Houston Astros: Will They Be Competitive When They Make the League Switch?
Sometimes you get questions that make you chuckle. I got one the other day where I almost spit out my beverage: what holes do the Astros need to fill to be competitive in 2013? Well, where do you want me to start? It probably is easier to answer the question of how many positions the Astros feel comfortable with in 2013. I'm assuming the answer is somewhere between few to none.
So, rather than attack the answer that way, we will look at the positions one by one and look at the current answers and the club's long range answers as well. In some cases, the answers are in the organization, but they might not be ready by 2013. In other cases, they simply don't have an answer.
Current: Jason Castro
2013 and beyond: Jason Castro
This remains one of the bigger question marks on the team. Jason Castro comes in with a lot of impressive skills that the new regime will like. For one, he is a tireless worker that is constantly trying to improve in one way or another.
Secondly, he is very coachable as the folks down at Round Rock have said. For those that prefer tangible skills, he is already the most patient hitter on the roster and that will only improve as he gets more time. He is also has a cannon for an arm.
Yet, it is getting on the field that is the problem. He already missed this last campaign with an ACL tear and he broke his foot during Arizona Fall League play. He should be ready to come back in mid-March after surgery, but you have to wonder about a catcher that has had two major lower extremity injuries. Youngster Chris Wallace could waiting in the wings by 2013 if Castro has another injury-riddled season.
Current: Brett Wallace/Carlos Lee
2013 and Beyond: Jonathan Singleton
This position represents the very best and worst of the Ed Wade era. Wade called Brett Wallace a hitting machine when he engineered a trade with the Blue Jays for Anthony Gose. The trade was essentially a part of a three-way deal where he sent Roy Oswalt to the Phillies. Well, the hitting machine needs to go back to the dealer.
Wallace was cut from his Winter League team for poor performance. I've never heard of a team actually doing that and for a major league player to get cut in that fashion is embarrassing to say the least. Carlos Lee can cover the position for 2012, but 2013 is a question mark.
Jonathan Singleton represents the very best of what Ed Wade accomplished. He got him and Jarred Cosart for Hunter Pence. Singleton is going to be a stud, but he also was in Single-A ball this year. 2013 seems a bit ambitious to expect him to make a debut. You don't want to sign a free agent to a multi-year contract, but you also don't want to put the position in Wallace's hands for 2013. It will be a challenge.
Current: Jose Altuve
2013 and Beyond: Jose Altuve or Delino Deshields Jr.
This is an intriguing position for the future. Jose Altuve was never much of a prospect in terms of the kind of skills scouts love to see. All he did was produce. That got him to the big leagues at the tender age of 21. His first few months at the big leagues was mixed to say the least. Of course, most rookies can say that.
On the other side of the coin there is Delino DeShields Jr. He was the eighth pick in the draft two years ago and has every skill that scouts love to see. In his first full season of professional ball, virtually none of those skills came to fruition. Still, he is very young and many high school products struggle in their first full season. So, it's a situation that bears watching on both ends.
Current: Chris Johnson/Jimmy Paredes
2013 and Beyond: ???????
Third base is a mess. Chris Johnson turned in one of those performances in 2010 that fool an organization. Everything he has done points to the fact that he is not a big league player. He strikes out too often and hardly ever draws a walk. He has some power, but not enough to overcome that hole. To make matters worse, with Mark Reynolds moving to first base, he would be the worst defensive third baseman in baseball.
Enter Jimmy Paredes. Paredes has the same plate discipline problems, but he brings speed to the table. He also just moved to third base from second base, so there is hope he can develop into a solid defensive third baseman. Otherwise, he presents the same issues that Johnson does. His .370+ BABIP was higher than anything he produced in the minors. That means he is due for the same kind of hangover that Johnson had in 2011.
Down on the farm there is virtually nothing to write home about. Michael Kvasnicka was drafted with the sandwich pick in 2010 (via Jose Valverde). He was supposed to bring power and plate discipline to third base, but he has not performed well so far. He could still turn it around, but 2013 is way to early to expect him to make a debut.
Current: Jed Lowrie
2013 and Beyond: Jonathan Villar
Jed Lowrie was the best available shortstop in the Astros budget this offseason. He has a chance to stick long-term. He also showed his versatility in Boston when he was able to fill in at third base. If Villar can somehow stick, Lowrie could turn into the long-term solution at the hot corner.
Even though Villar played in Double-A this past season, he is likely more than a year away. He has power, speed, and a tremendous amount of range. He just hasn't put it all together. He is young enough to where you can still reasonably hope that it will all click. It's just hard to predict when it will happen. With Lowrie under club control they don't have to rush him.
Current: J.D. Martinez
2013 and Beyond: J.D. Martinez
Martinez is one of those guys that simply produces. He even produced last season despite the overall numbers. He set the franchise rookie record for RBIs in a month. September wasn't as kind to Martinez. Overall, the numbers weren't as good as his minor league numbers, but they were good enough to hope he is a long-term solution.
Current: Jordan Schafer
2013 and Beyond: George Springer
Schafer's brush with the law seems to have passed for the moment and the organization can hope his stint in rehabilitation will help him turn a corner. Schafer was a big time prospect with the Braves up until the last few seasons. Who knows, maybe this charge is a glimpse into his general malaise over the past few years.
The club tabbed George Springer with their first round pick in last year's amateur draft. 2015 seems like a more realistic timetable than 2013. He didn't play much at all this past season because of the negotiations, so he could perhaps get as high as Lancaster (high Single-A). He is the prototypical five tool player, so the organization is going to give him every opportunity to win the job down the line.
Current: Brian Bogusevic
2013 and Beyond: Domingo Santana
Brian Bogusevic was drafted in the first round to be a pitcher. The organization switched him to the outfield at the end of 2008. He has been a steady performer, but he will never be a big time hitter. For a corner outfielder, his likely role will end up being a fourth outfielder. Since the team has few alternatives, right field appears to be his for now.
Santana was the thrown in from the Hunter Pence deal and what a thrown in he was. He is slated to play in Lancaster this year where the average hitter hits .300. Look for him to put up some monster numbers as the young slugger finally grows into his power. 2014 seems like a more realistic expectation for Santana's debut.
Current: Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers, Bud Norris, Jordan Lyles, J.A. Happ
2013 and Beyond: Bud Norris, Jordan Lyles, J.A. Happ, Jared Cosart, Paul Clemens
The future could come a lot sooner this offseason if Jeff Luhnow can find acceptable packages for Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers. If the organization has any strengths down on the farm it would be the number of good young arms they have available. The best of them is Jared Cosart. The Clear Creek High School product spent time in Double-A Corpus Christi last year, so he could make it to Houston by September of 2012.
In the meantime, Paul Clemens and Brett Oberholtzer are a lot closer to arriving in Houston. So, if Myers and Rodriguez get dealt, the Astros can turn to those two and perhaps Henry Sosa. The newly acquired Kyle Weiland is also a candidate for both the rotation and bullpen. So, there are no shortage of candidates.
2012 Bullpen: Brandon Lyon, Wilton Lopez, Fernando Rodriguez, Sergio Escalona, David Carpenter, Juan Abreu, Wesley Wright
2013 and Beyond: Kyle Weiland, Wilton Lopez, Fernando Rodriguez, Juan Abreu, Jason Stoffel, Josh Zeid, Sergio Escalona
Bullpens are easily the most fluid portions of a roster. It's one thing to project an opening day bullpen. It's quite another to predict what the rotation will be a year from now. The seven pitchers you see above represent my best guess. I'm sure the Astros will break camp with at least one or two names different the names you see above.
In terms of the future, we will know a lot more when we see how the 2012 season ends. Jason Stoffel and Josh Zeid came over in trades last year and both have big arms. Weiland could make the bullpen as early as this season if that is where the club wants him to be. Either way, job number one will be finding a closer in the group.