Enthusiasm on high for Kissimmee-bound Astros

Luhnow, Hinch express players' excitement for new-look roster

Enthusiasm on high for Kissimmee-bound Astros

HOUSTON -- Minute Maid Park was bubbling with excitement and enthusiasm Tuesday, when general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch met with the media prior to heading to Florida for the start of Spring Training this week.

The Astros certainly have reasons for optimism after upgrading their club through free agency and trades on the heels of a season in which they improved by 19 wins from the previous year. They now have their sights set on finishing .500 -- or better, depending on whom you ask.

"Clearly, any time you're a few days before Spring Training, there's a natural excitement that builds up across all 30 teams," Luhnow said. "I do think there's something special going on here, and I can feel it from our players."

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Luhnow, who's entering his fourth season with the Astros, said the players who have been working out at Minute Maid Park all winter have talked about the enthusiasm with each move. The Astros signed relievers Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson, shortstop Jed Lowrie and outfielder Colby Rasmus in free agency, and traded for catcher Hank Conger, third baseman Luis Valbuena, outfielder/designated hitter Evan Gattis and starting pitching Dan Straily.

"I ran into Dallas Keuchel a few weeks ago, and he was very excited about the additions we made to the club and the new teammates he's going to have," Luhnow said. "It's good when your players are excited. It's a good starting point."

Hinch, hired on the first day of the offseason, has been on the job for five months now, but left for Florida on Tuesday afternoon full of anticipation. Pitchers and catchers will report to Astros camp Friday and work out for the first time Saturday at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, Fla.

Because he was hired so quickly after the season, Hinch was able to visit with most of the key players in an effort to get to know them better. He expected some of the veteran players to show the wear and tear of losing seasons, but that wasn't the case.

"What I found was there is no down spirit on this team," he said. "These guys, they all want to contribute to making us better, and now we have to go prove it. And that's what the next six weeks are about. Half of this team doesn't carry the last couple of years with them. They're putting on their Astros gear for the first time, just like I am.

"We have to blend some of their accomplishments with what's been positive here the last couple of years and become a team that's developed an identity that propels us forward, and we're well on our way."

In fact, close to half of the 60 players in camp this year will be newcomers who didn't have to suffer through the combined 416 losses of the past four years. Then there's players like Keuchel, second baseman Jose Altuve and catcher Jason Castro, who are eager for a winning season.

"I really do believe the roster we have right now going into 2015 is capable of returning the Astros to our winning ways," Luhnow said. "We do believe we're at the point this roster is capable of being a winning team."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.