HOUSTON -- Astros general manager Ed Wade came away impressed after spending some time earlier this month getting a close-up look at the club's prospects that are participating in the Arizona Fall League, which is about halfway through its schedule.
The seven players from the Houston organization competing for the Salt River Rafters includes promising prospects like left-hander Dallas Keuchel and outfielder Jay Austin, relative newcomers in right-handers Jason Stoffel and Josh Zeid, plus Major League starting catcher Jason Castro, who missed all of last season with a knee injury.
"We're pleased with the way things are going there," said Wade, who traveled to Arizona early in the month with assistant general manager David Gottfried.
"We missed Jason Castro while we were there. I had seen him in instructional league the previous week and we had given Jason permission to be in a wedding and we missed him when we were out there. All reports we have gotten have been very solid."
Astros Major League scout Paul Ricciarini is currently in Arizona and has sent positive reports back about Castro, who tore his right anterior cruciate ligament running the bases early in Spring Training and had season-ending knee surgery in March.
Castro, who's expected to be the team's starting catcher next year, was hitting .167 with five strikeouts in only 12 at-bats in four games (he was slowed by a ribcage injury), but he went 2-for-4 with a double, a run scored and an RBI on Thursday and, more importantly, is in good shape physically.
"Paul was very impressed with the way Jason has progressed since the last time he had a chance to see him," Wade said.
The player putting up the best numbers for the Astros is first baseman Kody Hinze, who slugged 29 homers last season between Class A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi. He was hitting .294 with two homers and nine RBIs through nine games.
Jake Goebbert, a left-handed-hitting outfielder who progressed from Lancaster to Triple-A Oklahoma City last season and hit a combined .290 with 12 homers and 67 RBIs, was batting .162 with two homers and three RBIs in 10 games. Speedy outfielder Jay Austin had appeared in five games and was hitting .263 with three stolen bases.
"From the position players we did see, Kody Hinze was swinging the bat well and driving in some runs," Wade said. "Jay Austin was out there on a taxi squad and played a couple of games and got on base, and we see the same tools out of Jay since we drafted him and signed him. He just needs to continue to be given opportunities. He's probably one of those guys that's going to take a level at a time to get his feet on the ground and show what he's capable of doing.
"Goebbert played in a couple of games and swung the bat well. He knows how to play the game the right way and we like what we saw out of him."
Keuchel, who went 9-7 with a 3.17 ERA at Corpus Christi before getting his feet wet at Oklahoma City last season, is 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA in three starts at Arizona.
"He's one of those guys you have to ignore the radar gun when he's pitching because he's not going to put up big gun numbers," Wade said. "In the game I saw him pitch, he was consistent with what I've seen out of him every time he's pitched. He commanded his pitches well and he's got an excellent changeup and changes speeds."
Stoffel has appeared in six games and allowed five earned runs and eight walks and struck out nine batters in seven innings. Zeid is 1-0 with a 9.00 ERA in six games, but he had allowed only one run in his past three outings entering play Monday.
"The two relief pitchers both threw well," Wade said. "[Stoffel] has plus velocity and a very good breaking ball. He threw a couple of sharp sliders, but he only made one appearance while we were there. He has a chance to be very tough on hitters late in games.
"Josh Zeid pitched twice while we were there and he had struggled before we got out there and we thought he threw very well in the games we saw. He's a big kid, very athletic and has good velocity. Because he is a big kid, he's going to continue to have to maintain consistency in his delivery. It was the first time I had a chance to see him and we were impressed."
Meanwhile, several players were off to quick starts in the various Winter Leagues. Outfielder Brian Bogusevic was hitting .333 through his first eight games with Aguilas Cibaenas of the Dominican Winter League, and first baseman Brett Wallace was hitting .240 with one homer and five RBIs in eight games for Escogido in the Dominican Winter League.
Second baseman Jose Altuve was batting .333 with six RBIs through seven games with Magallanes in his native Venezuela.
"We've got a lot of guys taking advantage of opportunities to advance their careers in winter ball," Wade said.
Also, right-hander Wilton Lopez is scheduled to pitch in his native Nicaragua next month on a limited basis. The Astros didn't allow Lopez to pitch in winter ball last year because of his Major League workload, but Wade said he has a chance to pitch about 10 innings.