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Porter checks out Astros prospects in AFL

HOUSTON -- Astros manager Bo Porter has already started making some on-field assessments. The new manager returned home Sunday after getting a chance to see some of the club's budding talent perform in person last week during the Arizona Fall League.

Porter, who was hired earlier in October, saw three games in Arizona, where the Astros contingent is playing for the Mesa Solar Sox. While he was in the desert, he took time to get to know the players on a personal level and even treated them to dinner at Outback Steakhouse.

"They were completely ecstatic," Porter said. "It's always good when the manager of your ballclub takes time out of the schedule to see the up-and-coming future of the organization. I feel it's valuable for me to let them know my interest level. These guys are not only the future, but a lot of them are going to be part of the present."

The chance to meet the new manager and talk in an informal environment certainly had a profound effect on the players, including top pitching prospect Jarred Cosart.

"First of all, he's a very stand-up, Christian guy, and that's what I noticed right off the bat, first and foremost," Cosart said. "He definitely knows baseball. That's why he got the job, and he's very committed to turning the Astros around and the whole rebuilding and the way they're going about doing it. He said it was going to start with the Minor Leagues and they're going to need us to carry the load at some point, and he thinks we have the capabilities."

In addition to Cosart, top prospect Jonathan Singleton, a first baseman, is in Arizona, along with reliever Chia-Jen Lo, starting pitchers Alex Sogard and Nick Tropeano, infielders Jiovanni Mier and Bobby Borchering and outfielder George Springer. Mier and Springer are former first-round picks.

"I got to see three games and was just really impressed with our young guys," Porter said. "Obviously, you hear all the great things that are being said about them, but it's another thing when you see it for your own eyes."

Singleton, who's expected to come to Spring Training competing for a spot on the big league roster, was hitting .254 with three homers and seven RBIs through 16 games for the Solar Sox. He was one of the centerpieces acquired from the Phillies in the Hunter Pence trade last year.

"Singleton is as good as advertised," Porter said. "He swung the bat really well and squared up the ball pretty much the entire time I was there."

Springer, Houston's first-round pick in 2011, was hitting .265 with one homer and seven RBIs in 11 games while playing primarily center field, though he has seen some time in right field. He finished last season at Double-A Corpus Christi after putting up big numbers at Class A Lancaster.

"He reminds me a lot of Torii Hunter in his younger days," Porter said. "He gets after [it], he has tremendous range, great arm strength and the ball really jumps off his bat. You can see the power and speed potential immediately."

Porter saw Cosart make one start and was impressed with his changeup and fastball velocity, which is the upper 90s, as well as command of his secondary stuff.

"He is young for his age as far as pitching goes, but he's a mature young player," he said.

Borchering, one of the players the Astros acquired from the D-backs in July's Chris Johnson trade, has settled in nicely at third base, Porter said. The 22-year-old is a power bat who played mostly outfield last year before the Astros moved him to third base.

The switch-hitter was batting .118, with two of his four hits being home runs.

"He's making strides at third base," Porter said. "One of the things that's slowed him developing is he's moved around the diamond so much since the time he was drafted. One of the things that will help him is we have him at third base. We'll pretty much play him at third, maybe a little at first, but he's still going to be in the infield. You can see his power potential."

Mier, the team's first-round pick in 2009 who was limited to 51 games this season because of injuries, had been on the taxi squad, but has since been added to the regular roster. Porter said he's an above-average defender with great range.

Meanwhile, Lo continues his return from Tommy John surgery. He's appeared in eight games and allowed two earned runs in 8 1/3 innings.

"You can see he's all the way back and has swing-and-miss stuff that has a chance to pitch in the back end of a Major League bullpen," Porter said. "He throws a split-finger that's a plus pitch, especially when he comes into a game needing to get a ground ball."

Sogard and Tropeano are pitching in relief, but only out of necessity. The Astros had to prioritize which starters they wanted to keep in the rotation while in Arizona, and Cosart was the obvious choice.

Houston Astros