Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 3/1/12
By Mark Mitchell FOXSportsHouston.com Jack Cust wants to be a complete baseball player. After spending the last five years as a designated hitter in the American League, he looks forward to "throwing leather" and running around with his teammates. "It is exciting for me to play both sides of the ball," said Cust. "Sometimes when you are just hitting, you don't feel like much of a baseball player." Signed as a free agent by the Houston Astros, Cust looks to show he is more than a DH. More importantly, he needs to convince manager Brad Mills that last year's power outage was a fluke. After hitting 97 of his 105 career home runs in four seasons with Oakland from 2007-10, he hit only three last year before being released by the Seattle Mariners. A career .242 hitter, combining power with an ability to draw walks -- his 309 base on balls from 2007-09 were the most in the AL -- makes Cust an attractive option in the outfield. However, without home runs, his propensity for striking out is a liability. In 2008, he set an AL record with 197 strikeouts, and led the league from 2007-2009. Should he earn a spot in the outfield rotation, his experience is an invaluable intangible. A rookie with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001, he learned baseball from hardcore veterans like Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Matt Williams, Mike Morgan and Jay Bell. Cust still thinks about the lessons learned and the intensity of the Diamondback clubhouse. "There are young guys with talent here trying to make a name for themselves," he explained. "It is always important to have a veteran presence on the team as well. When you watched guys like Bell and Williams go about their business, you knew it was 100 focus and the intensity it takes to be a major leaguer. "We all work hard, but it's working hard with a purpose. Some of these young guys have a ton of ability; it's just learning how to handle the ups and downs of major league life, which can be frustrating." Cust is not alone in his pursuit of finding a home in the outfield. Texas A&M product Justin Ruggiano signed as a minor league free agent after six years in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. During that time, in three stints with Tampa he hit .226 in 98 games. This spring offers both an opportunity to make a major league roster and for the Austin native to return to Texas. "I see a bunch of young guys who don't know how good they are yet," he said. "Once we start winning, and I think it could happen this year with the talent we have, the fans will support us. If it is anywhere as exciting as the A&M fans, it is going to be fun." With workouts as the sole barometer, Mills indicated the outfield picture is still murky. That will change once the Grapefruit League season begins Saturday. "It isn't any more clear since we started camp because we haven't started playing games yet," Mills said. "We have so many different guys there. We are going to try to get everybody some at-bats in the first week or so and then we will piece it together from there."
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