Spring training questions: Houston Astros

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Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be looking at a few of the questions facing each team this spring.
1. Will the Astros get anything at all out of the catcher position while waiting for Jason Castro?
GM Ed Wade opted against spending any cash to upgrade at catcher over the winter, leaving him with ex-prospect J.R. Towles and career backup Humberto Quintero to battle for time behind the plate. Towles, who was a bust after claiming a starting job in 2008, was hurt for much of last season and didn’t show much in 14 major league starts at the end of the season. He has a 609 OPS in 234 major league at-bats. Quintero is at 600 in 548 career at-bats, but that does come with a nice defensive reputation. Ideally, Towles would impress in March, claim the starting job and play well enough to allow the Astros to keep Castro in the minors until September. Castro, though, figures to get plenty of work with the Astros’ starting pitchers this spring just in case he’s needed earlier. Maybe a lot earlier.
2. With Jose Valverde and LaTroy Hawkins gone, can the rebuilt bullpen hold leads at the end of games?
The Astros will have three returnees who pitched very well last season (Alberto Arias, Tim Byrdak and Jeff Fulchino), plus the emerging Sammy Gervacio, so the bullpen as a whole might be solid. However, the closer candidates inspire less faith. Brandon Lyon ended up undergoing minor shoulder surgery not long after signing one of the most criticized contracts of the winter (three years, $15 million) and Matt Lindstrom is a complete wild card. Lyon will probably be reliable, but with his modest strikeout rate, he’ll never inspire the kind of confidence that Valverde did, and it’s safe to assume that Lindstrom isn’t going to match the 1.71 ERA that Hawkins had in his year and a third with Houston. Gervacio just might prove to be the best reliever of the whole bunch.
3. Will the talented Felipe Paulino get a chance to show what he can do in the rotation?
The Lyon contract had nothing on Wade’s baffling decision to pick up Brian Moehler’s $3 million option for 2010. After all, Moehler is 38 and he had a 5.47 ERA last season. Odds are that he would have had to settle for a minor league contract on the open market. The stunning commitment suggested that Moehler would have to be penciled into the 2010 rotation. The Astros, though, later added Brett Myers, giving them three pitchers for the final two spots. Bud Norris should have a big edge for one based on his performance last year, so that leaves Moehler and Paulino for one opening. Paulino came out of last year 3-11 with a 6.27 ERA, but he had an impressive 93/37 K/BB ratio in 97 2/3 innings and he has the talent to take a giant leap forward. If the Astros are going to be a surprise contender this year, Paulino would likely have to be a big part of it. The Astros need to see what he can do and treat Moehler as a fallback.

Roberto Osuna reveals he has been dealing with an anxiety issue

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Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna recently revealed that he has been dealing with an anxiety issue, Rob Longley of the Toronto Star reports. Osuna specified that the issue is completely off the field, not on the field. He is not sure when he’ll be able to return to pitch again.

Osuna had been feeling “a little bit anxious, a little bit weird” and said, “I feel like I’m lost a little bit right now.” Despite the anxiety, Osuna volunteered to pitch during Friday’s loss to the Royals, but the Blue Jays smartly chose not to put him into the game.

Osuna said, “I wish I knew how to get out of here and how to get out of this. We’re working on it. We’re trying to find ways to see what can make me feel better. But to be honest I just don’t know.”

It must have been tough for Osuna to make his issue public, as there is still a stigma around dealing with mental issues. Given the prominent position he holds in the Jays’ bullpen, fans become even less empathetic about taking time off to deal with it as well. Hopefully, Osuna is able to use the time off to get the help he needs. And hopefully his going public helps motivate other people dealing with mental issues to seek help for themselves.

The 22-year-old recently became the youngest player in major league history to reach 75 career saves. This season, Osuna is carrying a 2.48 ERA with 19 saves and a 37/3 K/BB ratio in 39 innings.

Brewers claim Stephen Vogt off waivers from the Athletics

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ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported on Sunday that the Brewers claimed catcher Stephen Vogt off waivers from the Athletics. Vogt was designated for assignment by the Athletics on Thursday.

Vogt, 32, was an All-Star in each of the last two seasons, but struggled this year. He hit .217/.287/.357 with four home runs and 20 RBI in 174 plate appearances.

With the Brewers, Vogt will likely split time behind the plate with Manny Pina. Meanwhlie, the Athletics’ catching situation will be handled by Josh Phegley and Bruce Maxwell.