Astros make first round of cuts

Astros make first round of cuts

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros made their first round of cuts on Monday morning, sending nine players to Minor League camp.

Right-handers Brad James and Sammy Gervacio were optioned to Double-A Corpus Christi, while Chad Reineke, Paul Estrada and Fernando Nieve and outfielder Yordany Ramirez were optioned to Triple-A Round Rock. Non-roster invitees Lance Niekro and Tommy Manzella, both infielders, and Josh Muecke, a left-handed pitcher, were reassigned to Minor League camp.

The first round of cuts isn't as difficult as the later cuts. Many of the first players sent to Minor League camp are the top prospects who have a good chance to make the team down the road, but they realize they're not quite there yet. They're normally anxious to get to Minor League camp, where they will receive regular playing time and can prepare for their seasons in earnest.

Such was the case for James, who will likely start the season at Double-A Corpus Christi.

"It was great," the 22-year-old right-hander said about his first big league camp experience. "Everything about it is better than Minor League Spring Training. But for the last week I've been looking forward to [going to Minor League camp]. I have to build up to five innings and [pitching] once every five days [in relief] is not going to do it for me."

"It's good for these young guys to get the exposure here," manager Cecil Cooper said. "They need to go play. That's the bottom line. They need to get some at-bats or get some innings in so they're not hampered when it comes time to start their season. It's unfair to keep sitting them and sitting them and sitting them. I think one kid went one or two innings. That's tough for a starting pitcher."

Ramirez had only one hit in 15 spring at-bats, but the outfielder's superior defensive abilities drew raves from the front office.

"Ramirez is a guy with five tools," Cooper said. "And when it comes ... whoa. He has defense prowess and he swung the bat OK. He just needs to go and play some."

Nieve is in the midst of rehabbing from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery and also was hampered by a hamstring strain through much of the spring. Those circumstances made it impossible for him to have a realistic chance to be ready for the Major League season in three weeks.

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"We have to be careful with the leg," Cooper said. "That's something that can set him back. We told him he's a guy that we think is going to help us. The sooner we can get him innings, get acclimated and get his leg where it needs to be, we need to do that. This guy's got a big arm. We've got high hopes for him."

Nieve declined to comment about his demotion, but the rest of the group was more accessible. Niekro said he wasn't surprised that he was going to Round Rock, but he had hoped for a bit more time in big league camp.

"I thought I'd stick around in spring a little longer, but this is just part of the game," he said. "I'll go meet those guys over there, the guys I'll be playing with this year, and go from there."

Although trimming the roster is part of a manager's job, it's not one Cooper looked forward to as this day neared. Still, the skipper was impressed with how the players handled the news.

"They're difficult times because a lot of these guys, you get close to, you know them, you talk to them every day," Cooper said. "You talk about family, friends. You have a relationship with them. All of a sudden it's heartbreak, when these kids come in and they know they have to go to the other side. It's only a few steps, but it's a big giant step when you think about it, the Minor League side and the Major Leagues. All of them were really good about it."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.