Playing Pepper 2014: Houston Astros

Since 2009, one of the traditions of the spring has been the Playing Pepper series.  I ask a number of questions of blogs–some in the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, some not–that cover the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball.  This year, not only is my son involved–he and I came up with the last question together–but the series is also brought to you by Purpose, Perseverance and Power Arms, the United Cardinal Bloggers annual publication.  Only $2.99 at the Kindle store, so get yours today!  But first, get out the bats and gloves and let’s play some pepper.

Houston Astros
51-111, fifth in the AL East

A change of scenery didn’t do much for the Astros’ outlook in 2013.

Of course, it wasn’t really expected to.  Houston was projected to be a very weak team for last year, given their commitment to rebuilding the franchise basically from scratch.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it’s possible it took less time to get the Coliseum up than it will be to see Houston return to contention.

That said, there’s a lot of reasons to root for Houston.  Besides the whole underdog thing, their rebuild is going to have a decided Cardinal imprint on it, as much as my contributors today might not want to think about it.  Jeff Luhnow and Sig Mejdal are obviously major decision makers in this process and both cut their teeth on such things from their offices on Clark Street.

Houston’s always been a classy team with classy fans and this group of bloggers is no different.  Today we have:

While the present might not be a lot of fun, it’s still baseball and that means optimism or at least a looking forward to what is to come.  So let’s hear from these fans!

C70: How would you grade the offseason?

CTH: I think the team did a good job this offseason by staying on course with the rebuild. With the addition of Dexter Fowler, Scott Feldman and several relief pitchers, the team was able to address some of their needs and bringing the payroll to an acceptable level without going overboard.

WTH: I’ll give Jeff Luhnow an A for the offseason this time around. For me, the biggest thing he did was to get solid experienced bullpen help. It was painful watching the bullpen implode last season. I also liked the Scott Feldman and Dexter Fowler signings. Luhnow has added veteran stability to the roster without adding any long-term commitments that will block the multitude of Astros prospects. Obviously, with a team that is in transition to the extent that the Astros are, you never know who will ultimately break camp with the team, but I think the opening day roster will be a good mix.

C70: Who will be Houston’s All-Star representative, do you think?

CTH: I think Jose Altuve has a chance to get back to the All-Star game this year. Being sandwiched between Dexter Fowler and Jason Castro in the lineup gives him a good chance to be successful.

WTH: I wouldn’t be surprised to see a pitcher picked for the team this year, maybe Jarred Cosart or Brett Oberholtzer, but more likely than not, Jason Castro will be a repeat pick.

C70: Which roster battle will be the most intriguing during spring training?

CTH: I think the 1B battle is going to be interesting because there are so many different types of players in the mix. From Jonathan Singleton and Japhet Amador trying to break into the big leagues to Brett Wallace trying to salvage his career.

WTH: There are serious roster battles for first base, the outfield, and the final spots in both the starting rotation and the bullpen. There is a TON of competition for jobs right now. Personally, I’m most interested to see if Jon Singleton can force the issue at first base and play his way on to the team. He has a lot to prove after his drug suspension (marijuana) last year. He struggled somewhat at AAA after the suspension and was quoted as saying that he spent most of his shortened season trying to get his timing back, but he hit on all cylinders playing winter ball in Puerto Rico. More likely than not, the recently acquired Jesus Guzman will be the opening day first baseman with Singleton starting the season at AAA, but I’d really like to see Singleton make a statement in Spring Training.

C70: What rookie, if any, will make the most impact on the team in 2014?

CTH: George Springer could be the best player on the team once he is called up.

WTH: George Springer. Next question? Seriously, Springer is not likely to break camp with the team (I don’t care what the front office says, his call-up this season has EVERYTHING to do with keeping Springer under control a little longer), and when he does come up to Houston, he will struggle at times. He strikes out a lot (not as much as Chris Carter, but still a lot) and he will probably continue to do so. BUT he will also hit his share of home runs, steal his share of bases and make his share of spectacular plays in the outfield. He is an immensely talented player. What people may not realize, however, is that his intangibles will make him an immediate fan favorite. Although he is quite shy off the field, he is animated and gregarious on the field. He is equal parts class clown and cheerleader and will be a spark plug for any team on which he plays. I’m really looking forward to seeing him in an Astros uniform.

C70: What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division?

CTH: I think we are in store for another last place finish and at least 100 losses.

WTH: I’m always overly optimistic this time of year, but I really think that this team can win 20 more games than they did last season. Heck, they can win 10+ more by limiting the bullpen implosions! That would mean a 71-91 record which, unfortunately, will still mean a last place finish in the division. In any event, I am more than ready to let someone else get the first draft pick in 2015.

C70: Which player from your team do you most enjoy watching?

CTH: I’m hoping that last year was an aberration for Lucas Harrell. In 2012 Harrell was a bulldog on the mound and the Astros most exciting player to watch. A return to form would be a big boost for the team.

WTH: I really enjoy watching Brett Oberholtzer pitch. I’ve gotten to know him a bit over the last two years and you will be hard pressed to find anyone who works harder and wants it more than Brett. Plus I’ve always had a soft spot for lefty pitchers, so there’s that. I was at his first professional start last July and I was holding my breath for seven innings even though he was in control all the way. As far as position players, Matty D (Matt Dominguez) makes a lot of Gold Glove caliber plays over at third.

My thanks to Greg and Jayne for their thoughts on this club.  We’ll see just what kind of strides they can make this season!

  • HouCounterplot

    Great job, Greg and Jayne.

  • Buddhasillegitimatechild38

    Good insight, yeah this team has a long way to go. I just fear (from a Houston perspective, being a Cards fan this obviously isn’t too big of a fear for me) Lunhow pulling an Ed Wade; being a great farm director and a poor GM. He has had an awfully big soft spot for the scrap heap, especially Cards related and that doesn’t bode well. Still he’s seemed to be on the right track so far and I hope the best for him.

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