Worth The Wates

Astros' third-round pick made instant impact after signing late





HOUSTON—When short-season Tri-City won the first New York-Penn League championship of its nine-year existence (all as an Astros affiliate), the club owed part of its rather remarkable turnaround to some latecomers—most notably Austin Wates

A third-round pick out of Virginia Tech in June, Wates signed for an above-slot, $550,000 bonus with less than an hour to go before the Aug. 16 deadline.

Wates' bat and the rest of his game showed no signs of any layoff, which he credited in part to his continued work throughout the negotiation period. While things were idle on the business side, they were anything but on the baseball side. He continued to work on his swing and his conditioning on the Tech campus, with occasional trips back to his family's home in Richmond.

Despite being hit by a pitch and bruising his hand, he hit .316/.447/.500 with nine steals in 12 regular-season games at Tri-City.

"My game plays more in the middle of the field as far as hitting the gaps and using my speed," Wates said.

Up the middle is also somewhat of his mantra defensively as he prefers center field, though some reports had him pegged more as a right fielder long term.

"I feel like that's where my tools fit me best," Wates said. "I feel like I could be a really good center fielder some day, but I'm going to do whatever they have me do."

The Astros likely will keep him in center field unless he plays his way off it or there is a conflict on the roster. He started all but one of his non-DH games in center.

Shortly after the season, Wates headed down to Kissimmee, Fla., for instructional league, saying he needed work on all aspects of his game. With Tri-City's run to a title, which included two rainouts that prolonged the postseason, Wates and the other Valley Cats were given a four-day allowance at the start of camp.

But Wates has already shown that a late arrival has been no obstacle.

SPACE SHOTS

• Outfielders Jay Austin and Brandon Barnes were added to the roster for the Arizona Fall League's Peoria Javelinas.

• Among the more notable invitees to instructional league were 16-year-old Michael Feliz and 17-year-old Ariel Ovando, both significant 2010 signings out of the Dominican Republic.