Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Random Observations from Astros Spring Training

After spending a few days in sunny, (mostly) warm Kissimmee, I returned to Houston yesterday to temperatures in the 40's. Rude! Because the Spring Training back fields are insanely busy and there is so much to see and absorb, I didn't even attempt to do any interviews while I was there. But I did make contacts with many, many players with whom I plan to talk over the next few months.

It's hard not to be happy wandering around the minor league fields and hearing the sounds of Spring Training. Bat hitting ball, ball hitting mitt, the constant chatter behind the BP cage, coaches and trainers barking out orders, snippets of conversations drifting through the air, unexpected bursts of laughter ... all punctuated by the percussive cacophony of cleats hitting pavement as players rush from one place to another.

It was wonderful seeing old friends ...



and making many new acquaintances ....



 Field 5 was my favorite place to be. That is where Greeneville Manager Josh Bonifay and company hold court and that is where you will find many of the younger prospects and new draftees working on their craft. And that is also where I watched several innings of a simulated game in which RHP Lance McCullers, LHP Luis Cruz, RHP David Martinez, RHP Michael Feliz, RHP Vincent Velasquez and others pitched while this guy observed.

Nolan Ryan

I did meander over to the major league side on Sunday morning and got to meet Alan Ashby, new Social Media Manager Amanda Rykoff and Chronicle writer Jose de Jesus Ortiz, in addition to having a very nice conversation with radio broadcaster Robert Ford. He and Steve Sparks were both very gracious in praising the player interviews I've done. Bullpen Catcher Javier Bracamonte stopped by to offer his assistance in any way. You will not meet a nicer person.

On the field, I had my eye on these guys ...



I have many more photos posted on Flickr. I haven't finished weeding them out and labeling them, but if you're game to wade through them all, help yourself. I also took a ton of video which will take some time to sort through and upload. In the meantime, let me leave you with a few random observations.

Ignore lefty Luis Cruz at your own risk. He has been described to me by more than one person as a guy who pitches like his hair is on fire. Even watching him in a simulated game was a real treat.

OF Brandon Meredith looks incredible. He dropped 20 pounds over the off season and is in great shape. Another player who came to camp in particularly good shape is RHP Tyler Brunnemann who dropped 45 pounds since last season. No, that is not a typo ... 45 pounds.

OF Dan Gulbransen aka Dan the Yoga Man was fun to watch as he went through warm-up stretches. I've never seen anyone do leg kicks with so little effort.

Dan Gulbransen

Team Rehab looked to be a thankfully small group this year (knock wood). I met and had a very nice conversation with RHP Brandon Culbreth about the farm system and noticed a very prominent TJ surgery scar on his elbow. LHP Brian Holmes was also rehabbing, but should be ready to go before too much longer. RHP Lance McCullers had what I heard characterized as "a setback." The simulated game I saw him pitch in on Saturday was his first game situation of the spring, but he should be on track to break camp with whichever team he makes.

I really need to learn/re-learn Spanish. OF Teoscar Hernandez understands English pretty well, but he isn't quite at the point that he'd be comfortable doing an interview with me in English. I'm missing the ability to communicate with far too many players!

My favorite part of Spring Training was seeing our young players succeed in big league games ... seeing Michael Foltynewicz on the mound and Tyler Heineman behind the dish; seeing back to back doubles from Carlos Correa and Jon Singleton; watching George Springer make a spectacular diving play in the outfield; and seeing Delino DeShields really work a count, beat out an infield hit and promptly steal second.

What I saw on the big league field and on the back fields was the future as it started to merge with the present. When that happens, the memory of the last three seasons will fade to nothing more than bumps along the road. The Astros farm system is dripping with talent and the good times are getting closer and closer.

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I would like to thank Steve Grande and Gene Dias of the Astros who welcomed me with open arms and made me feel right at home. It was greatly appreciated.


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