At this pace, Spring Training might as well start Jan. 1.
I’m not sure if this is the case with every club, but here in Kissimmee, anticipation of the first full squad workout, scheduled to take place this weekend, is waning with each passing day.
That’s not to say we’re not looking forward to it. Of course we are. It’s just that with so many position players here and working out, it feels as if the “first full squad workout” on Feb. 20 has already happened.
Times have certainly changed. In the old days, a couple of position players would show up early to get a few workouts in before the real stuff started. The majority of the team — especially the starting lineup — would usually arrive on one of the last flights out the night before the official report date, with players filtering into the clubhouse in the late hours to check in with the staff.
Nowadays, positions players are beating the pitchers here, for a number of reasons. Offseasons are no longer spent eating potato chips and getting fat and sluggish. Most players start a workout regimen about a month after the prior season ends, and by the time they get to Spring Training, they’re already in tip-top shape.
Strength and conditioning coach Gene Coleman can take at least part of the credit for all of the early arrivals. A slew of young Astros up-and-comers lived in Houston over the winter and worked out every day with Coleman, so when he packed up and headed to Florida around Feb. 10, a lot of the players followed.
Once the equipment truck leaves Houston, the clubhouse and athletic training staffs do too, and players no longer have access to the home weight room as they did earlier in the offseason. So they head to Florida.
And they’re here in full force, even though “report” day isn’t for another three days. The backfields at the Osceola County Stadium complex on Thursday were filled with infielders, taking both ground balls and a few rounds of batting practice.
That said, workouts on the field are not exactly the same as workouts in the weight room. Chris Johnson spent most of the offseason in the Astros’ weight room, yet after one day of running around the fields, “I could hardly get out of bed this morning.”
In that case, it’s probably good that we still have six weeks until Opening Day…
A lot of you have asked who has the advantage to win the first base job, Brett Wallace or Carlos Lee. Right now, around 10 days before the first Spring Training game, the odds are overwhelmingly in Wallace’s favor.
Lee is a backup plan in case Wallace really, really, really scuffles this spring (yes, it deserves three reallys, to illustrate just how disastrous of a showing Wallace is going to have in order to not be the Opening Day first baseman.)
The Astros like Wallace, a lot. Ed Wade likes him. Hitting coach Mike Barnett likes him. And manager Brad Mills is firmly in his corner as well, praising the 24-year-old’s “unbelievably quick hands.”
“He’s got great hands, and he’s always hit at every level he’s played,” Mills said. “He’s got eye-hand coordination that’s pretty special. The experience he was able to get last year at the Major League level was huge. He was traded in a lot of big deals and wasn’t able to get situated. Last year, he found out what the Major Leagues were about.”
Other notable quotables:
Mills on Bud Norris: “I don’t want to put a thumb print on it, because I don’t want to hold him back. But it’s scary when you think about the ability he has.”
Mills on J.A. Happ: “He’s a talented first-class individual. He just wants to continue to get better. Last year every game out, he competed. He competed every inning, every pitch. A guy with ability like that, he’s going to give you a chance to win ballgames.”
From behind the camera lens, Spring Training Day Two:
Having some chuckles before workouts begin…
Early morning workouts always start with a little light running…
Two bearded veterans: Fulchino, Myers.