If you looked at this picture, it may look like the Astros are having a great spring. They are in sunny Florida, with palm trees everywhere. However, it has not been a picture perfect vacation for these Astros, as they have struggled since the first game.
They have the worst record in spring training right now at 3-10, and the team has looked lost a majority of the time. With that said, there have been some good signs that have come from training camp, and here are four of them—along with four bad surprises—that have come out of Astros camp this season.
One of the players who entered camp fighting for a spot on the Astros roster was infielder Matt Downs. He has really seized the opportunity and is playing pretty good baseball so far. In 18 at-bats he is hitting .278 with one double, one triple, two home runs and four RBI. He is also second on the team in total bases at 14.
Downs was a waiver wire pickup last season and struggled in 2010, but has been playing pretty well this spring. He will most likely make the team as he is one of a few Astros actually hitting, and his versatility in the field to play most of the infield positions will be valuable coming off the bench.
The future was bright for the Astros at the catcher spot, and Jason Castro was giving fans some hope. Then a torn ACL opened the door for J.R. Towles to enter the season as the starting catcher for the third year in a row. Towles has not had a batting average above .200 in the three years he has been in the majors.
Now this spring, Towles has been playing much better as he is batting .273 with a home run and two RBI. Hopefully, he realizes this will probably be his last chance to show he can be a major league catcher and will seize the opportunity, like Downs.
Carlos Lee said he was determined to have a bounce back year and prove that he still has something left in the tank. If this spring is any indication, he may just be right. So far this year he is hitting .313 with a home run and four RBI in six games.
Lee will need to have a bounce back year and provide some power to a weak lineup. He has an unmovable contract and a no-trade clause, so he is an Astro for the long haul. If Carlos Lee is able to do what he believes he can, the Astros could have a decent batting lineup.
The two big free agent acquisitions this offseason were supposed to shore up the middle of the Astros' infield. The Astros traded for shortstop Clint Barmes and signed second baseman Bill Hall. They were brought in this offseason to provide some veteran leadership and power in the middle of the lineup.
Now they may be providing veteran leadership in the locker room, but they have not been producing at the plate. Clint Barmes is hitting an awful .167 and Bill Hall is not much better at .176. Neither of them have hit a home run, and they have only one RBI apiece. Hopefully, they will be able to snap out of it once the season starts, or Brad Mills will have to go in another direction midseason.
Jordan Lyles and Nelson Figueroa are fighting for the final spot in the starting rotation this year. It looks like neither pitcher will be going down without a fight. Jordan Lyles has only given up two earned runs in eight innings of work for an ERA of 2.25. He also has two strikeouts and only two walks.
The 20-year-old has shown that he is ready for the majors, but the Astros may send him back to the minors and get him a little bit more work because Figueroa has pitched just as well as Lyles. In five innings of work, Figueroa has an ERA of 1.80 and has one strikeout. Figueroa pitched very well down the stretch for the Astros last year, and they may reward him with a spot in the rotation to start 2011.
Yes, it is only spring training, but there is a saying that goes something like this: "You Play Like You Practice." If this saying has any truth, it may be a long season for the Houston Astros and their fans. The team is off to an awful 3-10 start, which is the worst in the majors right now.
Now, they have blown a couple of leads—and this could be caused by the team just having a lack of depth in the minor league system—but they have looked overmatched at times when they have their starters in there. I am sure this is not how Brad Mills wanted to start his second year as manager, and hopefully they can right this ship in time for the regular season.
Chris Johnson came up to the majors last season and tore it up. It looks like he hasn't missed a step to start spring training and should be in line for another good year in 2011. Currently he is one of the better-hitting Astros, hitting .300 with one home run and four RBI in seven games.
Some were concerned that he may enter a sophomore slump, but it looks like he is ready and prepared for 2011. The third baseman should be a big part of the Astros this season.
The Astros have been outscored 82-47 in their first 13 games, and it hasn't been pretty. Zachary Levine of the Houston Chronicle tries to make it look not as bad as it is in this article. However, I think it is like putting lipstick on a pig, and it just isn't pretty.
Some people, myself included, thought that with some major league experience, these young Astros could improve the offense because they were developing their skills. Now Levine does bring up the point that the Astros have only been outscored 18-14 in the first two innings when the majority of the starters play, which means we are keeping the games close. But the team as a whole will need to improve if the Astros hope to improve in 2011.