The Astros are moving to the AL after winning a combined 111 games over the last two seasons in the NL Central. The timing couldn’t be worse as the division’s competition is stiffer than ever and the Astros look as bad as ever. Opting for a typical Astros approach to the offseason, they’ve spent their winter signing has-beens like Carlos Pena, Erik Bedard and Rick Ankiel. It’s hard to imagine those guys, combined with the wealth of failed prospects the Astros already had, will help them take on the likes of the Angels and the Rangers—but perhaps it’s about time the Mariners didn’t finish dead last.
Let’s take a look at the newest addition to the American League, the Jose Altuve-led Astros.
2012 Team Rankings:
Runs: 30th Overall
Batting Average: 29th Overall
ERA: 25th Overall
WHIP: 29th Overall
After missing all of 2011 with an ACL tear, Castro batted .257 with six HR, 29 RBI, 29 R, and 15 2B in 295 at-bats last season. If healthy, the former top prospect does have potential to be a .290+ hitter—but we’ve seen plenty of top catching prospects fail to reach their potential.
Corporan only got 85 at-bats last season and batted .269. He’s a typical backup catcher who won’t make much of an impact.
First Base: Brett Wallace, Carlos Pena, Chris Carter – Grade: C+
Any of the three will play designated hitter with the Astros moving to the American League, but Pena is penciled in as the DH for now. Pena had a typical year in 2012 for the Rays as he batted .197 with 19 HR, 61 RBI, and 72 R. His strikeouts are ridiculously high (30.3 strikeout percentage last season) but he mitigates some of the damage with around 90 walks a year.
Wallace is a former top prospect who hasn’t quite translated his potential into the big leagues in his first 709 at-bats. Last season he batted .253 with nine home runs in 229 at-bats. His potential is as a .300 hitter with solid pop (Bill James projects 16 home runs) but his strikeouts (28.7 strikeout percentage last season) and lack of progression are a concern.
The Astros landed Carter from the A’s in return for Jed Lowrie and Fernando Rodriguez. He is a former top prospect but is taking a long time to develop. His power has to give you hope though—he hit 16 home runs in just 218 at-bats last season and hit 182 homers over seven and a half seasons in the minors. His .239 batting average and 83 strikeouts has to alarm you, however—there’s a good chance he’s another Carlos Pena. He doesn’t have an immediately obvious spot but played first and DH for the As and can play outfield as well.
Altuve had a very nice season in his first full year in the bigs as he batted .290 with 80 R, 34 2B, and 33 SB. He is a very good looking middle-infielder and at just 22 he is only getting better.
Paredes is a very good looking young infielder with good speed and some pop but he hasn’t shown it in his limited time at the big league level. In 242 at-bats over the last two seasons he is batting .256 with two HR, 21 RBI, 23 R, and seven SB.
Shortstop: Tyler Greene, Marwin Gonzalez – Grade: D-
With Jed Lowrie gone to Oakland, the Astros’ shortstop position is wide open. Greene split time between the Cards and Astros last year and batted a combined .230 with 11 HR, 30 RBI, and 12 SB in 305 at-bats. On one hand, he is a former top prospect and though he’s 29 he had never played more than 58 games until 2012 so he could still develop. On the other hand, he is a career .224 hitter with a ton of strikeouts—26.4 career strikeout percentage—so I wouldn’t expect much more than his 2012 production.
Gonzalez got his first taste of the majors last season and batted .234 with 13 doubles and not much else. He isn’t much of a hitter but has a solid glove and speed. At 23 and having shown nothing thus far, he can’t be expected to take on Lowrie’s starting gig.
It’s hard to tell what the Astros plan to do with this position. Their top shortstop prospects are 18-year-old Carlos Correa and 21-year-old Nolan Fontana both of whom were just drafted last season (Correa was the first-overall pick). Between the two of them, they’ve played 99 minor league games. It’s hard to see them going that route.
With a payroll now down to $25 million, it’s difficult to see them investing in anyone from the outside that’s worth more than a midsized sedan. Tyler Greene it is.
Third Base: Matt Dominguez, Jimmy Paredes – Grade: C+
Dominguez is a former top prospect who will get to play every day with Chris Johnson gone. In just 109 at-bats in 2012 he batted .284 with five HR and 16 RBI. His potential points to a .260+ hitter—but most likely will have a high strikeout rate and a low OBP.
J.D. Martinez looked promising in his first extended big league stay last season, batting just .241 but putting up 11 HR, 55 RBI and 14 2B in 395 at-bats. He has the potential to be a .300+ hitter and the ability to hit the ball to the gap but really has no speed to speak of.
Fernando Martinez failed to ever hit his top prospect potential with the Mets—who likely rushed him up at 20. At 23, Martinez lasted just 118 at-bats last year and batted .237 with six HR and 14 RBI. His potential says he could be a .280 hitter with some power but he hasn’t developed the speed many had hoped for. He remains a mediocre outfielder that is leaning toward the bust side of the spectrum.
In 315 at-bats last season, Maxwell batted just .229 but put up 18 HR, 53 RBI, 46 R, and had nine SB. He strikes out a lot—32.2 career strikeout percentage—which will keep that average pretty low but he has some power and speed and could be a Chris Young-type or maybe even B.J. Upton-type player.
Barnes has been in the Astros system for a while because his strikeouts are just too high and his average too low. He only got 98 at-bats last season and didn’t do much with them—but he has the potential to hit for power and steal double-digit bases.
Ankiel had one decent looking year back in 2008 but has been hurt by injuries and inefficiency since, I don’t expect much from him.
Norris is as average as a starter gets. Last season he went 7-13 with a 4.65 ERA and 1.37 WHIP. Over his first three and a half seasons in the league he is 28-37 with a 4.42 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. It’s not that he’s bad, it’s just that most starters in the league can give you what he does.
Harrell got his first full season in the bigs last season and looked promising as he went 11-11 with a 3.76 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. He lets too many runners on base though and needs to get his hits down.
Lyles has been a top prospect for a few years now but he hasn’t had a good go of it in the big leagues. In his first 40 starts, Lyles is 7-20 with a 5.20 ERA and 1.42 WHIP but at 22 he still has plenty of time to improve.
While you can hold out hope for Lyles, I’m not sure about Keuchel. In his first half season in the majors he went 3-8 with a 5.27 ERA and 1.55 WHIP. It’s a small sample size but his stuff just isn’t at a major league level and he allows a ton of baserunners and homers.
After a very good looking 2011, Humber completely fell off last season as he went 5-5 with a 6.44 ERA and 1.54 WHIP in 102 IP for the ChiSox last season. With just one solid year under his belt, it’s hard to be optimistic about his prospects going forward now that he is 30.
Like Humber, Bedard looked good in 2011 (actually, unlike Humber, he has been very good since 2006) but looked rough in 2012. Pitching in Pittsburgh, Bedard went 7-14 with a 5.01 ERA and 1.47 WHIP. Unlike Humber, I expect him to bounce back with a solid year if he is healthy.
White is a longshot to make the rotation, especially after going 2-9 with a 5.51 ERA and 1.68(!) WHIP in 21 starts for the Rockies last year. Still, he is a 24-year-old former top prospect that the Astros got back for Wilton Lopez and Houston is hoping for big things down the road.
Eli only got to play in two games last season but he is 4-13 with a 5.70 ERA and 1.51 WHIP in 115 career innings. He showed a few signs of potential a couple years ago but has looked terrible for the most part and I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting on him.
The Astros’ closer next season could be absolutely anyone. Your guess is as good as mine. With a $25 million payroll, how many save opportunities do you figure they’ll even get?
Veras is not a closer-caliber pitcher but with three straight seasons (for three different teams) with a sub-4 ERA he may be the best option out of the pen, though that says more about the rest of the pen.
Wright has a chance as well, he had a 3.27 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 77 appearances last season but did put up a 5.33 ERA over his first three seasons with the Astros.
Ambriz played under 20 innings last season and looked okay, some people think it’ll be him but I don’t see why.
Cedeno both looked pretty solid out of the pen for the Astros last year but has only seen 44 major league games.
Cruz could really use a lot of improvement after putting up a 6.05 ERA and 1.71(!) WHIP in 55 IP last year.
Team Grade: D
Fearless Prediction: 52-110, 5th in AL West