2013 Houston Astros Preview
Team set to switch leagues this season as they continue to rebuild.
What happens when you take a lousy baseball team and make them switch from the National League to the American League in one offseason? That question will be answered come April as the Houston Astros, owners of the worst record in baseball last year, will be moving to the American League Western Division to join the Los Angeles Angels, the Oakland A’s, the Texas Rangers and the emerging Seattle Mariners. One of these teams is not like the other, and the Astros are definitely the odd men out.
The Astros have been rebuilding for several seasons now with very little success. They have lost 100 games in each of their past two seasons, their young offense is not developing the way that their front office had hoped they would, and their pitching staff has been miserable. That staff will now be forced to deal with a designated hitter every night instead of a pitcher or pinch hitter in the National League, so an already rocky situation looks to get worse.
The Astros will have eight men competing for spots in their starting rotation this spring. If the team has an ace, it is Lucas Harrell, who finished last season at .500 going 11-11 with a 3.76 ERA. He was the only Astros pitcher to win double-digit games last season but he may not be a lock for the club’s Opening Day guy. Bud Norris is also chasing the Astros’ top spot in the rotation and though he went 7-13 with a 4.66 ERA we did lead the team in quality starts (17) and ate up more late-innings than any other pitcher in the rotation. Either one of these men will be a good guy to put at the top of the bill, and if both have good seasons the Astros might actually improve by a win or two. Unfortunately if Norris gets off to a really good start, other teams will be looking at him as trade bait come push time.
Jordan Lyles is a good bet to make the rotation as either their number three or four guy. Lyles was a top prospect in 2011 when he was called all the way up to Houston and fizzled out. He’s 7-20 since then and his ERA is 5.20, but he’s still young and has time to develop. Unfortunately for Houston, that means he’s going to get rocked from time to time as he matures at the big league level.
The fourth and fifth spots in the rotation are completely up for grabs this spring and there are a host of players in camp competing for one of them. The ball club claimed Philip Humber off waivers this offseason to compete for a spot in their rotation. Humber tossed a perfect game last April 21 st and then proceeded to free fall through the rest of the season. Humber went 5-5 in 16 starts for the White Sox but the fact that he has pitched in the American League may work in his favor this spring as he fights for his spot on the team.
Dallas Keuchel will also be looking to make the roster this spring, as he comes off a 3-8 debut with the Astros last season. The Astros will also take a look at veteran Erik Bedard this spring, who signed with the Pirates last season and started Opening Day, only to go 7-14 and be released by the ball club on August 28. They will also consider prospect Jarred Cosart who went 6-7 with a 3.30 ERA in the minors last season however given their mistake with Lyles, the ball club may think twice about bringing Cosart into the mix too early.
The Astros continue to search for a closer and they hope that Jose Veras will finally be the man for the job. Veras was signed this offseason and has a total of five saves to his name as he enters Spring Training. Last season Veras pitched in Milwaukee and had a respectable season, finishing with a 5-4 record and a 3.63 ERA in 72 appearances. Veras will have to adjust to his new role well as there isn’t much depth behind him should he fail. Wesley Wright (2-2, 3.27), Rhiner Cruz (1-1, 6.05), Xavier Cedeno (0-1, 3.77), Josh Fields (4-3, 2.01 in minors), Hector Ambriz (1-1, 4.19), Sam Demel (0-1, 9.00) Chia-Jen Lo (0-1, 0.90 in minors) and Jose Cisnero (13-7, 3.70 in minors) will all be in camp to fill out the spots in the bullpen. Fields is a Rule 5 draft pick, and the Astros will need to keep him on the major league roster all season if they don’t want to lose his services to Boston, so he seems a lock to make the pen. Wright and Cruz are likely to make it as well due to their performance last season.
The Astros had no offense last season, and they haven’t done much to upgrade it this year either. With the ball club moving to the American League, they needed to add a designated hitter to the roster and they did so by signing Carlos Pena. Pena played for Tampa Bay last season and had 19 homers and 61 RBIs, but he only hit for .197. Since posting his best average with Tampa in 2007 (.282), Pena has not hit for more than .247 since and it is not likely that his move to Houston will do much to change that streak. The rest of the Astros offense will be made up of mostly young players trying to find their way against big league pitching. Brett Wallace and Chris Carter could be exciting to watch this spring as they compete for a spot at first base. Patience is wearing thin for Wallace to develop and Carter has shown signs of greatness in the minors, so the two should be a good fit to compete against each other for a spot on the roster during camp.
Second baseman Jose Altuve will return to the ball club for his second full season in the majors after a promising 2012 rookie campaign. Altuve was the lone bright spot for the club last season and was named to the National League All Star team. He finished with a .290 average, the highest on the team, and should continue to improve this season which could also make him trade bait come July. Tyler Greene will return to the ball club after leaving for St. Louis last season to play shortstop with the departure of Jed Lowrie to the Oakland Athletics. Youngster Matt Dominguez is expected to start at third base and hopes to build on a solid 2012 which saw him hit .284 with 5 homers and 16 RBIs in 31 games with the Astros.
Houston’s outfield of J.D. Martinez (.241), Justin Maxwell (.229) and Fernando Martinez (.237) are all still fairly young, with Maxwell being the only one with more than two years of big league experience. Maxwell showed that he was capable of producing last year, hitting 18 homers and driving in 53 runs in 124 games but his career average of .217 is bothersome given that he now has 246 games under his belt. Behind the plate, Jason Castro is expected to start for the Astros bringing with him a .257 average in 87 games last season. This will be his first full year in the majors so some growing pains are to be expected. Carlos Coperan will back him up, but he only has parts of three seasons under his belt so expect there to be some stiff competition between the two for more playing time as the season progresses.
The Astros were bad in 2012 and they’re likely to be much worse this season. Their 55-107 record was just the beginning as there is a real chance that they will lose an additional 15 games this year due to the move to the American League. With that being said, they will probably be the worst team in baseball again this season and lose 115 to 122 games, depending on how little offense the team generates. And while they won’t be quite as bad as the 1899 Cleveland Spiders who went 20-134, they’re still going to be miserable to watch in 2013 and for the foreseeable future as well.
By Robert Gonzalez