Looking back with Legends-turned-Astros

May 3, 2011

What better way to spend a rainy day in Cincinnati than to catch up with some of the former Lexington Legends who now dot the Houston Astros roster?

In addition to highlights provided in a Herald-Leader/kentucky.com article, here’s what some of the fellas had to say.

Chris Johnson

“How many guys do we have up here — three or four guys?” third baseman Chris Johnson said. Told that the number was seven, he continued: “Wow! That’s great. That’s actually a testament to the Astros for drafting guys and getting them through the system. They’re really trying to develop us. And it’s a credit to all the coaches that we played with coming up through the system. They’ve really transformed us into being pretty good ballplayers.”

Fernando Abad
Brian Bogusevic
Bud Norris

In addition to Johnson, the Astros include former Legends Fernando Abad, Brian Bogusevic, Bud Norris, Hunter Pence, Wandy Rodriguez and J.R. Towles.

Johnson says he loves playing in Houston’s Minute Maid Park, but there’s also something about Chicago.


“That’s probably one of my favorite stops,” he said. “Just because as a kid I’ve always grown up dreaming about playing in Wrigley Field. All the history there, being so old. I haven’t been to Fenway (in Boston). … As a kid, those are two places I really wanted to go. So, one down.”

(Believe it or not, Johnson’s father Ron is first-base coach for the Red Sox.)

Towles, a catcher, on being hampered for two weeks-plus by a left ankle sprain — “I want to keep playing, so it’s going to be nagging around, staying around longer than if I would just stay off of it. But it’s one of those things that I can’t stay off of it, so it’s going to hang around. But it’s doing a lot better, and as long as it doesn’t get worse (will be OK).”

Norris on his days with Lexington pitching coach Charley Taylor — “I’m glad to see he’s healthy (after battling cancer). Charley was very encouraging. That was the thing. He always patted you on the back whether you did good or bad or in between, and it was kind of nice to have that at that level.”

Rodriguez (a.k.a. Eny Cabreja) on his time in the Bluegrass — “Nice place. And I had a good season when I was there, too. Won 11 games. I love Lexington.”

Manzella, Astros come to terms as camp opens

February 14, 2009

The Houston Astros announced Saturday that the club has agreed to terms on a one-year deal with SS Tommy Manzella.

Manzella is the fifth player with past ties to the Lexington Legends — South Atlantic League affiliate of the Astros — to come to terms in the last three days. He joins OF Brian Bogusevic, RHP Chris Sampson, IF Drew Sutton and C J.R. Towles.

Tommy Manzella

Tommy Manzella

Manzella, 25, agreed to a deal with a corresponding Major League value of $400,000. He hit .259 (117-for-452) while splitting last season between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Round Rock. He was named a Texas League All-Star and earned Defensive Player of the Month awards with both the Hooks (April) and Express (August). A third-round draft pick out of Tulane in 2005, he was a non-roster invitee to big-league training camp last year, going 6-for-19 (.316) in 11 games with the Astros.

* Astros pitchers and catchers had their first spring training workout Saturday at the Osceola County Stadium complex in Kissimmee, Fla. Of 35 players due Saturday, only RHP Jose Capellan did not show, due to a travel delay. All 27 pitchers in camp threw a 15-minute bullpen session.

The first full-squad workout is scheduled for Tuesday. Grapefruit League play begins Feb. 25, against the Washington Nationals at Kissimmee. Houston’s first road game in Florida will be Feb. 26, at Orlando, against the Atlanta Braves.

The Astros will finish pre-season work with a pair of exhibitions at Houston, April 3, vs. the Cleveland Indians. Houston opens the regular season at home, April 6 against the Chicago Cubs.

* Cincinnati Reds pitchers and catchers also reported Saturday, at the City of Sarasota (Fla.) Sports Complex Of 37 players due, only C Humberto Cota was absent. He is en route from Mexico. Position players are due Tuesday.

* Thanks to Sally Gunter of the Astros and Rob Butcher of the Reds for providing information for this entry.

Astros, 4 former Legends agree to one-year deals

February 13, 2009

Just in time for Saturday’s deadline for pitchers and catchers to report for spring training, the Houston Astros have come to terms with several former Lexington Legends.

Friday, OF Brian Bogusevic agreed to a one-year deal worth $400,000. (Ditto for non-Legend LHP Gilbert De La Vara.)

A day earlier, the Astros came to terms with three Legends graduates: RHP Chris Sampson ($449,000), IF Drew Sutton ($400,000) and catcher J.R. Towles ($401,500).

Bogusevic, a left-handed pitcher during his Lexington days, moved to the outfield last July with Double-A Corpus Christi. He responded by going 46-for-124 (.371), with three homers and 20 RBI over 42 games. He continued in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .338 (25-for-74) with 14 RBI over 22 games with the Scottsdale Scorpions. Now 24, he was Houston’s first-round pick (24th overall), out of Tulane, in the 2005 draft.

Chris Sampson

Chris Sampson

Sampson also was a pitcher when he was in Lexington — and still is. However, he broke into pro ball in 1999 as a shortstop. Personal issues led him to sit out the next three years. When he asked the Astros for another chance, they agreed with the proviso that he move to the mound. Now 30, Sampson was 6-4 with a 4.22 ERA over 117.1 innings for the Astros last season, with 11 starts among his career-high 54 appearances. Over three seasons with the Astros, Sampson is 15-13 with a 3.12 ERA, 33 starts and 90 games.

Sutton earned team MVP honors for Corpus Christi and was a Texas League mid-season and post-season all-star last season. He hit .317 (165-for-520) with 20 homers and 69 RBI, leading all Astros minor-leaguers in average, hits, runs (102), walks (76), doubles (39) and extra-base hits (63). He followed up in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .315 (34-for-108) with seven homers and 24 RBI over 30 games with the Scorpions.

J.R. Towles

J.R. Towles

Towles, 25 like Sutton, played 54 games over three call-ups to the Astros last season. He went 20-for-146 at the plate (.137), but connected for five doubles, four homers and 14 RBI. Only three rookie catchers have ever hit more homers for the Astros: Mitch Meluskey (14 in 2000), Mark Bailey (9, 1984) and Eddie Taubensee (5, 1992).


Talking baseball: Legends, Wildcats and Reds

January 21, 2009
Six of Baseball America’s “Top 10 Prospects” in the Houston Astros organization are former Lexington Legends.

The top 10 in order (Legends underlined): Jason Castro, C; Bud Norris, RHP; Ross Seaton, RHP; Brian Bogusevic, OF; Chris Johnson, 3B; Jordan Lyles, RHP; Felipe Paulino, RHP; Drew Sutton, SS/2B; Collin DeLome, OF; Jay Austin, OF. Castro, Norris and Johnson have invitations to major-league spring training with the Astros. Castro is Houston’s top draft pick of 2008, out of Miami (Fla.).

Baseball America’s “Best Tools” designees in the Astros system include: Bogusevic (a converted pitcher), best hitter for average; Johnson, best power hitter and best infield arm; Sutton, best strike-zone discipline; and Norris, best fastball. Other ex-Legends on the Best Tools list are Sammy Gervacio, best slider; Polin Trinidad, best control; Tommy Manzella, best defensive infielder; and Josh Flores, best defensive outfielder.

* More ex-files – Houston signed RHP Paul Estrada; reclaimed 2B Jonny Ash from Milwaukee in the 3A Rule 5 draft; and sent OF Jordan Parraz to Kansas City as the “player to be named” in a deal that sent LHP Tyler Lumsden to the Astros.

* The Brewers signed former Clark County High School RHP Matt Ginter.

Cats not included in Baseball America pre-season Top 25

Kentucky cracked pre-season polls released by Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (23) and Collegiate Baseball Newspaper (19), but not with Baseball America. Louisville checked in at No. 23 in the BBA rankings. Texas A&M is No. 1, followed by LSU, the first of five Southeastern Conference teams listed. The other four: Mississippi (6), Georgia (14), Alabama (21) and Arkansas (22).

The Reds are coming! The Reds are coming!

A reminder that the Cincinnati Reds Winter Caravan is scheduled to stop at Fayette Mall in Lexington on Saturday, 6-8:30 p.m.

Scheduled to make the trip are Gold Glove second baseman Brandon Phillips, No. 1 draft pick Devin Mesoraco and Reds Hall of Famer Lee May. Fans also will have the chance to meet Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman, TV analyst Chris Welsh, Chief Executive Officer Bob Castellini and Assistant General Manager Bob Miller, as well as team mascot Gapper.

Lexington is part of the Caravan’s “Southern Tour” stops. Simultaneous “Northern” and “Western” tours will feature others in the Reds family.

All the stops are free to the public, and two tickets to opening day (April 6 vs. New York Mets) will be raffled at each stop.

The full Southern Tour:

Thursday, Jan. 22 — 3:15-4:45 p.m., Charleston (W.Va.) Towne Center; 6:30-8:30 p.m., Huntington (W.Va.)/Ashland, Ky., Fannin Motors.

Friday, Jan. 23 — 7-8:30 p.m., Bowling Green, Ky., Greenwood Mall.

Saturday, Jan. 24 — 11 a.m.-1 p.m., Nashville, RiverGate Mall; 6-8:30 p.m., Lexington, Fayette Mall.

Sunday, Jan. 25 — 12:15-1:45 p.m., Maysville (Ky.) Conference Center.

The Northern Tour will stop at Vienna, W.Va.; Athens, Ohio; Lima, Ohio; and Columbus, Ohio. General Manager Walt Jocketty, broadcaster Thom Brennaman, Chief Operating Officer Phil Castellini, Reds Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Browning, Reds Minor League Player of the Year Chris Valaika, infielder Jeff Keppinger, pitcher Mike Lincoln, coach Billy Hatcher and mascot Mr. Redlegs will take part in all or parts of the Northern Tour.

The Western Tour includes one Kentucky site, Louisville Slugger Field, home of the Louisville Bats (Jan. 22, 4:30-7 p.m.). Also on the circuit are Indiana stops in Evansville, Bloomington, Indianapolis and Muncie, as well as the final leg at Dayton, Ohio. Western  participants include Manager Dusty Baker, broadcasters George Grande and Jeff Brantley, outfielder Chris Dickerson, utility player Jerry Hairston Jr., 2008 top draft pick Yonder Alonso and mascot Rosie Red. 

In addition to Lexington, CEO Bob Castellini will visit Louisville and Columbus.

More details are available online at: www.reds.com/caravan.

Astros add three ex-Legends to 40-man roster; Legends will name play-by-play announcer Thursday

November 19, 2008

A trio of former Lexington Legends had their contracts purchased and were added to the Houston Astros’ 40-man roster Wednesday. The promotions were announced by General Manager Ed Wade in a press release.

And the Legends will name their new play-by-play announcer on Thursday.

Lexington fans will easily recall infielders Tommy Manzella and Drew Sutton, but may have to pause when considering outfielder Brian Bogusevic.

Bogusevic, a 2005 first-round draft pick, was a left-handed pitcher during his Lexington days. He began last season as a pitcher but by July he wound up in the outfield. He hit .371 (46-for-124), with three homers and 20 RBI over 42 games for Double-A Corpus Christi. Playing for Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League, Bogusevic is hitting .329 (23-for-70) with 12 RBI through 12 games.

Manzella, a 2005 third-round draft pick, is a slick-fielding shortstop. He split the 2008 season between Corpus Christi and Triple-A Round Rock, hitting a combined .259 (117-for-452). He earned Texas League All-Star honors with the Hooks, and was named Defensive Player of the Month in April for Corpus and in August for the Express.

Sutton, a 2004 15th-round draft pick, hit .317 (165-for-520), with 20 homers and 69 RBI for Corpus Christi, where he was the team’s MVP and a Texas League mid-season and post-season all-star. He led all Astros minor-leaguers in batting average, hits, runs (102), walks (76), doubles (39) and extra-base hits (63). Also with Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League, he is hitting .327 (34-for-104), with seven home runs and 24 RBI over 29 games.

Thursday’s announcement by the Legends (Applebee’s Park, 10 a.m.) will reveal the new director of broadcasting and media relations, as well as other staff additions. General Manager Andy Shea said in a press release that the staff has been increased by about 15 percent.

The Legends have the largest radio network in the minors with flagship WLXG-AM and 34 affiliates.

“We are excited to have a longtime Lexington resident, who is already connected with our fans, represent out team on the air,” Alan Stein, team president and CEO, said in the press release.

Larry Glover handled play-by-play for the Legends’ first seven seasons. Rob Gidel took over in 2008, but recently left to take a broadcasting post with the University of Akron. His duties there include several “coach shows” and Zips women’s basketball play-by-play.

The Legends will open their ninth season in the South Atlantic League on April 9, visiting the West Virginia Power at Charleston. Lexington’s home opener, against the Kannapolis Intimidators, is set for Monday, April 13.