Williams, Oberholtzer optimistic heading into '14

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Non-roster invitee Preston Tucker's first full season as a prospect in the Astros organization proved one thing.

"He can hit," Houston manager Bo Porter said.

Between stints with Class A Advanced Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi last season, Tucker batted .297 (159-for-535) with 25 home runs, 103 RBIs, 32 doubles and a .368 on-base percentage.

Those plate numbers helped earn the seventh-round selection in the 2012 MLB First-Year Player Draft a spot in his first big league camp in 2014.

"You look at the numbers and he was one of those guys I kind of put an asterisk next to," Porter said. " I was excited to have him here at camp."

Added Tucker of his first experience in an MLB clubhouse: "So far, it's been really fun. It's really cool. I really like it."

But the hitting numbers have always been there for Tucker. In four seasons at the University of Florida, Tucker set school records with 341 hits, 258 RBIs and 70 doubles. His 54 career homers rank second in school history.

"It's power to all fields," Porter said. "He stays on the ball well. I mean, the pull power obviously speaks for itself. But he's not just a power hitter. The guy can really hit. He's selective, he understands the strike zone and he uses the whole field."

While his bat was a sure thing during his collegiate career, Tucker's position in the field was not. He split time between the outfield, first base and designated hitter. Houston has switched Tucker exclusively to right field, and that is where his focus lies.

"A lot of outfield work," Tucker said. "There's always room to improve there -- footwork, drop steps, throwing."

During his time with the Gators, Tucker was a part of three different College World Series runs. Meanwhile, the Astros have not finished with a winning record since 2008, Tucker's senior year at Tampa Plant High School (Fla.).

But Tucker recognizes the renewed optimism in Houston's organization -- Porter said the Astros aim to become the Majors' "most improved" team in 2014 -- and Tucker is excited by what he has seen during Spring Training.

"The guys are really buying into it," Tucker said. "That's one of the biggest things. It's a group of young guys who really want to make a name for themselves and really want to start winning ballgames."

Wojciechowski to undergo more tests on lat strain

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- After undergoing an MRI on Monday, right-hander Asher Wojciechowski (right lat strain) will undergo more tests, Astros manager Bo Porter said on Wednesday. Wojciechowski is in Houston for a platelet-rich plasma injection, which helps injuries which are slow to heal.

"They're doing some more tests," Porter said. "We're going to continue to let the doctors and the trainers run all the tests in which they need to run and give me the information as they get it."

Wojciechowski, who first suffered the injury on Feb. 1, told MLB.com he felt like he re-aggravated the injury when trying to throw last Thursday.

The Astros do not want to rush Wojciechowski, whom they acquired in a 10-player trade with the Blue Jays in July 2012. He is Houston's No. 12 ranked prospect.

Valdes feeling fine after bullpen session

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Raul Valdes (left knee surgery) threw a bullpen session of 25 pitches on Wednesday morning. The left-hander threw all of his pitch types and said he feels "fine."

Valdes will throw another bullpen session on Friday.

"It felt very good," Valdes said through a team translator, visiting clubhouse manager Steve Perry. "It felt very good. Thank God."

Astros manager Bo Porter was also optimistic following practice on Wednesday.

"It's real positive," Porter said. "Our training staff, they're doing a tremendous job with all of our guys that are kind of limited in some way or another."

Valdes believes that if Friday's session goes as well as Wednesday's, he could be available to pitch in games within two weeks. Though also encouraged, Porter was a bit more hesitant to discuss a return date.

"Whenever a guy is limited in some kind of way, I don't like to get into timetables," Porter said. "I think that puts pressure on a player and it may not be realistic, so I'll allow the trainers to lead the way in that aspect."

The Cuban hurler, who owns a 4.94 ERA in 95 career outings, is competing for one of the lefty spots in Houston's bullpen. He made his Major League debut with the Mets in 2010 and has spent time with the Cardinals, the Yankees and the Phillies in his career.

In 2014, he aims to add the Astros to that list.

"I have a very good chance," Valdes said via Perry. "If I work hard, I'll have a good chance of making it."

De Leon to throw light BP Thursday

CIN@HOU: De Leon needs just three pitches in the 12th

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Right-hander Jorge De Leon (right quadriceps strain), a non-roster invitee, will throw light batting practice on Thursday. Two days after throwing a bullpen session, he feels good and has not suffered any setbacks.

De Leon suffered the injury while covering first base on Feb. 20.

Another good day on Thursday will lead De Leon another step closer to what he wanted to accomplish during this year's Spring Training: "Make the team."

"I'm just working hard, competing," De Leon said.

Part of that work is the development of his splitter, a pitch he has yet to throw in a game. De Leon said he learned the pitch from Astros special assistant to the general manager Roger Clemens and tried it out during his stint with Double-A Corpus Christi last season.

"I tried, but I don't know, it was too hard," De Leon said. "I'm working it now."

De Leon's new splitter could potentially help him earn even more time in the Majors after making 11 appearances out of Houston's bullpen last season. He recorded a 5.40 ERA and put 19 runners on base in 10 innings of work.

He pitched his best baseball of 2013 during his stint with Triple-A Oklahoma City in July and August, posting a 0.60 ERA and striking out 12 in 15 innings of work.

After ending last season by enjoying some success in the Minor Leagues and earning his first appearance in the Majors, De Leon, has used the momentum towards improving in the offseason.

Once he gets healthy, De Leon can continue that journey. Asked how his splitter looks now, De Leon replied, "Better."

Worth noting

The Astros ended early on Wednesday and will start late on Thursday ahead of Friday's Spring Training opener against the Braves at 5 p.m. CT in Osceola County Stadium. Porter wants give the club some rest before games begin.

"When we looked at the schedule and realized that our first game was going to be a night game, it kind of made sense to let them sleep in a couple days in a row to kind of get their legs back underneath them," Porter said. "It's a credit to the way they've been working and going about their business."

The Astros are not yet certain if Japhet Amador will report to camp on the target date of Friday. Amador, a non-roster invitee, has been home caring for his ill pregnant wife.

Porter said Amador will compete for Houston's starting job at first base once he arrives in Kissimmee, Fla.

"I'm looking forward to getting him here, talking to him and just making sure everything is OK on the home front, so that he can be in the right frame of mind to come out here and play baseball," Porter said.