(UPDATE: CRISIS AVERTED! Stretch Suba got his lucky number back and will be behind home plate - in the bullpen - for the 2012 season. Still no activity as far as the scheduling of a Stretch Suba Bobblehead Night.)
If you’re an Astros fan, you’d probably describe yourself as “cautiously optimistic.” And, rightfully so – there’s a lot of new (newish) faces on the club and a lot of uncertainty ahead personnel-wise.
Where’s Wandy going? What about Lee? Will Brett Myers be a good closer? Who is Marwin Gonzalez? What happened to Humberto Quintero? Where’s the tall lanky guy who wants to be a champion?
If you’re an outsider, you’ve probably gone ahead and penciled in the Astros for 100 losses and are on to talking about more pressing matters like A-Rod’s new girlfriend or the luxury Sea-Doos Albert Pujols bought with his fat Angels contract.
You’d be wrong to overlook the Astros.
I’m not saying the Astros will win the division or vie for the Wild Card – I’m saying they’ll be somewhat competitive. “Somewhat competitive” isn’t what major league franchises shoot for, but after 106 losses, being on the left side of the century mark constitutes as a huge improvement.
To write off our Houston Astros before the first pitch is thrown is lazy.
I’ve read preview after preview from outsiders with a common theme: the Astros are terrible. They employ cookie-cutter potshots that are unfunny and unimaginative. I’m embarrassed for them.
They can all kiss our asses when the Astros prove them wrong.
The Astros are equipped with a new owner (Jim Crane) and a new general manager (Jeff Luhnow). These two are tasked with the responsibility of bringing the Astros back to prominence. While a daunting task, the Astros have a decent foundation for rebuilding - a minor league system that is making huge strides towards respectability. (George Springer hit a homerun last night for Lancaster – a grand slam!)
Jim Crane’s key role is to make baseball exciting again. Unfortunately, that does not include lower beer prices, changing the uniform or realignment – Houstonians want a quality on-field product.
Jeff Luhnow took over for Ed Wade in December and has already made his mark on the team. He’s traded away Mark Melancon, Humberto Quintero and Jason Bourgeois. While I’m excited about Luhnow’s potential as a MLB GM, four months is hardly enough time to assess his performance. It seems like everyone is ready to designate Luhnow as the franchise savior, but I am reserving judgment until after the trade deadline.
Luhnow is tasked with three huge moves that carry long-term implications for the Houston Astros. In June, he’ll select the first overall player in the amateur draft and, in July, he’ll likely deal de facto ace, Wandy Rodriguez. Also, at some point, Luhnow is going to have to decide on what to do with Carlos Lee. These three moves will set the tone for Luhnow’s tenure and I have faith he’ll make the right decisions – after all, he does employ a Director of Decision Sciences.
As of now, it appears as though only 2 players who started Opening Day 2011 will make starts on Opening Day 2012: Carlos Lee and, oddly enough, Chris Johnson.
This team is special – I can feel it. They’re not going to win the division but they are going to turn some heads. …and they’re going to win some ball games!
2011 was a painful season. I had fans of other teams tell me they felt sorry for us. We got made fun of and, ultimately, the team gave up. The Astros have been kicked around and kicked out – and someone has to pay for all the heartache from 2011. That someone is going to be 2012.
Let’s kick some ass!
1.) Jordan Schafer - CF
In my opinion, Jordan Schafer is the most interesting position the player the Astros will start on Opening Day. At only 24, Schafer is just a couple of years removed from being one of the most heralded prospects in Major League Baseball. He’s an outstanding physical specimen who is going to steal a lot of bases but probably not hit for much power. The ability to get on base is a must for Schafer, so he’s going to have to work counts and learn to take a walk. Schafer has the potential to hit for average, but he may never reach the lofty projects levied on him while in the Braves organization.
The worst case scenario for Schafer is that his injured wrist never truly allows him to become a productive major league baseball player. If that’s the case, expect JB Shuck or Austin Wates in this spot in August.
However, I am predicting that Schafer hits for average, gets on base, steals bases and plays solid centerfield defense.
Jordan Schafer’s batting average: .281/10/41 40 SBs
Michael Bourn’s batting average: .280/6/45 60 SBs
2.) Marwin Gonzalez – SS
Jed Lowrie got moved to the 15-day DL and will miss Opening Day. Marwin Gonzalez will get the start in his place.
So, we’ll talk about Lowrie.
Lowrie, who was dealt to Houston in the Mark Melancon deal, is “the man” at shortstop for the time being. Offensively, he’s an upgrade over Clint Barmes but a notch or two below defensively. Honestly, I’ll take Jed Lowrie and the compensatory pick over Clint Barmes every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
Getting away from Boston might be a good thing for Lowrie – not having to face the Yankees and Rays pitching could do wonders for his batting average. Lowrie might show a little pop as well.
Jed Lowrie: .270/17/58
Clint Barmes: .251/10/45
3.) JD Martinez – LF
JD Martinez is an interesting cat. I question whether the power numbers or batting average will come along, but he seemed quite comfortable at the plate in 2011. When he connects, he can hit the ball a long long LONG way. He hit .274 in a little over 200 ABs for the Astros after making short work of the Astros minor league system.
I’ll project that the power numbers increase and the batting average declines. I’ll pick him to hit .260 but wouldn’t be surprised if he hits .240 or .280 – it’s really tough to peg him at this point in his career.
He’s not the ideal 3-hole hitter, he’s more of a 5, in my opinion, but he’s most likely the best option the Astros have for this spot.
J.D. Martinez .260/28/86
4.) Carlos Lee – 1B
Carlos Lee must feel like Rose Nylund in a Golden Girls reunion episode – where the hell did everybody go? Gone are the days where he recognizes familiar pals and confidants because they’re all playing in different cities.
The biggest question concerning Lee’s 2012 outlook is not how well he’ll hit – it’s where he’ll hit. Carlos Lee is in the final year of a fat contract and looks likely to be dealt at some point in the season.
If Carlos Lee can hit for average, drive in an assload of runs and mix in a few homeruns, he’ll be able to yield a nice prospect or two from a contender looking to bolster their offense. Furthermore, Lee will be a free agent, and though his days earning $100M are over, he’ll probably (I hate saying this) try.
Interesting to note, Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman both had 94 RBI in 2011.
Carlos Lee isn’t a terrible baseball player. He’s severely overpaid and his contract has crippled the franchise – but, on the whole, he’s still a decent baseball player.
Carlos Lee .280/23/91 (traded on July 29th to the Toronto Blue Jays)
5.) Brian Bogusevic
Brian Bogusevic was a pleasant surprise in 2011. He finally proved that he was capable of playing at the big league level and showcased one of the better outfield arms in the National League.
I feel the same way about Bogusevic this year as I did Chris Johnson at this time last year… and we know how that turned out.
Oh… you don’t read my blog? Well, I picked Chris Johnson to go off in 2011 and well… he didn’t.
Damn the torpedoes! I’m doing it again!
Brian Bogusevic .285/25/90
6.) Jason Castro
I imagine Jason Castro is super pissed. After missing all of 2011, it is as if people forgot all about him. There was a lot of excitement when he made his major league debut and he was, by all accounts, the Astros franchise catcher for the next 10-15 years. But…
…then he got hurt.
…then he missed all of 2011.
…then the Astros signed Chris Snyder, Landon Powell, Mitch Meluskey, Johnny Bench, Ernie Lombardi and twenty other guys.
…then people, like me, suggested Castro start the year in AAA.
…then pundits suggested the Astros draft a catcher with the first overall pick.
I’d probably be pissed, too. He’s getting Wally Pipped. However, Castro reasserted his dominance this spring by hitting .364 and racking up 9 RBI. Castro’s spring forced Luhnow’s hand and Humberto Quintero was demoted to Kansas City. Castro has found himself atop of the depth chart and, I believe, he’s ready to have the season we’ve expected from him.
Jason Castro .291/21/91
7.) Chris Johnson
I like Chris Johnson – a lot! However, I’m just not really sure he sticks around. But, then again, who takes his place? Even though he’s at 3B in OKC, I think Wallace will replace Carlos Lee at the deadline and I’m not sure Luhnow will move Jimmy Paredes back across the diamond. Chris Johnson may stick around due to the fact that the Astros really don’t have any viable options – maybe Bixler? Would they trade for someone?
Chris Johnson had a very strong spring. He batted .355 and led the team in homeruns. He was second on the team in RBI and tied JD Martinez for the most ABs. It’s not very fair that I’m discounting Johnson’s spring – but, damn, I don’t have much faith in the guy.
I picked him to do really well in 2011 and I’m picking him to do really poorly in 2012. I hope I’m wrong.
Chris Johnson .235/10/42
8.) Jose Altuve
While in Kissimmee, Jose Altuve led the Astros in walks. That’s huge! In 221 at-bats in 2011, Altuve had 5 walks – this spring, he had 11 walks in 57 at-bats.
It might not be fair that I disregard Chris Johnson’s spring and use Altuve’s stats to indicate how his season will play out, but this is my blog and I can do damn well what I please. In all seriousness, it is imperative that Altuve learns to take pitch – and, he’s shown the ability to do so this spring.
While I’m not expecting Altuve to lead the Astros in walks in 2011, if he can 50 walks – he’ll be in GREAT shape. I’m thinking Altuve is going to rack up a lot of doubles and triples, too.
Of all the Astros players, I’m predicting him to have the best season.
You’re my boy, Pocket Jesus!
Jose Altuve .300/10/70 48 BB 38 dbls
1.) Wandy Rodriguez
I think we should enjoy Wandy while he’s here. He’s Jeff Luhnow’s most valuable trade chip and I think he’ll be dealt at the trade deadline. Sure, Luhnow could display some restraint and hold onto him - but why say no when it feels so good to say yes?
In my opinion, Wandy Rodriguez may be the most underrated starter in the National League – even people who supposedly follow the Astros discount his performance. Wandy is an outstanding pitcher! Don’t let anyone tell you any different!
Wandy went even with the league at 11-11 last year which is a feat in itself on a 100-loss team. He also sported a 3.49 ERA with 166 punchouts. Expect more of the same in 2012… while he’s here.
Wandy Rodriguez 12-10/ 170K/ 3.66
2.) Lucas Harrell
Who is this guy?
Well, in July of 2011, the Astros claimed Harrell off of waivers from the White Sox. In 13 innings with Houston, Harrell posted a 3.46 ERA and struckout 10 batters. This spring, Harrell put in 16 innings worth of work and yielded a 2.16 ERA with 6 strikeouts – making it impossible for Mills & Co to keep him off of the roster.
He’s a guy who may lose his job to Lyles at some point, but with the possibility of trades – he could go wire to wire as well.
Lucas Harrell 10-11/ 150K/ 4.01
3.) Bud Norris
Last month, I picked Bud Norris to represent the Astros in the All Star Game. I still stand by that. I don’t think Norris is going to put up amazing numbers – but someone has to go, right? Do bloggers get picked? In the first half, I imagine Norris will have respectable strikeout numbers and post a good ERA earning him an All Star nod.
However, at the most, he will only get to see St. Louis twice before the break– contingent on where the Cardinals fall in the Astros starting rotation. So, who knows if he’ll be able to pad his stats by punking those bitches before All Stars are selected.
And when will Luhnow extend Norris? Norris could be a guy that the franchise keeps around through “rebuilding” or Luhnow could see Norris as a potential trade chip. It’ll definitely be interesting to see how this plays out.
Bud Norris 14-9/ 185K/3.40
4.) JA Happ
I’m forecasting special things for JA Happ! How special? Well, for starters, I believe he has turned the corner and will not get sent to the minors again. Also, I think he’s the pitcher we saw in September – not the guy we saw… well… since he’s been in Houston. He’s not going to be an All Star and he won’t be in Wandy or Norris’ class – but I think he has the opportunity to be an above average pitcher for the Astros.
I think he finishes the season with a decent w/l record by putting himself in winnable situations.
JA Happ 10-10/ 140K/ 3.97
5.) Kyle Weiland
Weiland, along with Jed Lowrie, was dealt to the Astros for Mark Melancon. It is interesting to note that Weiland got ejected from his first major league game. Got a little bit of Dan Wheeler in him – the only thing better than plunking Vlad Guerrero is plunking Derrek Lee or anyone on the Cardinals.
Weiland got the longest look from the Astros brass this spring and sported a 3.75 ERA and earned the 5th spot in the rotation.
I expect Weiland to spend the entire year in the rotation. I suspect there will be a few trades that effect the starting rotation but I cannot imagine Luhnow trading for a major league starter – I imagine Jordan Lyles, Dallas Keuchel and maybe Jarred Cosart will get starts at the big league level. Weiland’s spot is safe… I think.
Kyle Weiland 7-10/ 140K/ 4.38
CP: Brett Myers
Brett Myers takes over for Mark Melancon who took over for Brandon Lyon. Myers, if you remember, Myers was the hard-luck loser from Opening Day 2011. No – scratch that, Myers got the ND and Brandon Lyon got the loss because he blew the save. Funny how things work like that.
I’m expecting both Brett Myers and Brandon Lyon to be gone by the trade deadline. I suspect Myers will be traded to a contender (Boston, Cincinnati, Philadelphia) and Brandon Lyon will be designated for assignment.
Brett Myers 4.32/ 28 saves
NL Central Preview:
1.) Brewers (88-74) Carlos Lee is now the fattest 1B in the league, but that isn’t stopping the Brewers from winning the division. Keep an eye on Aramis Ramirez and Wily Peralta!
2.) Reds (86-76) Joey Votto is now the best 1B in the league. I think the Reds win one of the two wild card spots. But is 86 wins going to be enough?
3.) Pirates (83-79) Jordan Lyles was 1 when the Pirates last had a winning season. But, I like the Pirates in 2012. I like Andrew McCutchen and I like their pitching staff. They’re going to stick around all year and, for the first time in a long time, they’ll finish the year above .500!
4.) Cardinals (79-83) With Pujols in SoCal, TLR on the golf course and Chris Carpenter in the training room, I’m predicting the Cardinals will not enjoy the success they’ve had the previous years. I don’t think Kyle Lohse and Lance Berkman can carry this club.
5.) Astros (77-85) This is highly optimistic, but I think Schafer, Castro, and Altuve will have great years and the Astros will be a hell of a lot better than they were in 2011. And, unlike 2011, I think the Astros get a few more breaks in 2012.
6.) Cubs (62-100) You suck, Cubs! Go to hell!
NL Central MVP
NL Central Cy Young
NL Central Rookie of the Year
NL Central Manager of the Year
Bryan from AstrosCounty put together some projections for the upcoming year.
Lee from StrosBros weighs in with his NL Preview.
Jayne from WhatTheHeckBobby is a magnificent resource for Astros minor league news and analysis. Here’s her preview for AAA Oklahoma City, her AA Corpus Christi preview, her A+ Lancaster preview and her A- Lexington preview. This is definitely a must read for Astros fans.
I asked the guys from ClimbingTalsHill a question. Agree with them?
I just started following Jeff on Twitter. I like the way he thinks!
Buca Morris wants you to check out his new jersey.
…and that’s all I got for now!