This section is more of a letter to General Manager James Click than anything else. Eight of the starting nine positions are locks when healthy. However, the team could improve the rotation, bullpen and catcher.
When Verlander’s lat improves, there are two solid options at the top of the rotation. After that, no one really knows. Lance McCullers Jr. is working back from UCL surgery and the rest of the options are totally unproven commodities.
Spring Training has been a mixed bag for the rotation hopefuls. Jose Urquidy, Framber Valdez, Josh James, Forrest Whitley, Austin Pruitt and others have looked okay at times and absolutely horrible at other times. Spring Training stats don’t matter, but for players looking to earn a spot, it has been a little disappointing to see.
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For a team to earn a division title and make a run in the playoffs, it needs more than two good starting pitchers. The Astros are going to need one of the players listed above to step up or Click will have to find some help from outside the organization to continue their winning ways.
Garrett Stubbs and Dustin Garneau have had a very pleasant Spring Training this year, but neither is considered the number one catcher. Martin Maldonado is set for that spot and is more of a pitcher’s catcher than an offensive threat.
All nine offensive positions don’t have to be juggernauts for a team to be successful, but it helps to know that each spot in the lineup can help carry the load. Maldonado is a fine catcher, but his .289 career on-base percentage leaves a lot to be desired.
Stubbs or Garneau could blossom into the catcher the Astros need this year, or Machete himself could hold down the fort behind the dish, but it would be hard to disagree that Click should explore other options for catcher to improve the team.
Other than rotation help and more offensive production from a catcher, the only other room for improvement on the 26-man roster would be in the bullpen. This is something every team always looks to improve.
Will Harris, old reliable, isn’t in the pen anymore, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good arms for Dusty Baker to call upon. However, with bullpens, you can never have too many good options. This upgrade could easily be covered in-house with someone like Bryan Abreu, Nivaldo Rodriguez or even Rogelio Armenteros.
The Road to the West
Love or hate the Houston Astros, it is hard to argue that the road to the AL West crown doesn’t go through Houston. Even if there are some question marks, this team is poised to be a tough one to take down.
LA and Texas made additions to their teams in the offseason that doubtlessly improve their chances. Oakland has an awesome young crop of pitchers that could blossom into aces. Did these teams do enough to take the fight to Houston this year?
If the PECOTA projections hold true, then it should be another great year for Houston baseball. If the Astros can keep their focus and their health while Click runs the baseball operations side well, it is hard to argue against the Astros taking their fourth AL West title in as many years.