Key Additions—Clint Barmes, Bill Hall
Key Losses—Matt Lindstrom
Lineup—With the trade of Lance Berkman last season, this team has finally cut ties with the killer B’s of the past. So where does that leave them? I love their CF/RF combination of Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence. Pence is as underrated of a player out there, as he doesn’t look smooth but he can flat out play, both on offense and defense. And Bourn is a speedster which is much needed in the spacious outfield of Minute Maid Park. Carlos Lee still has a potent bat in LF, although I am sure the Astros would love to get rid of that salary. The revamped middle infield of Bill Hall and Clint Barmes is an upgrade over the past few years, and should provide some pop. I am not sold that they can be even average defensively though. The corners are a big question mark. It will be interesting to see what this team can get out of once highly touted prospect Brett Wallace. With some speed at the top of the lineup and some guys who have the ability to knock in runs, this team at the very least should be okay offensively.
Rotation—The Astros begin their first full year without Roy Oswalt. I am still dumbfounded that the top player that the Astros got back in return for their perennial ace was at best a #3 starter. Wandy Rodriguez has really developed into a pretty good pitcher, and leads this rotation. It will be interesting to see if Brett Myers can put together another solid year and provide this team with a solid 1-2 punch. JA Happ needs to develop into that #3 starter, but I am not sure he is any better than a 4-5. If he can progress then the Astros at the very least have a solid staff at the top. Even at the back end of the rotation this team has guys who have proven at times they can pitch at this level. Bud Norris and Nelson Figueroa are pretty solid back of the rotation guys who at times have shown flashes they could be better than 4-5 starters. Honestly, if a few things fall the Astros way, this rotation is plenty good to at least put a scare into some of the top teams in this division.
Bullpen—This bullpen is going to be the biggest hole in this team. Brandon Lyon at closer at least provides stability, but I think that has more to do with no one else having the ability to assume the role instead of Lyon being a good closer. There really are no other arms at this point that you look at in this pen that scare you. I have a feeling that outside of Lyon at the back end of games, there is going to be a revolving door of arms in this pen.
Impact Rookie—Jordan Lyles, RHP. Though I think Nelson Figueroa will likely win the #5 spot in the rotation, Lyles as the system’s best prospect deserves to be mentioned in the discussion. The righty has more polish than filth but his poise is a great asset for a 20 year old. If he doesn’t win a big league job, he’ll start the season in the AAA rotation and should be the first arm called up to Houston.
Outlook—In what appears to be a transition year in Houston, their first full year with Oswalt and Berkman, I think this team will be able to improve from last year. Their offense has a good mix of speed and power, and their rotation, although not having that shut down ace, has very good depth. I still think this team is a year or 2 away from being serious contenders, and still have a few players they would love to move, I do think they will prove to be much improved and at least a small threat in the division.
Brad Koesters, MLB Correspondent
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