Biggio takes Astros prospects under his wing
Former big leaguer works with DeShields, among other talent
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- It was 20 years ago, on the back fields at Osceola County Stadium, when Craig Biggio made the transition from an All-Star catcher to an All-Star second baseman, setting the stage for a long and productive career that saw him rewrite the Astros' record books.
Biggio, four years removed from a Hall of Fame career and with 3,060 hits on his resume, made an appearance at camp this week, with one of his top duties coming on the same dusty back fields he roamed two decades ago. Biggio spent some time in recent days with former first-round pick Delino DeShields Jr., who's continuing to make the transition to second base full-time.
"The more reps you get, the better you're going to get at it," said Biggio, who was drafted as a catcher by the Astros in 1987 and moved to second base to lengthen his career.
DeShields, 19, was drafted by the Astros in the first round in 2010 out of high school, where he was an outfielder. He played his first full season of professional ball last year and hit .220 with 30 steals and 70 runs scored at Class A Lexington while making the transition to second base.
"Obviously, what I've seen from the hitting standpoint and some things, he's comfortable and has a great idea of the strike zone and has good plate discipline," Biggio said. "The strides he's made from last year to now have really been good. He'll get another year under his belt and continue to make improvements and get better and more comfortable, and the better he'll become. He's heading in the right direction."
Biggio, 46, has served as a special assistant to the general manager since his career ended following the 2007 season, and he has made annual trips to Kissimmee. He got a look at several of the Astros' up-and-coming prospects last week and also took in a couple of Spring Training games from the dugout. He was in uniform Sunday before flying back to Houston.
Most of his time has been spent on the back fields, where Minor League camp is in full swing.
"It's important to come down here and see the kids we have," Biggio said. "If you can get something across to one kid and it makes sense to him, it's worth it, and it means a lot. I remember being a young guy and walking around, seeing older guys, and it's a big deal -- especially when you can get out on the field and work with them a little bit and speed up the process."
Biggio had breakfast with general manager Jeff Luhnow shortly after he was hired in December, and he's built up a good relationship with new owner Jim Crane, who was in attendance for Sunday's 9-5 win over the Mets. Biggio is impressed with the direction the organization is heading.
"Jim's done a real nice job," Biggio said. "I think he's a really good listener, and obviously we're going to be in a good situation here. I think he understands the importance of the Draft and the Minor Leagues, and that's always been your lifeline, and we're getting back to that again. That's the No. 1 ingredient and how you get better at the big league level. I think the organization is in great shape with him and the other owners on board."
In addition to DeShields Jr., Biggio said he was impressed with first baseman Jonathan Singleton, shortstop Jonathan Villar and pitcher Jarred Cosart, who was hitting 95-97 mph with a big curveball in camp last week. Singleton, Villar and Cosart were all acquired in trades in the last two years by former general manager Ed Wade in an effort to beef up the Minor Leagues.
All four of those players are among the Astros' top prospects, along with 2011 first-round pick George Springer, an outfielder. The Astros have the top overall pick in this year's Draft.
"The Draft this year is going to be huge," Biggio said. "As far as getting the opportunity to walk around and see kids and work with kids, we're in a better state right now than we were last year because of those trades. We have some good, young talent and some better arms. We still have a ways to go and we're going to get there. It's going to take a little bit more time."
Biggio, of course, has some other kids he's working with these days. He's in his third year as head baseball coach at St. Thomas High School in Houston and is aiming for the team's third consecutive private school state championship. His youngest son, Cavan, is a junior on the team. His oldest son, Conor, is a freshman and starting for Notre Dame.
As he prepared to leave Kissimmee, Biggio's focus was on the start of his team's district play on Tuesday -- weather permitting.
"Mother Nature has been horrible to everybody in Houston," Biggio said. "Some of the baseball coaches who have been doing it forever say it's the [most rain] they've seen in 25 years. That being said, we're still getting work in and getting stuff done."
Biggio will be eligible to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame next year for the first time in a star-studded class that includes former Astros teammates Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling, as well as Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza.