Sunday, January 24, 2016

Astros Fan Fest 2016

Minute Maid Park was rife with a very different buzz than years past at the Houston Astros annual Fan Fest. It was estimated that 11,000 people were in attendance which I can tell you is many more than the last several years. The fans, the players and the front office were in high spirits that permeated the atmosphere and made it for possibly the most energized Fan Fest I have been to. I guess that is what a winning season will do.

I had a chance to attend a blogger round table with Director of Amateur Scouting Mike Elias, Director of Player Personnel Quinton McCracken and President of Baseball Operations Reid Ryan, some fan forums and check out a couple of the activities around the park. Here are a few of my takeaways from the festivities.

Scouts were just in town for January meetings and are now out doing what they do.  The scouting department has transitioned its strategy for the draft from the normalcy of picking very early to picking much later. Mike Elias commented that it’s “harder to know exactly who is going to be available for your pick so you can’t spend as much time seeing them multiple times.” To adapt to this transition the scouting department has added 2 more cross checkers and will be focusing more on rounds 5-10 than previous years.

With the Astros being towards the tail end of this rebuild the concern of maintaining a strong farm system coupled with a winning season were voiced not only by fans walking around or standing in line for activities but also in the fan forums. During the blogger round table Quinton McCracken had brought up that there is still a strong focus on securing depth at every position in the organization. He specifically brought up signing of Wandy Rodriguez to a minor league contract and that he will be competing at spring training for the fifth spot in pitching rotation. According to McCracken a few guys in the system to keep an eye on are Tom Shirley, Jordan Jankowsky, Chris Devenski and Jonathan Arauz.

In hopes to increase interaction with fans through social media and smartphone technology during games, top of the line, high speed internet is currently being installed on every level of MMP to be ready on opening day. Reid Ryan spoke of eventually offering reward points, real time couponing and surprise meet and greets through mobile apps like At The Ballpark and the mobile ticketing app. As far as promotions go for the 2016 season, Ryan said that he found promotions that “mean something” tend to resonate with fans so plan to see a lot of promos celebrating the 2015 season. I personally plan on being in line early for the Colby Rasmus Celebration bobblehead.

Ryan said that the question marks for the organization “are the guys on the corners.” In discussing these question marks Ryan listed off Luis Valbuena, Marwin Gonzalez, Matt Duffy, Colin Moran and wondered as we all have “Is Jonathan Singleton going to win this job that we’ve all been kind of waiting to see him win?”
There was a new uniform unveiled Saturday afternoon by Mike Acosta, Manager of Authentication that will be worn on Sundays and also used as an alternate. Before the reveal, Acosta spoke of a tradition of fathers giving their sons their teams Sunday uniform and the importance of honoring traditions like that. In nice throwback to honor the hallowed rainbow uniforms, the Astros Sunday best will incorporate the rainbow pattern along the sides of the dark blue top. You can see the new uniforms here.

Seeing all the interaction and camaraderie between the players and staff was unlike what I have seen in years past. There's always been a sense of hope at these forums, but this year there was a true, well deserved, confidence. Confidence in each other and the organization as a whole was laced in every answer given. There were quite a few good quotes from players and others in the organization. I'll finish this post up and just leave those here.

“It’s been a tough journey at times… we saw the vision really come together this past year…  We knew we were going to be good but I think we surprised a lot of people how good we were. It’s an exciting time to be an Astro.” -Jason Castro

"Last year was a little taste of what we can do. I think we have to keep pushing ourselves and keep working hard and give what the fans what they want and what we want to. That is the World Series.–Altuve
When McHugh was asked about being one of the best pitchers on the team he focused on talking about team dynamics, support staff, great catchers, etc.  But Castro interjected “Don’t let him fool you though... He was really impressive (at spring training). I remember walking away from that bullpen thinking that… He could be a pretty special pitcher. He got called up in Seattle and proved that pretty much immediately and he hasn’t looked back.”

"I would have to say it was nobody. As teammates we try to pick each other up, wash that aside. We gotta get back and ready for... whoever it is the next day so we don't really have time to bash our own teammates." -Colby Rasmus on who was the team enforcer after someone messed up last year

"AJ Hinch was the “Secret Sauce" for us; that this young team really needed.” -Reid Ryan reminiscing about the 2015 season

"You gotta go no shirt." - Colby Rasmus on proper playoff celebration procedure