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Astros set out to be 'most improved' in 2014

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- No team won fewer games in 2013 than the Astros.

In fact, no team had lost as many games as last year's Astros since the Arizona Diamondbacks finished with an identical 51-111 record in 2004.

But manager Bo Porter's club has a new distinction in mind as the team held its first full-squad workout of Spring Training.

"It's our goal to be the most improved team in Major League Baseball," Porter said. "And I believe, collectively as an organization, we have the group together, and we can actually accomplish that.

"We want to be the most improved team as far as the win-loss column goes."

The path to that improvement is a focus on attitude. Numerous signs in the Astros clubhouse in Kissimmee drive home the message.

One sign reads, "W.I.N. -- What's Important Now." Another says, "The Process." A large pinwheel lists the qualities of winning teams in numerous panels, two of which include a picture of the Commissioner's Trophy.

Houston wants to build toward a championship.

"The players can kind of sense that there's something special happening here," Porter said. "We're all going to hold each other accountable to see the vision come true. It just means being accountable and being professional."

Numerous signs also recognize the Astros' 2005 National League championship, and Roger Clemens, Roy Oswalt and Morgan Ensberg were at camp Thursday.

Pitching prospect Mark Appel said the team even watched video of Houston's NL Championship Series victory against the St. Louis Cardinals.

"The atmosphere the Astros had at home, just how dynamic it was," Appel said, "Houston is a baseball town."

The Astros want to give their town a winner. The club made efforts to surround its youth with talented veterans this offseason by adding outfielder Dexter Fowler, starter Scott Feldman and relievers Jesse Crain and Chad Qualls.

Porter believes winning begins with the people in the clubhouse. Talent alone will not secure players a roster spot come April.

"You're at work 24 hours a day," Porter said. "Everything that you go out and you do, you're representing the Houston Astros. The vision is simple. The vision is to consistently compete for a championship each and every year.

"From a player's standpoint, when we evaluate you and we grade you, we're looking at the whole person. We're saying, 'Can this person help us accomplish our vision?'"

The philosophy of responsibility both on the diamond and in the clubhouse has trickled down from management to the prospects. First baseman Jonathan Singleton believes Houston can be competitive this season. The goal stands. More wins than last year's team and more improvement than any other team in the Majors. The Astros know the odds are stacked against them. They are ready to face those odds.

"We've had a couple of rough years, and hopefully I can be a part of the solution, but it's not just going to be me," Appel said. "It's going to be every guy in that clubhouse. I firmly believe that we're a team that can go out and shock some people."

"We're all willing to go out there and get our uniform dirty and hopefully come out with the 'W,'" Singleton added. "There's not much that we expect others expect of us. More or less, we just go out there and play hard and have fun."

Joe Morgan is a contributor to
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