2011 has been a dismal year for the Astros. The team is going through a rebuilding process, which means that it's time to look towards the future and to what the next several years hold. The Astros are looking forward to giving the minor leaguers that they've acquired through trades and drafts the past couple of years a chance. The team is definitely not going to come anywhere close to contending in 2012, but it doesn't mean that there isn't anything to look forward to. Here is a list of the top 10 players to watch for the Houston Astros in 2012.
Bud Norris has truly shown what he can do this year, striking out 161 batters with a 3.68 ERA. With Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez most likely to be dealt this offseason, Norris will become the ace of staff. It will be interesting to see him bloom into the pitcher most expect him to become, and maybe even join the elite pitchers of the game and gain the league-wide respect he deserves. The Astros need strong pitching if they wish to return to contention, and Norris could lead that pitching.
J.A. Happ has seemed to have found his way this season. After a horrendous first 22 starts this season, it seemed that the Phillies won the Roy Oswalt trade from last year. The Astros reacted by sending him down to the minors to try to help him work things out. He began pitching very well in his two starts in the minors, and since being brought up, has been even better. In his most recent start against the Pirates, J.A. pitched seven scoreless innings. The Astros hope that he will be able to perform as the starter he's expected to be and be a good middle of the rotation starter.
J.D. Martinez had been tearing the cover off the ball in Double-A Corpus Christi when he was called up to fill in Hunter Pence's roster spot after he was traded to Philadelphia. Since then, he has been doing the same in the majors, hitting .293 with five homers and 29 RBI's in 30 games. It'll be exciting to see if Martinez can carry over this success into next year and put multiply the numbers into 30 plus homers and over 100 RBI's. The Astros haven't had someone able to put up those numbers since Lance Berkman was in his prime.
J.B. Shuck was one of the Astros prospects who were tearing up the pitching in the minors and was brought up after the trade deadline to re-fill in some newly opened up roster spots. He didn't do very well in his cup of coffee, hitting .250, but it was in only 16 games, so that might not be reflective of how he'll play in the future. The reason why I have such strong hope for him is because he runs out every play to the fullest, both in the plate and in the outfield. It's because of that scrappy style of play that makes me look forward to his future as a hitter with solid average either as a starter or off the bench.
Henry Sosa was brought over in the Jeff Keppinger deal a week before the trade deadline, and since then, has been pitching pretty well. His 4.34 ERA isn't entirely reflective of how he's pitched in his five starts. Most of the runs he's giving up has been in his first three starts, and since then, has been great, getting his first two wins in his last two games. The former top Giants prospect could become the Astros No. 4 or 5 starter in their future rotation and could maybe even surprise people by pitching even better next year.
Jason Castro is expected to be the Astros future catcher for many years to come. He was supposed to start this year but had a season-ending injury in spring training. He's only projected to be an average catcher hitting-wise, but it will still be exciting to see another big piece of the future Astros team be put into place. It will be Castro's first full season in the majors, and I expect him to begin to show his potential. It's been painful to watch the starting catching job be switched around from Humberto Quintero to Carlos Corporan and J.R. Towles this year, and it will be a nice change to see the Astros settle down with Castro.
Jordan Schafer was one of the pieces brought over in the Michael Bourn trade and has taken over his position in centerfield. At the time of the trade, Schafer was on the DL, and he has come back from his injury strong. In his first 10 games with his new team, Schafer has hit .324 with a single home run and five RBI's. Everyone will have to keep a close watch on him over the next several years to see if the Bourn trade was worth it. If he's able to keep up this pace, it'll definitely be worth it.
Brett Oberholtzer was another one of the players brought over from Atlanta in the Michael Bourn trade and is expected to join the bullpen next year. The 2008 eighth round pick has a solid cutter and a good change and could be a solid lefty coming out of the pen at either a lefty-specialist job or a long or middle reliever. Hopefully, he'll be able to anchor the bullpen, along with Mark Melancon and Wilton Lopez in the next few years.
Clemens, yet another player brought over from the Braves at the trade deadline, is projected to become at best, a back of the rotation starter. But because of that low potential, even in the absence of Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez, I don't see him fitting into a crowded rotation with Norris, Happ, Sosa, Jordan Lyles and Jared Cosart. He might start out the year in the rotation until Cosart is ready, but I expect him to spend most of his time in 2012 in the bullpen. He is continuing to develop his command and has a solid mid-90's fastball. He could be very good long reliever until someone slips up or gets injured in the starting rotation.
Jarred Cosart was the big pitcher brought over in the Hunter Pence deal with Philadelphia and could very easily end 2012 in the major league rotation. He is projected to be the ace of staff in the future and could create a great one-two punch along with Bud Norris. He has electric stuff and could become an elite pitcher in only a few years. He has done very well since arriving with his new organization, posting a 2.78 ERA with 18 strikeouts in six games. His biggest problem has been staying healthy, so if he remains injury-free, Cosart could lead the Astros for years to come, and 2012 will be his first big break to show what he's got.