Houston Astros: 10 Dark Horses to Make Their Opening Day Roster

Fred KroneContributor IJanuary 25, 2012

Houston Astros: 10 Dark Horses to Make Their Opening Day Roster

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    2011 was the Houston Astros' first 100-loss season. They came in at 56-106, the worst record in baseball. They, um, restructured their payroll, trading Jeff Keppinger, Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn at the trade deadline.

    So, what's the silver lining here? The Astros should be a very young and entertaining team to watch in 2012.

    You've seen Major League, right? What exactly is the Astros team concept? As Charlie Donovan once mused "Some of these guys are furniture movers!"

    Hey, this is baseball. Perhaps, even more than in Hollywood, anything can happen.

    Here are 10 furniture-moving Astros worth watching in 2012.

Jason Castro, Catcher

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    Why he's interesting: He's often compared to A.J. Pierzynski, the Most Interesting Man in Baseball.

    He was the Astros' first-round pick in the 2008 draft and was ranked No. 53 on Baseball America's top 100 prospects list (the only Houston player).

    He missed all of 2011 with a knee injury. In 2012, the catching job is all his.

Jose Altuve, Second Base

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    Why he's exciting: He tied the club record for most consecutive games with a hit to start a career (seven).

    Altuve had a solid minor-league career and batted a respectable .279 last year in the bigs.  His five walks in 234 plate appearances are a concern.

Jimmy Paredes, Third Base

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    Why he's exciting: On Aug. 1, 2011 Paredes became the first player in franchise history to triple in his first major league plate appearance.

    Caveat: 47 strikeouts in 46 games.

J.D. Martinez, Outfield

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    Why he's exciting: Won the New York-Penn league batting title.

    The book on Martinez is that he has below-average speed, an average arm and an unorthodox swing.  Houston scouts like his place discipline. He batted .274 last year.

Jordan Schafer, Outfield

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    Why he's exciting: On Oct. 4, he was arrested on a felony marijuana charge. He also became the 99th player in baseball history to hit a home run in his first at-bat, April 5, 2009.

    Caveat: Along with the marijuana charge, Schafer has also been accused of, but never tested positive for, HGH use.

Brian Bogusevic, Outfield

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    Why he's exciting: On Aug. 16, 2011, he became the 26th player in major league history to hit an "ultimate grand slam," a pinch-hit walk-off which won the game by one run. Bogusevic plays fine defense in left field and has worked hard this winter.  He looks to grab the starting job this spring.

J.A. Happ, Starting Pitcher

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    Why he's exciting: Was traded with two other players from the Phillies for Roy Oswalt.

    J.A. Happ is probably one of the best unknown pitchers in baseball. Unfortunately, it's hard to pile up any wins pitching in Houston.  In 2009 with the Phillies, Happ was 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA and finished as a runner up for National League Rookie of the Year.  In 2010, he was traded to the Astros and went 5-4 with a 3.75 ERA. Last year, the bottom fell out, and he was 6-15 and 5.35.

David Carpenter, Bullpen

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    Why he's exciting: 29 strikeouts in 27.2 innings, with a 2.93 ERA. That was his line in his first major league season last year, pitching in 34 games. He was a pleasant addition to the bullpen.

Matt Downs, Utility

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    Why he's exciting: Great off the bench!  Hey, it takes a special player to be great off the bench. Really. Getting in the game cold and getting a clutch at-bat for the team is tough. And so is being a positive presence while on the bench.

Jason Bourgeois, Utility

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    What makes him exciting: Houston native!

    Journeyman Bourgeois has played with Houston since 2009 after being claimed off waivers.  Last year, he played in 69 games and batted .262. He has good speed and averages 39 stolen bases over a 162-game season.