8/7/2013 1:32 A.M. ET
Astros getting up-close look at young talent
By Chris Abshire / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- The Astros' clubhouse during this current seven-game homestead varies drastically from how it looked before the club went out on the road two weeks ago.
With three players traded, J.D. Martinez injured against Toronto and veterans Carlos Pena and Ronny Cedeno designated for assignment since July 21, the future has arrived early in Houston.
The Astros have the youngest active roster in the Major Leagues by more than a full year on average. The average age of the current clubhouse is 25.7.
"You see a lot of movement in the Minors, guys moving up and down," said center fielder Brandon Barnes, himself a rookie. "This is a rebuilding process. Guys are going to be traded and not pan out or brought up to see what they can do in the big leagues.
"I'm on board. Whatever they have in store for us, that vision, we all want to be a part of that process. Nine new guys or one new guy, we welcome them all."
Eleven of Houston's 25 players during this series have played in Triple-A Oklahoma City since Memorial Day, marking this summer as a huge influx of talent from the organization's touted Minor League ranks.
Pitching has been the biggest boon of late, with recent callups Brett Oberholtzer, Jarred Cosart and Brad Peacock leading a sudden surge in starting production.
Entering Tuesday's game, Houston starters have posted a 2.68 ERA in their last nine games. Oberholtzer has delivered two shutouts, Peacock was a tough luck loser against Minnesota and Cosart's continued to resemble the frontline arm he was expected to be.
"They've been putting us in a position to win," said manager Bo Porter. "It's good to see those guys come here and build on that success at the Major League level.
"A lot of these guys are growing together, so it's a close-knit group. They're anticipating being here for a long time. You can see the camaraderie on our bench. They're watching the game intently. As a manager, we sit here and think, 'This is the start of something good.'"
Porter said the recent flood of youth has allowed the front office to better examine the Astros' young talent on an accelerated timetable.
"The maturation that's taken place with our ballclub backwards in age, it's actually a good thing to evaluate the number of players we've been able to evaluate," Porter said. "The questions we had as a staff, we're allowing the players to answer those questions. The big leagues don't lie. We're seeing the answers as this season goes."
Barnes honored with Heart & Hustle Award
HOUSTON -- Talk to his teammates and heart and hustle will be two words at the top of the list to describe Astros center fielder Brandon Barnes.
Now he has an award to prove it.
Barnes was selected as the Astros' recipient of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association's Heart & Hustle Award. Created by the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association in 2005, the Heart & Hustle Award is voted on by alumni and active Major League players and is presented annually to an active player who demonstrates a passion for the game of baseball and best embodies the values, spirit and traditions of the game.
That description fits Barnes perfectly, as the rookie is an active participant in Astros charities, an outspoken Christian and never shies away from laying out for ball on the Minute Maid turf.
"When I found out, it was amazing, because that's what I try to display every day," Barnes said. "Playing hard and just doing things off the field to help others. Be a professional on and off the field. That's what I try to do.
"This is a huge award. It's not an American League Rookie of the Year Award or MVP, but I think this award means more to me than those would."
The award was chosen by an alumni players committee with close ties to the team. Such is the case for all 30 representatives.
When the season's over, all active players and members of the alumni committees will vote on one final winner, with the recipient being recognized on Nov. 19, 2013, at the 14th Annual Legends for Youth Dinner in New York City.
"He received my nomination," said manager Bo Porter. "He stands for exactly what the award is about. He's a lunch-pail guy. He plays the game the way it's supposed to be played."
Barnes has become a walking (or diving) highlight reel in center, becoming a potential Gold Glove candidate with his range and all-out style. That's made him a fan favorite in Houston, despite his .242 batting average and 24 RBIs. He provided one of the highlights during another dreary season for the Astros when he hit for the cycle against Seattle on July 19.
Past overall winners of the award include Albert Pujols, Roy Halladay, Mike Trout, Torii Hunter and former Astros great Craig Biggio.
"It's great to be potentially among names like that," Barnes said. "I never forget it's a great opportunity to come out here and play baseball every day. I have no choice but to play hard.
"For your peers and MLB to honor you with this is total validation for how hard I play."
Villar day to day with sprained left thumb
HOUSTON -- As if the Astros' night wasn't already in a spiral during a 15-10 loss to the Red Sox on Tuesday, shortstop Jonathan Villar added to the misery when he left the game during the sixth inning with a sprained left thumb.
According to Villar, he will miss two days with the injury, though the Astros do have Thursday off.
The speedy rookie fell awkwardly onto his glove hand while trying to stop a ball up the middle hit by David Ortiz from reaching the outfield before getting up and committing an error on the throw home as Shane Victorino came around to score.
However, manager Bo Porter said the rookie had actually injured the thumb when he was caught stealing at third base during the fourth inning.
"He did it on a slide into third base, so it was sore when we went out to talk to him [in the sixth]," Porter said. "We took him out to try to get the soreness under control and treat it. It was already bothering him at that point."
Porter had not yet met with trainers regarding Villar's status before speaking to the media following the loss.
Villar said after the game that the injury "isn't serious" and moved the thumb normally -- he was noticeabl favoring it -- to try and prove it.
"Listen to the trainers and maybe come back and take some batting in the cage tomorrow," Villar said of the plan going forward. "Take some ground balls and test it and see if [I] can put pressure on it."
Villar was 2-for-2 with an RBI and a run scored before his departure. He also stole a base but was caught stealing on his other attempt. He now has 10 steals in 15 games.
Jake Elmore replaced Villar at short, the first time anyone else has played the position since the Dominican Republic native was called up July 22. Elmore was an adequate substitution at the plate, lacing a solo homer in the eighth inning.
Villar's exit coincided with the Astros' demise in the game, as Houston surrendered five runs in the sixth inning after already squandering 5-0 and 7-3 leads.
Astros honor Minor Leaguers with monthly awards
HOUSTON -- Even with a recent rash of callups from Triple-A Oklahoma City, the Astros' farm system might be healthier than ever.
The club announced its Minor League Pitchers and Players of the Month for July, with two of the organization's most touted leading the way for the Redhawks.
Slugger George Springer was the Player of the Month after showing all five tools last month, hitting .347 with nine homers and 27 RBIs and four doubles. For good measure, he also added 10 steals and two triples.
"He's an amazing athlete, truly capable of flashing all five tools," Astros pitcher Jarred Cosart said of Springer, his former Triple-A teammate. "When I was there, he was hitting everything. Everything they're touting him to be is true."
Ranked the club's No. 3 prospect by MLB.com, Springer is currently tied for the Minor League lead in homers (29) and is the only player in professional baseball with more than 25 homers and 25 steals this year.
Meanwhile, righty Asher Wojciechowski, who is the organization's No. 14 prospect, took home Pitcher of the Month with a 3-0 mark and a 2.00 ERA over 27 innings.
"He's a fastball-slider guy, just working on that changeup right now," Cosart said. "That's the biggest thing they want him to work on. He's as consistent as you could ask for. The velocity isn't amazing, but he locates them all. The numbers don't lie on him. He gets guys out."
The former first-round pick currently leads the Pacific Coast League in WHIP (1.08) while ranking second in ERA (2.81) and opponent's batting average (.208)
At Double-A Corpus Christi, righty starter David Martinez won Pitcher of the Month for the second straight month, and catcher Max Stassi earned the Hooks' Player of the Month honors. Martinez's 2.01 ERA is second in Double-A among starters, and Stassi took home the Topps Texas League Player of the Month award for July.
Lefty Tommy Shirley and infielder Matt Duffy were July's best at Class A Advanced Lancaster. Righty Jordan Jankowski and infielder Rio Ruiz were the River Bandits recipients at Class A Quad Cities.
Overall, the Astros' combined Minor League mark of 369-270 (.577) is the best of any team in the Majors, a far cry from the last-place spot the affiliates aggregated for the 2010 and '11 seasons.
Chris Abshire is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.