Astros: A Spark is Needed

Mar 10, 2016; Melbourne, FL, USA; Houston Astros third baseman Colin Moran (79) hits a ball in the sixth inning against the Washington Nationals at Space Coast Stadium. The Houston Astros won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 10, 2016; Melbourne, FL, USA; Houston Astros third baseman Colin Moran (79) hits a ball in the sixth inning against the Washington Nationals at Space Coast Stadium. The Houston Astros won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports /

When it rains, it pours. And for the Astros that couldn’t ring more true than it does now.

As I am writing this post from a couch in Key West, Florida, with the Astros losing 2-1 to the Rangers early on, I can’t help but wonder if a change is needed to help jumpstart a clearly struggling major league roster. You know, something that will maybe jolt the Astros out of their slumber. The question is where the Astros can find that spark.

When you examine the current roster, there is talent littered throughout. But talent doesn’t always translate into positive results. For example, Carlos Gomez. The former Brewer remains one of the Astros more talented players, but he has yet to put it together on the field this year. His poor play has now raised the question whether the Astros need to look elsewhere for production in center field, which is discussed more in depth by our own Larry Manch.

But center field is only part of the bigger issue at hand. Third base has turned into a virtual black hole in the lineup with Luis Valbuena, who was a major reason that the Astros got off to such a stellar start last year. At this point in the 2015 season, Valbuena had already smacked five home runs to go with seven RBI and a 143 wRC+. In just 12 games this season, he has posted a no home runs along with three RBI and a 48 wRC+. And while it was unrealistic to expect the veteran infielder to replicate his early success from last year, the Astros were surely hoping for more than the results that they have received thus far in 2016.

The Astros have also received little from their catchers, Jason Castro and Erik Kratz, early on. And Tyler White is in the midst of a 3-for-20 slump at the time of the writing this post, even though he did hit a home run last night. Carlos Correa himself isn’t immune to the slump bug going around. The only Astro hitters that have been consistent is Jose Altuve and Colby Rasmus. And the pitching staff outside of Dallas Keuchel, Luke Gregerson, and Will Harris have been awfully inconsistent. Home runs allowed have actually been the biggest issue. In fact, the Astros starting rotation is currently tied for second with 13 home runs allowed this season. That is not good, not one bit.

So what can the Astros try to provide a spark?

First, the possibility of calling up one of the team’s minor league players sometime soon could be possible. The Astros will almost surely wait to when the arbitration clock is pushed back one more year before calling up A.J. Reed to the majors. This may be a good thing as this now gives the talented slugger more time to develop before making the jump. But he will be needed sooner or later in Houston this season in my opinion.

Another potential spark plug, Tony Kemp, has seen a fair amount of playing time in center field to start the 2016 season for the Fresno Grizzlies. And he has provided a spark for the Grizzlies as the 24-year old has posted an impressive 154 wRC+ in his first 47 plate appearances. Colin Moran has posted a 143 wRC+ and Danny Worth, yes Danny Worth, has posted an incredible 263 wRC+ in just 46 plate appearances. Then there is Alex Bregman and his hot start with the Corpus Christi Hooks. Don’t forget that the precedent of calling up players directly from Dobule-A has been set in years past. But that won’t mean it will happen with Bregman as the circumstances are different then they were a few years ago. So there are options for the Astros if they choose to go the minor league route to provide a spark.

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There could be movement on the trade front early on if general manager Jeff Luhnow determines that the team will need another notable player to elevate the level of play. But being so early in the season will likely deter the Astros from making any major changes via trade. After all, the season is a marathon, not a sprint. But if the right player becomes available then don’t be surprise if Luhnow at least kicked the tires of any potential deal.

Lastly, the return of Lance McCullers could prove to be a catalyst of a change for the better. The Astros rotation has clearly struggled to begin the season as the staff has posted a 4.57 FIP, the seventh worst in baseball heading into last night’s game. McCullers would add another wrinkle to the rotation as he has throws harder than the current five starters, and that could prove instrumental in improving one the league’s best rotations in 2015. He did, after all, provide a similar impact last season.

Next: Astros: The Process of Building Something Special

A spark is clearly needed, no matter where it comes from. However, fifteen games into the season is way too early to draw any concrete conclusions about this team. After all, the Astros could catch fire and make us forget about this horrid start. Or not. But one way or another, either improvement or change has to take place relatively soon.

**Statistics provided by Fangraphs & Baseball-Reference**