HOUSTON -- Many of the Astros’ top prospects are working out on the back fields at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, Fla., this week during the team’s annual Minor League mini-camp. The camp leads into the full-blown Minor League Spring Training, which is set to begin next week.
The camp features prospects outside of the 40-man roster who are not subject to ongoing negotiations between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association toward a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The camp will offer more than 30 young players the opportunity to get a jump on 2022.
Among the prospects who began working out in South Florida over the weekend are No. 1 prospect Korey Lee, a catcher taken in the first round (32nd overall pick) in the 2019 MLB Draft. Three other Top 10 prospects -- No. 6 Tyler Whitaker (outfielder), No. 7 Colin Barber (outfielder) and No. 8 Alex Santos (right-hander) -- are in camp, as well.
Astros Minor League fundamentals coordinator Jason Bell is leading the staff at camp, though several members of the club’s Major League staff are in Florida. That includes manager Dusty Baker and bench coach Joe Espada. Special assistants Jeff Bagwell, Enos Cabell and Reggie Jackson have been in camp, too.
“We’re focused on bringing guys in who have specific player development needs who we didn’t feel are potentially having their needs met at the training setups [at home],” said Pete Putila, assistant general manager for player development. “Some guys are throwing bullpens and taking live [batting practice] and things like that. Basically, we wanted to focus on anybody whose development needs would be better served coming here than staying home.”
The Astros are getting their first look at 26-year-old infielder Edwin Díaz, who signed a Minor League contract with the club in January, as well as 22-year-old Logan Cerny, who came over from the Phillies in exchange for catcher Garrett Stubbs in November. The camp also includes several 2021 Draft picks, including fourth-rounder Chayce McDermott (pitcher), sixth-rounder Spencer Arrighetti (pitcher), ninth-rounder Aaron Brown (pitcher) and 10th-rounder Michael Sandle (outfielder).
Barber, who was drafted in the fourth round in 2019, missed the second half of last season after undergoing right shoulder surgery but has shown up to camp stronger and faster while making improvements to his swing.
“His swing looks the best it has since he’s been with us,” Putila said. “He did a lot of top-hand work, trying to keep his top hand up through contact instead of rolling over. Looks to have paid off. He’s real physical, too, and has a little bit of [Alex] Bregman in him. He’s real determined. He’s on a mission.”
The Astros are also taking a look at outfielder Corey Julks at third base, though he’s still getting reps in the outfield. Julks, an eighth-round pick in 2017 out of the University of Houston, slashed .287/.349/.491 with 14 homers, 36 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 85 games last year at Double-A Corpus Christi.
“He’s always somebody who’s had great swing decisions,” Putila said. “Contact is just a little bit lighter on the power side of things, but he went off last year and made some adjustments. He has the chance to be the kind of player who could open some eyes and add some depth for us.”
Several other players have reported early to Minor League camp and have been working out, including No. 2 prospect Pedro Leon, who’s getting work in center field and the infield. Leon slashed .220/.339/.369 with nine homers and 36 RBIs across three levels last year in his professional debut. The Cuban signed last January for $4 million.
Minor League camp will begin in earnest when pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 28 and position players on March 11. Opening Day of the regular season for Triple-A Sugar Land is scheduled for April 5, with Corpus Christi, High-A Asheville and Low-A Fayetteville each opening on April 8.