CORPUS CHRISTI - Fifteen returners and a pair of Astros top 20 prospects are tabbed to open the 10th season of Hooks Baseball. Quinton McCracken, Houston's director of player development, announced initial 2014 rosters Wednesday for Corpus Christi and the Astros' other full-season affiliates.
Delino DeShields, Jr., and shortstop Nolan Fontana are ranked seventh and 18th on MLB.com's list of Houston prospects. DeShields, making the transition from second base to center field, is also considered the fastest base runner in the organization, according to Baseball America. Fontana has arguably the best strike-zone discipline in the system, coaxing 167 walks against 144 strikeouts in his career.
Joining DeShields in the outfield are Andrew Aplin, Chris Epps, Leo Heras and Preston Tucker. Aplin, a California League All-Star last season, led the circuit in RBIs (107) and ranked second in runs (102) and walks (83). Tucker posted a composite .297 average with 25 home runs and 103 RBIs between Lancaster and the Hooks in 2013. His RBI total was seventh among minor leaguers.
Matt Duffy, Enrique Hernandez and Jio Mier welcome newcomers Fontana and Joe Sclafani on the infield.
Houston's catching depth is reflected in Corpus Christi. Rene Garcia hit .304 in 73 games for the Hooks last season and threw out 51 percent of runners attempting to steal. He is joined by M.P. Cokinos and Tyler Heineman, who combined for 26 home runs 165 RBIs at Lancaster in 2013. Heineman was the best defensive backstop in the CL, leading all catchers in fielding percentage (.991), assists (90) and caught-stealing percentage (42%). Cokinos also played 49 games at first base for the JetHawks last season.
Corpus Christi's Opening Day pitching duo is Brady Rodgers and lefty Colton Cain. Rodgers was a third-round pick of the Astros in 2012 out of Arizona State. Cain was acquired in the Wandy Rodriguez trade with Pittsburgh, along with LHP Rudy Owens and OF Robbie Grossman, on July 24, 2012. The 6-3, 235-pound southpaw went 8-5 with a 3.88 ERA in 28 appearances (19 starts) between Quad Cities and Lancaster last season.
The balance of the Hooks' tandem rotation features David Rollins (LH)/Aaron West, Luis Cruz (LH)/Ross Seaton and Tommy Shirley (LH)/Matt Heidenreich.
Jorge De Leon, one of 14 former Hooks to make his big league debut last season, returns to Corpus Christi's bullpen. Hard-throwing lefty Alex Sogard and right-hander Andrew Robinson are also back. The rest of the relief corps consists of Travis Ballew, T.J. Geith (LH), Jordan Jankowski and Tommy Shirley (LH).
The 10th season of Hooks Baseball begins Thursday night at ONEOK Field in downtown Tulsa. First pitch is at 7:05 PM. Corpus Christi's home slate kicks off April 10 at 7:10 PM against the Drillers at Whataburger Field. For tickets and a look at the promotional calendar, click here or call 361-561-HOOK (4665).