Corey Julks, Cesar Salazar make Astros Opening Day roster

Former UH star Corey Julks and catcher Cesar Salazar will be on the Astros 26-man roster when the season starts Thursday, but top prospect Korey Lee was optioned to Sugar Land
Photo credit Sam Navarro/USA Today

HOUSTON (SportsRadio 610)- Corey Julks wasn’t really on Dana Brown’s radar when he took over as Astros general manager two months ago. He knew of Julks, but the Astros eighth round pick in 2017 wasn’t someone he thought would be a candidate to make the team’s opening day roster.

“That's why you have to come in with an open mind, and you have to allow the players to play, and you have to allow these guys to show you what they can do,” Brown said Tuesday.

Brown watched as Julks compiled an .868 OPS in Grapefruit League, which earned him a spot on the Astros roster to start the 2023 season.

“I think he earned it,” Brown said. “He had a good spring. He had a good year last year in 2022. He's got power. He can play left field and right field, and so I'm sure he's very excited, and we're excited for him and his family and all of his friends that have been pulling for him.”

A graduate of Clear Brook High School in Friendswood, Julks played three seasons at the University of Houston and slowly moved up the Astros system, but turned heads last season when he hit 31 home runs for Triple-A Sugar Land. The Astros had an opening in the outfield with Michael Brantley set to start the season on the injured list, and Julks won the job over Justin Dirden, who impressed many after finishing the spring with a 1.043 OPS.

Dirden, an undrafted free agent in 2020 would’ve given the Astros a much needed left-handed bat off the bench, but Brown said Julks’ experience won out.

“They both played well in camp,” Brown said. “Dirden had some strikeouts, but he still had pretty good ABs, and we felt like he could use a little bit more seasoning at the Triple-A level, particularly because he didn't play the play there much last year, he only had a few at bats.”

Julks isn’t the only player who will make his first Opening Day roster. The Astros will carry three catchers on the 26-man squad when the season starts Thursday. Yainer Diaz, one of the Astros top prospects, who can play multiple positions, made the team, as expected, but Cesar Salazar somewhat surprisingly made the team over Korey Lee, but Brown says the decision has no bearing in what the organization thinks of its 2019 first round pick.

“Korey has to play every day. He's the prospect, right? He's like a big time, frontline guy with some power, so you can't have guys like that sitting on the bench at the Major League level, so you have to get him playing time. Whereas Salazar is a backup catcher, and he fills that role better.”

Salazar, 27, was drafted in the seventh round by the Astros in 2018, and produced a .253/.327/.420 slash line across four minor league seasons.

The Astros will have to add both players to a 40-man roster that is currently full. Placing Jose Altuve, who is expected to miss the first two months of the season after fracturing his thumb during the World Baseball Classic, on the 60-day IL is an obvious option, but they would still have to remove one other player. Brown said the Astros will wait until Thursday to make that announcement.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Sam Navarro/USA Today