The Astros continued to send out minor-leaguers and NRI's, with seven more optioned Friday. Pitchers Jason Stoffel and Alex White, catcher Roberto Pena, infielders Colin Moran, Nolan Fontana and Matt Duffy, and outfielder Preston Tucker we all sent out. Six of the seven were reassigned as invitees, and Alex White was optioned, as he was on the 40-man.
Alex White was probably the only one of that group with a realistic chance of breaking camp with the Astros on Opening Day. He was competing for the last spots in the rotation / bullpen swingman role. However, he continued to struggle - as he has done since he lost 2013 to surgery - in the 4 innings that he pitched. He gave up 7 earned runs on 8 hits, with six walks versus no strikeouts. He pitched his way off the team, plus the Astros really needed to give innings to Sam Deduno and Wojo in preference to White, so this move isn't a shock.
Preston Tucker probably attended spring training with an outside chance of forcing his way into a crowded outfield / DH roster. His plans for a hot spring were derailed by a HBP to his hand, which resulted in a break from baseball activities for a little more than a week. He went hitless in 11 plate appearances, but walked twice (and took first on the afore-mentioned HBP) versus three strikeouts. Tucker will undoubtedly get a look at some stage - but perhaps not in 2015 - and for now he will man the outfield in Fresno.
Colin Moran (.444, BB in 10 PA's) and Matt Duffy (2-7, 2BB, HR in 9 PA's) both turned some heads, but were unlikely to make the remain in camp by virtue of the play of Luis Valbuena and the need for reps at 3B for Valbeuna, Dominguez, Petit and Gonzalez.
Nolan Fontana struggled in 11 PA's, recording one single but walking twice. Shortstop and second base are about as crowded as third base, with two established up-the-middle regulars, and the utility guys needing a look. So no surprise with his exit, either. And Roberto Pena didn't record manage to get on base in 5 PA's, and again, was likely the victim of a busy catcher-rotation. No surprise.
These moves leave us with little clue as to how the spring-training battles are shaking down, but things are starting to get closer to a resolution. Of the Astros remaining in camp - and according to MLBTR - only Chris Carter, Alex Presley and Luis Valbeuna (and the free-agent signings) cannot get optioned to minor-league camp, although Sam Deduno is out of options as well (according to the Chronicle) and appears to be so, given his years on the ML roster. Joe Thatcher and Roberto Hernandez have XX(B) protection, which means they require a roster spot five days out from opening day, or the team will need to pay a $100K retention bonus and the player will need to agree to head to AAA to start the season. XX(B) players also get a opt out option for June 1 if they are not in the major leagues on that date, so there is some additional options for Roberto and Joe.
Interestingly, there have been trade rumour rumblings from teams in need of lefty-relievers and starting pitchers. The Orioles - in particular - are looking at lefty relievers according to MLBTR, and the Blue Jays and Rays are both looking for starting pitching due to injuries. Neither of the XX(B) players will demand a great deal in a trade because of their XX(B) opt-out dates, but the Astros may explore trade options for others in the same position battle, such as Kevin Chapman or Dan Straily (names listed only as examples). This may also have the effect of clearing roster space for Thatcher or Hernandez to be added.
But all this is speculation. For mine, the big questions are also the predictable ones. Will Dominguez even make the 25-man? What will the outfield look like? And who will throw in the back-end of the rotation and man the last couple of spots in the 'pen?