ValleyCats in 2009 and led the New York-Penn League in hitting, was called up to replace another former Tri-City player, Hunter Pence. When the outfielder batted for the first time, he became the 23rd former ValleyCat to reach the big leagues.

“It was definitely exciting,” Martinez told “You go up there to the plate and my mind was just, ‘Hit something hard. Don’t embarrass yourself.’”

Clapp spoke glowingly of Martinez’s drive and work ethic.

“He’s a consummate professional,” Clapp said. “He’s teachable. When you get a player that will come to you and ask their own questions, that’s special. Sometimes players are scared to ask questions, but J.D.’s not scared – no matter how small the question is, he’s going to come ask it.”

Martinez made his first career start this afternoon, drawing a walk in four plate appearances.

Kevin Whitaker


‘Cat Watch: Martinez continues to mash

In the second of three installments, ‘Cat Watch takes a look at some former Tri-City players who have reached the upper levels of the minor leagues.

Few expected the former 20th-round draft pick to make a major impact in the pros, but J.D. Martinez just keeps hitting. The outfielder destroyed Greeneville pitching in 19 games and earned a promotion to Tri-City in his rookie season, where he led the New York-Penn League with a .326 batting average. He crushed the Sally League for three months in 2010, hitting .362 with 15 homers, and still hit above .300 as the first member of his draft class in Double A.

The Astros’ 2010 Minor League Player of the Year is back at it again in 2011, hitting .328 and slugging an even .500 in his second time through the Texas League. Martinez leads Corpus Christi with 32 RBIs and has been remarkably patient, drawing 21 walks in 37 games. As a roughly average corner outfielder, Martinez may not contribute much defensive value, but he won’t need to if he continues to hit this well.

Another successful member of the 2009 ValleyCats is also in his second stint at Corpus Christi. Lefty Dallas Keuchel was called up to Double A after 120 strong innings at high-A Lancaster. He went 2-6 with a 4.70 ERA in the Texas League last season but has had much more success in 2011, posting a 3.04 ERA through nine starts. Keuchel’s strikeout rate has dropped significantly – he’s fanned less than one batter every two innings – but he has also been stingy with hits and free passes.

Venezuelan second baseman Jose Altuve had a fantastic start to the season, hitting .408 at Lancaster and earning a promotion to Double A this week. The diminutive Altuve – listed at anywhere from 5’5” to 5’7” – went three-for-four in his first game at Corpus Christi, homering and driving in three runs.

Center fielder T.J. Steele has been plagued by injuries in each of his first two full pro seasons. Twice drafted by the Astros – unsigned out of high school in 2005 but selected again in ’08 – the outfielder is in his second season at Corpus Christi after being sidelined for the second half of 2010. Steele has struggled to replicate the success he had at Lancaster in 2009, posting a .264 on-base percentage over a full season’s worth of at-bats over the past two years.

Koby Clemens moved up the organizational ladder to AAA Oklahoma City this season, six years after making a brief appearance in Troy. The first baseman is hitting a pedestrian .254 with some power, including six homers and 10 doubles.

After an early promotion to the Pacific Coast League in 2010, J.B. Shuck is back with Oklahoma City this year. He has continued his low-power ways, with a .311 slugging percentage – just six ticks lower than his mark from last year – but is batting a respectable .265 while drawing a walk every eight plate appearances.

Kevin Whitaker

‘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.

Kevin Whitaker