The day in photos:
The Astros and the Nationals could possibly share a Spring Training site in Palm Beach County, Fla., the team’s general counsel said Tuesday.
Giles Kibbe, who’s spearheading the team’s efforts to relocate its Spring Training operations from Kissimmee, Fla., following the 2016 season, said he met with Palm Beach County representatives last week and has also a brief conversation with the Nationals.
“I know that the Washington Nationals have now expressed an interest in moving down to Palm Beach County and they’ve met with Palm Beach County representatives, so we’re just kind of looking forward to seeing the different potential site sand trying to make this happen,” Kibbe said.
Kibbe said the team is going to meet again in a couple of weeks to look at some potential sites and to discuss some financing issues.
The Astros had hoped to build a two-team facility to share with the Blue Jays in Palm Beach Gardens, but that plan fell through following stiff opposition from residents. The team has since explored other options in Palm Beach County – its preferred location – and even Arizona.
“I know that Palm Beach County has met with the Nationals,” Kibbe said. “I don’t know if they’ve met with the Blue Jays recently, so I don’t know where the Blue Jays stand on this.”
The Astros’ lease at Osceola County Stadium expires at the end of 2016, so construction on a new site would have to begin by the end of this year for completion in January 2017. The Astros prefer a two-team facility for financial reasons.
The Nationals would like to leave Viera, Fla., and put their spring site closer to other teams. Their lease at Space Coast Stadium expires at the end of 2017.
Though you’ll never hear anyone say it, a handful of the 65 players the Astros have in camp have little to no chance to make the Opening Day roster. Some are prospects who have yet to get their feet wet in Triple-A, and there are non-players who were signed to fill out some depth on Minor League rosters.
For a team that suffered 111 losses last year, the Astros have surprisingly little competition outside of their starting rotation and bullpen. Of the eight field positions, right field and first base have the most uncertainty, though manager Bo Porter said Tuesday that only center field, second base and catcher are sure things at this point.
“When you start to answer the question on the second or third day of Spring Training of this person definitely playing this position, we pretty much have competition going at every position,” he said. “If I had to look at our roster, I would look at say from a position-player standpoint Dexter Fowler is going to play center field, Jose Altuve is going to play second base and Jason Castro is going to catch.
“Outside of that, you can look at all the positions and you can say that there is some competition. It may be more competition at one position than the other, but competition is great. Competition is not what takes place between one player or two players or three players. Man to a man, you ask all these guys in the clubhouse, they’re competing with themselves as well to put up their best performance to show that they deserve to be a starter in the Major Leagues.”
But at this point it would likely take an injury or trade to keep third baseman Matt Dominguez, designated hitter Chris Carter and shortstop Jonathan Villar from starting at their positions. Robbie Grossman is the expected starter in left field
Astros manager Bo Porter said Monday morning the task of finding a pitcher or a combination of pitchers to successfully handle the role of closer will be job one this spring. That’s no shocker considering the Astros have blown 48 saves in 111 chances the last two years, which is a Major League-low 56.8 save percentage in that span.
“When you look at the woes in which we had in our bullpen last year, it’s something we set out as an organization to make sure we rectified,” Porter said. “We brought in some guys that have the ability to rectify that portion of our ballclub, and I’m anxious to see how it plays out.”
Porter said newcomers Jesse Crain, Chad Qualls and Matt Albers will all be considered for closer, along with Josh Fields, who handled the duties for part of last season as a rookie after Jose Veras was traded. Qualls spent parts of three seasons as a closer with the D-backs.
“We’ll figure out as the course of spring goes on and the season goes on who’s best suited for that role, but it will be collectively a group effort to get those late outs in the back end of the game,” Porter said. “I think it’s totally open because I think competition brings out the best in all of us. And it’s something that we’re going to let these guys compete and let the competition tell us who should actually have that role.”
Ideally, the Astros would like to have one identified closer, but Porter knows that might not be the case for the start of the season.
“When you have that guy, that’s the ninth-inning guy, you know when it’s a save situation he’s going to get the ball every time,” he said. “Unfortunately, we’re not at that point, as far as our team would go. I’m glad we have a multitude of guys capable of manning that role. Again, we’ll let that competition play itself out, and I believe one of these guys, if not two or three of these guys, are going to step up. It’s a good problem to have if you have everyone throw well and now you look and you feel like you have a closer in the seventh, eighth and ninth.”
In addition to experience, which could give Qualls a leg up, the ability to induce weak ground balls is what Porter is looking for in a closer.
“If they do get in trouble, they have something that can get them out of trouble,” he said. “They have to be able to get righties and lefties out because when you bring in a closer, you don’t want to feel like you need to match him up against the opposite hitter. I also think experience plays a huge role in doing that job. It’s a guy that’s been there and understands the moment. The moment is never going to get too big for him. That’s important for well.”
Here the Tweets of the day from the Astros:
Physicals today. 👆 😩—
Peter Moylan (@PeterMoylan) February 16, 2014
We wait all winter for Spring Training, and the first day of workouts is usually anti-climatic. That can be good news considering it means no one got injured and everyone showed up on time, so the fact there was no news coming off the back fields at Osceola Country Stadium on Sunday was definitely good news for the Astros.
Three groups of pitchers got on the mound for the first time, including Scott Feldman, Brad Peacock and Chad Qualls, while all the pitchers worked on fielding practice. Meanwhile, position players who have reported early — a group that’s approaching 20 — hit in the cages and then took batting practice on the back fields. That included newcomer Dexter Fowler, who showed up at camp Sunday to meet his new team.
“This is a time where we have several new guys in camp and I wanted to try to place eyes on as many of the new guys as possible,” said Astros manager Bo Porter, who wandered around the fields. “When you look at the groups, they’re split up to a point where it allows me the opportunity to rove and get to see some bullpens in certain groups and get to see PFP [pitcher fielding practice] in some of the other groups.”
Porter stressed to the pitchers earlier in the day to not try to do too much on the first day. No one is going to make the club throwing in the bullpen.
“The last thing you want is a guy to come out here and try to impress and end up blowing out in the bullpen and not even in a game where the competition is taking place,” Porter said. “I thought the guys did a good job of being as crisp as you could without being 100 percent as far as effort goes, as far as letting the ball go. That’s what you want in your first bullpen session.”
Prior to Astros pitchers and catchers taking the field for the first time Sunday morning on the back fields at Osceola County Stadium, manager Bo Porter met with a group of veteran pitchers he identified as being the leaders of the staff.
Porter sat down with Lucas Harrell, Scott Feldman, Chad Qualls, Matt Albers, Jesse Crain, Jerome Williams and Peter Moylan and told them he wants them to set a good example for the youngsters. They’ll also be involved in some of the morning meetings.
“You look at that group, and it’s guys that had success at the Major League level, they’re veteran guys,” Porter said. “I explained to them, ‘We’re not looking for one leader. We’re looking for a group of leaders.’ This is an unusual situation. A lot of those guys have come here from other organizations. Chad and Albers are a little bit different because they were here at one time and came back. Lucas has been here.
“I wanted to stress to them that this organization and where we’re at right now, it’s not like we have the [Craig] Biggios, the [Jeff] Bagwells, the guys that have been here for many years and you can say, ‘Hey, follow these guys. They know the Astros way.’ We are in the process of creating the Astros way, and our younger guys, I want to make sure they’re following the right people.
“I stressed that to our veteran guys. When you are a young players – and we’ve all been there before – you look around the clubhouse and say, ‘Wow, this guy’s been here 10 years. I wonder how he’s been able to accomplish that?’ Because you’re young, you’re impressionable and you’re going to watch that guy and watch that every move. I told those guys, ‘You will do more by whatever it is you do than you do than by whatever it is that you say.’ So make sure that your actions match what it is you’re saying each and every day.”
While the pitchers did their morning stretch work, Porter emphasized how happy he was that camp was finally underway following an offseason full of roster moves.
“I probably looked at the roster 1,000 times,” he said. “That’s what you do each and every day. You go to the ballpark and sit up at night and you think about the players. It’s good to have the group of talented guys we have here, but more importantly it’s good to be out here and getting started with the 2014 season.”
Astros pitchers and catchers reported to Osceola County Stadium on Saturday, and Tag’s Lines compiled some of the best tweets from those in uniform…
First official spring nap in the books.—
Peter Moylan (@PeterMoylan) February 15, 2014
Astros pitchers and catchers reported for Spring Training on Saturday. Here are some notes, as well as some photos:
White progressing steadily
Right-hander Alex White continues to progress steadily from the Tommy John surgery he underwent nearly a year ago. White threw batting practice Friday, tossing 23 pitches, including some changeups to a few hitters.
“We’re coming along pretty good,” he said. “My off-speed stuff is really good, and I’m waiting on the fastball to come along. I think it will come. We’re really just at 10 months right now. A couple of more months we should be there.”
Off-season work beneficial to Castro
Considering he had more time to work out this off-season, All-Star catcher Jason Castro is coming to camp with his surgically repaired right knee feeling stronger than it was even a year ago.
“I put in a lot of work this off-season and I feel like I put myself in a good spot coming back, even better than I was last year,” he said.
That’s a tremendous sign for Castro, who a year ago at this time said his knee was feeling 100 percent.
“I was able to work out for a longer period this off-season than I ever had,” said Castro, who earned a degree from Stanford in the off-season. “I was back in school pretty much right after the season ended, and I was recovering and doing some rehab stuff. I started my off-season.”
Appel recovering from appendectomy
Astros pitcher Mark Appel is still a little sore, but otherwise on the road to recovery after having to undergo an appendectomy Jan. 30 in Houston.
Appel, who lived with his parents in Houston in the off-season, woke up in the middle of the night and thought he had indigestion. The pain lingered, and he soon rustled his father in his sleep to tell him to take him to the hospital.
“Usually if I have food poisoning, I’ll just grab some Tums or something like that,” he said. “I did that after the first time I threw up, and I woke up again maybe an hour later and the same thing and the pain’s worse. I knew something was up, and I just said, ‘Hey dad, I think we need to go to the emergency room to be sure.’ Sure enough, I had appendicitis. It was pretty crazy.”
Wallace focusing on making roster
The fact that Brett Wallace is in camp this year as a non-roster invitee after being designed for assignment last week doesn’t change his mindset: he’s coming to camp to try to win the starting job at first base.
“It’s something I’ve never been through,” he said. “I had some friends and people you play with go through it. It’s definitely a new process but something that, honestly, I can’t control. In the same aspect, I’m coming in camp to win a job. I’m going to keep my head down and keep working and then whatever is happening with all that, I just try to put it to the side and keep preparing.”
Here are some photos: