By Michael N
Editor’s note – This article originally appeared on AstrosConnection.com on September 7, 1998.
OK, everyone knows about catcher Mitch Meluskey being called up to the big club for September. It is my belief that he will never see a Zephyrs uniform again and Tough Tony Eusebio is destined for pinch-hitting duty in the playoffs and next year (unless he signs with another club).
Mitch can just flat-out hit the ball and understands the strike zone (1.049 OPS). He also has the benefit of working under the tutelage of a great defensive catcher in Brad Ausmus. Hopefully Mitch will take advantage of this opportunity and become a rock behind the plate as well as an offensive force. My estimate of his ceiling: just a notch below a Jason Kendall.
For the multitude of CJ Nitkowski supporters out there, yeah it pretty much stinks that he got sent down only to get called up after the rosters were set for the post-season. It simply was a matter of his having an option and the other left-handers being subject to waivers. CJ knows this and the hope here is that he will not hold his demotion against the organization. At the very least, the Astros do still hold the cards with respect to his future in that Nitkowski does not have 3 years of ML experience, so the Astros will control his services for next year. Maybe Gerry the Hun will reward this stand-up guy with an extended deal.
As to others being put on the expanded roster, I do not expect a flurry of call-ups to Houston. Rosters can be expanded to 40, but I see no reason for the Astros to do this. Guys like Eusebio, Tim Bogar, Jay Powell, Mike Magnante and (yes) Dave Clark need the at-bats and innings to remain confident come playoff time. What is the point of adding 15 guys to the bench just to sit?
That said, the top candidates to join the club are:
Position Players: Daryle Ward, Russ Johnson, Lance Berkman, Jamie Saylor and Chris Truby.
Call-up for the first three depends on New Orleans’ playoff schedule (assuming they make it). Saylor is a versatile guy who hits left-handed and can play 3B, SS, 2B and the OF. Right-handed hitting, third baseman Truby leads all Astro minor leaguers with 30 HR.
Pitchers: Mike Grzanich, Reggie Harris, Bob Milacki, Brian Sikorski, and Roberto Rivera.
All of these guys are in New Orleans so the same applies as above. Unfortunately, only Grzanich and Sikorski have potential to help Houston in the future.
Again, I don’t think most of these guys will get the nod to join the Astros and if they do, don’t expect them to get much playing time. Positioning for home field advantage and sharpness for the playoffs is much more important.
THE BIG UNIT TRADE
Sorry if this is just a rehash of old news, but wanted to give my two cents (imagine that).
Unlike some of the major media outlets who have declared the Randy Johnson deal (AKA: midnight madness in Seattle) a great short-term deal for the Astros, but one that mortgaged its future – I’m taking a stand of wait and see. There is no doubting that Freddy Garcia and Carlos Guillen are very good prospects who should help Seattle soon. But the deal made Houston a legitimate championship contender. If the club makes the World Series and is somehow able to re-sign Big Unit, the pundits still questioning the deal should have their membership in the Baseball Writers Association of America revoked.
As for mortgaging the future, I am a minor league junkie and one who feels strongly that a baseball team MUST develop a strong farm system, so sure I hate to see two promising players go elsewhere. But one of the benefits of having a deep system is that you can deal for established players without disrupting the current ML roster. Guillen and Garcia were clearly the top two prospects at their positions in the Astro system. Garcia was the top pitcher in the AA Texas League who deals the ball at 95MPH and exhibits very good control. Guillen has all the tools you want for a middle infielder, great size, range and hands with a great arm. He is also a switch hitter with good pop in his bat. The Astros simply do not have replacements for them right now at their respective levels. RHP Wade Miller is hurt and RHP Brian Sikorski is having a disappointing season. IF Jamie Saylor and IF Jhonny Perez, while nice players, are not in Guillen’s league. I’m not dogging these guys, I think they all have a future in baseball. But in my estimation, none of them are quite as good as the prospects we traded.
Dealing Garcia and Guillen unquestionably hurts. But the ultimate goal is not to have the best farm system in baseball; it’s to win the World Series. In professional sports, if a team has a legitimate shot at winning it all by making one deal to help the club…YOU DO IT. Who knows what will happen next year? In my opinion, the trade was worth it. Especially if the club is able to re-sign Johnson.