About-face for Quintero

About-face for Quintero

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Hampered by back injuries and feeling sluggish and slow last September, Humberto Quintero decided to change his lifestyle, and in turn, he hoped to reverse the course of his career.

By the time the Astros completed their disappointing campaign in 2007, Quintero's career was at a standstill. He missed the final month with ongoing back problems, a problem due partly to excess weight. He was finishing his third season in the Astros organization, but he was no closer to solidifying a spot on the roster than he was in '05, when he was first traded from San Diego during Spring Training.

And Quintero played in 29 games in the big leagues in '07, only a slight bump from the 11 he played in the year before.

In other words, Quintero was going nowhere fast, while other catchers -- namely, J.R. Towles -- were passing him by on the depth chart.

Quintero decided an overhaul was in order. He stayed in Houston during the offseason to work out at the Astros' facilities and followed a strict health plan, one that resulted in him dropping about 30 pounds over the course of three months.

The 5-foot-9 Quintero is listed at 215 pounds, but clearly, that number is outdated. He reported to Spring Training slim, trim, healthy -- and determined to prove his worth on this club.

"I wanted to try to stay in the big leagues," Quintero said when asked why he went on such a limiting diet. "My back hurt. I had a lot of wear in my body. That's why I did it."

The food regimen is, quite frankly, rather bland. He eats oatmeal for breakfast, and throughout the day, he'll eat a handful of small meals that include white meat and tuna and no rice. He drinks plenty of water and fat-free milk, and for dinner, he'll have a salad with fish.

No wonder the weight fell off so quickly.

"I feel a hundred percent better now," Quintero said. "I'm more flexible, more comfortable, swinging the bat better, catching better."

His dedication has piqued the interest of manager Cecil Cooper as the Astros' skipper ponders carrying three catchers on the Opening Day roster. With Towles out of commission for nearly two weeks this spring, Quintero was given extra playing time, and he's responded by hitting .387 over 15 spring games.

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Of Quintero's 12 hits, two were for doubles and one was a home run. His nine RBIs were tied for the third highest on the team.

Cooper has noticed a new attitude from Quintero this year. Noting that the catcher went through personal issues last year that are now behind him, Cooper sees a more focused player who set goals and stuck to them.

"He made a real conscious commitment to get in shape," Cooper said. "You can tell just by the play this spring, he's totally different. He's the guy I thought we might be getting two or three years ago when we traded for him with San Diego.

"He just was not the same guy. He started going backward. His catching suffered a lot. Some of it was because he didn't play. He made a commitment this winter to get better."

"I'm always focused, but I am more this year," Quintero said. "Coming [to Spring Training], I'm really focused, 100 percent on everything."

In terms of position players, the Astros have two spots available and five candidates for those jobs: Quintero, Jose Cruz Jr., Tomas Perez, David Newhan and Reggie Abercrombie.

If Quintero doesn't make the club, he'll have to go through waivers before the Astros can send him to the Minor Leagues. The shortage of quality Major League catchers across the board suggests Quintero would probably be picked up by another team, and the Astros would receive nothing in return.

That element of roster management is weighing on Cooper's mind. Final decisions are looming, and the skipper still has no idea if he'll take two catchers or three. The only thing he does know is that the final call will be a difficult one to make.

"No question," Cooper said. "I said this all along: if he plays well, there's a possibility you carry three [catchers]. Things are turning a little bit for him. Same with Cruz Jr. Things have turned for him. These guys came in with a lot of odds against them and they played well. That's a good thing for us."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.