December 2012

Ausmus chimes in on Freiman

Long-time Astros catcher Brad Ausmus had good things to say about Nate Freiman, the slugging first baseman the Astros drafted off the Padres roster with the No. 1 pick of the second round in Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft. (Houston took pitcher Josh Fields from Boston with the overall top pick).

Ausmus managed Freiman, who played for team Israel, during the World Baseball Classic qualifiers in September in Jupiter, Fla. Freiman hit .417 with four home runs and seven RBIs in three games before Israel was eliminated by Spain, 9-6. Four of his five hits were home runs.

“He’s a great guy,” Ausmus said. “He’s a good hitter with power. He has a short stroke for a big man. He’s the type of teammate everyone pulls for.”

Freiman, 25, hit.298 with 31 doubles, 24 homers, 105 RBIsand an .872 OPS in 137 games with Double-A San Antonio in 2012, earning both mid-season and post-season All-Star honors in the Texas League.

In 483 career Minor League games (462 as a first baseman), he has a .294 (551-for-1876) average with 131 doubles, 71 homers, 368 RBIs and a .364 on-base percentage. The 6-foot-7 right-handed hitter was originally drafted by the Padres in the eighth round of the June 2009 Draft out of Duke University.

Astros take Fields, Freiman

The Astros added a pair of players Thursday they believe can help them next season when they selected right-handed pitcher Josh Fields with the first overall pick in the Rule 5 Draft and first baseman Nate Freiman with the first pick of the second round.

Fields, 27, is expected to pitch at the back end of the Astros’ bullpen. He appeared in 42 games in the Minor Leagues for the Red Sox last year and was 4-3 with a 2.01 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings. Fields was a consensus top pick for Houston.

“We liked him at 1-1 all along,” Astros director of pro scouting Kevin Goldstein said. “We had scouting stuff and analytic stuff, and Fields was at the top of both lists. In the end, there wasn’t a long conversation at all about 1-1. We kind of sat in the room and said ‘1-1 is Fields’ and everyone kind of nodded their head and moved on.”

Fields and Freiman will have to stay on the 25-man roster for the full season or be offered back to his former team.

Fields was drafted in the second round in 2007 by the Braves out of Georgia and returned to school and was selected in the first round (20th overall) the next year by the Mariners.

“We think he can pitch in our bullpen right away, and that’s something we needed,” Goldstein said.

The Astros would have passed with their first pick of the second round had Freiman not been available, Goldstein said. He’s a 6-foot-7 right-handed power bat who wears out left-handed pitching.

Freiman, 25, hit .298 with 24 homers and 105 RBIs in 137 games at Double-A San Antonio (Padres) with 95 strikeouts in 581 plate appearances.  He followed up his big season with San Antonio with a standout performance for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic qualifier in September.

Of his five hits, four were home runs, though Israel lost to Spain in extra innings, thus missing out on a spot in the WBC next spring.

“This is a guy who’s worth taking a chance on, a guy we’ve like since his days at Duke,” Goldstein said. “He was great in Arizona and played well for Israel as well. Right-handed guys with that kind of power are not normally available in the Rule 5. You think about what we have right now. He destroys left-handed pitching and he’s a guy you give an opportunity to him in the spring and see what he can do.”

Houston also took two players in the Minor League phase – outfielder Michael Burgess from the Cubs and right-handed pitcher Cameron Lamb from the Giants.

Astros have plenty of options in the rotation

In the past few days, the Astros have added to their pitching depth by signing Philip Humber and trading for Alex White, both of whom are expected to compete for a rotation spot. What we know for sure is the top three spots in the rotation are set with Bud Norris, Lucas Harrell and Jordan Lyles, barring a trade.

The Astros are getting interest in Norris, who’s eligible for arbitration for the first time. They’ve created enough depth where they could trade Norris and have options in the rotation.

Here’s a look at the candidates for the final two spots in the rotation:

RHP Alex White: White appeared in 23 games (20 starts) for the Rockies last season and was 2-9 with a 5.51 ERA. He split the season between Colorado and Triple-A Colorado Springs, where he went 3-4 with a 3.71 ERA. White is 24, and GM Jeff Luhnow says he has top-of-the-rotation stuff. He’s going to be given every opportunity to win the spot.

RHP Philip Humber: Humber, 29, went 5-5 with a 6.44 ERA in 26 games (16 starts) for the White Sox. In 16 overall appearances as a starter, Humber finished 5-5 with a 6.14 ERA over 88 innings and has gone winless over his last 15 starts at U.S. Cellular Field dating back to 2011. He had an 8.36 ERA over 14 innings covering 10 relief appearances. Perhaps a return to his home state and a fresh start will get him on track.

LHP Dallas Keuchel: The lefty had an up-and-down season in his rookie debut last season, which included a complete game win in his second start. He wound up going 3-8 with a 5.27 ERA in 16 starts and showed enough to get another look in the spring. The competition has gotten tougher, so Keuchel will have to pitch well to win a spot.

RHP Jarred Cosart: Luhnow floated the idea Tuesday of perhaps moving Cosart to closer. He’s working on refining a third pitch, which is essential for a starting pitcher, but his powerful fastball could make him successful in the latter innings. I still think Cosart will be given a shot to start, but he’s said he’s willing to do whatever it takes to make the club.

LHP Brett Oberholtzer: Oberholtzer, 23, split his 2012 season between Corpus Christi and Oklahoma City, combining to post a 10-10 record with a 4.37 ERA in 28 starts. He began his 2012 season with Corpus Christi and earned Texas League All-Star honors before his promotion to Oklahoma City, where he went 3-5 with a 3.31 ERA in 10 starts. He was added to the 40-man roster last month, but he’s a long shot to make the club.

RHP Jose Cisnero: Cisnero, 23, was among the organization’s leaders in victories in 2012, posting a 13-7 record in 28 combined starts at Corpus Christi and Oklahoma City with a 3.70 ERA. Cisnero, who was twice named Texas League Player of the Week, had one of the top strikeouts-per-innings ratios among starting pitchers with 148 strikeouts in 148 1/3 innings of work. Expect him to open of the season as one of the top starters in Oklahoma City.

Winter Meetings underway

Greetings from Nashville, where the annual Winter Meetings are underway. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, who was hired as the Meetings came to a close a year ago in Dallas, was scheduled to arrive Monday morning with the rest of his baseball operations staff.

The Astros’ top goal is trying to find a DH ahead of the team’s move to the American League next year. The Astros desperately need to better their run production, and adding a slugging bat to play DH is the easiest way. Luhnow could also add some pitching depth, but the Astros aren’t going to spend big money or commit to any long-term contracts.

This story has a breakdown of what Astros are going to try to do while in Nashville, but stay tuned to for all latest Astros news. First-year Astros manager Bo Porter, hired in October, will meet with the media at 4:30 p.m. CT on Tuesday to give his thoughts on taking over a club coming off 107 losses.