Astros Announce Opening Day Roster And It Has Some Surprises
By Alec Brown
With Opening Day looming, the Astros announced their 26-man roster. The big name players like Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez of course were locks, while bubble players like Justin Dirden, Corey Julks and Korey Lee sweated out their fates.
Of position players, Corey Julks, Yainer Diaz and César Salazar made the Opening Day roster. Julks wasn't on the 40-man roster, but bashed his way onto the team after hitting .275 with an .868 OPS this spring. He had success in AAA last year, hitting 31 home runs. His experience in the minors gave him the edge over Dirden, who Dana Brown commented could use more "seasoning" in AAA after striking out a lot in the Spring.
Diaz won the backup catcher spot in his battle with Korey Lee. His bat is too much to be ignored, and he also can play left field while Michael Brantley rehabs. That the Astros carried three catchers wasn't a massive surprise, but carrying Salazar was. Salazar also was not on the 40-man roster, so will require a corresponding move to be made. In two AAA seasons, Salazar has hit .238 with a .586 OPS.
Brown explained that Salazar made the roster over Lee because Lee requires playing time everyday.
"You can’t have guys like that sitting on the bench at the major league level. You need to get him playing time. Salazar is a backup catcher, he fits that role better."- Dana Brown
Once Altuve and Brantley are healthy, it's likely Salazar goes back to AAA, though he did mash in the spring, posting a .979 OPS.
Seth Martinez and Ronel Blanco landed the last two bullpen spots for the Astros. Martinez emerged as one of the best right on right arms in the game last season, holding righties to a .394 OPS.
Blanco has been dominant all Spring and has recently been stretched out to go multiple innings, and made two starts this Spring. Blanco will likely be a spot-starter and Swiss Army Knife reliever that fills multiple roles, while Martinez can get both leverage outs and provide length.
Though Justin Dirden and Korey Lee both had great Springs, neither made the Opening Day roster. I'd anticipate both making contributions at some point in time this season with the big league club.