January 2013

DeShields eager for another big season

Astros prospect Delino DeShields Jr. didn’t make the MLB.com Top 100 prospect list, but he’s certainly one of the up-and-coming performers in Houston’s Minor League system following a terrific 2012 season in which he stole 101 bases combined between Lexington and Lancaster. He’s ranked as No. 7 among second base prospects in baseball.

DeShields, who could begin the season in Double-A Corpus Christi, spoke to MLB.com earlier this week about the upcoming season.

Q: What did you do during the off-season?

A: “I’ve just been working out and trying to enjoy my friends and family as much as I can before I have to go back out for camp. But nothing really specific, just trying to get better.”

Q: How important is this year in your development coming off a big year?

A: “It’s going to be a challenge for me, but I’m ready for it. I prepared myself really well. I’m just excited for what the year has to come. I don’t really know what’s going to happen; you never know what’s going to happen in baseball. My main thing is just to stay healthy and see what happens.”

Q: Do you expect to be in Corpus Christi to start the year?

A: “I have no idea, but I hope so. I’m just going to go to Spring Training and play my butt off and they’re going to make the decision at the end of the day. Hopefully I make the team. If not, I’m not going to be upset. I’m going to keep working and get there.”

Q: Will it be hard to live up to the numbers to put up last year?

A: “It’s going to be tough, but I’m not going to say I’m going to steal 100 bases again this upcoming year. I’m going to try to. I’m going to try to give the people what they want. As long as we win games and that stuff, that’s all that really matters to me.”

Q: With all the trades the Astros have made recently to jettison veteran players, are you able to see yourself reaching the Majors soon?

A: “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Like I said, I just have to stay healthy and can’t risk getting hurt and stay positive about everything. I can’t let people get in my head and continue doing what I’ve been doing. Hopefully I’ll be there at the end of the day.”

Photos from Saturday’s FanFest

Here are some photos from Saturday’s FanFest event at Minute Maid Park:

Bud Norris, Jose Altuve and Justin Maxwell sign autographs

Bud Norris, Jose Altuve and Justin Maxwell sign autographs

Jason Castro and J.D. Martinez

Jason Castro and J.D. Martinez

Brett Wallace and former Astros player Carl Warwick.

Brett Wallace and former Astros player Carl Warwick.

Bill Brown, Bo Porter and Art Howe

Bill Brown, Bo Porter and Art Howe

Lucas Harrell, Jordan Lyles and Jeff Luhnow

Lucas Harrell, Jordan Lyles and Jeff Luhnow

Milo and Justin Maxwell

Milo and Justin Maxwell

Jose Altuve

Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve

Carlos Correa

Carlos Correa

Players and Bill Brown answer questions from fans

Players and Bill Brown answer questions from fans

Fans await autographs

Fans await autographs

Carlos Pena

Carlos Pena

Brandon Backe

Brandon Backe

Lucas Harrell

Lucas Harrell

Jeff Luhnow, Bill Brown and Bo Porter talk baseball

Jeff Luhnow, Bill Brown and Bo Porter talk baseball












Astros add lefty Bedard to rotation mix

The Astros took a flier on another reclamation project Monday, signing veteran left-handed Erik Bedard to a Minor League contract that includes an invitation to Spring Training. Houston signed outfielder Rick Ankiel last week.

Bedard, 33, made 24 starts for the Pirates last year went 7-14 with a 5.01 ERA, allowing 129 hits in 125 2/3 innings. In his nine-year Major League career, he’s 63-64 with a 3.85 ERA with the Orioles, Mariners, Pirates and Red Sox.

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said Bedard is likely to take a spot in the Houston rotation this year behind right-handers Bud Norris, Lucas Harrell and Jordan Lyles. He started on Opening Day for the Pirates last year.

“When you have a lot of right-handers in the mix and to have a left-hander with his type of Major League experience and success and track record, it can only help us,” Luhnow said. “He’s got a strong chance to be in our rotation all year long, and we’re hoping that’s the Erik Bedard that’s had tremendous success already in his big league career.”

Bedard was one of the most effective left-handed starters in the American League from 2006-09, ranking third in winning percentage with a 39-23 (.629) record and second in ERA (3.40) among lefties in that span before being slowed by injuries. He was 13-5 for Baltimore in 2007.

“It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see him as a very, very effective Major League starter,” Luhnow said. “He’s been very, very effective throughout most of his career and has had challenges with injuries, but he’s still young and has a lot of ambition left in the game.”

Among those also battling for rotation spots this spring are right-handers Philip Humber, Alex White, John Ely and Jarred Cosart and left-handers Dallas Keuchel. Lefties Brett Oberholtzer and Rudy Owens will also be in camp, but they’re likely to start in the Minor Leagues.

“We’re going to take the best five starters, regardless of handedness,” Luhnow said.

Porter has a heart-to-heart talk with Singleton

Not long after he failed a drug test that forced Major League Baseball to suspend him for the first 50 games of the 2013 season, Astros top prospect Jonathan Singleton had a heart-to-heart talk with manager Bo Porter about responsibility and the road ahead.

Singleton, ranked by MLB.com as the top prospect in the Astros organization, issued a statement following his Jan. 9 suspension apologizing to the team while admitting he tested positive for marijuana. It was his second failed test.

“I just explained to him, I said, ‘Listen, your life is at a crossroads. No one can sit here and say they’ve never made mistakes, but now your next move will go a long way in determining how you’re going to rectify this mistake,’” Porter said.

Porter said Singleton was apologetic in person, as well. He will have to sit out the first 50 games of the season, but can participate in Spring Training.

“I wanted him to know the whole organization is behind him rectifying this mistake and moving on in his baseball career,” Porter said. “I said, ‘Jonathan, this is not about Jonathan Singleton, the ball player. This is about Jonathan Singleton, the man.’ Because if we get the man right, we’re going to get the baseball player. But if we don’t get the man right, we’re never going to get the baseball player. I explained to him, ‘Now the ball is in your court, and it’s time for you to do your part.’”

Astros reach deals with Norris, Lowrie and Wright

The Astros reached agreements Friday with all three of their arbitration-eligible players, signing shortstop Jed Lowrie to a one-year, $2.4 million deal, right-hander Bud Norris to a one-year, $3 million deal and left-hander Wesley Wright to a one-year deal.

Terms of the Wright deal weren’t disclosed.

Friday marked the deadline for the teams and players to exchange salary numbers in advance of next month’s scheduled hearings, but the Astros were able to avoid going to an arbitration panel.

The 28-year-old Lowrie, who made $1.15 million last year, set career highs in games (97), at-bats (340), runs (43), hits (83), home runs (16) and walks (43) despite missing 52 games with a sprained right ankle and leg injury. He wound up hitting .244 with 42 RBIs.

Norris, 27, was 7-13 with a 4.65 ERA in 29 starts last year, allowing 165 hits and striking out 165 in 168 1/3 innings. He went 0-12 with a 6.34 ERA during a streak of 18 starts in the middle of the season while he battled injuries and inconsistencies. Norris had a 1.71 ERA at home and a 6.94 mark on the road.

Wright, 27, was 2-2 with a 3.27 ERA in a career-high 77 games last year, which led the Astros and ranked tied for sixth in the National League. His .226 batting average allowed ranked fifth in the NL among left-handed relievers.

“I’m happy to have it behind me and can focus on the upcoming season and going out and doing my best to help us win some ballgames,” Wright said. “It’s good to know that part of the situation is taken care of and we can focus on baseball activities.”

Astros invite 18 non-roster players to camp

Here are the Astros’ 18 non-roster invitees to spring camp:

LHP Kevin Chapman…24..southpaw reliever was 6-3 in 49 appearances at Double A Corpus Christi with a 2.64 ERA (17ER/58IP) and two saves while tallying 59 strikeouts in 58.0 innings pitched…held opponents to a .226 average…in three career minor league seasons, has totaled 169 K’s in just 138.0 innings with 13 saves…was a 2012 Mid-Season Texas League All-Star…acquired by Houston from KC during Spring Training in 2012 as part of a trade.

OF Trevor Crowe…29…signed by Houston as a minor league free agent on Nov. 26, 2012…has appeared in 245 ML games over parts of three seasons (2009-11), all with Cleveland…stole 20 bases in a career-high 122 games for the Indians in 2010…in 2012, hit .281 in a combined 84 games for three different minor league clubs in the Indians and Angels organizations…selected by the Indians in the first round (14th overall) of the 2005 June Draft.

LHP Sergio Escalona…28…missed the 2012 season due to elbow surgery…in 2011, was 2-1 with a 2.93 ERA for the Astros in 49 relief appearances with 25 strikeouts in 27.2 innings…in his ML career, is 3-1 in 63 relief appearances with a 3.48 ERA…in 195 minor league appearances, has posted a 3.45 ERA with 380 K’s in 378 innings.

RHP Chuckie “C.J.” Fick…27…was 0-1 with a 4.30 ERA in 18 relief appearances for the Astros in 2012…was claimed off waivers by Houston from St. Louis…also made two relief appearances for the Cardinals in 2012…is 24-18 in six minor league seasons with a 3.41 ERA with seven saves.

C Rene Garcia…22…hit .285 in 69 combined games at Class A Lancaster (60g) and Double A Corpus Christi (9g) in 2012…in his five minor league seasons, has thrown out 35% of baserunners attempting to steal.

OF Jake Goebbert…25…spent most of the 2012 season at Double A Corpus Christi, where he hit .304 in 114 games with 23 doubles, six triples, nine home runs and 53 RBI with a .399 on-base percentage…also appeared in 16 games at Triple A Oklahoma City…tallied a career-high 98 RBI at Class A Lexington in 2010…has posted a .285 career average in 456 minor league games.

RHP Edgar Gonzalez…29…was 3-1 in six starts for the Astros in 2012 with a 5.04 ERA (14ER/25IP) with eight walks and 18 strikeouts…was signed by Houston as a minor league free agent during the summer and assigned to Triple A Oklahoma City where he was 1-0 with an 0.69 ERA in two starts before having his contract purchased…has pitched in 113 Major League games in his career (47 starts).

C Jason Jaramillo…30…signed by the Astros to a minor league deal in the offseason…spent parts of three seasons (2009-11) in the Major Leagues with the Pirates, appearing in 119 games (90 starts)…spent the 2012 season in Triple A with the Brewers and A’s organizations…was a second-round selection of the Phillies in the 2004 June Draft.

OF Marc Krauss…25…acquired from Arizona on July 29, 2012 as part of the trade involving 3B Chris Johnson…after the trade, was assigned to Double A Corpus Christi, where he hit .414 (12×29) with five HR and 16 RBI in just seven games…promoted to Triple A Oklahoma City, where he appeared in 22 games…his combined stats for 2012 (includes 104 games at Double A Mobile): .271, 31 doubles, 20 HR, 79 RBI…has averaged 20 HR and 77 RBI of his last three minor league seasons (2010-12)…originally selected by Arizona in the second round of the 2009 June Draft.

3B Brandon Laird…25…in 2012, hit .257 in 17 games for the Astros in Sept-Oct. after being claimed off waivers from the Yankees on Sept. 1…hit first ML HR on Sept. 12 at Pittsburgh…prior to joining the Astros, hit .257 in 130 games at Triple A Scranton Wilkes-Barre with 31 doubles, 15 HR and 77 RBI…in 2010, hit 25 HR with 102 RBI in 138 combined games at Double A Trenton and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

OF Che-Hsuan Lin…24…claimed  off waivers by Houston from Boston on Oct. 26, 2012…made ML debut with

the Red Sox on April 14, 2012…appeared in nine games overall for the Sox…tallied nine OF assists in 113 games at Triple A Pawtucket while hitting .247 with 15 stolen bases…has 67 OF assists in six minor league seasons, including a career-high 18 in 2009 while with Class A Salem…born in Hwa Lian, Taiwan.

C Carlos Perez…22…hit .318 in 26 games at Class A Lancaster after being acquired from TOR as part of a 10-player trade on July 20, 2012…including his 71 games at Single A Lansing, hit .285 in 97 games overall for the season with 28 doubles, six triples, five home runs and 50 RBI…threw out 14 of 30 attempted basestealers at Lancaster and has thrown out 34% of attempted basestealers in his five minor league seasons.

2B Jose Martinez…27…spent the majority of the 2012 season at Double A Corpus Christi, where he hit .304 in 107 games with 13 HR and 75 RBI…also appeared in 23 games for Triple A Oklahoma City…has played both second base and shortstop throughout his six minor league seasons…had been in the Cardinals system prior to being signed by Houston as a minor league free agent on Feb. 16, 2012.

C Chris Wallace…24…spent most of the 2012 season at Double A Corpus Christi, hitting .251 in 63 games with five HR and 29 RBI…also hit .270 (10×37) in 15 games at Triple A Oklahoma City…had fine 2011 season, with 20 HR and 78 RBI with a .507 slugging pct. in 102 combined games at Single A Lexington (66g) and Corpus Christi (36g)…selected by Houston in the 16th round of the 2010 Draft out of the University of Houston.

RHP Josh Zeid…25…spent the 2012 season at Double A Corpus Christi, where he was 2-0 in 47 relief appearances with a 5.59 ERA…had one of the top strikeouts-per-innings pitched ratios in the Texas League with 66 K’s in 56.1 innings of work…finished the season strong, posting a 1.10 ERA (1ER/8.2IP) in his final seven appearances…is 20-13 in 140 career minor league appearances (39 starts) with 11 saves and 320 strikeouts in 323.0 innings of work…pitched for Team Isreal in the World Baseball Classic qualifying round.

Ankiel to compete for spot with Astros

Rick Ankiel, the pitcher-turned-outfielder who belted 25 homers for the Cardinals in 2008, will be coming to Spring Training as a non-roster invitee for the Astros.

Ankiel, 33, has hit 69 homers in 1,793 career Major League at-bats with the Cardinals, Royals, Braves and Nationals, where he spent the last two years. He possesses a tremendous arm, not surprising considering he came up as a pitcher.

Ankiel won 13 games for the Cardinals, mostly from 1999-2001. He was 11-7 with a 3.50 ERA in 31 games (30 starts in 2000), but his sudden inability to throw strikes forced him to try his hand as a hitter.

Ankiel will be reunited with Astros manager Bo Porter, who came from Washington, and general manager Jeff Luhnow, who worked in the Cardinals front office from 2003-11.

“He can play all three outfield positions,” Luhnow said. “He’s got a plus-plus arm and plays good defensively. He’s a left-handed power bat. In my time I overlapped with him at the Cardinals, he was a very special player. He had big-time power at Triple-A and got promoted to the big leagues and showed that power there. He’s been inconsistent the last few years, but we really feel like this is a guy we want to take a chance on. He’ll come into camp looking to make the club.”


Astros have 6 players on World Baseball Classic rosters

Six players from the Astros organization have been selected to play in the World Baseball Classic: outfielder Fernando Martinez (Spain), right-hander Rhiner Cruz (Spain) and left-hander Xavier Cedeno (Puerto Rico), right-handed pitcher Murilo Gouvea (Brazil), outfielder Che-Hsuan Lin (Chinese Taipei) and right-hander Chia-Jen Lo (Chinese Taipei).

Provisional rosters were due on Wednesday, but all 16 teams have until Feb. 20 to file their formal rosters.

Click here for complete World Baseball Classic information.

Martinez, claimed off waivers from the Mets a year ago, hit .237 with six homers and 14 RBIs in 118 at-bats last year for Houston, playing in a career-high 41 games. Though he’s playing for Spain, he was born in the Dominican Republic.

Cruz, who was also born in the Dominican Republic, appeared in 52 games in his rookie season in 2012, posting a 6.05 ERA. He was the No. 1 overall selection in the 2011 Rule 5 Draft and ranked fifth among NL rookies in appearances.

Cedeno, a native of Puerto Rico, appeared in 44 games in two stints with the Astros last year after beginning the year at Triple-A Oklahoma City. He posted a 3.77 ERA, closing the season with 12 consecutive scoreless outings.

Lo, who missed almost all of the 2010-11 seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery, made it back to the mound last year and appeared in 10 games between the Gulf Coast League and Class A Lancaster.

Lin, claimed off waivers from Boston in October, spent most of his 2012 season at Triple-A Pawtucket, where he hit .247 with 11 doubles, 30 RBIs, 15 stolen bases and a .323 on-base percentage. He had four stints on the Red Sox active roster last season, hitting .250 in nine games, which marks his only Major League experience.

Gouvea, who was born in Sao Paolo, Brazil, went 2-7 with a 3.70 ERA in 50 games in relief last year at Class A Lexington.

Brazil is in Pool A with Japan, China and Cuba and will have round robin play March 2-6 in Japan. Chinese Taipei is in Pool B with Korea, the Netherlands and Australia and will have pool play March 2-5 in Taiwan.

Puerto Rico and Spain are both in Pool C and will hold round robin play March 7-10 in Puerto Rico. The championship round will be held March 17-19 in San Francisco.

Starting pitchers are restricted to 65 pitches in the first round, 80 in the second and 95 in the semifinals and finals. A starter must take four days off if he throws more than 50 pitches.

Relievers can pitch on back-to-back days if they don’t exceed 30 pitches the first day. Throw 30 in a game and you must take one off. After back-to-back appearances, regardless of pitch counts, pitchers must get a day off.

Clemens to be uniform for Astros this spring

Seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens will be uniform as an instructor for the Astros at Spring Training next month.

Clemens, who has a personal services contract with the Astros, met for five hours Monday morning at Minute Maid Park with general manager Jeff Luhnow, pitching coach Doug Brocail, director of player development Quinton McCracken and the amateur scouts.

“We talked about pitching in the Minor Leagues, scouting pitching, pitching in the college ranks and high school ranks and teaching pitching, so it was a good working day,” Luhnow said.

Luhnow and Clemens also mapped out a plan for Spring Training that will see Clemens make at least a couple of trips to Kissimmee, Fla., beginning in late February for a Minor League mini camp. He’ll also work with the Major League club at that time and again later in camp.

“We feel pretty good about Roger’s level of involvement this year,” he said. “I think he’s going to be a lot more involved than he was last year and we’d welcome it on our side to have someone like him around.”

Clemens was a frequent sight around the back fields at Osceola County Stadium following his retirement in 2007, especially since his oldest son, Koby, played in the Astros system from 2005-2011. He’s kept a lower profile the last couple of years, but will take an active role this year.

“At this point, the plan to make two trips to Kissimmee to work with our pitchers and then he’ll be available and around during several of the homestands this year,” Luhnow said. “If we feel like we need him to send him on assignment to one of our Minor League affiliates or see a pitcher for the Draft, he’s open to doing that. We’ll play it by ear, but we expect we’ll see Roger in Kissimmee sometime before the end of February.”

Luhnow said having an asset like Clemens will be huge for a young team with several up-and-coming arms.

“It’s got a tremendous amount of value because not only does he understand where they’re coming from, he was an amateur player, he was a young professional and he had a long, storied career,” he said. “But he has a lot of anecdotes from throughout his career about different people that taught him different things and the successes and failures he had, and I think it really makes it real when you hear these stories.

“A lot of these kids probably watched him on TV when they were youngsters, so to hear it straight from his mouth will have a huge impact on them. Today was a good today because we felt we were very much in alignment in terms of our vision in terms of how Doug teaches it and Roger teaches it. It’s great Doug is welcoming Roger with open arms.”

Luhnow releases statement

Jeff Luhnow’s statement on suspension of prospect Jonathan Singleton for 50 games:

“We learned today that Jonathan Singleton has tested positive for a drug of abuse and has been suspended 50 games as a result.  We are disappointed in the decisions that Jonathan made leading up to this positive test.  Jonathan has expressed regret for his decision and we expect will take the necessary steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again.  He has owned up to his actions and that is a necessary first step.  The Astros will support Jonathan through this difficult time and we hope this example will prevent other athletes from making similar decisions.”