Former Legends starting to make a mark in majors

mmaloney@herald-leader.comMay 4, 2011 

CINCINNATI — When Brian Bogusevic played for the Lexington Legends in 2006, he had plans to pitch in the major leagues someday.

A first-round draft choice of Houston the previous June, Bogusevic was tabbed by Baseball America as the ninth-best prospect in the Astros system.

The left-hander never made it to the majors as a pitcher.

Last week, however, he did make it to the majors as an outfielder.

Bogusevic is one of seven former Lexington Legends with the Astros, who are visiting the Cincinnati Reds for a three-game series this week.

Bogusevic got a first taste of the bigs last year, going 5-for-28 (.179) in 19 games.

He began this season with Triple-A Oklahoma City.

"It's always exciting," Bogusevic said of his recent call-up. "This is where everybody wants to be, so when you get the call, to say you're going to be up here for a little while, it's fun."

The switch to outfield came in July 2008, after compiling a 14-21 pitching record over parts of four seasons in the minors. Over 17 starts with the Legends, Bogusevic went 2-5 with a 4.73 ERA.

Having divided time at Tulane University between the mound and the outfield, Bogusevic had no qualms about the Astros pulling the plug on his pitching career.

"I always enjoyed playing the outfield and hitting," he said, "so when they said they were going to give me a chance to do that, I was excited."

Still, there was an adjustment.

No longer was his playing limited to once every five days. Muscles became sore.

Yet, once he switched positions, Bogusevic responded by finishing the 2008 season hitting .347 with four homers and 26 RBI over 50 games with High-A Salem and Double-A Corpus Christi.

He says he learned plenty in Lexington.

"Any time you're around baseball, I think you can get a little better just from watching other people and watching the game in general," Bogusevic said. "Just being around the game 140 times a year, you're going to pick up on stuff."

Since rejoining the Astros, Bogusevic is 1-for-5, all in a pinch-hitting role.

Here's a glance at the other Legends-turned Astros.

Fernando Abad (1-2, 6.10 ERA) — The left-handed reliever is tied for fourth-most appearances in the majors, 15. He has not yielded an earned run in 12 of 15 outings, nor in any of seven road games.

His most important lesson learned in Lexington: "Keep the ball down. Every day my pitching coach, Charley Taylor, told me I have to improve the breaking ball. ... He told me, 'You have a good fastball and a good change-up; improve the breaking ball.'"

Chris Johnson (.185. 2 HR, 11 RBI) — The third baseman played 64 games for the Legends in 2007 (.259, 8, 44). Last year with the Astros, he hit a club-best .308 with 22 doubles, 11 homers and 52 RBI over 94 games, and was named the team's Rookie of the Year.

"Yeah, last year was a good year," he said. "I'm kind of going through some of those growing pains this year, so just kind of stick with it and get out of this. Everybody goes through it. ... (I've) just got to be a little more patient. Last year, guys found out what I could do, and now they're finding a little bit about what I can't do. So I've just got to make some adjustments."

Bud Norris (2-0, 3.03) — The right-hander is coming off Sunday's 5-0 win over Milwaukee, when he gave up three hits while striking out 11 over 72⁄3 innings. In his third season with the Astros, he has more career strikeouts (255) than innings pitched (245). This season, he ranks third in the majors with 10.85 strikeouts per nine innings.

"Trying to find my groove," he said. "Just been working really well with (Humberto) Quintero and J.R. (Towles) behind the plate. This is a tough game, where you've got to learn each and every time you go out there. So far, I've been throwing the ball pretty well, and I'm excited about that and just want to keep it going."

With the Legends in 2007, Norris (2-8, 4.75) struck out 117 over 962⁄3 innings.

Hunter Pence (.292-4-21) Houston's MVP last year, when he led the club with 91 RBI and his third consecutive 25-homer season, the right fielder took a six-game hitting streak into play Tuesday night. Since the start of the 2008 season, he has a majors-best 43 outfield assists.

"With this club, we've got great chemistry," Pence said. "There's a lot of table-setters, a lot of (Angel) Sanchez and (Michael) Bourn getting on base. We've been scoring more runs than people were expecting. Our pitching is going to be our strength, and it's kind of turning the corner right now. Bud Norris has been outstanding. We're excited about the rest of the season. A long way to go, but we feel it's a great opportunity this year to find a way to win a division and get to the playoffs."

With the Legends in 2005, he earned MVP honors (.338, 25, 60).

Wandy Rodriguez (1-3, 4.26) — The left-handed pitcher's next start is scheduled Friday at Pittsburgh. In 2002, he led the Legends with 11 victories and 137 strikeouts. He has won at least nine games in each of his six big-league seasons, topped with a 14-12 mark in 2009.

"Right now, my arm feels better and better," he said. "You know why? Because I'm pitching more. Every time I'm pitching more, my arm is better. Location. I work a lot on my location, and I feel more comfortable."

J.R. Towles (.364, 2, 4) — A Legends Hall of Fame catcher, he has hits in nine of his last 10 starts (12-for-33). He played for Lexington in 2005 (.346, 5, 23) and part of 2006 (.317, 12, 55).

After hitting .375 over 14 games with the Astros in 2007, he struggled at the plate and moved up and down from minors and majors over the past three seasons. He says he has found his groove simply by lowering his hands at the plate.

"I figured it out on my own," he said. "Someone needed a picture for a charity event, so I was digging through some pictures at my house and there was a picture from '07. I was like, 'man, my hands look lower there.' So I went and looked at some film and some more pictures from when I was going well in '07 and the beginning of '08, and my hands were lower then than they were in 2009 and 2010."

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