Home Ballpark: Minute Maid Park
2014 Finish: 70 – 92 · 4th AL Central
Over/Under Wins in 2015: 73.5 · Over
What We Love:
- Thunder in the Lineup: If there is one thing that the Astros will not be short on in 2015, it is power. Although they might not have the “sexiest” of lineups offensively in MLB, what they do have is a lineup that will CRUSH pitches. Chris Carter alone hit 37 bombs in 2015; he also set the franchise record for most multi HR games (7). Top prospect, George Springer, showed off his impressive power stroke by hitting 20 in his rookie campaign, including hitting 7 over a 7 game span in May, before being shut down for the last two and a half months by a quad injury. Not satisfied by their lineups power, the Astros brought in Evan Gattis in a trade with the Braves and signed free agent, Colby Rasmus, to a 1yr/$8mil deal. In Gattis, the Astros get a player who has hit 43 career home runs in only 213 games; while Rasmus offers a left-handed bat capable of 25+ HR. If everyone stays healthy and performs up to their ability, there is no reason not to think that the trio of Springer, Gattis and Rasmus could hit 25-30 HR a piece. Carter on the other hand, could slug 40 or more in 2015.
- Seeing the first signs of a bright future ahead: Top prospect, George Springer, made his highly anticipated debut in 2014 and did not disappoint. Astros fans can expect to see more top prospects moving up to Minute Maid Park in next year or so. There is a good chance that, given a strong performance in the minors, we could see SP Mark Appel in Houston sometime in 2015. Meanwhile, the Astros (current) top positional prospect, SS Carlos Correa, will most likely have to wait until 2016 for his call to the show.
- No more 100 loss seasons. Even though they still lost 92 games in 2014, the Astros were able to avoid making it four consecutive seasons with 100 losses or more. Given their current roster and bright future, there shouldn’t be anymore 100 loss seasons in the foreseeable future.
- Jose Altuve’s bat: Winner of the 2014 AL Batting crown with a .341 average; also set a franchise record with 225 hit
- Reinforced bullpen: The Astros signed a pair of top free agent relievers in the offseason (Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson) and brought in Joe Thatcher on a one year, reclamation deal.
- Anytime an OF has to navigate Tal’s Hill in CF.
- The Nolan Ryan era throwback jerseys.
What We Hate:
- Great Power, Greater Strikeout Rate: In the past two seasons, the Houston Astros have finished 1st and 2nd for most strikeouts as a team. In fact, the 2013 version of the Astros set a MLB record by striking out 1535 times. Last season, the Astros had seven players in their lineup strike out 100 or more times. Even with trading one of those players (Dexter Fowler) and having two others open the season in the minors (Jon Singleton and Matt Dominguez), this is a lineup that could very well break their own record for most strikeouts in a season. The main reason for the potential whiff increase is the offseason additions of Colby Rasmus and Evan Gattis. Sure both players should be a lock to boost the Astros power numbers, but they should also be locks to raise their team strikeout rate too. Gattis has struck out 178 times over 213 games played, while Rasmus strikeouts an average of 157 times over a 162 game season. There is also no reason not to think that 1B Jon Singleton (134 strikeouts in 310 AB in 2014!) and 3B Matt Dominguez (125 strikeouts in 564 AB) will not be back in the Astros lineup at some point during the season.
- The whole Brady Aiken situation: The Astros drafted Aiken 1st overall in 2014 and then reneged on their original contract offer ($6.5 million) once a physical found an issue with Aiken’s UCL. The Astros attempted to sign Aiken to a lesser deal ($5 million) but Aiken refused, said he would only sign if it was a sign and trade deal, and then opted not to sign with the Astros at all. In doing so, the Astros also lost the ability to sign another high draft pick (Jacob Nix). Hindsight time… turns out Aiken does need Tommy John after all and the Astros have two picks in the top 5 of this year’s draft. So… did they make the right decision after all? Even if they did, this is still a black eye for an organization that doesn’t need any more bad publicity. Aiken, meanwhile, will undergo Tommy John surgery and will still be eligible for this year’s draft; as will the other unsigned prospect, Jacob Nix.
- Drafting SP Mark Appel over 3B Kris Bryant in 2013. Hindsight sure, but don’t you think the Astros would like a redo on this one? Carlos Correa over Byron Buxton is a little more defensible…
- Jose Altuve’s glove.
- Releasing J.D Martinez. Martinez was an absolute stud for the Tigers last season (.315/26/76) and would look awfully nice playing LF at Minute Maid.
- The whole hacking/leaking of ten months of confidential, internal trade discussions to deadspin.com in 2014 – http://deadspin.com/leaked-10-months-of-the-houston-astros-internal-trade-1597951970
Player to Watch: OF George Springer. Springer was enjoying a pretty decent rookie season in 2014, before an injury to his quadriceps forced him to miss the last two and half months. In 295 AB, Springer hit for a .231 average, added 20 HR and drove in 51 RBI; he also struck out 114 times. If he can remain healthy and cut down on the strikeouts, there is no reason not to believe that Springer cannot build upon his rookie numbers. He has the pop in his bat to hit 30 home runs and he may just accomplish that in 2015.
Top Pitching Prospect: Mark Appel · RHP · MLB ETA: 2015
Top Positional Prospect: Carlos Correa · SS · MLB ETA: 2016
Top 30 Prospects (MLB.com): http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2015?list=hou
Final Prediction: 4th AL West