Astros center fielder Jordan Schafer, who was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia during a traffic stop following last season, apologized publicly for the first time Monday shortly after arriving at camp.
Schafer, traded to the Astros from the Braves last July, is currently in a court-mandated pretrial intervention program in Florida that will clear his record if he successfully completes it.
“It was a bad situation,” Schafer said. “First of all, I want to apologize to the Astros and say I’m sorry for the inconvenience they went through and I’m sorry to the fans. I got caught up in a bad situation and hopefully I’ve learned from my mistake and moved on and become a better person for it, and hopefully we don’t have any more instances like that. Hopefully I can be a good role model and learn from this.”
Schafer said he’s thankful of how supportive Astros management has been during his ordeal.
“They’ve stood behind me, which I really appreciate,” he said. “I put them in a bad spot and I’m going through everything as far as the process they want me to do. I’m in a program and taking tests and stuff and doing whatever they ask me to do. I’m extremely appreciative of the Astros for standing behind me, and the fans and my family for being there.”
Schafer reported to camp at 204 pounds after putting on about 15-20 pounds this winter working with Orlando-based trainer Tom Shaw.
“I’m ready to get in here and get going and put everything that’s happened behind me,” he said.
Astros owner Jim Crane kicked off Spring Training early Monday by addressing the pitchers and catchers prior to their first workout, and then took a stroll around the facility at Osceola County Stadium to get the lay of the land.
“I’m feeling my way around,” he said. “It’s a nice facility and everybody has settled in and everybody is ready to go to work. The conversation this morning was [to tell them] to work hard. There are a lot of positions up for grabs. I think everybody if focused.”
Crane, whose group purchased the team from Drayton McLane in November, was scheduled to fly back to Houston on Monday night, but will return in time for the first full-squad workout on Sunday. As a former college player, Crane reveled at the chance to be back in his element.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “I hadn’t been in a locker room in a long time. You never forget what it’s like. There’s a lot of young faces sitting in the room and probably anxious about making the team, and you kind of understand that when you’ve played baseball. I played baseball, and it brought back a lot of fond memories.”
There is no official “reporting” date to Spring Training as there has been in years past, but several players were at Osceola County Stadium on Sunday — one day ahead of the first workout for pitchers and catchers.
J.A. Happ and fellow starting pitcher Bud Norris were among a handful of players to seize the opportunity to get on the back fields and play catch. Also working out Sunday were pitchers Lucas Harrell, Fernando Rodriguez, Wesley Wright, David Carpenter, outfielder Jake Goebbert and catcher Jason Castro.
Other who were in camp Sunday: Chris Snyder, Jack Cust, Zach Duke and Jorge De Leon.
“There’s going to be a lot of competition for positions, but it’s always going to be good just to see everybody again,” Happ said. “It’s good to have a little time off, but after so long everybody is going to be ready to get going again.”
The Astros will have 63 players in camp this year, including 23 non-roster players. The pitchers and catchers will take their physicals prior to Monday’s workout.
“We’ve been in Houston so long, champing at the bit,” said infielder Brett Wallace, who reported well ahead of the Feb. 26 first workout for position players. “Getting in last night and getting the chance to get in there, it’s like reality that it’s about to start. I think we’re all excited to get going this year.”
The Astros have more jobs up for grabs than any camp in recent memory. The top three spots in the rotation are decided, with Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers and Norris returning, and Carlos Lee (first base), J.D. Martinez (left field), Jose Altuve (second base) and newcomer Jed Lowrie (shortstop) likely to be in the Opening Day lineup.
“We’ve got to come in here and be positive, and that’s our No. 1 priority,” Norris said. “A lot went on last year besides playing baseball that kind of had us living in limbo land with the ownership, but finally we got that settled and I’m sure [new owner Jim] Crane is going to have an opportunity to talk to us and we’re going to have an opportunity to talk to him. It’s a fresh start. That’s what we needed.”
Veteran relief pitcher Brandon Lyon, who underwent surgery last year to repair the detachment of his right biceps tendon and to also mend a tear in his labrum, was understandably eager to get to Kissimmee. Lyon has been throwing off the mound at home and said he comes to camp with no limitations.
“I’ve thrown a few times off the mound, which is kind of rare for me coming into Spring Training,” he said. “I usually don’t throw too much, but I felt like I had to throw a couple of times and get on the mound and see where I’m at. I’m actually pretty happy where I’m at. I feel like I’m ahead of where I usually am right now.”
Catcher Jason Castro, who missed all of last season with a serious knee injury and underwent foot surgery two months ago, reported to camp on Sunday in good shape. He underwent surgery Dec. 9 to remove the sesamoid bone from his foot after injuring it playing in the Arizona Fall League and sat out all of last season after undergoing surgery to repair a large tear in the meniscus and having a reconstruction of the right ACL.
“I feel really good health-wise,” Castro said. “I’ll be ready to go. That’s a big reason why I’m excited. I wasn’t sure how the whole rehab process was going to go, but everything has gone really well. That makes me even more excited to get going, knowing I’m healthy.”
Here are some photos from Sunday:
Joe Pettini will be the guy standing alongside manager Brad Mills on a daily basis this season, talking, discussing and dissecting every aspect of the game and the opponent. Pettini is the Astros’ new bench coach, and he brings with him a wealth of experience after working the previous 10 years under one of the game’s all-time great managers in Tony La Russa.
Pettini won two World Series titles as La Russa’s right-hand man, including last year’s scintillating run that culminated with a victory over the Texas Rangers. While he thoroughly enjoyed working for La Russa, who retired after last season, Pettini is ready for a change of pace with the Astros and third-year manager Mills.
“Tony is a Hall of Fame manager and he was great to work for, but as the bench coach for Tony, sometimes you’re limited in what you have to do,” Pettini said. “It’s not like you can ask questions or ask for his input throughout the game, but Brad’s made it known to me he wants an ongoing conversation during the game. For me, I will love that. Just being part of the game and helping him out as the game progresses, I’m looking forward to that and I’m very excited about that.”
Pettini, 57, chose to leave the Cardinals after more than 25 years as a player and coach in the organization for a chance to reunite with general manager Jeff Luhnow, who spent the previous eight years with the Cardinals.
“I’m very excited and really appreciate the opportunity Jeff gave me to come down here and work with Brad,” Pettini said. “I know the situation that’s going on in Houston and that we’re kind of in a rebuilding mode. I spent a lot of years in the Minor Leagues with St. Louis before I got a chance to go to the big leagues with Tony and spent a lot of time with younger players, and I think that experience will come into play and hopefully I will be of help.”
Pettini’s playing career was similar to Mills. Pettini played parts of four seasons with the Giants from 1980-83, appearing in 188 games with one homer and 20 RBIs. Mills played in a reserve role for the Expos from 1980-83, appearing in 106 games and hitting one home run with 12 RBIs.
Pettini will be in charge of organization and running Spring Training this year, which is what he did for years with the Cardinals in Jupiter, Fla.
“He has a lot of experience,” Mills said. “He brings a different way of doing things, which I think is good. I think the message is going to be my message, but in a different format with him and his experience. We’re looking forward to working together. We’ve talked a lot and I feel very comfortable with him.”
Said Pettini: “I’m going to be in charge of outlining the schedule. It’s still Brad’s program and his way he wants things to be done, and my job will be to help outline it and make sure the schedules go up and the meetings run smoothly and everybody knows what’s going on and everybody is on the same page. It’s still Brad’s program.”
The first week to 10 days of Spring Training will be rather hectic for Pettini, as he learns new names and faces and tries to get acclimated to a new complex in Central Florida.
“If you’re outlining the schedule every day, that’s probably the most busy time of the year,” he said. “You have a lot of players when you first get in. It’s not so bad with the pitchers and catchers, but when you have pitchers and catchers and position players report, thank God you have the support of the Minor League staff to come and help with all the players you have. It’s probably the most difficult time. You want to try to outline the program so the guys can go out and get to work. You don’t want guys standing around doing nothing because there’s things they need to do to get off the field.”
Pettini joined the Cardinals organization as a Minor League player in 1984 and went into managing after his playing career ended in 1988. Pettini managed eight seasons in the system. His last stop was at Triple-A Louisville, where he guided the Redbirds to the 1995 American Association championship. Overall, he was 475-569 at the helm of the Cardinals’ farm affiliates.
He was the organization’s minor league field coordinator from 1997-2001 before he began working with the Major League club.
“No matter how long you’ve been in the game or how good you think you are, you have to be able to keep up with the game and understand the game and understand the people and teams you play against,” Pettini said. “I know what it’s like to be a manager. I managed eight years in the Minor Leagues, and when you’re the bench coach, you have to actually follow the game as if you are the manager.
“When the manager has a question, you have to be able to answer it and you have to be able to give input as far as how the game’s going and what could benefit your club, as well as what the other clubs are doing against you.”
Pettini was born Jan. 26, 1955, in Wheeling, W.V., and graduated from Brooke High School in Wellsburg, W.V., in 1973. He received a bachelor’s degree in education from Mercer University in Macon, Ga. Pettini and his wife, Barbara, have been married 30 years and reside in Bethany, W.V. They have two children: Amy and Joseph, and a granddaughter, Marlee Joe.
Astros manager Brad Mills, who arrived at the team’s Spring Training complex in Kissimmee, Fla., on Monday, was roaming around the back fields at Osceola County Stadium on Wednesday morning, taking in the start of a sunny, 80-degree day in central Florida.
Mills said several players were already at the facility working out, including Travis Buck, J.B. Shuck, Henry Sosa, Humberto Quintero, Angel Sanchez and Brian Bixler. Pitchers and catchers will work out collectively for the first time Monday, and the first full-squad workout is scheduled for Feb.26.
“I wanted to get down here and check out the complex and walk around it and make sure everything is ready for us when we start on Monday,” Mills said. “We’ve got about seven or eight guys working out and taking BP and stuff on the field, and I thought I’d walk around and say hello and see how they’re doing. It’s kind of neat. The fields are in pretty good shape, and it’s beautiful.”
Mills expects the remainder of his coaching staff to arrive on Friday, and the staff will have meetings on Saturday and Sunday in advance of the start of camp. Mills, entering his third year as manager of the Astros, has been talking frequently with new bench coach Joe Pettini, who joins the Astros this year after 10 years in St. Louis.
“We’ve spent a lot of time on the phone going over a lot of things,” Mills said. “I think the [Spring Training workout] format is going to change because he’s done things differently. I don’t expect any problems at all. Joe and I have talked many times on the phone and it’s all gone really well.”
The Astros on Wednesday agreed to terms on a one-year, $1.15 million contract with shortstop Jed Lowrie that includes bonuses and incentives. The Astros were able to avoid the arbitration process with all their eligible players and have everyone under contract for 2012.
Lowrie, acquired along with pitcher Kyle Weiland from the Red Sox in exchange for Mark Melancon in December, hit .252 with six home runs and 36 RBIs in 88 games for Boston last year. He played all four infield positions, starting 46 games at shortstop and 29 at third base.
Lowrie, who had asked for $1.5 million and was offered $900,000 by the Astros, will make his first public appearance with the Astros on Thursday in northwest Houston as part of the team’s winter CAREavan.
“Jed is looking forward to attending the Astros caravan [Thursday], especially having resolved his contractual status and avoiding an arbitration hearing,” said agent Brodie Van Wagenen, co-head of CAA Baseball. “In the end, concessions were made by both parties that allowed a deal to be reached amicably. Jed is in the best shape of his life, ready for Spring Training and excited about suiting up for the Astros, and his relationship with the organization is off to a good start.”
Lowrie has played in parts of four Major League seasons with the Red Sox (2008-11), appearing primarily as a shortstop, which included 130 starts at the position. He is a career .252 hitter with 19 home runs and 117 RBIs. He was drafted by Boston in the first round in 2005.
“The biggest issue with Jed is the amount of time he’s on the field as opposed to the training room and the DL, but there’s nothing about his skill set that would suggest he can’t play an everyday role if he’s healthy,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “That’s one of the reasons we traded for him and that’s our expectation and hope.”
He will take over at shortstop for Clint Barmes, who wasn’t re-signed by the team after one year in a Houston uniform.
We are a little more than a week away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Astros spring camp in Kissimmee, Fla. There are currently 61 players on the spring roster, including 21 non-roster invitees. Below is the current spring roster, with non-roster players listed in italics:
PITCHERS (22 on 40-man + 6 non-roster)
58 Fernando Abad (L)
68 Juan Abreu
28 David Carpenter
63 Xavier Cedeno (L)
72 Paul Clemens
73 Rhiner Cruz
71 Jorge De Leon
66 Enerio Del Rosario
21 Zach Duke (L)
52 Sergio Escalona (L)
30 J.A. Happ (L)
64 Lucas Harrell
— Livan Hernandez
69 Arcenio Leon
59 Wilson Lopez
41 Jordan Lyles
37 Brandon Lyon
39 Brett Myers
20 Bud Norris
60 Lance Pendleton
62 Aneury Rodriguez
43 Fernando Rodriguez
51 Wandy Rodriguez (L)
65 Henry Sosa
67 Jose Valdez
74 Henry Villar
56 Kyle Weiland
53 Wesley Wright (L)
15 Jason Castro (L)
22 Carlos Corporan (S)
55 Humberto Quintero
18 Chris Snyder
27 Jose Altuve
12 Brian Bixler
93 Delino DeShields Jr.
16 Matt Downs
70 Marwin Gonzalez (S)
13 Diory Hernandez
23 Chris Johnson
45 Carlos Lee
4 Jed Lowrie (S)
46 Scott Moore (L)
38 Jimmy Paredes (S)
36 Angel Sanchez
75 Jonathan Singleton (L)
3 Joe Thurston (L)
76 Jonathan Villar (S)
29 Brett Wallace (L)
95 Brandon Barnes
19 Brian Bogusevic (L)
6 Travis Buck (L)
11 Jason Bourgeois
9 Jack Cust (L)
77 Jake Goebbert (L)
50 Fernando Martinez (L)
14 J.D. Martinez
— Justin Ruggiano
1 Jordan Schafer (L)
47 Brad Snyder (L)
8 J.B. Shuck (L)
94 George Springer
My colleague Richard Justice and myself take a look at the Astros’ outfield situation in this video. There will be more to come.