2/25/2014 8:08 P.M. ET
Hitting competition light-hearted fun for Astros
By Brian McTaggart / MLB.com
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- In an effort to ramp up the intensity while promoting some camaraderie, Astros position players ended their workout Tuesday with a hitting competition that pitted a team picked by Jason Castro against a team picked by Brett Wallace.
The teams took turns batting against a pitching machine while trying to execute in different situations -- squeeze bunts, man on third and one out, etc. -- with manager Bo Porter standing behind a net and playing umpire, determining whether the batted ball would have done the job in real life.
Each team was awarded points for proper execution, and Wallace's team won the competition on a walk-off home run by catcher Rene Garcia.
"I thought it was great," Porter said. "Those guys started ragging each other a little bit. It's always good to add a little fun to Spring Training, but at the same time, you keep it intense and competitive, and I felt the guys did a great job."
The losing team had to pick up more than 500 baseballs that were scattered around the outfield and the bullpens, while the winning team headed to the clubhouse.
"We've been working on a lot of those situations," Wallace said. "It's been a big focus for us this whole camp for everybody. Not only was it like competing against yourself, the guys in your group, but you're putting the whole team in a real competitive situations.
"It's the closest we're going to get to a game right now. Any time you're out on the field in a separate dugout competing against each other, it's going to make it more real.
Garcia proved to be an unlikely hero.
"He called it, too," Wallace said. "After everybody went through [and hit], you could pick who you wanted to go up. I went a couple of times and some other guys went up, and Rene was like, 'I got it, I want to go.' He called it and requested it and went up there and delivered. It's pretty neat he did that."
Wojciechowski not rushing back from strain
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros are awaiting results of an MRI performed Monday on right-hander Asher Wojciechowski, who's been ailing with a lat strain since Feb. 1. The lat is a large muscle on the side of the back that helps support the shoulder.
Wojciechowski, one of the club's top young arms, tried to throw Thursday and said he felt like he aggravated the injury.
"Then I had some swelling, and I guess they wanted to check it out again," he said. "It feels like I re-aggravated it, and it's just frustrating. It's one of those muscle tissues that I'm going to have to rest and let it heal fully before I can do anything."
Wojciechowski strained his oblique in college and couldn't do anything except throw a baseball.
"I had to just give it time, but this is taking a lot longer than I thought it would," he said.
The Astros are in agreement about not rushing him back.
"He's going to need to rest for a few days, maybe a little longer," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "We don't want to rush him. It's nothing too concerning, but we want to make sure we have all the information."
Recovering from dual injuries, Crain does drills
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros right-hander Jesse Crain has progressed so well from his strained right calf suffered last week than he was able to perform some agility drills Tuesday. Of course, that's not the biggest issue with Crain, who is recovering from October biceps tendinitis surgery.
"The calf's getting a lot better," he said. "I should be out and hopefully running within the next week. The good thing is if I was on the mound throwing and getting ready for the season and this happened, it would be a setback.
"As far as where I am with my throwing program, it didn't affect any of that. That's a good thing and it's still a process, day-by-day thing and building my arm strength back up. Hopefully every day it's getting stronger, which it is."
Crain, who signed for $3.25 million in January, was an All-Star in 2013, a season in which he posted a 0.74 ERA in 38 games with the White Sox, striking out 46 and walking only 11 in 36 2/3 innings, including a 29-inning scoreless streak. He didn't pitch after being traded to the Rays on July 29 because of the injury.
"To have two injuries at the same time [calf and biceps], you hope you can progress both simultaneously and not sequentially so he doesn't have to recover from his calf injury and spend time build up arm strength," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "It's important he can make progress on that so he can continue to build up his arm strength."
Pitchers Jorge De Leon (quadriceps) and Raul Valdes (knee surgery) could both throw bullpen sessions in the next few days.
Astros trio offers tips to fellow Latin players
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Second baseman Jose Altuve, catcher Carlos Corporan and infielder Cesar Izturis spoke in a meeting Tuesday with the Astros' contingent of Latin American players. The meeting was to discuss the benefits of learning English and assimilating into the U.S. culture.
"It's important for the young Latin players, especially those who are in big league camp for the first time, to hear from the veteran Latin players and get some tips from them about what helped them survive the early years and what's helped them have a long career in Major League Baseball," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said.
Izturis, a 13-year veteran who's played with nine teams, talked about the value of being able to understand the language to avoid an unnecessary disadvantage.
"These guys have a lot of obstacles to overcome when they come to the U.S., and the sooner they can learn the language, the less significant those obstacles are to overcome," Luhnow said.
Altuve spoke about the importance of understanding the instruction being given by the coaches, and Corporan told the players how vital it is to understand English in their off-the-field lives. He said it helped him deal with the illness of his son, who died in October 2012 at 16 months old.
Doris Gonzalez, the Astros' coordinator of player acculturation and language development, was part of the session as well.
"Doris talked to them about the resources we make available to the players to help them acclimate both culturally and from a language standpoint, but it's also important they support one another," Luhnow said. "Every Latin player had a Latin mentor who helped him early in his career, so we ask these guys to do the same thing for the Minor League players that are in the system."
Veteran Carlos Pena spoke to the Latin players last year, and Carlos Lee and Livan Hernandez did the same the year before.
Active Astros scouting in preparation for Draft
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros scouting director Mike Elias spent a couple of days in camp Monday and Tuesday in between scouting trips. He had spent a few days on the West Coast and is scouting in Florida this week as the Astros ramp up preparations for the Draft.
"It's the third week of the college season, and in terms of that, it's still pretty early," he said. "We're getting our first look at college players, particularly college pitchers around the country that only throw on Friday or Saturday."
Teams have had a month of scouting high school players in warm-weather states, and the Astros are active. National crosschecker David Post has been out West, and other crosscheckers have been in different regions.
The Astros, of course, have the No. 1 pick for the third year in a row, and most believe they'll pick North Carolina State left-hander Carlos Rodon, assuming he's healthy. Houston will look at a variety of candidates regardless.
"The Draft looks like it's going to be a good class," Elias said. "We thought it was pretty good coming in, but our early reports the first couple of weeks of the season, players all seem to have stepped up and maybe gotten a little better and showed really well in their first outing and confirmed to us they're guys [to watch]. We're really excited about the way the Draft class as a whole is shaping up right now."
Elias said he has yet to see any of the candidates the Astros are considering with the No. 1 pick, but they plan to have a presence at nearly every game college pitchers who are potential top picks are pitching. Special assistants like Enos Cabell, Craig Biggio and Roger Clemens will get out and see picks, as well. Ultimately, general manager Jeff Luhnow will get an up-close look.
"Sometimes we'll be scouting the guy early in the season for the No. 1 pick and he sort of works his way out of the group a month or two into the season, and we stopped having someone at every game," Elias said. "We expected to be in the ballpark for 90 percent, if not 100 percent, of the games for these college pitchers we're considering.
"We like to see how they look early, how they in the middle of the season and like to see how they look late in the season, when they're tired. There's a lot of people that need to see them. ... We're careful not to form opinions too early in the process and be close-minded about players."
Amador could report to Astros' camp by Friday
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Japhet Amador, the burly slugger who didn't report to Spring Training last week because his pregnant wife was ill, could be working out with the team by the end of the week.
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said Tuesday the team is attempting to have Amador in camp by Friday.
"We're talking right now," agent Oscar Suarez said. "We're just trying to figure it out."
Amador was signed last year after he hit 36 home runs for Diablos Rojos del Mexico. He led his team in homers and RBIs, with 121. In 104 games and 449 plate appearances, Amador struck out only 59 times. He played for the Astros in the Arizona Fall League.
A non-roster invitee, Amador was expected to compete for time at first base with Brett Wallace, Jesus Guzman, Jonathan Singleton and Marc Krauss.
Odds and ends
• Porter said Scott Feldman will start Saturday against the Tigers, and Jarred Cosart will start on Sunday against the Braves in the Astros' Grapefruit League home opener at Osceola County Stadium.