Results tagged ‘ Brian McTaggart ’

Astros take next step in rebuilding, sign Altuve

The Astros announced Saturday they had signed popular second baseman Jose Altuve to a four-year contract extension with a pair of option years, marking the team’s first significant contract commitment under general manager Jeff Luhnow. The deal was first reported by MLB.com.

The extension begins in 2014 and runs through the 2017 season and provides the club with options for the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Additional terms were not disclosed, but Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reported the deal is worth $12.5 million for four years with two club options for $6 million and $6.5 million.

“Jose values security and we value Jose, and it starts with that,” Luhnow said. “He’s done a terrific job for us ever since getting called up from Double-A two years ago, and he’s been a consistent force in our lineup. He just knows how to hit and he’s a good defender at second base, and when you get a player like that who can add value, not only when he’s at the plate but on the base paths, but also when he’s out there at second base, those are the types of guys we feel we need to have and have long-term. Removing some of the uncertainty for him and for us at this point makes sense.”

The Astros are essentially buying out Altuve’s three arbitration years (though 2017) and doing it in a relatively cost-friendly manner for the team.

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.

The Altuve deal, which has been in the work for a couple of weeks with talks intensifying in the last few days, means the club is taking the next step in its rebuilding process by locking up some young players it feels will be building blocks for the future. All-Star catcher Jason Castro could fit that mold.

“This won’t be the last time we tie up one of our young players,” Luhnow said. “In this case, it made a lot of sense, both in terms of timing and length of deal and so forth, but it’s something we’re going to look at.

“We’re going to have a lot of exciting young talent coming through our system and to the big leagues and once we feel there’s enough certainty on our side that the player is going to be around and be able to contribute at the level we need him to for the long haul, we’re going to try to get deals done. It eliminates some of the back-and-forth that goes on year in and year out with arbitration and gives the player some security and gives us some certainly know the player is going to be there for us.”

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 through 86 games this season.

New-look Astros kick off a new era

The smell of fresh paint, new carpeting in the clubhouse and sharp new uniforms hanging neatly in the lockers of the players were all reminders these are not your grandfather’s Astros. In fact, they’re pretty far removed from the 2012 Astros.

With pitchers and catchers reporting to Osceola County Stadium on Monday morning to shake hands, take physicals and get in a light workout, the Astros cranked up their first Spring Training as an American League club. New manager Bo Porter will have to wait until Tuesday to see the pitchers and catchers hit the field for the first official workout, but the start is near.

“I’m extremely anxious,” Porter said. “You spend your whole offseason waiting for this day to come and now that it’s here, obviously there’s a lot of anticipating of getting with the guys and you can see the excitement in their eyes. We’re just ready to get on the field and get started.”

Right-hander Philip Humber is one of 39 new faces to camp this year after spending last year with the White Sox. The Texas native was thrilled to pull on his No. 59 jersey.

“It’s that time of year when you’ve done everything you need to do to prepare for Spring Training and a new season and you start getting that itch it’s time to start putting everything you’ve done in the offseason to work,” he said. “I’m excited to be here, excited to meet all these new faces and just get started playing baseball.”

Many position players have already reported, well ahead of Friday’s official report date. All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve arrived in Florida on Saturday. Also spotted Monday morning were Brett Wallace, Matt Dominguez, J.D. Martinez, Brandon Barnes, Justin Maxwell, Jake Elmore and Marc Krauss.

“I feel really good, and I wanted to get here a little early to get ready and prepare the right way to star the season,” Altuve said.

Here are some morning pictures:

Sign as you enter the clubhouse.

Sign as you enter the clubhouse.

Worker gets the field ready.

Worker gets the field ready.

Astros manager Bo Porter reports for work.

Astros manager Bo Porter reports for work.

new uniforms hung neatly in lockers.

New uniforms hung neatly in lockers.

Wes Wright unloads a box while talking to Lucas Harrell.

Wes Wright unloads a box while talking to Lucas Harrell.

More motivation for the players, courtesy of Bo Porter.

More motivation for the players, courtesy of Bo Porter.

Catcher Jason Jaramillo emerges from clubhouse.

Catcher Jason Jaramillo emerges from clubhouse.

Jason Castro on his way to the field.

Jason Castro on his way to the field.

Bo Porter talks to the media in the morning.

Bo Porter talks to the media in the morning.

Pitching coach Doug Brocail and pitchers prepare to stretch.

Pitching coach Doug Brocail and pitchers prepare to stretch.

Astros get a look at more new pitchers

The second day of pitcher and catcher workouts went off without a hitch, with Astros manager Brad Mills getting his first look at pitchers like Rhiner Cruz, Livan Hernandez and Paul Clemens when they threw in the bullpen for the first time.

“Watching the guys throw, that’s always the biggest thing,” Mills said. “I thought Rhiner Cruz threw the ball really well. I thought Bud Norris threw the ball well and Paul Clemens, too. Livan’s command of his pitches was pretty impressive. The guys are doing the things to get themselves ready. Today was a much better day. Guys knew better where to go and what to do.”

General manager Jeff Luhnow was impressed with Clemens, who came to the Astros in the Michael Bourn trade.

“He’s got a big arm,” he said. “We’re going to develop him as a starter. My philosophy for the better arms is until they prove to us they don’t have three pitches and don’t have command to start, we’re going to start them, and it looks like [Clemens] has got everything he needs.”

Let’s get right to the photos:

Brad Mills hits rag balls to the pitchers.

Catchers lined up in the bullpen.

Side-armer Rhiner Cruz fires a pitch as GM Jeff Luhnow and special assistant Mike Elias watch.

Lucas Harrell throws a pitch with a bunch of folks watching.

Bench coach Joe Pettini hits a rag ball at the pitchers.

Lucas Harrell gets some tips from pitching coach Doug Brocail.

Paul Clemens fires towards home plate.

Mike Kvasnicka and roving Minor League catching instructor Danny Sheaffer.

Chris Snyder and Bud Norris shake hands after working together for the first time.

Carlos Corporan prepraes to swing in the batting cage.

My colleague Richard Justice and myself take a look at the Astros’ outfield situation in this video. There will be more to come.

Brian McTaggart and Richard Justice take a look at the Astros’ outfield situation

Arizona Fall League update

There will be more on the Arizona Fall League and some other Astros playing in winter ball when the story posts on Astros.com later today, but here’s a sneak peek:

Astros general manager Ed Wade came away impressed after spending some time earlier this month getting a close-up look at the club’s prospects that are participating in the Arizona Fall League, which is about halfway through its schedule.

The seven players from the Houston organization are competing for the Salt River Rafters.

“We’re pleased with the way things are going there,” said Wade, who traveled to Arizona early in the month with assistant general manager David Gottfried. “We missed Jason Castro while we were there. I had seen him in instructional league the previous week and we had given Jason permission to be in a wedding and we missed him when we were out there. All reports we have gotten have been very solid.”

Astros Major League scout Paul Ricciarini is currently in Arizona and has sent positive reports back about Castro, who tore his right anterior cruciate ligament running the bases early in Spring Training and had season-ending knee surgery in March.

Castro, who’s expected to be the team’s starting catcher next year, was hitting .167 with five strikeouts in only 12 at-bats in four games (he was slowed by a ribcage injury), but he went 2-for-4 with a double, a run and an RBI on Thursday and, more importantly, is in good shape physically.

“Paul was very impressed with the way Jason has progressed since the last time he had a chance to see him,” Wade said.

The player putting up the best numbers for the Astros is first baseman Kody Hinze, who slugged 29 homers last season between Class A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi combined. He was hitting .294 with two homers and nine RBIs through nine games.

Jake Goebbert, a left-handed-hitting outfielder who progressed from Lancaster to Triple-A Oklahoma City last season and hit a combined .290 with 12 homers and 67 RBIs, was batting .162 with two homers and three RBIs in 10 games. Speedy outfielder Jay Austin had appeared in five games and was hitting .263 with three stolen bases.

“From the position players we did see, Kody Hinze was swinging the bat well and driving in some runs,” Wade said. “Jay Austin was out there on a taxi squad and played a couple of games and got on base, and we see the same tools and same out of Jay since we drafted him and signed him. He just needs to continue to be given opportunities. He’s probably one of those guys that’s going to take a level at a time to get his feet on the ground and show what he’s capable of doing.

“Goebbert played in a couple of games and swung the bat well. He knows how to play the game the right way and we like what we saw out of him.

Left-hander Dallas Keuchel, who went 9-7 with a 3.17 ERA at Double-A before getting his feet wet at Triple-A last season, is 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA in three starts in Arizona.

“He’s one of those guys you have to ignore the radar gun when he’s pitching because he’s not going to put up big gun numbers,” Wade said. “In the game I saw him pitch, he was consistent with what I’ve seen out of him every time he’s pitched. He commanded his pitches well and he’s got an excellent changeup and changes speeds.”

Right-hander Jason Stoffel had appeared in six games and allowed five earned runs and eight walks and struck out nine batters in five innings. Right-hander Josh Zeid was 1-0 with a 9.00 ERA in six games, but he had allowed only one run in his past three outings entering play Monday.

A look back on the 2011 Minor League season

The Astros’ eight Minor League affiliates went a combined 337-488, with no team finishing with a winning record. Of the four full-season clubs, Triple-A Oklahoma City finished with the best record at 68-75 in the Pacific Coast League. Double-A Corpus Christi went 50-90 overall, Class A Lancaster was 55-85 overall and Class A Lexington was 59-79 overall.

Astros director of player development Fred Nelson wished the teams’ collective performances would have been better, but the club pushed players aggressively through the system this year and continued to send players to the Major Leagues.

“I would say we’re disappointed from a team standpoint, but I spent some time over the weekend looking at some things and our clubs have been very young,” Nelson said. “And so it makes it difficult at times to compete. That’s no excuse, but certainly our clubs have been young and we’re also just one of seven other clubs that field seven teams here in the United States, so you spread your players a little bit thinner. The individual performances have been very rewarding.”

The system sent several players to the Major Leagues, including third baseman Jimmy Paredes, second baseman Jose Altuve and left fielder J.D. Martinez, each of whom made the jump from Double-A to start in the big leagues. Twenty-year-old pitcher Jordan Lyles made 15 starts for the Astros.

“We moved a lot of players this year, some of it by need,” Nelson said. “Also, just the domino effect. When you take guys to the big leagues it creates holes and opportunities, and we really pushed a lot of kids and most have held their own and done quite well and positioned themselves to be pretty good players for us.”

The biggest impact on the system came when the team traded away Jeff Keppinger, Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn near the Trade Deadline. The Astros received 10 players in return, including four of the Phillies’ top prospects – pitchers Jarred Cosart, first baseman Jonathan Singleton, pitcher Josh Zeid and a player to be named later that turned out to be outfielder Domingo Santana.

Pitcher Henry Sosa, who came from the Giants in the Keppinger deal, joined the Astros rotation and has pitched well. Two players acquired from the Braves – outfielder Jordan Schafer and pitcher Juan Abreu – are in the Major Leagues.

“The influx of players, especially the pitchers we got in the trades, have helped us at the Double-A and Triple-A levels moving forward,” Nelson said. “And some of the young kids, the Singleton kid and the signing of [first-round pick George] Springer and the Santana kid that we got from Philadelphia, has really helped us get younger.”

Springer is scheduled to go the instructional league in Florida, and the team is exploring the possibility of trying to find him a winter ball spot in a less competitive environment that Venezuela or the Dominican Republic.

“I think he’ll have a busy offseason playing and that should position himself well to come to Spring Training with a good idea of what’s expected and what’s here,” Nelson said.

The Astros were, of course, thrilled with what Kody Hinze was able to do while splitting the season between Class A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi. He hit a combined .306 with 29 homers and 98 RBIs. He had a .458 on-base percentage and a 1.083 OPS in 80 games at Lancaster, which is in the hitting-friendly California League.

One of the players that opened eyes this season is left-handed hitting outfielder Jacob Goebbert, who began the year in Lancaster and finished in Triple-A Oklahoma City. He hit a combined .290 with 12 homers and 67 RBIs with a .352 on-base percentage.

The Astros were pleased with the progress of shortstop Jonathan Villar, who was acquired last year in a trade with the Phillies. He began the season at Lancaster and finished up at Corpus Christi and began to mature and settle into his new surroundings.

Nelson was also impressed with right-hander Jake Buchanan, a starter who was drafted in the eighth round in 2010. He went 5-10 with a 3.91 ERA at Lancaster, walking 35 batters and striking out 102 in 158 2/3 innings in the hitter-friendly California League.

“He pitched exceptionally well,” Nelson said. “We moved him for his last start, with [Lucas] Harrell coming to the big leagues, and he went to Double-A and threw seven innings and gave up a run. That was a nice ending to the season. You’ve got to be excited about what he did.”

Outfielder Austin Wates, the team’s third-round pick in 2010 out of Virginia Tech, batted .300 with nine triples, six homers and 75 RBIs this year in 526 at-bats at Lancaster.

“He’s somebody that had not played a lot in the organization,” Nelson said. “He signed late and went to Tri-City and for the first time and in a full season to go out to the Cal League and do what he did, ending up at .300 and driving in 70-plus runs, that’s good.”

As far as the team’s most recent first-round selections, 2010 pick Delino DeShields Jr. batted just .220 with 30 stolen bases in Class A Lexington of the South Atlantic League, but the Astros were pleased with the way he made the transition full-time from the outfield to second base.

“Delino DeShields actually played outstanding in the Sally League when you look at the fact he played all year at 18,” Nelson said. “I believe he may have been the youngest player in the league. To go from being a converted outfielder to the infield and what we saw of him a year ago in the instructional league to where he stands now defensively is pretty remarkable on his part.

“You have to give him a lot of credit, and a lot of credit to the development people who worked with him. He has a long way to go. He’s just 18 years old, and I could see him being a player that repeats in that league.”

Shortstop Jiovanni Mier, the team’s No. 1 pick in 2009, split the season between Lexington and Lancaster and batted a combined .239 with seven homers, 52 RBIs and a .345 on-base percentage.

“After the All-Star game, we moved him to California League and he played outstanding defense,” Nelson said. “He did get hurt; he missed two-to-three weeks with a knee injury. He has made some adjustments offensively and I think he’s had some challenges offensively. He’s positioned himself to come back and compete for a job in Double-A next year.”

Meanwhile, Vincent Velasquez is making progress in his return from Tommy John surgery. Velasquez was the Astros’ second-round pick in 2010 out of high school in Southern California, and he injured his elbow pitching at rookie-league Greeneville.

Nelson said he’ll throw some innings in the instructional league later this month.

“We’re excited about the progress he made, and we’re looking forward to him getting back into action,” he said. “It’s almost like we acquired another [player through the draft].”

Springer “beyond happy right now” to join Astros

University of Connecticut outfielder George Springer, taken by the Astros with the No. 11 overall pick in the first round of Monday’s First-Year Player Draft, told MLB.com shortly after his team beat Clemson to advance to the NCAA Super Regionals that he was living a dream.

“I really don’t have any words I can put how happy I was at the time [he was drafted],”  he said. “It’s something as a player and as a kid you always dream of. My friend, Matt Barnes, told me in the fifth inning, and I was blown away.”

A 21-year-old junior, Springer was hitting .350 with 12 homers and 76 RBIs though 63 games for the Huskies. He had a .628 slugging percentage with 35 walks, 38 strikeouts and 31 stolen bases in 38 games.

Springer started in center field for the Huskies in Monday’s regional championship game in Clemson, S.C., and went 1-for-3 with two runs scored before being removed from the game as a precaution because of cramps. UConn won, 14-1.

“It’s just more of a severe cramp,” he said. “I was extremely dehydrated from [Sunday] night and it just carried over and that point in the game it was 9-1. We’re obviously playing on Friday and I want to be 100 percent. It was the right thing to do.”

Springer said he and his advisors have had quite a bit of contact with the Astros.

“My advisors had been going back and forth with them since this process started, and it became a reality today,” Springer said.

When asked about his willingness to sign a contract with the Astros, Springer didn’t hesitate.

“100 percent,” he said. “I’m good to go.”

The Astros plan to keep Springer in center field, but scouting director Bobby Heck said he could possibly profile as a corner outfielder down the road because of his power.

“I would not have a problem playing right, center or left field,” Springer said. “I really don’t have a preference, but I would hope to stay in center field.”

Because his college team was still alive in the NCAAs, Springer didn’t get a chance to come to Houston last week’s pre-Draft workout at Minute Maid Park. In fact, he’s never been Houston.

“We actually played this year at Whataburger Field [in Corpus Christi] and that’s about as close to Houston as I’ve been in my lifetime,” he said. “I know that’s where Houston’s Double-A team is, the Hooks. I have not had the pleasure to go to Houston, but hopefully in the next few months or so I’ll have the pleasure of going down to Houston.”

Springer said getting drafted in the first round and then advancing to the NCAA Super Regional is a matter of hours is a dream come true.

“I don’t have any words I can describe it,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable feeling, especially topped off by a huge win in the last three games for our team and program. I’m beyond happy right now.”

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