The Astros’ Triple-A affiliate, Sugar Land Space Cowboys, took grounders and hit batting practice for the first time in front of fans and media Saturday.
SUGAR LAND, Texas – Constellation Field housed Houston Astros and Sugar Land Space Cowboys fans Saturday with its first Open House to feature renovations and a first look at the 2022 Triple-A club.
The starting nine for the Space Cowboys will look much different from last season, as Jake Meyers, Jose Siri, Ronnie Dawson, C.J. Hinojosa, Miguelangel Sierra and Bryan De La Cruz are no longer rostered with the Triple-A affiliate.
In these starters’ absence, the Astros’ minor-league staff hammered on position addition, where prospects look for versatility in their defense. Manager Mickey Storey talked to the media Saturday explaining how versatility is strong in today’s game, but the Astros’ system was ahead of the times.
"“It’s kind of stuff we’ve been doing for the last couple years,” Storey said. “I know it’s kind of taking baseball by storm — now versatile players. We were doing it way back 2018-2019. I had multiple guys playing multiple positions, and it kind of blossomed into our development plan, getting guys to play places that we weren’t sure they could play but putting the work in early and getting them equipped in the games. It’s done wonders for people’s careers.”"
Storey loved the open practice Saturday, using to see where the team stands entering the Triple-A season in a smaller setting compared to spring training. He doesn’t have any roster questions, as the Astros are the ones to present those based on need at the major-league level.
Storey coached every player on the roster at one point in the Astros’ system, and with a new wave of outfielders and infielders rostered, familiarity is what the manager attributes to a strong relationship with his players.
"“A lot of guys had good springs and opened a lot of eyes with the big-league team, and I’m there with them throughout the spring,” Storey said. “I get to see the same thing the big-league team is seeing, and sometimes, I reap the benefits of getting players that aren’t quite ready. And to put that finishing touch on the career here in Triple-A is what I look for.”"
The Space Cowboys’ infield Saturday slated J.J. Matijevic at first base, Alex De Goti at second base, David Hensley at third base and Pedro Leon at shortstop. Leon, a top-five prospect in the system, took fly balls in the outfield, alongside Corey Julks, Alex McKenna and Marty Costes.
Julks took reps at third base in minor-league camp, adding a second glove to his locker. The 26-year-old is looking at his first Triple-A season “comfortable” at third base. The regular outfielder went from instructs to minor-league camp with reps at this foreign position.
The former eighth-round pick hopes to grow as much as he can as a player in his first Triple-A season, learning from the experienced minor leaguers and the staff that Julks and Lee both raved about Saturday.
"“I like to see it as at the same old game,” Julks said. “But you see some guys who were kind of ahead of you for two years, and then you start playing with them. The talent level and this team is just special, so I’m just glad to be part of it.”"
Hensley, in his first Triple-A season, sits with the tenured De Goti as a versatile gloves in the infield. Multi-gloved infielder Grae Kessinger doesn’t look to be starting the year with the Space Cowboys, while reassigned to the minors Wednesday and not present Saturday.
Earlier Saturday, the Astros reassigned infielder Franklin Barreto, outfielder Lewis Brinson and catcher Michael Papierski to Triple-A, shaping more of the major-league roster. Barreto adds another versatile glove to the Space Cowboys’ infield with Brinson playing a majority of the outfield positions.
Papierski returns to Sugar Land, where Korey Lee and Scott Manea house. Manea, who suffered a hand injury last season before a promotion, will see his first stay at the Triple-A level at 26-years-old. For Lee, he emphasized the locality that Sugar Land has in relation to Houston and his excitement for the 2022 season.
"“You just got to get better everyday, you can’t think about that too much,” Lee said regarding his top-prospect status. “It was a journey to get where I am today.”"
Lee played 17 games in Triple-A last year, while a shot at the big-league roster is in reach by September call-ups. Staying healthy the entire season is Lee’s goal, as the 23-year-old hit the shelf for almost a month last season.
The Space Cowboys open the 2022 season 8:35 p.m. Tuesday in Sacramento against the River Cats.
Although Saturday’s spring training contest was postponed due to weather, three prospects — infielder Gerardo Bojorquez, right-handed pitchers Tommy DeJuneas and Kevin Holcomb — were assigned to the Astros.
Right-handed pitching prospect R.J. Freure signed a minor-league contract with the Atlanta Braves and was assigned to High-A Rome. According to multiple reports, former Astros international scouting director/special assistant Oz Ocampo returns to the organization as an international cross-checker.