Astros Spring Training Guide: Game times, players to watch

On Friday, the Houston Astros announced the changes to the upcoming Spring Training schedule for the Grapefruit League season that includes new game times and a shortened amount of games. The matchups lost are against AJ Hinch’s Detroit Tigers, the Minnesota Twins, and the New York Yankees, while the remaining teams that are among the same pod of the Astros are the Miami Marlins, the St. Louis Cardinals, the New York Mets and the Washington Nationals, who also call the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches their home. The Astros will not play any of these four teams during the regular season.

The home opener against the Marlins has been moved back a day to Feb. 28 at 12:05 pm. Other changes include: 24 Grapefruit League games, 12 of those at night, and the final game pushed back a day to Mar. 29.

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With Spring Training right around the corner, here is a guide for which Astros to watch.

Hoping Spring Training runs smoothly, the MLB season is expected to start on time. On April 1, the Astros will be in Oakland for Opening Day against the A’s at 9:07 pm CT. Spring Training will be the overall test for how the season shakes out. This comes with a list of evaluations for the upcoming season, and as said before, the main issues to target are who the closer will be, how will centerfield shake out, and who will add to the rotation depth.

The newly signed and drafted minor league prospects will not start their minor league Spring Training until the major league one ends. By that time, they will also have a better developed plan to avoid pandemic issues circling club houses.

The Astros have invited 72 players to major league Spring Training with the max being 75 total. This could possibly mean the organization could sign another three players during camp.

Here is the full list:

Of the players on this list, 21 of the top 30 Astros prospects (eight of the top 10) are among the group. RHP Josh James, RHP Austin Pruitt and RHP Justin Verlander are off the list due to their respected injuries; Verlander and James are expected to be moved to the injured list at the beginning of Spring Training. Francis Martes and Kent Emmanuel are listed as restricted after their suspensions for performance enhancing drug use.

Non-roster players to watch

Among the pitching core, there are some unfamiliar names to many fans, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t hidden gems. RHP Jojanse Torres, 25-years-old, has been in the Astros farm system since April of 2018, and while one of the older players in the minors, he is expected to make his first major league appearance in 2021. On MLB Pipeline’s scale (20-80), his fastball grades at 70, which is outstanding. His long, fast movement can be compared to Aroldis Chapman, although being right-handed. Other pitchers to keep your eye on are possible young candidates in RHP Hunter Brown, RHP Alex Santos, who hasn’t pitched live since his junior year of high school, and RHP Steve Cishek, who is competing for the major league roster as a veteran closer. And always, we hope to see Forrest Whitley progress.

At the backstop, catchers Korey Lee, 2019 first-round pick, and Michael Papierski, who has the chance of seeing major league time if needed in the coming year. In the infield, newly signed C.J. Hinojosa will have to make a lot of noise to keep his baseball career alive. Grae Kessinger, who ranks 11 on the Astros top 30, can play the left side of the infield and could take the old job of Jack Mayfield as a two-way platoon player. Lastly, Jeremy Pena should have the best spring, after having an impactful winter in the Dominican League (LIDOM). Pena’s ranking varies by outlet, but the middle-infielder has been elite with his glove. He doesn’t come with great power, but the right-hander can get on base anyway he knows how.

Lastly, the outfield has a few names that everyone should be excited to watch. Colin Barber and Zach Daniels, although a few years from the league, haven’t seen much minor league time, so this will be their chance to prove they can progress well. Jose Siri and Steven Souza Jr. have been around baseball for quite sometime and are competing for the chance to be the fourth outfielder for the Astros; there is a good chance only one of them see a future with Houston. And finally, Pedro Leon will be drawing the most eyes, as a top ten international prospect for 2021. The Astros signed him earlier this year with the intent of seeing him as the everyday starter in centerfield in two years.

There are needs to evaluate moving forward, but also there are two players looking for new contracts either this season or next offseason. Those being All-Stars Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers Jr., who both want to return to Houston. The Astros are also at a full 40-man until Spring Training, when two spots open. This frees up a spot to add a possible arm such as Cishek or sign another big name like Jackie Bradley Jr. with the remaining money.