Doing Work with DJonkins

The Woodlands Piper is soccer elite

Piper will be on her way to Duke in 2019 Vype

The Woodlands High School soccer program has one of the most over-qualified team managers in the country.

Sarah Piper is a national recruit headed to Duke in 2019, but was relegated to carrying bags and balls for the Highlanders.

As a member of the Dynamo-Dash Youth Development Academy, she has agreed to not play at the high school level.

“I had a great experience playing for The Woodlands my sophomore year and we had a great season,” Piper said. “Coach (Dina) Graves allowed me to be the manager this year just so I could be around the program. These are my best friends and are fun to be around. I loved it from the social aspect.”

Piper is an elite athlete and is training for the next stage of her career.

“I love the club training experience,” she said. “I’m pretty serious and focused. That’s how club soccer is. It’s also the entire year, instead of half of it.”

She also played on the national teams, which have traveled to the likes of Italy, England and Australia. This isn’t new to Piper, having a brother who played at Yale and a sister currently playing at Texas A&M.

“My parents never played soccer, but got my older siblings into it when they were young,” she said. “I just fell in love with the sport going to their games, which led to me playing.”

Her hard work and skill made her one of the most coveted 2019 recruits in the country. So why Duke?

“My parents told me to make a list of the Top 25 academic schools and the Top 25 soccer schools in the country, and pick from there,” she said. “Honestly, Duke wasn’t in the Top 25 teams when I committed, but they are making a comeback. Then I went on a visit and fell in love with the campus. It’s just the right fit for me.”

Not to put the cart before the horse, but we had to ask where she sees herself in five to 10 years?

“I want to be the best I can be at Duke,” she said. “If the opportunity to play professionally after my time there, sure I would love to. I think I would like to play in a foreign country to learn a different culture. If not, I think I will go into medicine.”

“Sarah is very similar to her sister, Texas A&M soccer star, Grace Piper, who I also train,” Derrick Jonkins said. “She has a relentless work ethic and is a very smart young lady who knows exactly what she wants. One thing I tell people is that you can’t teach work ethic. It’s something that is instilled in you and it starts at home.

“As long as she keeps working and stays focused, she should easily play professionally some day. I’m just blessed to be able to work with an athlete of her caliber. We discuss almost every week what she wants to focus on. Lately, it’s been getting stronger in the weight room. She can already run like a deer, but now as she adds the power and the strength, she will be unstoppable.”

For more information about Derrick Jonkins and his new facility, go to http://djonkinssports.com/

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Good news for Jose Altuve. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

One never knows how things will play out but of the known General Manager candidates, Jim Crane nailed it in hiring Dana Brown out of the Atlanta Braves' organization where he was Vice President of Scouting. The 55-year-old Brown's scouting and development pedigree is stellar. The Braves have been a talent-producing machine in recent years. Obviously all the credit isn't Brown's but his four years with the Braves preceded by a productive pipeline he was part of in Toronto speak highly of him. Not that it was or should have been the guiding principle to Crane's decision-making, but the Astros now have the only African-American General Manager in Major League Baseball (Ken Williams is Executive Vice President of the Chicago White Sox).

Brad Ausmus is a super-smart guy, but if had he gotten the GM gig it would have been in large part because he was teammate besties with Jeff Bagwell. While “It's not what you know it's who you know” plays a role in many, many hires, it would have been a poor rationale for tabbing Ausmus. Maybe Ausmus would have done a great job. Maybe Brown does a lousy job. Brown was the much more strongly credentialed candidate. While Bagwell has moved way up Crane's confidante list, Brown played college baseball with Craig Biggio at Seton Hall.

Speaking of Halls…

If I could tell you as absolute fact that exactly two members of the 2023 Houston Astros will someday make the Baseball Hall of Fame, who are you picking? Jose Altuve isn’t a lock just yet but he is obvious pick number one. So for the second spot are you going with Alex Bregman or Yordan Alvarez? We’ll get back to this a couple of paragraphs down.

As was basically a given, former Astro (and Phillie, Met, Red Sox, and Brave) Billy Wagner was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, but as I suggested last week the voting returns were very favorable toward Wagner making the Hall next year, or if not next year in his final year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers Association ballot for the Class of 2025. “Wags” in the Class of ’24 is looking good. Wagner jumped from 51 percent to 68 percent “put him in” votes. The only guy this year to get the necessary 75 percent for election is worthy third baseman Scott Rolen. Two years ago Rolen got 53 percent of the votes needed, last year 63 percent, before getting the call to Cooperstown with 76.5 percent this year. Wagner going from 51 to 68 to 75-plus looks likely. Of course it’s not as if Wagner can pad his case with a good 2023 season, but this is how the process works. The other ballot returnee well positioned to make it next year is former Colorado first baseman Todd Helton. Unlike this year there’s a sure-fire first time ballot guy going in next year. Third baseman Adrian Beltre will undoubtedly wear a Texas Rangers cap on his plaque.

As expected Carlos Beltran didn’t come close to election in his first year of eligibility, but drawing 46 percent of the votes sets him up well to eventually get the Cooperstown call. Beltran was a fabulous player and his Hall credentials are solid. However, no one reasonable would argue that Carlos Beltran was as good or better than Barry Bonds. In his first year of eligibility back in 2013 Bonds garnered 36 percent of the vote. There has been some turnover in the voter pool over the last decade, but it's clear that Beltran’s central role in the Astros’ sign stealing scheme was not held against him to the extent that PED use (actual and/or suspected) was held against Bonds and Roger Clemens. And Alex Rodriguez. And Sammy Sosa. And Manny Ramirez. And others. Foremost right now that’s encouraging for Beltran, but it’s also encouraging down the line for fellow Astros of 2017-18.

What does this mean for Jose Altuve?

If Jose Altuve retired today (perish the thought!) he’d have a good case for the Hall. He had superstar seasons in 2016, 2017, and 2022, and has five other seasons that while not in the realm of his three best certainly rate as excellent. If you judge a player by his five best seasons, there aren’t 10 second basemen in the history of the sport who’d rank ahead of Altuve. Among those who clearly would: Joe Morgan, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, and Nap Lajoie. Among those four only Morgan played more recently than 1937. Then there’s a group of arguable guys like Jackie Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and yes Craig Biggio. Altuve has had the prime of a Hall of Famer. What sort of final numbers will he accrue? In late May or early June he should reach the 2000 hit plateau. How many more prime years does Altuve have left before inevitable decline? His career batting average is .307. Four years ago it was .316. Will Altuve retire a .300 hitter?

Bregman or Alvarez? Bregman gets extra points for being an everyday third baseman as opposed to a left fielder-designated hitter, but by age alone Yordan is the better play. Bregman turns 29 on opening day this year. Yordan doesn’t turn 26 until late June. When Bregman was 25 (2019 season) he put up a season more valuable than Alvarez’s tremendous 2022. In the three years since Bregman hasn’t approached that level, though his big second half last season could be a springboard back to that stratosphere. Yordan is in that stratosphere and figures to stay there for a while if his health holds up.

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Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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