03/31/12 3:03 PM ET
Astros remain intrigued by Rule 5 picks
By Brian McTaggart / MLB.com
Hard-throwing reliever Rhiner Cruz, selected from the Mets' roster with the first overall pick in the Rule 5 Draft last December, has a 1.29 ERA in his last six appearances after posting a 33.75 ERA in his first three outings with the club. Shortstop Marwin Gonzalez entered Saturday hitting .184, but his defense has been impressive.
Gonzalez split the 2011 season between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa, hitting a combined .288 in 124 games, with four home runs and 39 RBIs. He was acquired from the Red Sox, who took him in the Rule 5 Draft from the Cubs.
Gonzalez's chances to make the club will increase if starting shortstop Jed Lowrie isn't healthy to start the year.
"They are both very much in the mix right now," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "We're in an advantageous position right now. I've been on other clubs where you maybe have the scouting department or the pro scouts or the general manager who wants the Rule 5 guys, and the coaching staff doesn't want the Rule 5 guys, because they feel they have veterans who can a better job.
"We're not really in that situation here. One of the things I really like about our camp with [manager Brad Mills] and the staff and myself is when we talk about who should be on the team and who shouldn't, there's not a lot of disagreement."
That being said, Luhnow plans to evaluate both Rule 5 picks for as long as possible.
"Marwin is one of the better defensive players I've seen all spring, and Cruz throws 97 [mph] with a nasty slider," he said. "Those are assets that appear to be pretty close to Major League ready."
Crane exploring options for future spring home
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros owner Jim Crane made another pass through Florida on Saturday, landing in a helicopter on one of the back fields at Osceola County Stadium and taking in batting practice with some of his partners.
Earlier in the day, Crane toured the Mets' Spring Training facility in Port St. Lucie, which is down the road from his Floridian Golf Club. Crane has previously visited the Spring Training sites of the Yankees in Tampa and the Cardinals and Marlins in Jupiter.
The Astros are under contract with Osceola County Stadium through 2016.
"As we said last time, we're kind of looking at all the different spots, and we had time to go there this morning and take a tour of the field and look at their facilities," he said. "Certainly, they're interested in another team there, but we've still got a deal here for quite some time, so we're just kind of learning. We'll probably go out to Phoenix this week and check out a couple of spots, and look at a few more spots in Florida."
Crane hasn't said the Astros will move their Spring Training facility when their lease in Kissimmee expires, but the state of Florida is actively trying to keep its 15 teams in the Grapefruit League and prevent any further defections to the Cactus League in Arizona.
"The state of Florida wants to keep everybody here," he said. "We've got to do what's best for us, and certainly this is a nice facility."
Luhnow likes Astros' bullpen composition
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- General manager Jeff Luhnow is pleased with the choices the Astros have in the bullpen this spring. There are still some decisions to be made, but Luhnow will be content with any of the seven pitchers the club decides to take to Houston.
"I like our bullpen," he said. "I really think our bullpen is going to be a strength of this team."
Closer Brett Myers, Wilton Lopez, Brandon Lyon, David Carpenter and Fernando Rodriguez appear to have five of the seven spots locked up. Fernando Abad and Wesley Wright are the two lefties in the mix, and Lucas Harrell and Henry Sosa are competing for long reliever. Rule 5 Draft pick Rhiner Cruz has opened some eyes, too.
"I'm having conversations with other general managers and hearing from other scouts that there's still teams that have question marks in the bullpen, and I don't think we do," Luhnow said. "Our question mark is about which one of the guys do we take and which one of the guys that we like do we not take. It's not a matter of we need a better right-handed reliever or left-handed reliever. We like the guys we have to choose from."
Lyon, coming off a shoulder surgery that cost him most of the 2011 season, has quietly had a good spring with a 2.00 ERA in nine games. More importantly, his velocity is consistently at 90-91 mph after starting the spring at 87-88.
"He's a veteran who throws strikes and is a key piece to our bullpen right now," Luhnow said. "He's the only guy we haven't challenged to go multiple innings like the other guys, but that's not his game. He's going to be an important part of us getting outs in close games."
Astros center fielder Jordan Schafer, who hasn't played in nearly two weeks because of a nerve injury in his left hand, took batting practice Saturday and could get a couple of at-bats in Sunday's game against the Tigers in Lakeland.
"It felt good," Schafer said. "I swung light and just tried to see how it felt, but everything was good. We're making progress and hopefully I can get some at-bats in here shortly."
The Astros trimmed their Major League roster by one Saturday, reassigning catcher Carlos Corporan to Minor League camp. Houston has 32 players left in camp, including pitcher Sergio Escalona, who will undergo Tommy John surgery on Wednesday.