Some things to talk about while Lance Berkman donates a firetruck to West...
1) Third-rounder Kent Emanuel signs
Lost in the shuffle of the past few days is that Houston's third round pick Kent Emanuel signed his contract, wrapping up the Astros' first 10 rounds of the draft with every player signing. That's the second consecutive season that Houston has gotten all 10 round signed under Luhnow and the fifth straight year overall.
Luhnow's team has not gone the easy route of signing slot players at every draft spot in those first ten, either. He's taken some tough signs, but been able to get them done well before the deadline in each of the past two years. That speaks to his team's competence as well as how they get these things figured out well in advance of the draft.
Emanuel, meanwhile, will begin the season at Tri-City, but will only throw 20 innings this season because of the insane workload his college coach put on his arm this year.
After his signing, Houston has a little over $1 million to spend on the rest of its draft class, with 10 days to go until the July 15th signing deadline.
2) Leadership strong on this team
Nice article by Brian T. Smith on this year's leadership, something that the Astros are hoping will prevent another collapse like they suffered in June and July of last year. That leadeship starts with manager Bo Porter and extends down to the coaching staff, but it also includes a triumvirate of leaders in Jason Castro, Jose Altuve and Brandon Barnes.
Brandon Barnes? Brandon Barnes. Here's what Porter had to say about the 27-year old rookie:
"He has some natural-born leadership skills. … It just goes to show a lot of times your better leaders are guys that have battled through adversity," Porter said. "It gives them a sense of basically appreciation and responsibility. Because they’ve been on both sides and some guys may have never been on the other side, so they’re able to speak from both ends of the spectrum."
It's those leadership skills that have likely kept Barnes on the roster after he could have been bumped off by other players. He's been hitting, yes, and he's maybe the best defensive outfielder on the team, but having a guy like him leading in the clubhouse may be just as crucial to how this team develops.
Stat guys aren't supposed to believe in things like clutchiness and intangibles in the clubhouse. But, a club needs to find its leaders where it can. If Barnes hits .200 the rest of the way, his clubhouse presence likely won't make him a hindrance to bringing up other prospects. But, for now, Barnes is cheap and effective in one area that is important to team chemistry. That should mean he's set to stick with the team for the near future, right? Houston could carry him as a fifth outfielder until he starts commanding a bigger salary pretty easily.
3) Your BtBS Astros All-Star is...
...Jason Castro! The statistical website Beyond the Box Score recently hosted a vote by its contributors on who should make the American League All-Star team. The first post was on the All-Star starters while this one concerned the reserves. What did they have to say about Castro?
Castro has certainly emerged this year as a pretty fine backstop, and gets the benefit of being our team's "token" Houston Astro. A few voters even had him on the ballot as backup backstop, but Castro right now is an easy choice as the best player on the Astros and the third-best catcher in the AL.
Castro certainly is the best player on the roster right now, in terms of fWAR. He's posted a 1.9 fWAR so far this season and is on pace to set the Astros single-season record for home runs as a catcher. That IS a "pretty fine backstop."
Right now, with Jose Altuve mired in a slump (for him) and none of Houston's pitchers really standing out like the Max Scherzers of the world, Castro seems like the safest pick off this roster to make the team. But, with player voting and manager voting, anything is possible. We could end up with Jose Veras as the lone Astros representative, days before his Astros tenure ends in a trade.