Astros moving Triple-A affiliate to Fresno

HOUSTON -- Admitting that the Dodgers' swooping into Oklahoma City to buy a stake of the Triple-A RedHawks -- sending the Astros looking for a new affiliate -- was a surprise, president of business operations Reid Ryan said on Thursday that the club has found a suitable landing spot in Fresno, Calif.

The Astros have signed a two-year player-development contract with the Fresno Grizzlies, who previously had a 17-year relationship with the San Francisco Giants. Houston will move its Triple-A operations beginning next year, with the contract expiring following the 2016 season.

"Folks know we have a really good system, so we know we have a lot of interest, and at the end of the day, Fresno was a pretty good fit," Ryan said.

Fresno, which plays in the Pacific Coast League's Northern division with Reno, Sacramento and Tacoma, replaces Oklahoma City, which had served as the Astros' Triple-A affiliate the previous four years. The Dodgers' purchase of Oklahoma City started a seismic shift that saw six PCL clubs switch affiliates.

Fresno becomes the ninth Triple-A affiliate in Astros history, joining Oklahoma City (1962-72, 2011-14), Round Rock (2005-10), New Orleans (1997-2004), Tucson (1980-96), Charleston (1977-79), Memphis (1976), Iowa (1975) and Denver (1973-74).

"We are very pleased to bring the Houston Astros' Triple-A affiliate to Downtown Fresno," Chris Cummings, the Grizzlies' managing general partner, said in a statement. "Our efforts have brought an organization holding the most talented farm system in all of baseball, ensuring that fans will be seeing incredible talent at Chukchansi Park that is one step away from playing in the Majors."

Tony DeFrancesco, who's spent the last 11 years managing in the PCL, including seven in Sacramento (2003-10) and the last four in Oklahoma City, is pleased.

"It's good," DeFrancesco said. "The ballpark's really nice. The weather is going to be nice. It's going to be warm in the middle of the summer, but it's a good place for travel and getting around the league."

The affiliation shuffle happened quickly and ultimately left the Astros choosing between Fresno and Colorado Springs after other teams had filled spots. There were concerns about the weather and high altitude at Colorado Springs, which helped drive the Astros farther west.

The Astros figure to have a wealth of young arms coming through Triple-A the next few years, and Colorado Springs wasn't deemed a suitable pitching environment. Houston's Class A affiliate in Lancaster is already known as a hitter's haven.

"We wanted to have our place that was really a fair park and was a good indicator of what these guys were going to be doing when they come up," Ryan said. "We have so much pitching in the system right now, and we felt like having a stadium that was more like Fresno, where the weather was a little more consistent and it wasn't cold at the start of the season and it wasn't at altitude. That was a better fit for us.

"When you looked at the fact that we could send [Minor League] rovers, we could send guys to California, they could pick up Lancaster, they could pick up Fresno and sort of get a two-for-one with our scouting and player development, that was a win. Also, the fact we're now in the AL West, and if you need somebody when you're out there with Seattle, the A's or the Angels, it's real easy to move guys in and out. When we looked at kind of what other cities were available, we felt it was the perfect fit for us."

The Grizzlies have finished in the top half of the PCL in attendance for the last 10 seasons, bringing in more than 460,000 fans to Chukchansi Park, which is located downtown. The park opened in 2002 and seats 12,500. It features a semi-irregular field shape, with dimensions measuring 324 feet down the left-field line, 385 in left-center, 400 in center and 335 feet to the right-field foul pole.

The Astros' Triple-A operations could eventually wind up back in Round Rock, which is owned by the Ryan family and Houston businessman Don Sanders. But Ryan-Sanders Baseball signed an extension with the Rangers through 2018 just before Nolan Ryan left Arlington for Houston.

"It's no great secret I would love to work with my family," Reid Ryan said. "We have a very close relationship. When you start playing that game, it's a bad game to play. As we talked to people, it was a concern with everybody that was out there.

"What I like about Fresno is, they said, 'You guys have a great system and we have a tradition of baseball here. We want a winner, and we know your system has a lot of players. We really want you guys.' They made a hard push for us and made us feel really good."

The Astros have discussed putting a Triple-A team in the northern suburbs of Houston, but that would be years down the road, if it happens. They would have to get a municipally funded stadium built, and buy and relocate a current Triple-A club.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for 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.