2011 has been a year to forget for the Houston Astros. The only good thing that has come out of 2011 is a good look at some new, young players and the No. 1 draft pick in next year's draft. Next year's team is expected to be even younger than it is this year, with few veterans, returning sophomores and some new rookies. Although the team will almost definitely not be in contention next year, it still shouldn't be underestimated. It carries a lot of young, promising and enthusiastic players who are eager to win.
A few players that I don't believe will be on the major league squad to start next year are Chris Johnson, Carlos Corporan, Juan Abreu, Enerio Del Rosario, Sergio Escalona, Brandon Lyon, Aneury Rodriguez and Alberto Arias. The players that I think are either going to be traded or lost to free agency are Jason Bourgeois, Jason Michaels, Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers, thus they are excluded from the roster.
I started with the position I found easiest to project. The Astros have struggled at the catching position this year, tossing the job around to J.R. Towles, Carlos Corporan, Robinson Cancel and lastly Humberto Quintero. The team hasn't really worried about this position much because they know that the future franchise catcher, Jaso Castro, is coming next year off of an injury and should be ready to play full-force in 2012. His back up will be Quintero who is probably the best defensive catcher in the majors.
Catcher won't be a major strength but it won't be a huge weakness either, like it was in 2011. Castro will have some growing pains, but will become the solid catcher he's expected to be by the end of the year.
2012 Starting Catcher- Jason Castro
First base will be one of the more confusing positions in 2012. This year's starting first baseman, Brett Wallace, was just recently sent down to the minors to help fix the damage Brad Mills did to him and give him confidence back so he could perform on the major league level. However, if he isn't able to perform again in the majors, then Carlos Lee will have to come in from the outfield and cover his spot. I have full trust that Wallace will be able to stick next year in the majors, and the rough patches he'll have will be short-lived. Matt Downs can fill in here if something happens to both Wallace and Lee.
This will be an offensively weak position this year as Wallace continues to develop and Lee deteriorates physically. Wallace can be relied on to hit around .270, so it won't be a big hole at the plate, and he should be able to hold things down well in the field.
2012 Starting First Baseman- Brett Wallace
Moving around the infield, we come to second base, a position that hasn't had a consistent starter since Craig Biggio back in 2007. However, the recent call-up of Jose Altuve should reap some benefits here. He hits for a great average and is a good fielder. Both pinch-hitters, Matt Downs and Angel Sanchez, can also play here, giving excellent depth to this position. If Altuve can carry his success from this season to future years, he'll be a star in no time.
Altuve will be able to hold down second base in his first full year and very easily could hit over .300 and steal more than 20 bases. Not to mention his sturdy fielding.
2012 Starting Second Baseman-Jose Altuve
We then come to shortstop, a position that has been bad for the Astros throughout franchise history. I think that the Astros will re-sign Clint Barmes for another year to fill in until Jonathan Villar is better prepared for the major leauges. Barmes is a solid hitter with an even better glove. He also brings a much needed veteran presence to a very young ballclub. They also have light-hitting and slick-fielding Angel Sanchez backing him up and Matt Downs who can play a little below average defense at short.
The Astros will be locked up here for another year but this could definitely use some improvement. Barmes should just be keeping the position warm until Jonathan Villar develops more and is ready to play in the big leauges. It'll be nice to have Barmes's expert glove and veteran leadership until Villar arrives.
2012 Starting Shortstop-Clint Barmes
Third base has also been a pretty bad position the past couple of years since Morgan Ensberg left. However, the Astros think they might've found a fixture there in Jimmy Paredes. He's a solid, average hitter who has less than average power and pretty good speed. He's switching over from second base and has fit in nicely. Compared to their past couple of third basemen, Paredes is a huge upgrade, beating out washed-up Chris Johnson, Pedro Feliz and Geoff Blum by a long shot. Once again, Matt Downs and Angel Sanchez are backing him up on this one as they do in all infield positions. I believe that Downs is a slighty better fielder at third than Sanchez, so he'll get more time here.
Third base should be locked up for several years with an improving fielder with an even better bat. Big upside here and a lot to look forward to.
2012 Starting Third Baseman-Jimmy Paredes
2012 is a great year because it marks the last year that the Astros will be saddled with Carlos Lee's huge contract, lack of hustle and diminishing power. Easily at the tail end of his great career, Lee has not aged well. However, he's being paid way too much to bench, so he'll get possibly the last starting job of his career here in left field, unless of course, Wallace fails at first. Hot hitting and slick fielding Brian Bogusevic will back him up along with hard-nosed J.B. Shuck.
Left field will only be good on the days Carlos Lee isn't playing in it. Giving the youngsters Shuck and Bogusevic a chance to start will be good for them. 2013 will be better after Lee's contract runs out and Bogusevic and Shuck get more time to show what they can do.
2012 Starting Left Fielder-Carlos Lee
It will be sad not to see Michael Bourn roaming Tal's Hill anymore, but it's time to move on and see what Jordan Schafer has to offer. Another light-hitting speedster, just like Bourn, Schafer will be exciting to watch and see if he can fill Bourn's big shoes. So far, he's been able to hit for great average and steal several bases. J.B. Shuck will be backing him up here with a great glove and a nice bat.
Center field will be a big hit or miss this year, either Schafer will step up or whither away. It's time to see if the Bourn trade was truly worth it. If not, J.B. Shuck will be waiting to show what he can do if Schafer can't perform as hoped.
2012 Starting Center Fielder-Jordan Schafer
Second-String- J.B. Shuck
It was a sad day in Houston when fan-favorite Hunter Pence left for Philadelphia. However, the player who is replacing him, J.D. Martinez, is making it easier to forget about Pence. He's shown in his short stint that he can hit for both good average and great power along with being able to come through with guys on base. I expect great things from him in the future as he's another player, like Pence, who plays his heart out every day on every play. Brian Bogusevic will back him up here until Carlos Lee leaves left field. Then Martinez will move over to left, leaving right open for Bogusevic.
Right Field will be exciting to watch as Martinez gets his full first season. He will hopefully be able to generate enough power to replace Hunter Pence. The Astros need a great player to rally around and J.D. Martinez might be able to be that player with his good average and even better power. Hunter Pence will not be missed.
2012 Starting Right Fielder-J.D. Martinez
The bullpen has been pretty shaky this season, but it improved greatly when Brandon Lyon left with an injury. I don't believe he'll be in the 'pen next year because he'll take away precious innings from the younger guys. Mark Melancon and Wilton Lopez have proven to be a solid closer set-up combo, and Wesley Wright has proven that he's ready to stay in the big leagues. Paul Clemens and Brett Oberholtzer will make their appearances here, probably as long relievers, as Fernando Rodriguez and Dave Carpenter return. I also expect Juan Abreu to hold Paul Clemen's spot in the bullpen while he's in the starting rotation until he returns later in the season when the Astros bring up starter Jarred Cosart.
The bullpen will be a lot better in 2012 than it was in 2011. Rodriguez, Carpenter, Lopez, Wright and Melancon have all gained valuable experience, so they'll improve for next year and Clemens and Oberholtzer's debuts will be exciting to watch. It will be a solid core of young relievers for the next few years.
2012 Starting Closer- Mark Melancon
Set-Up Man-Wilton Lopez
The Astros haven't had a good starting rotation since the glory days of Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens. Wandy Rodriguez is the last player from those days and will most likely leave due to a trade, as will Brett Myers. Bud Norris will then become the ace of the staff, something he will shine in. J.A. Happ will have his breakout year having solved his problems in his recent minor league stint. Henry Sosa and Jordan Lyles will round out the rotation with some solid and promising pitching. Paul Clemens will also probably start the season in the rotation until top prospect Jarred Cosart is ready to go, then Clemens will be bumped down to the bullpen. However, if Sosa stumbles, then Clemens could easily take his slot when Cosart arrives and Sosa could be sent to the bullpen.
The starting rotation will be a little shaky at first, but will eventually gain confidence, and in a couple years will be ready to lead the team into contention. Cosart's and Clemens' debuts will be well anticipated and key for the future of the franchise.
2012 Opening Day Starter- Bud Norris
Second Starter- J.A. Happ
Third Starter-Jordan Lyles
Fourth Starter-Henry Sosa
Fifth Starter in the Beginning of the Season-Paul Clemens
Fifth Starter Second-Half-Jarred Cosart
Overall the Astros could be very good next year, but run a huge risk having such a young team. A lot of these players are bound to have growing pains and might have sophomore slumps, which might leave the team crippled. They have the potential to be at least .500, but it will only take one or two players not playing to the best of their abilities to cause the team to falter and repeat the terrible performance of 2011. Hopefully the Astros will stay strong and show the league that they're back and ready to fight.