George Christian Pappas, ESPN Radio
It’s safe to say that the coming years for the Astros will be seasons of change. After a franchise-worst 106 losses in 2011, change ought to be embraced around Houston and inside Minute Made Park.
There’s new ownership; Houston businessman Jim Crane purchased the team for $680 million after failed attempts at buying the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers. Next year, the club heads into another league with tough competition. The coming season marks the Astros’ swan song in the National League, as Crane agreed to move into the American League West in time for the 2013 campaign.
But the Astros are not alone in enduring tribulations and experiencing a period of transition. Just look at the rest of the N.L. Central:
— The Cubs have a new regime headed by Theo Epstein and rookie manager Dale Sveum.
— Milwaukee lost Prince Fielder to free agency and could be without the reigning MVP, Ryan Braun, if he is forced to sit a 50-game suspension for testing positive for high levels of testosterone (read: for using performance-enhancing drugs).
— The Reds look to bounce back into contention after a losing season.
— The Pirates will try to figure out how to play good baseball for an entire season.
— The Cardinals are busy picking up the pieces from their championship team in the absence of former manager Tony LaRussa, pitching coach Dave Duncan and the guy who used to be face of the franchise, Albert Pujols.
That all means the competition is wide open. The Astros are taking advantage of the situation and hope to exit the division with a bang. Thought Houston isn’t set to begin full-team workouts until Feb. 26, more than two dozen position players had arrived as of Wednesday to get an early jump on spring training.
There are new faces at camp in Kissimmee, including outfielders Justin Ruggiano, Jack Cust and Travis Buck, catcher Chris Snyder, shortstop Jed Lowrie, southpaw Zach Duke, and right-handers Kyle Weiland and Livan Hernandez. The club also elevated its top pick of the 2011 draft, Delino DeShields Jr., the son of former the second baseman of the same name, to the major-league roster.
As pitchers and catchers worked in the bullpen and on the fields at Osceola County Stadium, infielders and outfielders stretched, worked on defensive drills and cycled through cages for batting practice.
Manager Brad Mills was pleased to see his players being so proactive.
“It’s nice to see them here and ready to go,” he told reporters Wednesday, adding, “There’s no doubt this is going to help them.”
That can only bode well for the club, should that be the case.
George Christian Pappas covers Major League Baseball and college football for ESPN Florida and ESPN Radios Gainesville/Ocala and St. Augustine/Jacksonville. He is finishing his degree in journalism and Spanish at the University of Florida. You can send him questions or comments at
Sir Charles with the slam