KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros manager Bo Porter said Monday morning the task of finding a pitcher or a combination of pitchers to successfully handle the role of closer will be job one this spring. That's no shocker considering the Astros have blown 48 saves in 111 chances the last two years, which is a Major League-low 56.8 save percentage in that span.
"When you look at the woes in which we had in our bullpen last year. It's something we set out as an organization to make sure we rectified. We brought in some guys that have the ability to rectify that portion of our ballclub, and I'm anxious to see how it plays out," Porter said.
Porter said newcomers Jesse Crain, Chad Qualls and Matt Albers will all be considered for closer, along with Josh Fields, who handled the role for part of last season as a rookie after Jose Veras was traded. Qualls spent parts of three seasons as a closer with the D-backs.
"We'll figure out as the course of spring goes on and the season goes on who's best suited for that role, but it will be collectively a group effort to get those late outs in the back end of the game," Porter said. "I think it's totally open because I think competition brings out the best in all of us. And it's something that we're going to let these guys compete and let the competition tell us who should actually have that role."
Ideally, the Astros would like to have one closer, but Porter knows that might not be the case for the start of the season.
"When you have that guy, that's the ninth-inning guy and you know when it's a save situation he's going to get the ball every time," he said. "Unfortunately, we're not at that point, as far as our team would go. I'm glad we have a multitude of guys capable of manning that role. Again, we'll let that competition play itself out and I believe one of these guys, if not two or three of these guys, are going to step up. It's a good problem to have if you have everyone throw well and now you look and you feel like you have a closer in the seventh, eighth and ninth."
In addition to experience, which could give Qualls a leg up, the ability to induce weak ground balls is what Porter is looking for in a closer.
"If they do get in trouble, they have something that can get them out of trouble," he said. "They have to be able to get righties and lefties out because when you bring in a closer, you don't want to feel like you need to match him up against the opposite hitter. I also think experience plays a huge role in doing that job. It's a guy that's been there and understands the moment. The moment is never going to get too big for him. That's important as well."
Correa arrives early to join other top Astros prospects
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- As position players continue to trickle in to Astros camp, the club welcomed former No. 1 overall Draft pick Carlos Correa on Monday. Correa showed up two days ahead of the reporting date for position players and took batting practice with a large group of players.
"It feels great," Correa said. "It's a whole new experience for me, being out here with these kinds of players in big league camp. It's a really good experience for me, something unbelievable."
Correa joins fellow former No. 1 overall pick -- pitcher Mark Appel, who was taken with the top pick last year -- and top prospects, Jonathan Singleton, George Springer and Mike Foltynewicz in camp this year. It's the first Major League camp for Correa, Appel and Foltynewicz.
"They get an opportunity to participate in Major League Spring Training and get around Major League players that have experience, who have been productive at this level," manager Bo Porter said. "I actually think it can only speed up their learning curve to be around veteran guys who have done the job in which one day they aspire to do."
Among the other position players showing up at camp Monday were outfielder L.J. Hoes and designated hitter Chris Carter. The full squad works out for the first time on Thursday.
Crain hopes to be ready to pitch in April
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Relief pitcher Jesse Crain still hopes to be ready to pitch in games sometime in April following surgery in October on his biceps tendon. Crain, a free agent who signed a one-year, $3.25 million deal to become one of the club's key offseason acquisitions, threw a baseball off flat ground from 60 feet on Saturday and Sunday before taking Monday off.
"That was a step forward," Crain said. "It's the first time I had thrown two days in a row and getting down here and getting into a routine and focusing strictly on my arm because that's what I'm here to do. I think it's going to progress quickly."
Crain was an All-Star in 2013, a season in which he posted a 0.74 ERA in 38 games with the White Sox, striking out 46 and walking only 11 in 36 2/3 innings, including a 29-inning scoreless streak. He didn't pitch after being traded to the Rays on July 29 because of the injury.
"[Throwing off] the mound is probably a couple of weeks away," he said. "You've got to get your arm strength up. … I need to get out to 120 feet at least to feel comfortable arm-strength-wise to throw off the mound. Hopefully, in the next couple of weeks I'll reach that point."
When asked if he hopes to pitch in April, Crain said he thinks so.
"I can't imagine it taking any longer than that," he said. "Like I said all along, I don't want to set any kind of date, so if I don't make that date to get down on myself."
Facing hitters, White reports improvement
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Right-hander Alex White, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery performed 10 months ago, faced hitters Monday for the third time in his recovery. He threw two sets of 15 pitches against some of his teammates.
"It felt good," he said. "That's our third time out facing hitters, and I think each time out I've been better. The velocity is coming along, and I feel more comfortable throwing to hitters. We've got a few more in the next couple of weeks and see where it goes from there."
White, 25, made the Astros' Opening Day roster last year before injuring his elbow in a preseason exhibition at Minute Maid Park and getting placed on the disabled list. He underwent surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow on April 11. He said he'll throw again Saturday and mix in some breaking balls.
"That's where I feel excited, about getting some breaking balls off the mound, spinning stuff," he said. "I think then you can kind of judge what you're going to do against hitters when you have all your stuff. I'm looking forward to that."
White said the next step following live batting practice is throwing in a game.
"When a guy is coming back off Tommy John or an injury, you want to see clean mechanics," manager Bo Porter said.
DeShields Jr. proud of sister's basketball skills
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- When he was finished working out with the Astros on Sunday, outfield prospect Delino DeShields Jr. was glued to the television watching his younger sister, Diamond, score 38 points for the University of North Carolina in a win over North Carolina State.
It was the most points a freshman has scored in team history. Diamond DeShields, a versatile 6-foot-1 player, scored 30 points in a win over Duke a week earlier, and on Thursday scored 19 points with 13 rebounds and eight assists against Pittsburgh.
"Any time she plays on TV or whatever, I'm always tuned in," Delino said. "In big games, she turns it up a little bit. Yesterday was a big game for her and her young team, giving them confidence going into the ACC Tournament. They have their group of freshmen going up against upperclassmen and are pretty much spanking them.
"She's putting the team on her back right now. As she goes, the team's going to go. If she keeps going, they have a good shot at winning the ACC and going pretty far in the [NCAA] Tournament."
DeShields' father, Delino, was set to play basketball at Villanova before he wound up getting drafted by the Montreal Expos in the first round of the 1987 Draft and played 13 years in the Major Leagues, so sports run deep in the family.
"She's had confidence since as far as I can remember, and that's why she's so good," Delino Jr. said. "She has confidence, but she's very modest at the same time. She's very humble and she plays the game the right way. She's real level-headed and has a high baseball IQ. She's been mature since she was 14 years old in high school and led her team to the state championship as a freshman. She's got her head on straight."