H-Town Sports

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Monday, July 03, 2006

Q&A with Hooks' Beat Writer Greg Rajan

Greg Rajan, the Corpus-Christi Caller Times' beat writer for the Corpus Christi Hooks, was kind enough to answer a handful of questions that we presented to him about his work for the paper as well as the talented Hooks' roster. Here is a transcript of our conversation:

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H-Town Sports: Those of us stuck in the grind of working for the proverbial Man day-to-day look upon a guy like you with jealousy. What could possibly be better than going out to the ballpark on a nightly basis and writing about your experiences there? As such, what's the best part of being a beat writer for the Hooks? What's the worst part?

Greg Rajan: I won't lie to you --- going to the ballpark every day and writing about baseball is a fun job to have. I'm fortunate that I was assigned this beat and do enjoy it. But like any job, it has its pluses and minuses. The best part? I think for me, it's the opportunity to travel. Our situation here in Corpus is very unique because I don't think there are many newspapers that cover minor-league baseball that allow their writers to travel to road games. Our management has been very good about giving us the resources to do that. As for the worst part, spending five days in Midland is hardly fun, and driving to Tulsa after a night game in Wichita to catch an early morning flight is definitely not fun. So I would say the grind of a 140-game season and the travel that goes along with it would be the worst part. The season goes by quickly, but you're burning the candle at both ends for about five months.

H-Town Sports: What's your take on the blogosphere? What sites/blogs do you check out on a regular basis? Has it had any impact on your work in the print media?

Greg Rajan: I don't really have a problem with the blogosphere, it's just part of the evolution of the Internet. There are responsible bloggers and irresponsible ones, but that's pretty much the case with any endeavor. I like to check out Richard Justice's and Brian McTaggart's blogs on the Houston Chronicle site. And because of my job, milb.com and baseballamerica.com are frequently-visited sites. Blogs have had an impact on my job because I have two of them myself. One deals with minor league hockey (my beat from October through March) and the other one is about the Hooks. The hockey one has really taken off because minor league hockey fans are very Internet-savvy. The Hooks one is still in its infancy and doesn't generate as much traffic.

H-Town Sports: Who's the best interview that you've had thus far in your career? The worst?

Greg Rajan: I would say the best interviews I've ever done were with Ken Hitchcock, the head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers, when he was in Corpus Christi two years ago during the NHL lockout. He's a great guy to talk to. I'd heard horror stories about baseball players being difficult to deal with, but with only a couple of exceptions, the Hooks players I've dealt with have been more than accomodating. Jason Hirsh always was a good interview, and so were guys like Chris Sampson and Philip Barzilla. The worst interviews are high school athletes, mainly because more are inexperienced at dealing with the media.

H-Town Sports: What are some things that would surprise us as MLB fans about the brand of baseball played on the Double-A level?

Greg Rajan
: I would the biggest surprise is the quality of play itself. Double-A baseball is quite entertaining to watch. Most teams' top prospects come through Double-A, so I think it's better ball than Triple-A, which in recent years has become a place to store spare parts and doesn't have the volume of prospects that Double-A does.

H-Town Sports: What is your take on the Astros' glacier-like approach to moving prospects through their minor-league system?

Greg Rajan: You know, I can understand both the Astros' perspective and the fans' frustration at the same time. Tim Purpura and farm director Ricky Bennett have told me on several occasions that they want to develop winning players. Sometimes moving a guy up can be detrimental to his development, but sometimes guys get kept in Double-A when there's nothing left for them to prove at that level. You have to strike a fine balance. Of course, you also have to factor the logistics. You can't just call up a bunch of guys from Round Rock or Corpus if you don't have the spots for them or openings on the 40-man roster.

H-Town Sports: What players do you think Astros' fans should be most excited about seeing hit Minute Maid Park in the next two to three seasons?

Greg Rajan: Obviously, Hunter Pence tops the list. If he keeps developing at his current pace, I think he'll be a 20- to 30-homer guy in the majors. Ben Zobrist looks like the shortstop of the future and is a remarkable success story considering he was a guy who initially wasn't going to play college baseball. Another guy I think would be a fan favorite is Jonny Ash. He's a scrappy little guy and while I'm not saying he'll definitely make the majors, you can't help but pull for a guy like him.

H-Town Sports: Is Mike Gallo the worst pitcher you've seen in major-league history?

Greg Rajan: Wow, that's a lot of pitchers to compare him to. Because of my job, I don't get a chance to watch a lot of Astros games. The only time I saw Gallo this year was in that 18-inning loss at Pittsburgh. That definitely wasn't pretty.

H-Town Sports: How does a guy like Steve Kent take the demotion that he just received, despite apparently pitching quite well out of the pen for Round Rock, and especially considering that he's fully aware that the big club is desparate for bullpen help?

Greg Rajan: Honestly, what choice does have but to go to Corpus? He's not an organization guy. By that, I mean he wasn't drafted by the Astros and they wouldn't seem to have a real vested interest in him (i.e. a scout or other higher-up who went to bat for him at some point). I think Kent fits that "spare part" Triple-A guy I mentioned earlier. Even though he has big-league experience, I can't imagine him being a call-up possibility for the Astros. Plus, after watching his first outing with the Hooks (0.2 innings, 1 run and pulled mid-count), I'm wondering how he put up such good numbers in Round Rock.

H-Town Sports: Do you think Hunter Pence and/or Ben Zobrist are ready for the big leagues right now? If so, how long ago would you have called them up, if you were GM? If not, how much longer do you think they'll need in the minors? What things do you think those two guys need to work on most to get ready for the bigs?

Greg Rajan: I don't think either one of those guys is ready for the majors right now. I think they'll finish the year in Corpus this year and get put on the 40-man roster in the off-season, with an invite to big-league camp next year. Pence needs to work on his plate discipline and hit for average a little more. Zobrist needs to work on his defense, more on the throwing end, and drive the ball more.

H-Town Sports: How far away would you say that Jailen Pegeuro and/or Paul Estrada are from contributing out of the bullpen on the big league level?

Greg Rajan: I actually wouldn't be surprised to see Peguero get to Houston this September. He's a completely different pitcher than last year in terms of focus and being overpowering. Last year, a batter would reach base and a meltdown seemed imminent for Peguero. This year, he was just dominant in Double-A. It was the right time to move him to Triple-A and I think he'll fare well up there. He wasn't even excited about getting called up to Round Rock because the majors is his only goal. As for Estrada, he's probably another year or two away from the majors. What he's doing now is astounding considering he was in rookie ball for four years and was a fairly obscure reliever for Lexington last year.

H-Town Sports: How would you rank the following pitching prospects in terms of their likelihood of being successful on the major-league level: Jason Hirsh, Troy Patton, Matt Albers, Chance Douglass, Juan Gutierrez.

Greg Rajan: I haven't seen Patton pitch, so I'll leave him out of the rankings. As for the other guys, I'd have it in this order: Hirsh, Albers, Gutierrez, Douglass. Albers has surprised me; I've only seen him have one bad inning all year. Gutierrez has been very good of late and Douglass has been pretty good after a terrible first start.

H-Town Sports: We hear and read that Hunter Pence can't hit off-speed pitches, which is inhibiting his climb up the ladder in the minors. If that's the case, how is he hitting .300+ with 20 HR at the halfway point in the season at Double-A? Do pitchers throw 90% fastballs at that level? Can pitchers not locate their off-speed stuff well enough to draw swings from hitters?

Greg Rajan: It's not that Pence can't hit off-speed pitches, but rather his plate discipline. At times, he tries to do too much and cover too much of the plate. Lately, he's been much better and has seen better pitches to hit. He's a very good hitter, but he has his weaknesses. Pitchers in Double-A are like some in the majors --- they as no business being there. The biggest thing for Double-A hitters is learning to hit off-speed stuff because pitchers at this level have better repertoires than what the batters have seen in A-ball. Pitchers who just try to blow fastballs by hitters when they're down in the count in Double-A don't last long.

H-Town Sports: The minds behind H-Town Sports are making a road trip to Corpus for the Friday and Saturday games against San Antonio on August 4th and 5th. What things should we be sure not to miss at our first Hooks' game?

Greg Rajan: Even though the Hooks play at Whataburger Field, don't get anything at the Whataburger in the park. It's too pricey. Instead, hit the Nolan Ryan's Grill on the third-base line. Good, good stuff there and there's no need to eat anything else in the park. And if you want to get one of the camouflage caps they're giving out on Aug. 5, get to the park real early. Freebies get snapped up pretty quick in Corpus. And cover your ears during the "Hooks Idol" segment after the sixth inning. Some of the singers are flat-out awful.

3 Comments:

Blogger Ted Bosquez said...

Great interview - minor league baseball is such a great deal of fun. My family and I used to watch a good number of SA Missions games and they were always enjoyable.

I can only hope that minor league baseball can recapture a bit of the fanbase that is sick of the melodrama at the major league level.

Greg is lucky too - he is working in an area that has some very good high school baseball at the 3A, 4A, and 5A levels and with some very intense rivalries especially in District 31 4A.

Mon Jul 03, 12:03:00 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

I would certainly prefer to follow the Hooks' on a nightly basis than the Express, and it seems like Greg is right that the hot prospects seem to be playing at AA with the journeymen playing at AAA.

I agree with Greg about Jonny Ash. I remember watching him play in the CWS for Stanford, and we paid special attention to his play last year here at H-Town Sports. I bet he ends up in the bigs at some point. He's just a good baseball player, no matter the method of analysis.

Interesting also that Greg thinks that both Zobrist and Pence are not yet major-league ready. I would like to hear if thinks they are AAA ready, though.

Tim seems destined for "Hooks Idol" on the weekend of August 4/5.

Wed Jul 05, 11:06:00 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

I'll be your huckleberry, Corpus fans. Just give me a beat and get out of the way.

Thu Jul 06, 06:07:00 PM  

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