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From vets to prospects, new-look Astros ready to work

Backstop Castro eager to get to know host of new faces as pitchers, catchers report

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- There were hugs and handshakes, smiles and laughter. Nothing brings out the optimism more than the start of Spring Training, when hopes are sky high, the players' bodies are fresh and everyone is eager to get on the field.

Not even a morning cold front could keep a handful of Astros pitchers from hitting the field to play some light catch Saturday, the reporting date for pitchers and catchers. The Astros will have 34 pitchers and six catchers work out for the first time as a unit on Sunday at Osceola County Stadium.

"There's always excitement," said veteran pitcher Jerome Williams, who signed with the Astros just last week. "Just being a part of any team is exciting coming into the spring. It's more, because with a new team, you can meet new people and hopefully gel together and be a great team."

Williams is one of several new faces on the club this year, joining pitchers Scott Feldman, Chad Qualls, Matt Albers, Jesse Crain, Anthony Bass and Peter Moylan. Top prospects Mike Foltynewicz, Asher Wojciechowski and Mark Appel are here, too.

"It's exciting," said Appel, the No. 1 pick in last year's First-Year Player Draft, who's recovering from appendicitis. "It's cool to see my name on the back of a jersey, just meeting a bunch of the guys I haven't been able to meet yet. It's exciting, and I think everyone is excited to get back out there and start playing again. I'm just here to work hard and help the team any way I can."

Feldman, who at 6-foot-7 towers over most of his teammates, arrived at the complex around lunch time and was so turned around that he stopped by Brett Wallace's locker at one point, thinking it was his own. He couldn't help but smile.

"I'm definitely ready to get the season underway," he said. "I'm excited about things."

All-Star catcher Jason Castro, who takes over the prime locker spot usually reserved for the team's most veteran player, was brimming with enthusiasm upon reporting to camp Saturday.

"It was kind of an exciting offseason for us," he said. "Obviously, I was watching from afar, seeing some of the moves we were making. It was nice to see. It was good to see a lot of the arms we added [and] the trade for [Dexter Fowler]. It's going to be exciting, and I think those guys are going to add a lot of the value to the team."

The full squad will report Wednesday and work out for the first time Thursday, though many position players are already in camp. That group includes first baseman Wallace, shortstop Jonathan Villar, third baseman Matt Dominguez and outfielders Domingo Santana, George Springer and Delino DeShields Jr.

The Astros open Grapefruit League play Feb. 28 against the Braves in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

While the players were trickling in and out of the facility, the Astros' front office, Major League field staff and Minor League staff held a 2 1/2-hour meeting to go over all the pitchers in camp.

"It's a big group, and we had a lot of staff up there," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "We talked through all the pitchers and made sure we had the appropriate plan in place. It's going to be a competitive camp. I'm excited about it."

Castro, who earned a degree from Stanford in the offseason, will have to do some extra homework this spring getting to know so many new arms.

"I don't think I've had to learn this many since probably my first year," he said. "It's definitely something I'm going to make a priority, to try to learn these guys. I had the benefit of facing a few of them last year and in the first few years, especially in Jerome's case. I kind of have an understanding of what he likes to do.

"Obviously, it's going to be different from a catching standpoint, but that familiarity just from having seen what the pitches do and that kind of stuff, that's kind of nice coming in a little bit ahead of some guys I haven't seen before."

The Astros are understandably ready to put last year behind them, coming off a club-record 111 losses that included a 15-game losing streak to end the season.

"It was a disappointing end to last year, but the additions we made and some of the experience we gained of guys being up last year, it's just going to bring more confidence," Castro said. "They can get here and hit the ground running, knowing what they have to get done and not have to get over that nervous phase."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.
Read More: Houston Astros, Jason Castro, Mark Appel, Scott Feldman, Jerome Williams