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Astros claim lefty reliever Boshers from Twins

MLB.com

The Astros claimed left-hander Buddy Boshers off waivers from the Twins on Monday.

The 29-year-old had a 4.89 ERA in 38 relief appearances with Minnesota last season. Boshers held left-handed batters in check, allowing a .224 batting average and a .258 on-base percentage.

The Astros claimed left-hander Buddy Boshers off waivers from the Twins on Monday.

The 29-year-old had a 4.89 ERA in 38 relief appearances with Minnesota last season. Boshers held left-handed batters in check, allowing a .224 batting average and a .258 on-base percentage.

He spent the past two seasons with the Twins and pitched for the Angels in 2013.

With the addition of Boshers, the Astros' 40-man roster stands at 39.

Quinn Roberts is a reporter for MLB.com.

 

Houston Astros, Buddy Boshers

Tender trio: Correa, Lindor, Seager paving way

MLB.com

If we're really lucky, we'll be debating the greatness of this era of young shortstops for the next decade. Sometimes, we just get lucky that way.

Besides, what else are baseball fans supposed to feel when they channel surf through a baseball evening and catch glimpses of the Astros' Carlos Correa, the Indians' Francisco Lindor and the Dodgers' Corey Seager?

If we're really lucky, we'll be debating the greatness of this era of young shortstops for the next decade. Sometimes, we just get lucky that way.

Besides, what else are baseball fans supposed to feel when they channel surf through a baseball evening and catch glimpses of the Astros' Carlos Correa, the Indians' Francisco Lindor and the Dodgers' Corey Seager?

Surely, this was what it was like in New York to watch three future Hall of Famers -- Willie Mays of the Giants, Mickey Mantle of the Yankees and Duke Snider of the Dodgers -- play center field in the 1950s.

This is as good as it gets. If you watch just one of these shortstops for a stretch of games, you'll be convinced he's the best in the business. You're blown away by -- not just the things that can be weighed and measured, but by the energy and competitive fire.

Perhaps most of all, there's the sheer joy all of them bring to the park every single day.

"Why not?" Lindor asked one day last season. "We are doing the thing we love. This is a dream come true."

MLB Network's coverage of this offseason has included a Top 10 Right Now series ranking the best players at each position. Last week, they had the top three shortstops lined up in this order: Correa, Seager and Lindor. Programming note: This week, it'll be the left fielders and catching getting this treatment.

Video: Corey Seager is the No. 2 shortstop right now

Here's one of the cool things about the shortstops: These three are just getting started with their careers. Lindor is 24, Seager and Correa are 23. They were highly touted prospects, and so far, they have lived up to every expectation.

Correa and Lindor arrived six days apart in June 2015. Seager joined the Dodgers on Sept. 3. All have been fixtures ever since, and what's especially impressive -- what will fuel the debate -- is how similar their numbers are:

Games: Correa (361); Seager (329); Lindor (416)
Homers: Correa (66); Seager (52) Lindor (60)
OPS: Correa (.863); Seager (.876); Lindor (.823)
OPS+: Correa (138); Seager (133); Lindor (114)

Seager has made the playoffs three times, Correa and Lindor twice apiece. Between the three of them, they've made five All-Star appearances and won two Rookie of the Year Awards.

Correa won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2015, with Lindor finishing second. Seager won the National League Rookie of the Year Award the following season.

Seager and Lindor's defensive metrics are slightly better than Correa's. But Correa's offensive numbers are better across the board, despite missing six weeks with a thumb injury in 2017. These are fine lines. Fans in Cleveland, Houston and Los Angeles are convinced their guy will define the position for the foreseeable future.

Video: Francisco Lindor is excited for the 2018 season

Here's another cool thing: these three pay attention to one another. They are engaged with -- and motivated by -- one another.

One of the things veteran players advised Cal Ripken to do when he was moved from third base to shortstop by the Orioles in 1981 was to watch baseball's top shortstops. In his case, that was Ozzie Smith, Alan Trammell, Robin Yount, etc.

"You can pick up things they do that you might be able to incorporate in your own game," Ripken said. "But back then, the highlights weren't as available as they are now."

Now, when Seager makes a jaw-dropping play -- say, a sliding stop and a laser throw across the diamond -- Correa and Lindor will have it on their phones almost instantly.

"Absolutely, I'm paying attention," Correa said. "You can pick up a lot by watching great players like those guys."

Correa says it's not just these three. All appreciate that Andrelton Simmons of the Angels might be the best defensive shortstop of this generation. They admire how Zack Cozart played the position in Cincinnati before signing with the Halos this offseason and preparing to move to third base.

But in terms of youth and talent and bursting upon the scene with an immediate impact, Lindor, Correa and Seager are unique.

Oh, and they're keeping an eye on one other guy.

Manny Machado, who has won two Gold Gloves playing third for the Orioles in the past six seasons, would like to move back to his natural position. Yeah, you guessed it -- shortstop.

Machado has played third base at such a high level that it's tough to imagine him being any better at short. But the Orioles might accommodate him this season, and one of his priorities in free agency next offseason will be the opportunity to play shortstop full-time.

Machado is only 25. He'll have some competition.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

 

J.D.'s potential uncovered during Astros tenure

Free agent showed glimpses of hitter he would become
MLB.com

HOUSTON -- The odd offseason is moving quickly in one respect -- Spring Training is fast approaching. Still, some of the most attractive free agents remain unsigned.

Presumably, J.D. Martinez will be playing baseball somewhere this year. Even if he ends up signing for fewer years than he desires, Martinez undoubtedly will be among the top earners of his current free-agent class.

HOUSTON -- The odd offseason is moving quickly in one respect -- Spring Training is fast approaching. Still, some of the most attractive free agents remain unsigned.

Presumably, J.D. Martinez will be playing baseball somewhere this year. Even if he ends up signing for fewer years than he desires, Martinez undoubtedly will be among the top earners of his current free-agent class.

Hot Stove Tracker

Martinez is a compelling story, considering four years ago he was released by the Astros during Spring Training, and since then he has gone on to earn elite status as one of the game's best sluggers.

When he does sign his contract with the Red Sox or any number of mystery teams who have shown interest, it's highly likely what Martinez did with the Tigers and D-backs will lead the conversations, while his Astros years, though purposeful, are more likely to be viewed as an afterthought.

Video: Footer weighs in on J.D. Martinez's free agency

But for a couple of coaches tasked with shaping Martinez during his tenure with the Astros, those years were hardly a waste. It took Martinez a while to come into his own, but positive signs were there from the start.

"His balance, his body control, how he moved the bat through -- he was able to get those things first," said Brad Mills, Martinez's manager in Houston from 2011 until August '12. "He had a good foundation and a basis for hitting. That's huge."

Mills, currently the Indians' bench coach, admitted he couldn't have predicted that Martinez would hit 45 homers and drive in 104 runs in just 119 games last year. But he knew Martinez, at the very least, had the potential to be a great hitter soon after Martinez debuted in 2011. In his first month in the big leagues, Martinez drove in 28 runs, a rookie record.

Still, Martinez's numbers when he was with Detroit and Arizona from 2014-17 are gaudy compared to his slash lines during his three-year Houston tenure.

With Houston, Martinez slugged .387 and had an OPS of .687. In slightly less than four full seasons with Detroit, Martinez slugged .551 to complement a .912 OPS. He bested his on-base percentage, jumping from .300 with Houston to .361 with the Tigers.

Aside from the very small number of super-elite players -- think Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, et al -- it's difficult to truly predict how long it will take a young hitter to reach his full potential. Former Astros hitting coach Mike Barnett had little doubt where Martinez was headed soon after the two met when Martinez was playing in the very lowest levels of the Astros' Minor League system and Barnett was the Minor League hitting coordinator.

Video: CIN@HOU: Martinez belts his first Major League homer

One of the few conversations the two had regarding mechanics took place within the first couple days of their meeting for the first time.

"I said, 'You're a front-foot-down-early guy,'" Barnett recalled.

Martinez asked what that meant, and Barnett explained that Martinez puts his stride foot down right at the time of release, rather than a more conventional stride, where hitters stride as the ball is released and set their foot down when they're ready to "fire their hands."

Barnett assured Martinez his way was fine but "not everybody's wired that way" -- only about 30 or 35 percent do it Martinez's way.

"He didn't really know there was a difference," Barnett said.

Video: HOU@DET: Martinez connects on a three-run home run

Following his record-setting debut month, Martinez spent the bulk of two seasons producing mixed results. In 2013, months after Mills and Barnett had left the Astros, Martinez poured his time while on the disabled list into trying to figure out how to improve his swing.

Martinez studied several hitters who were having good years, ranging from teammate Jason Castro to superstars such as Cabrera, who would later become his teammate in Detroit. Frame-by-frame, Martinez watched each hitter's mechanics and noticed one consistency -- their bats were spending a lot more time in the zone than his ever were.

Martinez, as he would explain to Tigers fans two offseasons ago, decided to try to elevate the ball more -- "If I hit the ball in the air, it always has a chance to go," he said at that time. Eventually, it clicked, and following his release from the Astros, he soon cemented a permanent spot in the middle of the Tigers' lineup.

A side-by-side view of Martinez's swings from his Houston days and today don't look that much different. Elevating the ball doesn't necessarily mean suddenly adopting an elaborate uppercut swing. Barnett, now the video coordinator for the Indians, doesn't see an uppercut swing from Martinez as much as he notices he is simply staying behind the ball better, which allows him to catch more balls out in front of the plate.

That also dovetails with Martinez seemingly adopting the more conventional stride he didn't have when he first started out.

Then there are the far less scientific facts: players generally perform better as they gain experience; good hitters find ways to adjust after pitchers figure them out; and Martinez hit the lineup jackpot when he joined a very scary Tigers offense that starred Cabrera and Victor Martinez. Being nestled among those two is never a hindrance.

It was a perfect formula for a conscientious, studious hitter determined to figure out how to be better.

"That's always how he was -- very inquisitive," Barnett said of his former pupil. "He wanted to be the absolute best he could be. I'm happy as can be for him. No one worked as hard at his craft as he did."

The reward, however delayed, is likely coming soon.

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

 

Houston Astros, J.D. Martinez

Jose Altuve received a commemorative World Series bat made out of Swarovski crystal

Just how much did the Astros' run to the 2017 World Series mean to fans the world over? We're now just a few weeks away from Spring Training, and Houston players are still receiving gifts in their honor. The most recent recipient: Jose Altuve, who showed off a custom bat made entirely out of crystal this weekend.

'A perfect night': Astros' Gala extra special

Club celebrates World Series title, raises money for charity
MLB.com

HOUSTON -- With a chill in the air and a pep in their step, the World Series-champion Houston Astros gathered for one more offseason soiree on the field at Minute Maid Park Friday night, while raising funds for their neighbors down the road.

The Diamond Dreams Gala is always a festive party, given it takes place on the very field that the Astros play on throughout the season. But Friday's event had even a little something extra, with not-so-subtle reminders that the Astros are only a couple of months removed from the most exciting moment in the organization's history.

HOUSTON -- With a chill in the air and a pep in their step, the World Series-champion Houston Astros gathered for one more offseason soiree on the field at Minute Maid Park Friday night, while raising funds for their neighbors down the road.

The Diamond Dreams Gala is always a festive party, given it takes place on the very field that the Astros play on throughout the season. But Friday's event had even a little something extra, with not-so-subtle reminders that the Astros are only a couple of months removed from the most exciting moment in the organization's history.

This year, patrons were invited to pose with the World Series trophy, currently on its own 100-city tour that will continue throughout the 2018 calendar year. The trophy's presence, combined with a slew of Astros players and front-office representatives also in attendance, made this gala perhaps just a tad more festive than its predecessors.

"It's always kind of, to me, the kickoff to Spring Training, to get everybody excited about the upcoming year," Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan said. "Coming off this year [in 2017], it's just so special."

Tweet from @astros: What a night! Tonight, the #AstrosFoundation hosted its third-annual Diamond Dreams Gala featuring legendary performer Gladys Knight! pic.twitter.com/oFgqabDR0b

Even with a large portion of the Astros already in California for George Springer's wedding on Saturday, Astros players past and present were well represented at the gala. From the current roster, catcher Brian McCann, outfielder Josh Reddick, pitcher Lance McCullers Jr., third baseman Alex Bregman, infielder Marwin Gonzalez and infielder Tyler White were in attendance.

Past players included Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, J.R. Richard, Phil Garner, Art Howe, Enos Cabell, Chris Sampson and Brandon Backe.

"Any time you can help your team and the Astros Foundation, and help out the community, it's always a fun time," Reddick said. "You want to help the best you can."

In the three years the Astros Foundation has hosted the Diamond Dreams Gala, it has raised $1.4 million, with a bulk of that money going toward New Hope Housing, an organization combating homelessness by providing housing and support services for those in need.

That partnership has provided enough funds for New Hope to build a new facility at Harrisburg on the East end of downtown, which will replace the current building on Hamilton, just across the way from Minute Maid Park.

The new facility will open in February.

"They'll have a brand-new facility for low-income housing, and we'll help some of our homeless," Astros owner Jim Crane said. "We're excited about that. That's one of our key focuses for our team."

The gala, the Astros' largest fundraising effort of the year, has attracted several A-list entertainment acts over the past three years, including Friday's headliner, seven-time Grammy winner Gladys Knight. The legendary singer, whose career has spanned more than 50 years, performed many of her greatest hits, including "Midnight Train to Georgia" and "Best Thing That's Ever Happened to Me."

"My dad asked me, 'Where are the Pips?'" Reid Ryan quipped.

Knight's appearance capped a trifecta of legendary gala performers, including James Taylor in 2016 and Diana Ross in '17.

The Diamond Dreams Gala wrapped up a jam-packed January that included more than a dozen caravan stops and FanFest, and it marked the unofficial end of an offseason that has been spent celebrating last year's grand accomplishment.

In that respect, throwing one more loud party seemed wholly appropriate.

"It's a perfect night of a lot of people that care about the Astros, our good works in the community, coming together to hear some great music, mingle with some players, mingle with some alumni and the front office and just have a good time," Reid Ryan said.

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

 

Houston Astros

Catch a glimpse of George Springer's wedding -- and watch the newlyweds dance into the reception

To be George Springer is to be involved in all kinds of fun things lately.

After helping to lead the Astros to a dramatic World Series victory over the Dodgers, the reigning Fall Classic MVP enjoyed the spotlight -- making an updated appearance on a Sports Illustrated cover, turning up on "Saturday Night Live" with some teammates, trying his best at the Rockets' "First Shot" competition, giving Houston-area traffic updates, and more. 

Reid Ryan shares WS trophy with hometown

Astros president returns to Alvin, Texas, with MLB's ultimate prize
MLB.com

ALVIN, Texas -- The emotions still pour out of Astros president Reid Ryan. That's what winning a World Series championship will do. That's what returning to the small town where you grew up and sharing the Commissioner's Trophy with those who watched you grow up will do.

Two and a half months after the Astros beat the Dodgers in seven games to win the World Series, Ryan still got choked up when he stood in front of about 400 people Thursday afternoon at the joint meeting of the Alvin Lions and Rotary clubs and talked about what coming home with the trophy means to him and this community of 24,326 people.

ALVIN, Texas -- The emotions still pour out of Astros president Reid Ryan. That's what winning a World Series championship will do. That's what returning to the small town where you grew up and sharing the Commissioner's Trophy with those who watched you grow up will do.

Two and a half months after the Astros beat the Dodgers in seven games to win the World Series, Ryan still got choked up when he stood in front of about 400 people Thursday afternoon at the joint meeting of the Alvin Lions and Rotary clubs and talked about what coming home with the trophy means to him and this community of 24,326 people.

The crowd was so large that the event had to be moved to a bigger venue, to the Knights of Columbus hall instead of the banquet hall at Joe's Barbeque.

"This is really cool because in 2013 when we were losing 100 games, the Alvin Rotary and Lions club asked me to come speak, and I think they were the first people to ask me to come speak," Ryan said. "I told them as long as I have this job I would come back every year. Today I asked them how many thought we'd win the World Series. There were a couple with their hands up, but I don't know if I'm buying it. They were my mom and dad's friends."

The crowd, which was treated to a barbecue lunch, a season recap from Ryan, 46, and a talk from Astros broadcaster Todd Kalas, included Ryan's former schoolmates, teachers, teammates and others who have called Alvin home all their lives. It included friends of his father, Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, who grew up in Alvin and put the town on the map.

Nolan Ryan and his wife, Ruth, moved from Alvin about 15 years ago, but you can't drive into this town 30 miles south of Houston without seeing his name on signs. A statue of Nolan Ryan stands proudly outside city hall. Like his dad, Reid Ryan grew up in Alvin. He played baseball for the Alvin High School Yellow Jackets and dreamed of being a big leaguer. Fate had other plans, but Ryan was still able to deliver on a championship.

"I kind of teared up a little bit because these people have supported my family, my dad's career, my career, the Astros, and so being here and seeing teammates of mine, teachers of mine, teammates of my mom and dad, longtime civic leaders -- they were all here an hour before I got here, ready to go -- to see this and hear me and hear Todd Kalas, a lot of people never thought the Astros would win this in their lifetime," Ryan said.

"These are people who have watched the Colt .45s come in, they knew the Astrodome when it was built and were in high school then. Just a lot of great stories and a lot of joy today."

Tweet from @brianmctaggart: Astros president Reid Ryan and poses along with Commissioner's Trophy and a high school classmate in his hometown of Alvin on Thursday. pic.twitter.com/y9LHT2MJVa

In addition to hearing from Ryan and Kalas, the highlight of the lunch was an opportunity to take a picture with the Commissioner's Trophy. Fans young and old lined up for a chance to share in the excitement. The Astros have been taking the trophy throughout the Houston area and Texas in recent weeks, but for Ryan there was nothing as meaningful as a stop in Alvin.

"I lived in the greatest town I could. Back then, it was one high school. All my family lived here -- aunts and uncles, both sides," Ryan said. "So you have freedom to go have fun, be a kid, be close to Houston, be close to the coast. If you like to hunt and fish or high school football or summer baseball, it had it all.

"Little League was a big deal in our town and everybody came out. We had a city championship. When my dad signed with the Astros [prior to 1980], they threw a parade for us and had a pep rally. And so, Alvin will always have a special place in my heart. I wish I had the opportunity to get down here more, but as they say, Jacket pride never dies."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.

 

Houston Astros

Cole eager to learn, contribute with Astros

Former Bucs ace adds another elite arm to formidable Houston rotation
MLB.com

HOUSTON -- The Astros have made a habit of pushing pitchers to the next level -- Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh and Charlie Morton, for example -- and are hoping to do the same with Gerrit Cole. Much of the credit goes to pitching coach Brent Strom, and the team's forward-thinking analytics department has also proven to provide the pitchers with useful information.

Cole, acquired by the Astros from the Pirates on Saturday in exchange for pitchers Michael Feliz and Joe Musgrove, and prospects Colin Moran and Jason Martin, gives the Astros a hard-throwing 27-year-old who's looking to recapture the form of his 19-win season in 2015. He gives them top-of-the-rotation potential without having to carry that burden in a deep rotation.

HOUSTON -- The Astros have made a habit of pushing pitchers to the next level -- Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh and Charlie Morton, for example -- and are hoping to do the same with Gerrit Cole. Much of the credit goes to pitching coach Brent Strom, and the team's forward-thinking analytics department has also proven to provide the pitchers with useful information.

Cole, acquired by the Astros from the Pirates on Saturday in exchange for pitchers Michael Feliz and Joe Musgrove, and prospects Colin Moran and Jason Martin, gives the Astros a hard-throwing 27-year-old who's looking to recapture the form of his 19-win season in 2015. He gives them top-of-the-rotation potential without having to carry that burden in a deep rotation.

Video: Crane happy to acquire Cole from the Pirates

"I think it boils down to command, I think it boils down to executing pitches," Cole said Wednesday when introduced to the Houston media at Minute Maid Park. "There are a lot of contributing factors, but I'm just going to trust what I do and continue use the resources around me. I'm going to try to soak up as much as I can from the veterans on this team and some of the really good players."

Cole figures to benefit from working with veteran catcher Brian McCann, who has already reached out to him. He'll soak up as much as he can from veteran pitcher Justin Verlander, who is entering his first full season with the Astros after coming over in an Aug. 31 trade with the Tigers.

"His is somebody every right-handed power pitcher ever has looked up to," Cole said. "It's a really cool opportunity to be able to work with somebody that good."

Video: Cole greatly improves Astros' rotation

Expect the Astros to push Cole to use his breaking ball more, knowing his 96-mph fastball remains an important part of his arsenal. He threw 12.2 percent curveballs last year and 17.2 percent sliders, but the Astros love the weak contact and spin rates.

"I'm looking forward to a new approach," Cole said. "I know there are some things the Astros do that are different, and I'm looking forward to hearing those things and hopefully trying to get a lot better."

Astros manager A.J. Hinch loves the mindset that Cole wants to learn.

Video: Hinch knows addition of Cole improves Astros

"Gerrit's used to being a front-line pitcher in this league. He's used to even carrying a pitching staff," he said. "Coming over here, we want that mentality to stay the same, even though he's got some help in this rotation to be his best.

"Certainly, we'll talk a lot about how he's going to use his pitches, we're going to talk about command and the things he's talked about, maybe some mechanical things we feel can get the best out of him. He's open to any and all ideas. We've got a lot of people that are going to be working to maximize his potential and ways to get better."

Cole, the Pirates' first-round Draft pick in 2011 out of UCLA, went 19-22 with a 4.12 ERA during 54 starts in 2016-17 after winning 19 games in '15. He went 12-12 with a 4.26 ERA in 33 starts last year for the Pirates, allowing 55 walks and 31 homers while striking out 196 batters in 203 innings.

Video: Huntington on young players added via trades

He'll join an already-formidable rotation that includes Verlander, Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr. and Morton, who's a close friend of Cole from their Pittsburgh days. Brad Peacock, who had the best year of his career last year split between the rotation and bullpen, and steady veteran McHugh are also in the rotation conversation.

"I'm happy with the depth of this rotation," Hinch said. "It's hard to argue the quality we can throw out there every day if we're healthy and we continue to push forward."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.

 

Houston Astros, Gerrit Cole

Whitley looks to stay on track after stellar '17

Astros' top pitching prospect racked up 143 K's in first full season
MLB.com

HOUSTON -- Astros pitching prospect Forrest Whitley was front and center during the team's annual Caravan and FanFest last week, signing autographs alongside All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa and manager A.J. Hinch, among others, while looking like a seasoned pro. Whitley, the Astros' first-round Draft pick in 2016 out of San Antonio, looks like he belongs in the big leagues off the field and could soon get a chance to show he belongs on it.

The hard-throwing Whitley, the No. 2-ranked right-handed pitching prospect by MLB Pipeline (behind Shohei Ohtani of the Angels), reached Double-A at age 19 last year, striking out 26 batters in 14 2/3 innings in four games (two starts) with the Corpus Christi Hooks. That put an exclamation point on a terrific first full season in pro ball and set up Whitley to reach the big leagues in 2019.

HOUSTON -- Astros pitching prospect Forrest Whitley was front and center during the team's annual Caravan and FanFest last week, signing autographs alongside All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa and manager A.J. Hinch, among others, while looking like a seasoned pro. Whitley, the Astros' first-round Draft pick in 2016 out of San Antonio, looks like he belongs in the big leagues off the field and could soon get a chance to show he belongs on it.

The hard-throwing Whitley, the No. 2-ranked right-handed pitching prospect by MLB Pipeline (behind Shohei Ohtani of the Angels), reached Double-A at age 19 last year, striking out 26 batters in 14 2/3 innings in four games (two starts) with the Corpus Christi Hooks. That put an exclamation point on a terrific first full season in pro ball and set up Whitley to reach the big leagues in 2019.

Top 10 Prospects by Position

"There's extra excitement," Whitley said of the 2018 season. "I'm going to try to stay in my lane, stay where my feet are and be humble as possible and just play the game."

Whitley, who will pitch at 20 years old all of next year, started the year in Class A Quad Cities and went 2-3 with a 2.91 ERA in 12 games (10 starts), striking out 67 in 46 1/3 innings. He was promoted for the first time to high Class A Buies Creek and struck out 50 in 31 1/3 innings before finishing the year in Corpus Christi.

He struck out a whopping 143 batters in 92 1/3 innings across three levels last year and will likely start the season in the rotation at Double-A. A promotion to Triple-A by the end of the season could have him knocking on the door of the big leagues.

"Expectations are going to be there, but I'm going to go out there and play my game and not try to do too much," he said.

Whitley could be invited to Major League camp as a non-roster player, where he could work alongside Justin Verlander, one of his idols. He said he's been focusing on gaining some strength on his 6-foot-7 frame this offseason as opposed to focusing on conditioning a year ago.

"It's been going really well thus far and I'm happy with my progress," he said.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.

 

Houston Astros

Astros TV reporter Morales talks Hawaii scare

MLB.com

HOUSTON -- Julia Morales and her family had been in Hawaii for only one day when they were thrust into the middle of 38 minutes of state-wide chaos.

Having just arrived to Honolulu for a week-long vacation that would culminate with a cruise around the islands, Morales, the popular in-game TV reporter who provides updates during Astros games, broke away from her family for a few minutes to grab a smoothie across the street.

HOUSTON -- Julia Morales and her family had been in Hawaii for only one day when they were thrust into the middle of 38 minutes of state-wide chaos.

Having just arrived to Honolulu for a week-long vacation that would culminate with a cruise around the islands, Morales, the popular in-game TV reporter who provides updates during Astros games, broke away from her family for a few minutes to grab a smoothie across the street.

Never could she have imagined that innocuous quick trip would turn so terrifying.

"The manager of the smoothie shop came out and said, 'This is not a drill,'" Morales recalled. "'We're closing down the restaurant. Everybody go home.' It happened that fast."

The situation Morales is referring to, of course, is the alert that blasted across every Hawaiian smart phone owner's device last Saturday, causing state-wide panic: "BALLISTIC MISSLE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL."

It turned out not to be a drill, nor was it an actual threat. It was a false alarm, an apparent wrong-button mishap committed by a lone state worker. Perhaps it's somewhat amusing to look back at now, days later, when order has been restored and explanations as to what happened have been provided. But at the time, it wasn't so funny for the locals or a myriad of vacationers.

"It was pure panic immediately," Morales said. "I was thinking, 'Well maybe this is a local thing.' But the girl behind the counter [at the smoothie shop] is from there and she said, 'We've never seen this before.'"

Tweet from @JuliaMorales: Everyone panicking here right now. We all just got this on our phone. pic.twitter.com/Qmm3Rr6NXa

As the patrons were ushered out of the restaurant, the smoothie shop employee said to Morales, "Do you want your smoothie? It might be your last."

"That's when I started to panic a little bit," Morales said. "She was legitimately scared. Then I began to get scared."

Tweet from @JuliaMorales: Restaurants just shut down and sent us home. Please be a drill.

Morales, currently on a Hawaiian cruise with her husband, parents, grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousin, ran out of the smoothie shop and back to the group. She immediately took to Twitter to try to figure out what was happening. Surely, she figured, the government would put out a tweet with more information that would hopefully calm the uncertainly.

But minutes went by and she couldn't find any information. So, she began tweeting, hoping someone would see it and reassure her that it was a false alarm.

"That was really why I started to tweet about it," Morales said. "I was hoping someone would look into it."

Finally, the tweet from the Hawaiian Emergency Management account landed: "false alarm."

"We were finally all able to breathe a little bit," Morales said.

Tweet from @JuliaMorales: New alert.🙏 pic.twitter.com/diI44jTHlf

The scare was over, but the effects from the ordeal lingered a while. Those agonizing minutes of confusion, and the adrenaline rush they caused, took their toll.

"I actually felt like I got sick," Morales said. "You just have no idea what to do, where to go, and what a shelter means, when you're on vacation in Hawaii. And then it was just the panic around me. The girl at the smoothie place was the first one, but then it just seemed like it was everyone. All these younger kids were crying. Our bartender at the restaurant where we got breakfast -- she was just a mess the entire time."

Tweet from @JuliaMorales: Found a new spot to eat. Bartender is still a mess. I���m not even hungry anymore. Going to take me a second to get over the whole ���this is not a drill��� thing.

Morales left for this vacation hoping it would be an unforgettable experience, but clearly, this is not what she had in mind.

"Thank God it was a false alarm," Morales said. "But at the same time, you want to know why this happened. That was a pretty horrifying 20-30 minutes."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

 

Houston Astros

Record crowd rocks Astros' FanFest

World Series champs host more than 42K fans at Minute Maid Park
MLB.com

HOUSTON -- It was only a few years ago, Astros second baseman Jose Altuve sat at a table during the team's annual FanFest and greeted a handful of fans who strolled past him looking for autographs. He was still an unknown up-and-comer on a team that was losing 100 games a year, so the fan interest in him and the team was low.

That's a stark contrast to the scene Saturday at Minute Maid Park, where the Astros distributed a record of more than 42,000 vouchers for fans to attend FanFest, where the excitement of the club's first World Series championship was still at a high level.

HOUSTON -- It was only a few years ago, Astros second baseman Jose Altuve sat at a table during the team's annual FanFest and greeted a handful of fans who strolled past him looking for autographs. He was still an unknown up-and-comer on a team that was losing 100 games a year, so the fan interest in him and the team was low.

That's a stark contrast to the scene Saturday at Minute Maid Park, where the Astros distributed a record of more than 42,000 vouchers for fans to attend FanFest, where the excitement of the club's first World Series championship was still at a high level.

"The whole organization and the fans deserve this kind of day," said Altuve, the 2017 American League MVP Award winner. "They come every single day to support us while we're playing, but not every day we have a chance to sign autographs. I've been looking forward to this and making it happen."

More than 20 Astros players, including World Series MVP George Springer and star pitcher Justin Verlander, signed autographs for fans and participated in question-and-answer sessions. One fan asked Verlander, who married supermodel Kate Upton just days after the Astros won the World Series, if he'd rather lose his wedding ring or World Series ring -- which he hasn't received yet.

"I've already kind of lost my wedding ring once and she didn't get super-mad at me, so I'm going to go with that one," Verlander joked.

For Verlander, it was his first trip to Houston since the World Series. Upton was in town, too, trying to find the pair a place to live for the next two years -- the length remaining on his contract.

"It's really exciting," he said. "The buzz is still going, and it's nice to be back in the city. ... It's nice to be around my teammates, to be around the fans again and be at the ballpark. This is a lot of fun."

The concourses at Minute Maid Park were jammed with fans dressed head to toe in orange and blue, typically with a World Series championship logo somewhere on them. Fans lined up for autographs on the club level while others ran the bases, threw in the bullpen or played catch in the outfield on a sun-splashed, but cold, winter day.

When they were waiting to see the players, the fans lined up to take a picture with the Commissioner's Trophy.

"It's such a great feeling to be a part of this, but obviously the reaction and the pride that championship brought us seems to be never-ending," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.

Video: Astros look ahead to 2018 at FanFest

All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa, who attended FanFest with fiancee Daniella Rodriguez, said the event has exploded since he started coming in 2014.

"I remember one of the first times I did it, it was cold like this but we did it [on the field] and it was terrible, and I'm glad we're doing it up here where it's a little warmer," Correa said. "This is such a great time for the fans and season ticket holders that are here."

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow marveled at how FanFest has grown in recent years, along with the Astros' rise to the best team in baseball.

"This is incredible," he said. "Obviously, we've had some success the last few years. I remember this FanFest a few years back. The fans were dedicated, the ones that were here back then, and a lot of them are still here now. But these rooms are filled, the hallways are filled, the field is filled. Our players can sense the excitement. I think all week long on the Caravan our players have been getting the sense for the kind of impact they've had. It's probably as rewarding now as it was the day of the parade."

Astros outfielder Jake Marisnick didn't get to play in the World Series because of a broken thumb, but he's been sure to soak in the championship.

"It's hard to explain the emotions that are involved and what we've been able to do for the city and what the city has been able to for us and support us," he said. "It's something to see."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.

 

Houston Astros, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, Justin Verlander