David Manning-USA TODAY Sports
The projected 2014 lineup, according to SB Nation's David Coleman, with 2013 stats (team leaders in bold), is as follows:
- CF Dexter Fowler (COL) .263/.369/.407 12 HR 42 RBI 19 SB 65 BB
- LF Robbie Grossman .268/.332/.370 4 HR 21 RBI 6 SB 7 CS
- C Jason Castro .276/.350/.485 18 HR 56 RBI 35 2B
- 2B Jose Altuve .283/.316/.363 5 HR 52 RBI 35 SB 32 BB
- DH Chris Carter .223/.320/.451 29 HR 82 RBI 212 SO 70 BB
- 1B Jesus Guzman (SD) .226/.297/.378 9 HR 35 RBI
- 3B Matt Dominguez .241/.286/.403 21 HR 77 RBI 25 2B
- RF L.J. Hoes (BAL/HOU) .282/.332/.365 1 HR 10 RBI
- SS Jonathan Villar .243/.321/.319 1 HR 8 RBI 18 SB
Coleman writes that manager Bo Porter has indeed decided to move Grossman up from the six-hole to the No. 2 spot. On the same note, Altuve has been moved from the two-hole to cleanup. Moving Grossman up behind Fowler is a smart switch. You always want your high on-base percentage guys at the top of the order.
Altuve hitting cleanup is deceptively logical.
When you think about it, you don't really want Carter hitting cleanup because he strikes out at an absurd rate. You also want Jason Castro—maybe the best all-around hitter in the lineup—in the three-hole, which is the usual designated place for a club's best hitter.
So why not move Carter down to the fifth spot, which will give him more RBI opportunities? Porter seems to be throwing a curveball here, but I can very easily see this working out.
I really love the addition of Fowler into this lineup. He fits the mold of a leadoff hitter and gives Houston a presence at the top of the lineup. He is especially important because of the lack of another leadoff type on the roster. Altuve is the closest thing in-house, but he is better suited to the two-hole or cleanup.
As listed here, this is Houston's best possible lineup. There is certainly room for rearrangement. Altuve could hit lower in the order if he starts to struggle. Castro could hit in the three-hole or cleanup. Carter could hit fourth through sixth, as could Dominguez.
The lineup has a nicely balanced mix of speed and power, with Fowler and Altuve at the top, and Villar at the bottom turning it back over. I'd count on Castro, Carter and Dominguez to total around 75 to 85 homers this season, and the averages should all improve at least a bit.
Remember, this is a very young squad—nobody in this lineup is older than 29, and six guys are 26 or younger. Again, "patience" is the key word for this group.
I also like the versatility Bo Porter has on his lineup card. Carter can play first or DH and has some experience in the outfield. Grossman and Hoes can probably handle any outfield spot. If Porter wants additional pop in the lineup, he could DH Castro, play Carter at first and slot in Carlos Corporan behind the plate. Marc Krauss is also an option in the outfield.
Will the Astros have trouble scoring runs again this season?
Yes. But they will be better. With another full season playing in the American League, even facing some exceptional pitching across the league, several guys in this lineup should take a step forward this year.
Houston plated 610 runs in 2013, good for second-to-last in the AL. But to put that into perspective, the Tampa Bay Rays, one of only two clubs to win 90 or more games in the last four seasons, scored just 90 more runs than Houston.
Tampa Bay was very close to an elite team in 2013.
Progress. It's all about the big picture.
The major key for this offense is to cut down on the swings and whiffs. Carter was among the league's leaders in strikeouts last season with 212 in 506 at-bats and still hit 29 bombs. If he can take that 41.8 strikeout percentage down to just 33-36 percent and raise his average between 10 to 15 points, he can really be a force in the middle of the order.
- LF/RF Marc Krauss .209/.267/.366 4 HR 13 RBI
- C Carlos Corporan .225/.287/.361 7 HR 20 RBI
- SS Marwin Gonzalez .221/.252/.319 4 HR 14 RBI
- OF Alex Presley (MIN/PIT) .276/.313/.373 3 HR 15 RBI
Houston's bench is serviceable. Krauss and Corporan bring some extra power to the table. Gonzales is capable of playing short or second, but Altuve and Villar are just kids and won't need many days off. So Gonzales could conceivably become the main pinch hitter, since he bats on both sides of the plate.
Coleman reports that Houston just picked up outfielder Alex Presley off waivers from the Minnesota Twins. Presley can handle all three outfield spots, and Coleman seems to believe he will be added to the 25-man roster because of his versatility. He is a scrappy hitter who has shown some speed on the basepaths in the past.