If you are from Texas you might find it difficult to hear that pitchers and catchers soon will report to Spring Training. With baseball’s preseason almost underway, the Astros commenced their yearly caravan tour. Many of the team’s players were grouped with some elite prospects as well as Astros legends to reach out to Astros Country.
Two of the Astros players served a homecoming tour. Robbie Grossman visited the Cypress area and renovated youth fields as part of the Community Leaders program. Jarred Cosart posted a fantastic ERA in his ten-start debut and received a warm welcome at his high school. Cosart’s reaction to the star treatment he received at Clear Creek High School is below:
The rest of the Astros caravan included stops in San Antonio, Brownsville, Austin, Houston, Beaumont, and even parts of Oklahoma and Louisiana. Events included raising the flag in key locations and signing autographs. Academy, Whataburger, and H-E-B remain significant sponsors and I want to thank them for their continued support.
Jeff Luhnow at Fan Fest
Jeff Luhnow (photo by Greg Thurston)
The climax of the Astros caravan, Astros FanFest, was held at Minute Maid Park last weekend. Over 3,000 fans turned out despite a chilly morning to experience an open roof and see that the signage in Left Field has been mostly relocated. The event featured a garage sale, mystery grab bags, and fun activities for the kiddos. Jeff Luhnow, General Manager of the Houston Astros, was able to speak to a few representatives from several blog sites.
One of the biggest holes the Astros had to address this offseason was the bullpen. Perhaps not all lost was due to the trade of Jose Veras as lots of blown saves occurred in the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings. Luhnow spoke highly of guys that pitched in relief last year. He was quick to mention that Josh Zeid and Chia-Jen Lo have the potential to close at the major league level. He also said Josh Fields is a closer. However, a lot of players last season were put into tough situations.
With this in mind, the Astros targeted several relievers. Jeff hoped to sign at least two and create a formidable bullpen. The return of Chad Qualls and Matt Albers reflected this intention. Fortunately Jesse Crain decided that bringing his all-star talents to Houston was the right move. Hopefully this will pay off handsomely and Crain could rejoin the team in 2015 if he pitches well this season. These veterans should help develop some clutch relievers that the Astros could send back to the bullpen this season.
There were also a couple of other moves to the bullpen that may not have excited many people. One of the biggest lessons learned from 2013 is that there should be healthy and available insurance policies in the minor leagues — specifically in AAA Oklahoma City. The organization acquired Anthony Bass via trade as well as claiming lefties Raul Valdes and Darin Downs from waivers and signing a minor league deal with Peter Moylan. Some of these pitchers could break camp on the opening day roster.
The Astros were involved in the race to acquire some big name international free agents. Unfortunately, their risk profiles ultimately fell short on Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Abreu. But I have a lot of respect for the organization and Jeff for trying to evaluate these international players despite a limited sample size. Luhnow will make a trip with Kevin Goldstein in May to do some work on creating a business model for scouting Japanese talents.
Jesus Guzman (Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)
The Big Two Questions
George Springer and Jonathan Singleton remain two of the biggest question marks for the 2014 season. Jeff stressed that the Opening Day roster is tricky to predict. Spring Training is going to be another batch of try-outs for the Houston Astros. First base is up in the air with newly acquired Jesus Guzman. Singleton finished 2013 on a tear and was able to translate his success to winter ball. Jeff feels that “Guzzy” is a sleeper this season due to his age and his ability to handle Petco Park. George will be in hot water, in a way, during spring training. He is expected by many to be major league ready. However, I agree with Luhnow, that his AAA sample size is a little small. I would rather Springer see more time in the Pacific Coast League to be completely sure that he can handle the big step.
Jeff Luhnow has done a tremendous job in righting the ship. He’s got a plan in pocket and he’s not going to sacrifice his hard work for one player. But this offseason consisted of pitching moves and a dynamic add to the lineup in Dexter Fowler. The 2014 season should have a different flavor, a positive indication that this team is on the rise. A vast improvement. Spread the message, y’all. The future is bright in Houston.