Wade addresses spring hot topics
Astros pitchers and catchers hit the field tomorrow for their first workout of the spring, with position players joining the fun on Sunday. I’m hopping a plane for Kissimmee today and will begin reporting on Spring Training first thing Wednesday morning. This one-man team will be reporting from Kissimmee for more days than any other Houston reporter, so check the blog and Twitter www.twitter.com/BrianMcTaggart often for updates for all the latest news.
Also, I’ll be on the Astros’ official pregame show on the flagship KTRH (740 AM) this year with Matt Thomas once a week, as well as making a weekly appearance on the the morning show of Matt Jackson and Adam Wexler on KBME (790 AM). My first segment airs at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, so be sure to listen.
Finally, Astros general manager Ed Wade recently had a question-and-answer session with media prior to his departure for Kissimmee. He addressed several hot-button topics in advance of Spring Training, and some of his responses to questions are listed below:
Q: What’s the No. 1 thing you want to see at spring training, beyond position battles and things like that?
A: “Health. It would be great if you had three layers of depth and could cover yourself if you had major breakdowns, but we need to stay healthy. We’re pressing some kids right now to step up and fill some roles that are challenging. If we have to go beyond some of those kids and dip down even further it might get a little bit tough. I think every general manager, every organization going into Tpring Training hopes that the offseason plan survives long enough to at least be implemented Opening Day. Sometimes you don’t even get to Opening Day. We saw that a year ago when Lance Berkman had the knee issue and opened on the disabled list. There’s no guarantees those things aren’t going to happen, but health plays a big part of it.”
Q: Will the sheer number of bodies in camp (63) have any impact on the way camp is run?
A: “We haven’t snuck any new guys in on, particularly Brad Arnsberg, in the last two weeks or so, so I’m sure he’s got his schedule and game plan in place. A lot of the younger players who we’re bringing in are coming in knowing they’re not going to make the club. At least we’re going to tell them they’re not going to make the club and we ask them to get used to surroundings, put their foot in the water a little bit and let the staff become familiar with them. I think everybody benefits in the process of having them there, but there’s enough of those guys we’ll be able to shuffle them around a little bit and make sure the ones we’re counting on to break with the club in April are ready to go.”
Q: Can you address the first base situation? Obviously, [Brett] Wallace is going to have to prove himself, but you have [Brian] Bogusevic and Carlos [Lee] whom you would be comfortable with.
A: “To me, the perfect-world scenario was that Brett Wallace comes in and wins the first base job and is our guy and Carlos is the everyday left fielder and we’re not worried about mixing and matching in left with Carlos at first, or trying to push Bogusevic harder to play more. I know we’re going to get Brett every opportunity to win that job, (but) a lot of things will get answered if indeed he does step up and does that.”
Q: What does winning a job entail? I know it’s sometimes tough to evaluate results in Spring Training.
A: “You can’t look at the stat sheet every day and figure out if a guy is performing at an adequate level or not. It’s the total body of work that you see in Spring Training with regard to work ethic, which is not going to be an issue. [And] adjustments, and we know Brett needs to make adjustments as every young players does. There are some adjustments he needs to make and this kid has hit everywhere, so he’s been challenged before to make adjustments. It won’t be a stat sheet. If it was based on a stat sheet, a whole bunch of us wouldn’t have to fly to Kissimmee. We’d just sit back in the office in Houston and wait for the stats to come in and put the club together that way. Millsie and the coaches are going to have huge input in this, and Millsie and I will talk several times a day and we’ll talk about these issues, whether it’s Brett Wallace or Fernando Abad. What do we do with Fernando Abad? He just went 7-1 in the Dominican, a lot of it was as a starter. What’s his role on our club? Do we put him in the bullpen? Do we roll him out and let him compete for a starting job? Those are things that we’ll have to address… .”
Q: Will Henry Villar require a similar-type discussion?
A: “Yeah, a little bit, but I just think what Fernando did this offseason, all of a sudden you’ve got to say, ‘Wow, this is pretty significant.’ Philosophically, I’m a believer – I’ve said this before — I’m a believer that if a guy shows a potential for being a starter you exhaust those possibilities. That said, there are a lot of guys who begin their big-league careers in a bullpen setting and wait their turn to come in a rotation and then step in and have very significant careers. Somebody reminded me the other day that we had this conversation a couple of years ago about Bud Norris. People had seen Bud in the Arizona Fall League and he was a one-inning guy, two-inning guy in the Arizona Fall League and ‘Man, this guy might be the back end of the bullpen guy.’ Well, back end of the bullpens can get expensive, bullpen guys are far less expensive than starting pitchers, and starting pitchers make a lot of money for a reason ’cause there aren’t very many of them around. So if we have a chance to have a couple of these guys who either break in our rotation or at some point move into our rotation it’s a lot more advantageous to the club to have them as starter versus have them as middle relievers down the road.”
Q: How comfortable are you with your bullpen depth at this point considering some of the changes that took place during the offseason?
A: “I like it. I would love to have [Matt] Lindstrom still here. We had to do some things economically and Matt was sort of a victim of that. There’s somewhat of an unknown with regard to our bullpen, but that’s okay because there are some really good arms that we’re putting into the mix there. I like what we saw out of [Mark] Melancon last year when he was up here. We just talked about guys like [Henry] Villar and Abad and Alberto Arias looks like he’s going to be healthy and capable of competing. If he can get back to pitch the way he did before he had the health issue, that’s a huge chip for us at this point. So there’s always variables in a bullpen, and I’m one of those guys who’s sort of bullpen obsessed (and) that you can never have enough quality to cover those. It used to be the eighth and ninth inning, and now it’s the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth innings. I think we have the same type of quality and depth – albeit somewhat unknown commodities – that we’ll be able to cover those innings.”
Q: With no Lance and no old guard, what do you need or expect Hunter Pence to be?
A: “I expect Hunter to be himself. A lot of what Hunter is going to do as he evolves into a leader is going to be by example. When the truck got packed (Friday), we didn’t pack any pom-poms. We’re not expecting anybody to go down there and wave pom-poms in the clubhouse. I think it’s a case of guys showing up and showing that they belong there and exhibiting a work ethic that not only the younger guys, but their teammates look over and see what this guy is made of, what he’s all about. Whether it’s Hunter or Michael Bourn or you name the guy in the room, I think a lot of it is showing the confidence you belong there and leading by example. I think a guy like Hunter really benefitted by having an opportunity to spend time here with Darin Erstad. Darin’s been gone now for over a year, but I think his impact from the standpoint of a guy at the end of his career, the end of a tremendous career, who still suited up and played the game – whether he was playing once a week or how he played when he was playing 162 games a year – I think Hunter paid a lot of attention to that and hopefully some other guys did as well. I don’t think you have to be, and I’ve said it before, I don’t think you have to have eight, 10, 12 years of big league service to be a leader. I think it’s a matter of how you go about your business. It’s tough for extra guys to be leaders. It’s easier when you’re putting the uniform on every day to exhibit that level of leadership. Sitting watching a Penguins-Capitals game on TV, the captain of the Penguins [Sydney Crosby] is 23 years old. It’s a pretty important leadership role in that sport and their guy Crosby is 23, so if there are some young guys who could step up and do it the right way, my message is have at it. Let’s go. Go ahead and do it.”
Q: In many ways it might be semantics to some people, but you talk about Brett (Wallace) as having to win the job, but is it his not to lose or is it a different mentality from a player in keeping a job versus winning it?
A: “I think he’s got to come in saying ‘You know, they gave me two-plus months of an opportunity last year to lock this job down and I still have some ground to cover.’ I would hope guys don’t coming in saying, ‘It’s my job to lose,’ ’cause to me that’s sort of a passive way of handling it. To me, you come in and you say, ‘There’s a chance here for me to begin a very significant big-league career and I’m going to take full advantage of it every single day. I’m not going to coming in saying, boy I hope I don’t go 0-for-4 today.’ I want a guy to come in and say, ‘I’m going to get three hits today. Whether it’s the fundamental drill we do on the back field or whether it’s the five or six innings I get to play today, I’m going to put my best foot forward and then let them make the decisions.’ I don’t want guys to be passive. You’re afraid to do something you never step off and take advantage.”
Q: Your Rule 5 guys (Aneury Rodriguez and Lance Pendleton), would they be in the bullpen picture as well?
A: “Both guys at this point in time I think we’ll look at them initially form a starting standpoint because both of them have very limited bullpen experience, particularly Pendleton. So when we start talking about the bullpen and the mix and the rotation, Figgy [Nelson Figueroa] did a real nice job for us. [Ryan] Rowland-Smith, we signed him knowing he probably profiles as a starter. As I mentioned, we’ve got guys like Abad and [Jordan] Lyles coming in and he will be given every opportunity to put his best foot forward as well. We’re going to be open-minded on a lot of fronts. We’re going to be down there for a long time and hopefully we’re making really tough decisions at the end of the spring or reaching back to the Minor League camp to fill holes and going out to file a hole from the outside, which is always possible. The last 10 days of Spring Training, you can do some things with your bench and your bullpen. The key pieces have to come from the guys who show up on the 16th and the 20th.”
Q: How much do you think you know about Chris Johnson in 300-plus big-league at-bats?
A: “I know that the potential is there for him to be an outstanding big-league player. It’s a matter of adjustments. We’ve all seen a lot of young players coming to the big leagues and get off to great starts and then the advance scout makes a note in his report and it goes to the coaching staff and the next thing now the guy is seeing a different pitching selection or different location and he all of a sudden become aware – if he wasn’t already – that he’s got a weakness that’s being exploited, and the guys who continue to be successful and turn corners and the ones who close up those holes and make the adjustment.”
Q: You talk about a younger player…he was 25 last year, 26 now. Is it different sort of scale of adjustments you hit at that age than when you’re 22?
A: “Probably. I haven’t thought about it a whole lot because I still view him in the context of the amount of big-league experience he’s got as being relatively young. There are some guys who never hit a roadblock. Most players at some point in time are going to hit a roadblock and it’s how they manage to navigate around it. Some guys do and some guys just can’t get past it, can’t make the adjustment. They can’t stay off the slider in the dirt, they can’t get their hands in to hit the fastball in. And they fall by the wayside. C.J., I thought last year got challenged late in the season and made the adjustments and made them in a very significant way. This is a guy that I wouldn’t be surprised at the end of the season to C.J. at 30-plus home runs. But it’s going to entail, how does he respond to the other teams’ Brad Arnsbergs, who are back in the laboratory cooking up the formula to really make you fail? Believe me, when you have a couple of months like Chris Johnson had, there’s a lot of pitching coaches in the lab right now. Rich Dubee’s doing it right now in Philadelphia right now, getting ready for Opening Day against, trying to figure out how to shut C. J. down.”