Astros put '13 in rearview as Spring Training opens
Group of vets join youngsters as pitchers, catchers officially report Saturday
HOUSTON -- The clubhouse at Osceola County Stadium will offer a promising mix consisting of the Astros' up-and-coming prospects, a handful of established Major Leaguers and some familiar faces ready for a fresh start in 2014.
The new-look Astros will take a big step in putting last year's disappointing season behind them when pitchers and catchers report to Kissimmee, Fla., on Saturday, though many -- including a handful of position players who don't have to report until next week -- are already at the facility.
On Sunday, pitchers and catchers will work out for the first time, and the full squad is scheduled to report Wednesday and work out for the first time Thursday. The Astros kick off Grapefruit League play against the Braves on Friday, Feb. 28, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
"It's exciting," Astros second-year manager Bo Porter said. "You look at the offseason, and it seems like it was going to be long, but once Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around, you realize the next month and a half goes by really fast. I think the players are excited. We had a great offseason of work, and now it's time to get down to brass tacks."
The Astros saw youth get served last year with the arrival of several promising youngsters, including pitchers Jarred Cosart, Brad Peacock, Brett Oberholtzer, Josh Zeid and Kevin Chapman; outfielder Robbie Grossman and third baseman Matt Dominguez.
Porter feels good about the contributions the prospects will be able to make, but the club also went out and spent money, adding veteran starting pitchers Scott Feldman and Jerome Williams and relievers Chad Qualls, Matt Albers and Jesse Crain, who likely won't be the ready to start the season following biceps surgery performed in October.
The Astros will also get their first look at outfielder Dexter Fowler, who they acquired from the Rockies early in the winter to be their center fielder and leadoff hitter.
"Our strategy this offseason was to really significantly improve our product at the Major League level," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "What I mean by that is, last year the record was disappointing (51-111). The losing streak (15 in a row), the way we finished, was disappointing. There were some bright spots along the way. Not many thought we win the season series against the Angels, and we did. It showed we can compete with some very strong teams. The challenge is, we weren't doing it consistently."
The Astros will begin camp with very few injury concerns. Right-hander Mark Appel, the No. 1 overall pick in last June's First-Year Player Draft, is recovering from an appendectomy, but he shouldn't be too limited for the start of camp.
Left-handed pitcher Raul Valdes, claimed off waivers from the Phillies in October, underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee earlier this month. He is scheduled to report on Saturday, but will need 4-6 weeks to recover.
With about nine pitchers competing for a spot in the starting rotation and a solid mix of young and older arms in the bullpen, there will be no shortage of competition. There should also be a healthy battle at first base, where Brett Wallace, newcomer Jesus Guzman, Japhet Amador, Marc Krauss and prospect Jonathan Singleton are all vying for playing time.
"We've got the veterans we've added, and they're going to add some stability to the top of the rotation and bullpen," Luhnow said. "We got the young players that are exciting, guys like [shortstop Jonathan Villar] and Grossman and [L.J.] Hoes. We've got some bounce-back candidates -- guys who didn't have the year we'd hoped they'd have and we know they're capable of doing, guys like [pitcher] Lucas Harrell and [outfielder] J.D. Martinez. You get a good year from those guys, and that changes the landscape."
Porter is understandably ready to put last year behind him, and he says his second year as a manager and his second season in what was an unfamiliar American League a year ago should lead to a greater comfort level in 2014.
"I'm a move-forward type of person," he said.
No better time to move forward than the start of Spring Training.