WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Astros general manager James Click took some time on Monday to talk with MLB.com about how the club is shaping up with Opening Day quickly approaching.
MLB.com: Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers Jr. have been vocal about their desire to sign extensions and remain in Houston long term, and Correa has issued an April 1 deadline to sign a deal. What’s the latest on the contract negotiations?
Click: First of all, it is a testament to the organization, the city of Houston, the fans, the environment that you have players that are so vocal about wanting to stay here. It says a lot about the city and the franchise. And we certainly wouldn't be doing our jobs if we didn't explore those kind of interests, but right now we're going to keep those conversations private and when there's something to report, we will let you guys know.
MLB.com: What's been the biggest takeaway from camp so far now that we're 10 days or so away from Opening Day?
Click: First and foremost, just having the fans back in the stands has been great. It's just highlighted how weird it was last year to play all those games without anybody in the ballpark. Beyond that, it's been a pleasant return to normalcy in a lot of ways. We're dealing with the normal injuries here and there that you would expect. We're dealing with the normal camp battles here and there that you would expect, and so just being able to have those conversations about a roster of a baseball team and focus on that as opposed to all the health and safety protocols and that kind of stuff has been, has been great.
MLB.com: You’ve talked a few times about how important pitching depth will be this season. You’ve hit some road bumps with the injury to Framber Valdez and the COVID-19 quarantine, so are you more concerned about it now than you were a few weeks ago?
Click: Well, it's still a priority for us, but I think that a lot of the guys that we've added to the 40-man roster this winter have shown very well in camp. They may not be with us on Opening Day, but we expect that over the course of 162 games that we're going to have to use every inch of our 40-man roster to cover those innings and get through it. The organizational depth that we have at starting pitching, in particular, is going to be a huge benefit to us this year. We might have to get a little bit creative in the first couple of weeks of the season, but fortunately we have a lot of off-days, and we have pitching coaches who are able to work with the talent that we got and maximize it to try to get 27 outs as efficiently as possible.
MLB.com: It appears you have three guys battling for one outfield spot in Chase McCormick, Steven Souza Jr. and Jose Siri, and none of them have done a whole lot to separate themselves. What do you think about your outfield depth beyond the starters and are you concerned about it?
Click: No, we're not concerned about it. I think that we have quite a few guys and a lot of underlying talent, and the question is just who's going step up and go get it? And maybe the surface numbers haven't been there, but at the same time, we focus on sort of the process -- how the guys approach their at-bats, how do they approach their work. We find that's more predictive about who's going to be helpful and successful during the season than maybe Spring Training surface stats.
MLB.com: What young players or prospects have stood out to you that you think have made a big step forward in the last month?
Click: It’s tough for me to say, because I don't have the baseline with a lot of guys that the rest of the organization does. And obviously with last year, not being able to go to the Minor Leagues, it's hard to say who stepped forward. I will say that Peter Solomon has been particularly impressive. I think his stuff has been very good. [Jairo] Solis has also looked pretty good in the games, and then off the roster everybody's pretty excited about Hunter Brown and what he brings. Obviously, Tyler Ivey is another guy that we expect will be contributing for us sooner rather than later. I'm always hesitant to name guys because I'm inevitably going to forget to mention two or three others that have been impressive, but just shooting from the hip, those are some of the guys that that we've seen that have been pretty good.
MLB.com: One of the big keys for the team’s success this year will be getting bounce-back seasons from Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Yuli Gurriel. What have you seen from them in camp so far? And do you think they're in a better place mentally and physically than they were a year ago?
Click: No question. These guys clearly took the offseason very seriously. You can tell how much they worked, how hard they worked. Bregman has obviously added quite a few pounds of good weight, because he wants to put a lot more strength in his game. Yuli has trimmed down and looks like he's in tremendous shape. Altuve looks like the Altuve of old. And I think, again, this goes back to the weirdness of last season and the lack of fans and the lack of, sometimes, energy in the ballpark. You can see the effect that has on these guys who are used to performing in the highest of high-pressure stages. Maybe they need that a little bit more than some other people, but they all look great. We're excited to see what they got for us this year.