Pitchers, catchers, bullpens and sunblock: Spring Training is underway.
I’m sure there was once a time, long, long ago, when position players reported to Spring Training on the very day that they were actually required to be there.
Those days are largely over. In more modern times, it’s almost as if there’s a race to see who can get to Spring Training first. Facilities open earlier and earlier, and when it’s finally time for pitchers and catchers to hit the fields, it’s normal to see close to half of the position players also at the complex, working out on their own, even though they don’t technically have to be here for several more days.
As Astros pitchers and catchers headed out to the backfields as Osceola County Stadium for their first workout Monday morning, the line of position players heading to the cages was almost as long. Chris Johnson, Jose Altuve, Brett Wallace, Brian Bogusevic and Jimmy Paredes are among the dozen or so position players already here. They’ll work out separately from the pitchers and catchers until Sunday, when the full squad will gather for the first time.
Notes from a busy first day of camp:
* Jason Castro was the main topic of conversation among reporters today. As you probably remember, Castro missed all season last year with a knee injury and then had surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot in December. The general feeling from manager Brad Mills and general manager Jeff Luhnow is that Castro will be eased back into action, slowly. He’s progressing well and he appears to have pretty decent agility in the early-going, which is good. He participated in catching drills with the rest of his brethren and seemed to be keeping up well.
They’ll monitor Castro to make sure he’s not overextending himself by catching too many bullpens, and at this point, there’s no concrete timetable as to when he’ll see action in a Grapefruit League game. But he is “coming along well,” as Luhnow said, and he’s still expected to anchor the bulk of the duties behind the plate.
“Jason can be a leader,” Luhnow said. “He can produce offensively and defensively and set the right tone for the team.”
* Owner Jim Crane was a star college pitcher in his day, but suffice it to say, it’s been a while since he’s spent any significant time on a baseball field. He seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself on Monday as he chatted with players and reporters and moved from field to field to watch the workouts.
Crane and President/CEO George Postolos flew in for the day on Monday and will be back next week when the full squad is together. They both addressed the pitchers and catchers briefly during a meeting before the workout, mainly just to introduce themselves, and it’s likely they’ll do the same when they’re back next time.
The message from Luhnow and Mills was more direct. The objective this spring is to work hard, follow instruction and pay attention to detail. Luhnow acknowledged that no one is talking about the Astros as contenders this year. “We’re not predicted to win this division,” Luhnow said. “Most say we’re not going to compete this year. But I don’t believe that.”
The other directive: pace yourself. Invariably, young players tend to come to camp eager to show management they belong on the 25-man roster. That is a great attitude, unless that enthusiasm overflows a little too much, too soon. That’s when injuries can pop up. Players were reminded to take it easy, even those who had played through the offseason in Winter Ball.
(Another directive from Mills: wear sunblock.)
* Remember Mike Kvasnicka? He’s the Astros’ supplemenental-round pick from the 2010 Draft, a college outfielder-slash-part-time catcher who was converted to play third base when the Astros signed him.
We caught up with Kvasnicka (Kwas-NICK-a) last season when he was playing for the Class-A Lexington Legends, and at the time, we knew only two things about him: he resembles Shane Reynolds, and Jeff Bagwell butchered his name when announcing the pick on MLB Network.
Now we know one more thing: he’s no longer a third baseman. About a month ago, Luhnow and his staff decided it was best to move Kvasnicka back to catcher.
That quickly solved two issues: It put the player back in a position where he was more comfortable, and it gave the system more depth in an area that could use some additional padding.
Kvasnicka, a Minnesota native, has been in Kissimmee for about two weeks, working out at the Minor League facility. On Monday, he was fitted for a uniform and told he would be in big league camp, catching bullpens.
Scenes from the Astros’ first day of Spring Training: