Results tagged ‘ Chris Johnson ’

History of Luhnow’s major trades in Houston.

Here’s a look at the significant deals made by Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow since he took over 14 months ago (you can click on each player’s name for his 2012 stats):

Date: Dec. 14, 2011.

Astros receive: SS Jed Lowrie, RHP Kyle Weiland.

Red Sox receive: RHP Mark Melancon.

The skinny: Luhnow’s first trade as GM was a good one. Weiland showed promise last spring before a serious arm infection ended his season, but Lowrie proved to be one of the team’s top offensive weapons when healthy. Luhnow wound up dealing Lowrie to the A’s for three players earlier this week, giving this trade even a more significant return. Melancon was a bust in Boston and has landed in Pittsburgh.

Date: March 21, 2012.

Astros receive: LHP Kevin Chapman, player to be name named later (OF D’Andre Toney).

Royals receive: C Humberto Quintero, OF Jason Bourgeois.

The skinny: Quintero and Bourgeois were back-ups who couldn’t crack the starting lineup of a last-place team, and Luhnow managed to trade them for two Minor Leaguers. Chapman had a good year in relief at Double-A Corpus Christi last season and could be a left-handed option in the pen down the road. Toney played at Greeneville and remains a work in progress.

Date: July 4, 2012.

Astros receive: IF Matt Dominguez, LHP Rob Rasmussen.

Marlins receive: 1B Carlos Lee, cash.

The skinny: The first of five major trades in July, the Marlins were desperate for first base help and gave the Astros two Minor League players for the aging slugger. The Astros were happy to get him off their roster, and were even willing to pay the bulk of his remaining contract. Dominguez was brought up to the Majors and was impressive, hitting .284 with five homers and 16 RBIs in 109 at-bats. Everyone knew he could play defense, but he showed enough offensively that he’ll enter spring as the starting third baseman. Rasmussen was shipped to the Dodgers for RHP John Ely a few months later.

Date: July 20, 2012.

Astros receive: RHP Francisco Cordero, OF Ben Francisco, RHP Asher Wojciechowski, RHP Joe Musgrove, LHP David Rollins, C Carlos Perez, a player to be named later (RHP Kevin Comer).

Blue Jays receive: LHP J.A. Happ, RHP Brandon Lyon, RHP David Carpenter.

The skinny: The Astros acquired seven players, including four Minor Leaguers and a player to be named later, in a 10-player deal with the Jays. Happ had been with the team two years and could never gain consistency, while Lyon was in the final year of his three-year deal. This trade was more about the Minor League arms the Astros received, while addressing a catching shortage in the system, more than it was about the two big league players they received. Neither Cordero nor Francisco made it to the end of the season in Houston. Musgrove, Comer and Perez are among the Astros’ top 20 prospects.

Date: July 21, 2012.

Astros receive: RHP Matthew Heidenreich, LHP Blair Walters, a player to be named later (RHP Chris Devenski)

White Sox receive: RHP Brett Myers, cash.

The skinny: With Myers having a good shot at vesting his 2013 option that would have paid him $10 million, the Astros sent him to the White Sox and stockpiled a few more Minor League arms. Myers was having a solid season as closer after starting 66 games the previous two years in Houston. Heidenreich finished the year in the rotation at Double-A Corpus Christi and pitched well, while Walters took his lumps as a starter in the hitter-friendly environment in Lancaster.

Date: July 25, 2012.

Astros receive: LHP Rudy Owens, OF Robbie Grossman, LHP Colton Cain.

Pirates receive: LHP Wandy Rodriguez, cash.

The skinny: The rebuilding effort continued as the Astros sent Rodriguez – the last remaining member from the 2005 World Series team – to the Pirates for three more prospects. The Astros had to pay a substantial part of Rodriguez’s remaining contract, but they felt getting more prospect was worth the price. Owens will come to Major League camp and will likely start the year in the rotation at Triple-A Oklahoma City. Grossman will also be at big league camp after getting on-base at a .422 clip in 36 games last year in Double-A Corpus Christi.

Date: July 29, 2012.

Astros receive:  IF Bobby Borchering, OF Marc Krauss.

D-backs receive: 3B Chris Johnson.

The skinny: The Astros pulled off their fifth trade of the month. Houston wasn’t actively shopping Johnson, but he had recently gone on a tear and some teams were getting aggressive in their pursuit of the 27-year-old third baseman. Unlike the previous trades in July in which the Astros stockpiled the pitching, the Johnson trade brought a pair of bats, and in the case of Borchering, maybe some much-needed power to the system. Borchering hit four homers in 30 games at Double-A Corpus Christi, giving him 24 homers and 86 RBIs for the season as a whole. Krauss killed it in Corpus Christi, hitting .414 with a .514 on-base percentage and a 1.000 slugging percentage with five homers and 16 RBIs in only seven games. He finished the year in the outfield at Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Date: Dec. 5, 2012.

Astros receive: RHP Alex White, RHP Alex Gillingham.

Rockies receive: RHP Wilton Lopez and player to be named later or cash..

The skinny: Less than a week after the Astros tried to send Lopez to the Phillies, they were able to use the arbitration-eligible relief pitcher to acquire White and right-hander Gillingham. White appeared in 23 games (20 starts) for the Rockies last season and was 2-9 with a 5.51 ERA. He split the season between Colorado and Triple-A Colorado Springs, where he went 3-4 with a 3.71 ERA. He will battle for a spot in the rotation this spring, but could pitch out of the bullpen.

Date: Dec. 19, 2012

Astros receive: RHP John Ely.

Dodgers receive: LHP Rob Rasmussen.

The skinny: The Astros gave up a 23-year-old left-hander they had acquired only months earlier for a 26-year-old right-hander in Ely, who gives them Major League experience. Ely, who is 4-13 with a 5.70 ERA over three seasons with the Dodgers, is expected to compete for a spot in Houston’s rotation, though he could begin the season in Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Date: Feb. 4, 2013.

Astros receive: RHP Brad Peacock, OF/1B Chris Carter, C Max Stassi.

A’s receive: SS Jed Lowrie, RHP Fernando Rodriguez.

The skinny: The Astros shipped Lowrie, who was set to make $2.4 million this year, to the A’s along with Rodriguez and go three young players. The trade was text book for a rebuilding club — trade an established player with a rising salary for youth. Peacock will compete for a rotation spot, and Carter is expected to be a fixture in the lineup. He’s a right-handed hitter with plenty of power. Stassi becomes one of the Astros top catching prospects in a position where there was a definite need in the Minor Leagues.

Astros keep on dealing, send Johnson to Arizona

The Astros traded third baseman Chris Johnson to the D-backs on Sunday in exchange for Minor League infielder Bobby Borchering and outfielder  Marc Krauss.

“It was pretty emotional in the room when I got called in,” said Johnson, who was drafted by the Astros in the fourth round in the 2006 Draft. “I knew when they called me out of the cage something had happened. We knew there were 26 guys here today and there had to be a roster move.

“This is tough. This is all I’ve known since 2006 when I was drafted. I called this place home and I moved here. It’s definitely tough, but that’s the way the game goes. I’m excited to move on to the Arizona Diamondbacks.”

Borchering, 21, was the D-backs first pick in the 2009 MLB First Year Player Draft while Krauss, 24, was taken in the second round of the 2009 Draft.

Borchering (6-3, 200) has played in 102 games combined at Class A Visalia and Double-A Mobile  in 2012, tallying 23 doubles, 20 home runs and 68 RBI. In 2011, he had 29 doubles, 24 homers and 92 RBI for Visalia. He attended Bishop Verot High School, the same high school Johnson attended years earlier

Krauss (6-2, 230) hit .283 in 104 games at Mobile with 15 home runs and 61 RBIs with a .416 on-base pct. and a .509 slugging percentage. Krauss, who was invited to the D-backs Major League camp in Spring Training this year, was a California League All-Star in 2012 at Visalia after hitting .302 in 138 games with 27 doubles, 25 home runs, 87 RBIs and a .509 slugging percentage.

Johnson hit .279 in 92 games for the Astros this season with eight home runs and 41 RBIs.

– Brian McTaggart

Mills sporting a black eye and a new watch

The Astros worked out on the stadium field at the Osceola County Stadium complex for the first time Friday morning in anticipation of Saturday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Washington Nationals.

Before the players began to stretch, manager Brad Mills addressed the team and lauded non-roster outfielder Brandon Barnes for presenting him earlier in the morning with a Transformers watch. Mills’ watch was shattered and he suffered a black eye Wednesday when a ball came through the netting behind the cage and struck him.

“That’s pretty good for a young kid to do that,” Mills said. “I told the guys if we screw up on the time today, it’s Brandon’s fault, because of the Transformers watch.”

Here’s the latest on the Astros:

  • LHP Sergio Escalona, who injured his throwing elbow swinging a bat last week, will be shut down for a few days, Mills said. Escalona had an MRI on Thursday, which showed no structural damage.
  • Mills announced the next two starters in his rotation following Livan Hernandez (Saturday), J.A. Happ (Sunday) and Jordan Lyles (Monday).  Wandy Rodriguez will start Tuesday against the Mets, and Bud Norris will start Wednesday against the Phillies in Clearwater.
  • Among the relievers scheduled to pitch behind Hernandez on Saturday are Brett Myers and Brandon Lyon, who will be pitching in a game for the first time since May. Myers will throw one inning in his debut as Astros closer (he won’t pitch the ninth, however).
  • The batting order has yet to be announced, but Mills revealed his starters for Saturday’s game against the Nats: Chris Johnson (third base), Jed Lowrie (shortstop), Jose Altuve (second base), Carlos Lee (first base), J.B. Shuck (left field), Jason Bourgeois (center field), Travis Buck (right field), Castro (catcher) and Jack Cust (DH).
  • Third baseman Jimmy Paredes, who’s nursing a sore left wrist, took batting practice left-handed Thursday, but is still not cleared to swing right from the right side of the plate.
  • Castro, who missed all of last year following knee surgery and then had foot surgery in December, will catch only three innings Saturday. Mills said he’d like Castro to catch three more innings Monday and then perhaps four on Wednesday, depending on how he feels.

Players gather to stretch on the stadium field for the first time

Tumultuous weekend for Astros

What a weekend for the Astros.

When they get back together at Minute Maid Park on Monday afternoon, there should be some introductions in order. In the past 72 hours, the Astros traded away the best hitters in their lineup — outfielders Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn — and sent starting third baseman Chris Johnson and first baseman Brett Wallace to the Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Whew.

Instead of Bourn and Pence, fans will have to get to know players like Luis Durango and Jimmy Paredes. Who are they? They are the newest additions to the club and will join the team Monday. There’s a good chance when the Astros hit the field Monday against the Reds they’ll have three players in the lineup who spent most of the season at Double-A Corpus Christi. Houston Hooks, anyone?

With Johnson going to Oklahoma City, it looks as though Paredes will start at third base. He was iffy defensively during Spring Training when he was in the middle of the infield, and he strikes out three times more than he walks. But he’s as athletic as crazy and just 22 years, so I’m anxious to see what he’s got. Just like I’m anxious to see more of J.D. Martinez and Jose Altuve.

I’m guessing Carlos Lee plays first base until Wallace returns. Jason Bourgeois will play center field until Schafer is healthy, with J.D. Martinez in left and perhaps Brian Bogusevic in right. Jason Michaels and Durango will be in the mix, too. When Schafer returns in about 10 days, Bourgeois could play right field. This all has to be sorted out.

The times certainly have changed for the Astros, and it’s going to require a large amount of patience from the fans. For the second year in a row, the Astros traded two key players and stocked up on prospects. If they pan out the way the Astros hope, they will be well-positioned for the future. As for now, it’s time to enjoy the kids.

The following links are a recap of the day’s coverage on MLB.com:

Chris Johnson and Brett Wallace talked to me about getting sent to the Minor Leagues

The Astros trade Michael Bourn to the Braves for Jordan Schafer and three prospects

Here’s everything you need to know about the prospects the Astros got from the Braves

Astros CF Michael Bourn talked to MLB.com following the trade and gave his thoughts

Astros general manager Ed Wade tried to trade Wandy Rodriguez, but they will try to slip him through waivers and try to deal him in August

On a final note: I’m taking the next few days off, but will be back in the saddle later this week. Thanks for turning to MLB.com for the best coverage of the Astros at the Trade Deadline.

Johnson to get ‘bulk’ of time at 3B

Astros manager Brad Mills shed some light Saturday on how he plans to split playing time the rest of the season at third base, which has been a rotation between Chris Johnson, Angel Sanchez and Matt Downs the past two weeks.

Johnson, who burst onto the scene last year with a strong rookie campaign, has started just three of the team’s last nine games after starting 75 of the first 85 games. Downs has started a pair of games at third during the last nine games, and Sanchez started his fourth game in that span on Saturday.

Mills said Saturday that Johnson will get most of the playing time. Johnson batted .298 in June and is hitting .274 with four homers and 23 RBIs following a woeful April when he hit .185.

“C.J.’s going to get the bulk of it,” he said. “He’s got the bulk of it in the first half of the season and he’s going to get the bulk of it here coming up pretty quickly. Again, hopefully he’s able to get it going and trying to get these guys some at-bats right now is difficult. He’s going to get the bulk of starts as soon as [Sunday] maybe, at third base.”

Mills had Sanchez in the No. 2 hole Saturday, which is where Sanchez has hit during most of his starts.

“He does a good job defensively, wherever you put him,” Mills said. “He’s done a good job at second and obviously has done a good job at third. We’re putting him in there today mainly because how he fits in. C.J.’s struggled against [Paul] Maholm in the past, even though he’s a left-handed pitcher. I think how Sanchez is able to fit into our lineup is nice.”

Taking a shot at the Astros 25-man roster

We are roughly halfway through Spring Training and the roster picture is pretty much as cloudy as it was when camp opened a month ago, and perhaps even more so with the injury to catcher Jason Castro. With so many bodies still in camp, it’s been difficult to determine which players might have the leg up, but that will not deter me.

Here’s my guess on what the Opening Day roster will look like:

CATCHERS (2)

Humberto Quintero

J.R. Towles

Comment: The Astros could still bring in another catcher in time for Opening Day, but for now I’m going to limit my prediction to the players that are still in camp.

INFIELDERS (6)

Brett Wallace (L)

Bill Hall

Clint Barmes

Chris Johnson

Matt Downs

Tommy Manzella

Comment: I still believe Wallace is going to win the first base job. Downs has looked good in camp and could bring some pop and versatility off the bench. Manzella has broadened his defensive scope and has looked good at the plate so far this spring. Angel Sanchez could still play his way into the mix, but his defense is an issue. Anderson Hernandez has played well, too.

OUTFIELDERS (5)

Carlos Lee

Michael Bourn (L)

Hunter Pence

Jason Michaels

Brian Bogusevic (L)

Comment: The only spot up for grabs is the fifth outfield spot. Bogusevic probably has a leg up on Jason Bourgeois because he hits left-handed. He runs pretty well too, but not as well as Bourgeois, who could also play second base.

STARTING PITCHERS (5)

Brett Myers

Wandy Rodriguez (L)

J.A. Happ (L)

Bud Norris

Ryan Rowland-Smith (L)

Comment: The fifth spot in the rotation remains completely up for grabs. Right now, I go with Rowland-Smith over Jordan Lyles, who has looked good but is still 20 years old and has barely had his feet wet at Triple-A. Nelson Figueroa makes the club as the long reliever.

RELIEF PITCHERS (7)

Brandon Lyon

Wilton Lopez

Fernando Abad (L)

Jeff Fulchino

Nelson Figueroa

Mark Melancon

Henry Villar

Comment: At this point, I see Lyon, Lopez, Abad and Figueroa as locks. Fulchino is healthy and pitching well, and Melancon appears to have a good chance. The last spot? Completely up for grabs. The injury to Alberto Arias may give some other guys a chance, and Villar as pitched well. Don’t count out Sergio Escalona or Enerio Del Rosario.

Let the games begin, Astros

The Astros will kick off their Grapefruit League campaign at 12 p.m. CT Monday with a game against the Atlanta Braves at Disney World. It’s the first of 37 games for Houston this spring – including six split-squad games – in preparation for the April 1 season opener at Philadelphia.

“You can go through as much drills as you want, but until you’re really putting another team across the field, you’re never really [sure what you’re seeing],” Astros manager Brad Mills said. “We can go through these fundamentals, but they know where we’re going to hit the fungo or know what’s happening. Now the evaluating process ramps up a little bit.”

Here is the Astros’ starting lineup for the game:
CF Michael Bourn
1B Brett Wallace
RF Hunter Pence
LF Carlos Lee
DH Jason Michaels
3B Chris Johnson
C Jason Castro
2B Matt Downs
SS Tommy Manzella

————–
LHP Wandy Rodriguez will start on the mound. Also scheduled to pitch are Henry Villar, Enerio Del Rosario, Fernando Rodriguez, Lance Pendleton, Sergio Escalona and Wesley Wright.

On Sunday, the Astros played an intrasquad game with Koby Clemens going 3-for-3 with a homer and two RBIs to lead Dave Clark’s team to a 5-1 win over Bobby Meacham’s team. J.B. Shuck went 3-for-3 with a triple for Meacham’s squad.

Here are the stats from the game in which each pitcher threw an inning — Clarkie’s Crushers: RHP Jordan Lyles (K); RHP Jose Valdez (H, K); LHP Patrick Urckfitz (H,1R/0ER); RHP Nelson Figueroa (H); RHP Arcenio Leon (H, 2BB); RHP Ross Wolf; OF Brian Bogusevic (2×3, R); OF T.J. Steele (0x4, RBI); IF Anderson Hernandez (1×2); IF Tommy Manzella (1×3, R); C Carlos Corporan (2×3, RBI, R); OF J.D. Martinez (1×2, BB, R); IF Koby Clemens (3×3, HR, 2RBI, R); IF Jose Carlos Thompson (0x1, 2BB); IF Jay Austin (3×3); Meach’s Mashers: LHP Fernando Abad (2H, K); RHP Sergio De Leon (2H, 2R/2ER, BB); RHP David Carpenter (3H, 3R/3ER, BB, K); RHP Casey Fien (H); LHP Douglas Arguello (2H, K); RHP Cesar Carrillo (H, BB, K); C J.R. Towles (0x3); IF Brian Dopirak (0x3); IF Jimmy Paredes (0x2, BB); OF J.B. Shuck (3×3, 3B); OF Drew Locke (0x3, R); C Brian Esposito (0x2, RBI); IF Jiovanni Mier (0x1, BB); OF Jon Gaston (0x3); IF Oswaldo Navarro (0x2).

Defensively, Anderson Hernandez made a terrific diving stop behind third and was able to throw out catcher Brian Esposito, and Tommy Manzella had a nice game at third base. Also, shortstop Jiovanni Mier was able to complete a double play after second baseman Jimmy Paredes fumbled a ground ball. Carlos Corporan threw out a runner at second base trying to steal.

Here is the day in pictures:

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Above: Outfielder Brian Bogusevic warms up in the outfield.

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Above: The Astros practiced relays and cut-offs on Sunday morning, using players from Minor League mini camp as base runners. Third baseman Chris Johnson is taking a throw as prospect Telvin Nash runs the bases.

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Above: Left-hander Gustavo Chacin gets his work done in the bullpen.

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Above: Manager Brad Mills takes notes during Sunday’s intrasquad game.

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Above: Jordan Lyles throws a pitch in the intrasquad game. He threw a scoreless inning.

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Above: Outfielder J.D. Martinez stands in the batter’s box.

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Above: Former first-round pick Jiovanni Mier swings at a pitch.

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Above: J.B. Shuck gets ready to rip one of his three hits in Sunday’s intrasquad game.

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Above: Cesar Carrillo, a former first-round pick of Padres, prepares to fire a pitch Sunday.

Lineup set for spring opener

Astros manager Brad Mills has set his lineup for the Grapefruit League opener Monday against the Braves in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. As is the case with most road games in Spring Training, several players will be staying behind to get their work in at camp.

Clint Barmes, Bill Hall, Humberto Quintero and Brian Bogusevic are among those not traveling with the team to Disney on Monday, but the Astros are at home Tuesday at Osceola County Stadium. That’s when we should get our first glimpse of the lineup with all the players available.

Here is the lineup for Monday’s exhibition opener against Atlanta:

CF Michael Bourn

1B Brett Wallace

RF Hunter Pence

LF Carlos Lee

DH Jason Michaels

3B Chris Johnson

C Jason Castro

2B Matt Downs

SS Tommy Manzella

Wandy Rodriguez will and pitch two scheduled innings.

Wade addresses spring hot topics

Astros pitchers and catchers hit the field tomorrow for their first workout of the spring, with position players joining the fun on Sunday. I’m hopping a plane for Kissimmee today and will begin reporting on Spring Training first thing Wednesday morning. This one-man team will be reporting from Kissimmee for more days than any other Houston reporter, so check the blog and Twitter www.twitter.com/BrianMcTaggart often for updates for all the latest news.

Also, I’ll be on the Astros’ official pregame show on the flagship KTRH (740 AM) this year with Matt Thomas once a week, as well as making a weekly appearance on the the morning show of Matt Jackson and Adam Wexler on KBME (790 AM). My first segment airs at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, so be sure to listen.

Finally, Astros general manager Ed Wade recently had a question-and-answer session with media prior to his departure for Kissimmee. He addressed several hot-button topics in advance of Spring Training, and some of his responses to questions are listed below:

Q: What’s the No. 1 thing you want to see at spring training, beyond position battles and things like that?

A: “Health. It would be great if you had three layers of depth and could cover yourself if you had major breakdowns, but we need to stay healthy. We’re pressing some kids right now to step up and fill some roles that are challenging. If we have to go beyond some of those kids and dip down even further it might get a little bit tough. I think every general manager, every organization going into Tpring Training hopes that the offseason plan survives long enough to at least be implemented Opening Day. Sometimes you don’t even get to Opening Day. We saw that a year ago when Lance Berkman had the knee issue and opened on the disabled list. There’s no guarantees those things aren’t going to happen, but health plays a big part of it.”

Q: Will the sheer number of bodies in camp (63) have any impact on the way camp is run?

A: “We haven’t snuck any new guys in on, particularly Brad Arnsberg, in the last two weeks or so, so I’m sure he’s got his schedule and game plan in place. A lot of the younger players who we’re bringing in are coming in knowing they’re not going to make the club. At least we’re going to tell them they’re not going to make the club and we ask them to get used to surroundings, put their foot in the water a little bit and let the staff become familiar with them. I think everybody benefits in the process of having them there, but there’s enough of those guys we’ll be able to shuffle them around a little bit and make sure the ones we’re counting on to break with the club in April are ready to go.”

Q: Can you address the first base situation? Obviously, [Brett] Wallace is going to have to prove himself, but you have [Brian] Bogusevic and Carlos [Lee] whom you would be comfortable with.

A: “To me, the perfect-world scenario was that Brett Wallace comes in and wins the first base job and is our guy and Carlos is the everyday left fielder and we’re not worried about mixing and matching in left with Carlos at first, or trying to push Bogusevic harder to play more. I know we’re going to get Brett every opportunity to win that job, (but) a lot of things will get answered if indeed he does step up and does that.”

Q: What does winning a job entail? I know it’s sometimes tough to evaluate results in Spring Training.

A: “You can’t look at the stat sheet every day and figure out if a guy is performing at an adequate level or not. It’s the total body of work that you see in Spring Training with regard to work ethic, which is not going to be an issue. [And] adjustments, and we know Brett needs to make adjustments as every young players does. There are some adjustments he needs to make and this kid has hit everywhere, so he’s been challenged before to make adjustments. It won’t be a stat sheet. If it was based on a stat sheet, a whole bunch of us wouldn’t have to fly to Kissimmee. We’d just sit back in the office in Houston and wait for the stats to come in and put the club together that way. Millsie and the coaches are going to have huge input in this, and Millsie and I will talk several times a day and we’ll talk about these issues, whether it’s Brett Wallace or Fernando Abad. What do we do with Fernando Abad? He just went 7-1 in the Dominican, a lot of it was as a starter. What’s his role on our club? Do we put him in the bullpen? Do we roll him out and let him compete for a starting job? Those are things that we’ll have to address… .”

Q: Will Henry Villar require a similar-type discussion?

A: “Yeah, a little bit, but I just think what Fernando did this offseason, all of a sudden you’ve got to say, ‘Wow, this is pretty significant.’ Philosophically, I’m a believer – I’ve said this before — I’m a believer that if a guy shows a potential for being a starter you exhaust those possibilities. That said, there are a lot of guys who begin their big-league careers in a bullpen setting and wait their turn to come in a rotation and then step in and have very significant careers. Somebody reminded me the other day that we had this conversation a couple of years ago about Bud Norris. People had seen Bud in the Arizona Fall League and he was a one-inning guy, two-inning guy in the Arizona Fall League and ‘Man, this guy might be the back end of the bullpen guy.’ Well, back end of the bullpens can get expensive, bullpen guys are far less expensive than starting pitchers, and starting pitchers make a lot of money for a reason ’cause there aren’t very many of them around. So if we have a chance to have a couple of these guys who either break in our rotation or at some point move into our rotation it’s a lot more advantageous to the club to have them as starter versus have them as middle relievers down the road.”

Q: How comfortable are you with your bullpen depth at this point considering some of the changes that took place during the offseason?

A: “I like it. I would love to have [Matt] Lindstrom still here. We had to do some things economically and Matt was sort of a victim of that. There’s somewhat of an unknown with regard to our bullpen, but that’s okay because there are some really good arms that we’re putting into the mix there. I like what we saw out of [Mark] Melancon last year when he was up here. We just talked about guys like [Henry] Villar and Abad and Alberto Arias looks like he’s going to be healthy and capable of competing. If he can get back to pitch the way he did before he had the health issue, that’s a huge chip for us at this point. So there’s always variables in a bullpen, and I’m one of those guys who’s sort of bullpen obsessed (and) that you can never have enough quality to cover those. It used to be the eighth and ninth inning, and now it’s the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth innings. I think we have the same type of quality and depth – albeit somewhat unknown commodities – that we’ll be able to cover those innings.”

Q: With no Lance and no old guard, what do you need or expect Hunter Pence to be?

A: “I expect Hunter to be himself. A lot of what Hunter is going to do as he evolves into a leader is going to be by example. When the truck got packed (Friday), we didn’t pack any pom-poms. We’re not expecting anybody to go down there and wave pom-poms in the clubhouse. I think it’s a case of guys showing up and showing that they belong there and exhibiting a work ethic that not only the younger guys, but their teammates look over and see what this guy is made of, what he’s all about. Whether it’s Hunter or Michael Bourn or you name the guy in the room, I think a lot of it is showing the confidence you belong there and leading by example. I think a guy like Hunter really benefitted by having an opportunity to spend time here with Darin Erstad. Darin’s been gone now for over a year, but I think his impact from the standpoint of a guy at the end of his career, the end of a tremendous career, who still suited up and played the game – whether he was playing once a week or how he played when he was playing 162 games a year – I think Hunter paid a lot of attention to that and hopefully some other guys did as well. I don’t think you have to be, and I’ve said it before, I don’t think you have to have eight, 10, 12 years of big league service to be a leader. I think it’s a matter of how you go about your business. It’s tough for extra guys to be leaders. It’s easier when you’re putting the uniform on every day to exhibit that level of leadership. Sitting watching a Penguins-Capitals game on TV, the captain of the Penguins [Sydney Crosby] is 23 years old. It’s a pretty important leadership role in that sport and their guy Crosby is 23, so if there are some young guys who could step up and do it the right way, my message is have at it. Let’s go. Go ahead and do it.”

Q: In many ways it might be semantics to some people, but you talk about Brett (Wallace) as having to win the job, but is it his not to lose or is it a different mentality from a player in keeping a job versus winning it?

A: “I think he’s got to come in saying ‘You know, they gave me two-plus months of an opportunity last year to lock this job down and I still have some ground to cover.’ I would hope guys don’t coming in saying, ‘It’s my job to lose,’ ’cause to me that’s sort of a passive way of handling it. To me, you come in and you say, ‘There’s a chance here for me to begin a very significant big-league career and I’m going to take full advantage of it every single day. I’m not going to coming in saying, boy I hope I don’t go 0-for-4 today.’ I want a guy to come in and say, ‘I’m going to get three hits today. Whether it’s the fundamental drill we do on the back field or whether it’s the five or six innings I get to play today, I’m going to put my best foot forward and then let them make the decisions.’ I don’t want guys to be passive. You’re afraid to do something you never step off and take advantage.”

Q: Your Rule 5 guys (Aneury Rodriguez and Lance Pendleton), would they be in the bullpen picture as well?

A: “Both guys at this point in time I think we’ll look at them initially form a starting standpoint because both of them have very limited bullpen experience, particularly Pendleton. So when we start talking about the bullpen and the mix and the rotation, Figgy [Nelson Figueroa] did a real nice job for us. [Ryan] Rowland-Smith, we signed him knowing he probably profiles as a starter. As I mentioned, we’ve got guys like Abad and [Jordan] Lyles coming in and he will be given every opportunity to put his best foot forward as well. We’re going to be open-minded on a lot of fronts. We’re going to be down there for a long time and hopefully we’re making really tough decisions at the end of the spring or reaching back to the Minor League camp to fill holes and going out to file a hole from the outside, which is always possible. The last 10 days of Spring Training, you can do some things with your bench and your bullpen. The key pieces have to come from the guys who show up on the 16th and the 20th.”

Q: How much do you think you know about Chris Johnson in 300-plus big-league at-bats?

A: “I know that the potential is there for him to be an outstanding big-league player. It’s a matter of adjustments. We’ve all seen a lot of young players coming to the big leagues and get off to great starts and then the advance scout makes a note in his report and it goes to the coaching staff and the next thing now the guy is seeing a different pitching selection or different location and he all of a sudden become aware – if he wasn’t already – that he’s got a weakness that’s being exploited, and the guys who continue to be successful and turn corners and the ones who close up those holes and make the adjustment.”

Q:  You talk about a younger player…he was 25 last year, 26 now. Is it different sort of scale of adjustments you hit at that age than when you’re 22?

A: “Probably. I haven’t thought about it a whole lot because I still view him in the context of the amount of big-league experience he’s got as being relatively young. There are some guys who never hit a roadblock. Most players at some point in time are going to hit a roadblock and it’s how they manage to navigate around it. Some guys do and some guys just can’t get past it, can’t make the adjustment. They can’t stay off the slider in the dirt, they can’t get their hands in to hit the fastball in. And they fall by the wayside. C.J., I thought last year got challenged late in the season and made the adjustments and made them in a very significant way. This is a guy that I wouldn’t be surprised at the end of the season to C.J. at 30-plus home runs. But it’s going to entail, how does he respond to the other teams’ Brad Arnsbergs, who are back in the laboratory cooking up the formula to really make you fail? Believe me, when you have a couple of months like Chris Johnson had, there’s a lot of pitching coaches in the lab right now. Rich Dubee’s doing it right now in Philadelphia right now, getting ready for Opening Day against, trying to figure out how to shut C. J. down.”

Astros position breakdown: third base

We close out the infield portion of out position-by-position analysis by sinking our teeth into third base, which is pretty set at this point in time:

THIRD BASE

2010 Opening Day starter: Pedro Feliz.

2010 end-of-season starter: Chris Johnson.

Others who were in the mix: Geoff Blum, Matt Downs.

Combined 2010 stats of Astros third basemen: .265 BA/.292 OBP/.392 SLG, 31 doubles, 14 homers, 80 RBIs, 25 walks, 126 strikeouts, 616 at-bats.

Free agents: Geoff Blum (option declined).

Arbitration eligible: None.

What happened: The Astros signed Pedro Feliz to a one-year, $4.5-million contract at last year’s Winter Meetings with the hopes he could add some muscle to their offense and be a run-producer while playing a steady third base. Feliz did neither. He scuffled defensively and never got going with the bat, hitting .221 with four homers and 31 RBIs in 97 games before the Astros benched him in June and handed the starting job to rookie Chris Johnson.

Johnson, who made his Major League debut at the end of 2009 and played sparingly, had a tremendous spring and made the Opening Day roster, thanks in part to an injury Lance Berkman. That’s because Feliz saw time at first base against left-handers with Berkman out, allowing Johnson to make some starts at third. But Johnson’s season was quickly derailed when he went on the 15-day disabled list April 20 with a right intercostal strain.

When Johnson was healthy, Berkman was back in the lineup for the Astros and they had no room on the roster for him. He went to Triple-A Round Rock and hit .329/.362/.570 with eight homers and 33 RBIs before the Astros called him up.

Although he got a late start, Johnson went on to make a run at National League Rookie of the Year, hitting, .308/.337/.481 with 11 homers and 52 RBIS in 94 games. He led all Major League rookies with a .308 batting average (minimum 300 at-bats) and hit .316 after the All-Star break with 11 homers and 44 RBIs. He struggled at times defensively, committing 18 errors for a .908 fielding percentage, but the Astros are confident he will continue to improve with the glove.

What’s next: Johnson is the man of the moment. He’s penciled in as the starter next year with the expectation he’ll continue to improve as a run producer and a defensive player. The Astros will be in the market this winter for a utility player that can play third base when Johnson needs a day off, but if he’s healthy expect C.J. to make at least 150 starts for the Astros in 2011.

Who’s on the farm: The Astros’ top two third base prospects are in the lower Minor Leagues: Jonathan Meyer and Mike Kvasnicka. Meyer, a third-round pick in 2009, hit .245/.304/.317 with two homers and 49 RBIs last season in 121 games at Class A Lexington in his first full season in pro ball.  Kvasnicka was taken with the 33rd overall pick this year and hit .234/.305/.337 with five homers and 36 RBIs in 68 games at short-season Tri-City. Kvasnicka, out of the University of Minnesota, has played third, the outfield and caught, but his future is at third base.

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