Considering the Astros don’t have much outfield depth after not signing free-agent outfielders George Springer and Josh Reddick, the addition of Steven Souza Jr. on a Minor League deal could wind up being very important. Souza has a shot to make the Opening Day roster, saying on Tuesday that he feels as healthy as he has in a while and can play all three outfield spots.
Entering camp, the Astros' starting outfield consists of Michael Brantley in left, Myles Straw in center and Kyle Tucker in right, with Souza, prospect Chas McCormick and non-roster invitee Jose Siri battling for the fourth spot.
Souza, 31, said his familiarity with Astros general manager James Click from their days with the Rays, as well as a series of phone calls with Astros manager Dusty Baker, sold him on Houston. That, and the fact the Astros are considered a contender in the American League again this year.
“Obviously, it’s one of the toughest teams, since I've been in the league, to play against,” Souza said. “The talent is just off the charts here. This group is so different than a lot of groups, because they can do it in so many different ways. They're such great hitters, they run the bases well, they play phenomenal defense and they stick together really well.”
Souza has played in just 83 games since the end of the 2017 because of underperformance and injuries, including a left knee injury near the end of Spring Training that cost him the ’19 season. He played in only 11 games last year with the Cubs and was on the injured list with a right hamstring strain.
“It's been two years since my [knee] injury, and I feel better than I felt in years,” he said. “I think, for me, it's just getting back into the swing and the rhythm of the game, and the rest will take care of itself. I go about my work the best I can. If I'm healthy and I can get consistent ABs -- and I’m not necessarily talking about playing every day -- but getting into a rhythm with my swing, I think my record speaks for itself. So just looking to stay healthy all year. That’s honestly my biggest goal. If I can do that, I'll be just fine.”
Click ready for dialogue with Correa
One day after shortstop Carlos Correa said that any contract extension with the Astros would have to be reached before the start of the regular season, Click said that he looks forward to sitting down with Correa and his agent during Spring Training. Correa will be a free agent after this season.
“We felt like it was more likely to have a chance if we could get into camp and have the conversations,” Click said on 790-AM [KBME] in Houston on Tuesday. “It’s a high priority. We’re going to get to it. But we want to make sure that we put in the work before we really dig in, but we have talked about what is most important to him and that will give us some direction on how we can try to line this up.”
If Correa reaches free agency, he would be 27 -- the youngest among a talented group of potential free-agent shortstops next offseason that includes Francisco Lindor, Javier Báez, Trevor Story and Corey Seager. Correa said he would like to finish his career in Houston.
“It’s no secret there’s going to be a lot of talent on the market next year, and we do have some talent coming up through the system that might help us out as well,” Click said. “Our goal is to have a conversation with Carlos to see if that’s something that can line up. He’s been an Astro for his whole career and has made it clear he would like to be here. With a guy as talented as he is, it would be prudent for us to try to line that up, but it takes both sides.”
Eight players yet to arrive
The Astros said on Tuesday that eight players have yet to begin workouts in West Palm Beach, Fla., including six who are completing coronavirus intake protocols. That list includes right-handers Blair Henley, Peter Solomon, Hector Velazquez and Forrest Whitley and catchers Korey Lee and Colton Shaver.
Also not working out yet is Pedro Leon, the Cuban outfielder who signed for $4 million on Jan. 15. Leon’s arrival has been delayed as he goes through the visa process, the team said. The other player not in camp is veteran Zack Greinke, who’s expected to report on the final report date (Friday) like he did last year.
Of the eight players who have yet to take the field, Solomon, Whitley and Greinke are the only three on the 40-man roster. When everyone reports, the Astros will have 72 players in camp, including 37 on the 40-man roster, 33 non-roster invitees and two on the restricted list (pitchers Francis Martes and Kent Emanuel).