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JetHawks playing with lots of talent

Posted: August 1, 2014 10:27 p.m.
Updated: August 1, 2014 10:27 p.m.
JetHawks right fielder Danry Vasquez has a .283 batting average and 41 RBIs so far this season in Lancaster. JetHawks right fielder Danry Vasquez has a .283 batting average and 41 RBIs so far this season in Lancaster.
JetHawks right fielder Danry Vasquez has a .283 batting average and 41 RBIs so far this season in Lancaster.

About 40 miles up the 14 freeway from the Santa Clarita Valley, roughly the same distance to Dodger Stadium, sits the Lancaster JetHawks’ home field, The Hangar.

In their sixth year as the Class-A Advanced affiliate for the Houston Astros, the JetHawks have also been affiliated with the Seattle Mariners (1996-2000), Arizona Diamondbacks (2001-2006) and the Boston Red Sox (2007-2008).

There has been no shortage of talent to pass through The Hangar as the team boasts having more than 115 players reach the major leagues.

That list includes All-Stars like Carlos Quentin, Carlos Gonzalez and Jose Altuve as well as Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb.

“When you watch the Astros now, it’s fun because half of that team has played on this field here in Lancaster over the last couple of years,” said JetHawks General Manager Will Thornhill. “You get up close and personal interaction with these guys that you wouldn’t necessarily get at a major league park. Here the players are so approachable, whether you want an autograph or to take a picture. It’s a really fan-friendly environment.”

Lancaster, which plays in the California League, started the second half of its season on Thursday after winning the first-half championship with a 44-26 record. That earned the JetHawks a first-round bye in the postseason.

That first-half performance is due in large part to the kind of talent that has come through The Hangar.

Coming into the 2014 season, ESPN ranked the Astros as the top farm system in baseball and Baseball America said the JetHawks had the most talented minor league roster at the season’s start.

It’s hard to argue with that statement as Lancaster had Carlos Correa and Mark Appel, the No. 1 overall picks in the MLB draft in 2012 and 2013 respectively, on the roster.

But due to the nature of minor league baseball and its constantly fluctuating lineups, both of those players are no longer with the team as Appel was promoted to Double-A Corpus Christi last Saturday and Correa is expected to miss the rest of the year due to a fractured fibula suffered in June.

But there’s plenty of talent left on the roster as the JetHawks still have five of the Astros’ top 20 prospects on the team.

Those include pitchers Lance McCullers, Vincent Velasquez and Josh Hader, as well as third baseman Rio Ruiz and outfielder Teoscar Hernandez.

As talent moves on, more comes in to replace it and that’s exactly the way manager Rodney Linares likes it.

“First thing’s first, we’re here to develop players to play in the big leagues,” said Linares, the 2013 California League Manager of the Year. “I tell them all the time that when a player leaves, I pride myself on not having them come back. We have a really good track record with guys not coming back after we send them out.”

Lancaster’s current player development contract with the Astros is up at the end of the year, but it’s not something the team is worrying about now.

“We don’t discuss any of that until after the season is over,” said Thornhill. “Really, we haven’t looked at anything else. We’re very, very happy with our affiliation with the Astros. The talent they’ve brought in is second to none.”

Right now the JetHawks are more concerned with the second half of their season.

Lancaster kept its momentum from the first half going with a 13-9 win over Lake Elsinore on Thursday night.

The team was led by left fielder Ronnie Mitchell, who in his first game with the JetHawks after being promoted from the Class-A Quad Cities River Bandits, went 3-for-3 with two home runs, a double and five RBIs.

Another example of the talent coming through Lancaster.

“I hadn’t played in two days, so I was just trying to slow the game down and they left a couple of balls over the plate that I put some good swings on,” Mitchell said. “I was excited when I got called up because it’s just another step closer to my goal.”

With about a month left in the season the  JetHawks are excited about where they stand, regardless of who is on the roster.

“We have a lot of guys on the team that have played with guys that have come up and gone through. But our biggest focus is just winning the whole thing right now,” said Ruiz, the sixth ranked prospect in the Astros organization. “After today we have a full month left, so we’re just looking forward to that. Our goal is to win and so far we’re doing a good job.”


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