Valdez builds OD case; Lee plays first base

March 13th, 2023

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- While a handful of his fellow Dominican teammates and friends are representing their country in the World Baseball Classic, Astros lefty remains in camp preparing for the season. Valdez has been in cruise control so far this spring, allowing two runs with eight strikeouts in nine innings.

Valdez, who skipped the WBC at the urging of the Astros, got his pitch count up to roughly 55 in a 7-6 loss to the Nationals at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on Monday afternoon. He allowed a first-inning solo home run to Washington designated hitter Lane Thomas.

“I felt comfortable with those four innings today,” Valdez said. “That home run really didn’t mean much to me. He made a really good swing, made contact, hit it out. For me it was, ‘Refocus and continue attacking the strike zone.’”

Valdez was called for a balk while he was trying to do a slide step, and he also picked off a runner at first. He’s said he let opponents take too many bases against him last year. That will remain a work in progress over the rest of the spring and into the regular season, when Valdez is expected to start on Opening Day for the Astros for the second year in a row.

“He was vintage Framber,” manager Dusty Baker said. “His breaking ball isn’t quite where he wants it to be, but his command and his control is really good.”

Lee gives first base a shot
Yainer Diaz’s ability to play first base in addition to catcher perhaps gives him a leg up in the competition for backup catcher with . The Astros are trying to even the playing field a bit, giving Lee a shot to play first base this spring -- a position that’s not completely unfamiliar to him.

Lee, the team’s No. 7 prospect per MLB Pipeline, played the final two innings at first base on Monday. It was the first time Lee has played first in a Grapefruit League game this spring, but he’s been working at the position, and he played some first in the Minor Leagues and at the University of California, Berkeley.

“I’ve been practicing it a lot,” Lee said. “Just trying to be a utility player, trying to get my name in the lineup somehow and help the team win in any way possible -- first, catcher, DH, whatever it is. I felt good over there today, and hopefully we can continue to do that.”

The Astros signed veteran slugger José Abreu to play first base, and he’s expected to play 150-plus games if he’s healthy. Utility player David Hensley can play some first, and so can J.J. Matijevic and Bligh Madris if they make the team.

“We’re trying to figure out as many options as we can just in case you go extra innings or in case somebody gets hurt,” Baker said. “Hopefully they don’t, but they’re trying to put eyes on guys at different positions.”

The best way Lee can make the team is with his bat, and he’s had a good spring at the plate. He went 2-for-2 on Monday against Washington and is batting .375 (6-for-16) this spring with two homers and five RBIs.

“It’s just trying to get the consistent contact, consistent ABs and trying to feel right,” Lee said. “I‘m really, really excited [with] where I’m at. The group of guys around me is pushing me."