PITTSBURGH -- With the Astros calling up many of their top prospects to the Major Leagues and infusing their farm system with talent in the trades of Jeff Keppinger, Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn, the team's Minor League system made strides in 2011, even if the records of the affiliates didn't exactly show it.
Houston's eight Minor League affiliates went a combined 337-488, with no team finishing with a winning record. Of the four full-season clubs, Triple-A Oklahoma City finished with the best record at 68-75 in the Pacific Coast League. Double-A Corpus Christi went 50-90, Class A Lancaster was 55-85 overall and Class A Lexington was 59-79.
"I would say we're disappointed from a team standpoint, but I spent some time over the weekend looking at some things, and our clubs have been very young," Astros director of player development Fred Nelson said. "And so it makes it difficult at times to compete. That's no excuse, but certainly our clubs have been young and we're also just one of seven other clubs that field seven teams here in the United States, so you spread your players a little bit thinner. The individual performances have been very rewarding."
The system sent several players to the Major Leagues, including third baseman Jimmy Paredes, second baseman Jose Altuve and left fielder J.D. Martinez, each of whom made the jump from Double-A to start in the big leagues. Twenty-year-old pitcher Jordan Lyles made 15 starts for the Astros.
"We moved a lot of players this year, some of it by need," Nelson said. "Also, just the domino effect. When you take guys to the big leagues it creates holes and opportunities, and we really pushed a lot of kids and most have held their own and done quite well and positioned themselves to be pretty good players for us."
Martinez hopes night off will do him some good
PITTSBURGH -- Coming off a terrific August in which he drove in 28 runs, Astros left fielder J.D. Martinez entered Tuesday hitting .133 (2-for-15) in September with no homers or RBIs. With that in mind, he was out of the lineup for only the second time since July 31.
Martinez, who was called up July 29 when Hunter Pence was traded to the Phillies, admitted a day out of the lineup may do him some good mentally. J.B. Shuck started in left field and batted third.
"I call it too much mind," he said. "Sometimes you have to let your instincts take over and sometimes I get caught up in it. Sometimes you think you're smarter than the game and you begin to feel what they're going to throw you and you start guessing. Once you start guessing, it's hard to get away from it. I feel it will be definitely useful. I don't mind days like this. I felt it coming."
Martinez, who's hitless in his last nine at-bats, told hitting coach Mike Barnett he didn't feel like himself lately, but he's not doing anything different mechanically. With a day off, Martinez plans to try not to think about hitting, which is admittedly hard.
"It's hard to do, because hitting is what I do," he said. "It's funny, because I always say it's who I am. I could go in the cage and hit for hours. I hate running, I hate going to the gym, I hate doing everything else. But hitting is what I love to do, so it's just tough when you're going through something like this, and I'm hoping I can get out of it quick. I'm hoping the day off will help me clear my mind and I'll start fresh tomorrow."
Wright excelling since latest promotion
PITTSBURGH -- Relief pitcher Wesley Wright is perhaps the most resilient player currently on the Astros' roster. He's bounced between Triple-A and the Major Leagues nine times in the past three seasons, he's been briefly used as a starter and he even changed his arm slot this spring, only to return to his original arm position.
Wright was even called up to the Majors at one point this season and didn't appear in a game before he was sent down. The 26-year-old left-hander not only endured it all, but he says his experiences of the last few years have been beneficial.
"In a weird way, it's helped me take some of that pressure off," Wright said. "I've been in that [manager's] office enough times to where it's not even a fear anymore. I kind of know the routine of you get the call and you're probably going down. It's kind of been eliminated from my mind, and now I can just focus on doing what I do best, and that's going out there to pitch."
Wright entered Tuesday's game with 10 scoreless appearances since he was recalled from Triple-A on Aug. 20. He has 15 consecutive scoreless appearances combined between Triple-A and the Majors since Aug. 8.
"I got into a groove in Triple-A and I've been trying to stay in that exact same groove and not try to do anything different because I got called back up to the big leagues," he said.
"I'm trying to keep my mindset not to put any added pressure on myself. It's a situation I want to go out and enjoy it and try to do the best you can, because I've been through so many ups and downs in the last couple of years, I think it kind of affected the way I performed. So, it's just enjoy it, let your natural ability take over. It's shown with the way I pitched lately."
Biggio holds annual Sunshine Kids Party
PITTSBURGH -- Astros legend Craig Biggio played host to his annual Sunshine Kids Party on Tuesday at Minute Maid Park.
Biggio, who retired after 20 seasons with the Astros in 2007, played baseball on the field at Minute Maid Park with dozens of children from the Sunshine Kids program and their families. Biggio has been a long-time supporter of the Sunshine Kids, a non-profit organization dedicated to children with cancer and their families.
Biggio and the Astros also played host to a lunch in the Five-Seven Grille, where Biggio signed autographs and took photos with the children and families. Astros owner Drayton McLane and president of baseball operations Tal Smith also attended the event. Additionally, several Astros front-office employees volunteered at the event.
Biggio and his wife, Patty, have worked closely with the Sunshine Kids for more than 20 years, making frequent visits to the Sunshine Kids House, which they helped renovate. They've hosted monthly visits to Astros games and participated in numerous golf tournaments and galas, which have raised millions of dollars for the organization.
Left-hander Sergio Escalona was activated from the disabled list prior to Tuesday's game. He had been on the disabled list since Aug. 22 with left elbow tendinitis. After throwing 18 pitches in a Minor League rehab stint on Monday, Escalona was unavailable to pitch Tuesday against the Pirates.