Tal Smith: On 1962 Colt Rookie Prospects

TAL SMITH AND BILL VIRDON ~SOMETIME IN THE LATE 1970'S PERIOD IN WHICH THESE TWO MEN, AS PRESIDENT/GM AND FIELD MANAGER WERE GERAING UP THE HOUSTON ASTROS FOR THEIR FIRST 1980 DIVISION CROWN. ~

TAL SMITH AND BILL VIRDON
~ SOMETIME IN THE LATE 1970’S PERIOD IN WHICH THESE TWO MEN, AS PRESIDENT/GM AND FIELD MANAGER WERE GEARING UP THE HOUSTON ASTROS FOR THEIR FIRST DIVISION CROWN IN 1980. ~

Every now and then, one of my research friends drops a little almost lost baseball history angel dust on the the doorstep of The Pecan Park Eagle. The credit today, as so often is the case, goes to Darrell Pittman of Astros Daily.Com, who found this precious jewel by Tal Smith on the pages of the March 14, 1962 edition of the Lewiston (ME) Evening Journal. It is Tal’s exclusive personally written report to the Lewiston newspaper on the brand new Houston Colt .45s’ rookie prospects, going into their first season of play at a time in which Smith served the brand new MLB club as their Farm Club Director.

Thank you, Darrell Pittman! And enjoy the literacy and quick mind that always has been Tal Smith, everyone! “1962” was only an eye-blinking half century plus two years ago.

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HOUSTON COLTS HAVE 17 WITH NO LEAGUE EXPERIENCE

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This is another National League “Rookie Prospects” series prepared with the cooperation of the Farm Directors, each of whom has written an “exclusive” on his club.

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By TAL SMITH

Houston Farm Director

The Colt .45s boast the largest crop of rookie prospects in the recent history of any Major League club as they embark on their initial season in the National League. Seventeen youngsters without any previous major league experience are listed on the Houston roster.

Nine of the 17 rookies were signed originally as free agents and are pure products of the Houston farm system. Five were acquired during recent months through draft, purchase or trade from other major league organizations. The remaining three were among the 23 players selected in the National League player pool. In addition, two other players acquired in the pool, infielder George Williams and outfielder Ed Olivares, saw only limited major league action late in the 1961 season.

Rookie Pitchers

DAVE GIUSTI

DAVE GIUSTI

Ten rookie pitchers are numbered among the hurlers that will report to Manager Harry Craft this spring. Dave Giusti and Gerry Nelson, in particular, are considered prime candidates for a berth on the major league staff.

Giusti, a 22 year-old righthander, was signed following his graduation from Syracuse University last June. In his professional debut with Jacksonville, he hurled a one-hit shutout and went on the win 7 games in two months and post a 2.29 earned-run average in the South Atlantic League. He struck out 82 batters while allowing only 87 hits and 42 walks in 118 innings. He was promoted to the Houston Buffs in the American Association late in the 1961 season and complied a 2-0 record. In the Arizona Instructional League this past winter, he continued to impress by winning 3 of 4 decisions. Dave possesses all the attributes to become a winning pitcher in the majors in short order despite the fact he has had just half a season in organized ball.

Nelson is a righthander who won 9 game for the Buffs in little more than half a season. Gerry was inactive during the 1960 season and was subsequently purchased by the Houston organization. He showed definite signs last year that he was ready to attain the major league status predicted for him throughout his six-year minor league career.

Not Ready Yet

Don Altman, Joe Clement, and Wallace “Butch” Mixon are three other righthanders signed during 1961 that are highly regarded as major league prospects. However, their availability during the coming season is questionable. Altman and Clement face Army calls and Mixon will be sidelined temporarily with minor surgery.

Altman, the former Duke quarterback, displayed exceptional control and poise that belie his brief experience. He walked only 32 batters in 116 innings at Jacksonville and went on to record a 3.52 ERA in the strong Arizona Instructional League.

Clement, an All-America baseball selection at the University of Connecticut had a 2.12 ERA at Jacksonville ad hurled 2 shutouts in 7 starts.

Mixon, a product of L.S.U, also made the jump directly from college campus to the Class A South Atlantic League. After half a season at Jacksonville, he earned promotion to the AAA Buffs and his composite record in A and AAA showed a total of 13 wins in his first pro season.

Wolf is Like Duren

WALLY WOLF

WALLY WOLF

Wally Wolf, 20-year old righthander from the University of Southern California, and Kenny Pate, a 19-year old southpaw, are other hurlers with excellent potential.

Wolf resembles Ryne Duren with his thick glasses and wildness. He has a live fast ball that sinks and showed marked improvement in his control in Arizona this fall. Once he masters his control problems, he should advance rapidly.

Pate, who was also highly sought after as a free agent, has an exceptional curve ball and made good progress at Jacksonville and in the Arizona Winter League.

Other pitchers receiving a trial this spring are Don Arlich, a 19-year old left-hander signed late last season and righthanders Paul Roof and Jesse Hickman who were selected in the player pool. All three possess major league arms and are considered outstanding prospects.

Catchers

Catchers Jim Campbell and Merritt Ranew figure to have an excellent chance with the Colts in 1962. Both are regarded as fine hitters and capable receivers.

Ranew, acquired in the player pool, is a 23-year old lefthanded hitter. He hit .347 with Louisville in the American Association in 1961 and .364 with Yakima in 1960.

Campbell, who was also acquired from Louisville early in 1961, is a righthanded hitter with good power. He hit .261 with the Buffs last year after making the jump from Class A.

J.C. HARTMAN

J.C. HARTMAN

 J.C. Hartman, acquired in a trade from the Cubs organization, figures to wage a good battle for an infield position with the big club. A steady fielder and tough at the plate in the clutch, J.C. has great desire and aggressiveness, and makes the most of his ability.

Jim McDaniel, Johnny Weekly, and Aaron Pointer are strong outfield prospects.

McDaniel, a recent acquisition, has an impressive minor league background and is counted on to provide the long ball.The 29-year old McDaniel hit 30 home runs and drove home 114 runs at Denver in the American Association in 1961. He hit .282 and is considered a fine outfielder. In his last ten years in the minor leagues, Jim has hit 259 home runs and batted in 100 or more runs in five of those seasons.

The 24-year old Weekly was drafted by Houston this past winter. Johnny was considered a top prospect before dislocating his leg in spring  training in 1960. He bounced back last year to hit .287 at Victoria in the Texas League with 21 home runs, 82 RBI’s and 18 stolen bases.

Pointer potentially should become one of our brightest stars. Only 19-years old, he is a consistent line drive hitter with good power and great speed. In a full season with Salisbury, he hit .402 and also led the Class D league in stolen bases (40), hits, total bases, triples and runs scored. Advanced to the Houston Buffs at the close of the season, he hit .375 and then continued his assault upon opposing pitchers by hitting .300 in the fast Arizona Winter League. Aaron played first base in 1961, but was converted to an outfielder in the winter league to further capitalize on his great speed.

Ronnie Davis, another rookie outfielder, will not report until the close of the spring semester at Duke University. At Jacksonville last year, Ronnie showed promise of developing into one of the game’s most brilliant and colorful centerfielders.

“30”

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Here’s the link to the original article that Darrell Pittman sent to The Pecan Park Eagle. The above text is an exact copy of the original in a hopefully more readable form.

http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1913&dat=19620314&id=aFEpAAAAIBAJ&sjid=-GkFAAAAIBAJ&pg=3227,1247829

Thanks again, Darrell Pittman for being the good friend and great baseball researcher you really are! And thank you too, Tal Smith, for being a good friend to all of us in the baseball community, as well as an iconic spokesperson for the best interests of baseball in the 21st century!

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9 Responses to “Tal Smith: On 1962 Colt Rookie Prospects”

  1. stanfromtacoma Says:

    Nice write up by Tal. I can’t imagine a farm director in this twitter world responding to an inquiry by an out of market newspaper with as good a write up as Tal provided. I honestly am not sure that all of the connectedness of 2014 is superior to the world of 1962.

  2. Mark W. Says:

    Bill, I enjoyed this walk down memory lane. I offer a few random thoughts.

    Wally Wolf’s rookie card is a four-on-one 1963 Topps card. Someone has photoshopped him onto the 1962 variation you featured.

    Dave Giusti represents just one in the long and ignominious line of Houston’s lost talent to the extraordinarily ill-fated series of trades made by their 1965-1975 brain trust, who shall remain nameless here. We received Tommy Smith and John Edwards for Dave Giusti prior to the 1969 season. Presumably we pursued Edwards for his superb defensive skills, since he represented little in the way of offensive improvement over previous Astros catchers. However, if the team hadn’t traded Jerry Grote for a PTBNL in 1965, they wouldn’t have needed to trade Giusti for Edwards. (The PTNBL ended up being Tom Parsons, who was coming off a 1-10, 4.67 season in 1964 for the Mets, and who never threw another pitch in a major league uniform after 1964.) Between the years 1966, when Grote began his performance duties in a Mets uniform, and 1975, when Edwards’ career ended, Grote posted a dWAR of 10.7, while Edwards posted a dWAR of 5.9. So much for defensive improvement. Now, imagine a Houston roster in 1969 with:

    Jesus Alou, Jimmy Wynn, and Manny Mota (traded in 1963 for Howie Goss) in the outfield; Rusty Staub at first base; Joe Morgan at second base; Denis Menke at shortstop; Doug Rader at third base; Jerry Grote catching; Bob Watson, John Mayberry, Hector Torres, and Cesar Geronimo on the bench; Mike Cuellar, Larry Dierker, Don Wilson, Tom Griffin, and Dave Giusiti – likely in relief – on the mound, with other bullpen help from Dooley Womack, Fred Gladding, Jim Ray (who had a great season as both a reliever and spot starter), and Denny Lemaster, who I think would have been more helpful out of the bullpen. This was a Houston team that was 2.5 games out of first place on August 13, 1969 with a 63-53 record. The Astros started the season 4-20 in April, managed to climb to 24-26 by the end of May, and finished the season 81-81. Their 77-61 finish couldn’t offset their 4-20 start. But had they gone 16-8 in April, they’d have finished in a tie with Atlanta for first place. 17-7, and it’s Astros vs. Mets in the playoffs. The Astros went 14-4 vs. the Mets in 1969 – the only MLB team to post a winning record against the eventual 1969 World Champions. They also would have been nicely positioned going into the 1970s.

    And that’s the end of my sojourn into wouldacouldashouldaland for today.

  3. emmettmcauliffe Says:

    Hey Mark, I agree that Houston/Smith drafted some nice picks and had a nice team by the mid-60s … thats why my user name on baseball sites is “brownieand45sfan”. But, at the risk of being a downer, if this was “the largest crop of rookie prospects in the recent history of any Major League club” they probably should have stuck with more veterans. Because I think clubs that had smaller crops did just as well or better in terms of long-term major-league ability.

    Dave Giusti is the best of the “crop” and even he was only a 3.0 career WAR (compared to, for example Mike Cuellar’s 29.3). By 1968 he was expansion draft bait.

    Agree that it is amazing that Smith wrote this article for an out-of-town newspaper, though.

    Do not mind me, I am probably just sore that the 45s went with the undistinguished Ranew and Jim Campbell behind the plate and did not keep Clint “Scrap Iron” Courtney, from my beloved St. Louis Browns (a Sporting News AL rookie of the year).

  4. Mark W. Says:

    Emmett, Tal’s article doesn’t go into all the good prospects in the .45s system. Rusty Staub was signed in 1961. DK why he was left out; maybe he was focusing on players he thought would be able to play that season. Admittedly the .45s didn’t get Wynn, Morgan, or Mota into the fold until November of ’62.

    By 1967 Clint Courtney would have been 40 years old and out of baseball for the previous six years. I don’t understand how he even is on your radar screen.

  5. emmettmcauliffe Says:

    “maybe he was focusing on players he thought would be able to play that season.” << Well since they could not play that season or any season, he was wrong, way wrong.

    I dont know where you got 1967 from. I'm talking about 1962 when the Colt 45s lost 96 games. I am not expecting Courtney to play all the way up to 1967, but I do think he could have been a better option, as a lefthanded stick to compliment Hal Smith, than either Ranew or Campbell. Not saying he should have started ahead of Smith, but, lifetime, he hit 10-points higher than Smith and was no defensive slouch.

    Even the Mets had a better "crop of rookie prospects" in 61 than Houston, and the Mets were totally focused on long-in-the-tooth veterans. Consider: The Mets had Al Jackson, Chris Cannizarro, Jim Hickman and Ed Kranepool, all future All-Stars in *their* crop. Then in the off-season, around the same time Houston was drafting Staub, the Mets are signing Ron Hunt and Cleon Jones.

    Even with their false-start as the laughably Amazin' Mets, the New Yorkers had fertilized the ground in '61 to reap the *bumper* crop of 1969.

  6. Mark W. Says:

    Cleon Jones was signed in 1963. He was an all-star once. Jim Hickman was signed in 1956 and drafted by the Mets from the Cardinals. He had five decent seasons towards the end of his career with the Cubs and Cardinals and made one all-star team. Cannizzaro was signed in 1956 and drafted by the Mets from the Cardinals. He had a career OPS+ of 78 and a career BA of .235. He made one all-star team with the Padres. Jackson retired with an ERA of around 4, an ERA+ of 91, and never made an all-star team. And he was drafted by the Mets from the Pirates. Ron Hunt was signed by the Milwaukee Braves in 1959 and sold to the Mets in 1962. He was an all-star twice. Kranepool was an all-star once. Of all the Mets players you described as 1961 rookie prospects, only Ed Kranepool was an original Mets signee and he was signed in 1962. These six Mets players account for six total all-star selections.

    Rusty Staub was signed (not drafted) in 1961 by the Colt .45s, and he alone was an all-star six times. Wynn (3 AS), Morgan, (10 AS, 2 MVP, 5 GG, signed by Colt .45s in 1962), Giusti (one AS, signed by Colt .45s in 1961), and Grote (2 AS, signed by the Colt .45s in 1962), achieved a combined total of 22 all-star selections. Only Wynn was drafted, from the Reds in 1962. In 1970, Giusti, converted full-time to the bullpen, began a six year stint in which he finished in the top ten in Cy Young Award voting three times and in the top 15 in MVP voting twice.

    Five Houston players, four signed professionally for the first time with Houston in 1962 or earlier, achieved 22 all-star selections. Six Mets players, one signed professionally for the first time with the Mets in 1962, achieved 6 all-star selections.

    Houston easily had the superior “crop” of young signees. Kranepool is the only one of the bunch you mentioned who approached the performance value of those five Houston players over the course of his career. And he made one all-star team. The Colt .45s focus on youth was no myth, and their failure to nurture along all those young players as a nucleus around which to build a championship club also was no myth. (They also let Nate Colbert get away.)

    • emmettmcauliffe Says:

      Can we stick to the article please? You write: “Houston easily had the superior “crop” of young signees.” That is not the issue.
      I was merely dealing with Tal’s statement that he had the largest crop of rookies in major league history. I was pointing out that for the “largest crop” he only netted one player of major league significance: Giusti. Staub is a non-issue because he apparently was not on roster in March 1962.

      Meanwhile the Mets, who were signing rookies as an afterthought
      (since there box office strategy was to play veterans), actually had a better crop of *rookies* (you need to read the MLB definition of rookie) when you consider Cannizzaro, Hickman, Kranepool, Jackson.

      You diss Jackson, yet he amassed 5.5 WAR in 10 seasons compared to Giusti’s 3.0 in 15.

      I ask you to reread the very first words I uttered on this thread: “Hey Mark, I agree that Houston/Smith drafted some nice picks and had a nice team by the mid-60s … ” No one is arguing with you. Its just that this class that Tal brags about in this article, was laughably bad.

  7. Mark W. Says:

    Emmett,

    Re: rookies, I never said these guys weren’t officially rookies. But if your emphasis was on talent developed entirely from within the system, more or less “from scratch” and as Mets-discovered talent from the team’s inception – as I thought you were emphasizing – then it was pertinent to note that 5 out of 6 of those players got their starts in other organizations, and had been around for awhile prior to 1962, or even 1961, and were not discovered or originally signed by Mets personnel.

    You were trying to identify an irony in saying that the Mets – who emphasized signing aging veterans over youth amongst their original 1962 talent, nevertheless had better youthful original talent over the long haul than the Colt .45s/Astros, who were supposed to be emphasizing the signing of youth over veterans. And you named the six players under discussion as ending up with better careers over the long haul than the young signees of the Colt .45s/Astros as examples of that irony. But you also apparently are restricting your claim only to those young players mentioned by Tal Smith in the above article.

    And that certainly is accurate, insofar as that restriction goes. But it’s specious to generalize from those specific players to an indictment of the Colt .45s/Astros youth movement in general, as inferior to that of the Mets during that period of time. As I mentioned in my first response to you, Tal didn’t touch on all the prospects already in the fold or soon to be in the fold of the Houston system in this article, for whatever reason. For that matter, he also left out quite a few more who ended up being “laughably bad”, as you put it, or at least, not able to contribute sufficiently at the ML level.

    So my basic point stands. Houston failed to stay with and develop a lot of that original young talent that could have made a significant contribution to a brighter future for the team in the 1970s. (The team also had terrible luck over the years, with the deaths and injuries/illnesses of Jim Umbricht, Jay Dahl, Walt Bond, Don Wilson, John Paciorek, Cesar Cedeno, J.R. Richard and Dickie Thon.)

    Let’s not forget that, prior to winning their world championship in 1969, the Mets finished ahead of the Colt .45s/Astros in the standings one time, by one game in 1968. And the guy who arguably put them over the top in 1969 – Donn Clendenon – was supposed to have been wearing a Houston uniform in 1969.

    Most of the wounds suffered by Houston’s franchise over the years have been self-inflicted, despite the discovery and signing of a lot of major talent.

    Look what just happened to our first and third overall draft picks only this past season. Who knows what that will cost the team over the long haul?

  8. Mark W. Says:

    Revising that last comment … now that Brady Aiken is out for at least a year due to a torn UCL and TJ surgery, the Astros look somewhat redeemed. Still haven’t figured out how the 3rd pick got lost, though.

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