Porter ready for the Astros to push forward
Astros manager Bo Porter met with the media on Wednesday at the Winter Meetings. Here’s the transcript:
Q. Bo, what did you learn your first year as a manager? You’ve got your second year coming up, what did you learn as a manager and things you may do differently going into year two?
BO PORTER: I tell you, the first thing I learned is I have a whole lot more patience than I thought I had. It’s one of those things obviously you go into a situation, it’s your first year, and I’m a firm believer that we learned through all of our experiences the importance of the back end of your bullpen, the importance, even when you look at the number of outs we made on bases, the importance of how those outs kind of impact the later portion of your game.
I think from a staff standpoint, we will address a lot of these situations a little bit differently in spring training to help out with players understanding the magnitude as great as we understand the magnitude.
Collectively we can look at our 2013 season, and we will not spend a lot of time talking about 2013 as a whole, just because I want to put that season behind us and really look forward to the bright future that we have for the Houston Astros organization.
Q. How was it communicating with players and trying to keep them from not getting down in August and September as the losses are piling up?
BO PORTER: I tell you, that was a collective job. Not just myself, but the staff. I think a lot of our players from Jason Castro to Jose Altuve, a lot of those guys started to really assert themselves from a leadership standpoint.
We had a lot of young guys. Well, we have a team full of young guys, but we had even younger guys that came up in the latter part of the year, and some of those guys that had been there the whole year took it upon themselves to really make sure that the morale of the team and energy stayed the course, and our staff basically helped with that process as well.
Q. What can we expect from Jose Altuve?
BO PORTER: I think you’re going to get what Jose will bring to the table each and every day. He is one of those guys that I always have to defend this here question because I get asked about it. Is he going to leadoff, bat second or third? Jose Altuve is the true definition of a baseball player. He’s going to play his heart out each and every day. He’s a guy that can handle the bat. He hits good pitching. I really believe that even with the success which he’s had already that his best years are yet to come.
Q. Did you find you were doing things differently or your team might have changed along the way? Even preparing for a series or advanced meetings or something, what time you do this during the day?
BO PORTER: Well, first of all, because I’m not a superstitious person, I’m not one of those that feels like you need to do something at a certain time because you won that game or lost that game or you shouldn’t do this.
Our preparation, pretty much as far as the staff goes, we meet the first game of every series to go over the opposing team. Doing that meeting, it’s more taking all of our advanced information that we receive and condensing it down to a point where making the decision of exactly what it is we’re going to basically give to the players.
Then as the series go along, there may be different things that happen throughout the course of one game to the next that you may grab an individual and say, listen, this happened last night, and let’s make sure we are aware of this situation if it happens again.
Q. What are you hearing about Alex White, and will he be ready for spring training and battling for the rotation in the bullpen?
BO PORTER: I tell you, Alex White has made tremendous improvement. All indications lead toward him being ready in spring training, to be in competition for either one of those roles. He was in competition last year. It was unfortunate he suffered the injury which he suffered. But I believe that our medical staff has done a tremendous job of getting him back to the point where he can be able to come into spring training and he should be healthy and compete for one of the roster spots. Whether it’s in the rotation or the bullpen.
Q. Bo, talk about the winter that JD Martinez is having. And do you see him having more of an impact like he did in his rookie year?
BO PORTER: I tell you, we were extremely happy that we were able to retain JD Martinez. A lot of that had to do with the fact that he missed a lot of time due to injuries. To JD Martinez’ credit, he was adamant about going to winter ball. He wanted to go to winter ball because he felt like he missed some many at‑bats that he wanted to not only prove to the organization but also prove to himself that he could be the quality of player which he was his rookie year.
And the success in which he’s having in winter ball, is it shocking to us? No, it’s not shocking to us because we believe this guy can be an impact bat in a Major League lineup. It’s good to see him figure things out. He’s healthy now. We’re really excited to get him back into spring training and believe he can have an impact on our ballclub in 2014.
Q. My understanding is JD made an adjustment to his swing. What can you tell us about that? When did it happen and how did it evolve?
BO PORTER: That maturation started to happen throughout the course of the year. John Mallee, our hitting coach, looked at some mechanical things that he felt would help JD use his power better, and they started to tweak his swing a little bit. His approach was understanding how to get inside his legs a little bit more, take a little bit of his arm out of his swing. And JD was very receptive to it.
I think, again, that played a huge factor in him making the decision to go play winter ball. Because when you start to change your swing from a mechanical standpoint and now you get hurt and miss those at‑bats, you’re feeling good with the changes but now you’re not able to play. He was eager to put this here to test. Going down to winter ball has afforded him that opportunity and put him in a position where he’ll be coming into spring training batting for a job.
Q. Another guy that’s having some success in winter ball is Jonathan Singleton. What type of improvements are you looking to see out of him this season?
BO PORTER: I tell you, it’s good to get Jonathan back and have him the full year. He had the setback last year as far as the suspension goes. He’s a very talented young man. He’s a guy that obviously is one of our top prospects, and we see him being part of our organization for many years to come. Again, he is a guy that missed a considerable amount of time, and going to winter ball allowed him to make up for those at‑bats and he’ll come into spring training with an opportunity to be able to win a spot on our team.
Q. One of the keywords this spring will be competition. What is that competition going to be like throughout?
BO PORTER: Last year when you look at our ballclub coming into spring training, and I was asked this question, all I said was Jose Altuve is going to play second base. That competition is a little different this year. I mean, we have a third baseman in Matt Dominguez. We have a shortstop in Jonathan Villar. We have a catcher in Jason Castro. And Robbie Grossman has proven that he has the capabilities of being an everyday player. We traded for Dexter.
So a lot of our spots that were open last year, we have players that have basically taken the bull by the horn and established themselves in those positions. But there are still a lot of positions where competition will exist, and there will be competition within our ballclub just to improve on what it is we did last year.
Q. How is it to get Springer’s name in the lineup? Do you expect he’ll have to see time in right field because Fowler is going to play some center, and Springer might have to branch out and play some right?
BO PORTER: The benefit when you have guys that are extremely athletic, and that is one of the areas in which Jeff and I talked about getting more athletic in the outfield, I think it definitely saves you runs. It may go unnoticed sometimes from a standpoint, from a fan standpoint of if you have three guys in the outfield that all of have paid for playing centerfield, your defense instantly gets better. So having George Springer, Dexter Fowler, Robbie Grossman, three guys that have pretty much predominantly played centerfield most of their career and now you look out there and you have Grossman in left, Springer in right, and Fowler in center, your team just got better.
Q. Could you see Fowler playing anywhere else besides center? Is there a little flexibility there?
BO PORTER: Right now, if we were to give Fowler a day off and we need to put somebody in centerfield, again, you have two options there. You have two guys who have played centerfield, which gives you flexibility as a manager.
Q. Bo, talk about (indiscernible) a lot of talent. Couple of hiccups in his first big league experience. Are you looking for him to be a little more mature coming into spring training?
BO PORTER: I think we all learn from our situations. Jonathan is an exciting player. At the same time I think that is a part of the growth that takes place with a young player of understanding limitations and understanding where you’re at in the game. I think that maturation, some of the situations that happened last year with him being pulled out of the game, and the conversations which we were able to have after those situations, I think they resonated, and I think he’ll be better for them and we’ll be better for them.
Q. Are you concerned at all from last year with the year Dexter had? Kind of had an off year last year and some injuries. Does that concern you at all?
BO PORTER: Not at all. We looked at Dexter Fowler’s full body of work, and his full body of work is definitely something to be excited about. He’s a guy that can impact the game on defense. He can impact the game in the batter’s box. He can impact the game on the base path. He has leadership qualities. He’s embraced coming into a ballclub where he becomes one of the senior spokesmen. So we’re excited to have Dexter and believe that he’s going to be a good addition to our ballclub.
Q. You don’t pay a lot of attention to your record, but what would qualify for you as a successful 2014 based on you’re still pretty early in your rebuilding process?
BO PORTER: For me, you have one winner and 29 losers. At the end of the day, that’s pretty much what it comes down to.
The Boston Red Sox won the World Series and 29 other teams came up short. So when I can sit here after we won the World Series, that is when you’ll hear me say I’m satisfied. Until then, I’m not going to be satisfied.
Q. I guess what steps do you want to take forward. Last year was about evaluating young kids. You got to look at a bunch. You’re adding veterans. Explain kind of where you are as you guys, it seems like you need to take that step forward and win more games.
BO PORTER: We definitely want to win more games. But to take that step forward, we had to evaluate our core pieces and figure out, okay, what pieces can we add to this core to make us a better baseball team? I think we’ve taken the necessary steps to do that. Because we have more established players and we’ve added veteran players to that core group, you look at our roster, and we overall have a better group of talented players. That’s going to equate to more wins on the baseball field.
Q. What is it for Carter to cut down on the strikeouts? Did you see anything that leads you to believe he’ll be able to make those adjustments?
BO PORTER: I believe he’ll be able to cut down on them because this year was the first year Cris Carter had an opportunity to play every day. You look at his Major League career, even the at‑bats which he received, they were platoon at‑bats where‑‑ you know, a lot of times when you’re platooning and a guy hits 16 home runs in a platoon and he’s only facing lefties, very easily you could say, wow, if this guy played every day and he’s only going to hit 30 home runs, the numbers are going to double. Well, what happens in that scenario is you take away the aspect that he’s now facing righties, and the mental strain that comes with the days in which he goes 0‑4 with three strikeouts against a righty. Then the next day he faces a lefty in which you’re saying to yourself, okay, this is the guy he’s really going to do good against. But the mental strain that that has on you basically affects a guy that you probably should hit well. I think that mental maturity is going to help Cris Carter. The fact that he’s coming into his second year where he’s going to play every day.
A lot of times even I would get the question from the media looking at his number of strikeouts, is he going to continue to play? Is he going to continue to play? This was not a one‑year tryout for Cris Carter. We feel like if we really hit it on this guy, we have a guy that’s going to hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 every year. And taking him out of the lineup last year would not bode well for what it is we believe the steps he’s going to take next year.
So giving him that entire year, I guess to answer your question, I believe he’s going to be a stronger player from a mental standpoint and that is going to cut down on strikeouts.
Q. What does Scott Feldman bring to the rotation?
BO PORTER: I tell you, what he brings is a veteran presence. A guy who has been there and done it. He’s been a successful pitcher in the American League West. He’s pitched in the pennant race. Again, he’s a veteran guy that I think will be very beneficial for our young guys. We’ve been very careful throughout the time in which I’ve been here. It’s something that I’ve always talked to Jeff about, about the veterans in which we add. Because you have such a young group of talented players, we want to make sure that we’re adding quality guys that are going to help us on the field but also help us off the field. Scott Feldman, you talk to all the people in which he’s had the opportunity to work with, I mean, they rave about his work ethic, his preparation. That there is something that we believe is going to rub off on our young players as well.
Q. Did you find your young starters got a little down over some of the blown lead that’s you had? I mean, you had a young rotation and weren’t able to hold the leads. Did you find that weighed on any of the guys? They would pitch well six, seven, eight innings and not get the wins they deserved?
BO PORTER: That’s what team is all about. Man to man, those guys know that every man that comes out of that bullpen, he’s going to give them maximum effort. It just so happened we got the short end of the stick quite often last year with the guys we had coming out of there. But I felt like each and every last one of those guys, the next time you gave them the ball, the effort was there, the preparation was there.
Again, we came into this off‑season knowing that that was an area that if we shored up that area of our ballclub, our starting pitchers, the young guys that we brought up from Oberholtzer to Cosart, the starters that Clemens had late in the season, when Peacock returned back from the minor leagues, Chia Lo had a tremendous year. So we looked and we said, if we shore up this portion of our team, obviously, the record will be better.
Q. With Brent Strom coming in from another organization, will there be any changes to pitching as far as philosophy and throwing programs?
BO PORTER: Well, I tell you, the fact that Jeff and Brent spent quite a bit of time in St. Louis together, our philosophy is pretty much identical to the philosophy they had in St. Louis already. So Brent is a great addition to our staff. Him and I have had many conversations from the moment he’s been drafted. He’s been in and out of Houston a couple times. So I believe that transition will be smooth.
Q. How much of the rotation is set in your mind? How many spots do you think going into the spring open for guys to win?
BO PORTER: I tell you, you look at the success in which our young guys had last year. Chai Lo had great success, Oberholtzer had great success. Cosart was pretty dominant. Scott Feldman, obviously, we brought him in to put him at the front of our rotation. You look at a guy like Lucas Harrell, he’s a wildcard. He’s a guy that in 2012 he was arguably our best pitcher. Last year was obviously a step back for him. But I believe he’s going to come into spring training and be eager to reestablish himself as a rotation guy. So we have quality depth. You look at the season in which Peacock put together. And those guys would battle it out for those type five spots and you never know what happens in the bullpen as well.
Q. Do you see value in adding a first baseman? Do you see yourself another option at first base going into the season?
BO PORTER: There are still some moves we may make. We’re always looking to upgrade our roster. You look at the first base position, another bullpen arm. Maybe another starter. It’s areas that we would definitely look at to improve from the free agent market, to the trade market, and we’ll just see what happens.
Q. Do you see what kind of impact do you see Jordan Lyles making with Colorado?
BO PORTER: I tell you, it’s always ‑‑ for me, I don’t think you want to talk about a traded player to someplace else. Jordan Lyles was tremendous for us. He had great moments in which we felt like he had an opportunity to really be a front of the rotation guy. He had great stuff, great make‑up, an extremely hard worker, and we really wish him well in Colorado.
Q. Can you touch on home plate collision and MLB trying to change the rules of it?
BO PORTER: I would say anything that goes with the measure of safety in our ballgame, the players are our number one commodity, and we want to do everything we can to keep them healthy. As long as whatever rules we’re going to put in place are going to be put in place obviously to protect the players, I am all for any ruling that’s going to protect the player.
Q. Last year was your first long look at the American League West. What was your impression of the division overall, and what are your thoughts about some of the moves this off‑season and what the division might look like next season?
BO PORTER: I tell you, looking at some of the moves, I just found out the Mariners not only added Cano earlier in the week, but they added Corey Hart and Logan Morrison. So you look at the moves that the Oakland A’s made, and the Texas Rangers adding Prince Fielder. I believe that our ballclub is going to be much improved as well. The Anaheim Angels are making moves, some of the arms which they got back in their trades is looking to be a pretty competitive division. You look throughout the American League, Cleveland was much improved. Detroit, obviously their ballclub.
So it’s going to be a tough league. The American League West is going to be even tougher.
Q. Having said that about the American League West, is there any concern to keep up with the Jones or do you just want to stay with the process right now?
BO PORTER: Our process and our plan, we will not get off course. We believe that we have a plan in place that will allow the Houston Astros to not be successful just for one year, but be successful for a good ten‑year run with the players which we have coming.
But at the same time, as was evident last week, we traded away two young players to acquire a young player. So if the right situation presents itself to us to make our ballclub better, and even if it’s not a part of the process or a part of the plan, at that time I think we’ll be able to look at that situation and make a good decision on whether or not it’s a good move for us.
Q. If Mark Appel is your best pitcher or one of your best five pitchers in spring training, is he on the team or does he definitely need minor league innings?
BO PORTER: It all depends. You know, when you have a guy like a Mark Appel who is arguably a great talent, as an organization, we always talk about taking the best 25 guys.
As we sit here today, would I say that Mark Appel would be on our roster come opening day next year? That remains to be seen. But as far as Mark Appel’s talent, I think the player will always tell you when they’re ready to join a big league ballclub.
Q. So with your thoughts on development, you’re not a believer in a minimum number of innings in the minor leagues?
BO PORTER: I think that’s a case‑by‑case scenario. I don’t think you can etch in stone player A had 250 innings, player B needs 250 innings or player A had 1500 at‑bats and player B needs 1500 at‑bats. I think it’s a case‑by‑case situation. You look at the player, age has something to do with it. Was it a high school player? College player? All of those dynamics go into that decision making.
Q. What about Delino DeShields and his progress in the farm system for you guys?
BO PORTER: He made a really good transition from second base to centerfield. Actually he makes it look pretty natural out there in the outfield. I had an opportunity to come out to the fall league and spend four days out here, watch him play centerfield. His transition was great. He went and got the ball really easy. I think that as this transition takes place, I think it’s going to help him move a little bit faster because he can really use his skill sets in the outfield.
Q. You touched on recruiting, but how much time are you spending this winter just texting, calling or emailing potential guys that you might want to bring in here?
BO PORTER: You’re saying free agents?
BO PORTER: It all depends. We go through a pretty strenuous process of once we decide that we’re going to reach out to a player. When we engage and it gets to the point where, obviously, we feel like we’re close as far as their side and our side, I definitely have reached out to all of those players. Because you want to be able to, one, give them an overview of where we’re at as an organization. You want to basically explain to them how they fit in the organization. And then answer any questions that they may have. A lot of times when you’re talking free agents, you may feel like you’re interviewing them, but they’re interviewing you as.
Q. What are the biggest questions they have about the Houston Astros?
BO PORTER: They look at the losses. They want to know what the plan is to get the team back into contention, and how they fit into that plan. It’s obvious, you look at our minor league system, the teams in the playoffs, and the number of top prospects that we have, they’re smart enough to know that this organization has a lot of prospects, okay. They’re going to be good. Am I going to be around when they’re good? What is the plan?
I think that myself and Jeff are able to answer those questions for all of those guys. You look at Scott Feldman, that’s why he agreed to three years to come to the Houston Astros, because he felt completely confident in the plan which we have in place to basically build a winner consistently.
Q. Not asking if you set your lineup card or anything. But where do you anticipate hitting Dexter Fowler in that lineup?
BO PORTER: Dexter Fowler leading off, Altuve second, Castro third. Get back to me with the rest of it.
Q. You’ve got two more than you did this time last year.
BO PORTER: You see what I’m saying? We’re getting much better. I’m telling you (laughing). Last year all I had was Altuve playing second, and I didn’t even know if he was going to lead off and hit second. So now we have Fowler leading off, we have Altuve hitting second, and we have Castro hitting third. And I know all three I’m going to play. And Dominguez is going to play third.
Q. Is that a regular thing? I didn’t see a lot of the games last year. Do you stay with the same lineup as much as you can? Would you have flip‑flopped two and three once in a while?
BO PORTER: How many players we have last year? 60?
BO PORTER: Impossible to stay with the number of players that we have.
Q. But your best hitter hit second or are there certain times that lefty‑righty match‑ups, maybe you’d want Castro two, Altuve three, and moving guys around like that.
BO PORTER: I tell you, I like roster continuity. But a lot of times where you don’t have established players, and from a manager’s standpoint, I’m a firm believer that our number one job, my number one job as a manager is to put every player in the best position I can put them in to be successful. So if moving a guy is going to help his skill sets, I’m all for doing it. At the same time I think that there is some strength that comes with lineup continuity. But the players, you have to have the players in order to be able to have lineup continuity.
Q. Can you see Castro becoming really an offensive threat from the catching position or one of the top hitting catchers in the league?
BO PORTER: You look at his overall body of work last year, and he turned himself into an All‑Star catcher. I said this last year when I took the job. One of my biggest goals was to get through the season, and keep Jason Castro healthy. I felt like when I looked at his video from early on throughout the injuries, he did not have his legs underneath him. It affected the way he called the games. It affected the way he blocked the ball. It affected him in the batter’s box because he just didn’t have his legs underneath him to drive the ball.
To his credit, to the training staff’s credit, and our strength and conditioning group, he got himself in the best shape of his life. He got his legs underneath him. I think last year we saw the real Jason Castro. I think he’s only going to get better as time goes on.
Q. He’s healthy? You expect he’ll come to camp with the knees being okay?
BO PORTER: Yes, he’s completely healthy. He got a degree from Stanford. Smartest guy on the team. So he’ll be showing back up as a Stanford graduate. I actually text him today. It’s outstanding. Huge accomplishment.
Q. Smarter than the manager?
BO PORTER: Yes, of course. He graduated from Stanford. I went to Iowa.
Q. We probably shouldn’t print that.
BO PORTER: I respect Stanford. It’s a great institution.