Pettis teaching young Astros basics of baserunning, outfield
By Jamal Collier
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros manager A.J. Hinch has made it a point to focus on the team's coach-to-player ratio during drills this Spring Training, trying to establish the norm of one coach to two players at a time.
Third-base coach Gary Pettis has been one of the leading teachers on the staff, spending time with both the outfielders and on baserunning drills.
Jamal Collier is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
Hernandez's delay in reporting may leave him behind
Astros unsure when Dominican rotation candidate will be in camp
By Jamal Collier
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Two large brown boxes sit on the chair in front of Roberto Hernandez's locker. Three envelopes have been placed on top of the boxes, along with a memo to the players from Thursday morning.
A bag of golf clubs sits in front of two jerseys and four pairs of pants -- two gray, two white -- still neatly draped from a hanger -- and all appear to be untouched. Another day at Astros camp passed and Hernandez, delayed because of issues acquiring a work visa, still has not reported to camp.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- With the additions of Evan Gattis, Colby Rasmus, Jed Lowrie and Luis Valbuena, the Astros appear poised to have their deepest lineup in years with nine bats that are capable of driving in at least 50 runs, including several with legit power potential.
One thing manager A.J. Hinch doesn't want, however, is a team that relies too much on the long ball, which has been the case in the last few years. Home runs are nice, but sustaining rallies and moving runners are important as well.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros welcomed a guest into the clubhouse at Osceola County Stadium on Thursday morning that more than a few players hoped would have just stayed away.
Before taking the field for the morning work, some players posed for photos with Sunshine, an 11-foot albino Burmese python from nearby attraction Gatorland. Dallas Keuchel, Chad Qualls and Jed Lowrie were among those to pose with the reptile
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Despite being a No. 1 overall pick, right-hander Mark Appel is participating in the same rituals the Astros' other young players are doing this spring. Young players are getting singled out each morning so the veterans can find out more about them.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch has given Appel the assignment of making a presentation about every player on the team, which means Appel has spent the past few mornings interviewing his teammates and taking notes in a small notebook.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- One of the most challenging days of Spring Training for the hitters is when they step into the box for the first time against the pitchers, who have been in camp for nearly a week and had thrown two bullpen sessions prior to Thursday.
Some Astros hitters used the chance to face live pitching for the first time to simply track the pitches and not swing, while others couldn't wait to take some cuts. The first and second throwing groups threw live batting practice Thursday.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros general counsel Giles Kibbe said Thursday the team, the Nationals and Palm Beach County have selected HKS Architect, led by Mo Stein, to design the new two-team Spring Training facility they hope to open in 2017.
HKS designed two of the premier facilities in the Cactus League -- Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Ariz., which is home to the D-backs and Rockies, and Camelback Ranch in Glendale, shared by the Dodgers and White Sox.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros finally hit the field for the first full-squad workout of Spring Training when the position players joined the pitchers and catchers Wednesday morning, but not before hearing from owner Jim Crane, general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch.
All three addressed the players, the field staff and some members of the front office prior to the start of workouts at Osceola County Stadium, laying out the expectations for the season while going over some details of how camp is going to be run.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros manager A.J. Hinch has said expectations are high this year, and general manager Jeff Luhnow is on the record as saying his team could finish 2015 with its first winning record since 2008.
Owner Jim Crane believes the roster additions made by Luhnow and his staff this winter have put the club in position to possibly make the playoffs for the first time since it reached the World Series a decade ago and for the first time in the American League.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- A crew from MLB Productions has been following Astros All-Star second baseman and 2014 American League batting champion Jose Altuve around for the last few months to gather footage for a documentary about him.
The movie was the idea of club owner Jim Crane, who wanted Altuve to get some publicity following a season in which he set a club record with 225 hits and led the AL with a .341 batting average and 56 stolen bases.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- One of the things top prospect Carlos Correa wants to work on this spring is sliding into bases, which he hasn't done since he broke his right ankle sliding into third while playing for Class A Advanced Lancaster last summer. It was an injury that ended his season.
"I want to work on everything, especially with my baserunning," Correa said. "Since I got hurt, I haven't run the bases. I want to work on that and get my confidence back. You want to hit here. It's the big leagues and you're facing the best pitchers in the game, and you want to go out there and get ready for the season."
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Before the Astros take the mound for their first bullpen sessions of the spring or step onto the field to run the bases for the first time, the club puts the players through a comprehensive medical evaluation to make sure they're in the best position to compete.
In addition to the routine medical physicals each player undergoes each spring, the Astros and Houston Methodist Hospital, their long-time health care provider, this year are introducing a new sports medicine assessment designed to help prevent injuries and speed up recovery time when players are banged up.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros manager A.J. Hinch is in the envious position of inheriting the Major League batting champion in Jose Altuve, who last year led the big leagues and set a club record with 225 hits while batting .341 to become the first Houston player to win a batting title.
Hinch said Tuesday there's no pressure on Altuve to repeat.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros manager A.J. Hinch has been picking out a younger player to get up before the team in the clubhouse each morning to have him say some things about his background. Hinch also asks him some questions, some of which are designed to make him a tad uneasy.
It's all done with the idea of building team chemistry, something that's even more essential this year with so many new faces in camp. The player on center stage Tuesday morning was catcher Roberto Pena, whom Hinch lauded for earning a Minor League Baseball Rawlings Gold Glove Award.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- You know you've made it to the big leagues when you see your name scroll across the bottom of a monitor in the back seat of a taxicab. Or at least, that's what Pat Neshek quipped to fellow pitcher Dan Straily a couple of years ago while they were sharing a ride.
About a month after Straily made his Major League debut for A's on Aug. 3, 2012 -- the same day the A's traded for Neshek -- the two were riding in a cab in New York City with Adam Rosales when a sports update on the monitor displayed Straily's name on the crawl at the bottom. Straily was dressed in wrestling gear as part of a rookie hazing ritual, so naturally Neshek took a photo and later posted it on Twitter.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Peter Woodfork, Major League Baseball's senior vice president of baseball operations, and director of umpire development Rich Rieker met with Astros manager A.J. Hinch and bench coach Trey Hillman for an hour Monday to further discuss baseball's new pace-of-game procedures to be implemented this year.
Joe Torre, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, was originally scheduled to meet with the Astros, but had a family issue.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The opportunity to play in Texas for the first time since he was at the University of Houston a decade ago has catcher Luis Flores thrilled to be wearing an Astros uniform.
Flores, taken by the Astros in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft in December, is in camp as a non-roster invitee and is earmarked to open the season at Triple-A Fresno, a step below the Majors and a step above Double-A Corpus Christi -- his hometown.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Coming to a new team usually doesn't feel as comfortable as slipping on an old pair of shoes.
But Jed Lowrie, who signed with the Astros in December after playing two seasons in Oakland, arrived at camp on Monday to find he had the same locker at Osceola County Stadium he had when he spent the 2012 season with the Astros. He also saw several of his former Oakland teammates, including Dan Straily, Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- As the oldest of the 60 players in Astros camp, veteran reliever Chad Qualls has a few gray hairs in his beard that are the product of 10-plus years of stress as a Major League relief pitcher.
Of course, some of those white whiskers could have been the result of the struggles he had last year against the A's, but after watching the Astros gain bullpen help by signing Pat Neshek, Luke Gregerson and Joe Thatcher while also bolstering the offense with a flurry of moves, Qualls is grateful for the additions.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros right-hander Brad Peacock, who underwent arthroscopic surgery Oct. 6 to repair a torn labrum and remove bone spurs in his right hip, threw off the mound Sunday for the first time since the surgery and said he felt great.
Peacock tossed 20 fastballs to catcher Hank Conger under the watchful eye of head athletic trainer Nate Lucero and was pain-free. In fact, Peacock felt so good the training staff had to remind him to back it down a little bit when he began throwing at a level higher than the 50 percent intensity it wanted.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros catcher Jason Castro had faced sidearm-throwing right-hander Pat Neshek before, but trying to catch him proved to be a challenge in its own right.
Neshek, whose sidearm delivery is the product of a quick, jerky motion, threw for the first time Sunday as a member of the Astros. Castro said it took him a few pitches to feel comfortable catching the veteran right-hander.
Astros taking advantage of 'getting to know you' stage
Hinch holds daily morning meetings, keeps eyes on as many players as possible
By Brian McTaggart
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros manager A.J. Hinch finally got a good night's sleep Saturday now that camp is underway and much of the anxiety about the start of Spring Training has been calmed. The new-look Astros are still very much in the get-to-know-you stage, however, so Hinch is having daily team meetings in the morning.
"There's a lot of bodies in here, and we've got to walk them through the daily schedule and sort of where some tweaks will be made here and there," he said. "That's a sort of a team-building thing every morning. As games get underway and we're all over the place, we may not congregate every day as groups. We're just taking advantage of these early [days] and have a little get-to-know-you sessions and stuff like that."
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The good news for the Astros is they have several capable candidates to close out games this year. That's certainly reassurance for manager A.J. Hinch, who inherits a team that's blown 73 games in the past three seasons -- the most in the Major Leagues in that span.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Will Harris was born in Houston and has some fuzzy memories of his early years in the Bayou City, but pitching for the Astros at Minute Maid Park wouldn't exactly be something the right-handed pitcher would call a homecoming.
Harris, claimed off waivers from Arizona last year, grew up in Slidell, La., after moving from Houston when he was three or four years old. Still, he has some pictures of himself attending games at the Astrodome when he was little.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros pitching prospect Vincent Velasquez will be sidelined from throwing for at least the next two to three weeks while he recovers from a strained right lat injury suffered while playing in the Arizona Fall League on Nov. 4.
Velasquez, the Astros' No. 7-ranked prospect by MLB.com, isn't competing for a spot in the Major League rotation, but his latest injury will keep him from showing his stuff before the Major League coaching staff at least for the next few weeks. He's cleared for all other activities, but can't throw.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said he doesn't expect veteran pitcher Roberto Hernandez to arrive at camp until Tuesday at the earliest. Hernandez was the only one of the 28 pitchers on the roster to not work out on the first day of camp on Saturday.
Hernandez, who's from the Dominican Republic, didn't sign with the Astros until last week and is still awaiting a visa to work in the U.S.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, who serves as a special assistant to Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, was in camp when pitchers and catchers hit the field Saturday for the first workout of the spring.
Clemens, wearing an Astros pullover and visor and jeans, addressed the pitchers and catchers for a couple of minutes prior to the beginning of the workout, and then watched pitchers throw while talking to various members of the staff.