Houston Astros: Their 5 Most Important Players for Next Season
Good news, Astros fans, the 2012 season is almost over. If you haven't already started looking forward to next season, you can soon.
It is no secret the Astros are rebuilding and will be looking for a new manager to lead them as they head to the American League next season.
Whoever gets the nod to manage the Astros will be facing probably the toughest challenge in Major League Baseball. If he is going to be successful, he will need these five players to step up in 2013.
If there is one Houston Astro who won't want to forget the 2012 season, it is second baseman Jose Altuve. In his first full season at the major league level, he is hitting .290 with 31 doubles and 33 stolen bases and was the Astros' lone representative at the All-Star game.
Altuve sets the table at the top of the lineup and provides a spark for this team, and not just at the plate. Altuve is solid in the field and had developed a good relationship with shortstop Jed Lowrie when he was healthy.
If there was any question before Jed Lowrie's injury about his importance, there shouldn't be now. The revolving door that has been shortstop since his injury proves the Astros need Lowrie to stay healthy next year.
Lowrie, who was the team's best offensive shortstop since Miguel Tejada, hit 14 home runs in 80 games this season. At 28 years of age, the biggest question mark about him sadly is something that he has no control over.
If the Lowrie can stay healthy, this team will have a pretty good middle-infield combo for years to come.
The Astros have a number of young pitchers, but they will need a veteran to lead them. This is where Bud Norris comes in. He will need to have a bounce-back year next season.
Norris showed improvement in 2011, dropping his ERA from 4.92 in 2010 to 3.77. However, 2012 has seen his ERA balloon back up to 4.93.
The problem with the Astros trading away all the veterans the past few years is that there is little experience in this rotation. Norris is the most senior player, and he only has three years of major league experience.
The Astros really need him to step into that leadership role next season.
Starting the year in the minor leagues has helped Brett Wallace to take strides toward developing into a quality player. In fewer than 50 games this season, he has seven home runs, which doesn't seem like a lot. But since he only had five in 115 games in 2011, that is a big improvement.
Wallace will need to continue to improve in 2013. The Astros will be looking for a clubhouse leader. Wallace could be that guy.
After sitting out last season with a knee injury, Jason Castro has had a bounce-back year in 2012. He has continued to improve, mainly as a hitter, and will be key player on the 2012 team.
When he first came up in 2010, his defense behind the plate was impressive. However, the knee surgery seemed to adversely affect those skills, which haven't been on the same level in 2012. However, as he strengthens his knee, those defensive skills should return.
If he can continue his development as a hitter—Castro hit better than .300 in August—he can be an above-average player at a premium position. His batting average this season (.260) is more than 50 points higher than in 2010 (.205).