Experienced additions should help Astros in 2014

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros pitcher Jake Buchanan spent three years as teammates with one of the biggest emerging stars in the NFL -- Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who led his team to a Super Bowl title earlier this month in only his second year in the league.

Wilson was a baseball and basketball star at North Carolina State, before transferring to Wisconsin and eventually getting drafted by the Seahawks. Buchanan and Wilson were two of five players drafted out of North Carolina State and into Major League Baseball in 2010. Wilson went in the fourth round to Colorado, and Buchanan in the eighth to the Astros.

"He's a good guy," Buchanan said. "I think he's one of a kind and he's going to be good for a while. He's pretty intelligent and knows how to go about his business and is a pretty smart guy out there. On and off the field, he's top notch."

On the football field, Buchanan said you could tell Wilson was something special early on.

"He was just smart with the ball, threw it away when he had to," Buchanan said. "You always knew he had that part of the game and someone had to give him a chance, and he's turned into the best."

Buchanan hasn't talked to Wilson since he was drafted, but he's certainly kept up with his rocket to stardom.

"It's pretty cool," Buchanan said. "You play baseball for three years and have been in the locker room with him for years and you really know the guy, and then he's all over SportsCenter and that's all they talked about there for the whole fall and offseason was Russell Wilson this and that. I'm proud of him."

Harrell draws opener as rotation battle begins

Harrell looks forward to a bounce back 2014 campaign

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The competition for the starting rotation gets underway in earnest when right-hander Lucas Harrell starts for the Astros against the Braves in Friday's Grapefruit League opener in Lake Buena Vista. Harrell is one of 14 starting pitchers in camp competing for only a couple of spots.

Scott Feldman has one spot locked up, and Jarred Cosart, Brad Peacock and Brett Oberholtzer are among the favorites to join him in the rotation. On Monday, manager Bo Porter said Dallas Keuchel had a strong leg up on a rotation spot because of his experience.

That means pitchers such as Jose Cisnero, Paul Clemens, Harrell, David Martinez, Collin McHugh, Alex White and Jerome Williams will have to pitch their way into the rotation, or make the club as a reliever.

Porter plans to allow all the pitchers to get enough innings to show what they can do.

"The good thing is we have a lengthy schedule here, as far as the Spring Training schedule, and we also have some 'B' squad games we'll play, realizing we have a number of guys competing for spots," Porter said. "It will give us enough innings to go around, in order to be able to get a clear indication, given the competition at those positions."

Porter said the pitchers who start games the first time through the rotation this spring, such as Harrell, will likely have to follow another starter when their turn to throw comes up again.

"We'll probably flip-flop some guys the next time through just to give that guy an opportunity to start and the other guy will come behind," Porter said. "More important, we want to make sure those guys get innings."

Castro supports new collision rule

Duquette on new rule for home-plate collisions

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros All-Star catcher Jason Castro said Monday he supported the new rule regarding home plate collisions that outlaws catchers from blocking the plate without the ball and runners going out of their way to initiate contact with catchers.

"It seems like the gist of it is outlawing the egregious contact, guys going out of their way to make contact with the catcher," Castro said. "Obviously, that's a good thing. I think those kinds of plays are definitely avoidable to keep guys playing on the field and keep guys healthy. In most cases, if guys typically have to go out of their way to make contact with the catcher, they probably would have been safe if they had they had just slid into home plate.

"Hopefully some of those things will come out of that and have a more safety aspect of it. From a catching standpoint, we have to make sure we're allowing the runner a lane to the plate if we're not in possession of the ball. But still, things like unavoidable contact or if the throw leads you into the runner, there's nothing you can do about that. It's pretty much straightforward -- no egregious contact and you can't block the plate without the ball.

"I think those are positive changes. I don't think they'll change the game, just some safety stuff that will keep guys on the field a lot longer."

In 2012, Castro missed a couple of games with a sore shoulder when Milwaukee's Mat Gamel leveled him at the plate, a collision that would likely be outlawed now.

"You definitely have to make sure you're allowing the runner a solid chance to score," Castro said. "It will be interesting to see how it plays out. We're going to have to talk about it as a catching group and sort of formulate a strategy. Not a whole lot is going to change, obviously.

"It's nice to know that if you're going to throw the ball, you don't have worry there will be a big hit coming. That's nice to have in the back of your mind. Otherwise, we're going to operate as normal and not a whole lot will change."

Astros players undergo vision tests

Outlook: Grossman has starting job in left for Astros

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros players have been going through eye tests the past couple of days at Osceola County Stadium, which is significant when you consider how important vision can be for a hitter facing a 97-mph fastball with late movement.

"It's extremely important," manager Bo Porter said. "When you start to think about vision from a hitting standpoint, if your vision is not to the point where it allows you to maximize your ability to recognize spin, pick up your depth perception as far as pitch selection, it can really have a drastic effect on your ability to play to your potential."

A similar test paid off for Robbie Grossman, who underwent an eye exam while he was playing for the Astros in Boston last April before he got sent down to the Minor Leagues in May. He wound up changing the brand of his contact lenses and improved at the plate.

Grossman hit .322 with an .816 on-base percentage in his final 35 games after getting called back up to Houston in July. He batted .198 in his first stint with the club.

"I just changed brands and it seemed to help me a lot," Grossman said. "I did the test in Boston and came back and said I had some problems with it, so I went to an eye doctor in Houston and they changed the contacts. So far, so good."

Grossman said the test was challenging, even with perfect vision.

"They're onto something because it's definitely challenging," he said.

Odds and ends

• Astros outfielder Adron Chambers was back on the field Monday, one day after being held out of Sunday's intrasquad game because of a strained left hamstring.

"I got a little not, nothing major," Chambers said. "It's from overworking a little bit, kind of running and doing a lot of workouts and stuff like that and I kind of pushed it a little bit and it cramped up on me. They gave me a day to back off on me a little bit."

• After Tuesday's full-squad workout, the Astros will hold a lighter workout on Wednesday before having a night intrasquad game on Thursday. Manager Bo Porter said he wants to give his players a chance to get some rest before Grapefruit League games begin Friday.