ATL@HOU: Barnes blasts a homer to center field

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The news he had made the Opening Day roster was nothing short of a dream come true for Astros outfielder Brandon Barnes, a true grinder who nearly considered giving up baseball on more than one occasion.

Barnes, 26, spent eight years in the Astros' Minor League system, moving slowly and methodically through the organization without ever being labeled a top prospect. He persevered and made his Major League debut last year and played his way into a roster spot this spring.

"It's what I've wanted since I was 4, and it's here and I just have to keep working now," Barnes said. "I'm going to try not to cry [on Opening Day] and thank God and my family for pushing me. It's going to be a special moment for sure."

Barnes, drafted in the sixth round in 2006, nearly quit his first couple of years into pro ball when he struggled to hit .200 at rookie level Greeneville. He had more doubts about playing when he first went to Triple-A full time in 2011 and was overmatched.

"I struggled and I couldn't figure it out," he said. "I was having some mental issues and couldn't sleep at night because I knew I was meant to play this game and I couldn't figure it out. I called my pastor one night and we talked and prayed, and he told me God put me here for a purpose.

"I have a plan to show my faith through this platform of playing in the big leagues. When I stopped getting down about things and stopped thinking and went out there and played hard and had fun and played for family, that's when things really turned around."

Astros add nine to Opening Day roster

Luhnow, Porter deliver good news from Astros camp

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros nearly finalized their Opening Day roster on Monday afternoon, informing nine players they had made the team and seven others that they had not. The moves leave the Astros with 26 players ahead of Sunday's season opener against the Rangers.

Astros manager Bo Porter, general manager Jeff Luhnow and assistant general manager David Stearns brought nine players into an upstairs conference room inside the team's clubhouse at Osceola County Stadium and informed them that they were making an Opening Day roster for the first time.

Among the players who were on the fence that were given the good news were right-handers Brad Peacock and Alex White, left-hander Xavier Cedeno and outfielder Brandon Barnes. Third baseman Matt Dominguez, catcher Carlos Corporan and outfielders Justin Maxwell, Chris Carter and Fernando Martinez made the 25-man roster as well.

The Astros also informed a handful of non-roster players that they wouldn't make the club, including right-hander Jose Valdez, left-hander Kevin Chapman, outfielder Trevor Crowe, infielders Jose Martinez and Brandon Laird and catcher Rene Garcia. They will, however, travel with the team to Houston for this weekend's exhibition games against the Cubs at Minute Maid Park.

Pitcher Chia-Jen Lo was optioned to the Minor Leagues and is expected to be the closer at Double-A Corpus Christi.

"We had a pretty large, significant group of players who had never been on an Opening Day roster before, and to be able to bring them all in a room at this time of year -- when people are nervous about getting called into a room -- and notify them that not only are they making an Opening Day roster for the first time, but they're part of history, [is fun]," Luhnow said.

The Astros' position players are set. They will carry five outfielders, six infielders and two catchers, but they'll have to trim one more pitcher. Non-roster pitcher Erik Bedard will take the No. 5 spot in the rotation, and the No. 4 spot will be either Peacock or White, with one going to the bullpen.

The club must still make a decision regarding relief pitcher Josh Fields, a Rule 5 selection.

"We're still discussing, debating the final spot in the bullpen, and Fields is very much still in consideration for that," Luhnow said.

Barnes, an outfielder who can run and play strong defense, beat out Laird and Crowe for the final spot among position players.

"He gives you a lot of critical factors of things he can do to help the ballclub," Porter said. "He can pinch-run late, he can go in the game for defense, he's a superior defender. He can play all three outfield positions. He can steal a base and score from first on a double and second on a single. You look at all the things he's able to do on the ballclub."

Peacock was smiling ear-to-ear Monday afternoon after being informed that he had made the club. He will be on an Opening Day roster for the first time in his career after spending all of last season at Triple-A Sacramento in the Oakland organization. He made his Major League debut with Washington late in the 2011 season and was 2-0 with a .75 ERA in three games.

"I'm excited, and hopefully I can take advantage of his opportunity," Peacock said. "What I went through last year -- I came into camp not even knowing if I had a chance. I proved myself, and hopefully I can keep it going."

Laird didn't make the club despite a terrific spring in which he hit five homers and had 12 RBIs. He fell victim to a numbers game in the infield and the fact that the Astros wanted to carry five outfielders.

"I felt like I did everything I could in spring to make the team, and it's their decision," he said. "I have to go to Triple-A and continue to play, and I'll be up there shortly. They basically said it was between me and Barnes, and they wanted someone who could come in late in the game and play defense in the outfield. So, I'll continue to go down and work and be back up shortly."

Laird couldn't crack an infield that includes Dominguez, Brett Wallace, Ronny Cedeno, Marwin Gonzalez, Jose Altuve and Carlos Pena.

"I'm a straight-shooter, and I think our players really appreciate that," Porter said. "I don't know any other way. Like I told Laird, it came down to numbers. 'You didn't do anything performance-wise to warrant not being on the club. You performed well enough to be on the club. It's the nature of roster construction.'"

Rick Ankiel, who's yet to be placed on 25-man roster, is the club's likely starter at right field after sitting out the second half of last year when the Washington Nationals cut him loose. He's been one of the Astros' most impressive players this spring and brings veteran leadership.

"It's what I prepared for and trained for all offseason," Ankiel said. "It's always good when you get the gratification of all the hard work you've put in and it pays off. It's obviously a good feeling. Now it's just day one -- here we go. There's a long way to go, but right where I'm at right now, I'm happy about it."

Astros trade Kvasnicka to Twins for pitcher Sanudo

Top Prospects: Michael Kvasnicka, 3B, Astros

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros drafted Mike Kvasnicka out of the University of Minnesota with the 33rd overall pick in 2010 with hopes he would blossom into a slugging catcher. On Monday, they traded him to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Minor League pitcher Gonzalo Sanudo.

Kvasnicka, 24, spent the previous two years at Class A Lexington and was a career .245 hitter with 24 homers and 148 RBIs in three years in the organization. He had been moved to third base and even tried in the outfield.

"I've always been a fan of his since the time he was playing college at Minnesota," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "We tried him as a catcher, we tried him at third base, we tried him at various spots. We felt the opportunity to bring in an arm was in the best interest with the way our rosters were shaping up in the Minor Leagues."

Kvasnicka, who was drafted by the Twins out of high school and whose father played in the Minnesota organization, was surprised.

"It's pretty shell shocking to go to the field and get pulled into the office and told you had been traded to the Minnesota Twins," he said. "I've had a good rapport with them in the past and am familiar with the organization and scouts and front office."

Sanudo, who's from Mexico, is a 21-year-old right-hander who is 2-1 with a 3.34 ERA in 27 career games in the Gulf Coast League.

Astros launch 'Gear Up' application for sweepstakes

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros on Monday announced the launch of "Gear Up with the Houston Astros" application, available on Astros.com and Facebook.com.

Fans can put themselves in the game and gear up for Astros Opening Night on Sunday when they face the Texas Rangers in their first game in the American League. Using the "Gear Up" application, fans create a custom baseball card featuring the newly branded Astros home, away, alternate and batting-practice jerseys and caps. These custom cards can be printed, downloaded and shared via social-media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

After creating their own personalized cards, fans can enter to win an Opening Night sweepstakes, which includes four tickets to Astros Opening Night, four replica Astros jerseys and four Astros caps. The winner will be chosen from eligible entries and will be notified no later than Friday. See official rules on Astros.com for details.