Luhnow Looks To Re-Establish Astros In Latin America

HOUSTON—Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow made the most of a 36-hour December trip to the Dominican Republic.

Seeking to build up Houston's talent pipeline in the Dominican at the same time he revamps an improving farm system, Luhnow watched two games at the organization's Dominican training academy before meeting with big-name agents and trainers at a hotel near downtown Santo Domingo.

"In the past half a decade to a decade, the pipeline has really not produced similar to the best teams in baseball. We need to get back to that as quickly as possible," Luhnow said.

Luhnow was joined during the trip by assistant GM David Stearns and international director Oz Ocampo.

The first game they watched featured the Astros' Dominican instructional team against an MLB amateur prospect squad. The second game highlighted 18 amateur players eligible for the annual July 2 international signing day.

"(The Astros') GM being here and their staff being here, it shows they're serious about what this country will mean to them," said Rudy Santin, a Santo Domingo-based agent who previously served as a longtime scout for the Yankees.

Luhnow became more serious as a 15-hour workday evolved, trading a stopwatch for a microphone during a welcoming party for Dominican agents and trainers.

Speaking in fluent Spanish, Houston's GM enthusiastically addressed an opinionated crowd that quickly became silent once his speech started.

Luhnow referenced Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, a 2012 all-star who is 22  and from Maracy, Venezuela, and signed as an amateur free agent in 2007. He also mentioned other Astros with Latin American origins—young players on a rebuilding team, crucial and affordable talent for a big-market organization eyeing short-term improvement and long-term success.

Luhnow saved his biggest point for the finale. He told the agents and trainers they ultimately shared the same goals as the Astros. All involved parties want their players to make the major leagues. Everyone wins if the young, talented athletes succeed, he said.

"That relationship has been strained in the past," Luhnow said. "This was an opportunity for me to express from our standpoint that we do appreciate what they're doing, we do want to work in partnership with them."

Space Shots

• The Astros acquired righthander John Ely from the Dodgers in exchange for lefty Rob Rasmussen. Ely, 26, won the Triple-A Pacific Coast League pitching triple crown last season.

• Righthander Mickey Storey, who pitched at Triple-A Oklahoma City and in Houston in 2012, went through a waiver odyssey this offseason that took him through the 40-man rosters of the Astros, Yankees and Astros again. In late December, the Astros lost him to the Blue Jays.