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Astros hoped for in-person Ohtani meeting

MLB.com @brianmctaggart

HOUSTON -- Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow got his first look at two-way Japanese star Shohei Ohtani in Tuesday night's 8-7 loss, when the right-hander started on the mound for the Angels at Minute Maid Park. The Astros were prepared to make a full-court press to sign Ohtani in the offseason, but they never got a chance to meet with him before he signed with the Angels.

Luhnow did receive a handwritten letter from Ohtani after the process, thanking him and the Astros for their interest. It was a gesture that Luhnow took to heart.

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HOUSTON -- Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow got his first look at two-way Japanese star Shohei Ohtani in Tuesday night's 8-7 loss, when the right-hander started on the mound for the Angels at Minute Maid Park. The Astros were prepared to make a full-court press to sign Ohtani in the offseason, but they never got a chance to meet with him before he signed with the Angels.

Luhnow did receive a handwritten letter from Ohtani after the process, thanking him and the Astros for their interest. It was a gesture that Luhnow took to heart.

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"That made me feel better," Luhnow said. "We did spend a lot of time preparing that first document and preparing for a second meeting, which we never got. To get some personal acknowledgement from him, that meant a lot to me."

All 30 teams got a chance to answer a questionnaire from Ohtani, and the Astros had prepared an in-depth presentation to try to recruit Ohtani if they got a personal meeting. Ohtani narrowed his list to the Dodgers, Angels, Padres, Giants, Mariners, Rangers and Cubs, eliminating the Astros, and eventually signed with the Angels.

Among the things the Astros had prepared to lure Ohtani was a video of Hall of Fame second baseman Craig Biggio speaking Japanese.

"We were very serious," Luhnow said. "Unfortunately, we didn't get out of the first round. We probably incorrectly assumed because we had won [the World Series] and we were going to continue to have a good team for a while, this would be a market and a team he would probably at least take a longer look at, but it didn't happen. We put together a nice presentation, sent it over there and pitched all of the strengths of Houston, but we were saving a lot of our firepower for the second round, and unfortunately, he never got a chance to see it."

Top prospect getting acclimated
Right-hander Forrest Whitley, the Astros' No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, is pitching games at extended spring training in West Palm Beach, Fla. Whitley was suspended 50 games without pay in February by the Commissioner's Office for a violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.

"His stuff looks as good as ever," Luhnow said. "We're trying to build him up slowly, because we're really looking at the whole season and we want him to be ready to go out and pitch five, six, seven innings as a starter once his suspension is up. We're kind of slowly getting him acclimated to pitching in the regular season."

Video: Top Prospects: Forrest Whitley, RHP, Astros

The earliest Whitley could start his season is on May 29. It's likely he begins at Double-A Corpus Christi, where he finished last year.

"He's paying the price for making a mistake, but his attitude has been great and he's been working hard," Luhnow said. "His stuff looks very, very similar to what it was last year, which gives him a good chance to move quickly once he gets back and going."

Whitley dominated at three Minor League levels in 2017 despite pitching the entire season at 19 years old, going 5-4 with a 2.83 ERA, 34 walks, 78 hits allowed and 143 strikeouts in 23 games (18 starts) across 92 1/3 innings at Corpus Christi, Class A Advanced Buies Creek and Class A Quad Cities. The 6-foot-7 right-hander led the Minors in strikeouts per nine innings (13.94).

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

Houston Astros