Astros draftees off to a fast start

Astros draftees off to a fast start

Astros draftees off to a fast start
The incoming Minor League players getting the most attention in the Astros' system these days are the more than a dozen youngsters the team has acquired via trade in the month of July, giving Houston more prospects to bolster its future.

There is another group of newcomers, however, making waves down on the farm.

Several of the Astros' top picks from this year's First-Year Player Draft are off to quick starts. The majority of the draftees are at short-season Tri-City, which is where the Astros typically send players drafted out of four-year colleges.

Leading the way at Tri-City is the starting pitching staff. The top four starters for the first-place ValleyCats entered Sunday a combined 17-3 with a 2.03 ERA -- right-handers Aaron West (5-0, 0.97 ERA), Brady Rodgers (4-1, 1.62 ERA), Vincent Velasquez (4-1, 2.97 ERA) and left-hander Brian Holmes (4-1, 2.55 ERA).

"The entire Tri-City pitching staff has pitched very well," Astros director of player development Fred Nelson said.

Rodgers was drafted in the third round, West in the 17th round and Holmes in the 13th round. Holmes had a perfect game through six innings of a seven-inning game Friday. Velasquez was drafted in the second round in 2010, but missed all of last season following Tommy John surgery.

"We're monitoring the innings he's going to pitch," Nelson said. "West, the kid from the University of Washington, is off to a good start."

Offensively, fifth-round pick Andrew Aplin, an outfielder, is hitting .357 with three homers and 17 RBIs through 35 games; seventh-round pick Preston Tucker, an outfielder, is hitting .300 through eight games; infielder Austin Elkins, a 19th-round pick, is hitting .346 with three homers and 18 RBIs through 35 games; and catcher Tyler Heineman, an eight-round pick, is hitting .319 with 13 RBIs.

"They've all played real well for the first time out," Nelson said. "It's a good club and they've played like it."

Tri-City won its fourth consecutive game Sunday night to improve to 30-11 on the season, including 18-3 on the road. Joe Bircher started and went five innings and allowed five hits and three runs (one earned). He was drafted in the 10th round this year.