During the offseason, the Houston Astros did a great job of creating competition all over the diamond. As you watch (or listen to) the Spring Training games, you can’t help but wonder how the competition will play out. Bo Porter recently said that he plans to take 13 position players and 12 pitchers into the regular season. That means there will be a few guys that may be deserving of a spot, but will have to start the season at triple-A, unless a trade were to occur.
As the roster starts to take shape, I think it’s safe to say: Jose Altuve will start at second base; Jason Castro will be the starting catcher with Carlos Corporan backing him up; Matt Dominguez will have the opportunity to start the season at third base; Justin Maxwell will be the center fielder; and either Marwin Gonzalez or Tyler Greene will be the starting shortstop with the nonstarter being a utility infielder. That leaves six spots to fill.
We also know that GM Jeff Luhnow is very high on Chris Carter, as he was the key part of the Jed Lowrie trade, and since he is out of options, I see no way that he is not on the Opening Day roster. Rick Ankiel was signed to provide a veteran presence in the clubhouse, as well as give the Astros a versatile left-handed outfielder. He has shown he is capable of at least being a platoon outfielder thus far in Spring Training and should earn a spot. Four spots to fill.
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As it stands now, the Astros will definitely carry both Carlos Pena and Brett Wallace on the roster to fill the 1B/DH hole. Wallace would also be able to serve as a backup third baseman (although not a very good one). Two spots left!
That leaves at least five guys for the final two spots; two outfielders and three infielders. J.D. Martinez, Fernando Martinez, Nate Freiman, Brandon Laird and Jake Elmore are all fighting for the spots. Fernando Martinez is out of options, so if they Astros want to keep him in the organization, he will have to be on the 25-man roster. Also, Freiman is a rule-5 draft pick this year, so unless the Astros can work out some sort of deal with the San Diego Padres, he will have to stay on the 25-man roster or be offered back to San Diego. That would fill all 13 spots, and means that you would have to send J.D. Martinez, Brandon Laird and Jake Elmore to Oklahoma City to start the season.
J.D. Martinez and Brandon Laird have both shown signs of improvement this spring. J.D. looks like a new man thanks to his healed hand and improved timing. Laird has been making his case so far this spring as well with 3 home runs and a 1.269 OPS. Laird does bring some versatility with his ability to play both corner infield positions. It is yet to be seen if J.D. Martinez can play anywhere other than left field, a position that looks like it will be manned mostly by Chris Carter. Jake Elmore has played a lot of second base this spring, but has shown very little thus far. Of course there is still plenty of time to turn that around.
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The only way for there to be room for one of either Laird, J.D. or Elmore is if the Astros are able to trade Brett Wallace or Carlos Pena prior to the start of the season. Between Wallace, Pena, Carter and potentially Nate Freiman, 1B/DH is well covered and could create an issue with a lack of backup outfielders. It was reported recently that the New York Yankees had contacted the Astros about Carlos Pena. I could also see the Astros giving Freiman back to the Padres to open up a spot for an additional outfielder (J.D.), but if they think there is any chance that he could be the DH of the future, the Astros will do everything in their power to hang on to him.
I know that Jeff Luhnow and Bo Porter have both been praised for their outside the box thinking. I will be very interested to see how this all plays out. Who do you think stays and who goes?