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Astros lineup at White Sox. First pitch 3:10 p.m. CT

‘Twas a long, eventful day for Carlos Correa. Next up: his high school graduation. And then, baseball.

When Jeff Luhnow mentioned on Tuesday that top Draft pick Carlos Correa would be visiting Houston two days later, the GM indicated he hoped negotiations would move forward quickly once all parties involved — Luhnow, scouting director Bobby Heck, the scouts pursuing him, Correa and his parents — were together, face to face.

As Luhnow continued talking with reporters, however, it became evident he didn’t view Thursday’s visit as a time to simply exchange pleasantries with the family. To Luhnow, Thursday was THE day. Take the physical, sign the contract, officially join the Astros organization.

(Side note: If I’m to understand this correctly, if a team has only “x” dollars to spend on its first 10 or 11 picks, then it behooves the draftees to sign up quickly. If you’re a first-rounder and the other nine or 10 picks sign before you, and there’s only $2 million left over, then you get $2 million and there’s no negotiating, other than an extra five percent a team can pour on top of that without being penalized. If that’s the case, it looks like the absurd nature of the prior parameters that allowed free spending and led to negotiations often going down to the final minute, as was the case with two of the Astros’ top picks last year, are for the most part, over. )

It’s been quite a week for the 17-year-old Correa (featured in the behind-the-scenes footage above), who signed on with the Astros three days before his high school graduation and five days before he’ll head to Kissimmee, Fla., to join the club’s Gulf Coast League affiliate.

The Correa signing: a family affair.

Correa definitely looks like a teenager, but he handled the day’s events with the poise of someone much more experienced. As soon as he stepped off the elevator on the fifth floor of Union Station to sign the contract, all eyes — and recording devices — were on him. This seemingly did not faze him. He shook dozens of hands, met all of the top Astros brass, including owner Jim Crane, and seemed very at ease.

He sounded sincere and answered questions eloquently at the press conference and even managed to ignore the cameras and few dozen reporters who were waiting for him as he made his way to the field. He seemed to mingle well with the Astros players as he took batting practice, and it helped that he crushed a few balls to left-center early in the session.

A few notes:

* Because Correa is a minor, his parents had to co-sign the contract.

* The men front and center of Correa signing are Luhnow and Heck, but two equally important figures shouldn’t be  overlooked. Drafting Correa came on the recommendation of area scouts Larry Pardo and Joey Sola, who ultimately
are responsible for the signing.

* Correa’s entire family was ecstatic with the day’s events, with one exception — Correa’s three-year-old sister, who seems to have figured out this is going to lead to big bro leaving home. Apparently, she has said more than once, “Don’t sign.”

* Correa had a little rock star mojo going during the signing and press conference, but as soon as he stepped into the clubhouse, he was treated like any other teammate who has no Major League experience and is about to put on a big league uniform for the first time. He was greeted with catcalls of, “Your locker’s in the bathroom,” while Chris Snyder told Correa he’d fine him $20 for every ball he hit to the right side of second base.

* Correa picked uniform No. 12 for two reasons: he was honored to be the first pick in the 2012 Draft, and he was paying homage to his baseball hero, fellow Puerto Rican Roberto Alomar.

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Photos from an eventful day:

Correa meets and shakes hands with owner Jim Crane.

Joey Sola, Larry Pardo, Bobby Heck, Correa, Jeff Luhnow

Correa hugs Pardo

Hitting in the cage

Taking ground balls

Correa was introduced on the field to the Minute Maid Park crowd during the Astros-Cardinals game.

Astros lineup 6/7 vs. Cardinals. Roof closed for summer. First pitch 7:05 p.m. CT

Draft picks signing quickly: the new norm?

Between third-round pick Brady Rodgers signing his contract with the Astros on Wednesday and reports that Carlos Correa, the first overall pick in the Draft, will sign by the end of the day Thursday, we might have to rename your hometown team the Houston Fastros.

Sure, Jeff Luhnow and Bobby Heck made it clear, on more than one occasion, that they expect to sign all of their top Draft picks. And there’s no reason not to believe them. It’s just that the process, at least for the top picks, usually takes longer than this. You have to wonder if the new Draft rules, which give a team a set amount of money it can spend on its top 10 (or 11) picks, is speeding up the process. The deadline to sign picks is a month earlier than it has been in the past, which might be a factor as well.

Whatever the reason, no one’s complaining. Having covered the deadline last year, which involved two of the Astros’ top three picks holding out until there were, quite literally, 2 1/2 minutes left on the clock, I can say this is  much more enjoyable. What would you rather have — players signing up and immediately shipping out to their Minor League teams, or a club having to explain why, because negotiations ran too long, there’s little to no time left for the player to actually, well, play?

Anyhoo, the 21-year-old Rodgers, a right-handed pitcher from Richmond, Texas and a product of Lamar Consolidated High School in Rosenberg, will spend the next few weeks working out at the Astros’ Gulf Coast League facility in Kissimmee, Fla. He will then fly to Troy, NY, to begin his professional career with the Short Season A Tri-City ValleyCats.

Rodgers played collegiately at Arizona State, where he was 10-3 with a 2.27 ERA in 2012. In his college career, he totaled 286 innings and posted a 2.39 ERA, the second-lowest in school history.

Soon after signing on the dotted line, Rodgers will head to Florida to begin his pro career.

Team president George Postolos, Rodgers, Luhnow

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Ring-a-bling-bling: As you probably remember, Luhnow was hired away from the St. Louis Cardinals last offseason to take over here as general manager. Soon after he was hired, he began plucking several of the brighter minds from his former organization and made them Astros.

The Cardinals are in town this week, and on Wednesday, Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. and general manager John Mozeliak presented World Series rings to four members of the Astros staff who were with St. Louis last year: Luhnow, Sig Mejdal (director of decision sciences), Mike Elias (special assistant to the GM) and bench coach Joe Pettini.

The impromptu ceremony took place in Luhnow’s GM booth just before first pitch, and they group was gracious enough to let the cameras in to capture the moment:

DeWitt, Mozeliak, Luhnow

Luhnow

Elias, Mejdal, Luhnow (Pettini was in the dugout)

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Astros lineup 6/6 vs. Cardinals. Roof closed for the summer. First pitch 7:05 p.m. CT.

Astros lineup 6/5 vs. Cardinals. Roof closed, likely for the rest of the summer. First pitch: 7:05 p.m. CT

Astros top five Draft picks: scouting reports from the experts.

MLB.com provided thorough scouting reports on most of the top players who were expected to be selected in the Draft. Here is the rundown of the Astros’ top five picks:

On No. 1 pick Carlos Correa:
High school middle infielders who have the tools to stay at shortstop long term aren’t always easy to find. That’s a big reason why Correa is so high on Draft lists at this point. Defensively, Correa is above average across the board — range, arm and actions — leaving no question about his ability to stay at short. He can swing the bat, too, with the potential to be an above-average hitter with outstanding power. He’s a solid baserunner who is better underway and has off-the-charts work ethic and baseball instincts. Correa’s swing can get a little long at times and he will occasionally get out of his game plan at the plate. But that’s just nitpicking and the only thing that could keep Correa from being the highest draftee from the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy is his commitment to Miami.

On supplemental round pick Lance McCullers:
Major League bloodlines are always a plus and the younger Lance McCullers has the chance to be much better than his father, who spent parts of seven seasons in the big leagues. McCullers is pure power. His fastball can easily touch the upper 90s and it has above-average movement in on right-handed hitters. When he stays on top of his slider it’s an above-average, hard and tight breaking ball. He does have a changeup, but it’s behind the other two offerings. He’s got a feel for it, but doesn’t need to use it much at this level. McCullers is fearless on the mound, with a closer-type mentality (and the stuff to match it).McCullers does struggle with his command at times, which keeps hitters from being too comfortable at the plate. He will need to refine that, along with his offspeed stuff, to be an effective starter at the highest level. But there’s nothing to indicate he won’t be able to do just that with time and experience.

On second-round pick Nolan Fontana:
Take each of Fontana’s tools individually and none of them may overwhelm you. Add them up and you’ll like what you see a lot more. Fontana can swing the bat a little bit, showing a solid approach and an ability to make adjustments. He even has a little power to the pull side and will turn on a mistake. Fontana’s instincts on the bases allow his average speed to play up and he does all of the little things offensively to help a team win. He’s the same way on the other side of the ball, always putting himself in the right position to make the plays, with a solid arm and range and very good hands. Fontana could be a very good second baseman, a decent shortstop or the kind of super utility man championship-caliber teams tend to have. Whatever the case, his abilities and instincts should allow him to help a big league club out quickly.

On third-round pick Brady Rodgers:
While he’s not a soft-tosser — his Major League average fastball will sit in the 90-91 mph range and he can reach back for a little more and maintain his velocity deep into starts — Rodgers is more about the art of pitching than anything else. He has three secondary pitches that should at least average. Rodgers’ slider is a sharp downer that can be a strikeout pitch and his changeup is very deceptive, with both looking like future above-average offerings. His curve isn’t quite as good, but with a 12-to-5 break, it’s more than just a show-me pitch. Rodgers throws all of those pitches for strikes and should have plus location down the line, showing outstanding knowledge of how to mix pitches. His ceiling might be the middle of a big league rotation, but it shouldn’t take him too long to reach that goal.

On fourth-round pick Rio Ruiz:
He’s from SoCal. He hits left-handed. It’s not a real shock Ruiz gets Eric Chavez comps. Unfortunately for Ruiz, he became even more similar to the oft-injured Chavez in March when he had to undergo a procedure to break up a blood clot near his clavicle by his right shoulder.Ruiz has the tools to be an everyday Major League third baseman. He has a terrific left-handed swing, a short stroke with good bat speed. He makes consistent hard contact and there’s more than enough loft and leverage for him to have good power at the next level. He’s a solid, instinctive defender at third, with good lateral movement and a strong arm. Ruiz doesn’t run well, but given his other skills, that doesn’t matter so much. He doesn’t need to run if he’s going to develop into a run-producing third baseman as a professional. That potential should put him in many beginning-of-the-Draft conversations.

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Astros think outside the box and pick Carlos Correa as their No. 1 Draft pick.

To the rest of the baseball world, it really came down to two players the Astros would decide between to be their No. 1 pick in the Draft: college pitcher Mark Appel, and high school outfielder Byron Buxton.

GM Jeff Luhnow and scouting director Bobby Heck and a roomful of execs and scouts watched MLB Network with amusement from the Draft room, knowing that the answer was actually c): neither.

As the analysts on Network speculated who the Astros would ultimately take, while surmising Luhnow was likely both nervous and excited to be running his first draft as a GM, Luhnow sat back in his chair looking about as jittery as he would if he was sitting on a lounge chair, on the beach in the Bahamas, holding an umbrella drink.

In other words, Luhnow, as has been the case since he took over as GM last November, was one cool cat throughout the process. Heck was as well, especially when he called the Astros representatives who were at the Network studios in Secaucus, NJ, to tell them who they picked.

Clearly, the Astros surprised some people by picking shortstop Carlos Correa, a 17-year-old high school kid who played amateur baseball at the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy in Gurabo, Puerto Rico.

This wasn’t an open and shut case for the Astros. They’ve spent weeks discussing, dissecting and analyzing all top prospects expected to go in the first round. Their ultimate decision didn’t arrive until just before they were, as Commissioner Bud Selig phrased it, “on the clock.”

“This afternoon,” Luhnow said, asked when he decided Correa was their guy. “We were working on it all day.”

Watch the behind-the-scenes video from the Draft room

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CARLOS CORREA
Position: Shortstop
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Height/Weight: 6-4/190
Age: 17
High School: Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Gurabo, P.R.

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Questions, Answers:
Will Correa stay at shortstop?
Heck:
“He’s 17 years old. He has a big frame, advanced feet, advanced hands. He can really throw. Even if he stays at shortstop, he will be a middle-of-the-order bat.”

Luhnow:
“Carlos has a chance to be a star. Anyone who saw him play recognizes that. He has the type of bat that can produce at the Major League level — a 20, 30-type home run (hitter) playing at a premium position, whether that is shortstop or maybe third base. He will hit in the middle of the order.”

Luhnow, on Correa’s background:
“He had a 4.0 (grade point average) in high school. We asked for the transcripts. He has gotten A’s in every class he’s taken. He’s an overachiever. He’s driven to be successful.”

Is there concern he’ll ultimately decide to attend the University of Miami, where he committed to play baseball?

Luhnow:
“I suspect Miami will not see him, unless he’s visiting friends.”

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Media coverage:

MLB.com

Houston Chronicle

MLB.com Scouting report:

“High school middle infielders who have the tools to stay at shortstop long term aren’t always easy to find. That’s a big reason why Correa is so high on Draft lists at this point. Defensively, Correa is above average across the board — range, arm and actions — leaving no question about his ability to stay at short. He can swing the bat, too, with the potential to be an above-average hitter with outstanding power. He’s a solid baserunner who is better underway and has off-the-charts work ethic and baseball instincts. Correa’s swing can get a little long at times and he will occasionally get out of his game plan at the plate. But that’s just nitpicking and the only thing that could keep Correa from being the highest draftee from the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy is his commitment to Miami.”

Baseball America:
“Correa has plenty of tools. He is a quality defender at shortstop with soft hands and a well above-average arm. He’s an above-average runner and also has excellent potential with the bat, profiling to hit for average and power. Correa has drawn comparisons to Troy Tulowitzki and Ryan Zimmerman.

Photos from day one of the Draft:

Scouting director/Asst. GM Bobby Heck watches MLB Network as Draft coverage gets started.

One thing about the first round of the Draft — people are always on their phones. Understandably.

Bobby Heck takes Correa’s name off the board after picking him in the first round.

Happiness? Relief? Satisfaction? Looks like a combination of the three, post-pick.

 

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Astros players, staff gather for Wives Gala Underwriter cocktail reception

Soon after the Astros ended their eight-game losing streak on Sunday with a win over the Reds, they headed to the swanky “Up” restaurant in Highland Village for a cocktail reception designed to acknowledge the underwriters of the Wives Gala.

The Gala, which has been benefiting the Houston Area Women’s Center since 1990, will be held at Minute Maid Park on Thursday, Aug. 16 — an offday for the Astros, of course.

Around half the team attended the Underwriter’s party, a yearly gala precursor that honors the most charitable contributors to the annual soiree. Among the Astros players in the crowd: Jason Castro, Bud Norris, Chris Snyder, Wesley Wright, Fernando Rodriguez, Wandy Rodriguez, David Carpenter, Travis Buck, Brian Bogusevic, Jed Lowrie, J.A. Happ, Brandon Lyon and Justin Maxwell. Manager Brad Mills and first base coach Bobby Meacham also attended.

From the front office, prez George Postolos and top VP Kathleen Clark were present and accounted for, along with the emcee of the evening, Milo Hamilton.

For information and tickets to the Aug. 16 Gala, contact Judy Nichols at 713.781.0053 or  judynichols1@sbcglobal.net.

Photos from the Underwriter’s reception:

Maris Perlman, Jason Castro

Brooke Keene, David Carpenter

J.A. Happ

Jed Lowrie, Milessa Muchmore-Lowrie

Brandon, Sara Lyon

Loren, Justin Maxwell

Milo Hamilton, Gari Meacham

Aubree Gerardi, Bud Norris

Carla, Chris Snyder

Wesley, Sherell Wright

The entertainment. Milo asked for one of those outfits for his personal collection.

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Social Media Night, Blogger Night and the Draft: a busy few days at Minute Maid Park.

It’s not every day that you can have a front row seat to batting practice, meet an Astros player, stuff yourself with baby back ribs and Blue Bell Ice Cream, win a signed baseball AND find new and innovative ways to utilize mini-foam fingers.

But if you were at Social Media Night on the Budweiser Patio Saturday night at Minute Maid Park, it’s likely you participated in at least three of those activities. Maybe more.

Good times were had (I hope) by all during the nearly four-hour contest between the Reds and Astros. Sure, the Astros lost, but we’re confident the loads of goodies handed out throughout the night put everyone in enough of a food coma to forget the Astros came out on the short end of a slugfest.

Twelve baseballs and one glove, all signed and handed out by Chris Johnson, were awarded to the winners of our Twitter Trivia contest. Everyone received a t-shirt, of course, and as a bonus, all patrons were rewarded with a handful of mini foam fingers, courtesy of our friends at MLB Network.

The next event is July 28. We will announce the guest in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, enjoy the photos:

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Foam finger earrings…

…or this.

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We started a new tradition on Friday, hosting several local Astros bloggers at Minute Maid Park for a night of networking and blogging in one of the suites.

General manager Jeff Luhnow stopped by for a 30-minute chat with the group, and judging from the write-ups from the evening, the bloggers appeared to come away very appreciative of Luhnow’s frankness throughout the conversation.

The upcoming draft was obviously a big topic of conversation, and Luhnow acknowledged it was likely that his entire staff would not be in agreement about who they should select with the first pick. He also explained why roster moves can be a lot more complicated than simply sending a player to the Minor Leagues and replacing him with another.

Luhnow, deemed by one as the smartest guy in the room, was asked about Tal’s Hill and his level of autonomy to make deals.

He understandably had to be coy, and vague, at times, but what Luhnow could speak about, he did, at length. Once the first round of the draft is complete tomorrow night, more of the unanswered questions will finally have answers.

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The Draft officially begins on Monday at 6 p.m. (CT) and is scheduled to last three days. Coverage of this year’s draft will begin live on Monday at 5 CT on MLB Network and MLB.com from MLB Network’s Studio 42 in Secaucus, NJ.

All 30 clubs will have representatives in attendance at the Draft. Former Astro Larry Dierker and current Astros scout Ed Fastaia will represent the ballclub at this year’s Draft. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig will announce each club’s first-round selection. The intervals between each first-round selection will be five minutes with one minute intervals during the compensation round.

The Astros have the first and 41st picks on Monday.

The Draft will resume on both Tuesday (rounds 2-15) and Wednesday (rounds 16-40) at 11 CT. The 2012 Draft will have 40 rounds.

Scouting director Bobby Heck, GM Jeff Luhnow

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