Astros bid farewell to Kissimmee after instructs

Prospects acclimate to pro ball at club's Spring Training home since 1985

October 14th, 2016
Astros Minor League pitching coach Josh Miller held the final pitched ball at Osceola County Stadium. (Mike Elias)

HOUSTON -- The final pitch thrown by an Astros player on the back fields at Osceola County Stadium came without much fanfare, save for Minor League pitching coach Josh Miller holding up the ball while posing for a picture later posted on the Twitter account of assistant general manager Mike Elias.

With the final out of Friday's intra-squad game in Kissimmee, Fla., the Astros not only signaled the end to this year's instructional league -- a fall camp for younger Minor League prospects -- but also said goodbye to their complex at Osceola County Stadium, which has hosted the team's Spring Training and offseason programs since 1985.

"Hopefully, if everything goes as planned, we will break camp in West Palm Beach next spring," Elias said. "It sounds like everything is on target and ready to go."

The Astros and Nationals are set to move next spring into a new shared facility called Ballpark at the Palm Beaches. Construction at the facility was largely unaffected by last week's Hurricane Matthew and remains set to open on schedule early next year.

The Astros held a short ceremony prior to Friday's game where Minor League operations apprentice Scott Maxey threw out a ceremonial first pitch. Players applauded, a game was played, and the Astros bid adieu to Kissimmee.

"It was a great place and we spent a long time there and we're going to miss it, but we're also excited about the beautiful new facility in West Palm Beach," Elias said.

More than 50 players participated in the Astros' instructional league this year. That list includes top prospects such as outfielders Kyle Tucker and Daz Cameron and shortstops Anibal Sierra and Miguelangel Sierra, and 2016 draft picks such as pitchers Forrest Whitley, Nick Hernandez, Ian Hardman and Dustin Hunt, outfielders Ronnie Dawson and Stephen Wrenn, catcher Jake Rogers and infielder Abraham Toro-Hernandez.

Despite some weather issues, including the brush with Matthew, the camp was a success, Elias said.

"For me, it's especially useful because I get to familiarize myself with a lot of the players from Latin America who very recently came over to the States, and it's a good chance to get to know those kids and talk to them and see them play a lot in a short amount of time," Elias said.

The instructional league is an important part of the Astros' developmental process because it allows players to experiment with perhaps a new pitch or different swing mechanics without the pressure of in-season results.

"The coaching environment is a little more intensive and hands on and there's few demands on the players in terms of game performance and having a crowd around them and so forth," Elias said.

Cameron, whose season was cut short because of a broken finger, got in a few at-bats at the end of the camp. Right-handed pitcher Riley Ferrell, recovering from surgery on his shoulder to repair an aneurysm, also assimilated into camp while rehabbing.

"You want guys to be ready to go and have a good first full season [in pro ball], and the instructional league is a good part of preparing them for that," Elias said.