Houston Astros way-too-early 2021 season roster projections

Dusty Baker (L) talks to general manager James Click (R) during team workouts prior to the 2020 ALCS against the Tampa Bay Rays at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
Dusty Baker (L) talks to general manager James Click (R) during team workouts prior to the 2020 ALCS against the Tampa Bay Rays at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports /
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Oct 11, 2020; San Diego, California, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Framber Valdez (59) pitching against the Tampa Bay Rays during the sixth inning in game one of the 2020 ALCS at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 11, 2020; San Diego, California, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Framber Valdez (59) pitching against the Tampa Bay Rays during the sixth inning in game one of the 2020 ALCS at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

Roster Locks: Pitchers

These pitchers, barring injury, are guaranteed to be on the Opening Day roster in 2021.

Rotation

Despite losing ace Justin Verlander after only one start, the Astros starting rotation was surprisingly effective in 2020. Unfortunately, they won’t have Verlander in 2021 after he underwent Tommy John surgery, but the front office has the luxury of not needing to make any additions aside from adding some depth.

Who’s the ace now? At this point it looks like Framber Valdez, who put up a 3.57 ERA with strong peripherals in 2020 and was even better in the postseason, tallying a 1.88 ERA in 24 innings. Now entering his age-27 season, the lefthander will be looking to show his excellent year was no fluke.

The veteran Zack Greinke will be back in the final year of his contract, and though he had an up and down 2020, he showed he’s still capable of being a solid mid-rotation starter. Lance McCullers, Jr finished strong to tally a 3.93 ERA in his first season back from Tommy John surgery and looks to take another step forward in what will also be his contract year.

Jose Urquidy missed time because of COVID but returned to put up a 2.73 ERA in five starts and a 4.02 ERA in the postseason, with one bad start in the ALDS inflating his numbers. He’ll look to put together a full season in 2021. Rookie Cristian Javier was excellent, pitching to a 3.48 ERA in 10 starts and two relief appearances and put up a 2.89 ERA out of the bullpen in the playoffs.

Oct 16, 2020; San Diego, California, USA; Houston Astros relief pitcher Cristian Javier (53) pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during the eighth inning during game six of the 2020 ALCS at Petco Park. The Houston Astros won 7-4. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 16, 2020; San Diego, California, USA; Houston Astros relief pitcher Cristian Javier (53) pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during the eighth inning during game six of the 2020 ALCS at Petco Park. The Houston Astros won 7-4. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

A rotation with these five pitchers would be a solid one, and that could be the way the team goes. They could also add another veteran to the mix and shift Javier to a multi-inning relief role, but either way, all five of these guys will be there on Opening Day.

Bullpen

After serving as the closer for most of 2020, Ryan Pressly will be back, though the Astros could always add a closer and move Pressly back into a setup role. After sitting out all of 2020, veteran Joe Smith will be back as well, so that’ll be two quality veteran arms at the back of the bullpen already.

Youngsters Enoli Paredes and Blake Taylor will be there as well. Both put together strong first seasons in the big leagues in 2020 and look to have solid futures in the game. Paredes, in particular, looks like he could be a future closer. Lefty Brooks Raley, who was technically a rookie at age 32, will return, giving the Astros a second lefthanded option alongside Taylor.

There are a couple of bullpen spots up for grabs, which could go to some new additions or possibly some younger players who are currently on the bubble. But this group of five pitchers is a solid place to start when building a bullpen.

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