Astros Get Mixed Reviews in Early AFL Action

added 10/18/2002 by Brian Progar

When the Arizona Fall league started on October 1st, the Astros had sent six farmhands to the league that claims players by the name of Garciaparra, Giambi, Pujols, Giles and Jeter among its alumni. The six players sent by the Astros are a mix of young prospects and those nearing the age at which they will either have a breakthrough or be seen as a player that just doesn’t have what it takes to make the majors. Position players sent to the Mesa Solar Sox of the AFL include Jason Alfaro (IF-AA), John Buck (C-AA), Mike Hill (OF-AA) and Tommy Whiteman (IF-AA). Two pitchers were also sent to Arizona: Chad Qualls (RHP-AA) and Tom Shearn (RHP-AAA).

16 days into the season, some of the Astros are starting to come around, while others are not playing up to their potential. Given that most players only have 30 AB or 10 IP, the statistics aren’t as significant as they will be a month from now, near the end of the two month season. However, as we near the half way point some potential new stars are starting to shine, and fortunately for the Astros, in the positions that they need the most help. Tommy Whiteman, SS, has batted .344 with a .833 OPS. He’s also shown a little speed, stealing 2 bases with 4 K’s in 33 plate appearances, but has yet to show off his 10-15 HR per year power. Whiteman has played well at Lexington (A), but had struggled during two promotions to Round Rock (AA) totaling 19 games. This may well be his breakout season. Mike Hill, CF, is another bright spot in the young ALF season. While leading the league in doubles, Hill has hit .333 with a .852 OPS. Hill actually has quite a bit more speed than Whiteman, but has only stolen 2 bases to date. He’s got comparable power and should project to have 10-15 HR in a regular season, but has yet to swing that type of bat yet. Hill has played well in every year at the minor league level, but needs to work on his strike zone management a little more. Finally, Chad Qualls has had a nice start in the AFL as well. After a somewhat disappointing season in Round Rock (6-13. 4.30), Qualls is 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA. He’s only had 3 appearances and 6 IP, so there’s still quite a bit to be seen in how he will bounce back from the year at Round Rock.

John Buck, C, is largely considered the Astro’s top position player prospect and has been ranked the 2nd best prospect among NL catchers. He would have easily been the top prospect, except for a slightly disappointing season in AA this year. Unfortunately, Buck has continued his mediocre performance of 2002 in the early days of the league. Buck is hitting .259 with a .592 OPS in 27 AB. However, having only played in 8 games, the statistics aren’t enough to warrant much concern. He still has the potential to be starting at Houston in 2004.

Although Jason Alfaro, 2B, appeared to have a breakout season in 2002 at Round Rock (.314 with 16 HR and 11 SB), he quickly slipped back in Mesa. Alfaro’s first game was a gem, going 2-5 with a HR and 2 RBI, but since then has only managed to go 1 for 12, putting his average at .172. Something to note here is that Alfaro hasn’t played in more than a week. One has to wonder if he is hurt something or if the organization doesn’t want to ruin the confidence he no doubtably gained this year in AA ball. Tom Shearn, RHP, has been absolutely hammered in his 7 IP. Outside of his first appearance, in which he didn’t give up a hit, Shearn has given up at least two runs in each showing. Currently his ERA stands at 16.71, giving up 13 runs, all earned while facing only 36 hitters. This has to be an anomaly, as Shearn as been a good to great relief pitcher in regular season play during 2001 and 2002. It’s just a bump in the road that we will have to hope he is able to work through. One note of concern among all Astros farm hands is the lack of walks being taken. They have taken a combined 1 BB in 104 plate appearances while compiling 17 K’s.

Among other position players this fall, Ken Harvey (1B/DH - KC) and Mark Teixiera (3B - TEX) are absolutely dominating the league. Harvey is .528/1.300 with 2 HR, a league leading 17 RBI and a 4/4 K/BB ratio. Teixiera is .372/1.276 with a league leading 5 HR, 14 RBI and a 7/7 K/BB ratio. These guys are obviously the class of the league after the first 16 days.

Looking at other pitchers, Jerome Williams (SF) and Bobby Jenks (ANA) are pacing the field this fall. They each have 0.00 ERA's with WHIP's around 1.00. Each have pitched more than 10 innings, averaging more than 1 K per IP.

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