KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Add the Astros to the list of teams that have an interest in signing 19-year-old Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler.
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said Tuesday the team has seen Soler work out on a number of occasions and is prepared to try to sign him if he's declared a free agent. Soler has applied for residency in the Dominican Republic -- the first step to becoming eligible for free agency -- and could receive it in the next few days.
"We're sitting on the sideline waiting for that to happen, as everybody else is, too," he said.
Once the outfielder gains residency, Major League Baseball can declare him a free agent, but he still must be legally cleared by the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control before he can sign a contract.
"We've seen him several times, and we're keeping in touch with people that are working with him that are trying to get him the citizenship sorted out so he could become a free agent," Luhnow said. "When that happens, they have a process set out for teams, and we're going to be paying attention to that."
Luhnow said the Astros, who haven't made a huge splash in Latin America since signing outfielder Arial Ovando to a club-record $2.6 million bonus in 2010, are in position to spend some money in Latin America.
"The question is who and how much?" he said. "We don't want to overspend on a player. We have looked at everybody already. [Director of Latin American scouting] Felix Francisco has done a great job and has had all the scouts look at all the top players from Latin America in the upcoming class, and we're on top of all the Cuban defectors and other players."
Elder statesman Livan enjoys role of mentor
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The oldest Astros player in camp is 15-year veteran Livan Hernandez, who signed a Minor League contract with hopes of winning a rotation spot. The 37-year-old Hernandez said he signed with the Astros because he heard great things about the organization.
"Everybody told me it's very professional, and that was very important for me before anything else," he said. "There's a lot of young guys here, and I'll try to help the team the best I can and play baseball and win some games and have a better year than last year."
Hernandez, who was 8-13 with the Nationals last year, has played the role of mentor to younger pitchers for years, and he said he would be more than willing to do the same in Houston. After all, he's started 474 big league games since he broke in with the Marlins in 1996 and has seen it all.
"I try to help whoever asks questions because it's not easy," he said. "If you want to stay here a long time, you've got to learn the good ways. A good way to learn is from somebody who has a lot of years in this game. These last five, six or seven years, I've helped the young guys and shown them how to be a professional."
Astros to first groom best arms for rotation
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros have plenty of live arms in camp, and it's the belief of general manager Jeff Luhnow to develop the club's best arms as starters until it's deemed they're best suited for the bullpen. An example is Paul Clemens, the lanky right-hander who came over from the Braves in last year's Michael Bourn trade and is ranked No. 6 by MLB.com on the Astros' Top 20 Prospects list.
"He's got a big arm," said Luhnow, who got to see Clemens pitch for the first time Tuesday. "We're going to develop him as a starter. My philosophy for the better arms is until they prove to us they don't have three pitches and don't have command to start, we're going to start them, and it looks like [Clemens] has got everything he needs."
Luhnow said Aneury Rodriguez, a Rule 5 pick last year from the Rays, will also continue to be developed as a starter. He was a starter throughout his Minor League career, but last year made only eight starts in 43 appearances in his rookie season.
"I think he'll be a good starting pitcher in the big leagues at some point," he said.
Expect bumps, bruises as PFPs commence
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Pitchers do what they can in the offseason to keep their arm in shape by playing catch and even throwing off the mound if they can find one where they live. But fielding ground balls? That's typically something not done until the start of Spring Training.
That's why pitcher Lucas Harrell was sporting a big bruise on his right forearm Tuesday, one day after he suffered the first injury of the spring when he took a ground ball off his arm during pitchers' fielding practice (PFPs). Harrell got some treatment on the arm prior to Tuesday's workout and has no lingering effects.
"The first day, the second ground ball, and I got hit," he said. "I was a little rusty, and I tried to block it and I got in front of it and wore one on the forearm. I was just trying to get back in the swing of things and get the feel down. Ground balls are one of the things that come to me last."
When they're not on the mound throwing, the pitchers remain busy during camp. In addition to pitchers' fielding practice, they work on their bunting skills and field rag balls fired rapidly off the fungo bat of manager Brad Mills and bench coach Joe Pettini.