Positives and Negatives to Draw from Houston Astros Opening Week

Dan PopoloskiContributor IIIApril 15, 2012

Positives and Negatives to Draw from Houston Astros Opening Week

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    The wonderful sport of baseball has started again and with it the beginning of the Jim Crane era for the Houston Astros. It's supposed to be a time of promise and hope for teams and fans across the league, but for the Astros, nothing is hoped for except a season with fewer than 100 losses.

    The team is severely lacking premier major league talent as they have gone through a total rebuilding phase under their new owner, re-stocking the minor leagues and in turn depleting the major league team.

    However, the youth of the team is something to look forward to, because the future of the team is here now. There is some talent on the squad and they have shown some promise this first week.

    Like expected though, the team has also had plenty of negatives across the board showing that changes will need to be made to have a contender.

    Sure, it is only the first week, and play from this time doesn't normally project how the season will pan out, but many positives and negatives can be taken from these games and can be monitored for the rest of the season.

Negative: Brian Bogusevic

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    Brian Bogusevic has finally gotten his chance as a starting outfielder with the vacancy of Carlos Lee, Hunter Pence, and Michael Bourn. A former pitcher converted to an outfielder, Bogusevic was hoping to cement himself in the pastures of Minute Maid Park for years to come. 

    However, Brian has played terribly since hitting a home run on Opening Day, and has melted apart in clutch situations. He was key in getting the go-ahead run against Miami on Saturday, but was helped by Logan Morrison's error.

    Bogusevic will be taken out eventually and be replaced by Travis Buck or J.B. Shuck. He needs to step up now; he's too old to continue to develop in the minors, so he's on his last string. 

Positive: Jose Altuve

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    Jose Altuve is a big part of the recent youth movement, as management hopes to have him fight with Delino DeShields Jr. and Jimmy Paredes for the second-base job for the future of the franchise.

    Altuve has had a very good start so far. Although he hasn't been hitting at his normal incredible pace, he's learned to be much more patient at the plate, which was something he struggled with in his major league stint last year, and something that he can optimize with his small 5'5" stature.

    This first week he's been taking pitches at the plate like he's been working on all spring, and has played great in the field, pulling out some diving plays and impressive flips for double plays. He's going to be great in the future and he's going to have a great season this year. He'll definitely be one of the bright spots for this team in 2012.

Negative: Marwin Gonzalez

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    Marwin Gonzalez was a Rule 5 draft pick selected from the Chicago Cubs to fight for the backup shortstop job behind Jed Lowrie. After Lowrie was injured to start the year, rookie Gonzalez was thrust into action and started Opening Day after beating out Brian Bixler for the job. He didn't have a very good spring at the plate but impressed management with his youth and great fielding.

    I'm not sure if it was the Opening Week or rookie nerves, but Marwin Gonzalez had played terribly this week, not only taking poor at-bats and not getting on base too much, but not even fielding all that well. He made some nice plays, but didn't have the same hustle and savvy moves that earned him the job. He hasn't hit that well on any level in the minors, but it seems like manager Brad Mills and company trust him as a backup shortstop.

    I'm not a big fan of Angel Sanchez, but I would much rather him be playing and send Gonzalez back to the Cubs than watch a terrible all-around player drag down an already bad team that seems to have some potential to win. Having Lowrie back will definitely be a good thing. 

Positive: Carlos Lee

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    I'm very happy from what I saw from Carlos Lee this first week. A player whose been a big albatross the past few years, Lee has stepped up early as a leader both at the plate and in the infield at first base. He hit a home run opening day and looks good in all of his at-bats. He also moved more in the field this week at first base than he had all last year in left field.

    A good season could come out of Lee due to a contract year or just because he's inspired by the younger players. Either way I'll take what we can get from our overpaid big man batting clean-up. However, he needs to relearn how to hit in the clutch. He really hurt the team when they played Miami, and he got out with the bases loaded in the ninth. 

Negative: Chris Johnson

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    Chris Johnson is on his last legs with the Astros and if he doesn't perform this year, Jimmy Paredes and Brett Wallace will eagerly take his spot. Even with this pressure, he doesn't seem to have improved much. He's had some solid hits, but not very consistently so far, especially in clutch situations, plus he hasn't been that great with the glove either.

    I definitely want the Astros to keep giving Johnson chances for at least this year, especially since they're not going to contend, but his lack of hustle could affect some of the other impressionable players. If continues to play like he has, he needs to go and the promising Paredes and or Wallace will have their turns at the spot.

Positive: Starting Pitching, and Part of Relief

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    Wandy Rodriguez was sharp in his two outings, Lucas Harrell was solid in his first start and Bud Norris was as good as ever. The top dogs of the bullpen, Fernando Rodriguez, David Carpenter, Wilton Lopez, Rhiner Cruz, and Brett Myers, pitched well, but other than that, the pitching staff is weak, even with that extra 13th pitcher on the roster.

    Some of the Astros pitchers are solid players who can hold a team together, but their supporting cast in the bottom half of the rotation and a large group of their bullpen won't be able to follow up good outings from their counterparts. The Astros have some good players, but need to add depth to their pitching staff if they ever wish to win this season. 

Negative: Starting and Relief Pitching (Again)

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    Sure I listed this as a positive but like I said in the previous slide, the rest of the staff will be big detractor from any potential success for the team from this year and on. Most of the players are ex-waiver claims that other teams didn't find useful or players management has gotten for trades to fuel the recent youth movement. Kyle Weiland was poor in his first start in Houston, J.A. Happ hasn't looked sharp either and relievers such as Brandon Lyon, Fernando Abad, and Wesley Wright have had mixed results. 

    Whether most of these players pan out or not is still in question, but they won't be able to help out the team unless they develop the pitches to help their strikeout numbers to not rely on the incredibly weak defense the Astros put on the field behind them. This young pitching team is not helping the Astros out early on in the rebuilding process.

Positive: Plate Discipline

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    A common problem with young players is getting overanxious at the plate and not taking the pitches that they need to to drag out at-bats and tire out the opposing pitchers. This was a big focus for the coaches to work with their plethora of young players, hoping that this common trend wouldn't affect this team.

    They did a great job. Jose Altuve and J.D. Martinez have represented the greatest development, along with almost the entire rest of the team, save Chris Johnson, Marwin Gonzalez and the pitchers. Taking pitches will be important for winning.

Negative: Clutch Hitting

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    The Astros have been absolutely terrible so far with clutch hitting. They can get on base perfectly fine, but when it comes to crunch time, none of the players can hit, except for maybe J.D. Martinez. The Astros have gone 0-7 in bases-loaded situations this season which has caused them to lose more games than they needed to.

    They can get on base and steal perfectly fine, but if they want to win, they need to learn how to hit when it really matters. Especially clean-up hitter Carlos Lee needs to be able to hit in more clutch situations to help the situation. Chris Johnson and Brian Bogusevic have also consistently blown opportunities that have hurt the team. 

Positive: Power Hitting

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    The Astros are expected to be a light hitting team but so far have been able to flash respectable power. Led by J.D. Martinez with three home runs, Bogusevic, Lee, Jordan Schafer, and Justin Maxwell have followed suit with their own. As a team, the Astros have ten doubles and two triples, with a team slugging percentage of .402. Not great, but better than expected. The long ball will help the Astros continue to stay close in games, and also make up ground if they're behind. This is definitely a plus for this fragile team. 

Negative: Fielding

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    This is almost definitely the worst part of the team. The pitching and hitting wasn't supposed to be very good, but fielding was supposed to be a strength this year with solid arms with good range in the outfield in Jordan Schafer, J.D. Martinez, and Brian Bogusevic. A savvy young catcher in Jason Castro, a surprisingly staunch defender in Carlos Lee were supposed to go along with solid infielders Jed Lowrie, Jose Altuve, Chris Johnson and Marwin Gonzalez. However, in the Opening Week, the main handicap that has been apparent that will stop the Astros from winning as much as they can this season.

    I think Castro's errors were based off of nerves but he's made good throws on steal attempts, and the outfield was able to make great plays and throws from the pastures. However, defensive specialist Marwin Gonzalez made some poor plays and didn't seem to provide too much confidence, which could possibly be rookie nerves, but that is the only thing he's good at so he needs to step up. Chris Johnson had many poor throws saved by the very good defender at first, Carlos Lee, though even Lee has dropped some plays.

    If the Astros are going to do anything this season, they need to learn how to field the ball cleanly and not rush throws. Whether it's by calming nerves, or taking extra time in practice to work on basic fielding, this problem needs to be addressed because this is their biggest hole this season.

Positive: J.D. Martinez

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    J.D. Martinez has been amazing so far this year, being the main power source and clutch hitter, while also proudly displaying his powerful arm from the outfield. After a week, Martinez has three home runs, nine RBI, and a nice .397 batting average. 

    Let's hope he continues to be the leader everyone hopes he will become, and helps the Astros walk into the World Series in the near future. Definitely the biggest positive on this team that can make even the best teams sweat a little bit come crunch time. 

Conclusion

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    The Astros haven't looked terrible to start off this season, but have also gotten lucky which is the reason for their good early record. It's only the beginning of the year and the team could get a lot better or turn a lot worse. Jose Altuve, J.D. Martinez, Jordan Schafer and Carlos Lee have been good on the offensive side of the ball, and Chris Johnson, Marwin Gonzalez, Jason Castro, and Brian Bogusevic definitely need to step up, or else Jimmy Paredes, Travis Buck, Brett Wallace, J.B. Shuck and Chris Snyder will get chances to start. 

    The pitching staff has been solid, with Brett Myers, David Carpenter, Fernando Rodriguez, Rhiner Cruz, and Wilton Lopez great in the bullpen and solid starters in Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell. There's a lot to be excited about this year, and they could become a respectable team if they only wiped away the sloppy mistakes their constantly making, the rebuilding process could be over faster than most fans could think.