Saturday, March 22, 2014

Astros Spring Training Roster Moves

The news came this morning that OF J.D. Martinez has been released by the Astros, LHP Darin Downs has been optioned to Oklahoma City and infielders Japhet Amador and Gregorio Petit have been re-assigned to minor league camp.

Of the 34 players remaining in big league camp, four will almost certainly start the season on the DL: RHP Alex White, RHP Jesse Crain, Asher Wojciechowski and RHP Peter Moylan (who is looking at possible TJ surgery according to reports from yesterday). That brings us to 30 players, two of whom (Catchers Rene Garcia and Carlos Perez) are destined for the minors, barring any unforeseen injuries.

That brings us effectively down to 28 players. If the Astros break camp with 13 pitchers, they will need to cut one from the list of healthy pitchers. I think it likely that the odd man out will come out of this group: Harrell, Keuchel, Valdes and Williams. I am assuming that either Keuchel or Valdes will make the team to give the Astros a third lefty option, but I find it unlikely that both will.

And they will need to cut two position players. Since Adron Chambers and Cesar Izturis aren't currently on the 40-man roster, they are probably the most likely victims as far as position players go unless the Astros decide to part company with Jesus Guzman who has not had a great spring. The one possible monkeywrench in this scenario is that the Astros are reported to still be looking at first base options.

PITCHERS
RHP Matt Albers
RHP Anthony Bass
LHP Kevin Chapman
RHP Jarred Cosart
RHP Jesse Crain (probable DL stint)
RHP Scott Feldman
RHP Josh Fields
RHP Lucas Harrell
LHP Dallas Keuchel
RHP Peter Moylan (probable DL stint)
LHP Brett Oberholtzer
RHP Brad Peacock
RHP Chad Qualls
LHP Raul Valdes
RHP Alex White (probable DL stint)
RHP Jerome Williams
RHP Asher Wojciechowski (probable DL stint)
RHP Josh Zeid

CATCHERS
Jason Castro
Carlos Corporan
Rene Garcia
Carlos Perez

INFIELDERS
Jose Altuve
Chris Carter
Matt Dominguez
Marwin Gonzalez
Jesus Guzman
Cesar Izturis
Marc Kraus (IF/OF)
Jonathan Villar

OUTFIELDERS
Adron Chambers
Dexter Fowler
Robbie Grossman
L.J. Hoes

2014 Grapefruit League Recap, Game 21

Miami Marlins 7, Houston Astros 2 

2014 Grapefruit League record: 8-13

W- Nathan Eovaldi (1-1)
L- Scott Feldman (0-2)

Astros home runs: None.

Zzzzzz.... oh. Sorry. I didn't watch all of this game, and this happened to be one of the rare baseball games that put me to sleep. 

Starting Pitcher: Scott Feldman

This year's Opening Day starter labored through 5 innings, and the defense behind him was shaky, as the Astros committed a pair of errors. Garrett Jones took him deep for a 2-run shot in the 1st. Feldman did record his usually healthy amount of groundball outs. 

Final line: L (0-2), 5 IP, 7 H (2-R HR), 5 R (4 earned), BB, 3 K

Bullpen

Josh Zeid was the first reliever out of the bullpen and gave up a run in the 6th on a couple of singles, but responded by striking out the side in order in the 7th. 

Matt Albers struck out 1 in a 1-2-3 8th, and Chad Qualls gave up a single to Austin Nola to begin the 9th, and uncorked a wild pitch to allow him to score. Qualls struck out 1 in his inning of work. 

Offense

The Astros got their 2 runs on a pair of RBI singles from L.J. Hoes (in the 4th) and Carlos Corporán (in the 5th). 







Robbie Grossman's double was the only extra-base hit, and Jose Altuve drew 2 walks.

Three Stars

3.


Carlos Corporán, C
1-3, RBI single in 5th


2.



Matt Albers, RHP
IP (8th), K


1.


Josh Zeid, RHP
2 IP, 2 H, ER, 4 K


Next Up

Brett Oberholtzer will be on the bump for the Astros as they welcome the Cardinals to Kissimmee. They'll be getting a second look at Michael Wacha in the process as well. First pitch is at 1:05 Eastern.

Happy Birthday - 3/22

Happy Birthday to ~

Dexter Fowler (28)
Originally drafted by the Rockies in the 14th round in 2004, Fowler came to Houston in the December 2013 trade that sent Brandon Barnes and Jordan Lyles to the Rockies. In six seasons for the Rockies, he hit .270/.365/.423 with 120 doubles, 53 triples and 40 home runs in 667 games.

Several former Astros have birthdays today as well ~

3B Sean Berry (48)
Drafted by the Royals in the first round in 1986, Berry came to Houston in a trade with the Expos in 1995 and played for the Astros from 1996 through 1998. He hit .283/.342/.476 with 79 doubles, three triples and 38 home runs in 330 games. Berry served as hitting coach for the Astros from July of 2006 until July of 2010. Most recently, he has served as the minor league hitting coordinator for the Padres.

IF Billy Goodman (died October 1, 1984 at 58)
After having spent the majority of his playing days with Boston, as well as stints with the White Sox and Orioles, Goodman played in 82 games for the Colt .45's in 1962 at the end of his career. He hit .255/.306/.292, but his career line over 16 seasons was .300/.376/.378 in 1623 games. He was a two-time All-Star and led the American League in batting average in 1950 when he hit .354 over 110 games.

MGR Matt Galante (70)
Matt Galante managed the Astros for 27 games in 1999, going 13-14, as Larry Dierker recovered from brain surgery.

RHP Jeremy Griffiths (36)
Drafted by the Mets in the third round in 1999, Griffiths pitched in a total of 10 games in his major league career, one of those for the Astros in 2004. Griffiths came to Houston with David Weathers in the Mets trade for Richard Hidalgo in June 2004.

I would also like to wish Ryan Dunsmore, Crawfish Boxes contributor and photoshop king, a very happy birthday.

Tweet of the Day

Friday, March 21, 2014

2014 Grapefruit League Recap, Game 20

Philadelphia Phillies 6, Houston Astros 3

2014 Grapefruit League record: 8-12

W- Jeff Manship (1-0)
L- Kevin Chapman (0-1)

Astros home runs: None.

The Phillies took this one behind a 6-0 run that occurred between the 5th and 8th innings.

On another note, it's now 10 days until Opening Day.

Starting Pitcher: Lucas Harrell

Lucas Harrell's Jeykll-and-Hyde spring rolled on, as he pitched into the 5th and gave up 1 run. This comes after he got absolutely demolished by the Tigers to the tune of 10 runs in 1.2 innings. He did walk 2 without recording a strikeout, but got 9 groundouts (against 1 flyout).

Final line: 4.1 IP, 6 H, ER, 2 BB

Bullpen

Kevin Chapman was the first man out of the bullpen for the Astros, coming on after Harrell allowed an RBI double to Ronny Cedeño with 1 out in the 5th. Chapman proceeded to strike out Cody Asche (which I learned was pronounced "Ash-ee" and not "Ash") and Ryan Howard to end the inning. However, he was saddled with the L after the Phillies broke a 1-1 tie off of him with a pair in the 6th.

Darin Downs was next up, and he gave up 3 in his 2 innings of work.

Josh Fields struck out the side in order in the 9th.

Offense

1 in the 1st, 2 in the last.

Dexter Fowler reached safely in all of his plate appearances, and he scored the first run of the game on a Jason Castro double in the 1st. In the 9th, Adron Chambers had a sac fly and Jonathan Villar hit an RBI single. Fowler, Castro, and Villar had 2 hits apiece.



Three Stars

3.


Jason Castro, C
2-3, 2B, RBI as the DH


2.


Josh Fields, RHP
IP, 3 K


1.


Dexter Fowler, CF
2-2, BB, R


Apologies to Jonathan Villar

Next Up

Scott Feldman will make his penultimate start of the spring as the Astros take on the Marlins, who will go with Alvin native Nathan Eovaldi. First pitch in Kissimmee will take place at 1:05 Eastern.

Astros Minor League Player Releases

I just got word that three more players were given their unconditional release by the Astros this morning:

RHP Charles Basford, 23, came to the Astros in the June 2013 Fernando Martinez trade with the Yankees.

IF Ryan Dineen, 23, was drafted by Houston in the 25th round in 2012 out of Eastern Illinois University.

LHP Kenny Long, 25, was drafted in the 22nd round in 2012 out of Illinois State University. Kenny was instrumental in helping the JetHawks win the California League Championship in 2012 as he shone out of the 'pen for that Lancaster team. He also provided us with many laughs as he was frequently featured in my Tweet of the Day.

I didn't really have an opportunity to get to know Dineen and, unfortunately, I never even met Basford, but I can assure you that Kenny Long will definitely be missed.

I'm running late, but you can click on the player's name to see their stats.

Happy Birthday - 3/21

Happy Birthday to ~

OF Andrew Aplin (23)
Drafted in the fifth round in 2012 out of Arizona State, Aplin spent his second professional season with the JetHawks, hitting .278/.376/.424 with 32 doubles, seven triples, nine home runs, 107 RBI and 24 stolen bases. He was in the top five in the Astros system in runs scored, doubles, triples, RBI, stolen bases and walks. He was listed as the #19 prospect in the Astros system in the recent Baseball America Prospect Handbook.

C Rene Garcia (24)
Garcia was drafted in the 35th round in 2008 out of high school in his native Puerto Rico. Garcia started the season at Corpus Christi and hit .304/.348/.419 in his first 73 games of the season before being promoted to Oklahoma City on August 1st. In 18 games for the RedHawks, he hit .246/.279/.277.

RHP Bobby Doran (25)
Drafted in the fourth round in 2010 out of Texas Tech, Doran started the season with Corpus Christi and made a couple of spot starts for the RedHawks before his promotion to Oklahoma City on August 3rd. In 31 appearances for the season (21 starts), Doran went 11-2 with a 3.51 ERA and a 1.222 WHIP.

Former Astros with birthdays today ~

1B Prentice Almont "Pidge" Browne (died June 3, 1997 at 68)
Browne played in 65 games for the Colt 45's in 1962, a rookie at 33. According to Baseball-Reference:
Pidge Browne was a long time minor league star who at the age of 33 finally got a shot at the major leagues with the expansion Houston Colt .45's in 1962 ... He was the Texas League home run champion in 1955 when he hit 33 home runs for Shreveport. He later became a fan favorite playing for the Houston minor league team in the late 1950s. 
He hit .210/.298/.320 with four doubles, two triples and a home run for Houston that season and never played in the major leagues again.

OF Tommy Davis (75)
Davis came to Houston in a trade with the Seattle Pilots in August of 1969 and played for Houston for parts of the 1969 and 1970 seasons, hitting .271/.308/.377 over 81 games. Davis spent parts of 18 seasons in the major leagues, playing 1999 games for 10 teams and earning All-Star nods and National League batting titles in 1962 and 1963.

Tweet of the Day

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Prospectations - The Other Story From Yesterday

My gosh Wednesday was a wonderful day on the field (I am ignoring the Correa HBP since we have since learned there is no fracture). Our young pitchers Cosart, Foltynewicz, and Zeid came together as a team and absolutely dominated the Washington Nationals. These guys did everything right and gave us a glimpse of what they are and can become. What should we expect for the future? First, we should not expect this to happen every time they go out on the mound. There will be ups and downs as they adjust to the major leagues. That is the nature of the beast for even the best of players, particularly in their first year or two. Inconsistency for pitchers is normal for the first couple of years in the majors. Hitters will adjust to them and they will have to make adjustments of their own. Their longevity in the upper echelon of performance will depend on their ability to recognize and implement adjustments. There will be games with good innings and bad innings. As time progresses, the number of good innings will increase and the number of games without bad innings will grow. These three guys gave us a real glimpse of what our future can hold.

But these young men have a tough row to hoe this year. Ground ball pitchers without the best defense behind them (Matty D, I’m not talking about you here) can spell trouble. Too many errors and too many plays that while not scored as errors should be made by major league players. But our defense is young too and subject to the same inconsistencies as the young pitchers. The key for the pitcher is not to let plays not made behind him shake his confidence or change his approach.

I am also concerned by the impact it has on the pitcher when a team doesn't score a lot of runs. Thinking you have to be “perfect” to win a ball game places unnecessary stress on the pitcher. It is harder for youngsters than it is for a grizzly veteran to discard this mentality and not let it affect them. This creates inconsistency as pitchers will have a tendency to nibble instead of trusting their stuff and just pitching their game. Our boys on the mound yesterday were brilliant and should have another dose of confidence to add to their arsenal which will breed further success.

The only thing that saddens me is the fact that “Springergate” broke on the same day and overshadowed what should have been the biggest and best news of the spring. The Astros had every right to make him the offer that they did and he had every right to turn them down. That is how baseball currently works and neither side should be punished by the fans.

Nance @bbfanlady

2014 Grapefruit League Recap, Game 19

Houston Astros 2, Washington Nationals 0

2014 Grapefruit League record: 8-11

W- Jarred Cosart (2-1)
L- Taylor Jordan (1-2)
S- Josh Zeid (1)

Astros home runs: Jesús Guzmán (1, solo in 8th)

What a dominating performance from Astros pitching. The 4 pitchers combined to hold the Nats to 5 hits, walked 1, and struck out 15.

Starting Pitcher: Jarred Cosart

Oh my. Cosart absolutely mowed down the Nationals for 5 innings. That curve to strike out Jayson Werth.... good Lord.



Final line: W (2-1), 5 IP, 9 K

Bullpen

3 relievers put the finishing touches on a shutout.

First up was Raúl Valdés, who came on in the 6th. He allowed a pair of singles and issued the only walk, which resulted in a bases-loaded situation, but he emerged from the inning unscathed when he got Ryan Zimmerman to fly out for the 3rd out.

Mike Foltynewicz tossed 2 scoreless, allowing 2 hits and striking out 4, as he continues to make a strong impression on the big league coaches. And finally, Josh Zeid closed the door, giving up a hit and striking out 2 in the 9th.

Offense

Well, in a game where the pitchers were absolutely filthy, 2 runs turned out to be enough.

Jason Castro opened the scoring in the 1st with an RBI groundout....




...and Jesús Guzmán went the other way to send one out in the 8th.




Marc Krauss had a multi-walk game; in fact, he drew both of the Astros' walks. This game wasn't without a tinge of bad news, though, as Carlos Correa was plunked on the left hand by Tyler Clippard in the 8th inning.





Three Stars

3.


Jesús Guzmán, 1B/OF
Solo HR (1) in 8th


2.


Mike Foltynewicz, RHP
2 IP, 2 H, 4 K


1.


Jarred Cosart, RHP
W (2-1), 5 IP, 9 K


Next Up

The Astros will welcome a split Phillies squad to Osceola County Stadium, as Lucas Harrell will face Jeff Manship. First pitch is at 1:05 Eastern.

Astros Spring Training Roster Moves and a Mini-Soapbox

The news came this morning that OF George Springer, RHP Mike Foltynewicz (read this great piece from Evan Drellich re: Folty's four-seamer), OF Delino DeShields, 1B Jon Singleton, SS Carlos Correa (who is thankfully negative for a fracture after being hit in the hand by a pitch last night) and RHP Mark Appel have been re-assigned to minor league camp. 38 players remain in big league camp. They are:

PITCHERS
RHP Matt Albers
RHP Anthony Bass
LHP Kevin Chapman
RHP Jarred Cosart
RHP Jesse Crain
LHP Darin Downs
RHP Scott Feldman
RHP Josh Fields
RHP Lucas Harrell
LHP Dallas Keuchel
RHP Peter Moylan
LHP Brett Oberholtzer
RHP Brad Peacock
RHP Chad Qualls
LHP Raul Valdes
RHP Alex White
RHP Jerome Williams
RHP Asher Wojciechowski
RHP Josh Zeid

CATCHERS
Jason Castro
Carlos Corporan
Rene Garcia
Carlos Perez

INFIELDERS
Jose Altuve
Japhet Amador
Chris Carter
Matt Dominguez
Marwin Gonzalez
Jesus Guzman
Cesar Izturis
Marc Kraus (IF/OF)
Gregorio Petit
Jonathan Villar

OUTFIELDERS
Adron Chambers
Dexter Fowler
Robbie Grossman
L.J. Hoes
J.D. Martinez

Moving George Springer to minor league camp on the heels of yesterday's post from Ken Rosenthal has a lot of Astros fans wailing and gnashing teeth. While it is frustrating that Springer will not break camp with the Astros, it is not the end of the world.

Before the story came out that the Astros had offered Springer $23 million to lock him up for seven years, most of us assumed that he would not make the team out of Spring Training because of player control issues. That is still the case.

Jim Crane and Company are running a business. He has a fiduciary duty to the ownership group to get the most bang for the buck, particularly with the CSNHouston debacle dragging on and on and on and ....well, you get my point. It was perfectly reasonable for the Astros to make Springer an offer. And it was equally reasonable for Springer to decline that offer.

As Rosenthal himself points out:
The current system, however, discourages budget-conscious teams, in particular, from advancing their best young talent. The Astros, by delaying Springer's arrival, are acting no differently than most clubs do.
Everyone games the system to their best advantage. No one seemed to have a particular problem with the way GM Jeff Luhnow gamed the draft system in 2012 when he passed on presumptive number one overall pick Mark Appel in order to sign Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers and Rio Ruiz and still ended up drafting Appel in 2013.

The system is what the system is. Owners will try to get the best deal at the expense of the players and players will try to get the best deal at the expense of the owners. At the end of the day, I'm personally just thankful that the front office is not looking for quick fixes, but is concentrating on long-term viability.

Happy Birthday - 3/20

No future Astros with birthdays today, only former Astros ~

RHP Jim Golden (78)
Obtained by Houston from the Dodgers in the 1961 expansion draft, Golden pitched for the Colt .45's for two seasons before being included in a trade to the White Sox in 1963 for Nellie Fox. He was 7-12 for Houston with a 4.13 ERA and a 1.428 WHIP in 40 appearances (19 starts).

OF Rick Parker (51)
Drafted by the Phillies in the 16th round in 1985 out of the University of Texas, Parker was signed by Houston as a free agent in January of 1992 and spent one season with the Astros. In 49 plate appearances over 45 games, he hit a solid .333/.375/.400.

RHP Blas Minor (48)
Minor was drafted three times before he finally signed with Pittsburgh on the fourth try as a sixth round pick in 1988. His best season was for the Mets in 1995 when he went 4-2 with a 3.66 ERA and a 1.221 WHIP.  Having signed with Houston as a free agent in November of 1996, Minor pitched in only 12 innings for the Astros in 1997 with a 1-0 record, a 4.50 ERA and a 1.500 WHIP.

LHP Wilfredo Rodriguez (35)
A non-drafted free agent first signed by Houston in 1995 out of Venezuela, Rodriguez's whole major league career consists of  three innings pitched over two games in 2001 with an ERA of 15.00 and a WHIP of 2.333. In eight seasons of minor league and independent ball, he had a 4.17 ERA and a 1.384 WHIP.  He was named as a #25 prospect by Baseball America before the 2000 season and a #57 prospect by Baseball America before the 2001 season.

I would also like to wish Kevin Goldstein, Director of Pro Scouting for the Astros, a very Happy Birthday!

Tweet of the Day

Another night, another ring ceremony ... this time for the New York-Penn League Champion ValleyCats

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

This and That

Between traveling to Spring Training and that whole "real job" thing, I've gotten a little behind on things. I had hoped to have the depth analysis on catchers in the Astros organization ready this week, but alas and alack, it was not meant to be. I'll have those for you next week. In the meantime, I've also fallen woefully behind on sharing links and other news that I didn't want my readers to miss. So here goes ....

BIG LEAGUE CAMP
As you probably already know, seven players were re-assigned to minor league camp while I was in Florida: LHP Rudy Owens, RHP Jose Cisnero, RHP Collin McHugh, C Tyler Heineman, RHP Chia-Jen Lo, RHP Jorge de Leon and RHP Rhiner Cruz which leaves us with a current total of 44 players in big league camp. They are:

PITCHERS
RHP Matt Albers
RHP Mark Appel
RHP Anthony Bass
LHP Kevin Chapman
RHP Jarred Cosart
RHP Jesse Crain
LHP Darin Downs
RHP Scott Feldman
RHP Josh Fields
RHP Mike Foltynewicz
RHP Lucas Harrell
LHP Dallas Keuchel
RHP Peter Moylan
LHP Brett Oberholtzer
RHP Brad Peacock
RHP Chad Qualls
LHP Raul Valdes
RHP Alex White
RHP Jerome Williams
RHP Asher Wojciechowski
RHP Josh Zeid

CATCHERS
Jason Castro
Carlos Corporan
Rene Garcia
Carlos Perez

INFIELDERS
Jose Altuve
Japhet Amador
Chris Carter
Carlos Correa
Matt Dominguez
Marwin Gonzalez
Jesus Guzman
Cesar Izturis
Marc Kraus (IF/OF)
Gregorio Petit
Jon Singleton
Jonathan Villar

OUTFIELDERS
Adron Chambers
Delino DeShields
Dexter Fowler
Robbie Grossman
L.J. Hoes
J.D. Martinez
George Springer

OFF-SEASON TRANSACTIONS
I have also updated my ongoing list of off-season transactions with the minor league cuts from yesterday and made note of the free agent signing of RHP Hector Ambriz by the Padres.

LINKS AND VIDEO
And, finally, here are some things you might have missed that are well worth your time.

Peter Gammons waxes rhapsodic about Carlos Correa and George Springer.

The Quad City River Bandits received their Midwest Championship rings on Sunday evening and Carlos Correa addressed the team:


More from Correa, Lance McCullers, Manager Omar Lopez and Director of Player Development Quinton McCracken:


Baseball America takes a look at the Astros 2013 International Signings (insider only).

Jose de Jesus Ortiz tells us about the Astros effort to help Latin players successfully assimilate.

2014 Grapefruit League Recap, Game 18

Miami Marlins 8, Houston Astros 1

2014 Grapefruit League record: 7-11

W- Jacob Turner (2-1)
L- Dallas Keuchel (2-1)

Once again, ugh.

Starting Pitcher: Dallas Keuchel

Keuchel was battered for 7 runs in the first 2 innings, including a 3-run homer from Giancarlo Stanton in the 1st. He did throw 2 scoreless frames after that, but the damage had been done.

Final line: L (2-1), 4 IP, 13 H (3-run HR), 7 ER, K

Bullpen

Astros relievers combined to throw 4 innings of 1-run ball after Keuchel left the game.

First up was Anthony Bass, who allowed 2 hits and struck out 1 over 2 scoreless. Matt Albers allowed a run on 2 hits and struck out the side in the 7th. And finally, Chad Qualls allowed a hit in the 8th.

Offense

The Astros only managed to get 3 singles (from Marwin Gonzalez, Marc Krauss, and Carlos Correa) off of Marlins pitching. They did get on the board first, courtesy of a Chris Carter sac fly in the 1st. Jonathan Villar and Matt Dominguez drew 2 walks apiece.

Three Stars

3.


Carlos Correa, SS
1-2


2.


Jonathan Villar, SS
0-1, R, 2 BB


1.


Anthony Bass, RHP
2 IP, 2 H, K


Next Up

The Astros' roadtrip continues with a stop in Viera to take on the Nationals. Jarred Cosart will be on the mound to take on Taylor Jordan. First pitch will be at 6:05 Eastern.

Happy Birthday - 3/19

No future Astros with birthdays today, but several former Astros celebrate ~

UT Matt Downs (30)
Originally drafted by the Giants in the 36th round in 2006 out of the University of Alabama, Downs became an Astro after being claimed off waivers in August of 2010. In three seasons with the Astros, he hit .235/.298/.432 in 208 games and played at 2B, 3B, 1B, RF, SS and LF. He was also the emergency catcher but was never called upon in that capacity. Downs played in the Marlins minor league system in 2013.

3B/2B Jose Castillo (33)
Claimed off waivers from the Giants in 2008, Castillo played in 15 games for Houston that year, hitting .281/.314/.313. In 2013, he played for Puebla in the Mexican League.

UT Chuck Jackson (51)
Drafted by Houston in the seventh round in 1984, Jackson played in 81 games for Houston in 1987 and 1988, hitting .218/.281/.321. In 12 seasons in the minors, he hit .288/.369/.426.

Tweets of the Day


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.

>>>>>>><<<<<<<

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.


2014 Grapefruit League Recap, Game 17

Atlanta Braves 4, Houston Astros 0 

*Game called after 5 innings (weather).

2014 Grapefruit League record: 7-10

W- Alex Wood (1-0)
L- Darin Downs (0-1)

Astros home runs: None.

Boo rain. That's all I have to say.

Starting Pitcher: Darin Downs

Brett Oberholtzer was scheduled to start, but due to the weather, started a minor league game instead. So, in his stead, Darin Downs got the start in the big league game, and he was pretty good in his 2 frames; the only run (and hit) he gave up was a solo homer to Dan Uggla in the 2nd inning.

Final line: L (0-1), 2 IP, H (solo HR), ER, BB, K

Bullpen

Kevin Chapman got dinged for 3 in the 3rd on 5 hits. He struck out 1. Josh Fields and Ross Seaton both threw a scoreless inning. Both of them allowed a hit, while Seaton struck out 1.

Offense

The Astros got singles from Robbie Grossman and Dexter Fowler, and Carlos Corporán drew a walk.

No Three Stars for this game; there weren't really any eye-opening performances in a 5-inning game. Also, gotta keep up with the theme of recapping a shortened game.

Next Up

The Astros will make their way to Jupiter to take on the Marlins. Dallas Keuchel will be opposing Jacob Turner. First pitch is at 1:05 Eastern.

Astros Minor League Releases

The following players have been released:

IF Jean Batista
RHP Ryan Connolly
RHP Zach Dando
RHP Alex Gillingham
LHP Kyle Hallock
IF Parker Hipp
3B Angel Ibanez
RHP Euris Quezada
LHP Blair Walters

I always hate to see anyone released, but it is a side effect of the type of depth the Astros now have in the organization. I am particularly sad to see Kyle Hallock go; his was the first interview I ever did and I have a special place in my heart for the doors he helped to open up for me.

I wish all of these young men the best of luck.

[UPDATE: Here is more info about each of these players from our friends at Astros County since I didn't have time to post details this morning.]

Happy Birthday - 3/18

No future Astros with birthdays today, but one former Astro celebrates ~

RHP Brian Fisher (52)
Originally drafted by Atlanta in the second round in 1980, Fisher signed with Houston as a free agent in February 1990 and pitched in only four games (five total innings) for the Astros that season. His best season was his rookie season for the Yankees in 1985 when he was 4-4 with an ERA of 2.38 and a WHIP of 1.078 over 55 games.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

2014 Grapefruit League Recap, Game 16

Washington Nationals 4, Houston Astros 3

2014 Grapefruit League record: 7-9

W- Gio Gonzalez (1-1)
L- Scott Feldman (0-1)
S- Manny Delcarmen (2)

Astros home runs: None.

After getting run out of Lakeland, the Astros returned back to their home base in Kissimmee to take on the Nats.

Starting Pitcher: Scott Feldman

The Opening Day starter got taken deep twice by Steven Souza in the 2nd and the 4th. He also pitched the 5th, but was lifted after allowing a leadoff single. A run ended up being charged to him. Feldman didn't walk anyone, and got his usual quota of groundouts (7 groundouts, no flyouts) in 4 innings of work.

Final line: L (0-1), 4 IP, 8 H (2 solo HR), 3 ER (1 inherited), 5 K

Bullpen

Jorge De Leon came on to relieve Feldman and got 2 quick strikeouts. That final out proved to be a little more elusive (isn't it always) than he would've liked. De Leon allowed a single, then uncorked a wild pitch to allow the runners to advance. He then walked Souza to load the bases, and Brian Goodwin made him pay (well, he also made Feldman pay too) by spraying an RBI single to score a run.

Brad Peacock pitched the final 4 innings and got dinged in the 7th by an RBI triple hit by... Steven Souza. Other than that, he was excellent in those 4 frames, striking out 4.

Offense

8 players had 1 hit apiece.

L.J. Hoes put the Astros on the board (down 3-1) in the 5th with an RBI single. They got a pair of RBI doubles from Jose Altuve in the 7th and Jon Singleton in the 8th. Unfortunately, the Astros couldn't get the breakthrough as Carlos Correa struck out with the tying run on 2nd to end the game.

On a more somber note: These strikeouts (1 BB, 9 Ks yesterday). Yuck. If they threaten their own record for strikeouts again this season, we could be in for some sad times.

Three Stars

3.


Jon Singleton, 1B
RBI double in 8th



2.



Jorge De Leon, RHP
IP, 2 H, inherited runner scored, BB, 2 K



1.


Brad Peacock, RHP
4 IP, 2 H, ER, 4 K


Next Up

Brett Oberholtzer will face off against Alex Wood as the Astros welcome the Braves to Osceola County Stadium. First pitch will be at 1:05 Eastern.

Happy Birthday - 3/17

No future Astros with birthdays today, but one former Astro celebrates ~

C Raul Chavez (41)
Chavez, a native of Venezuela, was originally signed as a NDFA by Houston in 1990 and was traded to the Expos along with Dave Veres for Sean Berry in 1995. Signing with Houston in 2000 as a free agent, he played in 136 games in 2000 and 2002 through 2005 as a back-up catcher. His regular season stats were nothing to write home about, but he did go 4 for 9 with a home run and two RBI's in the NLDS and NLCS in 2004. He also boasts a 41% career caught stealing percentage in the major leagues and a 44% career caught stealing in the minor leagues.

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At the ring ceremony for the Midwest League Champion Quad City River Bandits last night.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

2014 Grapefruit League Recap, Game 15

Detroit Tigers 14, Houston Astros 3

2014 Grapefruit League record: 7-8

W- Max Scherzer (3-1)
L- Lucas Harrell (1-2)

Astros home runs: Robbie Grossman (1, solo in 5th)

Ugh. I will still fulfill my obligation of recapping this game, though.

Starting Pitcher: Lucas Harrell

Well, at least he didn't walk anyone.

Final line: 1.2 IP, 12 H (2-R homer), 10 R (9 earned)

Bullpen

Jonas Dufek, summoned from Minor League camp, was the first man out of the pen for Houston, and he turned in a fine performance against some of the Tigers' biggest bats. That's some first impression right there. (See Tweet of the Day.) What he didn't mention in his tweet was that he also struck out Victor Martinez, who's no slouch with the bat, either.

Jonas Dufek has really taken off since his move to the bullpen, and he's looking to build upon his fine 2013 season and possibly put himself in consideration to be a callup at some point this year.

Chad Qualls gave up a solo homer to Ian Kinsler in the 4th. Matt Albers allowed a hit and walked 1 in a scoreless 5th. Peter Moylan opened the 6th with 2 straight walks and saw both of those runners score on an RBI single and a sac fly.

Josh Zeid pitched the final 2 innings, and the only hit he allowed was a solo homer to Tyler Collins to lead off the 7th. He walked 2 in the 8th and struck out 4 (2 in each inning). So, other than getting dinged to start his outing, Zeid was excellent during his time on the mound.

Offense

The Astros got single tallies in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th innings. Robbie Grossman was 2-3 with a solo homer off Max Scherzer in the 4th.

After Marc Krauss tripled to lead off the 2nd, he came home on a Jesús Guzmán single. Jonathan Villar hit a triple to begin the 3rd and scored on a Dexter Fowler groundout.

Andrew Aplin came on as a pinch-runner for Carlos Corporán in the 7th inning.

Three Stars

3.


Josh Zeid, RHP
2 IP, H (solo HR), ER, 2 BB, 4 K


2.


Robbie Grossman, OF
2-3, solo HR (1) in 5th



1.


Jonas Dufek, RHP
1.1 IP, H, K



Next Up

Brad Peacock will take on the organization that originally drafted him, as a split squad from the Nationals roll into Kissimmee. He'll be taking on Gio Gonzalez at 1:05 Eastern.

Happy Birthday - 3/16

Happy Birthday to ~

LHP Reymin Guduan (22)
A NDFA from the Dominican Republic, Guduan made all but one of his 11 appearances (two starts) for the Gulf Coast League Astros, ending the regular season with a spot appearance for Oklahoma City. He compiled a 4.30 ERA and a 1.435 WHIP for the season. Reportedly, Guduan can routinely hit the high 90's with his fastball, but his control is still a little iffy. He struck out 12.5 batters per nine innings, but he also walked 5.1 batters per nine.

IF Raoul Torrez (26)
Signed by Houston as a minor league free agent prior to the 2013 season, Torrez gets the Frequent Flyer Award for getting moved eight different times between Lancaster, Corpus Christi and Oklahoma City. He also played all four infield positions, ten games in left field and I saw him work as a bullpen catcher in Lancaster. Torrez ended the season with a combined line of .225/.297/.326 in 66 games.

One former Astro celebrates today as well ~

RHP Mickey Storey (28)
Originally signed by Oakland in the 31st round in 2008, Storey came to the Astros organization in a trade with Oakland for "future considerations" in July 2011 and made his major league debut in Houston on August 3, 2012. In 26 games, he had a 3.86 ERA and a 1.220 WHIP. He is currently with the Blue Jays organization.

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