April 2012

Astros set 25-man roster. Also posted: the transcript from the chat with GM Jeff Luhnow.

The Astros’ 25-man roster, as of April 4 at 4:30 CT:

Pitchers (13): Fernando Abad, David Carpenter, Rhiner Cruz, J.A. Happ, Lucas Harrell, Wilton Lopez, Brandon Lyon, Brett Myers, Bud Norris, Fernando Rodriguez, Wandy Rodriguez, Kyle Weiland, Wesley Wright.

Catchers (2): Jason Castro, Chris Snyder

Outfielders (4): Brian Bogusevic, J.D. Martinez, Jordan Schafer, Travis Buck

Infielders (6): Jose Altuve, Matt Downs, Marwin Gonzalez, Chris Johnson, Carlos Lee, Jed Lowrie

_________________

General Manager Jeff Luhnow chatted with fans during the Astros’ game with the Chicago White Sox Wednesday afternoon. Here is the transcript from that chat:

eddie_vistro:  How close are we to the final roster?
Jeff Luhnow:  Very close. Rosters are due at 4 pm CST. Stay tuned!
denisehunter.43 What makes a good player a great player?
JL:  Most of the players at this level have the skills to be great players. The separator for me is those that can do it day in and day out.  Consistency.
71_thompson:  Will Chris Johnson be our standout slugger this year? What has he done differently this season have you noticed?
JL: I sure hope so. I wasn’t around the past few years but my sense is that he is confident right now and knows he belongs and can be a productive everyday hitter. That is key for him.
s.connors: What can we expect from Wandy on Opening Day?
JL: Wandy is ready. I expect him to give us a quality start and get the win!
Ashitaka: It looks like Kody Hinze is penciled in to start the year in AA Corpus Christi. How will he be getting playing time with Singleton as that club’s first baseman?
JL: We were just discussing this. He will get at-bats as a DH and also as a first baseman when Singleton plays the outfield, which he will at times.
JL: I know we said 2 p.m. but with so many good questions, I figured we could chat a bit longer.
Ashitaka: Ariel Ovando, Jack Armstrong, Chase Davidson and Adrian Houser are not listed on any of our MiLB club’s rosters. Will they be playing in the GCL, and is it possible that we’ll see any of them moved up to Lexington or Lancaster in 2012?
JL: Players that are not listed on the roster are either at Extended Spring Training or not ready to join a full season team due to an injury. I do think you will see some of these guys at the A clubs this season.
Ashitaka: If the Rule 4 draft were today, who do you think you’d take first overall? Appel? Zunino? Plenty of time left for things to change, so feel free to be candid :)
JL: The first pick would be…
JL: Did you get that? Keep it to yourself though. -)
Ashitaka: Can you tell us briefly what you like in our Rule 5 guys Rhiner Cruz and Marwin Gonzalez? What will you need to see from them respectively to make keeping them rostered all season possible?
JL: Cruz has terrific stuff. He has closer stuff. He worked on some mechanical things and became more confident as the spring progressed, so he is worth keeping around.
JL: Marwin has been very good defensively, typically making all the routine plays plus several outstanding plays that other middle infielders might not make. He’s shown enough with the bat to make us believers that he will be able to compete at this level. Keeping two Rule 5 guys is not easy, but it gives us a chance to bolster our organizational depth – and that is a key goal for this year.
Ashitaka: Bud Norris throws a very high percentage of breaking balls (sliders), and history has shown that this tends to lead to more arm injuries (Brett Anderson and Scott Kazmir being examples). Is this something that should be cause for concern?
JL: It’s hard to pinpoint any one thing that leads to injuries. Bud has a good mix and uses it effectively. I don’t believe he overuses any one pitch nor am I convinced that if he did so, that would lead to a higher risk of injury.
Ashitaka: Who are a couple of guys from the 2011 draft class who might be under-the-radar? We all know Springer and the other high-round guys, anyone else who might rise quickly that isn’t getting a lot of hype?
JL: Davidson. It’s too bad he’s banged up right now because he can flat out hit. I watched him while scouting with the Cardinals last summer and was impressed. I was blown away when I found out how late he was drafted.
bananapudin: Update the status of Jed Lowrie?
JL: We are taking it day by day with Jed. He’s feeling better every day but we can’t predict at this point when he will be able to play in games. He shouldn’t be out too much longer.
JL: Did you guys see Altuve took ANOTHER walk earlier?
Ashitaka: Any decision on Jed Lowrie and his thumb yet? If not, what do you imagine would be the worst-case scenario in his situation?
JL: Worst case scenario is that he has to go on the DL and will be ready to play soon after he is eligible to be activated, which would be after the first homestand.
JL: 0-0 after 4 innings.
Ashitaka: Can you tell us anything at all about the PTBNL from the Quintero/Bourgeois trade, or when we might expect to find out his identity? And do you see Kevin Chapman as a potential closer in the future?
JL: The PTBNL is:
JL: Did you get that? Ok, don’t tell anybody! Chapman has good enough stuff to be a very good lefty specialist or possibly a set up man or closer. Time will tell because there is more to those roles than stuff, as we all know.
wgr56: I didn’t see Ariel Ovando’s name on any minor league rosters that I’ve seen so far. What’s up with him, and do you know where he’ll land?
JL: He is at Extended Spring Training with many other players, which means at this point he is not ready for a full season club.
costrosfan: In a year where it seems there is no can’t-miss prospect in a draft, how do you settle in on one particular guy? Do you see it going down to the wire with this year’s crop?
JL: We watch every guy at the top of our list every time they play, if we are able to do so. We have very good scouts and they are doing a great job getting to know the top players. We will likely not make a decision until very close to draft time.
wgr56: A lot of fans were surprised when “innings-eater” Livan was cut. Are you concerned about all the innings on these young arms in the rotation?
JL: Yes, it is a concern, but not enough to prevent them from getting an opportunity to pitch regularly at this level. I believe our bullpen will be able to handle the extra workload, at least early in the season, and we will re-evaluate frequently.
madpave: Jeff, can I sit with you at a game this season? I have to drive up from Austin.
JL: I’d say yes, but then I’d have to say yes to everyone. How about this? We will have a drawing on Twitter and the winner will get to sit in the GM box for a game. Details to follow, but you must follow me @jluhnow on twitter.
bill3707: JD (Jim Deshaies) swears that in one day, clubs will go back to less defined roles for their relievers. You know, using the best reliever in any high-leverage situation, regardless of inning; multiple inning saves like Gossage, etc. Any thoughts?
JL: Using the best relievers in high-leverage situations makes sense, and many clubs do that more than the casual observer can notice. Brad (Mills) and (Doug) Brocail both believe in this, but it needs to be balanced with all the other factors that matter.
JL: Beckham just drilled one through the gap, White Sox 1-0.
JL: Ditto DeAza. 2-0.
arct1c: How well will the team do this year? What’s your best estimate of how many games the team will win?
JL: I’ve been asked that question a million times. There is no way I can or should answer that, because I would be wrong. All I can say is we will compete and give 100% effort, and I believe we will suprise people.
saberrook: Who will be in charge of designing the Astros new logo for next season? Could a fan submit an idea?
JL: As Jim Crane has said, we are looking at the possibility, and we will seek fan input into any decision. Some fans have already posted some ideas online.
bobbyd2112_2: The team’s chemistry seemed very good in Spring Training…I watched the Tigers and Braves games last week. On a scale of 1 to 10…How would you rate this Spring Training?
JL: 8. Losing Escalona hurts, but no other serious injuries, always a big factor. Team spirit was excellent. We played well most of the time.
Ghick: I love the addition of modern metrics into the FO, that said do you think this will translate to changing how the game is played? For example, creating a lineup with the best bat at the top and descending in order of talent level.
JL: Lineup optimization is more complicated than just putting your best players up top. Brad uses many different metrics in crafting his lineup and he is open to input.
tdogg310: With Happ underperforming since we acquired him, is it safe to say that he has a “leash” on this season. where if he keeps underperforming until, say the All-Star break, he will no longer have the rotation spot be given to him.
JL: Two hits for Castro so far.
JL: Happ is still young and developing, so he will be given time. I have confidence he will be a key member of our rotation this year.
Ashitaka: I was about to ask about Altuve. It’s not really that easy, is it?
JL: Learning how to be more selective? No, it’s not as easy as just wanting to do it. A big part of it is retraining yourself on the right swing decision. Laying off of marginal pitches even though they might be called strikes is hard to do, but he’s doing it!
Ghick: Given your experience with drafts and scouting, has the new CBA changed how you approach the drafts and team building?
JL: The rules have changed and everyone needs to adapt their approach. If anything, the value of properly evaluating and valuing players is going up, not down, since there are more limited opportunities to spend on amateurs.
wgr56: One thing about the Astros that’s better than you thought it would be before you took over.
JL: Several. Coaching staff. Ballpark. City. Better than expected players in the minors and already here.
JL: ALTUVE with a RBI double to the gap in right center. Hit that one hard.
Ghick: What is the gold standard for GMs in today’s game? Young arms, established power bats, blue-chip prospects, etc.
JL: Yes, Yes, Yes. There are many great GMs.
JL: JD MARTINEZ JUST WENT YARD! 3-2 Stros.
bananapudin: As teams get down to their 25 man limit, are there any players you are watching closely and w/o names what position?
JL: We scour the transactions every day and see if we can upgrade. So far we haven’t seen anyone that we like better than our own guys, but we are always looking.
JL: Ok, looks like I wore you guys out! Thanks for participating, and as always, thanks to Alyson Footer for setting all this up! Talk to you guys next time. In the meantime — GO STROS!

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Astros GM Jeff Luhnow chat begins at 2 CT.

Our intrepid and ever-so-accessible general manager Jeff Luhnow will be chatting online with fans today during the Astros’ game with the Chicago White Sox. The game starts at 1:05 p.m. CT and Luhnow’s chat will start about an hour later, at 2 p.m.

If you have a question you’d like to ask or just want to follow along, click here and join in:

http://www.forums.mlb.com/ml-houevent/chat?redirCnt=2

The chat will run until approximately 2:30 CT.

 

Minor League rosters set, plus photos from the Astros late arrival home

The Astros set their preliminary 2012 Minor League rosters for four of their affiliates, Triple-A Oklahoma City, Double-A Corpus Christi, Class A Lancaster and Class A Lexington.

The rosters are subject to change and will not be officially finalized until the Minor League Opening Day. Rosters do not include Disabled List players.

 Oklahoma City:

PITCHERS

JUAN ABREU

XAVIER CEDENO*

PAUL CLEMENS

ENERIO DEL ROSARIO

ADALBERTO FLORES

DALLAS KEUCHEL*

JORDAN LYLES

SERGIO PEREZ

ANEURY RODRIGUEZ

MICKEY STOREY

JOSE VALDEZ

CATCHERS

CARLOS CORPORAN#

LANDON POWELL

INFIELDERS

DIORY HERNANDEZ

MIKE HESSMAN

SCOTT MOORE

JIMMY PAREDES#

BRETT WALLACE*

OUTFIELDERS

COLLIN DELOME*

JAKE GOEBBERT*

FERNANDO MARTINEZ*

BRAD SNYDER*

* – denotes left-hander

# – denotes switch-hitter

 Corpus Christi:

 PITCHERS

ERICK ABREU

JONNATHAN ARISTIL

JAKE BUCHANAN

KEVIN CHAPMAN*

JOSE CISNERO

JARRED COSART

CHRIS HICKS

ARCENIO LEON

BRETT OBERHOLTZER*

ROSS SEATON

JASON STOFFEL

HENRY VILLAR

JOSH ZEID

CATCHERS

JAIR FERNANDEZ

CHRIS WALLACE

INFIELDERS

KODY HINZE

JORDAN KREKE

JOSE MARTINEZ

ANDY SIMUNIC

JONATHAN SINGLETON*

JOSE THOMPSON

JONATHAN VILLAR#

OUTFIELDERS

ADAM BAILEY*

BRANDON BARNES

T.J. STEELE

AUSTIN WATES

Lancaster:

 PITCHERS

RUBEN ALANIZ

KIRK CLARK

JORGE DE LEON

BOBBY DORAN

GABRIEL GARCIA*

ZACH GRIMMETT

DAVID MARTINEZ

WES MUSICK*

ANDREW ROBINSON

ALEX SOGARD*

BRIAN STREILEIN

JOSE TRINIDAD

PAT URCKFITZ*

CATCHERS

RENE GARCIA

BEN HEATH

RYAN MCCURDY

INFIELDERS

ERIK CASTRO*

ENRIQUE HERNANDEZ

JONATHAN MEYER

JIOVANNI MIER

TELVIN NASH

BEN ORLOFF

RAFAEL VALENZUELA*

OUTFIELDERS

DANIEL ADAMSON

DOMINGO SANTANA

GEORGE SPRINGER

Lexington:

 PITCHERS

TANNER BUSHUE

JASON CHOWNING

LUIS CRUZ*

DAYAN DIAZ

JONAS DUFEK

MIKE FOLTYNEWICZ

MURILO GOUVEA

EVAN GRILLS*

KYLE HALLOCK*

CARLOS QUEVEDO

NICK TROPEANO

SCOTT ZULOAGA*

CATCHERS

MILES HAMBLIN*

MIKE KVASNICKA#

ROBERTO PENA

INFIELDERS

TYLER BURNETT*

DELINO DESHIELDS

MATT DUFFY

JIMMY HOWICK

ZACH JOHNSON

ALEX TODD

OUTFIELDERS

JUSTIN GOMINSKI

EMILIO KING

ANDREW MUREN*

JORDAN SCOTT*

The Astros arrived to Minute Maid Park around 11:30 Monday night, after a quick flight following their game against the Hooks in Corpus Christi. There’s about a 30-minute wait between the time the buses pull in to the ballpark and the time the truck with the luggage and equipment arrives from the airport, so most players pass the time in the clubhouse settling in at their lockers.

Lots of players and staff members already sent the bulk of their personal luggage back on the truck that traveled from Kissimmee to Houston a few days ago, so this was as good a time as any to gather those belongings. Other than that, the main focus was getting out of there and hitting the sack. That was a long, long day.

Jose Altuve, Wilton Lopez

This is just a small sampling of the luggage that arrived a couple days ago, on the 18-wheeler that headed out of Kissimmee a few days ahead of the team.

J.A. Happ, Chris Johnson

Jordan Schafer, J.D. Martinez

Chris Snyder

Happ, Kyle Weiland

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You know what they say. Everything’s better in Texas.

The Astros rode the super-sized version of a commercial jet to Corpus Christi, and while they’ll take the same plane back to Houston following the game against the Double-A Hooks, there will be considerably fewer people on that leg of the flight.

The Astros broke camp late morning on Monday and left town with both teams that will play in the exhibition game at Whataburger Field that night: the Corpus club (whose roster will be officially set sometime in the next day or so), and the thirty-some players remaining in Astros big league camp.

After the game, the Hooks players will stay put and the Astros crew will head to Houston. The exhibition season will continue (and  thankfully end) at Minute Maid Park this week. They play a night game versus the White Sox Tuesday (7:05 CT), a day game Wednesday (1:05 CT) and will work out for a couple of hours on Thursday, an offday. Then it’s go time.

As we continue to count the days down until that first pitch is thrown on Friday, April 6 at 6:05 CT, here’s a visual perspective of the day so far, with more to come later:

Brett Myers, left, Chris Snyder, right

Opening Day starter Wandy Rodriguez lookin' sharp

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Catching stability could go a long way in 2012.

While it would be impossible to narrow the options down to one particular element that made the 2011 season so, ahem, difficult to stomach, there actually is one moment that could probably be identified as a turning point.

It occurred about a month before the season even started. During a spring game against the Tigers in Lakeland, Jason Castro’s foot landed awkwardly on first base, and a few days later, it was determined the ACL in his knee was torn. In that instant, his season was over.

I won’t be so dramatic as to say that taking Castro out of the equation was the only reason why the Astros lost 106 games last year. A lot of other things had to go wrong, and did. But the instability of the catching situation likely contributed mightily to why the season was over even before it even started. Losing Castro was bad enough. Going without Humberto Quintero for segments of the season as well just exacerbated the problem.

The Astros were forced to rely on their third- and fourth-string catchers to carry a lot of the load, and while the merry-go-round of catchers did an admirable job, the predicament behind the plate was a glaring issue that never really went away. If it’s true that the catcher controls the game and the psyche of a pitcher largely depends on his comfort level with his battery mate, then it’s not all that shocking that things fell apart for the Astros early and they never got on track.

I’ve been getting a lot of emails and tweets from fans asking “What should I be looking for from the team this year” and “Why should I believe in this team” and “Give me a reason to watch this team” and on and on and on.

I cannot predict how many games the Astros will win or lose. That’s not just my way of avoiding the questions. I truly do not know how this group will perform, mainly because so many of the players expected to make the Opening Day roster have very short Major League track records. I believe that Jose Altuve and J.D. Martinez are in a good position to build on their abbreviated rookie seasons last year, and all signs point to Bud Norris having the kind of year that a top-of-the-rotation starter should have.

Several other players have been impressive this spring, and while you cannot and should not draw too much from Spring Training performances, the offensive production has been encouraging.

The one very strong conviction I have, and the only prediction I’m really willing to make, is that I believe the stability of the catching situation will have a very positive impact on the pitching staff. I do not know how many more wins that will translate to. There’s no way to measure that element on a piece of paper. Even the nerdiest of stat geeks would be stumped to try to figure out how many points you can shave off a pitcher’s ERA simply because he has a smart, competent catcher behind the plate.

So while I cannot give you guarantees or proof to back up my prediction. I will say only that Castro and Chris Snyder are a very, very good catching tandem and much better than anything the Astros experimented with last year. I believe it will go a long way.

________________

Five position players who have never before been on a Major League Opening Day roster are among the 25 players who are going to make the team out of Spring Training, and general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager Brad Mills wanted to make it a special occasion. So they called the five — Altuve, Brian Bogusevic, Castro, Marwin Gonzalez and Martinez — into Mills’ office and gave them to the good news all at once.

This announcement in no way gives any indication on how the rest of the roster will shake out. The team announced it as five position players who were informed they’re making the team. There are players who have never made an Opening Day roster who are still in the running to make this one. J.B. Shuck has never made an Opening Day roster, but the fact that he wasn’t in this group of five does not indicate he won’t make the team. Shuck is simply among a couple of outfielders still auditioning for a spot, and the outfield situation is still yet to be resolved.

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