There is no question that the Houston Astros will be better in the 2014 season. The minor leagues have consistently been improving. Waves of players will finally receive their call to the show throughout the course of the season. However, I am a little disappointed with the construction of the outfield.
Dexter Fowler is a player who should be in his prime. Hopefully he will be able to provide a leadership role for the young players on the team. Fans and the organization collectively are expecting Dexter to become more durable than his career suggests and provide a solid top-of-the-order presence.
Aside from Fowler, who do the Astros have to man the outfield? Since George Springer is not on the 40-man roster, I want to assume that he will begin 2014 in the minors. Yes he had a terrific campaign in 2013 but I feel that 62 games is not an adequate sample size. The claim that he is major league ready is a risk. There is always a risk when a player excels in the minors and is called up to the majors. This is due to the significant gap in talent. Ultimately I will trust in whatever Jeff Luhnow decides. This team and this city deserve a solid everyday outfielder for several seasons.
Besides Fowler, where is the flashier move? Since the signing of Jesse Crain I was hoping for something more. A trade or a signing. But I suppose the free agent market is a little dry especially with Nelson Cruz recently signing with the Baltimore Orioles.
Aside from Fowler, when do the Astros solidify what may be their weakest stockpile of talent? Is the club really going to take a gamble on Adron Chambers or J.D. Martinez to earn a spot on the 40-man roster? With a week to go to spring training games start, the 40-man roster appears to be imbalanced. There are five outfielders to occupy the common five spots on the Opening Day Roster. Is Spring Training going to be a situation of an open tryout?
Houston, we may have a problem here. Domingo Santana was added to the 40-man roster last November. His protection from the Rule V draft was a necessary transaction. But there is absolutely no way that he will appear in the major leagues prior to George Springer. Under these conditions the Astros are ultimately left with four men playing for five roster spots. With Dexter expected at the top of the lineup there is an assumption that three guys will be competing for the starting gigs in left and right field.
The remaining players to select from include Robbie Grossman, L.J. Hoes, and Marc Krauss. Robbie definitely deserves to start opening day in left field. Jason Collette dissected a change in Grossman’s game that enabled him to remain true to himself. A great read for anyone and there is an X-factor Collette briefly mentioned. The ability to play for a hometown team is a childhood dream and Robbie was given that opportunity following his trade from the Pirates organization.
With the almost certain upgrades of Grossman patrolling left field and Fowler in center, right field remains a question mark as does the important bench. The ability to come into a game cold and contribute is perhaps an under appreciated asset. Right field and the backup outfield depth worry me. Yes, George Springer is on his way but nobody really knows when and if he is actually ready. So the starting gig in right field is likely going to be earned by L.J. Hoes. Marc Krauss will be one of the team’s backup outfielders. The fifth is a diamond in the rough and is missing in action as well as missing on paper.
Through 5 seasons of playing in the minor leagues Marc has a career .277/.375/.481 slash line. He was among the many who debuted for the Astros during the 2013 season. Without regular playing time, however, Krauss struggled to get anything going at all. His batting average barely cracked the Mendoza Line and in just 134 at-bats stuck out 45 times. That is a 33.5% strikeout rate. The 36.2% strikeout rate posted by Chris Carter is an unfortunately accurate comparison. Unless Krauss finds a way to produce in a limited role, I would rather see him playing everyday in AAA.
As of today the Astros starting outfield would be Grossman in left, Fowler in center, and Hoes in right. The bench would consist of one guy being Marc Krauss. Yikes. Seems like there is a lot of hope that he will make significant strides given limited playing time. The 5th outfielder may end up being an emergency fill-in with Jesus Guzman and Chris Carter having had experience in the outfield. The Astros seem likely to add someone else to the roster. A lot can happen between today and opening day. This outfield question is one I am looking forward to being answered.