We're less than two weeks away from the start of Spring Training and the balmy temperatures of Central Florida sound pretty good right about now, considering most of Houston woke up Friday morning dealing with a sheet of ice on the roads and highways.
This should be a tremendously interesting spring for the Astros, who will have 63 players in camp, including some of their recent Draft picks. There really aren't too many jobs up for grabs, but the competition for the few job openings that remain will be fierce.
The bigger issue for the Astros is how some of their returning starters -- Jason Castro, Brett Wallace, Michael Bourn, Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee, to name a few -- are going to respond in 2011. Those are legitimate questions, but some of you have some other things you want answered.
So let's go to the Inbox:
Have a question about the Astros?
E-mail your query to MLB.com Astros beat reporter Brian McTaggart for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content
Why does it seem like a lot of people are very down on Jason Castro and Brett Wallace already? They've had maybe a combined year of experience, and Wallace was playing less and less as the season went on. Heck, they were only drafted two years ago. It seems like people should let them have a couple of full seasons before judging them. -- Alan, Austin, Texas
The jury is very much still out on Wallace and Castro, both of whom were taken in the first round of the 2008 Draft. As you wrote, Wallace (144) and Castro (195) both have less than 200 career Major League at-bats, so it's unfair to form a firm opinion on them at this time.
But it is fair to say this is a big year for both of them. Castro is coming to camp as the starter at the position, and he's going to try to put his best foot forward both offensively and defensively. The Astros have some catching depth in the Minors, but they have lots invested in Castro and they're going to give him every chance to see what he can do.
Wallace, acquired from Toronto as part of the Roy Oswalt trade to Philadelphia, appears to be in a different spot than Castro in that he's coming into spring camp trying to win a job. The Astros have made it clear they have alternatives at first base (Carlos Lee) and are willing to explore some of those options if Wallace doesn't pan out.
It would be huge for the Astros if Wallace can find his stroke and hit for some power, which he has done all throughout the Minors. He looked very good defensively last year, and now it's time for him to begin living up to his potential with the bat.
What's the status of Drayton McLane trying to sell the team to someone? -- Caleb D., Lyford, Texas
Since McLane announced in November he was going to put the team up for sale, there has been little news about any potential buyers, and that's by design. McLane has hired Steve Greenberg of the New York-based investment firm Allen & Co. to conduct the sale, and Greenberg has said he plans to be tight-lipped.
McLane has said publicly in recent weeks that 20 to 25 parties have expressed interest in buying the team, but it's unknown what the exact asking price is or how many of those parties have enough money to shell out the hundreds of millions it will take to complete a sale.
In short, there isn't much being said publicly, but there is probably plenty of negotiating going on behind the scenes. This figures to be a very delicate and very private process.
Why hasn't there been much talk about Drew Locke? He has absolutely raked at every level he has played, including Triple-A last year. Does he not have the projectable bat speed for the next level? -- Damon M., Dayton, Texas
The Astros consider Locke, who's hit 37 homers in the upper Minor Leagues in two years since the Astros took him in the Rule 5 Draft, as a Major League prospect. Locke doesn't have one big tool to separate himself from the pack, but the Astros believe he plays the game the right way.
Locke is coming to spring camp this year as a non-roster invite, and he'll get good exposure. The Major League staff likes what it saw from him when he came over and helped fill out the roster for some spring games last year.
With the questions surrounding first base, with whether Wallace will be ready or will Lee take over, has there been any discussion of bringing Koby Clemens in and giving him a shot? He tears up Minor League pitching, not for much of an average, even though he's never been above Double-A ball. -- Casey M., Walker, La.
Clemens will be at his first Major League Spring Training, but he's a long shot to make the club out of camp. He's likely to begin the season at Triple-A Oklahoma City, and if he keeps hitting the ball like he's done the last two years, the Astros may be pressed to find a roster spot for him at some point in the near future.
All this talk about second base and nobody mentions Angel Sanchez. He hits .288, that's 50 points higher than Clint Barmes, and Barmes ... is suddenly the talk of the town. What are the plans for Sanchez? -- Richard D., Houston
I don't think Barmes is the talk of the town by any stretch, but I understand your point. Sanchez came in last year when shortstop Tommy Manzella was injured and did a nice job with the bat. He'll come to camp this year with every opportunity to make the team as a reserve second baseman or shortstop, but it's important to remember he's out of options.
The addition of Barmes to play shortstop gave the Astros something they couldn't get from Sanchez: run production potential, with the ability to hit the ball in the gaps and reach the seats. The Astros had to find a way to increase run production, and they believed the best way to do so was making some middle-infield adjustments, leading to the trade for Barmes and signing of Bill Hall, who will start at second base.
Are the Astros going to regulate how many innings Bud Norris pitches next year since he only threw about 150 last year? Everybody (except the Giants) seems to be taking the same approach with their young pitchers ever since the Yankees came up with the "Joba Rules." -- Aaron M., Houston
The Astros will certainly monitor Norris' workload, but they're not going into the season with the mindset that he's incapable of throwing a substantial number of innings. Norris has the capability of being a workhorse, and it will be up to him to open the season fully prepared both mentally and physically.
Norris threw a combined 177 2/3 innings in 2009 and 168 1/3 last year between Triple-A and Houston, so manager Brad Mills and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg will take good care of Norris. He is, after all, a huge key to the Astros' success this year.
I haven't heard much recently about Chia-Jen Lo. Will he have a chance to make the team this year? -- David C. Houston
Lo had some arm issues last season and had to be shut down. The Astros expect him to be fully engaged in the program when he reports to Minor League camp for Spring Training. They like his skill set, and they want to give him every opportunity to progress to the Major Leagues when the time is right.
Even with the budget limitations, should the Astros have gone after Carl Crawford? He would have fit perfectly in Houston, don't you think? -- Mike R., San Antonio
Crawford would have been a great fit just about anywhere, and especially in Houston, considering that's where he's from. He signed a seven-year, $142 million deal in December with the Red Sox, who were one of a very short list of teams who could afford him.
The Astros, like most teams, couldn't come close to offering that kind of money, and the team already has $37 million locked up in left fielder Carlos Lee over the next two years anyway. Crawford playing for the hometown crowd would have been a nice story, but it wasn't going to happen.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.