Results tagged ‘ Jeff Luhnow ’

‘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.

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 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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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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Not-so-undercover: Luhnow moonlights as gameday usher.

Jeff Luhnow’s foray into the world of ushering and ticket-scanning at Minute Maid Park wasn’t quite as dramatic as something you’d see on “Undercover Boss,” mainly because he wasn’t in disguise, and his nametag said, fittingly, “Jeff.”

There was no mistaking Luhnow as he greeted fans at the South Home Plate entrance when gates opened on Tuesday for the Astros-Cubs game. There was no recognizing him, either, apparently. Fans barely batted an eye as Luhnow scanned tickets and greeted fans with a friendly “enjoy the game.”

He fielded not a single question about who he’s selecting in the upcoming draft. No one asked him who’s starting the second game of the doubleheader in Denver on Monday. In fact, Luhnow was recognized exactly once, by a regular at Minute Maid Park who puts up the “K” signs in the outfield at just about every game.

Extreme closeup of Luhnow’s gameday bling

Other than that, it was just another atypical day at the office for the general manager. Except now he has a new appreciation for the gameday employees who are on their feet for several hours every night, tending to fans to ensure the ballpark experience is an enjoyable one.

“It gave me a lot of empathy for our ushers and ticket takers,” Luhnow said. “It’s exhausting. And I only did it for two hours. They’re here all night.”

Luhnow is one of several members of the Astros’ senior management staff who are participating in a new program called “Share the Experience,” where high-level executives spend part of their day working around different elements of the gameday operation.


When staffers were asked to participate, Luhnow signed up right away.

His debut as a ticket-scanner went smoothly, for the most part, with only one minor catastrophe. The barcodes for one cluster of five tickets printed out on a computer wouldn’t scan, so Luhnow had to manually punch in the numbers for each one.

“A high pressure situation,” Luhnow confirmed.

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It’s not always sunny in Philadelphia. Just check out Tuesday’s forecast.

Buddy, can you spare a roof?

A wise man once said, “I’m no weather man, but it’s not looking good out there.”

OK, so the wise man was MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart. And sure, a few of us might make a case that Tags may be more of a wise guy than a wise man. And he wasn’t prophetic as much as he was just efficient, following the moving radar on his iPhone. Oh, and when Tags said it, he was actually referring to one of the games the Astros played in Pittsburgh over the weekend.

Still, Tags’ words indeed hold true as we inch toward the end of this all-Pennsylvania roadie. The rain was steady on Monday but not heavy enough to delay the game, but Tuesday’s not, well, looking good out there. The rain is going to continue overnight and is expected to get worse. It also appears the showers will hover over Philly until at least 1 a.m. Tuesday night/Wednesday morning.

The Astros’ starting pitcher for Tuesday is still TBA, and the way it’s looking, the start time is also TBA, or perhaps NHE, as in, Not Happening, Ever.

For now, though, we’ll proceed as scheduled, with the game slated to begin at 1:05 p.m. ET.  But it could be a long day of sitting around and waiting for the rain to subside. That said, both teams have an offday on Aug. 27. The Astros will finish a weekend series with the Mets in New York on Aug. 26 and could theoretically swing back through Philly for one game the next day.

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When the Astros host the Reds on Saturday, June 2, we’ll be hosting our second Social Media Night in the Budweiser Patio. We’ll be joined by one of the Astros’ more regular tweeters, Chris Johnson (@cjastros23), who will be on hand to award prizes to the winners of our Twitter Trivia contest.

Tickets cost $45 and include a ticket on the Bud Patio, batting practice viewing, dinner, dessert, a t-shirt and an opportunity to win prizes during Twitter Trivia.

Prize winners will receive a signed baseball from Johnson and will also receive a copy, via email, of a photo with CJ.

Won’t you join us?

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J.D. Martinez was reinserted into the lineup for the finale in Pittsburgh on Sunday, but the return to the field doesn’t seem to be permanent. After giving the struggling Martinez three consecutive games off,  manager Brad Mills was hoping that by putting the left fielder back in the three-hole, where he spent most of April, he’d be more comfortable upon returning to the lineup.

It appears now, however, that Mills will be more selective about when he plays Martinez, who was 0-for-4 on Sunday and is hitless in his last 25 at-bats. Mills said he will “pick and choose” games to play Martinez with hopes of working him back slowly.

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Our intrepid general manager, Jeff Luhnow, will conduct an online chat session with fans during the Astros’ game with the Cubs on Tuesday, May 22. The chat will take place from 7:30 to 8 CT. We will tweet a link on @astros soon. All fans are invited to sign in and participate.

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The 1960s shooting star jerseys that made such a splash earlier this month are making a repeat appearance on Friday, as the Astros celebrate another Flashback Friday at Minute Maid Park. Nolan Ryan will be the fourth iconic alum to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, falling in line after Bob Aspromonte (April 10), Larry Dierker (April 20) and Rusty Staub (May 4).

Here’s the rest of the first pitch schedule:

June 1 vs. CIN    J.R. Richard
June 22 vs. CLE    Joe Morgan
July 6 vs. MIL    Jose Cruz
July 27 vs. PIT Mike Scott
Aug. 10 vs. MIL Jeff Bagwell
Aug. 17 vs. ARI  Brad Ausmus
Aug. 31 vs. CIN  Shane Reynolds
Sept. 14 vs. PHI Jeff Kent
Sept. 21 vs. PIT Craig Biggio

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Astros Opening Day celebrates the past and looks ahead to the future. The day in pictures.

Owner Jim Crane and general manager Jeff Luhnow

Opening Day is special, and you instantly can feel the vibe. It’s festive, it’s fun and everyone’s in a good mood. And, least importantly, it’s the one game of the year where people get all gussied up.

On Opening Day, just about everyone who covers baseball, or broadcasts baseball, or signs free agents, or helps design bobbleheads, or sits in a suite with other like-minded very important people, is dressed to the nines. The men look a little like secret service agents (without the ear buds and scowls worn by the real secret service agents who are there to protect Minute Maid Park regulars George and Barbara Bush).

Opening Day means something. The ballpark is the place to be. Even if it’s just one game of 162 played every year, what Opening Day symbolizes is recognized, and respected.

That doesn’t mean Opening Day is some stuffy cocktail party. No, quite the contrary. Opening Day is a big party, and that was never more apparent than in the nearly seven hours leading up to first pitch, when the streets surrounding Minute Maid Park were closed off and transformed into the annual rite of passage known as Street Fest.

The festival on the streets by the ballpark (hence the name Street Fest) included a little bit of everything — bands, food, beverages, fans and appearances by significant members of the team, both from the front office and the uniformed staff.

Street Fest started early and ended late and featured visits from some of the most recognizable members of the team. Two groups of Astros dropped by for two separate pep rallies.

Unsurprisingly, the second crowd, on hand for the appearance by Jose Altuve, J.D. Martinez and Bud Norris at 4:30-ish, was slightly more spirited and, shall we say, less inhibited than the fans who moseyed over to the stage for the 12:30 show with Jeff Luhnow, Brad Mills and Larry Dierker. Hey, certain libations just flow more freely in the late afternoon hours.

Pep rallies were just one element of the Opening Day celebration. Pregame ceremonies included trotting Budweiser Clydesdales, an anthem-singing country music star (Clay Walker), ceremonial first pitches by those who contributed to the Astros’ storied history (Jimmy Wynn, Dierker and Jose Cruz) and those who are ready to usher in a brand new era of Astros baseball, including owner Jim Crane and his many board members.

Crane’s afternoon began with a lengthy visit to batting practice and brief remarks to the team assembled in the locker room a couple of hours before first pitch.

We have lots of pictures and videos to share from the day. We’ll start with Crane’s remarks to the team:

Highlights:

“Congrats on making the team. I know for a lot of you guys it’s your first time making the team, your first Opening Day. Have some fun.

“There’s a lot of opportunity here. We’re going to try to do things right and try to make this a fun place to be. This should be a fun team to be on so anything we can help you with, you’re part of my family now.

“One thing you’ve got to remember — those people outside (in the stands) pay the bills. We put up the money to buy the team, and we need to engage the fans, stay close to the fans. We need to be nice to the fans. We’ve worked hard at that. I’m going to ask a lot of you throughout the season when you’ve got the time. We won’t take away from your work.”

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The dugout scene before the game always includes plenty of hugs and handshakes among teammates. This is the one game of the year where the sense of brotherhood is front and center. Although the camaraderie doesn’t dim through the season, you don’t see a lot of outward affection between teammates from day to day. That’s mainly saved for the opener.

Enjoy the photos from an eventful day at Minute Maid Park:

Pep rally: Dave Raymond, Bud Norris, Brett Dolan

Pep rally: broadcasters with J.D. Martinez

Batting practice: Brad Mills has his daily meeting with the media. Most days, the contingent is a little smaller.

BP: Strength and conditioning coach Gene Coleman with Jose Altuve.

BP: two great players from our history, Art Howe and Enos Cabell.

BP: the TV gang -- Steve Sparks, Kevin Eschenfelder, Jim Deshaies.

BP: Kyle Weiland.

BP: J.D. Martinez.

Pregame ceremony: Jeff Luhnow and the Clydesdales.

Pregame ceremony: Jimmy Wynn, Larry Dierker, Jose Cruz.

First pitch: Jim Crane and several board members.

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Ultimately, roster trimming is good for many players who are “sent out.”

The Astros’ Spring Training roster has been trimmed by 14 players in the last week, from 63 to 49. General manager Jeff Luhnow and manager Brad Mills still have some whittling down to do, considering that between now and Opening Day a little more than three weeks from now, 24 more players are going to have to be removed from Major League roster consideration.

It’s likely that the team will break the Florida version of Spring Training camp with around 30 players. They’ll travel to Corpus Christi for an exhibition game and will have two more to play at home — against the White Sox — before the slate is wiped clean and the real games begin April 6. They’ll need some extra bodies to get them through those final three exhibitions, which justifies bringing along some extra helping hands before finalizing the 25-man Opening Day roster.

We casually refer to roster trimming as “cuts,” but that’s probably not the most accurate term to use. Most of the players who have been sent to Minor League camp so far are considered to be a part of the Astros’ future. Realistically and somewhat ironically, it wouldn’t be fair to their development to keep them in big league camp.

Starting pitchers are pitching more innings by now, and there are only so many games and innings to be dispersed among a group of 63. The Minor League players also have a season to get ready for, and they can’t do that if they’re sitting on the bench, waiting for an inning here and an inning there. Especially the starting pitchers — they need to get stretched out as well.

So that’s why Paul Clemens — he of the 0.00 ERA over five innings in two spring games — was sent to Minor League camp this week, along with several others, like Jonathan Singleton, Delino DeShields, Jonathan Villar and George Springer. Many big pieces of the puzzle will now prepare for their seasons in Minor League camp, where playing time and innings are plentiful.

But don’t forget these guys. You’ll see them again.

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Even though the Major League clubhouse has cleared out a bit, innings are still an issue as the front office and coaching staff sort out who will comprise the starting rotation. There are still more than five viable candidates, which is why some have to pitch in Minor League games or simulated sessions in order to stay on schedule. Jordan Lyles, a fifth starter candidate, started the club’s Triple-A game against the Nationals’ Triple-A team at the same time the Astros were hosting the Blue Jays on Thursday.

Lyles’ line: five innings, two hits, no runs, one walk and seven strikeouts.

“I’m excited,” Lyles said. “It’s going to be fun from here on out.”

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Programming note: Due to scheduling conflicts, Friday’s game will be broadcast on KTRH on tape delay. It will air at 8 p.m. CT that night.
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By this time of the spring, I’ve watched morning workouts on the backfields of the Osceola County Stadium complex more than two dozen times, and quite frankly, the routine can become a tad mundane after a while.

Don’t get me wrong, no one day in baseball is like the next, but after 17 sessions of pitchers’ fielding practice and 48 rounds of batting practice, well, you’ll understand that from time to time, the eyelids get a little droopy.

But it’s nothing that a little flip-cam action can’t remedy. You never know what you’re going to capture if you just stand there and let the sights and sounds of Spring Training take over.

In today’s video corner, we joke around a little bit with Wandy Rodriguez and note some of Carlos Lee’s keen observations as he watches his teammates hit from behind the cage:

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Keep an eye on Kyle Weiland.

Brett Myers’ move to the bullpen opened up a lot of innings, some 200 or more, that need to be accounted for by someone else this season. Livan Hernandez will take care some of that, of course, but opportunity is wide open for another pitcher — presumably, one of the Astros up-and-comers — to grab one of the spots in a rotation that has at least one opening.

Assuming Bud Norris, Wandy Rodriguez, Hernandez and J.A. Happ take up the first four spots, one job remains. Jordan Lyles, who made 15 starts for the Astros in 2011, would have to be considered a front-runner to win the job. But keep an eye on a few others, including Kyle Weiland, who is quietly putting together an impressive Spring Training.

Weiland, who was traded to the Astros from the Red Sox during the offseason, threw four no-hit innings against the Yankees Monday night in Tampa. Add that to the four scoreless innings he combined for in his first two spring appearances, and that equals a nearly perfect spring so far: eight innings, three hits, no runs, two walks, four strikeouts.

Spring Training games should, and will, be viewed with the understanding that while it’s largely the only way by which we can judge players at this point, it’s not the sole indicator of how that might translate to the regular season. That said, Spring Training is also designed to give players a chance to force their way onto a team. Weiland, who is going to continue to be groomed as a starting pitcher as he develops through the Astros’ system, wasn’t labeled as a sure-fire contender to win a big league job when camp began. But he wasn’t definitively ticketed for Triple-A, either.

Rather, Weiland was considered one of those “interesting” types to keep an eye on. If three weeks ago I had to bet large amounts of my salary on where Weiland would end up after Spring Training, I would have said Oklahoma City. Now, I’m not so sure.

If the Astros are looking for someone to pull away from the pack, they may have to look no further than the pitcher who handled the Yankees with a tidy 49 pitches Monday night in Tampa.

Weiland, on his outing:

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Other notes:

* To make up for Sunday’s rainout, Wandy threw four simulated innings in the batting cage as soon as the game was called. The next morning, Norris and Aneury Rodriguez also threw four-inning simulated games. Norris was pitching on his normal four days of rest. The simulated games are in an effort to give “starts” to all potential starting pitchers this spring, and obviously, they have more than five who need innings.

* Brad Mills said he is trying to schedule a “B” game to make up for the innings lost by the rainout Sunday. While Spring Training games look casual and not terribly intense, there is a lot of work being done behind the scenes during the exhibition season. The schedules are mapped out by the coaching staff days in advance, and everyone — especially pitchers — have a regimen they need to stick to. Rainouts are a bummer for the fans, but they create even more headaches for a manager and staff trying to make sure 60-some players are all getting their work in. It looks easy from the outside. It’s not.

* Owner Jim Crane flew to Tampa with several board members to watch the Astros play the Yankees. It was Crane’s first Spring Training game, but presumably, it won’t be his last. He looked like he was thoroughly enjoying himself:

Other pregame sights from George M. Steinbrenner Field:

Brian Bogusevic

GM Jeff Luhnow and Brad Mills

Hall of Famer Goose Gossage is with the Yankees during Spring Training as a "guest instructor." He signs a lot of autographs in this role.

J.B. Shuck takes a round of BP...

...and chats with radio announcer Dave Raymond.

Hitting coach Mike Barnett and Jimmy Paredes discuss hitting, while Brett Wallace takes a few swings.

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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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