7/4/2014 12:45 A.M. ET
Astros sign international free agents Pineda, Sanchez
By Brian McTaggart and Teddy Cahill / MLB.com
ANAHEIM -- The Astros agreed to terms on contracts with two more international free agents Thursday signing 16-year-old shortstops Juan Pineda and Ozziel Sanchez, both of whom are from Panama. Terms of the contracts were not disclosed.
Pineda (5-foot-10, 145 pounds) is from Veraguas, Panama, and Sanchez (5-foot-11, 160 pounds) is from Panama City. Both players will report to the Astros complex in the Dominican Republic.
"Pineda's best tool is his bat," Astros director of international Oz Ocampo said. "He has a quiet approach and a short, quick stroke with good rhythm and balance. He has a knack for centering balls and hitting line drives to all fields."
In the 2014 Panama National 15-and-under tournament, Pineda led his team in hitting with a .338 batting average, and was second in the tournament in hits.
On Sanchez, Ocampo said: "His best tool is his defense. Sanchez has quick actions, soft hands and an average- to solid-average arm presently. He projects to play at shortstop. Offensively, he shows gap power and uses all fields. He is a high-energy player who likes to play the game."
During last year's international signing period, the Astros led all 30 Major League clubs with five signings from Panama: catcher Ihan Bernal and right-handers Abdiel Saldana, Edgardo Sandoval, Jose Ramos and Gabriel Valdez. All five players are currently playing in the Dominican Summer League.
The Astros have now signed five international free agents this season after agreeing Wednesday with right-hander Franklin Perez, shortstop Miguelangel Sierra and catcher Brandon Benavente, all 16-year-old free agents from Venezuela.
Castro hopes to improve by batting second
ANAHEIM -- When rookie outfielder George Springer was put in the No. 2 spot in the batting order behind Jose Altuve, he began to shine offensively. Astros manager Bo Porter is hoping the same thing will be true for catcher Jason Castro, who entered Thursday in a 15-for-85 (.176) funk.
Castro had only 14 plate appearances in the No. 2 spot in the order prior to Thursday, but he wasn't hitting behind Altuve. The dynamo second baseman leads the Major Leagues in hits and leads the American League in stolen bases.
Porter hopes Castro, a left-handed hitter, will not only come to bat with a huge hole on the right side of the infield with Altuve on first, but he's a threat to steal so Castro should see more fastballs.
"I'm just trying to get him going," Porter said. "Hitting behind Jose Altuve seemed to be a good spot for anybody who's hit in that spot. [Castro], being one of our better hitters the entire last year, and if you look at the offensive woes in which we had, we felt like if we can get him going it will really helps us."
Castro buys into the notion of pitchers throwing more fastballs with a speedy runner at first, helping the defensive team's chances of throwing him out on the bases.
"It's definitely on a catcher's mind," he said. "It definitely plays into the decision-making a little bit when it's a situation where you really need to keep that guy at first and you want to keep him out of scoring position. You'll definitely think about what to throw."
Springer hit primarily second from May 13 until June 1, batting .357 in that span.
"When you get to hit behind [Altuve] and in front of Springer, it's definitely a good spot in the lineup," Castro said. "I'll definitely take advantage of the opportunity."
Road trip a homecoming for Singleton
ANAHEIM -- This weekend's series against the Angels represents a homecoming of sorts for Astros rookie first baseman Jon Singleton, who graduated from Millikan High School in Long Beach, Calif., which is less than 20 miles from Angel Stadium.
"It's fantastic," said Singleton, who said he'll have anywhere from 60-70 friends and family members at Thursday's series opener, including his parents. "It's not far from home, so it's nice."
Singleton actually grew up as a fan of the Dodgers and made more trips to Dodger Stadium as a kid than he did to see the Angels. As a teenager, he began attending more games at Angel Stadium, dreaming of getting a chance to play there.
"I really don't know why I went to Dodger games more, but when I got older I realized it's a different baseball experience going to different ballparks," he said. "I enjoyed it."
As Singleton learned, there's nothing like playing in your home ballpark.
"It's surreal," he said.
Singleton, of course, has been through a lot this year, ranging from his admission in the spring he was a drug addict to signing a contract extension with the Astros and being called up to the Major Leagues in May. Astros manager Bo Porter said those coming to watch Singleton play should be proud of him.
"Jon Singleton is a prime example of a person growing and maturing, and it's great for him to be back here, not too far away from where he grew up and to have family and friends have the opportunity to see him play Major League Baseball," he said.
Hernandez, Santana giddy over big league luxuries
ANAHEIM -- Ah, the luxuries of life in the Major Leagues.
Their first trip as Major Leaguers has been an eye-opening experience for Astros outfielder Domingo Santana and super utility player Enrique Hernandez, both of whom are on their first road trip after being called up earlier this week. That means charter flights and five-star hotels instead of commercial travel and road roommates.
"The travel is easy and it means you're finally over the bridge," Santana said. "This is what you've been waiting for your whole life and now you just have to work hard and have the same routine just to make sure you can beat the other guys."
Hernandez has been attached to the hip of veteran catcher Carlos Corporan, who like Hernandez also hails from Puerto Rico. The two have been working out together for several years.
"Corpy told me to sit with him [on the team's charter flight] and Domingo was in the next row and I looked at Domingo every 10, 15 minutes and said, 'We're here! This is awesome!'" Hernandez said. "We flew two or three days ago in Triple-A and had to stand around for three hours at the airport and wait for everybody to get in and fight for a seat on the plane and just be uncomfortable. Now we have our own row and we're in the big leagues. It's just unreal."
Petit, Stassi, Tropeano named PCL All-Stars
ANAHEIM -- Triple-A Oklahoma City pitcher Nick Tropeano, shortstop Gregorio Petit and catcher Max Stassi have been named Pacific Coast League All-Stars. The three will participate in the 2014 Cree Triple-A All-Star Game on July 16 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, N.C.
The trio will account for three of the 30 players on the PCL roster that will represent the league in the 27th annual matchup against the International League All-Stars. All three of Oklahoma City's representatives were selected to the roster by the PCL office.
Tropeano ranks third in the league with a 2.38 ERA, a 0.95 WHIP and a .197 opponent average. He is tied for the team lead with six wins, leads the RedHawks with 87 innings pitched and is second with 81 strikeouts. Tropeano, 23, was selected in the fifth round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft by the Astros from Stony Brook University.
Petit is batting .301 with nine home runs and 38 RBIs. He ranks third on the team in both hits and RBIs. During the month of June, Petit led the squad with a .370 average, tied for the team lead with five home runs and tied for second with 18 RBIs. The 29-year-old from Venezuela signed with the Astros as a Minor League free agent last winter.
Stassi has committed one error all season and is tied for the best fielding percentage among PCL catchers. He is currently batting .237 with six home runs and 32 RBIs. Stassi is tied for the team lead in triples and is tied for third in doubles. The 23-year-old from Yuba City, Calif., made his Major League debut last season.
Astros prospect Fisher makes professional debut
Just two days after he signed with the Astros and was introduced at Minute Maid Park, outfielder Derek Fisher made his professional debut in the Gulf Coast League. He collected two hits Thursday in the Rookie-level Astros' 8-2 loss to the Yankees.
Fisher, the No. 37 overall pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, played left field and went 2-for-3 with a double and a walk. He is expected to soon move up to short-season Tri-City in the New York-Penn League. There he would join first baseman A.J. Reed and third baseman J.D. Davis, the Astros' third and fourth picks in last month's Draft.
The Astros selected Fisher in Competitive Balance Round A with the pick they received from the Orioles in the Bud Norris deal last year.
Before joining the Astros, Fisher helped lead Virginia to the College World Series finals, where it lost to Vanderbilt in three games.
Fisher missed six weeks this spring due to a broken hamate bone. But he played well in his return to the lineup and finished the season hitting .260/.316/.362 with three home runs in 44 games.
• The Astros have traded right-handed pitcher Andrew Robinson, who's currently at Triple-A Oklahoma City, to the Braves, a source told MLB.com. It's not known what the Astros are getting in return, but the deal is not a major one. Robinson, who played at Georgia Tech, is 4-4 with a 2.40 ERA in 26 combined games in relief this year at Double-A Corpus Christi and Oklahoma City.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. Teddy Cahill is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.