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Elite facility drawing Astros to camp early

Luhnow praises year-round potential of club's Florida home
MLB.com @brianmctaggart

HOUSTON -- As the Astros were preparing to move into their new Spring Training home in West Palm Beach, Fla., a year ago, general manager Jeff Luhnow was hoping players would report earlier than ever to take advantage of the state-of-the-art facilities.

The start of spring camp is less than two weeks away, and the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches is already buzzing with activity. Reigning American League MVP Jose Altuve has been working out in Florida for more than a month, and Justin Verlander, Lance McCullers Jr., Marwin Gonzalez and Dallas Keuchel are among those who have been using the facility well ahead of the Feb. 14 first workout for pitchers and catchers.

HOUSTON -- As the Astros were preparing to move into their new Spring Training home in West Palm Beach, Fla., a year ago, general manager Jeff Luhnow was hoping players would report earlier than ever to take advantage of the state-of-the-art facilities.

The start of spring camp is less than two weeks away, and the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches is already buzzing with activity. Reigning American League MVP Jose Altuve has been working out in Florida for more than a month, and Justin Verlander, Lance McCullers Jr., Marwin Gonzalez and Dallas Keuchel are among those who have been using the facility well ahead of the Feb. 14 first workout for pitchers and catchers.

"Florida is a nice area for winter workouts and pre-Spring Training workout, especially when you get some talented guys putting in work every day," Keuchel said from Florida. "It means that they want it so much more. The sun is shining, guys are in good moods. We just won the World Series. Any time you can get your workload started early, it just means better things for the 2018 season."

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Pitcher Brady Rodgers, rehabbing from midseason Tommy John surgery, is also among those working out in Florida early.

"I predicted this would happen once we built the new facility in West Palm Beach," Luhnow said. "It's a great location, a great year-round location, and the facility is so nice that I figured we'd have more and more players as the years go by, really spending the bulk of their offseason, if not coming early in camp. We're seeing that now. We have more staff that are based there now. It's going to continue to grow."

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During FanFest at Minute Maid Park last month, Altuve said the Astros' workout facilities are the best he's seen. The facility is already staffed with some hitting and pitching coaches, trainers and strength-and-conditioning coaches for any players who wish to get a jump on spring.

"We've got enough people there where any player that comes by can have a bullpen or have fungos hit to them or whatever," Luhnow said.

Keuchel, who is scheduled to throw his first bullpen session next week, said getting back into the Spring Training grind is tough.

"We know guys are going to be working their tails off and competing," Keuchel said. "It makes you want to go."

Considering the team's star power and the fact they won the World Series, Astros officials are expecting large crowds at Spring Training this year. Luhnow said there will be more traffic control to help the players flow to and from the fields more efficiently.

"Other than that, we're prepared," he said. "It's a great facility that was built for fans to enjoy and have close interaction with the players, so that will continue."

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The Astros open Grapefruit League play Feb. 23 against the Nationals at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, and they'll play host to the Braves on Feb. 24 as part of World Champions Weekend. Fans can take free pictures with the Commissioner's Trophy, and there will be a happy hour, games and music on both dates. Postgame fireworks will take place March 2 and March 9.

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

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