Cesar Izturis (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)
The big area of emphasis for the Astros this off-season was the bullpen. With the three additions Jeff Luhnow made, what was a glaring weakness last season, now could potentially turn into a strength.
Scott Feldman will improve and be a steadying force in the rotation. Dexter Fowler‘s addition will help solidify the top of the order and be a recognizable presence for Bo Porter‘s club in 2014. While they might not have been the splashiest or exciting acquisitions, they were necessary and will make a difference. The effects and impacts of these moves will be readily apparent to Astros’ fans.
Some more moves are coming before Spring Training, and if not they should be, with the areas of emphasis being the starting rotation and the first base/designated hitter/outfield mix. Again this would be a noticeable addition.
But before the season begins, Luhnow also needs to make some “boring” moves that will likely not generate much excitement or buzz.
Following the promotion of Jonathan Villar last summer, the middle infield has not been something Astros’ fans have paid much attention to. Villar is set as the shortstop and it goes without saying that 2012 All-Star Jose Altuve‘s role at second base is written in stone. But beyond that, there is no depth.
Marwin Gonzalez is the only other middle infielder on the 40-man roster and the Astros’ middle infield prospects will likely not be ready for major league action in 2014. Gonzalez has proven that he can be a decent utility player and spot starter, but when he gets extended playing time, he is often exposed.
I would be perfectly fine with Gonzalez making the team as a backup middle infielder, which seems to be a foregone conclusion, but the Astros still need more depth. Some competition for Villar would also be nice.
Now I think that the young shortstop should go into Spring Training with the job being his to lose, but if he struggles all spring and does not appear to have grown from last season, Villar needs to start the year in AAA. Right now, that wouldn’t be possible due to the lack of other options.
Luckily for Luhnow, there are plenty of options still available that would suit the Astros needs just fine. Yes, none of them are really exciting. Most are known more for their gloves and versatility than anything else and the hope would be, that they wouldn’t end up with more than 250 at bats on the season.
Obviously in the grander scheme of things Luhnow signing Nelson Cruz or Matt Garza is more important and would be more welcome, but as the Astros look to be more competitive this season, no area of the roster can afford to be overlooked.