Astros make sweeping roster changes, including calling up prospect Domingo Santana


One day after making headlines for all the wrong reasons the Astros are adding a bunch of young talent to their roster, calling up prospects Domingo Santana, Enrique Hernandez, and Kevin Chapman. They also placed center fielder Dexter Fowler on the disabled list with an intercostal strain, demoted shortstop Jonathan Villar to Triple-A, and designated right-hander Jerome Williams for assignment.

That’s a whole bunch of changes, so let’s break it all down …

Santana is the big draw, as the 21-year-old outfielder hit .304 with 13 homers and an .885 OPS in 84 games at Triple-A after putting up similarly strong numbers at Double-A last season. He now joins Jon Singleton, Jarred Cosart, and Josh Zeid on the Astros’ roster after all four players were acquired from the Phillies as prospects in the Hunter Pence trade in 2011. That is starting to look like one of the more lopsided deals in recent history.

Hernandez was the Astros’ sixth-round draft pick in 2009 and didn’t look like much of a prospect before this season, but the 22-year-old infielder/outfielder has had a breakout campaign by hitting .336 in 77 games between Double-A and Triple-A.

Chapman was very effective in his 25-game debut with the Astros last year, but was demoted back to the minors after struggling to begin this season and the 26-year-old left-hander returns after posting a 0.94 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 29 innings at Triple-A. His control has always been shaky, but Chapman has bat-missing raw stuff out of the bullpen.

Fowler was acquired from the Rockies this offseason and proved to be a fantastic addition atop the lineup before the injury, posting a .377 on-base percentage despite no longer calling Coors Field home. Villar has a ton of speed and remains in the Astros’ long-term plans at age 23, but he’s hit just .221 with a .618 OPS and ugly 139/39 K/BB ratio through 129 games as a big leaguer.

Spending bill could exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws

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Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post reports that, according to three congressional officials familiar with current talks, an upcoming spending bill could exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws. This is an issue we have spent some time covering here. A bill proposed in 2016, H.R. 5580, would have amended language in Section 13 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 which would have made it so minor leaguers wouldn’t be protected under a law that protects hourly workers. There is also an ongoing class action lawsuit over unfair labor prospects.

As DeBonis notes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is among the representatives backing the measure. The provision specifically concerning minor leaguers didn’t appear in any of the draft spending bills, but DeBonis spoke to officials familiar with the negotiations under the condition of anonymity who said it was under serious consideration by top party leaders.

DeBonis got a comment from Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner. He said, “We’re not saying that [minor league pay] shouldn’t go up. We’re just saying that the formula of minimum wage and overtime is so incalculable. I would hate to think that a prospect is told, ‘You got to go home because you’re out of hours, you can’t have any extra batting practice.’ It’s those kinds of things. It’s not like factory work. It’s not like work where you can punch a time clock and management can project how many hours they’re going to have to pay for.”

O’Conner said as much in an interview back in December. It’s an extremely disingenuous deflection. O’Conner also said, “I don’t think that minor league baseball is a career choice for a player.” This is all about creating legislation that allows Minor League Baseball to keep money at the top, which is great if you’re a team owner or shareholder. If they could get away with it, every owner of every business would pay its employees as little as possible, which is why it’s important to have unions and people keeping an eye on legislation like this that attempts to strip laborers of their rights in the dead of night.

Minor league players need to unionize. Or, better yet, the MLBPA should open their doors to include minor leaguers and fight for them just as they would a player who has reached the majors. Minor leaguers should be paid a salary with which they do not have to worry about things like rent, electricity, food, and transportation. They should be provided healthcare and a retirement fund. And if anyone tries to tell you it’s not affordable, MLB eclipsed $10 billion in revenues last year. There’s plenty to go around.

The owners are banking on this legislation passing and labor still coming in excess due to young men holding onto the dream of making the major leagues. According to CNN, “far less than 10 percent of minor league players ever get the chance to make it to the major leagues.” Some of these players have forgone college to work in baseball. They arrive at the park in the morning and leave late at night, putting in far more than your standard eight-hour work day. Since their bodies are their vehicle for success, they have to exercise regularly and vigorously off the field while maintaining a healthy diet. (And teams are still reluctant to invest even the smallest amount of money to ensure their young players eat well.) Minor leaguers make tremendous sacrifices to pursue their dream and now Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying Congress to legalize taking further advantage of them.