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2009 Houston Astros Preview: Spring News and Notes

 

It is far too early in Spring Training to make any attempt at trying to forecast who will make the Astros 25 man roster when camp breaks, but one can’t help but to make observations. It is the true essence of what Spring Training is about. The young prospects who are still wet behind the ears, trying to impress in their first big-league camp, the crafty veterans who show up trying to prove they still have “it” and the non-roster invitees that are trying to find a way back onto a roster with just one more chance. The Astros have a talented offensive unit when they are healthy and are producing, but the problem in recent years has been being healthy at the same time. Spring training was extended this year to accommodate the second installment of the World Baseball Classic, where seven Astros will be taking part. This gives those young, wet-behind-the-ear rookies a chance to show Cooper and Company what they can do, and many will see a few more innings of work or a few more plate appearances per game.

Houston Astros hats & merchandise So far in 5 games this spring the Astros youngsters have been given a golden opportunity, with hot prospects like Drew Sutton and Chris Johnson taking advantage. Sutton and Johnson both look to be the future of the Astros infield and have been very productive so far this spring. Geoff Blum and Aaron Boone are jockeying for the starting third base job, with Blum having the slight edge, but neither has swung the lumber very well this spring. If they fail to produce and hot prospects like Sutton, Johnson and Mark Saccamanno continue their hot start, Boone and Blum could be relegated to reserve duty ... or released. Catching prospect, Jason Castro, who is auditioning for the starting job in 2010 looks solid with the bat and comfortable behind the plate. On a related note, with Toby Hall now out of the picture in the fight for the frontline catcher position, JR Towles appears to have started to edge out in front of the pack, but don’t be surprised if the Astros give Lou Santangelo a long look as both Lou Palmisano and Humberto Qunitero have struggled offensively so far.

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Hunter Pence – Last year, Pence’s sophomore campaign, Hunter posted a nice .269 / 25 / 83. Many scouts chalked up his .316 OBP to the sophomore slump and it appears that he was just trying too hard at times. Expect Pence to bounce back in a big way this season as h The pitching has been a slight surprise as both Russ Ortiz and Mike Hampton looked sharp in their few innings of work. Don’t look too hard at the walks that Hampton gave up ... yet; it is still too early to be concerned. Bud Norris was crisp in his one inning while striking out two. He has a devastating slider and can find himself in the bullpen if he keeps this up. Brandon Backe wasn’t sharp, but he did work his was through a couple of innings in what can be summed up a solid, but not lights out. Speaking of lights out, Wandy Rodriguez has a strained oblique muscle and will miss a couple of scheduled spring starts. Not a good start to the year as Wandy ended last year on the DL. The one pitcher I had extremely high hopes for was Clay Hensley. Hensley, a non-roster invitee, was hoping to impress but has failed to do so thus far. In 2/3 of an inning he gave up five hits, 8 runs ... though only four were earned and 2 long balls. I’m sure this is not what he had in mind when spring started. He will get more chances as spring games continue and more chances arise.

Cooper has a lot to think about after the first week of spring games, but as fans, you have to be a little enthused about the way Sutton, Johnson, Castro and Norris have performed so far.

 

By: Jordan Fleck
MLBcenter.com Houston Astros correspondent


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