HOUSTON -- As the Astros slowly insert players into their Minor League system after they were taken in this month's First-Year Player Draft, the team is just as enthusiastic about the return of another heralded prospect.
Right-handed pitcher Vincent Velasquez, a second-round pick in 2010 out of Pomona, Calif., is back on the mound and in the rotation at short-season Tri-City, after missing all of the 2011 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Velasquez, 20, is 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA in two starts for the ValleyCats in his first action since appearing in eight games at rookie-league Greeneville towards the end of the 2010 season.
"It was an awesome feeling to be back on the mound," Velasquez said. "The nerve-wracking part was the atmosphere. You're playing an opponent and before a crowd, and that's just an awesome experience. It's a good way to get back on track and a good note to start off on."
Astros director of player development Fred Nelson was on hand to see Velasquez's first start on June 18, in which he threw five scoreless innings. Velasquez came back Sunday and allowed six hits and two walks in 4 1/3 innings at Connecticut.
"He was really solid," Nelson said. "Not only did he have quality stuff -- fastball, curveball and straight change -- but he had command of them all. I don't know what he was like before [he was injured], but he was better than I had seen down in Florida while going through his rehab."
When he began his pro career in Greeneville in 2010, Velasquez's fastball was settling consistently at 88-90 mph and topping out at 94-95. So far this year, he's sitting at 90-92 and topping out at 96, though he admits adrenaline is a factor.
"It was hard to get over the surgery mentally, but now that it's all done, it's an awesome feeling," he said.
It's an awesome feeling for the Astros, too, who have high hopes for Velasquez.
"I think a lot of times when we talk about injuries, it's out of sight, out of mind," Nelson said. "You learn to live with those people not being around. They're around, but they're not competing. Rosters are set and you have plugged the holes, and all of a sudden, you look at them and they're healthy. It's like getting another new guy."
Velasquez wants to focus this year on just being healthy, though getting sent to Lexington later in the season would be icing on the cake. He plans to come into next season with some lofty goals, having already cleared some big hurdles.
"So far, I can completely say the surgery was successful and it's all positive," he said.
The Astros will soon get another player back from Tommy John surgery. Taiwanese right-hander Chia-Jen Lo, who was in Major League camp a couple of years ago, is getting some rehab innings for the Gulf Coast League Astros, and could be sent to Double-A Corpus Christi later this year.
DeShields sets stolen bases mark
HOUSTON -- Delino DeShields Jr. set the single-season stolen base record at Class A Lexington on Saturday. DeShields swiped his 49th base of the year in the sixth inning at West Virginia, giving him one more than Josh Anderson's previous club record of 48, set in 2004.
DeShields, the Astros' first-round pick in 2010, is hitting .268 with four homers, 11 doubles, three triples and 32 RBIs through 70 games for the Legends. He has been caught stealing only seven times in 56 attempts. In 119 games last year at Lexington, DeShields stole just 30 bases in his first full season of pro ball.
"That's been really exciting for him," Astros director of player development Fred Nelson said. "I've always believed stealing bases is an attitude. You have to want to do it and like to do it and enjoy being aggressive, and to some extent messing with pitchers and catchers and infielders by running. He's really taken that approach this year and that's really been encouraging."
-- Left-hander Brett Oberholtzer is expected to pitch in the rotation at Triple-A Oklahoma City for the rest of the season. The Astros promoted him last week from Double-A Corpus Christi, where he was 5-3 with a 4.21 ERA in 13 starts, when Wes Musick went on the disabled list with an elbow issue.
-- Astros top pitching prospect Jarred Cosart, who was named to the Texas League South Division All-Star team, hasn't allowed a run in 15 innings in his last two starts. In his four prior starts, he had allowed 17 earned runs in 24 2/3 innings, raising his ERA to 4.50 from 2.84.
-- Shortstop Carlos Correa, the No. 1 overall pick in this year's Draft, was 2-for-19 (.105 batting average) with six strikeouts through five games for the Gulf Coast League Astros. The Astros have been thrilled with how he's handling himself as he gets his career going.
-- Lexington right-hander Nick Tropeano is 3-1 with a 2.22 ERA in five June starts. In his last two starts, he has combined for 13 scoreless innings, allowing five hits and eight walks while striking out 13 batters.
-- Outfielder Austin Wates, who's on the disabled list at Double-A Corpus Christi with a strained quadriceps, is rehabbing with the Gulf Coast League Astros and should re-join the Hooks later this week, perhaps Thursday or Friday.
-- Right-hander Lance McCullers Jr., the No. 41 overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft who signed last week with Houston, is close to making his debut for the Gulf Coast League Astros, director of player development Fred Nelson said. Nelson said the club will keep a close eye on his innings.