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Final Astros Spring Training Preview

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Mar 16, 2014; Kissimmee, FL, USA; Houston Astros hats and gloves sit on the top step of the dugout during the game against the Washington Nationals at Osceola County Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

The time we’ve all been waiting for is about to arrive: Spring Training! We’ve covered all the offseason moves, analyzed all the new players along with the returning ones, and have given as many takes as we possibly can regarding the upcoming season.

We’ve covered the bullpen candidates, rotation candidates, and bench candidates in depth before. This is just one final summary of the many roster battles going on in camp this year, along with some other things to look out for in camp this year. Now, let’s get started.

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5th Rotation Spot

Some say Brett Oberholtzer is fighting for the fourth spot following Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, and Scott Feldman, but it’s all but guaranteed that he joins those guys in the rotation. He’d have to have a meltdown this spring to not be in the rotation. For the final spot, I see a three-headed race to round out the rotation between Dan Straily, Asher Wojciechoswki, and Roberto Hernandez.

Alex White and Jake Buchanan are dark horses in the rotation battle, but they would have to go way above expectations to beat out the three main candidates. You can’t count out Mark Appel either, but he seems destined to start the season in the Minors unless he is absolutely unhittable this spring.

Final Two Bullpen Spots

I recently talked about the upcoming bullpen battle, but that was before the Minor League deal of Joe Thatcher. Thatcher will have a lot of eyes on him to see if he can replicate his pre-2014 form where he was a very reliable lefty-specialist for the Diamondbacks and Padres. He will be battling Will Harris and Kevin Chapman for one of the final spots behind Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek, Chad Qualls, Tony Sipp, and Josh Fields.

Sam Deduno and the rest of the rotation candidates will all be looked at for the bullpen as well, but have to be looked at as long shots to be on the Opening Day roster unless Hinch decides to go with a long reliever in the bullpen.

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Bench

The safest bet is that the following are your starting nine: C-Jason Castro, 1B-Jon Singleton, 2B-Jose Altuve, 3B-Luis Valbuena, SS-Jed Lowrie, LF-Evan Gattis, CF-Colby Rasmus, RF-George Springer, and DH-Chris Carter. If those are your main starters at the beginning of the season, no matter where on the field they are playing, that leaves four spots left to be taken by the bench (assuming there are 13 position players.)

This is going to be a situation that nobody could accurately predict at this time. The Astros have a lot of talent all over the field, and they simply have too many bodies for the 25 man roster. One spot will be taken by Hank Conger to back up Jason Castro, leaving three spots on the bench. That leaves one infield spot, one outfield spot, and then it’s anybody’s guess from there whether it’ll be another infielder or outfielder.

In the outfield, Jake Marisnick, Alex Presley, Robbie Grossman, and L.J. Hoes will be battling for at least one bench spot, potentially two. Springer and Rasmus will take up two of the starting spots, with Evan Gattis and/or Chris Carter projected for playing time in left field and DH. If Singleton struggles this spring though and needs more time in AAA to start the season, then another roster spot opens up for the remaining outfielders on the team. Now whether two of these guys could make the team, even with a productive Singleton, has to do with Matt Dominguez. If Singleton and Dominguez both struggle, then there is a possibility three of the four above make the team.

In terms of the infield, Dominguez is going to be battling for a possible platoon situation with the newly-acquired Luis Valbuena at third base. Marwin Gonzalez is in that “all-but-guarenteed” category for the Opening Day roster with his ability to play all over the field. This leaves the final spot between Dominguez and the rest of outfielders, along with dark horses Jonathan Villar, Ronald Torreyes, and Colin Moran. We all know Carlos Correa will be in camp, and we also know his chances of making the team are practically non-existent.

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  • Other Things to Look For

    -This will be the first Spring Training for A.J. Hinch at the Astros helm, so keep an eye on how he works and communicates with the players.

    -Playing time for the players will be hard to come by at the beginning of the spring, but all eyes will be on Chris Carter and Evan Gattis. Both players have a lot of similarities and are projected some playing time at DH, 1B, and LF. With Jon Singleton involved, it creates an interesting situation for the Astros.

    -Speaking of Singleton, he will be looked closely along with Jason Castro to see if they can bounce back and perform like they’re expected to. It is only Spring Training, but seeing them put up decent numbers would be reassuring on their potential success this season.

    -I am really excited to see Jeff Bagwell, Roger Clemens, and other former Astros showing up to camp to help out the young talent and groom them into players we can all be proud of. Just seeing Bagwell back with the Astros is something that every Astros fan has wanted to see since Jim Crane took over.

    -I mentioned Appel and Correa being involved in camp already, but also keep an eye on other top prospects in camp: Vincent Velasquez, Michael Feliz, Colin Moran, Nolan Fontana Joe Sclafani, and Preston Tucker. A majority of them are probably only getting their feet wet, so don’t expect them to be in camp for too long.
    *Side note: Am I the only one who finds it weird that the #5 Prospect, Lance McCullers Jr. isn’t being invited to camp this year? He was there the last couple of years.

    -Don’t overlook Max Stassi as a productive spring from him could force the Astros to find a way to get him on the roster at the expense of one of the other catchers on the team.

    -Many more Astros fans will finally get to see some games as ROOT Sports TV will air some games this spring. The first of four games to be broadcast on ROOT Sports will be on Tuesday, March 17th. We probably won’t get the full blown production, but it will be nice to see how some of it will look compared to CSN Houston and FSN prior to that.

    Final Thoughts

    This is going to be one of the most competitive Spring Training in a very long time for the Astros, and is something that we can all be excited for. It’s better than opening presents on Christmas morning. There will be roster battles all over the diamond, legends returning, and a Major League-caliber team becoming one.

    Are there any specific players you’re looking out for or any roster battles you’re excited to see the most? Make sure to check back over the next few days as the writers here will be posting our own Opening Day Predictions by position.

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