July 2013

Astros, Altuve agree to long-term contract extension

The Astros have agreed to a long-term contract extension with popular second baseman Jose Altuve, a source told MLB.com on Saturday. The deal marks the team’s first significant contract commitment under general manager Jeff Luhnow. Terms of the deal aren’t known, but it will be announced later Saturday.

Luhnow spent most of his first year on the job trading away players who were in the midst of multi-year contracts in exchange for prospects as the Astros went full-bore in their plan to rebuild through the Draft and player development.  The Astros opened this year with a payroll of about $22 million, with Bud Norris ($3 million) as the highest-paid player.

Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reports Altuve deal is worth $12.5 million for four years with two club options for $6 million and $6.5 million in 2018-19.

The Astros buying out Altuve’s arbitration years by signing him to the deal. He was scheduled to be arbitration eligible next year and a free agent following the 2016 season.

Altuve, 23, was promoted from Double-A Corpus Christi in 2011 after the Astros traded Jeff Keppinger and plugged into the starting lineup. He batted .284 with three homers and 28 RBIs in 85 games as a rookie before a breakout season in 2012, when he hit .290 with seven homers, 37 RBIs and 33 steals en route to an All-Star Game berth.

He is hitting .280 with three homers, 28 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 86 games this year.

Cosart thrilled for chance to pitch for Astros

Right-handed pitcher Jarred Cosart, a prized prospect from the Astros’ improving Minor League system, got the call Wednesday night that he was headed for the Major Leagues in the first of what could be a wave of premier prospects hitting Houston this year.

The Astros announced following Wednesday’s game Cosart – their top-ranked pitching prospect – would make his big league debut by starting Friday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla. The team optioned outfielder Jimmy Paredes to Triple-A Oklahoma City.

“I’m so excited and thankful for the opportunity,” Cosart told MLB.com. “It’s tough when you get to the Triple-A level. Everybody says don’t think about when you’re going up and just keep pitching, but it’s really hard, and anybody can tell you that. Jordan [Lyles] was in that position and a lot of other guys have been, too. I was completely caught off guard today.

“I figured with the off days and what not there was no chance, so I was caught off guard and shocked and overjoyed and everything.”

Cosart, who grew up in the Houston area, was acquired by the Astros from the Phillies as one of four players in the Hunter Pence deal in 2011. Another player acquired in that deal – first baseman Jonathan Singleton – is Houston’s top-ranked prospect and could reach the Majors this year for the rebuilding Astros.

Outfielder George Springer, the team’s first-round pick in 2011, is off to a quick start at Triple-A after spending the first half of the season at Double-A Corpus Christi, where he hit 20 home runs. Springer is hitting .417 with seven homers and 17 RBIs and is making a case to reach Houston this summer, too.

Cosart, 23, went 7-4 with a 3.29 ERA in 18 games (17 starts) for the RedHawks this year.

He charted pitches in the stands in Round Rock, Texas, on Wednesday night and was called on the carpet in the middle of the clubhouse by Oklahoma City manager Tony DeFrancesco for wearing flip-flops, even though he wore sneakers. With his teammates around him, DeFrancesco told Cosart the real reason he summoned him – he was going to the Majors.

“The guys are amazing here and they were happy for me and it’s been a fun ride here, but now it’s time to show what I can do up there and prove to them I can run with this shot,” he said.

Cosart then grabbed his phone and called his parents in League City, Texas, for a tear-filled phone call before getting some advice on big league life from outfielder Justin Maxwell, who plans to fly with Cosart to Tampa on Thursday morning. Maxwell was rehabbing from a concussion with Oklahoma City.

“It’s a game I’ve been playing since I was 7 years old,” Cosart said. “It’s 60 feet, 6 inches [from home plate to the pitcher’s mound]. I know it’s my first ever start in the Major Leagues and there’s going to be some adrenaline or nerves or whatever you call it, but I’m going to try to get that first pitch out of the way and go from there.”

Cosart considers the Tampa area his home away from home, considering he spent a few Spring Trainings with the Phillies in nearby Clearwater, Fla. Some of his former Phillies teammates are rehabbing in Clearwater when Cosart will be taking the mound in a big league game.

He said he didn’t think he’d have trouble sleeping Wednesday night, but Thursday could be a different story. Cosart said he didn’t know whether he would remain in the Astros’ rotation following the All-Star break or return to Oklahoma City.

“Hopefully I pitch well enough to make them keep me up there,” he said. “It’s all about consistency. I don’t know much about the Rays, but I know [catcher Jason] Castro is great with scouting reports and [pitching coach Doug Brocail] and those guys will help me do what I need to do.”

Astros reach deal with third-round pick Emanuel

The Astros have reached an agreement with third-round pick Kent Emanuel, a left-handed pitcher from North Carolina, for $747,700, a source confirmed for MLB.com. The deal is pending a physical.

Emanuel’s signing will mean the Astros have inked all of their Top 10 picks less than a month following the First-Year Player Draft. Emanuel went 11-5 with a 3.14 ERA and five complete games en route to being named ACC Pitcher of the Year and helping the Tar Heels to the College World Series.

Emanuel, who’s in Houston for a physical, said he will get on a throwing program in Florida later this week before reporting to Tri-City.

“I’m extremely excited,” he said. “It’s pretty cool knowing I get to turn baseball into a career. It’s pretty special.”

Plenty was written about Emanuel’s workload and pitch count in the NCAA regionals and College World Series, but he says he feels fine.

“My arm feels great,” he said. “Believe it or not, I just got done getting an MRI and the doctor said my shoulder and elbow look as good as any he’s seen in this Drat class. I’m good to go.”

Emanuel’s fastball tops out around 91 mph, his breaking stuff is fringy and he has a solid changeup. The lefty said that’s his main area of focus for improvement, whether he signs or not.

Yet what he lacks in pure stuff, Emanuel makes up for with pitchability. He has excellent command and knows how to mix his pitches extremely well.

Originally drafted out of high school in the 19th round by the Pirates in 2010, the Woodstock, Ga., native instead honored his commitment to UNC, where he’s had a stellar college career. He went 9-1 with a team-best 2.33 ERA as a freshman in 2011 and followed that season up by posting an 8-4 record and a 1.96 ERA in ’12.

A lack of a true out pitch seems to be Emanuel’s key limitation, but at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, he’s big and strong and understands his craft, giving the Astros hope he’ll be a workhorse at the back end of their big league rotation in the future.

Astros announce Minor League Players of the Week

The Astros player development department has named June’s Minor League Pitchers and Players of the Month at five of their minor league affiliates. These awards are chosen every month by the field staff of each team.

At Triple A Oklahoma City, RHP Jason Stoffel was named the Pitcher of the Month for June after posting a 1-0 record with a 1.72 ERA (3ER/15.2IP) and 13 strikeouts in 10 relief appearances. Earlier this week, Stoffel was named a Triple A All-Star. IF Jonathan Villar was named the club’s June Player of the Month after he hit .309 (34×110) with 15 runs, five doubles, two triples, four homers and 12 stolen bases in 30 games. The 22-year-old currently leads the Pacific Coast League with 28 steals.

Double A Corpus Christi’s Pitcher of the Month award went to RHP David Martinez, who went 2-2 with a 2.35 ERA (8ER/30.2IP) and 24 strikeouts during seven games in June. The Texas League All-Star walked just two batters all month and currently leads the Texas League in wins (10), ERA (2.02) and WHIP (0.90). IF Jonathan Meyer hit .280 (28×100) with eight doubles, five homers and 20 RBI in 26 games in June before being named the Hooks Player of the Month.

At Class A Advanced Lancaster, LHP Luis Cruz and C M.P. Cokinos were named the club’s Pitcher and Player of the month, respectively. Cruz, who also received JetHawks April Pitcher of the Month honors, went 3-1 with a 1.97 ERA (7ER/32IP) and 40 strikeouts during June. Cokinos was recently named the California League Player of the Week (June 17-24) and posted a .392 batting average (31×79) with 10 doubles, three homers, 25 RBI and a 1.133 OPS (.500 OBP/.633 SLG) in 23 games in June. He currently leads the California League in batting (.342).

LHP Colton Cain was named the June Pitcher of the Month for Class A Quad Cities after going 1-0 with a 2.31 ERA (6ER/23.1IP) and 16 strikeouts in six outings during the month. IF Carlos Correa won his second consecutive Player of the Month award at Quad Cities after posting a .370 (37×100) average with 19 runs, six doubles, one triple, two homers and a .413 on-base percentage in 25 games in June. The Midwest League All-Star currently ranks third in the circuit in batting average (.323) and was recently named to the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game.

RHP Elieser Hernandez and OF Hector Roa were the Pitcher and Player of the Month recipients for the Rookie Level Dominican Summer League Astros. Hernandez allowed just two earned runs in 26.0 innings (0.69 ERA), striking out 23 batters across five starts in June. Roa hit .279 (24×86) with five doubles, two triples and three homers over 20 June games.

The Astros; Minor League affiliates have combined to post the highest winning percentage (230-164, .584) among all 30 MLB organizations. Each of the Astros eight affiliates are over .500 on the season.

Astros sign four international players

The Astros have agreed to terms on contracts with four international free agents today: shortstop/outfielder Osvaldo Duarte, shortstop/catcher Jonathan Matute, shortstop Joan Mauricio and center fielder Nestor Tejada. The Astros also acquired Minor League infielder Ronald Torreyes from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for international signing pool space. Terms of the new contracts were not disclosed.

“Today marks the beginning of the new international signing period,” Luhnow said. “We have agreed to terms with four players with high upside who fit our system well. We also made a trade for an established minor league prospect with Major League upside in exchange for a portion of our cap space. We expect to make more moves going forward but we are off to a great start.”

Mauricio and Tejada, both 16 years old, headline the group, and were scouted and signed by the Astros director of international Oz Ocampo.

“Mauricio is one of the few true shortstops in this year’s international market,” said Ocampo. “Defensively, he does everything easy – smooth, silky actions, very good internal clock, quick hands and feet. Offensively, he has a pretty swing from the left side, good pitch recognition, and sneaky left-handed power which we expect to develop as he gets stronger.  For us, Mauricio is one of the top 10 players in this year’s class – a true shortstop with projection and offensive upside.  We’re very pleased to have him as part of the Astros organization.”

Mauricio is from San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic, while Tejada hails from Aragua, Venezuela.

“Tejada does a number of things well, but his strength is in the batter’s box,” said Ocampo. “We’ve evaluated him in a number of competitive environments – 15U IBAF tournament, MLB showcases, and even against our own Low-A pitching in Kissimmee, and he has always performed and hit in games. Nestor is a great makeup kid – intelligent, hard-working, a great teammate, and a true competitor who leaves it all on the field.”

Matute is a 16-year-old from Caracas, Venezuela, and has the ability to play both the catcher and shortstop position. Duarte is the oldest of the four signings, checking in at 17 years of age.

“Matute’s tools are solid across the board, and he separates himself with his intelligence and aptitude for the game,”  Ocampo said.

“Duarte’s best tools are his bat and his plus-plus speed,” Ocampo said. “Offensively, Duarte is a line-drive hitter with a short, quick stroke. Defensively, we project Duarte as a future average ML shortstop, but he also has a good chance to be a plus defensive center fielder because of his speed.”

Torreyes, 20, was hitting .260 (58-for-223) with 13 doubles, 25 RBIs and a .337 on-base percentage in 64 games for the Double A Tennessee Smokies. He has struck out only 15 times in 223 at-bats, while walking 22 times. An infielder by trade, Torreyes has played only second base this season, but has also seen time at shortstop and third base in his career.

The four international signings will report to the Astros complex in the Dominican Republic but will not appear in games until the 2014 calendar year.