On Saturday, the Houston Astros held FanFest, an annual opportunity for fans to come to Minute Maid Park and interact with the club before the season starts. While that was going on on the first level, a group of Astros bloggers were invited to the Club level bar to for a Q&A with members the Astros management team.
Manager Bo Porter answered questions for about 20 minutes, ranging anywhere from his expectations for this season to who the Astros biggest rival is (Spoiler alert: It is every team, according to Porter).
Porter started the Q&A by addressing the problems in the bullpen from last season and how the front office sought to fix that during the offseason.
"As we look forward to the 2014 season, you look at the additions we made to our roster. We all knew we needed to go out and strengthen the back end of our bullpen. Going out and getting guys like Chad Qualls, Matt Albers, Jesse Crain, and trading for Anthony Bass, we wanted to go out and get some guys who had pitched high leverage innings."
Porter would go on to talk about how the moves to add bullpen arms did not reflect his discontent with the young relievers who pitched last season. Instead, he thinks his younger players will be allowed to develop more quickly under the tutelage of the veterans.
"We added quality guys to the back end of the bullpen that will not only help us on the field, they will also help us off the field because they will help our young guys develop that much faster."
Moving on with Astros additions, Porter spoke about Scott Feldman, who signed a 3 year, $30 million contract with Houston in December.
"Adding Scott Feldman gave us an opportunity to add a guy who has had tremendous success in the American League West. We can put him at the front end of the rotation, and he too will be a good mentor for the young starters that we brought up last year that had great success down the stretch."
Arguably the most impactful player transaction came when the Astros traded for center fielder Dexter Fowler in December. Porter talked about what Fowler brings to the team.
Credit to Ryan Dunsmore (@d_more55) of The Crawfish Boxes.
"The trade for Dexter Fowler was kind of bittersweet because we lost two guys who went through the growing pains with us in Jordan Lyles and Brandon Barnes, but we were also able to add a three-way player who is a switch hitter. He can really go get it in centerfield, he’s in the prime of his career and we’re getting him at a time where we’re able to insert a guy into the top of our lineup in front of Jose Altuve."
The addition of Fowler fortifies the top of the Astros lineup, giving Porter what he thinks is one of the best first three batters in the league.
"Looking at the top three guys in our lineup, we feel like we can compete with any team in baseball with Dexter Fowler, Jose Altuve, and Jason Castro."
Porter finished his opening statement by talking about the wealth of talent coming up from the Astros’ minor league system.
"It bodes well when you put the combination of the young group of core players that we were able to give valuable experience to in 2013, and the players which we’re going to move forward with, you look at the next wave of players that are coming, it really gives you great hope of sustained success for a long time to come."
After opening up the floor to questions, Porter was asked who impressed him over the winter. He named a few players, but the one who stood out to him the most was first baseman Jonathan Singleton.
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"I was happy to see Jonathan Singleton go to Puerto Rico and play the way that he played, especially missing the amount of time that he missed. He was able to make up those at-bats, and I really feel like he was just hitting his stride toward the end of the minor league season. I felt like winter ball was very important for him and he took advantage of it. He went over there and did everything we asked him to do. He’ll come into Spring Training with the opportunity to win the first base job."
Singleton, still just 21 years old, hit nine home runs in 149 at-bats in the Puerto Rican winter league this offseason. He is a member of the 40-man roster and will presumably be given every opportunity to make the major league club out of Spring Training.
I asked Porter about how he was planning on structuring his roster for Opening Day. He said he plans on starting with 13 pitchers and 12 positions players, with the number of infielders and outfielders still up in the air.
To listen to TCB’s recording of the full interview for yourself, click here.