Many are called, but few are chosen, as that great maverick rabbi from Nazareth once said. As the Houston Astros prepare for their first Spring Training game, they must now weed through countless players who all want the same thing: to be with the Astros on opening day.
Let's see how some of the young prospects look:
This may be the first time since 1959 that baseball fans in the Lone-Star state hear the word "Castro" and get excited (unless we're talking about left-leaning Texas-born actor Tommy Lee Jones). Castro has many plusses: He's big at 6'3", comes from the baseball powerhouse college of Stanford and he has the tools to be a great major league catcher.
Castro was at Double-A Corpus Christi last season, and his hitting stats suggest he could use another year of minor-league seasoning. Even if he has an outstanding spring training, I suspect he'll start the year at Triple A Round Rock.
Castro definitely is the future backstop of the Astros, especially when you consider neither J.R. Towles nor Humberto Quintero have been very successful throwing out would-be baserunners. Granted, it could also have to do with pitchers and slow deliveries, but it still makes you think that former first lady Laura Bush could steal a base against them--even with one of her high heels broken.
Looking at Fernando Abad's stats and reading the scouting reports on him, I see he's an interesting anomaly: he doesn't have an overpowering fastball but in his three minor league seasons he has had an excellent 6.44 to 1 strikeout-to-walks ratio with few wild pitches. He's also averaged nine strikeouts per nine innings pitched.
Perhaps Abad could become the next Greg Maddux (including the Greater Houston-sized strikezone that umpires gave to The Professor). Whether this will translate to Major League success is anyone's guess. Abad's a southpaw, which I also like.
Chia-Jen Lo is a ground-breaking player, in that he's the Astros' first signee from Taiwan. At 5'11" and 179 pounds, he has a similar build to Roy Oswalt.
According to www.baseball-reference.com, Lo throws a curveball and a fastball that reaches speeds of 95 mph. He has pitched on several Taiwanese national teams, including the 2004 World Junior Championship. He also pitched well in the 2006 Haarlem Baseball Week (3 2/3 innings, striking out four and allowing two hits, a walk and saving the game) but not so well in the 2007 World Port Tournament (5.00 ERA in two games).
In 2008 at the World University Championship, Lo tossed three scoreless innings.
In his American debut with the Lancaster Jethawks last year, he pitched two scoreless innings of relief and struck out two and walked two without allowing any runs.
Accompanying Lo to spring training is his interpreter, Justin Wei. If he makes the roster in Houston, one wonders if he'll hang out with Yao Ming. If he does, there's bound to be teasing (Yao's from Mainland China, which considers Taiwan to be a "renegade" colony).
Alex Romero is one of three left fielders and one of seven outfielders at spring training for the Astros. A left-handed hitting, six-feet-tall, 200-pound outfielder, he brings to mind longtime Astros outfielder Terry Puhl.
Romero's two years in the majors with the Arizona Diamondbacks even remind me a little of Puhl: not really a home run hitter (two home runs in 280 career at-bats in the MLB), but also not a free swinger, either. Romero strikes out every 6.5 at-bats. He has a .239 career batting average: interestingly, he's stolen six bases in the MLB and hasn't been caught yet. As an outfielder, he looks around average.
Romero could very well be one of those sleeper invitees who earns a roster spot, but I suspect he'll probably be optioned to the minor leagues.
Replacing Miguel Tejada at shortstop is what Oswaldo Navarro will be vying to do at spring training. His last time in the Big Leagues was in 2006, when he recorded two hits in three at bats with the Seattle Mariners. Back in December, he signed a minor-league contract with the Astros.
In Navarro's four years at the Triple-A level, he has a .252 batting average. Interestingly enough, he hits a decent amount of doubles (he's been in the double-digits in each year in the minors and several times has had 20 or more in a season). As far as fielding goes, he looks decent.