Results tagged ‘ Jose Altuve ’

Porter sees Dominguez, Castro for the long haul

Astros manager Bo Porter was asked repeatedly this spring about setting his starting lineup, and he always gave the same answer: “Jose Altuve is my starting second baseman and he’s going to hit leadoff.” In other words, Porter was set on the 5-foot-6 Altuve as his starting second baseman, but every other position was up for grabs.

Though the evaluation process continues in the outfield, earlier this month Porter identified J.D. Martinez as the starting left-fielder, Robbie Grossman as the starting center-fielder and Jimmy Paredes as the starting right-fielder — for now. These names are by no means locked in as much as Altuve, an All-Star a year ago, but Porter’s declaration was more about finding out what Martinez, Grossman and Paredes can do to prove they belong.

Which brings us to Saturday night, when third baseman Matt Dominguez and catcher Jason Castro both hit two homers, becoming the first Astros teammates to do that since Lance Berkman and Craig Biggio in 2005.

Dominguez, a tremendous defender, has seven homers in his last 12 games after not hitting a homer in his first 33 games this year, and the former first-round pick Castro has homered three times in his last six games and is hitting .450 in that span. Dominguez is hitting .253 with seven homers and a team-leading 24 RBIs, and Castro is hitting .265 with six homers and 15 RBIs.

After the game, Porter was ready to say Dominguez and Castro had joined Altuve in locking up a starting spot for the long term, and considering there’s nobody in the Minor Leagues ready to push them, that’s a good thing for the Astros.

“We found ourself a third baseman and we found ourself a catcher,” Porter said. “And coming into the season we knew we had a second baseman. This is the thing: You let them play long enough, the questions you have, they’ll answer them. One way or another, they will answer the questions you need to have answered. I will not leave this season without getting every question I have in my head answered.”

As for first base and shortstop? Jonathan Singleton appears to be the first baseman of the future and will begin his Minor League season next week after missing the first 50 games because of a second failed drug test. The shortstop spot is being kept warm until 2012 No. 1 pick Carlos Correa is ready, though Jonathan Villar could be interesting to watch next year.

And don’t sleep on Chris Carter, who has enough power to entrench himself at first base or designated hitter if he can cut down on his strikeouts.

Whether any of these names are here when the Astros hope to contend in a few years remains to be seen, but there are some signs on hope in the rubble of a 14-35 season.

Maxwell enjoys hitting behind Altuve

Astros outfielder Justin Maxwell loves hitting behind Jose Altuve, like he did for the fifth consecutive game on Saturday.

“For me, it makes me get ready on deck,” he said. “He’s not playing around when he gets up there. He’s coming to swing the stick. It helps me because I can’t be lethargic on my approach. He always keeps me on edge because it could be the first pitch of the at-bat when he gets a hit or the seventh or eighth pitch. He does a really good job, he’s got a great approach, and I try to mimic him in batting practice.”

Altuve entered Saturday hitting .364 with five multi-hit games. He ranked tied for fifth in the American League with 16 hits and tied for sixth in multi-hit games, and had reached base in nine of the Astros’ first 10 games this year.

The 6-foot-5 athletic Maxwell can only marvel at what the 5-foot-6 Altuve has accomplished.

“I think the first time I ever heard his name was when I was rehabbing from shoulder surgery [in 2011], and I just happened to check MiLB.com to see what was going on in the Minor Leagues, and I see this Altuve guy is hitting .380 in Double-A,” Maxwell said. “I clicked on his numbers, and now it’s kind of weird I’m playing with him now. He’s got incredible hand-eye coordination. Any time he takes a swing, he puts the barrel on the ball. He’s fast, too, so he gets a lot of infield hits and he’s got power.”

Game 23: Lyles struggles, Castro stays hot in loss

What happened: Jordan Lyles gave up 10 hits and six runs, including homers to Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista, as the Blue Jays outslugged the Astros, 10-6, who got homers from outfielder Brandon Barnes and catcher Jason Castro (boxscore).

What we learned: C Jason Castro isn’t putting too much stock into his torrid start this spring. Castro went 2-for-3 with a homer and is hitting .462 this spring with five homers and 11 RBIs.

“It’s really just a bonus,” he said. “Right now, it’s about seeing pitches and getting at-bats, repetition and my timing down and all the stuff for the regular season. I’m happy where I’m at. I feel good and the results are taking care of themselves. If it were going the other way, I’d pretty much say the same thing. Right now, that’s the biggest thing, is getting in the work to open up on March 31.”

Astros manager Bo Porter thought he knew what he was getting in Castro after watching game tape from last year — his first season since missing all of 2011 following knee surgery — but what he saw this spring was a different player.

“I got to Spring Training and saw him in batting practice the first couple of days and said, ‘That looks a lot different,'” he said. “You can tell by the way he’s blocking the ball, the way he’s swinging the bat, he’s healthy and has his legs underneath him. He’s doing a great job.”

What we learned II: 2B Jose Altuve is ready for the start of the season. Altuve continues to be about as steady as anyone in the game, going 3-for-4 with three singles on Tuesday to raise his spring batting average to .356.

“I was talking with Marwin [Gonzalez] about this,” he said. “I feel really good, feel 100 percent right now. I wish we were starting the season tomorrow. Like everyone, I’m really excited about going to the American League and playing hard and winning some games.”

What else: Porter was pleased with LF Chris Carter, who went 2-for-3 and is hitting .267. Carter pulled a fastball down the left-field for a double in the third and hit a 2-2 slider to right field in the fifth for a single. … The Astros were 4-for-7 with runners in scoring position. … Another scoreless inning by RHP Chia-Jen Lo lowered his ERA to 2.35.

What went wrong: Lyles gave up 10 hits and six runs and hit a batter in 3 2/3 innings. Porter said he wants him to pitch down the zone more next time out. … RHP John Ely pitched two innings and surrendered homers to Josh Thole and Ryan Langerhans. … The normally steady Matt Dominguez made an error at 3B.

What they said: “If you look up baseball player in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of Jose Altuve. He’s just a baseball player.” — Astros manager Bo Porter on his All-Star second baseman.

What’s next: The Astros return to Osceola County Stadium on Wednesday to face the Mets at 5:05 p.m. CT. RHP Alex White, who’s battling for a spot in the starting rotation, will get the start for Houston. White, acquired from the Rockies in a December trade, has pitched in four games this spring, allowing eight earned runs in 10 1/3 innings.

Who’s injured: OF Fernando Martinez (lower back tightness) is day-to-day.

Tweet of the day:

Links of the day: Astros notebook has tons of information, including Bo Porter’s thoughts on the DH, Trevor Crowe’s mindset entering final days of camp and much, much more.

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

Astros outfield race has plenty of options

The Astros plan to give Brian Bogusevic a good look in center field this spring, putting him in competition with Jordan Schafer and Jason Bourgeois for the starting nod. Bogusevic started 31 games in right field last year after Hunter Pence was traded, but has some experience in center and enough athleticism to play the position.

What’s more, the Astros have Jack Cust and Travis Buck capable of playing right field.

“His ability gives him the opportunity to be able to play center or right, but we want this guy to step up and be an everyday starter for us and there’s reason he won’t be able to,” Astros manager Brad Mills said of Bogusevic. “We all saw what he can do at times last year.”

Bogusevic, a former first-round pick as a pitch who made the switch to outfield in 2008, understands the importance of being versatile enough to play different positions, and is more than willing to give center field a shot.

“There’s a lot of guys going for open spots, so I think everybody is trying to make a good impression all around,” he said.

Cust can play in left and right and will get some ground balls at first base. Top prospect Jonathan Singleton will also get some time in the outfield, Mills said. Versatile infielders Matt Downs and Brian Bixler will also do some work in the outfield.

Regarding Schafer, Mills said: “He seems like he’s on a mission.”

Here are a few other items of interest:

  • Astros manager Brad Mills announced the starting pitchers for the team’s first two Grapefruit League games, with veteran Livan Hernandez pitching Saturday against the Washington Nationals – his former team – at Kissimmee. Left-hander J.A. Happ will face the Nats on Sunday in Viera, Fla.
  • Astros pitchers will take a break from throwing live batting practice on Tuesday, giving some of the pitching groups two days off between times on the mound.
  • The Astros haven’t been able to successfully schedule extra B games against other clubs, something they wanted to do to create more innings for all of the arms they have in camp. Mills said some pitchers might have to throw in Minor League games. “You’d rather have B games against other teams, but that didn’t quite work out,” he said.
  • Infielder Angel Sanchez was again forced to watch from the sidelines against Monday because of his ailing back. Sanchez did some light toss, but didn’t participate in the team’s defensive drills. He said the back is improving.

Here is the day in pictures:

Brett Wallace and Chris Johnson take balls at third.

Chris Snyder and Jason Castro walk across the field.

A group of pitchers awaits the next drill.

Brad Mills watches Zach Duke pick-off drills.

Back problems kept Angel Sanchez on the sidelines Monday.

David Carpenter, Fernando Rodriguez and Lucas Harrell shoot the breeze.

David Carpenter throws a pitch to a hitter.

Jason Castro check the schedule.

Who knew bats on born-on dates?

J.D. Martinez talks with hitting coach Mike Barnett.

Jose Altuve plays catch with himself while awaiting the next drill.

With Hinze on way to Double-A, Corpus Christi loading up

With Kody Hinze on his way to Double-A later this week to play first base for the Hooks, those who are waiting for the next crop of young Astros prospects to reach the Major Leagues have to like what’s taking place at Corpus Christi.

Hinze, who is hitting .326 with 22 homers and 69 RBIs at Class A Lancaster, will join a promising infield at Corpus Christi: Jose Altuve at second base, Jimmy Paredes at third base and Jonathan Villar at shortstop. Altuve and Villar were promoted on June 1. Hinze is 23 years old.

“Kody’s obviously sung the bat very well in what we know is an offensive environment, but the thing that’s impressive about Kody is he leads the league in walks [70 walks, 73 strikeouts] and has a good on-base percentage,” Astros director of player development Fred Nelson said. “Some of the peripheral things in the offensive ranks are real high, and I think that equates to pitch select and command of strike zone and the ablity to take pitches an put the ball in play. He’s got the ability and tools to strive there [in Double-A].”

Altuve, who will represent the Astros at the 2011 XM All-Star Futures Game in Phoenix next month, is hitting .371 with four homers and 22 RBIs in 30 games at Corpus Christi. Paredes is hitting .273 with six homers and 26 RBIs.

Catcher Chris Wallace was promoted to Double-A last month and is off to a quick start, hitting .313 with 2 homers and 10 RBIs in 10 games. Wallace and outfielder J.D. Martinez each hit a grand slam in Sunday’s 16-3 over Northwest Arkansas.

“We’ve had some kids that have gone from real nice offensive years and not duplicated them in Double-A out of Lancaster, but we just think [Hinze is] is one of those guys, along with Altuve and Villar, that should hold their own and make progress,” Nelson said.

Martinez, who appears to have worked his way back from a nagging hamstring injury, is hitting .331 with seven homers and 52 RBIs in 65 games and could be getting a call to Triple-A Oklahoma City later this year if he stays healthy.

There are some positive happens on the mound, too.

Left-hander Dallas Keuchel threw his fifth consecutive quality start Sunday to improve to 7-6 with a 2.62 ERA in 15 starts. He’s thrown seven innings each of his last five starts, going 4-1 with a 1.03 ERA. He leads the Texas League in ERA.

Left-hander Xavier Cedeno (4-5), who struck out 14 batters last Monday, was scheduled to start tonight’s game against Frisco.

Altuve, Villar promoted; Paredes to 3B

The Astros have promoted 5-foot-7 second baseman Jose Altuve and shortstop Jonathan Villar to Double-A Corpus Christi from Class A Lancaster in a move that will move Jimmy Paredes to third base. Astros director of player development Fred Nelson said it’s time for Altuve and Villar to get tested at a higher level.

“Altuve is a guy that has come onto our radar screen,” Nelson said. “He’s continues to play well. He’s not a very big kid in stature, but he plays like a man and knows how to play the game and he’s a guy that’s a baseball player. There comes a point in time when we have to take notice of that and we certainly have.”

Altuve, 21, leads the California League with a ridiculous batting average of .408 (87-for-213) with five homers, 34 RBIs and a leading-leading seven triples. Villar, acquired by the Astros from the Phillies in the Roy Oswalt trade, was hitting .259 with four homers, 26 RBIs and 20 steals at Lancaster.

“We just felt the time was right to give [Altuve] an opportunity, and it gives the organization a chance to see how good of a player he is and how he adjusts to a higher level,” Nelson said. “He’s had a wonderful year offensively for us.”

Nelson said the Astros want Villar to focus on making better contact while at Corpus Christi.

“At times he overswings and comes off the ball,” he said. “He’s got enough power to drive balls in alleys and will hit some home runs. He needs to be more of a line drive, gap-to-gap guy, with better contact.  His defensive skills are really quality.”

Paredes, acquired by the Astros from the Yankees in last year’s trade for Lance Berkman, is hitting .265 in 162 at-bats as Corpus Christi’s second baseman. He’s made a team-high nine errors.

“We don’t have any problems getting him at-bats at third,” said Nelson, who added that Paredes could get time at second in the instructional league or the Arizona Fall League. “As much as anything, it’s a way to get two other guys on the club and get them all at-bats. He’s the most logical guy to move over and take some reps at third.”

In other roster moves, third baseman David Flores is being sent down to Lancaster after hitting .212 at Corpus Christi. Left fielder Daniel Adamson is going on the disabled list at Lexington and the Astros are bringing outfielder Jordan Scott, who’s in extended Spring Training, to join the Lexington club. Henry Rodriguez, a utility infielder, is joining Lancaster from extended Spring Training.Nelson sang the praises of 2009 first-round Draft pick Jiovanni Mier, a shortstop who’s hitting .259 with five homers and 27 RBIs in 170 at-bats at Lexington. He’s committed eight errors in 45 games.

“He’s really matured and is playing really, really sound defense,” Nelson said. “We really like what we’ve seen there. I think he’s right on track. I think he’s matured as a player, he’s not as hard on himself and understands the season’s long and there’s going to be ups and downs and you have to be able to deal with both. I’m really impressed with how he’s conducted himself and how sound he’s been on defense.”

Astros position breakdown: second base

Before we get to the latest in our Astros position-by-position breakdown, here’s a reminder that I’m currently fielding Astros-related questions and plan to answer them in the coming days via an Inbox. You can fire off you questions by clicking here.

Back to the task at hand. Our position-by-position breakdown takes us to second base, which for years was occupied by franchise icon Craig Biggio.

For the time being, second base is a position the Astros aren’t too worried about. Jeff Keppinger seized the starting job from Kaz Matsui early last season and was one of the team’s most consistent players all year. He comes with a relatively low salary and is a downright bargain based on his production, so things appear pretty set at the position after a tumultuous regular season.

Here’s a look at what’s going on at second base:

SECOND BASE

2010 Opening Day starter: Kaz Matsui.

2010 end-of-season starters: Jeff Keppinger.

Others who were in the mix: Geoff Blum, Anderson Hernandez, Angel Sanchez, Matt Downs, Jason Bourgeois.

Combined 2010 stats of Astros second basemen: .252 BA/.313 OBP/.345 SLG, 35 doubles, 7 homers, 59 RBIs, 56 walks, 57 strikeouts, 624 at-bats.

Free agents: Geoff Blum (option declined), Anderson Hernandez (Minor League).

Arbitration eligible: Jeff Keppinger.

What happened: Kaz Matsui, entering the final year of his three-year, $16.5-million deal, began the season as the incumbent starter at second, though he was actually platooning with Keppinger if you consider the number of starts each got in April (Keppinger had 12, Matsui 10). Matsui got off to an awful start and hit .141 in 27 games before the Astros cut him loose and handed the everyday job to Keppinger in mid-May.

Jeff Keppinger, 30, certainly didn’t disappoint and hit .288 with six homers and 59 RBIs in a career-high 514 at-bats. He was the team’s most consistent hitter all season and led the Astros in doubles with 34. He also struck out only 36 times in 514 at-bats while drawing 51 walks. Keppinger’s doesn’t have great range, but he made all the routine plays and was a steady hand at second base. He made only six errors, and his .990 field percentage was fourth in the NL among second baseman.

Keppinger missed 15 games in August after going on the disabled list with left big toe sesamoiditis, which was basically a stress fracture near the ball of his left foot. It forced him to take a few days off later in September, which allowed Anderson Hernandez and Matt Downs to make occasional starts. Veteran Geoff Blum also saw time at second, and shortstop Angel Sanchez was put at second on occasion when Tommy Manzella started at short late in the year. Outfielder Jason Bourgeois made a brief appearance at second base as well.

What’s next: Barring a trade or free agent signing, Keppinger will begin next season as the starting second baseman. The club admittedly needs to upgrade its offense and won’t shy away from a chance to add some pop at second base or shortstop, even if it forces a platoon situation somewhere in the middle infield. Sanchez will again be in the mix at second base, where he’s better suited than at shortstop because of his limited arm and range.

Who’s on the farm: The Astros used their No. 1 overall pick last year on Delino DeShields Jr., an outfielder who will be converted to second base from the outfield. He went to the instructional league to make the transition, but was slowed by elbow problems and was limited to designated hitter duties, though he did field ground balls at second and will continue to work at the position in the winter and heading into Spring Training next year. Jose Vallejo, acquired as part of last year’s Ivan Rodriguez trade with Texas, hit .111 in 99 at-bats in Corpus Christi. That was encouraging considering he severed tendons in two fingers of his right hand in a cooking accident late last year and had extensive surgery. The injury was believed to be career-threatening. He was a six-year Minor League free agent, but has re-signed with the Astros.

Jose Altuve was a South Atlantic League All-Star with Lexington before being promoted to high Class A Lancaster. He hit a combined .301/.357/.448 with 15 homers and 67 RBIs in 125 games. He stands 5-foot-5, but knows how to play the game, has outstanding hands, good speed and surprising pop. He’s liked by every guy on the Minor League staff. Jimmy Paredes, acquired in the Lance Berkman deal with the Yankees, hit .299 with three homers and 17 RBIs in 34 games with Lexington. For the season, he hit .287 with eight homers and 65 RBIs combined between Lexington and Charleston (Yankees). Other second basemen to keep an eye on are Enrique Hernandez (Tri-City) and Ben Orloff (Tri-City). The Astros also re-signed Wladimir Sutil, who can play shortstop.

In summary: The Astros like what they have in Keppinger, and he should provide a solid option until one of the Astros’ youngsters in the Minor Leagues shows he’s ready to take over. Who knows how long that will take, but the Astros are slowly building some quality depth at the position in the Minor Leagues.

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