LAKELAND, Fla. -- It is certainly well-documented how deep the Astros farm system is, but the organization has also made an effort to become more athletic.
That was on display Friday against the Braves, when outfielders George Springer and Delino DeShields Jr. -- two of Houston's top prospects -- came into the game as pinch-runners in the fifth and immediately stole two bases.
Springer, who stole 45 bases combined between Double-A and Triple-A last year, added another stolen base later in the game. DeShields stole 101 bases in 2012 at Class A Lancaster.
"We have athletic guys," manager Bo Porter said. "We are encouraging them to use their ability to put us in better run-scoring opportunities. Given the situations, they understand when to be aggressive and when not to be aggressive. I think [Friday] was a perfect example of taking advantage of situations where we could be aggressive and using their ability to make things happen."
Porter sets an aggressive tone and tells the players, even those who likely don't have a realistic shot to make the Opening Day roster, to push the envelope.
"Let me tell you something, you can sit here today and think that you're going to Double-A, Triple-A or whatever and fast-forward three, four, five weeks from now, or two weeks into the season, you could find yourself in the big leagues," Porter said. "I've always said to these guys, 'You prepare each and every day. You have to be it before you are it. You have to prepare like you're going to play in the Major Leagues each and every day.'"
Porter getting prepared for new replay rules
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Astros manager Bo Porter said Saturday that strategy will play an important role as to when to challenge plays under the new instant replay system. The second-year manager said he has scenarios on a card for when to and when not to review, based on the things like run probability and the score.
Some gamesmanship could play a huge role, as well.
"Let's say you get out there and you ask the umpires, 'Do you mind getting help?'" Porter said. "They may decide to come together and get help and you don't even have to use your [challenge]. Now, if you go through that progression of questioning, and he still says, 'No, I got it right,' then you go, 'OK, I'm going to challenge this.'"
Porter said by that time, the manager may have gotten some information from the dugout as to whether he should go ahead and challenge the play. It's important to remember these calls will now also be allowed to be shown on ballpark video boards.
"By that time, you've gotten information from your video people, you've gotten the call from the dugout and you have a pretty good idea of, 'Yes, you should' or 'No, you shouldn't,'" Porter said.
Beginning this year, managers will be able to challenge certain plays that are subject to review. The Astros will have five games during Spring Training in which the league will allow replay reviews: March 8 vs. Yankees, March 9 vs. Blue Jays, March 12 vs. Nationals, March 14 vs. Cardinals and March 22 vs. Cardinals.
Meanwhile, Porter said he and bench coach Dave Trembley are approaching all of their Spring Training games as if reviews are allowed, even if they won't actually be able to challenge the calls.
"We will take the entire spring, even the games that we don't have video replay available to us, we have a system in place where we still say, 'OK, that's one we're going to challenge and this is why. That's one we couldn't challenge and this is why,'" Porter said. "I think it's good to get into that practice throughout the whole course of the Spring Training schedule."
DeShields turns to Fowler for outfield advice
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Considering he's returning to center field after spending four years playing second base in the Astros system, Delino DeShields Jr. has been leaning heavily this spring on veteran center fielder Dexter Fowler, who has a locker next to DeShields.
DeShields, who played center field in high school, said it all comes down to positioning.
"As you go up, everybody gets a little stronger," DeShields said. "[Fowler] just really helps me out with my positioning in the outfield and knowing where I'm supposed to be and being a leader and being a communicator and letting people know where to be at all times."
Fowler said the speedy DeShields has enough ability to be a solid center fielder.
"He has to take a deep breath and let his ability take over," Fowler said. "The guy has crazy ability, and [it's] just getting him thinking the right way, that it's different in the infield than playing in the outfield. If he gets his positioning correctly, he'll be fine."
DeShields got reacquainted with center field in the Arizona Fall League and says he's pretty comfortable.
"I can say I need more work -- everybody needs more work -- but as far as right now, I feel pretty good out there," DeShields said.
Ausmus faces former team as Tigers manager
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Former Astros catcher Brad Ausmus, in his first year as manager of the Tigers, faced his old team for the first time on Saturday during Grapefruit League action. The team name is still the same, but with a new roster, coaching staff, uniforms and even a new league in recent years, Ausmus doesn't recognize much about his former club.
"It's a little odd they're in the American League," Ausmus said. "Even in the past year, when I think of American and National League teams, it never crosses my mind that the Astros are in the American League. It's a reality now. I just need to get used to it."
Ausmus has caught more games than any other player in Astros history. He played 10 of his 18 seasons in Houston during two different stints with the club (1997-98, 2001-08) and was part of the core of the team that reached the playoffs five times with him behind the plate.
So far, his first Spring Training as manager has gone pretty smoothly.
"It's gone well," Ausmus said. "We've got some things to iron out, and I think every team does. That's why we have Spring Training."
One of the faces on the other side of the field Saturday that Ausmus knew was third-base coach Pat Listach, who played with the Astros in 1997.
"He knows the game," Listach said. "As a catcher, he called the game and he was back there and in on every pitch. It doesn't surprise me [he's a manager]."