Astros Have Plenty Of Players Who Can Run





HOUSTON—As new farm director Fred Nelson surveyed his farm system on a recent morning, he took a verbal step back after rattling off more than 10 names, including Delino DeShields Jr., Jay Austin, Jonathan Villar and Jimmy Paredes.

"These are all guys who can scoot," Nelson said.

As the Astros have tried to rebuild what the club admits was a depleted farm system, one area where they have more than caught up in is speed. And now they have turned to Milt Thompson to make sure their players get the most of that speed, hiring him as the minor league outfield and baserunning instructor. It was actually their second hire for the position in two weeks, after former Brewers first-base coach Ed Sedar accepted but then returned to Milwaukee when the Brewers offered him a spot on their major league staff.

Thompson has experience in the job, having served as a minor league outfield and baserunning instructor in the early days of the Tampa Bay organization and for the Phillies, who later made him major league hitting coach.

He'll have plenty of players to tutor in both aspects of the job, including outfielders J.B. Shuck, who batted .292/.366/.348 between Double-A and Triple-A in 2010, and Austin, one of the youngest and most athletic players in the high Class A California League.

The speed extends to the infield, where the Astros' first picks of the last two drafts—shortstop Jiovanni Mier and second baseman-to-be DeShields—use speed as a major part of their games. Villar and Paredes, acquired at the 2010 trade deadline for Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman, add to the arsenal.

"Through the draft and acquisition of players through trades, we've increased our speed at the lower levels," Nelson said. "Milt will help with the technical part as well as the mental part."

Thompson, who played for the Astros as a backup outfielder in 1994 and '95, replaces Eric Young, who left the organization to become the Diamondbacks' first-base coach.

SPACE SHOTS

• The Astros shut Austin down early in the Arizona Fall League after a hamstring injury. He hit .156 in 12 games.

• Houston hired Rick Kranitz as minor league pitching coordinator. Kranitz had previously served as pitching coach with the Orioles and Marlins during a three-decades-long career.