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Altuve gains national attention. Newsflash: he’s really good. (But we already knew that.)

Collectively, as an organization, the Astros got past the Jose-Altuve-is-too-short-to-play-in-the-big-leagues thing quite a while ago.

Two-and-a-half months into the season, I think we can all agree Altuve’s height is holding him back from nothing. That conclusion was established here in Houston a while ago. Now, several folks outside of our city are now catching on as well.

As you peruse this delightful blog written by Tyler Kepner of the New York Times, please also enjoy this latest nugget:

In addition to putting up All-Star caliber numbers so far this season, Altuve is also on pace to become one of the few NL second basemen since 1985 to lead his team in singles, doubles and triples.

The list of predecessors is impressive:

Steve Sax, Dodgers, 1986: 157 singles, 43 doubles, 4 triples
Craig Biggio, Astros, 1994: 84, 44, 5
Jeff Kent, Giants, 2000: 115, 41, 7
Freddy Sanchez, Pirates, 2007: 126, 42, 4
Jose Altuve, Astros, 2012 (through 66 games): 57, 18, 4
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All-Star voting is coming to close in the not-so-distant future. In-stadium balloting ends Wednesday, while the cutoff for online balloting is June 28 (next Thursday).

To boost the numbers in Houston and give one final push for Altuve and shortstop Jed Lowrie, the Astros are hosting an All-Star voting party tomorrow (Tuesday, June 19) during their game with the Royals.

The party will take place at the Conoco Pump Alley in left-center field and the more times you vote, the more times you’ll be entered to win a bunch of Astros prizes (game-used balls, hats, goody bags).

Tickets can be purchased here. Or you can call 1 877 9 ASTROS.

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Hall of Famer Joe Morgan will be in town this weekend to receive his Walk of Fame honors, as well as throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Astros game with the Indians.

Morgan, who played for the Astros from 1963-71 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990, will sign autographs on the main concourse from 6-6:30 p.m. on Friday. Autograph vouchers cost $25, with proceeds going to the Astros In Action Foundation.

Vouchers are available here.

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Astros lineup 6/12 at Giants. First pitch 9:15 p.m. CT

All-Star chatter includes Altuve, Lowrie; fans encouraged to Tweet the Vote.

Altuve-mania is sweeping the greater Houston area, and it’s becoming exceedingly clear that your second baseman is going to find himself in Kansas City in about a month.

No, no, no…the Astros didn’t make another trade with the Royals. Rather, Kansas City is the site of the 2012 All-Star Game, and Jose Altuve, who’s maintained an average well over .300 the entire season, arguably is the leading candidate to represent the Astros this year.

Don’t count out Jed Lowrie, either, who as of Sunday is leading all big league shortstops with 12 home runs and should be in any conversation at this point about the Astros and the All-Star Game. It would be nice to see both Lowrie and Altuve — with his .326 batting average, 17 doubles, three triples and 22 RBIs — head to Kansas City.

I have no idea how many Altuves it takes to get from Houston to Kansas City, but I’m pretty sure of one thing: every time someone mentions his height (or lack thereof) Altuve gets a hit.

Athletes from the other Houston sports teams are jumping on the Altuve bandwagon, too. On Sunday, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt tweeted: “Hey Houston, @JoseAltuve27 hit a HR & stole home today and is hitting .326 on the year. Get your votes in, make him an All-Star #TeamHouston”

I’m guessing Watt has already voted here…

…and you can also Tweet the Vote here, using a slew of hashtags that identifies the Astros and your favorite players.

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In addition to signing their first-round pick in less than 72 hours, the Astros have been busy working on signing as many of the remaining 40 players they selected during the Draft last week.

So far, they’ve inked 18, including their third-rounder (RHP Brady Rodgers) and their fifth-rounder (OF Andrew Aplin).

The full up-to-date list, as of Sunday night:

1 SS Carlos Correa
3 RHP Brady Rodgers
5 OF Andrew Aplin
9 RHP Daniel Minor
12 OF Terrell Joyce
13 LHP Brian Holmes
14 IF Joseph Sclafani
15 RHP Erick Gonzalez
16 OF Daniel Gulbransen
17 RHP Aaron West
18 C Richard Gingras
19 IF Austin Elkins
28 IF Angel Ibanez
29 RHP Christian Garcia
30 RHP John Neely
31 C M.P. Cokinos
34 RHP Jordan Jankowski
37 RHP Michael Dimock

(Update: the Astros signed three more: LHP Joseph Bircher (10th round), RHP Travis Ballew (23rd round), 1B Michael
Martinez (36th round).

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Speaking of the Draft, it wasn’t at all surprising when the announcement regarding the Player To Be Named in the trade with the Royals from a few months ago came down this weekend.

The Astros traded Jason Bourgeois and Humberto Quintero to Kansas City during Spring Training for left-hander Kevin Chapman and that always-mysterious Player to Be Named, who was to be named, well, later. Much, much later.

We now know that player is 20-year-old outfielder Dโ€™Andre Toney. He was drafted by the Royals in 2011, and because a player has to be in the system for a full year before the team who drafted him can trade him, the Toney transaction couldn’t happen until the 2012 Draft was complete.

Hence, the timing.

Jeff Luhnow hinted in March the PTBNL was the cornerstone of the trade, and if early returns are any indication, it appears the Astros acquired a speedy outfielder with offensive potential. Last year while in Rookie Ball, he hit .340 with 12 doubles, five triples, five home runs and 29 RBIs and a .432 on-base percentage.

In trading two bench players, the Astros acquired a young lefty pitching prospect and outfielder, moving the organization forward as it continues to build the farm system and plan for the future. Looks promising.

(Chapman, by the way, has a 3-2 record with a 2.30 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 27 1/3 innings in 24 appearances for Double-A Corpus Christi this season and was named the clubโ€™s Pitcher of the Month in April.)

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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 beย  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 isย  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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