Luhnow open to acquiring a hitter

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said Tuesday the club has opened up a lot more conversations about adding a hitter to their lineup, in addition to the quest to find a starting pitcher and perhaps even a reliever via  trade.

The Astros could get infielder Jed Lowrie back from his thumb injury as soon as next week. He’s scheduled to begin a rehab assignment Wednesday at Double-A Corpus Christi. Right-fielder George Springer (fractured wrist) is still about a month away from returning.

Without Springer, the Astros’ offense has scuffled, with the exception of Sunday’s 10-run outburst against the Rangers.

“We’re looking at every avenue,” Luhnow said. “Our priority so far has been on pitching, but I think we’ve opened up a lot more conversations regarding position players, and right now we’re having conversations about starters, relievers and bats.”

Luhnow said he’s not going to trade for a pitcher who will be a free agent at the end of the year with the expectation they’re going to sign him long term. But he said that once they play in the air-conditioned comfort of Minute Maid Park and reap the benefit from no state income tax, he’s hoping Houston becomes a place they want to stay.

“Those sorts of things all sell themselves, but we wouldn’t make a move assuming that we’re going to get long-term deals done,” he said. “Having said that, would we be OK giving up some future value to acquire a player we think could help us this year that we know is probably not going to sign here? Yeah, we probably wouldn’t. It all depends on what the cost is.”

Luhnow said he’s surprised there haven’t been any major deals yet, but he said there’s a lot of chatter in advance of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. He said he’s been in contract with every club for the most part, talking about what pieces they might be willing to move and what they’re looking for.

“Those discussions are time-consuming and they’re in conversations with other clubs as well, so it takes a while to sort through it,” he said. “We’re doing our work and we’re hopeful that we can figure out a situation to improve this team and give us a better chance to both reach the playoffs and do some damage in the playoffs this year.”

Luhnow said he’s confident that with the way the roster is constructed now, including the players on the disabled list and those in Triple-A who have helped at various points this year, that could be enough for the Astros to make the playoffs. But the Astros, like all teams in contention, place a premium on winning the division and not having to play the Wild Card game if possible, so he’s going go be aggressive.

“Timing is certainly part of how you play this whole thing,” he said. “You can strike early and you might be able to get a deal that’s not available later and get the guy you want and take him off the market, or you wait until a couple of more guys become available later on. You read the tea leaves with a lot of discussion out there and listen to the chatter and reporting back to us, and we’re having a lot of conversations ourselves. We’re doing what we can. When the time is right, we’ll strike if a deal looks good.”

Luhnow talks Astros and Trade Deadline

With two weeks remaining before the July 31 non-tender Trade Deadline, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow on Friday discussed the likelihood his team makes a trade:

Q: In general, what are your thoughts as the Trade Deadline approaches?

A: “I think our viewpoint is we want to give this team a chance to compete this year and we’re there. We may have a piece or two we can add between now and July 31 – it may not come until August – but if we feel like there’s an opportunity that presents itself to improve this ballclub and give us a better chance to get to the playoffs, a better chance to perform in the playoffs, we’d be foolish not to look at it hard. Having said that, we need to balance short-term gains with long-term planning. Anything we do is going to come at a cost, and I’m not talking about financially; I’m talking about talent acquisition. We need to be cognizant of what the impact might be on us in 2016 and beyond. A lot being discussed, a lot being  thought about, but I think this is a market that’s slow to develop this year and will probably pick up steam now that the All-Star Game is behind us.”

Q: What’s your focus on what you want to do?

A: “Really, it comes down to improving this team’s chances to make the playoffs and perform in the playoffs. Have George [Springer] out now hurts. Hopefully Jed coming back will help us. Our starting pitching has been pretty good, but you can always use another starter, especially in the playoffs. Our bullpen has been solid all year. You can always use another good bullpen arm as well. We’re really not limiting ourselves to any one area. We’re going to look at each opportunity and evaluate how we think he can help this team right now.”

Q: Has hitting become more of a concern?

A: “I’d say so. You take the bat out of George’s hand for a long period of time, and it changes our lineup. It changes the way the opposition looks at our team. If we can do something to replace that… Now with Jed [Lowrie] hopefully coming back soon, that will be a boost, and [Luis] Valbuena getting healthy and Chris Carter starting to swing the bat the way we know he’s capable off – and I think that’s going to start soon – the offense could pick up. We still lead in home runs and stolen bases and we’d like to see the batting average come up because it means we’re making more consistent contact. I think we will in the second half.”

Q: Because the team is where it’s at, do you feel pressure to get a piece or two?

A: “I’m not going to say we have to do something because everything we do comes at a price and we have to evaluate it. We certainly have to explore all the opportunities that are going to be in front of us. We’re working hard, we’re talking to all the other clubs and a lot of them haven’t made a decision yet whether they’re going to move anything or whether they’re still going for it. We have to wait for some of that to resolve itself. I feel the obligation to do the work, to make sure we’re in a position to make the best decision possible and if that means adding a piece for this year and giving up some prospects to do it, we’re going to have to cross that bridge when we get to it, and I’m sure some of those opportunities are going to be in front of us.”

Q: What is the market like right now?

A: “I’d say because of the additional Wild Card and because of the parity in both leagues, quite frankly, a lot of clubs are waiting to see and haven’t declared themselves one way or another. It doesn’t mean that conversations aren’t taking place, and it doesn’t mean that teams like us that are in more of a buying mode aren’t preparing ourselves and heavily scouting the players we think can help us, but what it does mean is we haven’t seen a lot of transactions lately. Seattle made one move; there’s been a couple of minor moves, but there haven’t been the big transactions pre-All-Star Game that we’ve seen from other years. They’re coming. There’s no doubt in my mind there’s going to be a market and some big trades made, but it may be closer than the 31st than the 1st.”

Astros signed Draft picks

Rnd (Pick)            Player                                                     School                                                 Ht/Wt                        Date Signed

1 (2)                        SS Alex Bregman                                   LSU                                                        6-0/186                     6/25

1 (5)                        OF Kyle Tucker                                       H.B. Plant HS (Fla.)                              6-4/190                     6/15

CB (37)                   OF Daz Cameron                                   Eagle’s Landing Christian Ac. HS      6-2/185                     6/30

2 (46)                      RHP Thomas Eshelman                         Cal State – Fullerton                           6-3/210                     7/1

3 (79)                      RHP Riley Ferrell                                    TCU                                                       6-2/200                     6/26

4 (109)                   C Anthony Hermelyn                            Oklahoma                                            6-1/200                     6/15

5 (139)                   RHP Trent Thornton                              North Carolina                                    6-0/175                     6/15

6 (169)                   OF Nestor Muriel                                   Carlos Beltran Baseball Ac. HS (PR)          6-2/170                     6/16

7 (199)                   LHP Michael Freeman                          Oklahoma State                                  6-8/235                     6/18

8 (229)                   C Garrett Stubbs                                    USC                                                       5-10/175                   6/18

9 (259)                   LHP Zac Person                                      LSU                                                        6-1/185                     6/24

10 (289)                 RHP Scott Weathersby                          Ole Miss                                               6-2/180                     6/15

11 (319)                 LHP Patrick Sandoval                            Mission Viejo HS (CA)                        6-3/190                     7/7

12 (349)                 CF Myles Straw                                      St. Johns River State Col.                   5-10/180                   6/19

13 (379)                 RHP Kevin McCanna                             Rice                                                       6-1/195                     6/17

14 (409)                 CF Johnny Sewald                                 Arizona State                                       5-11/170                   6/16

15 (439)                 OF Pat Porter                                          Ohio State                                            6-0/215                     6/15

16 (469)                 RHP Adam Whitt                                    Nevada                                                 6-3/205                     6/15

17 (499)                 LF Justin Garcia                                      Nova Southeastern                            6-3/225                     6/19

18 (529)                 C Kevin Martir                                        Maryland                                              5-11/210                   6/19

19 (559)                 OF Drew Ferguson                                Belmont                                               5-11/180                   6/15

20 (589)                 RHP Makay Nelson                                College of Southern Idaho               5-11/180                   6/16

21 (619)                 LHP Alex Winkelman                            Southeast Missouri State                   6-2/180                     6/16

24 (709)                 RHP Chris Murphy                                 Millersville University                         6-4/205                     6/16

25 (739)                 C Jorge Martinez                                   Carlos Beltran Acad. HS (PR)          5-11/184                   6/16

26 (769)                 RHP Ralph Garza                                    Oklahoma                                            6-2/195                     6/18

28 (829)                 RHP Zac Grotz                                        Embry-Riddle                                      6-2/195                     6/16

29 (859)                 IF Brooks Marlow                                   Texas                                                    5-9/185                     6/15

30 (889)                 3B Bobby Wernes                                  Arkansas                                               6-3/200                     6/30

31 (919)                 IF Keach Ballard                                     Oklahoma Baptist                               6-0/180                     6/15

32 (949)                 OF Aaron Mizell                                     Georgia Southern                               6-0/170                     6/19

33 (979)                 2B Kolbey Carpenter                            Oklahoma                                            6-0/190                     6/14

36 (1069)               RHP Ryan Deemes                                Nicholls St.                                           6-2/205                     6/15

40 (1189)               LHP Steve Naemark                              Angelo State                                       6-3/195                     6/19


Appel putting it together at Double-A

Astros prospect Mark Appel has seen fellow pitchers Lance McCullers Jr. and Vince Velasquez and shortstop Carlos Correa – three guys he began the season with in Double-A Corpus Christi – reach the Majors and have an impact on the big league club this year.

Appel, who got off to a slow start for the Hooks while others were being sent straight to Houston, didn’t get discouraged or stop working, and now he’s poised to perhaps join them with the Astros in the near future. Appel, the former No. 1 draft pick, threw a seven-inning complete game Sunday in the latest in a stretch of strong outings.

In his last five starts, Appel (5-1) has allowed seven earned runs, eight walks and struck out 24 in 29 innings, going 2-0 with a 2.14 ERA. Overall, he’s lowered his ERA to 4.26 from 6.02 following his May 22 start against Midland.

“I think just the circumstance the whole organization is in with a lot of success all the way through, especially at the big league level, shows that the Astros are not scared to bring up their best players,” Appel told “And so, Lance and Vince were pitching great. I’m very close friends with both of them and text them all the time and just so excited to see them do their thing. I want to be alongside with them. I believe I can. I know I will at some point.

“It’s funny. That team was pretty special here in Corpus at the beginning of the season and now three of those guys are having an impact on the big league team, and we would all go out to dinner and talk about what it would be like to all play together in Houston. That dream is becoming a reality pretty quickly. I’m excited to join them whenever that may be, but until then I’m going to keep working hard and having fun and trusting the process.”

The Astros have been trying to get Appel be more aggressive early in counts and get ahead of hitters more and establish his fastball, which he’s been able to do recently.

“I think just everything has kind of been going off my fastball, so getting my fastball right and getting it down in the zone and throwing it early in the count, that really opens up a lot of doors for my off-speed stuff or maybe elevating my fastball by design and so on and so forth,” he said. “Being able to get ahead of hitters, it puts you in a pitcher’s count and also you end up not really walking too many guys.”

Appel also said he’s gained confidence and trusts his stuff more, which he credits to the work he put in with pitching coach Doug Brocail between starts.

Confidence in the work and really trusting, it’s the best thing for me to prepare for each game,” he said.

Appel still believes he can pitch in Houston this year, and whether the Astros would promote him at some point straight from Double-A like they did with McCullers and Velasquez or move him up to Triple-A first remains to be seen. The Astros could be getting veteran Scott Feldman back into the rotation within the next month, so there might not be a spot for Appel just yet, especially if they make a trade to add another arm.

My goal is to get to Houston to help the big league team out, and I have confidence that I can get big league hitters and go deep into games and help the team win,” he said. “Whenever the Astros feel that time is correct, I want to be ready. That’s really the best answer I can give.

“I’m working hard here in Double-A and I’ll continue working hard and having fun and competing all the way up until they decide to send me somewhere else, and then I’ll work hard there. The process stays the same wherever I am. The work I put in stays the same wherever I am. I believe I can really help the team out. That’s really what the goal is for this season and long term.”

Altuve nearing return

Astros second baseman Jose Altuve went through some intense running and agility drills at Safeco Field to test his ailing right hamstring prior to Saturday’s game against the Mariners and spoke like someone who’s ready to play.

Altuve wasn’t in the lineup Saturday for the third consecutive game and said he’s getting anxious to play. He returned to action Tuesday after missing three games with right hamstring discomfort and left Wednesday’s game in Colorado because manager A.J. Hinch didn’t think he looked comfortable.

“I feel great,” Altuve said. “I went outside, I ran really hard. I just feel good.”

When asked what kind of feedback he got from Altuve and the training staff, he said they were “really happy.”

“They [talk] like I’m ready but like I say yesterday, it’s their call, so whenever they decide,” he said. “I don’t want to do anything stupid. But I feel like I’m great but like I said I’m going to be patient.”

Altuve said he’s done everything he needs to do to test out the hamstring, which included hitting and fielding grounders yesterday and running today.

“I’m really anxious but like I said we still have a lot of games left,” he said. “To try to hurry for one game you can miss more games. I’m ready for whenever they decide to put me back there.”

Altuve is hitting .287 with five homers, 28 RBIS and 17 stolen bases, which leads the American League.

Eshelman always under control

Asking Thomas Eshelman to choose between getting the last out to secure a berth in the College World Series for Cal State Fullerton or the joy of being drafted No. 46 overall by the Astros on Monday in the First-Year Player Draft is as an unfair as asking a parent to pick his favorite kid.

The fact they both happened pretty much simultaneously for Eshelman makes for a heck of a story, and one the 6-foot-3, 210-pound right-hander will never forget. Though he’s a starter, Eshelman closed out the Titans’ win over Louisville in the NCAA Super Regional on Monday and was in the post-game meeting when he got another thrill.

“My strength and conditioning coach came up to me and said, ‘Hey, you just became an Astro,’” he said. “That kind of poured over me a little bit. I didn’t really tell anyone and then everyone went into the locker room and found out and came back out and gave me a huge hug. It was fun to kind of be a part of and experience that.”

Astros scouting director Mike Elias sees Eshelman as someone who could move quickly through the system. He throws in the low 90s mph range, but has shown impeccable control throughout his college career with 18 walks in 370 2/3 innings to go along with 313 strikeouts. This year, he’s 8-5 with a 1.58 ERA in 17 starts heading to Omaha.

Once he signs, he’ll join a growing group of impressive pitching depth in the Houston organization, including two that recently graduated two to the Major Leagues from Double-A – Lance McCullers Jr. and Vincent Velasquez.

“I know the Astros are an up-and-coming organization,” Eshelman said. “I know they have a lot of young talent. One of my teammates from a couple of years ago, [2014 Astros draft pick] J.D. Davis is in [Class A] Lancaster with the Astros, and I’m sure I’ll get the lowdown from him. I know they like to move players up pretty quickly and I’m looking forward to getting out there and putting my nose to the grind and working hard for whatever team I’m on at that moment in time.”

So, Thomas, which experience was greater? Clinching a spot in the World Series or getting drafted?

“They’re both equal,” he said. “I wasn’t really a top recruit coming out of high school, whether it be the draft or college. Cal State Fullerton gave me the opportunity to come here and for me to do well and the Astros gave me an opportunity with the organization. I hope to do the same thing I did in college and continue to get better and make the big league roster one day.”ore out of him than what he’s given us.”

Draft, Correa links’s coverage of the first day of the First-Year Player Draft and Carlos Correa’s debut was pretty comprehensive. Below, I’ve posted all the links from Monday’s coverage:


Phil Rogers: Correa just the start of something big

Richard Justice: Correa’s arrival another major step for Astros

Anthony Castrovince: Correa joins exciting MLB youth movement

Correa’s debut:

Correa’s first hit, RBI, not enough in Chicago

Instant impact: Correa contributes in MLB debut

Story and video: Correa’s family shows support in Chicago

Five awesome facts about Correa


LSU’s Bregman thrilled to go to Astros at No. 2

Family ties: Astros draft Preston’s brother, Kyle Tucker at No. 5

Seeking MLB pedigree, Astros draft Cameron

Eshelman drafted on memorable night

Video: Luhnow, Elias discuss Bregman, Tucker

Other stuff:

Astros call up Vincent Velasquez

Jose Altuve’s All-Star lead at 2B slipping

Matt Dominguez DFA’d

Astros set to call up Velasquez

Right-handed pitcher Vincent Velasquez, who went 3-0 with a 1.37 ERA in five starts at Double-A Corpus Christi, will be called up and join the Astros in Chicago on Monday, general manager Jeff Luhnow said. Velasquez, ranked as the Astros’ No. 4-ranked prospect by, will start Wednesday’s game against the White Sox.

Shortstop Carlos Correa, one of the top prospects in baseball, will make his Major League debut on Monday for the Astros, who announced Sunday they were calling him up at 20 years old.

Velasquez, 23, becomes the second pitcher the Astros have called up within a month from Double-A without even throwing a pitch at Triple-A. Lance McCullers Jr., who will start Monday’s game, was called up from Fresno shortly after being promoted from Double-A.

Roberto Hernandez, who’s 2-5 with a 5.18 ERA in 11 starts, has been told he’s being moved to the bullpen. He’s currently the scheduled starter for Wednesday.

Velasquez, a second-round pick in 2010, missed the first month of this season after suffering a strained right lat on Nov. 4 while playing in the Arizona Fall League. He missed two months last season with a strained groin and all of the 2011 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. When healthy, he had a nice 2014 at Class A Advanced Lancaster, going 7-4 with a 3.74 ERA in 15 games (10 starts).

Tal Smith on Tal’s Hill

On the heels of the Astros’ decision announced Thursday to get rid of Tal’s Hill for next season, I checked in with the man for whom the hill in center field was named – former Astros president and general manager Tal Smith.

“It was an interesting feature that created some conversation and uniqueness for the ballpark, and I thought it really added a dimension because now and then it was really exciting and fun to see Michael Bourn or Lance Berkman go up the hill make a marvelous catch,” said Smith, who’s still active in baseball by doing consulting work.

Smith said Astros president of baseball operations Reid Ryan called him Thursday morning and told him about the upcoming changes.

“I think over the years the hill has provided a lot of memorable plays without any mishap,” Smith said. “I know there’s always been concern about injuries and so on. As I pointed out, I’ve seen more players stumble over the pitching mound than I have on Tal’s Hill. I’m a proponent that defensive plays can be very exciting and they help provide some of those.”

Smith said when the ballpark’s initial dimensions were discussed, the large center field offset the short 315 feet down the left-field line and 326 feet down the right field line.

“We knew left field and the Crawford Boxes were going to be a hitter’s haven and as we saw in the year 2000, the pitchers learned to use center field to adjust for the short lines, particularly down left field,” he said. “It proved a good balance. It’s going to take a while to adjust. Shortening center field by that much in a ballpark that has a short left and where right field is not all that difficult, it creates somewhat of a dilemma for pitchers.

“It will provide more offense and maybe that’s good. Everybody’s got their own thoughts.”

Astros owner Jim Crane said the removal of the Hill had nothing to do with Smith personally and said the club would still like to honor him in some way under the new configuration.

“From my standpoint, it was never about the nomenclature, a personal tribute,” Smith said. “It evolved as a means of identification. I was asked by [former owner] Drayton [McLane] in a meeting with the designers and architects and other staff members what we could do to make the ballpark interesting.”

Smith the Astros considered the monuments at Yankee Stadium, the ivy at Wrigley Field, the Green Monster in Boston and the hills and inclines at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field when coming up with a concept for Minute Maid Park, which opened as Enron Field in 2000.

“I saw Frank Robinson navigate [the hills at Crosley Field] without any difficulty,” Smith said. “It wasn’t anything I particularly advocated, and the name Tal’s Hill was used for an identification standpoint and it took on a life of its own.”

Smith maintained his sense of humor.

“Facetiously, they did that so they could have somebody to blame for it,” he joked.

Astros plan to remove Tal’s HIll for 2016

The Astros have received preliminary approval from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority their plans for a $15-million renovation to Minute Maid Park that would include the removal Tal’s Hill in center field and moving the flag poles so they’re no longer in play.

Astros owner Jim Crane thanked the Sports Authority for their support at a meeting Thursday morning and said the renovation project would begin as soon as the season ends and would be finished in time for the 2016 season. The renovations would include more fan-friendly areas in center field.

The Astros hope to eventually open a Hall of Fame beyond center field or in Union Station, but that’s not part of the $15 million plan that’s been approved. The Astros will pay for the project.

“We’ve been working for some time to look at how we can improve the ballpark and we’ve gone through a number of renovations, including the diamond club, the club level, the locker rooms, the offices,” Crane told “This is one of our big projects we knew we wanted to do. We did a lot of studies on other ballparks on the entertainment areas in center field and ours is very outdated over the life of the stadium, which has been great.

“We’ve submitted a plan to renovate center field and make it more fan-friendly and get more participation from the fans and really draw some more people in there.”

Crane said the center field fence, which currently sits 436 feet from home plate, would be brought in to about 409 feet. The extra space beyond the wall would be used for additional concessions and fan-friendly areas where spectators can watch the game.

Astros president of business operations Reid Ryan and senior vice president of business operations Marcel Braithwaite toured more than 20 ballparks last year to get ideas for reimagining the center field area.

“As you know, Tal’s Hill, some people love it, some people hate it,” Crane said. “We just thought it would be a better ballpark by moving that in. It will still be a very deep center field. There’s always been concern with the flag poles in play and danger in that and also the injuries going up the Hill, so we think this would be better for the players, utilize the space better and be a very pretty ballpark.”

Minute Maid Park, which opened in 2000, is owned by the taxpayers of Harris County and the city of Houston, so any changes must be approved by the Sports Authority, which serves as the landlord.

“Any time our tenants want to spend a significant amount money to upgrade our facilities, I think it’s in the taxpayers’ best interest to do that,” said Kenny Friedman, chairman of the Sports Authority. “We’ve been working with them all along on what their ideas are. They have great ideas, and I think the public will be excited by what they’re planning on doing there.”

Brathwaite, who said the Astros will begin putting the center field project out to bid soon to make sure they’re staying with in the budget, said the eventual Hall of Fame concept will aim to preserve the legacy of the franchise.

“We want to make sure we’ve have a great home to celebrate the tremendous history we have here,” he said.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 89 other followers