Astros come away with catcher, reliever
Houston trades for Palmisano, selects lefty De La Vara in Rule 5
LAS VEGAS -- The Astros came to the Winter Meetings hoping to land a catcher, and they may have found him during the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday.
Soon after the Orioles selected catcher Lou Palmisano from the Brewers in the Major League phase of the Draft, they traded him to the Astros in exchange for cash. The arrangement was agreed upon ahead of time between the two clubs. The Astros also selected left-handed reliever Gilbert De La Vara in the Major League phase of the Draft.
The cost of each player is $50,000 and can be offered back to the original club for half of that. If the Rule 5 selections remain with the team that drafted them, they must stay on the big league roster the entire season.
The 26-year-old Palmisano has played in 507 Minor League games, hitting .277 with 35 home runs and 266 RBIs.
"He handles pitchers well, he has a good arm, he makes good contact," general manager Ed Wade said. "There were a couple of catching possibilities in the Draft that we had talked about. Palmisano was the guy we found most desirable."
Palmisano was at his uncle's house in upstate New York when he found out he was joining the Astros' organization. He heard the news from Astros assistant GM Bobby Heck, who as a former member of the Brewers organization knows Palmisano well.
"Honestly, I was a little bit of a nervous wreck, hoping and praying something would happen," Palmisano said. "Then I got a call from Bobby Heck. I'm so excited for the new opportunity. I'm pretty much speechless."
Palmisano was limited to 27 games with the Class A Brevard County and Arizona Brewers clubs in 2008 because of a meniscus tear in his left knee, which was diagnosed before Spring Training. The injury required surgery, but the Astros, noting Palmisano's .405 batting average over 13 games in the Arizona Fall League, are confident the catcher is 100 percent recovered and will be ready when he reports to Spring Training in February.
"We think he's got a chance to come in and do what we want, which is to share time with [Humberto] Quintero and compete with J.R. [Towles] and anyone else we bring into camp," Wade said.
De La Vara, whom the Astros selected off the Royals' roster, will join Wesley Wright and Tim Byrdak as left-handed options out of the 'pen. The 24-year-old was 3-3 with a 3.65 ERA over 24 games [one start] for Class A Wilmington in 2008. In the Arizona Fall League this year, he posted a 6.16 ERA with 22 strikeouts over 12 games.
"He's a two-pitch left-hander," Wade said. "He has an average fastball and good secondary pitches. We see him as a middle reliever, situational left-hander. Anytime you can add more left-handed pitching into the mix, it behooves you to try."
This is the second year in a row that the Astros have selected a lefty reliever in the Draft. In 2007, they plucked Wright from the Dodgers organization.
"We had great success last year with a smallish left-handed reliever in Wesley, and if this kid [De La Vara] comes in and does the types of things Wesley did last spring, he has a chance to work his way onto our roster," Wade said.
The Astros also selected outfielder Andrew Locke in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft. The 25-year-old hit .311 with 37 doubles, 11 home runs and 85 RBIs in 122 games for the Inland Empire 66ers of the Class A Advanced California League. He was originally selected by the Dodgers in the 19th round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft.
The Astros lost one player during the Draft -- second baseman Johnny Ash, who was picked by the Brewers during the Triple-A phase. The Astros also completed their transaction with the Royals that netted them Minor League pitcher Tyler Lumsden, sending outfielder Jordan Parraz to Kansas City.
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. Lisa Winston contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.