JUPITER, Fla. -- Outfielder Dexter Fowler has joined the Houston Astros, starting pitcher Scott Feldman signed a $30 million contract in December and relievers Chad Qualls, Matt Albers and Jesse Crain add experience and depth to a bullpen that ranked last in the majors with a 4.92 ERA in 2013.
The addition of those players should help make the Astros incrementally better than the team that went 51-111 a year ago. But general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager Bo Porter know that fan interest revolves more around the players who are on the way than the ones who will appear on the team's Opening Day roster.
Houston's minor league system is stacked, and several top prospects began the spring in big league camp and are still appearing in Grapefruit League games. Shortstop Carlos Correa, first baseman Jonathan Singleton, outfielders George Springer and Delino DeShields Jr. and pitcher Mike Foltynewicz are getting abundant opportunities to show what they can do, while former No. 1 pick Mark Appel continues to work his way back from an appendectomy.
The numbers for the kids aren't especially pretty. While Foltynewicz has a 2.16 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP in four appearances, Correa is batting .214 and Singleton, Springer and DeShields are well below .200. But the Houston brass thinks they can benefit from their time in the big leagues regardless of the struggles they encounter.
"It was really important to get those guys in camp and be able to evaluate them against major league players," Porter said. "We wanted to get them around the major league atmosphere and give them an opportunity to be around our veteran players. A lot of the conversations that take place in the clubhouse, on the bench and on the bus go a long way toward speeding up the maturity of a young player."
Correa, the first pick in the 2012 draft, is earning raves from scouts and the Astros' personnel people for his talent, maturity and professional approach to the game. He's a Derek Jeter disciple, and it shows in his work ethic and devotion to his craft. Correa probably will begin the season with Lancaster in the high-A California League. But that's a hitter's league, and it shouldn't be long before he earns a promotion to Double-A Corpus Christi.
Luhnow characterized Springer and Singleton as "close," and expects both of them to arrive in Houston at some point this summer. Springer's biggest challenge at the moment is adjusting to right field to accommodate Fowler in center field.
Singleton, 22, came to Houston from Philadelphia in the Hunter Pence trade in 2011. He hit .230 with 11 home runs in 90 minor league games last season after serving a 50-game suspension for a second failed drug test.
Singleton recently made news by sharing his struggles with marijuana and alcohol in an interview with the Associated Press. The Astros were initially caught off guard by the interview, but quickly issued a statement of support for Singleton.
"It was a relief and he got it off his chest, and he put it behind him and now he can focus on baseball," Luhnow said. "That's what we need him to do -- focus on the baseball side.
"My reaction at first was, 'Oh my goodness,' but after I reflected on it, it didn't take long for me to realize this is a good thing. We're providing him with all the resources that he needs. As anybody who's gone through addiction knows, you're never out of the woods. You have to stay completely on top of it. We have experts working with him. We're making sure he knows he has the support, and we're encouraging him to utilize it."