The Houston Astros Prove Spring Training Is Not Broken

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Spring Training is winding down as Opening Day baseball commences in less than a week. For the Houston Astros, the 2015 Spring Training was more meaningful than it has been in recent years. This was no longer a superficial, go-through-the-motions type of warmup for the upcoming season. This year’s “preseason” was full of intrigue and second-guessing, and gave the fans a glimpse of the future.

Here are a couple of things that made Spring Training worthwhile:

Position Battles

When was the last time you really heard about decent players having trouble making the roster for the Houston Astros? I honestly cannot recall. This year, however, the team-wide depth created some fun drama.  No longer could “on the bubble” players get by since everyone had to bring their “A” game.

The retooled bullpen looks much stronger than last year’s, and with only two open slots in the seven-man pen, Sam Deduno and Joe Thatcher had beat out a handful of other guys competing for those spots.

As for the starting rotation, was there any better battle than the one for the fifth starter? Both Roberto Hernandez and Asher Wojciechowski came to play and made strong cases for themselves. The last spot was up for grabs until yesterday. Wojo may still have a shot depending on the status of Brett Oberholtzer, and even if he doesn’t make the cut, one would think he’ll be first in the queue for a callup.

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In the infield, we know that Matt Dominguez won’t be manning the hot corner on opening day, and Marwin Gonzalez appears to be on the outside looking in. However, Jonathan Villar could make the team as a reserve because he scratched and clawed his way on by becoming more versatile. Guys that played key roles in years past had to turn it up a notch to even be considered.

And in the outfield there were too many players for the three starting positions. Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch may have to do some fancy math to get playing time and at-bats for all the guys signed up. Robbie Grossman, who has performed well this March, may find himself in AAA Fresno.

Internal competition of this quality gets fans interested before the season starts.

The Future

The Houston Astros have a ton of talent in the minor leagues and they invited the two most highly-touted players, Mark Appel and Carlos Correa, to Spring Training. The prospects responded by putting on a showcase.

Appel posted a 2.57 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in seven innings, giving up two runs on five hits. He also had five strikeouts. After a rough start to last season in Class A Lancaster, the top-rated pitcher held his own against stronger talent in Kissimmee. A strong season in the minor leagues this year should have Appel being considered for a late season callup and he’ll be a serious contender for a spot in next year’s rotation.

Then there’s the coveted shortstop. Correa had a monster spring. He batted .341/.372/.512 in 18 games, with 14 hits, two homeruns, and two stolen bases. He was sent down to the minors a couple of days ago, but he’s getting so close to the Major Leagues that he said he can almost taste it. Correa’s strong showing is making fans salivate, too.

The fans and the front office have to be feeling good about the Astros’ future.

No Fix Needed

As the MLB heads into the regular season, the Houston Astros are the perfect antidote to the idea that Spring Training is broken. With fewer open positions on the major league roster, there was plenty of careful evaluation by the Astros’ brass in order to put the most competitive team on the field. Additionally, the 2015 Spring Training gave the fans and the front office some insight on the state of the team for the seasons to come. What more could you ask for? Seems to me that there is no fix needed.

Next: Where Do The Astros Fit in the AL West?

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