KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- When Brad James received the news on Monday that he was one of nine players sent to Minor League camp, he wasn't surprised or terribly disappointed.

The right-hander is considered a budding star among Astros prospects, one who will likely help the Major League club down the road. The 23-year-old also is not ready for the big leagues just yet, and he was anxious to get to Minor League camp, where he would receive enough playing time to prepare him for the regular season.

James pitched two innings while with the Major League team this spring. That's not enough playing time for anyone, especially for a starting pitcher who needs to build up enough arm strength to get through five innings by the beginning of April.

James will likely start the season with Double-A Corpus Christi, with whom he ended the season in 2007. He blew through Class A last year, going 9-2 with a 1.98 ERA over 16 starts. He was promoted to the Hooks and started nine games, going 1-5 with a 5.17 ERA.

"We'll try to stretch him out, to really get prepared for the season," assistant general manager Ricky Bennett said. "We've got about two, 2 1/2 weeks before we start. Between now and then, we'll just stretch him out and try to get him as many innings as we possibly can, so when the season starts, he'll be ready to go four, five innings."

On the move: Left-hander Josh Muecke is likely headed for Triple-A Round Rock this year, but a final decision will be made toward the end of Spring Training. He's one of a handful of prospects who received limited playing time while in Major League camp, so he has some catching up to do.

"We'd like to stretch him out to three or four innings," Bennett said. "He could possibly start. We haven't made that decision yet. We want to get him as many innings as possible."

On the pine: Fernando Nieve, who was sent to Minor League camp earlier this week, threw a batting practice session on Tuesday but still has a while to go before the club will consider placing him in Round Rock's starting rotation.

Spring Training
News and features:
Multimedia:
• Astros Report: Miguel Tejada  400K
• Oswalt's preparation continues  400K
• Astros Report: Kazuo Matsui  400K
• Astros Report: Doug Brocail  400K
• Alyson Footer on Cooper  400K
• Astros Report: Carlos Lee  400K
Spring Training info:
MLB.com coverage  |  Schedule  |  Ballpark  |  Tickets

Nieve had Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery last May and was hampered by a strained hamstring for much of Spring Training. Because he was so behind everyone else who was competing for a spot in the rotation, the right-hander was the first of 11 pitchers to be eliminated from consideration for a starting job.

Now, his focus will rest on getting ready for the Minor League season.

"We're just going to try to stretch him out as long as we can before we start the season," Bennett said. "He probably won't be stretched out to more than two or three innings before we leave. Once we get to that point, we'll have to decide whether to leave him in extended [Spring Training] or break with the team."

Class of '07: Russell Dixon, the club's seventh-round pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, was selected as a second baseman but has been moved to the outfield, effective immediately.

Dixon will compete for a spot with Class A Lexington.

"In our Elite Camp and our [Spring Training] minicamp, he took a lot of ground balls, but we made a decision the other day to put him in the outfield exclusively," Bennett said.

He said it: "They need to get ready, get in shape. They need a lot of at-bats. We played intrasquad games, Double-A versus Triple-A, and the A ball teams played. It gives us a chance to get guys more innings." -- Bennett, on the importance of the Minor League players who were in Major League camp preparing for their seasons