Even though it has been less than a week that the full squad has been at spring training, it is never too early to start looking at what the Houston Astros may look like on Opening Day.
Entering 2011, the Astros are a young team, as they are in the middle of a rebuilding process, but the lineup is pretty much set for this season.
Looking at the roster, there are really only two spots that are still up for grabs, and those are the last spot in the rotation and the backup outfield spot. With that said, here is what I see being the Opening Day roster for the Houston Astros.
Jason Castro was selected 10th overall by the Houston Astros in the 2009 draft and became the full-time starter about halfway through last season. He did struggle at the plate, hitting only .205 with two home runs and eight RBI in 67 games.
However, one of the reasons he will be the starting catcher is because he is already one of the better defensive catchers in the game. He had a fielding percentage of .996 and caught 37 percent of opposing players who were attempting to steal last year.
Brett Wallace was drafted in 2008 by the St. Louis Cardinals and has been involved in a trade every year since. He was traded to the Oakland A's in the Matt Holliday trade, then went to Toronto and was finally traded to the Houston Astros this past season as a spin-off trade of the Roy Oswalt trade.
He finally got regular playing time at the major league level last year with the Astros, but like Castro he struggled at the plate. He only hit .222 with two home runs and 13 RBI in 51 games but will have another chance in 2011, as the Astros want to see if he can become the player many people within the organization envision.
The biggest free agent signing this year for Houston was infielder Bill Hall. The 31-year-old veteran spent last season with Boston and will step in as the starting second baseman for the Astros this year. Last year, Hall did not play great for Boston, only hitting .247 with 18 home runs and 46 RBI.
With Jeff Keppinger still recovering from a foot injury, there isn't much competition for this spot, but hopefully Hall can get off to a fast start and provide some power from the second base position. He did see his best years in the NL Central when he played for the Brewers, so hopefully he can have a bounce-back year in 2011.
The other key offseason move the Astros made was to trade for shortstop Clint Barmes. He will take over the position that didn't have much stability last year, as players like Tommy Manzella and Angel Sanchez split time there.
The Astros are hoping they traded for the player that hit 23 home runs in 2009 and not the player in 2010 who was only able to hit eight home runs.
Luckily for Barmes, he is going to another hitter-friendly ballpark in Minute Maid Park and hopefully can have a bounce-back year. At 31 years of age he should also be able to provide some veteran leadership for this young team.
Chris Johnson was called up halfway through last season after Pedro Feliz was traded away and played great down the stretch. This gave many people in the organization and fans some hope and excitement for the future.
He hit .308 in 94 games last year and hopefully can build on that for this season. If the Astros want to have any success in 2011, Johnson will need to be just as productive and help Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee in the middle of that batting lineup.
If the Astros start off 2011 slow, Carlos Lee may be one of the first players they try to trade, but for now he is the starting left fielder. He is coming off a down year where he had his lowest offensive output, hitting only 24 home runs.
However, Lee sounds ready to put that behind him and come back strong in 2011. Hopefully he can back up what he is saying now during the season because the Astros have a huge need for a power bat in the middle of that lineup.
Michael Bourn is quickly becoming one of the better center fielders in the majors today. Last year he won a Gold Glove for the second year in a row and was nominated to his first All-Star Game even though he statistically had a down year at the plate.
Bourn will once again be the leadoff hitter, as he has unbelievable speed, but he will need to improve his hitting so he can get on base to use that speed, as his average dropped to .265 last year. However, he still had over 50 steals and should once again be a terror on the basepaths for opposing teams in 2011.
Now that Lance Berkman is gone, it is time for Hunter Pence to step up and take the leadership role in the clubhouse. He has been consistent over the past few years, hitting 25 home runs each of the past three seasons.
It will be interesting to see how Pence reacts to becoming more of a focal point for opposing teams in 2011 and if he can handle being a leader for this young team. I believe 2011 will be a big year for him, as he is just entering his prime, and I don't think he has reached his full potential.
Like the starting lineup, the bench is pretty much set with backup catcher Humberto Quintero, who is kept more as a defensive presence and to give Castro days off. I could see them carrying two players to back up the infield in Angel Sanchez, who saw time as the starting shortstop last year, and Matt Downs.
Downs was claimed off waivers last year from the San Francisco Giants and reported early to spring training this year. With Tommy Manzella and Jeff Keppinger battling injuries, the spot is Downs' for the taking.
I also see the Astros carrying two outfielders on the bench. Jason Michaels most likely has one of those two spots secured, and the other spot will be a battle between Jason Bourgeois and Brian Bogusevic. Even though Bogusevic bats left, I see Bourgeois winning that final spot on the bench.
This will be one of the strengths for the Astros in 2011 as long as they can find a pitcher who can secure that last spot in the rotation. Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, J.A. Happ and Bud Norris form a pretty good core and should all have good years, especially if the team can improve its offense.
The last spot will be a spring training battle between free agent signing Ryan Rowland-Smith, Nelson Figueroa and Rule 5 draft pick Aneury Rodriguez. I think Figueroa will end up winning the last spot, as he pitched well for the Astros at the end of the season, having a 3.23 ERA in 10 starts.
Figueroa is 36, though, and is not the long-term answer for the Astros. I could see prospect Jordan Lyles taking that spot in the rotation sometime after the All-Star break.
Like the starting rotation, I think the bullpen will be another strength for the Astros this year. I see the bullpen consisting of Fernando Abad, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Jeff Fulchino, Aneury Rodriguez and setup men Wilton Lopez and Mark Melancon, who came over from the Yankees in the Lance Berkman trade.
Matt Lindstrom was traded to the Rockies this past season, so the closer duties have now become Brandon Lyon's. He had 20 saves last year with a 3.12 ERA.
I believe Lyon will do a good job as the full-time closer for the Astros. However, if he does struggle, they have some potential closers waiting in the bullpen, like setup man Melancon.