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Astros Find Power And Speed In One Package

June 7, 2004
By Tom Halliburton

A difference-maker in Texas-Arlington's batting order, Hunter Pence should be one of Houston's most interesting projects to emerge from its 2004 amateur draft pool.

Astros scouting director David Lakey felt the speed and power of the 6-4, 200-pound junior left fielder was too inviting to ignore when the club finally got a chance to pick with the 64th overall selection in the second round.

"He's a plus runner, has plus power, but his bat has a ways to go," Lakey said. "He has a below-average arm, so he's limited to left field.

"He's a corner guy and we feel like he can be a corner guy in the big leagues."

Pence's offense may have a ways to go but it would place Hunter in position to become the Southland Conference's 2004 player of the year and hitter of the year. The Arlington, Texas native batted .395 with eight doubles, five triples, eight home runs and 35 RBIs. He was 10 for 10 in stolen base attempts.

A 2003 Baseball America summer college All-America selection, Pence missed three weeks in the recent college season with a hip flexor strain but Astros scouts targeted him in advance. The club did not have a first-round selection because of the free-agent signing of Andy Pettitte last winter. They also lacked a 2003 first-round pick because of the free-agent signing of Jeff Kent.

Pence played his freshman year at Texarkana JC and Milwaukee originally drafted his services in 2002. He became a first-team all-Southland Conference player in back-to-back seasons.

Taking a drastic change from their customary draft approach, the Astros picked five position players before taking their first pitching prospect in the seventh round. Only five of Houston's first 17 selections were pitchers.

"Pence is a guy who addresses our need for speed and power," Lakey said. "We felt he was guy who fit what we were looking for. Pitching is important but we feel we have depth in the system in pitching."

ASTRO NOTES

* Round Rock will have a league-high eight members on the West Division squad of the 2004 Texas League All-Star team. The all-stars included four pitchers -- starters D. J. Houlton and Tim McClaskey, closer Santiago Ramirez and reliever Mike Burns. Position players were outfielder Willy Taveras, shortstop Tommy Whiteman, second baseman Brooks Conrad and first baseman Todd Self. The all-star game is June 21 in Midland.

* Ramirez and Whiteman were Round Rock's pitcher and batter of the month for May with 3B/DH Junior Zamora the defense player of the month. New Orleans'

monthly honorees included pitcher Kirk Bullinger with a win and 10 saves, second baseman Chris Burke on offense and shortstop Eric Bruntlett on defense.

* It's not hard to understand why the organization remains quite high on the work of 21-year-old Venezuelan righthander Fernando Nieve. The May pitcher of the month at Class A Salem, Nieve only compiled a 2-2 record during the month but he worked 36 innings, allowing 24 hits, 8 earned runs, and 8 bases on balls with 36 strikeouts. His ERA for May was a nice, neat 2.00.

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