Moving into the American League West, what are our expectations for our beloved Astros? At every position you will find a giant question mark. With question marks comes opportunity. Last season the Astros found themselves in the mix for the first two months of the season reaching one game under .500 in late May. We then saw players like J.D. Martinez and Bud Norris fall off. Brett Wallace joined the Astros mid season to a degree of success, before piling up strikeouts. What can we expect out of these key players? What can we expect out of the guys who are supposed to be staples of our offense and pitching staff?
For the first time in a long while the Astros impressed us with their start to a season. Then saw them struggle in a four game sweep at the hands of the Rockies, in late May. At that point the teams’ youth and inexperience began to show, perhaps losing its “mojo.” The months of June and July were historically bad and Brad Mills came under instant fire and eventually lost his job.
Now Bo Porter takes the helm to hoping to lead this team to respectability. However, what is respectability for the Astros current situation? Is it to compete for a division crown? Is it merely to show they can play a full season? I would say not to expect the national media to respect Houston, or even expect the team to flirt with .500. The reasonable expectations simply are to grow. There is no win total to put on those expectations. Obviously 107 losses is a bit much, and finishing worst in the MLB is not acceptable. The situation is for this team to rebuild, and sometimes that means working with minimal talent. However key players underperformed, putting black holes in more places than we thought. Teams that find a rise from mediocrity to success need exceptional performances out of their youngsters. The Astros don’t necessarily need a Mike Trout, or a Bryce Harper. They need their esteemed players to show some sort of life.
A black cloud has hung over this organization’s young players for quite some time now. We have seen our young hopefuls in a Morgan Ensberg, a Tim Redding, and as recent as a Jason Castro, let us down. We have seen short term success, but not consistent winning. There is no formula for making young players tick, there is no way to completely predict their fate. In 2005 the Astros had a band of one hit wonders surrounding Lance Berkman and Craig Biggio. Jeff Luhnow has a theory to build this team from the ground up to find sustained success. However, to get this team on a more positive path it will take Ed Wade’s boys to pick up the slack.
I expect this team to play somewhere in between the 2012 Astros. Not near as good as the April – May 2012 Astros, but not near as bad as the June – July Astros. Brett Wallace, Bud Norris, and J.D. Martinez may find their way on the outs if they can’t put it together this season. I want all three of these guys to be key players and leaders for the rebuilding project. Every time a team has to give up on someone, it’s like rebuilding within rebuilding. George Springer, Jonathan Singleton, and Jarred Cosart, need a system to come up to. It’s hard to expect rookie talents to sustain success without quality arms and bats around them.
Brett Wallace – A former first round pick of the Cardinals with the thought in mind of taking over a third base position vacated by Scott Rolen, Wallace joined the Astros after coming over in the Roy Oswalt trade. Brett has had scouts all over claim that he has 20 – 30 home run power, and the ability to hit 30 plus doubles. Brett is a guy you would expect to have a solid OBP and possibly reach a high .800 OPS. He cracked nine homers in 66 games with the big team last year showing promise initially. However his strikeout clip appeared to be up, seeming like he felt he had to hit for power each time up. Brett has to find himself here in the bigs. The talent is there, the swing is there, but is he mentally there? Bo Porter’s mission will be finding a way to let Brett get comfortable. If Wallace doesn’t hit a home run for 50 at bats, can he handle it and help in other ways? I feel like a lot of pressure has been put on Wallace through the years and he is feeling it. This could be his last chance, and the Astros need him more than ever in the middle of the order. If Wallace could turn it around he provides a great 1B/DH duo with Pena.
Expectations: AVG .278 OBP .345 Hr 21 RBI 80
J.D. Martinez – The disappearance of J.D. Martinez‘s bat last year marked the disappearance of the Astros offense. It’s hard to believe a guy who was on pace for over 100 RBI ended the season only 55 RBI after a stint in the minor leagues. Like Wallace, I believe Martinez had a lot of mental frustration. However, for J.D. to be successful I feel like his swing has to be altered. J.D. has a similar approach to the great Albert Pujols, almost completely eliminating his stride towards the pitcher. This will allow you to stay back on the ball able to drive it at the last possible second. I think J.D. could utilize his pull power a little better if he opened up some. I’d love to see Martinez pull that front left leg out some, and be willing to cheat on an inside fastball. Adding a stride will allow him to yank outside off speed pitches into the Crawford Boxes. It is backward to tell a guy to pull the ball more, but J.D. is an extreme pull hitter trying to hit to all fields. I’ve learned in my years of watching baseball, some players are what they are. Biggio had over 3,000 hits as a dead pull hitter. I believe Bo Porter and the Astros staff need to recognize what J.D. is and work with him accordingly. J.D. Is the type of guy who should hit .270 annually with RBI numbers approaching 90. I see J.D. making a big rise this season, let’s just hope he earns a spot out of Spring Training. Fernando Martinez could give J.D. all the competition he can handle. I just don’t think Fernando has the upside J.D. does.
Expectations: AVG .258 OBP .325 Hr 24 RBI 84
Bud Norris - Bud is now a leader and elder statesman of the Astros. However, he didn’t quite perform like it, last year winning only seven times in 20 decisions. Bud ran extremely high pitch counts, a major factor to his tailspin in 2012. He was often victimized the second and third times through the order for opposing teams. His 92 – 95 MPH fastball can be devastating at times for an opposing hitter, but without a legitimate change up it can become batting practice. I’ve often found myself thinking that Bud is a reliever and the Astros haven’t acknowledged it. Bud is a resilient and tough guy on the mound. He is a fighter, exactly what you need in the closer position. Am I thinking too far outside of the box to convert Bud to closer? Maybe, but after losing 107 games last year I think any and everything should be a possibility. Bud has a power fastball and slider. As a two pitch pitcher, pitching an inning at a time is perfect for him. Bo Porter are you listening?
Hypothetical Closer Expectations: ERA 3.45 IP 75 SV 28 BS 5
As fans of the Astros I would say to keep your expectations high for key players, and reasonable for the team as a whole. Progress is the biggest goal this season as our youngsters start making their way into the Majors. The American League West will be tough, but the American League as a whole is overrated, in my opinion. It’s still baseball and there are good teams with the bad teams. Once Spring Training arrives we will have a clearer understanding of the roster layout. For this team to grow as a unit we will have to see leaps and bounds displayed by Wallace, Martinez, and Norris.