Astros GM Brown talks roster battles, ST standouts

March 13th, 2023

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- With a little more than two weeks before Opening Day, first-year Astros general manager Dana Brown took some time to answer questions from on Monday: How does veteran outfielder Michael Brantley possibly not being ready for the start of the season affect the composition of your outfield for Opening Day?

Brown: He was sidelined because he’s got some family stuff going on, but he’s back today, and so hopefully he can get amped up and running. But if he’s not back, we have [Chas] McCormick and [Jake] Meyers, and it would be McCormick, Meyers and, of course, [Kyle] Tucker. You’re looking at some competition after that with [Justin] Dirden, who’s been swinging the bat pretty well in camp. So Dirden has played his way into the conversation for the Opening Day roster?

Brown: We just have to continue to scout him this spring. He has some adjustments he needs to make in the batter’s box, but I can see the power. Without question, he’s got really good power. He can really throw. I know you guys are watching and saw that one-hopper throw he made [Sunday], and he can run. He’s got the tools. I just think he needs to clean up his hitting approach a little bit, but he’s right there. What do you think about your starting pitching depth beyond the five expected starters -- Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, José Urquidy, Luis Garcia and Hunter Brown?

Brown: [Forrest] Whitley threw well the other day, even though his line didn’t look great. He was up to 95 [mph]. We have [J.P.] France who’s going to be coming back [from an injury], and of course, [Brandon] Bielak is an option. We just have to keep evaluating these guys. And we have some young kids like [Jaime] Melendez, who I really like. We have to keep an eye on him. All in all, we have some depth there. What other young players have stood out at Minor League camp?

Brown: I can’t wait for [Drew] Gilbert to get ready to go, and [Jacob] Melton looks really good. [Misael] Tamarez is really exciting. He’s got a really good arm, and we’ve got to get him in the strike zone a little bit more, but those couple of guys really stood out. [Spencer] Arrighetti is really good. I can’t wait for him to get cranked up and throwing and get him going in some games here. I’m really looking for that next core, that group of guys. You’ve mentioned you want to try to stretch out reliever Ronel Blanco, and he’s thrown up to 2 2/3 innings in a game this spring. How is that going?

Brown: I think he’s throwing well so far. He’s got [7 2/3] innings, nine punchouts, one earned run. He’s throwing the ball well. I think he’s building up the innings. We’ll keep doing it. As I said before, if it doesn't work, we’re going to end up having a guy that can go multiple innings as opposed to just one. I think it’s a win-win situation with him. He could be a shot in the arm that we need, in terms of starting pitching depth. That’s what my hope is. How do you size up your lefty reliever candidates at this point?

Brown: [Matt] Gage is really looking good. Against the Mets the other day, he came in and was up to 93 to 95 [mph] and [had] a filthy cutter that was 97 and backfooting right-handers, running away from left-handed hitters. He looks really good. That [waiver] claim was recommended by our front office, and I kind of closed the deal on, I think it’s looking like a pretty good claim right now. We’ll see, but he’s a big chip for us right now