HOUSTON -- With the deadline to sign Draft picks a month away, the Astros have exchanged contract proposals with first-round selection George Springer, a right-hander from the University of Connecticut who was taken with the No. 11 overall pick in last month's First-Year Player Draft.
Bobby Heck, the Astros' assistant general manger/director of scouting, said the team has been engaged in contract talks with Springer's representatives and was confident the two sides would be able to reach a deal prior to next month's deadline. The Astros tendered Springer a contract offer, received a proposal in return and have sent back an offer.
"The pace I would say is more of a walk-stroll than it is a jog or a run right now," Heck said. "With a month left, hopefully George seizes the opportunity and sees getting started this summer can be beneficial for him and that we've shown a track record of moving players, especially of his caliber."
Meanwhile, the Astros have been keeping tabs on their third-round pick, junior right-hander Jack Armstrong of Vanderbilt, while he pitches in the Cape Cod League this summer. He's started two games for Yarmouth-Dennis in the wooden bat league and has allowed 10 hits and five earned runs in 8 2/3 innings.
"Both starts have been positive," Heck said. "This is something we knew we were taking into consideration, that he would probably pitch the whole summer up there to try to reestablish the value he had prior to this spring. We'll continue to go up there and watch him pitch."
Astros national cross checker David Post will be in attendance when Armstrong pitches Sunday, along with Midwest supervisor Ralph Bratton. Heck plans to watch him pitch the following Sunday.
Now that the Astros have signed their 34th-round pick, right-hander Dustin Kellogg, Heck said the Astros are still targeting four more players, including Springer and Armstrong. The two remaining players are high school picks with whom Heck said the club is prepared to get aggressive in getting them signed. The Astros have signed 32 of 50 Draft picks, including eight of the first 10.
Mills shuffles lineup to aid boppers
HOUSTON -- Astros manager Brad Mills unveiled a new-look batting order for the start of the second half Friday against the Pirates, with Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee moving down a spot to fourth and fifth, respectively. They had batted third and fourth for much of the season.
Mills moved second baseman Jeff Keppinger into the No. 3 spot in the order and plugged Matt Downs -- who's been getting more playing time at third base recently -- into the second spot that has been a revolving door. The goal, Mills said, is to get more runners on base for Pence and Lee.
"Hunter's having such a good year and Carlos has been an RBI guy his whole career," he said. "I'm just trying to get more guys on at the top of the order and get an inning going. We'll see how this works and go from there. It really lengthens our lineup."
Pence has batted third more than any other spot in his career, entering Friday as a career .302 hitter with 29 homers and 125 RBIs in the No. 3 spot. He's had only 62 at-bats in the cleanup spot prior to Friday, batting .242.
"I'm just going to do whatever they ask of me," Pence said. "The game's the same. They have to throw it over the plate, and I have to hit it. Now there's got to be some baserunners on, so I think it works out fine, especially the start of the game. I'm a decent leadoff hitter if we don't get a hit [in the first inning], and if we get guys on base I can drive them in. I want to be the piece to the puzzle that gets the job done."
As far as his plans for third base, Mills wouldn't commit to Downs as the new starter at the position over Chris Johnson.
"I had a talk with C.J. [on Thursday]," Mills said. "This is nothing against him. We're still looking for him to be a valuable part of that, but when you don't have a lot of places to plug in a Downsie, if he can just wait a second he'll be OK. What I mean by wait a second is we still have a lot of games to go and still got a couple of months go this season. Let's work on some things and get through some things and see how it does."
Pence relishes All-Star experience
HOUSTON -- Considering Hunter Pence was given an excused absence from Thursday's workout at Minute Maid Park because he played in the Major League Baseball All-Star Game on Tuesday in Phoenix, the right fielder got a chance to discuss his experience Friday with the Houston media.
"I was just overjoyed to be a part of the game," he said. "It's indescribable, the feeling you get when you're out there, and I'm going to cherish it the rest of my life. I'm glad I was able to get out there and play some ball."
Pence went 1-for-2 with a run scored in the National League's 5-1 win, and he had an outfield assist to cut down a run at the plate.
Pence enters the second half leading the Astros in batting average, home runs and RBIs, but he's eager for the club to start playing better.
"Every day my mission waking up is to turn things around and do everything I can for the Astros organization," he said. "I'm looking forward to the challenge and embracing the second half."
Astros outfielder Jason Bourgeois, who's been on the disabled list since June 29 with a right quad strain, went 0-for-3 in the final game of his three-game rehab stint with the Gulf Coast League Astros on Friday. He will continue his rehab assignment on Saturday for Double-A Corpus Christi at Frisco.
Manuel Sanchez, a right-hander playing for the Astros Dominican Summer League team, was suspended 50 games Friday by the Commissioner's Office for violating the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Sanchez tested positive for metabolites of Stanozolol, a synthetic anabolic steroid derived from testosterone.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.