Connor: Thoughts and Observations from my trip to Astros Spring Training

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Another year and another trip to Astros spring training in the books for me. As you know by now, this is unlike any spring training Astros fans have seen before, and the games do not even get going until this Saturday. Before getting into what stuck out to me during my trip down to West Palm Beach, another huge thank you to Karbach Brewing and Discover The Palm Beaches for making our trip possible. Our coverage on 790 is not done just yet, Matt and Ross made their way down here today and will have you from here the rest of this week. Our spring training updates brought to you by Karbach will continue throughout the entire spring schedule. If you missed it yesterday, I shared my thoughts and observations of Monday in Astros camp. While it was technically my second day down here, it really felt like my first because when I arrived Sunday there was very little going on. So now let's get to what stuck out today and overall from my trip down here to Florida.

1) Dusty The Right Man For The Job

Mentioned yesterday in my blog post and multiple times on the air over the last couple of days, but saying it again, given the chaos around the team, I am now completely bought in to the idea that Dusty Baker is the right guy for the Astros in this moment. While I think it is very likely that this will be just a one year era under his leadership, being around him down here drove it home for me that Jim Crane made the right call. There is nothing that is going to faze him and we saw that during the teams first day of full squad work and we saw it again today as national media still swarmed. Today the big headline across the league is the comments that Nick Markakis of the Braves made about the Astros early this morning. If you missed it, here is what got the internet riled up.

Today was picture day in Astros camp and there were basically no Astros regulars available to speak to us in the clubhouse before they hit the field for today's workout. When we got to speak to Dusty during his daily media availability, I asked him what he thought about what Markakis said. In true Dusty form, he handled it perfectly and had a little chuckle about those comments. Here's what he had to say.

Again, the perfect way to handle a question that needed to be asked today, driving home again for me that the Astros made the right choice. The most important thing for me when the Astros were deciding on who would replace AJ Hinch was the need for someone that was not going to come in and completely shake things up. What the team has in place in terms of the major league product works, there was no need to hire someone that was going to come in and possibly break things up. Dusty knows the game and knew exactly what he was getting into when he took the job. So far he has done nothing but handle things how a veteran manager should.

Dusty is the Astros CEO this year when it comes to the on field stuff. There is not a whole lot that he needs to do to get this team to the postseason given the talent they have. Steer the ship where it needs to go, let the players police themselves as much as possible and allow the staff that has been here continue what they have done. And again, so far, that is exactly what Dusty has done. During AJ Hinch's tenure in Houston, during spring training, he let his bench coach basically handle the day to day of how camp goes while the team is in Florida. That has continued now under Dusty as he has given Joe Espada the responsibility of running what the Astros do each day in camp. It is beyond valuable for Espada to get that sort of authority again this spring, as he very well could be getting one more year of grooming as a bench coach before moving into the role of manager next year.

2) Everyone Came To Camp In Shape And Ready To Go

You always have to wonder who might show up to camp looking different than the year before, good or bad. From all the talk and getting a look at all the players, no need to worry that anyone came to camp out of shape this spring. Everybody looks like they always have, maybe outside of Alex Bregman. Talked about it in yesterday's post, he said he showed up this year at 195, the normal weight he finishes a season at, instead of the typical 215 he has shown up to camp at. Hoping it will help him stay loose and help his mobility, he wants to avoid his typical slow starts at the plate. If you missed it, here is what he had to say about that on Monday.

3) Greinke Not In Camp Yet

The Astros have given the veteran right hander some leeway this spring, reporting at a much later date than everyone else. This is nothing new for Greinke, he has had this sort of arrangement on multiple occasions with his teams before. He is not comfortable with media settings, you know that by now and given the media storm around the club to open camp, I have no issue with the Astros allowing him to stay back in Arizona to allow the media frenzy to calm as much as it possibly can this first full week. The team has stayed in constant communication with him and there are no worries about him showing up ready to go. He is scheduled to arrive in West Palm Beach on Saturday when the games officially get going. Would have to think it will be at least a week before we get to see him on a mound in game action. And when he tells someone during their time in Florida that he does not know that he has much left in his arm, do not panic, this is something he literally tells the media each year. His velocity will be way down early on in the spring and there will absolutely be something written about it, but there is no reason to freak out about it, he goes through this each year. Dusty Baker was asked about Greinke in this video below.

4) Question Marks Linger With Starting Rotation

The questions about the back end of the rotation are not going away any time soon and the battle for the fifth spot in it is about to really get underway once we get to games being played. The top two are set and rock solid once again and while the three spot is locked in for Lance McCullers, all eyes will be on how they handle his workload moving forward during his return from Tommy John. Here is what McCullers had to say a few days ago about his rehab.

The fourth spot is set for Jose Urquidy and while he does not have a lengthy big league track record on his side, there is really no reason to be anything but excited to see what he can do this year after the glimpse we got last season and his stellar performance in the World Series. The fifth spot right now has only a couple of guys that you might really think can win it, as it appears that Josh James and Austin Pruitt are set to battle it out for that spot after the news that Brad Peacock is dealing with a little bit of a nagging neck issue that is pushing back his throwing program to start camp. I would still like to see James get another run as a starter before he is completely locked into being a bullpen arm, he is obviously going to have to show quickly that he has taken a step forward with his command. During a bullpen session the other day, I caught Brent Strom telling him something that is so key for him, you throw hard no matter what, if you have to give up a mile or two per hour on your fastball, you are still going to blow it by so many big league hitters. His mechanics were out of whack at times last season and there was clearly too much movement going on during his delivery to the plate last season. From getting a short glimpse of him while I was down here, you can clearly see the concerted effort to eliminate a lot of that movement in his delivery and stay more compact as he delivers each pitch. His stuff will play no matter what, if he wants to move forward as a starter, this camp is going to pivotal for him moving forward.

The University of Houston product, Austin Pruitt, is not going to be a guy that pops off the screen and wows you with his stuff. His fastball will sit in the lower 90's and with not being a very big guy, it clearly will not suddenly be ticking up. He represents something that the Astros value and target, exceptional spin rate on whatever he throws. His spin rate on his four seam fastball is above average and that helps with his lack of high end velocity, it's the elite level of spin he gets on his curveball and slider that makes him an interesting project for the Astros moving forward. If he can induce enough soft contact and utilize the weapons he has in those two breaking pitches as well as his changeup, Pruitt could flash this spring and find himself in the fifth spot in the Astros rotation. Between he and James, whoever ends up in the pen this season is going to have to step up. With the monitoring of the workload for McCullers and possibly with Urquidy too, the Astros are going to have to have reliable arms that can give them multiple innings out of the pen more often than they did a year ago.

The wild card in the questions about the rotation remains with Forrest Whitley. This is a make or break it type of year for him. If his worst case scenario were to happen, it does not mean he has no chance of being the top end of a rotation arm he has projected to become, it would clearly bring serious wonder of how much you might ever get out of him if he cannot factor with the big league club this season. I found what he said about his offseason to be interesting, he clearly made it a point to not overwork himself in the winter and took more time for rest both physically and mentally after a very rough 2019. His stuff is still incredible and I am still completely on board that he will be an ace of the Astros staff sooner rather than later, he without a doubt has to step up and prove he can do that this year. Dusty Baker has made it a point that he always likes to leave a spot available for a young guy that wows in the spring, if Whitley was to do that, maybe he gets the first crack this season as the fifth starter in this Astros rotation. While teams do operate with service time in mind, leading to the likely scenario he starts the year in Round Rock again, if he blows people away this spring, I would not be mad at all if the Astros said screw service time, we need this guy in the rotation from day one.

So those are the major things that have stuck out for me during my time down here in Florida. While I did not address the future of George Springer here in this blog, you can find what I had to say about it yesterday by clicking right here.

Before wrap this thing up, I do it every year, so no reason of breaking the tradition this season. Some predictions of things to happen while the Astros are down here in Florida.

1) Springer or Brantley Sign an Extension

While I think we would like both guys to get locked up before this season ends, if we had to pick just one guy to get something done, we would obviously pick Springer in this scenario.

Contract Predictions:

If it's Springer: 4 years, 110 million with an option for a fifth season at same average annual value as the first four seasons

If it's Brantley: 1 year, 18 million with an option for another year at same dollar amount

2) Josh James Wins 5th Spot in Rotation

Just a hunch, I think he is viewed as the favorite right now. For me, this is the hardest thing to predict right now.

3) Team Signs or Trades for Another Catcher

Nothing against Dustin Garneau, I think that as the spring moves on, they find themselves wanting someone with a little more track record at the big league level.

4) Team Trades for Another Bullpen Arm

They have a really solid looking pen, even with the loss of Will Harris. I just wonder that as camp moves on, do they want to give themselves a safety net of another guy with big league experience over some of the young options they currently have penciled in.

So that will officially put an end to my time in Florida, my first of two flights today will be boarding in about an hour. Once again, a huge thanks to Karbach Brewing and Discover The Palm Beaches for getting us down here. Despite it being a circus this year, I always love being able to get down here for few days. Thanks for reading and sticking with us for everything Astros. Matt and Ross have you for the rest of the week from West Palm Beach.

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