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Baseball America's Daily Dish
Complete Daily Dish Archive

Compiled by Josh Cooper, Aaron Fitt, Kevin Goldstein and Alan Matthews
July 22, 2005

LAKEWOOD, N.J.--The 2004 draft is shaping up as a bountiful one for the Astros, and outfielder Hunter Pence is a big reason why.

In his first full season, Pence was among the South Atlantic League leaders in just about every significant offensive category at low Class A Lexington, even though he missed 21 games with a strained quadriceps. His 24 home runs and .649 slugging percentage both led the league, and his .333 average, .507 on-base percentage and 59 RBIs all were among the top 10.

The Astros took the 6-foot-4, 210-pounder, in the second round last year out of Texas-Arlington. After signing for $575,000 last June, he reported to short-season Tri-City and hit .296/.369./.518 with eight home runs and 37 RBIs in 199 at-bats.

He has been even better this season, one of several reasons the Astros are so optimistic about their 2004 draft class. Four other players from last year's draft--second baseman Jonny Ash (11th round), lefthander Troy Patton (ninth round), lefthander Jeff Wigdahl (23rd round) and shortstop Ben Zobrist (sixth round)--have already moved up from Lexington to high Class A Salem, and Pence likely won't be too far behind.

We talked with Pence about his transition to professional baseball, finding comfort in choking up, his recent injury and his progression this season:

On getting accustomed to pro ball: "It was kind of rough at the start. My first few games I didnt even get a hit. I was 0-for-13, but Ive been playing in the minors for a year and a half now almost and I've just kind of gotten used to it. A lot of things have changed. I have learned a lot. Its been a pretty fun ride."

On choking up on the bat more than most players his size: "Its just a comfort thing really. I feel like I have more control of the bat when I choke up. I have done it my whole life. When I was younger, I was always the smallest guy and all of that. So from being younger and always choking up as a kid, I never changed it as I grew up."

On his strained quadriceps muscle: "Its getting better. Its still there, but its pretty strong right now. If I have to I can run pretty good once I get going. The only thing that it has really affected is getting started. I cant really get a good jump, but other than that it is pretty healthy right now. My swing is not totally back to where it was. My timing is a little off. Im always changing my swing every day with whatever feels good, even when I was going good."

On his power surge: "Well, in college I had a pulled quadriceps in my other leg. I didnt really think I was fully healthy last year and didnt think I played as well I should have. I think a lot it is that I got healthy and I got stronger, not much. After wearing down a whole season for college, and getting hurt, I got to build back up my legs. I think that has a lot to do with it. We also play in a pretty small park and that helps (laughs). Basically, being healthy is what I thought helped me out a bunch. Hopefully, I can recover from this and get back to where I was."

On his strength and weakness: "Id say my strength is my hitting. My weakness has always been my arm and defense. I am trying to get better jumps on balls and working on things like that."

On his future: "Im sure they have their plan for me. I dont know what they want to do with me. I just play wherever they put me, thats all I can control. Unfortunately I got hurt, but I can possibly move up pretty soon once I get back to 100 percent. We will see. I love it here in Lexington and I am happy wherever they put me."

--MATTHEW STUCKO

DISH PIECES

After getting shelled for six runs in 3 2/3 innings in his last outing, Red Sox righthander Jon Papelbon rebounded in his third start at Triple-A Pawtucket last night, though he was the hard-luck loser against Louisville. Papelbon gave up one run on six hits over eight innings of work, but the 23-year-old was outdueled by 29-year-old righthander Jimmy Serrano. Serrano improved to 11-3, 3.47 after holding Pawtucket scoreless on four hits in 7 2/3 innings.

The Pirates called up first baseman Brad Eldred from Triple-A Indianapolis after he went on another hot streak, racking up 10 home runs and 23 RBIs in his last 11 games to boost his numbers at Indianapolis to .282-15-48. He batted .333-13-27 at Double-A Altoona to start the season. The Pirates optioned infielder Bobby Hill to the minors to make room for Eldred, "He is swinging the bat very well," Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We're in a situation where we've struggled offensively. We want to give him an opportunity to swing the bat (at) the big league level and see what he can do."

Triple-A Columbus wasted a strong start by lefthander Sean Henn when Colter Bean failed to hold a 2-1 lead in the ninth inning against Buffalo. Henn held the Bisons to one run on five hits over seven innings, but Bean allowed two runs on three singles to give Buffalo the 3-2 win. Henn has not given up more than three earned runs in any of his last six starts, and he allowed just one earned run in four of them, but he has just one win to show for it. He is 5-4, 2.82 in 80 innings at Columbus this year.

Brewers righthander Ty Taubenheim had his best start since being promoted to Double-A Huntsville. In his third appearance with the Stars, Taubenheim struck out 10 and walked two over seven strong innings, giving up three runs in Huntsville's 4-3 loss to Mobile. He had lasted just two innings in his previous outing against Carolina. Taubenheim, a 19th-round pick in the 2003 draft, opened eyes in the Florida State League, winning his first six starts of the season and compiling a 10-2, 2.63 record.

But the best start in the Southern League on Thursday belonged not to Taubenheim but to Tennessee righthander Tony Pena. Location and command were the keys for the 23-year-old Dominican, who twirled a two-hit shutout against West Tenn, striking out five and walking none. He improved to 5-8, 4.37 in 95 innings. ''Every inning was the same: I threw (the) pitch, and it was a strike,'' Pena told the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun. ''I felt good today."

Braves lefthander Jake Stevens' 19th start of the year was his first of the season without allowing any runs. He threw six shutout innings in high Class A Myrtle Beach's 4-0 win against Wilmington, striking out five and walking four to improve to 6-7, 4.19 on the year. In his last start against the Blue Rocks, Stevens was rocked for eight earned runs on three homers in three innings of work, his worst outing of the year.

Low Class A Greensboro first baseman Brad McCann had his third two-homer game of the season in an 8-3 win against Greenville. The Marlins' sixth-round pick last year out of Clemson went 3-for-4 with a season-high five RBIs to boost his season line to .284-19-66.

McCann wasn't the only one doubling his pleasure in the South Atlantic League on Thursday. Three other players went deep twice apiece--all in Rome's 15-9 win against Asheville. Braves third baseman Van Pope and DH Brandon Jones combined for four longballs, seven hits and seven RBIs. Tourists center fielder Matt Miller countered with two homers of his own (giving him .347-21-75 numbers on the year), and first baseman Joe Koshansky went deep for the second straight day, but it wasn't enough to overcome the big days for Pope and Jones.

Once considered one of the top pitching prospects in the game, righthander Juan Cruz never lived up to expectations with the Cubs, didn't stick with the Braves and was a big disappointment in the As bullpen this year, compiling an 8.49 ERA in 21 games. Put into the rotation at Triple-A Sacramento, Cruz has been a force in the Pacific Coast League over the last month. The 26-year-old fired six shutout innings last night in the River Cats' 3-0 win over Portland last night, and is now 2-0, 1.54 in 35 innings with 50 strikeouts.

Mariners lefthander Bobby Livingston picked up his first Triple-A victory last night, allowing three hits and one run over five innings in Tacomas 3-2 win over Tucson. It was the second PCL start for Livingston, who went 8-4, 2.86 in 18 starts for Double-A San Antonio. Righthander Felix Hernandez relieved Livingston and struck out four over three innings in his longest stint since returning from a minor bout of shoulder bursitis.

With Howie Kendrick gone to Double-A, the hottest second baseman in the high Class A California League is Stockton's Kevin Melillo. The Athletics' 2004 fifth-round pick out of South Carolina was 3-for-4 with a double, a home run and two RBIs in Stocktons 8-7 win over Modesto on Wednesday, and is batting .423-7-17 in 16 games since a promotion from low Class A Kane County. With hits in all 16 games hes played for the Ports, Melillos hitting streak across two levels has reached 28 games.

Angels righthander Jered Weaver continued to show that he's quickly rounding into form, firing seven innings on one-hit shutout baseball, walking two and striking out 10 in high Class A Rancho Cucamongas 1-0 win over Inland Empire last night. Weaver, who signed a week before this year's draft and hadn't pitched competitively in more than a year when he reported to the Quakes, struck out the first four batters he faced and allowed only a second-inning double to Wladimir Balentien. He is now 4-1, 3.82 in seven starts with 49 strikeouts in 33 innings.

Mets righthander Gaby Hernandez continues to roll in his first full season. Promoted to the Florida State League two weeks ago, the 19-year-old fired six shutout innings in high Class A St. Lucies 4-2 win over Vero Beach last night, allowing four hits and no walks, while striking out four. A 2004 third-round pick out of high school in Miami, Hernandez began the year at low Class A Hagerstown, where he went 6-1, 2.43 in 18 starts.

Cubs outfielder Ryan Harvey has found his power stroke at low Class A Peoria. Harvey smacked his 17th home run last night in a 7-6 loss to Lansing, giving him five home runs in his last nine games to go along with season totals of .262/.315/.495 in 317 at-bats.

The pitching matchup of the night did not disappoint, as Cardinals supplemental first-round pick Mark McCormick fired 5 2/3 shutout innings in his Midwest League debut, allowing four hits and three walks for Quad Cities. Padres righthander Clayton Hamilton bettered McCormick, though, hurling seven shutout innings and allowing three hits. The game went scoreless into extra innings and was eventually won by the Wizards, 2-1 in 11.

Indians righthander Adam Miller had his worst outing of the season at high Class A Kinston, after the start of the game against Frederick was delayed 34 minutes for a thunderstorm that never actually came. Miller struggled to find his rhythm in the first inning, allowing three runs. It looked like he was settling down in the second, when he struck out the side on 10 pitches, but the Keys chased him after scoring four more runs in the third, en route to an 11-3 win.

Outfielder Greg Golson, the Phillies' first-round pick in 2004, continues to lose important development time in his first full season. Golson went on the disabled list again this week with a sprained right knee. He had missed time earlier in the season with a sprained ankle. Golson is batting .274-1-12 in 53 games at low Class A Lakewood.

Outfielder Ricky Prady had a pair of hits, including a home run, and four RBIs in his first game in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League as the GCL Twins slugged their way to a 20-4 victory over the Pirates. A 29th-round pick from Sebastian River (Fla.) High in 2004, Prady was hit in the face by a ball during batting practice in June, breaking a bone in his cheek and costing him several weeks of playing time. Every starter in the Twins lineup got at least one hit off Pirates pitchers Bladimil Hernandez, Keily Arias and John Walk. Walk, who was making his first GCL appearance, gave up nine runs (eight earned) and six hits while walking three in two innings of work.

The Twins supplemental first-round pick this year, first baseman Henry Sanchez out of San Diegos Mission Bay High, signed last week and was scheduled to make his debut in the GCL today. Outfielder Danny Santiesteban, a 2004 draft-and-follow who signed in May, was batting .311-6-24 in the GCL before breaking a finger diving into a base this week.

GCL Yankees first baseman Angel Fermin, 19, went 4-for-4 in a 7-1 win over the GCL Tigers Thursday.

The Rookie-level Pioneer League featured a handful of impressive pitching performances last night. Righthander Paul Moviel struck out eight, allowed a walk and an unearned run in seven innings for Great Falls, which edged Casper 5-1 despite six strong innings from righthander Alan Johnson. Billings righthander Jeff Stevens improved his strikeout-walk ratio to 24-3 with eight strikeouts and no walks in six innings against Idaho Falls. Angels righthander Stephen Marek, a high-profile draft-and-follow signee, racked up seven strikeouts over five innings for Orem.

Short-season Boise center fielder Davy Gregg, who was drafted in the 27th round out of South Carolina this year, went 4-for-5 Thursday to raise his average to .325. He connected on his first professional home run, doubled and stole his 24th base.

Devil Rays prospect Matt Walker gave up only three hits and struck out 12 in six innings for Rookie-level Princeton, but didn't get the win because of shaky relief work in a game the P-Rays eventually won 10-8. Walker was a 10th-round selection in 2004 out of Central High in Baton Rouge, and dropped that far mostly due to signability and his desire to play college football. The Devil Rays signed him for $600,000. Armed with a plus curve and a fastball that works in the low 90s, Walker has 36 strikeouts in 30 innings with a 2.67 ERA.

Big (6-foot-6, 280 pounds) Kyle Blanks power outage continued last night when the Padres prospect went homerless for the seventh straight game in the Rookie-level Arizona League. Blanks had seven home runs in his first 14 games but none since. His power slump has been accompanied by a drop in his average, from a high of .423 to its current .320 clip.

Short-season Vancouver righthander Jimmy Shull improved to 2-0, 1.37 with five shutout innings against Eugene last night in the Northwest League. Shull, the Athletics fourth-round pick this year from Cal Poly, has a 24-1 strikeout-walk ratio in 20 innings.

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