In 2013, the Houston Astros will leave the National League Central division after two years of negotiations. They will switch instead to the American League West, with this switch balancing the number of teams in each league.
This will be the first-ever game with the Houston Astros franchise now being a member of the American League. No team has switched leagues since 1997, when the Milwaukee Brewers switched from the American to National League.
Coming off a 107-loss season with the worst run differential in the league, Houston will look to flip the switch this season. Luckily for Houston, the Astros have enough young pieces to compete over the next few seasons.
That being said, here are five bold predictions for the Houston Astros in 2013.
Last season the Astros posted a 4.56 ERA, the second-worst average in the National League. The lack of health and experience possessed by their starters handicapped their rotation.
After trading Wandy Rodriguez and J.A. Happ, the Astros were forced to start four pitchers with no more than two years experience in the majors. This fueled a league-worst run differential.
Lucas Harrell (11-11, 3.76 ERA, 193.2 IP), Bud Norris (7-13, 4.65 ERA, 168.1 IP) and Jordan Lyles (5-12, 5.09 ERA, 141.1 IP) are the key returning starters for the Houston Astros. New additions Philip Humber (5-5, 6.44 ERA, 102 IP in 2012), John Ely (4-13, 5.70 ERA, 115.1 IP, career stats) and Alex White (2-9, 5.51 ERA, 98 IP in 2012) give the Astros capable starters to complete the rotation.
This season, the older and more mature Astros rotation will deliver 45-plus victories. Although this seems a daunting task, Humber and Norris are both capable of delivering double-digit victory seasons. Plus, Lucas Harrell is quite the talent, posting a 3.76 ERA last season at the age of 27.
The switch to the American League may present stronger lineups, but this young ball club should respond—at least with the starting rotation.
A lifetime .234 hitter, Carlos Pena is best known for his power as a first basemen and designated hitter.
Pena uses gap-to-gap power and a keen eye to post strong power numbers and surprisingly high on-base percentages. Last season, Pena hit .197 with 19 home runs in 160 games for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Pena should have a tremendous 2013 for Houston, hitting over .234 for the first time since 2008 and driving 20-plus home runs for a sixth time in seven years.
According to baseball-reference.com Pena has hit .285 against Anaheim, .223 against Texas, and .224 against Oakland in his career. These locations will be three of the main locations Houston will travel to this season.
Expect a slight improvement for Pena playing in the friendly confines of Minute Maid Park. Pena also remains in the American League, where he has proven to be very comfortable with opposing pitching staffs.
With five-tool skills, the Houston Astros starting center fielder will have a breakout season for the Houston Astros.
After hitting 18 home runs last season, Maxwell is primed to grow as a power hitter in the middle of the order during his fifth year in the majors.
In the pitcher-friendly ball parks of Oakland, Seattle and Anaheim, Maxwell will have plenty of opportunities to make Gold Glove-caliber catches on a nightly basis.
In 124 games during the 2012 campaign, Maxwell hit .229 in his first full season with extended playing time. The 6'5" center fielder has all the tools to hit 25-plus home runs while also driving in 100 runs.
Jonathan Singleton is the top-rated prospect in the Houston Astros system, and will see major playing time in the second-half of the season.
After spending the entire 2012 season at Double-A Corpus Christi, Singleton and posted an .893 OPS with 52 extra-base hits (21 home runs) and 131/88 K/BB in 131 games.
At 6’2” and 235 pounds, Singleton has the size and smooth lefty swing to hit for power in the major leagues. He also possesses a keen eye, and considering he's only 21 years of age, he would seem to have years to develop patience and even more power at the dish.
With the 2013 season projected as a major rebuilding year for the Astros, the strongest prospect in the Astros deep farm system will start at first base or designated hitter this season.
Due to the lack of familiarity with the AL West and the lack of power in the lineup, the Houston Astros will again lose more than 100 games.
With a relatively young roster, the Astros will be more competitive in 2013. But they will struggle to wins games down the stretch.
Led by All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve, the Astros will finish their first season in the AL West in last place.
Expect Houston to be a work-in-progress in the run-scoring department. Manager Bo Porter will work wonders with the talent-deprived Astros lineup, but is unlikely to produce a hitter with 30 or more home runs.
The Houston Astros will be better, and much more competitive. But there's still a long way to go.