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J.R. Towles

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Justin Richard Towles (J.R.)

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J.R. Towles made his major league debut in 2007, completing a rapid rise from class A at the start of the season. In his sixth game in the majors, he set a Houston Astros franchise record.

The Oakland Athletics picked Towles in the 32nd round of the 2002 amateur draft and the 23rd round of the 2003 amateur draft but he did not sign either time. Towles was chosen in the 20th round of the 2004 amateur draft by the Houston Astros. He was signed by scout Pat Murphy for $100,000, turning down a scholarship to Oklahoma State University, and hit .243/.297/.370 in his first professional season, spent with the Greeneville Astros. He hit .346/.436/.549 in 45 games for the 2005 Lexington Legends, impressing in his limited playing time as injuries slowed him. In 2006, Towles batted .317/.382/.525 for Lexington and Baseball America rated him the best defensive catcher in the South Atlantic League. Had he qualified, he would have ranked second to Mike Spidale in the batting race. Injuries again were a problem - finger surgery and tendinitis having limited him in 2005-2006.

Towles had a whirlwind 2007. He played for class A Salem Avalanche (.200/.278/.339 in 26 games), AA Corpus Christi Hooks (.324/.425/.551 in 61 games) and AAA Round Rock Express (.279/.354/.279 in 13 games) for a composite .287/.393/.447 batting line before he was called up to the majors. Towles also appeared for the US team in the 2007 Futures Game, replacing Bryan Anderson at catcher. He struck out against Pedro Beato with two men on in his lone plate appearance in that contest. Towles was tied for third in the affiliated minors with 25 times hit by pitch.

Towles debuted in the major leagues as a defensive sub, as Eric Munson moved from catcher to first base and Lance Berkman left the game. In his first at-bat, he faced Matt Wise and flew out to LF Mel Stocker. It would be 10 days until he appeared again for Houston. On September 20, in his sixth major league game, he drove in 8 runs while going 4 for 4 with 3 runs, 2 doubles, a home run, a walk and one time hit by pitch in a 18-1 rout of the Cardinals. That set the Astros single-game RBI record - four players had previously driven in 7. More impressively, he was batting 8th in the lineup that game. Towles' RBI came like this: he doubled home Carlos Lee and Cody Ransom in the second against Braden Looper; he singled home Lee and Mike Lamb in the 4th against Looper; he doubled in Ransom in the sixth, still against Looper; he drew a bases-loaded walk in the 8th from Brian Falkenborg to score Eric Bruntlett; he hit a 2-run homer against Aaron Miles with Ransom aboard in the 9th.

After 7 games in the majors, Towles was hitting .400/.478/.700.

Sources: MILB.com, 2007 Astros Media Guide, 2005-2007 Baseball Almanacs

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