KISSIMMEE, Fla. — The Astros will add another left-handed reliever to camp after signing veteran Neal Cotts to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Major League camp, manager A.J. Hinch said Friday morning. Cotts is expected in camp Saturday.
Cotts, 35, has spent 10 years in the Major Leagues with the White Sox, Cubs, Rangers, Twins and Brewers. He has 483 career appearances and has allowed 405 hits in 443 1/3 innings with a 3.96 ERA. He split last year between the Brewers and the Twins, appearing in 68 games.
The Astros have been searching for more left-handed bullpen depth to join Tony Sipp, who signed a three-year, $18 million deal in December. Kevin Chapman and non-roster players Edwar Cabrera and Wandy Rodriguez are the other lefties in camp. Hinch has said he would like to have a second lefty in the pen, and Cotts gives him another viable option.
“There’s a lot of Major League quality free agents still on the market, and we felt it was an opportunity to add to our bullpen options,” he said. “We have a little bit of a shortage of left-handed relievers, depending on where Wandy fits in, Chapman and Cabrera. Adding another left-handed option with his experience will give us some choices at the end of camp.
“He’s seasoned, he’s been very good throughout his career and he offers us some versatility that we don’t have a ton of. I talked to him on the phone last night and I’m looking forward to introducing him into camp and getting him up and running. He’s a veteran, he’s been around and knows how to prepare himself. I don’t worry about him being a few days late to camp, but it’ll make our competition and our decision-making a little stronger.”
Here is our annual breakdown of who some of the Astros are taking to win Super Bowl 50 — Carolina Panthers vs. Denver Broncos. As for me, I’m taking Carolina to win 38-20
Craig Biggio: Panthers 31, Broncos 21. “Both defenses are very strong — I think with Cam being such a great runner and passer could be the defense maker, but if the game is close I give the edge to the Sheriff because it’s like having a head coach on the field.”
Reid Ryan: Panthers 27, Broncos 16. “My heart says Peyton and the Broncos, my head says Cam and Carolina.”
A.J. Hinch: Broncos 20, Panthers 17. “I’m looking forward to a good game. Both defenses are pretty incredible, so it might come down to a defensive score or big turnover. I’m going with Von Miller and the best defense in the league keeping Cam from dabbing too much.”
Scott Feldman: Panthers 27, Broncos 17.
Dallas Keuchel: “BIG Peyton Manning fan!”
Lance McCullers Jr.: Panthers 27, Broncos 13.
Jake Marisnick: Broncos 21, Panthers 17. “Peyton wins the MVP and goes out on top.”
Max Stassi: Panthers 35, Broncos 14.
Julia Morales: Broncos 24, Panthers 20: “Peyton rides a bronco out of the stadium.”
Geoff Blum: Panthers 27, Broncos 21. “Panthers dab their way to the Super Bowl victory. Peyton Manning announces his retirement after throwing 3 TD’s in the loss”
Robert Ford: Panthers 45, Broncos 14. “Manning is a shell of his former self and the Panthers are on a mission.”
Steve Sparks: Panthers 31, Broncos 16. “I think Carolina has pretty uniform colors.”
Astros right-handed pitcher Brad Peacock will miss the rest of the season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery last week in Chicago to remove two bone spurs that were pinching a nerve near his spine.
Peacock, who underwent surgery on Wednesday, pitched in only one game for the Astros this year after dealing with what was originally called a right intercostal strain. He threw five innings April 14 against Oakland and then went back on the disabled list. Peacock had a setback during a June 11 Minor League rehab outing at Double-A and didn’t pitch again.
“We’ve addressed the issue that he had and we’re expecting that he will be symptom free and healthy and ready to go for next year,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said.
Peacock had hip surgery in October and came to spring camp 30 pounds lighter and ready to compete for a spot in the starting rotation. He started last season in the Astros’ bullpen and wound up making 24 starts, going 4-9 with a 4.72 ERA.
The Astros’ player development department named July’s Minor League Pitchers and Players of the Month at each of their affiliates. These awards are chosen every month by the field staff of each team.
At Triple-A Fresno, IF Tyler White was named the July Player of the Month after hitting .385 (35-for-91) with 11 doubles, three homers, 21 RBIs and a 1.081 OPS (.477 OBP/.604 SLG) in 23 games in his first ever month at the Triple-A level. In 84 combined games between Fresno and Double-A Corpus Christi, White has hit .318 (92-for-289) with 17 doubles, 10 homers, 63 RBIs and a .435 on-base percentage. RHP James Hoyt was named the Grizzlies’ Pitcher of the Month for July, as he posted a 1.64 ERA while striking out 16 batters with just two walks in 10 outings during the month. Acquired in the trade with Atlanta that also brought Evan Gattis to Houston, Hoyt has struck out 45 batters in his 34 innings this year, and has put up a 1.83 ERA since the beginning of June.
IF Colin Moran, who was named the Texas League July Player of the Month, was named Corpus Christi’s July Player of the Month after batting .349 (37-for-106) with 12 extra-base hits (seven doubles, two triples, three homers), 22 RBIs and a .945 OPS in 27 games in July. During the month, Moran was tied for the Texas League lead in RBIs while ranking second in batting average. Corpus Christi’s Pitcher of the Month honors went to RHP Michael Feliz, who went 4-0 with a 2.13 ERA and 19 strikeouts in five games (four starts) in July. In 10 total Double-A outings this season (seven starts), Feliz has gone 5-2 with a 3.02 ERA and a .191 opponents’ batting average.
At Class A Advanced Lancaster, OF Ronnie Mitchell was named July Player of the Month and RHP Keegan Yuhl was named July Pitcher of the month. A Southlake, Texas, native, Mitchell hit. 321 (34-for-106) with six doubles, four triples, three homers and 23 RBIs in 26 games for Lancaster during the month. Yuhl pitched in six games with the JetHawks in July (three starts), posting a 1.35 ERA with 26 strikeouts. A 35th round pick in 2014, Yuhl has notched a 1.53 ERA with 43 strikeouts in 18 total games for the JetHawks this season.
A 2015 Midwest League Midseason All-Star, IF Nick Tanielu was named the Quad Cities Player of the Month for July, as he hit .340 (34-for-100) with 11 doubles and 24 RBIs in 27 July games. Tanielu’s .315 batting average on the season ranks fifth in the Midwest League. RHP Angel Heredia, a product of the Astros Dominican Academy, received Quad Cities Pitcher of the Month honors for July after allowing just one earned run and striking out 16 batters in 16.2 innings (0.54 ERA) during the month. Heredia, who was named the Midwest League Pitcher of the Week on July 6, has gone 4-2 with a 1.10 ERA, 35 strikeouts and a .140 opponents’ batting average in what has been his first year with a full-season Minor League affiliate.
At Class A Short Season Tri-City, 2015 draftees IF Bobby Wernes (30th round) and LHP Alex Winkelman (21st round) were named July Player and Pitcher of the Month, respectively. Wernes hit .341 (29-for-85) with 12 RBI and a .430 on-base percentage in 25 games in July, while Winkelman went 3-0 with a 1.72 ERA, 19 strikeouts and two walks in four July games. Wernes currently ranks second in the New York-Penn League in batting average (.333).
OF Hector Roa was named Rookie Level Greeneville’s July Player of the Month. The 20-year-old ranked tied for third in the Appalachian League in home runs during the month (6) while adding a .315 (34-for-108) batting average, six doubles, two triples, 22 RBIs and a .574 slugging percentage in 27 July games before earning a promotion to Tri-City. RHP Erasmo Pinales took home Greeneville’s Pitcher of the Month award for July after putting up a 1.85 ERA with 26 strikeouts and a .184 opponents’ batting average during the month. In what has been his first season pitching in the United States, Pinales has posted a 1.84 ERA and 31 strikeouts in seven total outings for the Astros this year.
OF Daz Cameron, the 37th overall pick in the 2015 draft, picked up July Player of the Month honors for the Gulf Coast League Astros. In 20 games in the GCL, Cameron stole 12 bases while posting a .321 on-base percentage, two outfield assists and a 1.000 fielding percentage. Cameron was recently promoted to Greeneville, where he has hit .571 (4-for-7) with a triple, three RBIs and three steals in two games. RHP Moreno Polanco, who was also promoted to Greeneville, received the GCL Astros Pitcher of the Month award for July. The 21-year-old gave up just two earned runs in 30 innings (0.60 ERA) in eight games with the GCL Astros, holding opponents to a .181 batting average.
For the DSL Astros Blue club, C Oscar Campos received July Player of the Month honors while RHP Yoanys Quiala was named Pitcher of the Month. Campos, 18, hit .321 (27-for-84) with five RBI and a .402 on-base percentage in 24 games in July. Quiala, who was signed by the Astros out of Cuba this June, went 2-0 with a 0.82 ERA and 20 strikeouts in five July games (three starts).
The DSL Astros Orange Player of the Month award went to C Randy Vasquez, who hit .395 (34-for-86) with nine extra-base hits (six doubles, three homers) and a 1.013 OPS in 24 games in July. RHP Jose Ramos earned July Pitcher of the Month honors for the DSL Astros Orange after allowing just one run in 24 July innings (0.38 ERA), striking out 20.
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said Tuesday the club has opened up a lot more conversations about adding a hitter to their lineup, in addition to the quest to find a starting pitcher and perhaps even a reliever via trade.
The Astros could get infielder Jed Lowrie back from his thumb injury as soon as next week. He’s scheduled to begin a rehab assignment Wednesday at Double-A Corpus Christi. Right-fielder George Springer (fractured wrist) is still about a month away from returning.
Without Springer, the Astros’ offense has scuffled, with the exception of Sunday’s 10-run outburst against the Rangers.
“We’re looking at every avenue,” Luhnow said. “Our priority so far has been on pitching, but I think we’ve opened up a lot more conversations regarding position players, and right now we’re having conversations about starters, relievers and bats.”
Luhnow said he’s not going to trade for a pitcher who will be a free agent at the end of the year with the expectation they’re going to sign him long term. But he said that once they play in the air-conditioned comfort of Minute Maid Park and reap the benefit from no state income tax, he’s hoping Houston becomes a place they want to stay.
“Those sorts of things all sell themselves, but we wouldn’t make a move assuming that we’re going to get long-term deals done,” he said. “Having said that, would we be OK giving up some future value to acquire a player we think could help us this year that we know is probably not going to sign here? Yeah, we probably wouldn’t. It all depends on what the cost is.”
Luhnow said he’s surprised there haven’t been any major deals yet, but he said there’s a lot of chatter in advance of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. He said he’s been in contract with every club for the most part, talking about what pieces they might be willing to move and what they’re looking for.
“Those discussions are time-consuming and they’re in conversations with other clubs as well, so it takes a while to sort through it,” he said. “We’re doing our work and we’re hopeful that we can figure out a situation to improve this team and give us a better chance to both reach the playoffs and do some damage in the playoffs this year.”
Luhnow said he’s confident that with the way the roster is constructed now, including the players on the disabled list and those in Triple-A who have helped at various points this year, that could be enough for the Astros to make the playoffs. But the Astros, like all teams in contention, place a premium on winning the division and not having to play the Wild Card game if possible, so he’s going go be aggressive.
“Timing is certainly part of how you play this whole thing,” he said. “You can strike early and you might be able to get a deal that’s not available later and get the guy you want and take him off the market, or you wait until a couple of more guys become available later on. You read the tea leaves with a lot of discussion out there and listen to the chatter and reporting back to us, and we’re having a lot of conversations ourselves. We’re doing what we can. When the time is right, we’ll strike if a deal looks good.”
With two weeks remaining before the July 31 non-tender Trade Deadline, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow on Friday discussed the likelihood his team makes a trade:
Q: In general, what are your thoughts as the Trade Deadline approaches?
A: “I think our viewpoint is we want to give this team a chance to compete this year and we’re there. We may have a piece or two we can add between now and July 31 – it may not come until August – but if we feel like there’s an opportunity that presents itself to improve this ballclub and give us a better chance to get to the playoffs, a better chance to perform in the playoffs, we’d be foolish not to look at it hard. Having said that, we need to balance short-term gains with long-term planning. Anything we do is going to come at a cost, and I’m not talking about financially; I’m talking about talent acquisition. We need to be cognizant of what the impact might be on us in 2016 and beyond. A lot being discussed, a lot being thought about, but I think this is a market that’s slow to develop this year and will probably pick up steam now that the All-Star Game is behind us.”
Q: What’s your focus on what you want to do?
A: “Really, it comes down to improving this team’s chances to make the playoffs and perform in the playoffs. Have George [Springer] out now hurts. Hopefully Jed coming back will help us. Our starting pitching has been pretty good, but you can always use another starter, especially in the playoffs. Our bullpen has been solid all year. You can always use another good bullpen arm as well. We’re really not limiting ourselves to any one area. We’re going to look at each opportunity and evaluate how we think he can help this team right now.”
Q: Has hitting become more of a concern?
A: “I’d say so. You take the bat out of George’s hand for a long period of time, and it changes our lineup. It changes the way the opposition looks at our team. If we can do something to replace that… Now with Jed [Lowrie] hopefully coming back soon, that will be a boost, and [Luis] Valbuena getting healthy and Chris Carter starting to swing the bat the way we know he’s capable off – and I think that’s going to start soon – the offense could pick up. We still lead in home runs and stolen bases and we’d like to see the batting average come up because it means we’re making more consistent contact. I think we will in the second half.”
Q: Because the team is where it’s at, do you feel pressure to get a piece or two?
A: “I’m not going to say we have to do something because everything we do comes at a price and we have to evaluate it. We certainly have to explore all the opportunities that are going to be in front of us. We’re working hard, we’re talking to all the other clubs and a lot of them haven’t made a decision yet whether they’re going to move anything or whether they’re still going for it. We have to wait for some of that to resolve itself. I feel the obligation to do the work, to make sure we’re in a position to make the best decision possible and if that means adding a piece for this year and giving up some prospects to do it, we’re going to have to cross that bridge when we get to it, and I’m sure some of those opportunities are going to be in front of us.”
Q: What is the market like right now?
A: “I’d say because of the additional Wild Card and because of the parity in both leagues, quite frankly, a lot of clubs are waiting to see and haven’t declared themselves one way or another. It doesn’t mean that conversations aren’t taking place, and it doesn’t mean that teams like us that are in more of a buying mode aren’t preparing ourselves and heavily scouting the players we think can help us, but what it does mean is we haven’t seen a lot of transactions lately. Seattle made one move; there’s been a couple of minor moves, but there haven’t been the big transactions pre-All-Star Game that we’ve seen from other years. They’re coming. There’s no doubt in my mind there’s going to be a market and some big trades made, but it may be closer than the 31st than the 1st.”
Rnd (Pick) Player School Ht/Wt Date Signed
1 (2) SS Alex Bregman LSU 6-0/186 6/25
1 (5) OF Kyle Tucker H.B. Plant HS (Fla.) 6-4/190 6/15
CB (37) OF Daz Cameron Eagle’s Landing Christian Ac. HS 6-2/185 6/30
2 (46) RHP Thomas Eshelman Cal State – Fullerton 6-3/210 7/1
3 (79) RHP Riley Ferrell TCU 6-2/200 6/26
4 (109) C Anthony Hermelyn Oklahoma 6-1/200 6/15
5 (139) RHP Trent Thornton North Carolina 6-0/175 6/15
6 (169) OF Nestor Muriel Carlos Beltran Baseball Ac. HS (PR) 6-2/170 6/16
7 (199) LHP Michael Freeman Oklahoma State 6-8/235 6/18
8 (229) C Garrett Stubbs USC 5-10/175 6/18
9 (259) LHP Zac Person LSU 6-1/185 6/24
10 (289) RHP Scott Weathersby Ole Miss 6-2/180 6/15
11 (319) LHP Patrick Sandoval Mission Viejo HS (CA) 6-3/190 7/7
12 (349) CF Myles Straw St. Johns River State Col. 5-10/180 6/19
13 (379) RHP Kevin McCanna Rice 6-1/195 6/17
14 (409) CF Johnny Sewald Arizona State 5-11/170 6/16
15 (439) OF Pat Porter Ohio State 6-0/215 6/15
16 (469) RHP Adam Whitt Nevada 6-3/205 6/15
17 (499) LF Justin Garcia Nova Southeastern 6-3/225 6/19
18 (529) C Kevin Martir Maryland 5-11/210 6/19
19 (559) OF Drew Ferguson Belmont 5-11/180 6/15
20 (589) RHP Makay Nelson College of Southern Idaho 5-11/180 6/16
21 (619) LHP Alex Winkelman Southeast Missouri State 6-2/180 6/16
24 (709) RHP Chris Murphy Millersville University 6-4/205 6/16
25 (739) C Jorge Martinez Carlos Beltran Acad. HS (PR) 5-11/184 6/16
26 (769) RHP Ralph Garza Oklahoma 6-2/195 6/18
28 (829) RHP Zac Grotz Embry-Riddle 6-2/195 6/16
29 (859) IF Brooks Marlow Texas 5-9/185 6/15
30 (889) 3B Bobby Wernes Arkansas 6-3/200 6/30
31 (919) IF Keach Ballard Oklahoma Baptist 6-0/180 6/15
32 (949) OF Aaron Mizell Georgia Southern 6-0/170 6/19
33 (979) 2B Kolbey Carpenter Oklahoma 6-0/190 6/14
36 (1069) RHP Ryan Deemes Nicholls St. 6-2/205 6/15
40 (1189) LHP Steve Naemark Angelo State 6-3/195 6/19
Astros prospect Mark Appel has seen fellow pitchers Lance McCullers Jr. and Vince Velasquez and shortstop Carlos Correa – three guys he began the season with in Double-A Corpus Christi – reach the Majors and have an impact on the big league club this year.
Appel, who got off to a slow start for the Hooks while others were being sent straight to Houston, didn’t get discouraged or stop working, and now he’s poised to perhaps join them with the Astros in the near future. Appel, the former No. 1 draft pick, threw a seven-inning complete game Sunday in the latest in a stretch of strong outings.
In his last five starts, Appel (5-1) has allowed seven earned runs, eight walks and struck out 24 in 29 innings, going 2-0 with a 2.14 ERA. Overall, he’s lowered his ERA to 4.26 from 6.02 following his May 22 start against Midland.
“I think just the circumstance the whole organization is in with a lot of success all the way through, especially at the big league level, shows that the Astros are not scared to bring up their best players,” Appel told MLB.com. “And so, Lance and Vince were pitching great. I’m very close friends with both of them and text them all the time and just so excited to see them do their thing. I want to be alongside with them. I believe I can. I know I will at some point.
“It’s funny. That team was pretty special here in Corpus at the beginning of the season and now three of those guys are having an impact on the big league team, and we would all go out to dinner and talk about what it would be like to all play together in Houston. That dream is becoming a reality pretty quickly. I’m excited to join them whenever that may be, but until then I’m going to keep working hard and having fun and trusting the process.”
The Astros have been trying to get Appel be more aggressive early in counts and get ahead of hitters more and establish his fastball, which he’s been able to do recently.
“I think just everything has kind of been going off my fastball, so getting my fastball right and getting it down in the zone and throwing it early in the count, that really opens up a lot of doors for my off-speed stuff or maybe elevating my fastball by design and so on and so forth,” he said. “Being able to get ahead of hitters, it puts you in a pitcher’s count and also you end up not really walking too many guys.”
Appel also said he’s gained confidence and trusts his stuff more, which he credits to the work he put in with pitching coach Doug Brocail between starts.
Confidence in the work and really trusting, it’s the best thing for me to prepare for each game,” he said.
Appel still believes he can pitch in Houston this year, and whether the Astros would promote him at some point straight from Double-A like they did with McCullers and Velasquez or move him up to Triple-A first remains to be seen. The Astros could be getting veteran Scott Feldman back into the rotation within the next month, so there might not be a spot for Appel just yet, especially if they make a trade to add another arm.
My goal is to get to Houston to help the big league team out, and I have confidence that I can get big league hitters and go deep into games and help the team win,” he said. “Whenever the Astros feel that time is correct, I want to be ready. That’s really the best answer I can give.
“I’m working hard here in Double-A and I’ll continue working hard and having fun and competing all the way up until they decide to send me somewhere else, and then I’ll work hard there. The process stays the same wherever I am. The work I put in stays the same wherever I am. I believe I can really help the team out. That’s really what the goal is for this season and long term.”
Astros second baseman Jose Altuve went through some intense running and agility drills at Safeco Field to test his ailing right hamstring prior to Saturday’s game against the Mariners and spoke like someone who’s ready to play.
Altuve wasn’t in the lineup Saturday for the third consecutive game and said he’s getting anxious to play. He returned to action Tuesday after missing three games with right hamstring discomfort and left Wednesday’s game in Colorado because manager A.J. Hinch didn’t think he looked comfortable.
“I feel great,” Altuve said. “I went outside, I ran really hard. I just feel good.”
When asked what kind of feedback he got from Altuve and the training staff, he said they were “really happy.”
“They [talk] like I’m ready but like I say yesterday, it’s their call, so whenever they decide,” he said. “I don’t want to do anything stupid. But I feel like I’m great but like I said I’m going to be patient.”
Altuve said he’s done everything he needs to do to test out the hamstring, which included hitting and fielding grounders yesterday and running today.
“I’m really anxious but like I said we still have a lot of games left,” he said. “To try to hurry for one game you can miss more games. I’m ready for whenever they decide to put me back there.”
Altuve is hitting .287 with five homers, 28 RBIS and 17 stolen bases, which leads the American League.
Asking Thomas Eshelman to choose between getting the last out to secure a berth in the College World Series for Cal State Fullerton or the joy of being drafted No. 46 overall by the Astros on Monday in the First-Year Player Draft is as an unfair as asking a parent to pick his favorite kid.
The fact they both happened pretty much simultaneously for Eshelman makes for a heck of a story, and one the 6-foot-3, 210-pound right-hander will never forget. Though he’s a starter, Eshelman closed out the Titans’ win over Louisville in the NCAA Super Regional on Monday and was in the post-game meeting when he got another thrill.
“My strength and conditioning coach came up to me and said, ‘Hey, you just became an Astro,’” he said. “That kind of poured over me a little bit. I didn’t really tell anyone and then everyone went into the locker room and found out and came back out and gave me a huge hug. It was fun to kind of be a part of and experience that.”
Astros scouting director Mike Elias sees Eshelman as someone who could move quickly through the system. He throws in the low 90s mph range, but has shown impeccable control throughout his college career with 18 walks in 370 2/3 innings to go along with 313 strikeouts. This year, he’s 8-5 with a 1.58 ERA in 17 starts heading to Omaha.
Once he signs, he’ll join a growing group of impressive pitching depth in the Houston organization, including two that recently graduated two to the Major Leagues from Double-A – Lance McCullers Jr. and Vincent Velasquez.
“I know the Astros are an up-and-coming organization,” Eshelman said. “I know they have a lot of young talent. One of my teammates from a couple of years ago, [2014 Astros draft pick] J.D. Davis is in [Class A] Lancaster with the Astros, and I’m sure I’ll get the lowdown from him. I know they like to move players up pretty quickly and I’m looking forward to getting out there and putting my nose to the grind and working hard for whatever team I’m on at that moment in time.”
So, Thomas, which experience was greater? Clinching a spot in the World Series or getting drafted?
“They’re both equal,” he said. “I wasn’t really a top recruit coming out of high school, whether it be the draft or college. Cal State Fullerton gave me the opportunity to come here and for me to do well and the Astros gave me an opportunity with the organization. I hope to do the same thing I did in college and continue to get better and make the big league roster one day.”ore out of him than what he’s given us.”