Minors notebook: Ovando off to strong start

Minors notebook: Ovando off to strong start

Minors notebook: Ovando off to strong start
HOUSTON -- When the Astros signed 16-year-old Dominican outfielder Ariel Ovando to a then-team-record bonus of $2.6 million two years ago, they sent out a lengthy press release that compared him to Cliff Floyd, Fred McGriff and Darryl Strawberry, among others.

Those were undoubtedly big expectations to put on a young man who grew up with little in the Dominican Republic and whose world was about to be turned upside down. There was a new language to learn, a new country to which to adapt and suddenly more money than he could have ever dreamed.

By all accounts, it's been a slow transition for Ovando, who is 18 years old and still maturing into his 6-foot-4 frame and his surroundings. The Astros are being extremely patient and have him playing at Rookie League Greeneville for the second season in a row.

It's extremely early in the season for the short-season clubs, but Ovando is off to a nice start. He entered Monday hitting .354 with six doubles and 12 RBIs in 48 at-bats for the Astros, with a .407 on-base percentage and .928 OPS. Last year, he hit .235 in Greeneville with 30 RBIs and a .283 on-base percentage.

"He's more confident and probably more focused, maybe beginning to mature," Astros director of player development Fred Nelson said. "He's back to where he was a year ago, and I'm sure there's some familiar faces and scenery and things like that, and that helps."

Ovando, despite the money the Astros paid to get him, isn't yet considered one of the club's top prospects. He's still nowhere near as polished or experienced as former college stars like Austin Wates and George Springer or fellow Dominican outfielder Domingo Santana, who's one year older than Ovando and is hitting .292 with 11 homers and 52 RBIs at Class A Advanced Lancaster.

Still, the Astros have high hopes for Ovando, who should find his way to a full-season club next year.

"He's made a lot of progress defensively and has begun to make few changes in his swing, and I think it's beginning to pay dividends," Nelson said.

Worthy of promotion: Tropeano superb in first start with Lancaster
Right-hander Nick Tropeano made his first start at Class A Advanced Lancaster on Sunday night after being promoted from Lexington and dazzled, striking out nine batters and allowing one unearned run in eight innings.

Tropeano, ranked by MLB.com as the Astros' No. 17 prospect -- was promoted from Lexington after posting a 6-4 record with a 2.78 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 15 games (14 starts) for the Legends. He was selected by the Astros in the fifth round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.

"He was in a league where he was probably a little older than some of the players and we expected him to do well, and now he's ready for the next step," said Nelson.

Nelson said Tropeano's performance earned him the call to Lancaster, but it just happened to coincide with pitcher R.J. Alaniz going on the disabled list with a shoulder strain.

Off and running: Tri-City streaks to front of pack
Short-season Tri-City is off to a quick start, bursting out to the front of the New York-Penn League standings with an 11-3 record. The ValleyCats carried a nine-game winning streak into Monday's game at Lowell.

Leading the ValleyCats this season have been catcher Jobduan Morales, who's hitting .351 with a homer and 12 RBIs, and right-hander Vincent Velasquez (2-0, 1.76 ERA), the club's second-round Draft pick in 2010 who missed all of last year following Tommy John surgery.

Worth noting
• Double-A Corpus Christi had its nine-game home winning streak snapped in a 2-1 loss to Northwest Arkansas at Whataburger Field on Sunday. Ross Seaton (5-5) started for the Hooks and allowed six hits and two runs in seven strong innings.

• Right fielder Domingo Santana and center fielder George Springer both homered on Sunday night for Class A Lancaster in a 3-1 win over Modesto. Santana has 11 homers and 52 RBIs, while Springer has 16 homers and 55 RBIs. Springer is hitting .350 with two homers and seven RBIs in his last 10 games.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.