Astros fans have historic changes to be excited about this season, particularly the club's move to the American League, new uniforms and logo and a new manager, Bo Porter.
Pitchers and catchers report to spring training on Feb. 11, and some players like pitchers Luke Harrell and Bud Norris and infielder Brett Wallace have been working out at Minute Maid Park this offseason to get ready for 2013. Another one of those players is right-handed pitcher and Houston native Jarred Cosart, ranked No. 4 among the Top 20 Astros prospects.
Cosart, along with first baseman Jonathan Singleton, headlined the Hunter Pence trade with the Phillies in 2011. Last season, he split time between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Oklahoma City and finished 6-7 with a 3.30 ERA, but he did battle blister problems.
The 22-year-old has one of the best fastballs in the system, touching 99 mph in the Arizona Fall League where he finished 0-3 with a 6.50 ERA in six starts. Not the best numbers, but Cosart has been working on his secondary pitches – his curveball and changeup – and expects to be competing for a spot in the starting rotation when he attends his first Major League camp starting next month.
However, the idea of him moving to the closer role has been tossed around by Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow. This is because the team traded Wilton Lopez, who finished last season as the closer for Houston, to the Colorado Rockies for starting pitcher Alex White and a Minor League pitcher, leaving a void at the closer role for the club. The Astros are still expected to bring in a closer, but if not, Cosart has been mentioned as an internal prospect to fill that role.
I had a chance to briefly catch up with Cosart after his first workout at Minute Maid Park this offseason.
On how he's been spending his offseason:
I played in the Fall League, so it was an extra month and a half of throwing. Then I had to get a little break – about two weeks – and then I have been golfing. I have a lot of free time on my hands, so I've just been trying to do as much as I can. The main goal is to be on the team next year, so I'm doing everything I can in that aspect
On what specific things he's working on to improve:
The big thing is stamina for me. It's a long season, especially in the big leagues – it's 40-50 games longer than it is in the minor leagues. Then I had blister issues last year, so I'm doing everything I can to take care of my fingers. They gave me some ointments and all these other little regimes I have going on, but other than that just sticking to the program I've had the past couple years in the weight room. It's helped me out. Physically, I haven't had a problem aside from the blisters so just continuing that and adding some things and picking these guys brains because they've been there and I haven't, so whatever I can learn is also good
On the best advice he's received from the other pitchers he's been working out with at Minute Maid:
Don't put too much pressure on yourself. Just come in there, do what you know how to do, don't try and make the team the first day of camp and just go in there and have fun and everything will take care of itself.
On what specific pitches he's working on:
I throw a fastball, curveball, changeup – really it's all about command in the big leagues. It doesn't matter how hard you throw it, how good your stuff is, you've got to be able to command it – in, out, up down – change speeds, change eye levels. Then talking to these guys, facing all these hitters and you've got video, scouting reports, all that stuff you go over. I think that's a good added aspect, but obviously it comes down to executing pitches in the end.
On Luhnow talking to him about possibly moving to closer role if needed:
Whatever they want me to do to help the team. I've been a starter my whole career. I haven't heard much either way. I'll go into camp with an open mind – whatever they want me to do, whatever they want me to work on. That's something I have't really sat down and talked to them about, but I have no problem with it either way
On feeling the pressure of being thought of as the future of the organization:
You don't look at it as pressure. It's a good challenge. I'm from Houston. I was born and raised here. This is the hometown team I grew up rooting for. I think it's a great opportunity to be back home, to be with a young group of guys, a core group of guys who are kind of just getting into the big leagues making a name for the Astros down the road.
On what his weekly routine has been:
This is actually my first day in here (at Minute Maid). I've been working out on my side of town. I'm about 30 minutes away, so I'll get in here for the next month and a half or so before we go to Florida. They have a good program in here. It's all based on what the new big league strength coach wants us to do. It's about 2 - 2 ½ hours – you stretch, throw, work out, run, you do everything up here. It definitely gets you ready for the season.