Results tagged ‘ Astroline ’

Snapshots from Spring Training, Day Three.

A month ago, it looked as if catcher Jason Castro, who had two injury setbacks over the course of one calendar year, might not be ready to start the season when Opening Day rolls around on April 6.

Today, the level of optimism is much higher. It’s more likely than not that Castro, who had season-ending knee surgery last Spring Training and foot surgery this past December, is on track to start the season on time.

This isn’t to say that he’s maintaining the same workout pace as the other catches in camp. He’s not. He’s participating in drills and catching bullpens, but on a slightly lesser scale than the rest. The goal is for him to build stamina without overextending himself, even if it means not being quite ready to play when the Grapefruit season gets underway in another 10 days.

Regardless of when Castro appears in his first spring game, the catching situation this year, so far, is light years ahead of where the team was a year ago. There is no stat line that can truly describe how valuable a catcher is to a team. He’s top lieutenant on the field and can provide a huge sense of security to pitchers. On the flip side, if a catcher is inadequate in his ability to call games and block pitches in the dirt, it can wreak havoc on a pitcher’s psyche.

Castro’s return will be a big lift for the team, and the addition of Chris Snyder, a veteran catcher, should not be overlooked. The Astros now have three catchers in a pool that also includes veteran Humberto Quintero, giving them experience, depth and a plan B. They pretty much had none of those things  a year ago.

A couple of housekeeping notes:

* The final Houston-based Astroline will air on Thursday at Buffalo Wild Wings in Midtown. Former outfielder Kevin Bass will join Milo Hamilton for the hour-long show, which can be heard on 740 KTRH and

Astroline will resume the following week on Feb. 29 at the Disney Boardwalk in Orlando. Keeping with tradition, the first Florida-based show will feature manager Brad Mills.

* The first full-squad workout will be held Feb. 26, and as always, workouts are free and open to the public. Gates open around 9:30 a.m. The first Grapefruit League game will take place at Osceola County Stadium on March 3 vs. the Nationals. Workouts on home game days are closed.

* Two spring games will be televised this year: March 20 vs. the Cardinals and April 3 vs. the White Sox (at Minute Maid Park).

And we conclude with images from Day 3 on a cloudy but rain-free morning at the spring complex:

Brian Bogusevic, Jed Lowrie

Practicing fielding comebackers: Brad Mills and Kyle Weiland.

Having some between-drills laughs: Jose Altuve, roving minor league baserunning coordinator Milt Thompson, Jimmy Paredes, Jose Cruz.

PFP: Bud Norris.

Two former first-rounders: Delino DeShields (2010) and George Springer (2011).

Batting practice: J.D. Martinez, Jose Altuve.

Jimmy Paredes waves to a fan.

Brandon Lyon and Jason Castro discuss Lyon's bullpen session when it ended.

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Notes and quotes from Jeff Luhnow’s appearance on “Astroline.”

General manager Jeff Luhnow kicked off the new year by appearing with Milo Hamilton on the first “Astroline” of 2012, which took place Wednesday night at Buffalo Wild Wings in Midtown. As expected, the show generated a lot of calls and tweets and ended up being a very informative hour with lots of questions answered by the new GM.

You can listen the show in its entirety by clicking here. Some interesting snipets:

On his opinion about the trades made before he was here and if he’s happy with depth in the Minor League system:

JL: I do believe we have a plan in place put together by (owner) Jim Crane and the ownership group and (president and CEO) George Postolos. That plan involves us building from within, developing a system that can be productive and allow us to compete year in and year out. How long it takes until we’re competing year in and year out, I don’t know at this point. I do think that the trades made last summer added some interesting players to the system. It’s hard from where I’m sitting to say, “Was that a good deal or not?” It’s hard for me to say because I don’t know what other options were available at the time. But I do know both of those players (Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn) were traded and there’s a lot that came back in return. I do think that going forward, the system is going to get better. There’s a lot of excitement around some of the players in the Minor Leagues that have come through the Astros drafts and the trades and it’s going to be fun to watch them develop and we’re going to hopefully add to that.

On his basic philosophy on building the Astros and signing free agents:

JL: From a free agency standpoint, there’s a couple of critical things. If you have a limited payroll you have to make sure you don’t make mistakes. You sign one bad big contract and that can set you back years….You can’t win with just free agents. Everybody knows that. Even the Yankees know that. We’re going to be a small payroll team for a few years here. We’re going to have to build from within. What does that mean? That means staffing the organization with the best scouts and best coaches at all levels. It means doing it internationally and doing it domestically. There’s no one silver bullet. You have to be excellent across all different areas. You have to have the best scouts in the Dominican. You have to have good development people throughout the system, good amateur scouts in the U.S. and pro scouts in U.S.

There are already good scouts in the Astros organization and we’re going to layer on top of that and make value decisions. What I mean by that is every baseball decision ends up being dollars and cents decision at the end of the day. How much is a Double-A prospect worth relative to a six-year free agent. There’s ways to value all of that and methods other teams use that I’m familiar with from my days in St. Louis. We’re going to institutionalize all of that here so that it becomes part of our nature.

What kind of payroll do you see the Astros having long term? Are the days of $100 million over?

JL: We’re going to need to demonstrate some progress on the field and demonstrate that the fans are coming back and getting excited about the ball club. You look at the Houston market — the Texans are very successful.  The Rockets are very successful. There’s no reason the Astros can’t be successful. The market is large enough to sustain a payroll in the top 10. I would imagine if we do our jobs and get some breaks going our way and the fans start coming back, we’re going to be able to push the payroll to a point where we can compete year in and year out.

I’m used to $100 million-range payrolls with St. Louis and it gives you a lot of flexibility to sign free agents and keep some of your better players. As our young players come through and go through arbitration and become free agents, we want to have the flexibility to sign these guys and keep them around for a while. I know Jim and George and the entire ownership group are committed to that. But we have milestones along the way that we’re going to need to hit in order to get there.

What are Chris Johnson’s chances of being the starting third baseman in 2012?

JL: I don’t know if I have an answer for that right now. We have a couple of different options. There are not too many positions where you say, that person’s absolutely going to be there April 6 when we open the season. There will be open competition for a lot of spots and third base is one of them. We want to put the best product on the field this year but we also want to develop for the future. Brad (Mills) and his staff and myself will spend all of Spring Training trying to figure out the answer to that.

On Sig Mejdal, hired recently as the director of decision sciences:

JL: He really helped me do my job as scouting director (in St. Louis) and helped me pick the right guys and a lot of the guys that we, together, picked made it to the big leagues and helped the Cardinals win the championship this year. We’re hoping to replicate some of that and hope that some of that luck rubs off over here.

On using modern technology available for statistical analysis:

JL: From my standpoint, it’s not a matter of if you use the old school methods or new methods. You really need to use both of them. Nothing replaces the value of having an experienced scout go out and observe a player and give you his point of view about what that player is going to become. That’s information that’s been part of baseball forever and will continue to be part of baseball. It’s essential.

There is, though, so much additional information available to any baseball person today. No one person can analyze it all and understand it in their own mind. We’ll start using some of the more sophisticated technology to combine it with the scouting opinions and make the best decisions.

Other notable tidbits:
* Luhnow had a two-hour, get-to-know-you breakfast meeting with Craig Biggio on Wednesday. It was an informal discussion to serve as an exchange of ideas and gave Biggio a chance to share some of his ideas and opinions.

* While no player is untouchable, Luhnow does not plan to trade Bud Norris. “He is a critical part of the plan moving forward,” Luhnow said.

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On our TV broadcasters, Astroline and Michael Bourn.


While I realize there are still a lot of unanswered questions floating around regarding last week’s announcement that the Astros will partner with Comcast beginning in 2012, I do want to clear up one thing: Astros broadcasters, both for radio and television, are employed by the Astros, not the stations that broadcast the games.

I’ve read and heard a lot of concern about Jim Deshaies and Bill Brown, our lovable TV announcers, as to how the new TV deal affects them. Rest assured, it doesn’t. They’re Astros employees and therefore, they go where the Astros go. Same goes for Milo Hamilton, Brett Dolan and Dave Raymond on the radio side.

Regarding your other questions surrounding what the new TV deal means for you and your current cable carrier, please be patient. Most of your questions do not have answers yet. There are a lot of moving parts and eventually, everything will be clear. For now, it’s not, so giving half-baked answers that may or may not accurately apply in ’12 would be irresponsible on my part. Thank you for your patience.




Speaking of broadcasting, the Astros’ wildly popular offseason radio show, Astroline, will begin its weekly run beginning Wednesday, Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. CT. Aired on 740 KTRH, streamed live on and hosted by Hamilton, Astroline will take place at a new location — Buffalo Wild Wings in Midtown (510 Gray St.)

We’re still waiting for confirmation on the first guest, but we can tell you that the Houston portion of Astroline will include 13 dates: Nov. 17; Dec. 1, 8, 15 and 29; Jan. 5, 12, 19 and 26; Feb. 2, 9, 16 and 23. The show will then relocate to Florida for Spring Training.

As was the case last year, Twitter will have an active role during Astroline. Fans will be encouraged to tweet their questions to me ( and we’ll read them, and answer them, over the air.



Next Wednesday, we’ll find out if Michael Bourn won his second National League Gold Glove award. I’m guessing the odds are in his favor, for two reasons: he’s clearly one of the best defensive outfielders in the game, and, it’s a lot easier to win it the second, third and fourth times around. The toughest part is getting the player enough national publicity for voters from far-away teams to take notice, but once his name is out there as a top defender, the ensuing awards come at a much more rapid pace.

In the meantime, Bourn was recognized for his defense last week by another pretty reputable entity. The Fielding Bible doesn’t carry the same glitz and glamour as the Gold Glove, but I like it because of how technical it gets when evaluating the candidates.

The Fielding Bible is a book compiled by John Dewan, who has recruited some of the most respected people in the game to analyze every play (literally) a player makes during the season. Detailed information is recorded on each play, such as the location of each batted ball, the speed and the type of hit and determining how each player compares to his peers in making those plays. An example Dewan uses is: How often does Derek Jeter field a softly batted ball located 20 feet to the right of the normal shortstop position, compared to all other Major League shortstops?

Dewan uses the plus/minus system for plays made and missed, as compared to how often they were made and missed by others at the same position. (For the record, Adam Everett turned in the highest score ever, turning in a +43 at shortstop in ’06. That means he made 43 more plays than the average MLB shortstop would make.)

Anyhoo, in layman’s terms, Bourn being recognized as the best center fielder in baseball by the Fielding Bible doesn’t just mean he made a bunch of plays that drew oohs and ahs by spectators, cable stations and web sites. It means he’s taking good routes to balls, getting good jumps and reading the ball well off the bat. It means he has great instincts, which is something that can improve over time but cannot be taught. He’s making a lot of things look easy that simply are not. All good news for Astros fans.


And finally, a dip into the photo vault…here we have a very young, fresh-faced Hunter Pence attending batting practice after he was drafted and signed by the Astros in 2004. Other than utilizing a wide array of hair styles over the years, he really hasn’t changed much…


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