As much as fans might want him gone, Carlos Lee is probably here to stay in 2012.
Baseball teams that lose 100 or more games usually want to turn over the roster. The Houston Astros have already done that. Since last July, they have dealt four of their regulars and their best starting pitcher. Rumors have them dealing more veterans this winter. Additionally, sometimes the rookies you bring up work out and sometimes they don't. Astros fans remember Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Ken Camniti, and Steve Finley.
Fans don't remember Chuck Jackson, Ty Gainey, Cameron Drew, or Eric Yelding. There are just as many young players that flop as those that succeed. It will be interesting moving forward to see which ones make it and which ones don't. Since the Astros will be a team of young players, I'm going to sift through the long list of hopefuls for you.
Bud Norris came of age in 2011.
This time last year we wouldn't have been so sure, but Bud Norris has made himself into a top of the rotation starter. He won't ever be a staff ace, but he is a solid number two or three starter. The big key was cutting more than a walk per nine innings from his total (4.51 to 3.42). If he can cut about half a walk in 2012 he might take the next step. He still averages nearly a strikeout per inning. He will be a fixture in the rotation for the next few seasons.
2011 was a mixed bag for the young phenom.
Jordan Lyles struggled this year in Houston, but he is also only 20 years old. Lyles was the first in a new wave of very young Astros. His presence represents a change in philosophy. The Houston Astros used to wait forever on their prospects, but now they are challenging them. Lyles comes from the Greg Maddux tradition of pitching to spots rather than overpowering his opponent. Of course, Maddux had pinpoint control and a devastating change up. Lyles is working on the control portion and will get better as he gains more experience. As it stands, his fielding independent pitching (FIP) makes him look a lot better than his ERA. He also had a great SO/BB ratio.
Mark Melancon proved to be a capable closer in 2011
Mark Melancon personifies one of the characteristics of a bad team. Melancon himself isn't bad, but he was asked to take on a role he really shouldn't have to take on. Melancon proved to be a capable closer, but he won't be the closer when the team becomes good again. No matter, Melancon is one of those guys you want around. He can go multiple innings and can pitch on consecutive days. He has the makings of a top-flight set up guy. He will probably still be the closer in 2012.
Wilton Lopez has demonstrated impeccable control.
Wilton Lopez is the perfect middle reliever. He doesn't overwhelm anyone with his stuff, but he is averaging 1.8 walks per nine innings with Houston. If he isn't the best control pitcher among relief pitchers in baseball he is darn close. He doesn't have the stuff to be a late inning reliever, but he is perfect for the sixth or seventh inning.
Astros fans are stuck with Lee for one more season.
Ownership, the front office, and fans alike would love nothing more than to see Lee gone. The problem is another team would have to be drunk to take him. However, before the fans throw rotten tomatoes at the old guy they need to pay attention to what he has done. Lee was a substandard left fielder, but he is a solid first baseman. Also, he is inching his way towards 20 home runs and 90 RBIs. Not bad for someone that is dead weight.
The diminutive second baseman can play.
Jose Altuve was never thought of as a prospect. Quite frankly, scouts thought he was too short. He is the shortest player to play for the Astros. Eventually, they couldn't ignore him. When he began the season hitting well over .400 in Lancaster they had to promote him. Then, he continued to hit in Corpus Christi. Altuve will always hit, but he will need to take a few more pitches to be an all-star. Otherwise, he will be a fine regular second baseman for some time.
Clint Barmes is one of the top two or three defensive shortstops in baseball.
Clint Barmes is a free agent, but he wants to come back and the team wants him back. He has a +18 Fielding Bible rating. This means he is the second best defensive shortstop in the National League this season. That includes his former teammate Troy Tulowitzki (+12). Barmes also has ten home runs this season. This makes him the best combination of fielding and hitting at shortstop since the young days of Dickie Thon.
Martinez set the Astros rookie record with 29 RBIs in August.
J.D. Martinez set the Astros rookie record for RBIs in a month. He broke Chris Truby's old record with 29 RBIs. He is battling a little slump at the moment, but it is just a blip on the map for this young stud. Martinez won't be the kind of stud he appeared to be in the minors, but he will be a solid big league hitter and fielder. If you fielded a team with eight of him out there you would probably end up being a winning team.
Schafer hopes to be a poor man's Michael Bourn in Houston.
Jordan Schafer carries many of the same skills that Michael Bourn brought to Houston. He has plus speed, can steal bases, play a good centerfield, and make solid contact. Like Bourn, he doesn't have a lot of power, but he does have a little more than Bourn did. On the flip side, he doesn't have the top end speed that Bourn has. So, he won't be quite as good defensively or on the base paths, but he should do enough to hold down the fort for a few years.
The hopes of 2012 could rest on that right leg.
Jason Castro was on the path to be a solid big league catcher when an ACL tear derailed his 2011 season. Castro brings a lot of skills to the table. He is very patient at the plate and he is a good receiver behind it. His best skill is the gun he has for a right arm. All of those skills combine to make him a solid regular in the making. He doesn't have the power to be an all-star, but he possesses the rest. He will be the best catcher the Astros have had since Alan Ashby if that right knee holds up.