2014 Astros: Looking ahead at the next 41

The Astros hit the quarter-mark of the 2014 season with Wednesday’s win over the Rangers, but I’ll resist looking back, handing out awards and examining what went right, what went wrong. Instead, let’s look ahead at what needs to go right and what will be key over the next 41 games, which will be much more of a barometer than the first 41.

  1. URGENT! Fix the bullpen. Jeff Luhnow and Bo Porter must — read: MUST — fix the bullpen. With eight blown saves and a 5.73 ERA, there is no more needy area of attention than the bullpen. Yes, Jesse Crain and Matt Albers will help when they return next month. Michael Foltynewicz, Alex White or Asher Wojciechowski might help before the summer is out. But, Luhnow should consider Kyle Farnsworth and Heath Bell, both of whom would come cheap. Can they be worse than what’s out there? Question: With even a decent bullpen, how much better would the Astros 14-27 record be?
  2. Someone needs to step up and lead. The team appears at times to be wandering aimlessly and this is likely due — at least in part — to the fact that no one player is taking the bull by the horns, holding players accountable and setting the tone. Sorry, this is not the manager’s job! It’s the manager’s job to create the atmosphere, but only the players can create momentum and lead on the field. Porter shouldn’t have to ream out players in the media when they make childish base-running mistakes or throwing faux pas. The older, more experienced players should take younger players under their wings and take some responsibility. The obvious candidates might be Dexter Fowler and Jose Altuve. My sleeper candidates are Scott Feldman and Matt Dominguez.
  3. This is the easy one. As I suggested yesterday, add a player a month, whether a prospect or injured returnee. If Jon Singleton isn’t hitting sixth in the Astros’ lineup by Memorial Day, something’s wrong. Is there any reason that Max Stassi, Austin Wates, Domingo Santana, or others shouldn’t arrive this summer?

And, a few other things that should begin to crystallize during the next 41 games.

  • Is Jason Castro the Astros’ catcher of the future? If so, that should begin to become apparent and Houston should consider a long-term deal. If Stassi or others continue to improve, Castro’s name could become fodder for trade talk.
  • What do the Astros really have in Dallas Keuchel, Jarred Cosart and Collin McHugh? Real deal or fool’s gold?
  • Can Bo Porter gain control of the team? The next 41 will tell much about what he’s learned in the first year and a half and much about his future. The next 41 should result in a better record than 14-27.
  • Minor league promotions should happen in the next 30-60 days and that will further help to identify the future nucleus of the organization. Will Carlos Correa or Josh Hader make it from Lancaster to Corpus Christi?  Who moves from Corpus to OKC?
  • One other thing to keep an eye on: Sometime this summer the Astros will name the PTBNL acquisition to complete the Fowler trade from Colorado. Will Jordan Lyles solid first half play into that?
  • Finally, there’s that TV deal. If — IF — the Astros do improve during the next 41, fans are going to want to see more games. No need to rehash here, but Jim Crane should be working overtime on this.

Have a great weekend!

19 comments on “2014 Astros: Looking ahead at the next 41

  1. I think Dallas is the real deal. He’s shown flashes in the past and I think Strom has helped him put it together.
    I wasnt sold on Castro last year and so far he’s proving me right. I want Stassi up now.
    Keep Krauss and cut Guzman to make room for Singlepuff.
    Call me crazy but I’m cool with Villar until Correa is ready.
    Lock up Dominguez.


    • So keep two lefties at first and drop Guzman, who, if he can do one thing fairly well is hit lefty pitching? Krauss is gone when Singleton comes up.


  2. I am just speaking from the gut here. Things that I just have a strong gut feeling about the team in the next 41 games.
    I think the guy who needs to step up and lead is Jason Castro.
    I will be surprised if Crain pitches this year. I think Albers will have problems with his injury.
    I think Folty will join the team out of necessity after the Super 2 time is passed, maybe because of the bullpen more than anything.
    Singleton’s first appearance will be determined by Krauss, Guzman and Carter.
    My gut feeling is that the Astros have starters in Cosart, and Keuchel for at least the next two years. I think they may have a 2014 starter in McHugh and this year determines his major league future. I see Wates, Stassi and Santana as at least September callups, with Stassi earlier if there is a trade and Wates earlier if there is an injury or a failure in LF.
    I see Hader moving to CC if Smith, or Hauschild or someone else has problems at CC. I really expect Appel to be in CC in the next two weeks. I expect Correa to move up after around 500 plate appearances at Lancaster.
    I think we owe somebody a PTBNL in some trade. That might be a middle infielder not named Kemp.


    • oldpro, I wouldn’t disagree on Castro. Speaking of gut feeling, I just wonder if he’s totally bought into Houston and, frankly, if Houston is fully bought into Castro. That’s why I suggested the next 41 games will be important in determining his future here. He’ll be 27 next month, is on a year-to-year contract, is earning $2.45 million this season and could easily get a bump to $4 million (or more) in arbitration next season. Indeed, it’s time for him to step up, just not sure if that will happen given the above circumstances and given the fact he could be trade bait if the other catchers in the organization improve this summer. On a side note, watch the draft. Will the Astros choose a catcher at some point? Hmmm.


    • Castro has another year of arbitration. In 2013, he had two great months, but was pedestrian the rest of the year. I’m hopeful we’ll see him catch an extended hot streak this year, but don’t think he’s in their long term plans due to inconsistency and his injury history.

      Not drafting a catcher would be a shock, but we know it won’t happen in round 1 (without Luhnow immediately losing his job).


      • When I look at the current roster and the Arb 1 guys coming up this year, I expect a HUGE turnover in the roster. I just can’t see keeping them at $1 Million each. Right now they are 1/2 price, but for a bunch, that ends this year. So if the Astros are reluctant to “start the clock” – for sure they would be reluctant to “keep it going” with marginal – at best – players. To continue the exercise: Carter at $1. or Tucker at $ .5, Fowler at $ 8+. or Wates at $ .5, Corporan at $1. or Stassi at $ .5 or Guzman @ $ 1.3+ or Singleton at $ .5. I could see 10 of the 25 gone if not more. Then there are about 6 on the 40 man that probably will go to protect more prospects in the Rule 5 draft. So the next 41 games are important to fans, but very important to guys that need to produce NOW.


  3. As for the bullpen help, the Mets DFA’d Kyle Farnsworth, and he and his 3.18 ERA are looking for a team. He can (and apparently will) pick free agency. Snag him? Don’t snag him? His K/9 isn’t great, and his BB/9 is a bit high. But his an experienced reliever who is having some success.

    I think the promotions dominoes start moving in mid-to-late June. People need time at their levels, at bats and innings to give evaluaters a sample size.

    From what I saw Wednesday night, it looks like we’re getting a leader: Jose Altuve. After Springer homered, TV showed Altuve in the dugout encouraging and instructing the “youngster.” Actually, Altuve is about seven months younger than Springer, but he’s a leader on this team and it shows.


  4. I wrote a nice MILB report at midnight last night and have no idea where it went.
    To sum things up, the Astros have dropped the lousy tandem pitching system and got four great pitching performances from their starters and four wins last night.
    Of note was Lancaster’s 10-1 blasting of Bakersfield in which Kyle Westwood went 7.2 innings and hade four K’s and 15 groundouts and only 1 flyout.
    Adrian Houser pitched five innings in a 7-0 shutout win over 1st place Kane County as SS Thomas Lindauer again hit a grand slam.
    Kyle Smith had a real good outing for Corpus and Thomas Shirley got the win in a 3-2 game that went 11 innings. Don’t look now but Matt Duffy had 3 more hits and his average has gotten up to .295. Matt Who? And Andrew Apling came in as a pinch hitter and late inning replacement and drew two walks. His BA sits at .299 and he has 31 BB against only 21 Ks.
    Nic Tropeano was awesome last night in a 4-2 win for OKC and Santana hit HR #6.


  5. Dont want to be redundant but from what I’ve seen of Castro he is a good guy and a decent catcher, that’s it. He is no leader and it seems he cant throw anyone out, but even decent catchers are not growing on tress. Stassi could be OK who knows. I would need to see a couple hundred at bats in the Bigs at least, before I’m trading Castro right now.

    I’m like everyone else a newbie a month will keep getting us better. We have a lot of young talent getting good experience on the farm. In the sort term more wins equals better bullpen period, So pick up a Bell or Farnsworth for a temporary band aide. This will bring some more veteran leadership and lets face it, getting wins right now will let these kids quit pressing and have fun and play better,



  6. I’m a little perplexed by Castro not being a better leader. Perhaps that comes from his abysmal performance at the plate, especially with RISP. For a guy who gets the most good RBI opportunities by far he has disappointed and underperformed. Of the regulars only Villar is worse. Altuve has also underperformed in RBI situations but not nearly as bad as Castro and for my money is the most improved player on the team by far. He is much better defensively this year (still 0 errors) and is running the bases a lot better (tied for 1st in SB in AL). Between him and Pat Listach Jonathan Villar is also much improved. Altuve’s uniform always looks dirty and while that won’t show up in even advanced metrics it does show that he plays hard every day. I agree about Dominguez as a sleeper candidate. He and Springer have the best BA with RISP. When a guy hits better in RBI situations it speaks well of his mental approach. Lost in the euphoria over Dominguez’s walk off was that he had another hit with RISP earlier in the game although it did not score a run.

    I actually see some hope for the bullpen. Tony Sipp has been a huge addition and I don’t see quite as much dead weight out there as before. It would really be nice if Fields could contribute but I think this group is doing a lot better recently.

    Speaking of dead weight, the dictionary definition should read “Chris Carter”. Letting Carter go would really validate the fleecing we got in the Jed Lowrie deal. Carter seems incapable of putting the barrel of the bat on the ball when it matters. Of course he has trouble putting any part of the bat on the ball no matter the situation. Swapping his roster spot for Singleton might be the single most productive move for the entire offense.


    • Totally agree on Carter, a DH who can’t hit .200 are you kidding me, So what the occasional Bomb when were down 8-1 because has had already left 20 guys on base. Time to cut bait.


    • Dr., a bit quick to suggest Sipp will continue to help. Lefties are in such short supply that there must be something wrong with Sipp that we just have not seen yet. I think the pen has seemed better recently because we haven’t had to use the pen as much.

      The Lowrie deal can’t really be judged until we see hoe Stassi turns out.


  7. If we keep Castro and Corp, Stassi stays down and has to share with Perez.
    If we trade Corp, Stassi comes up and share catching w/ Castro
    If we trade Castro, Stassi comes up and maybe he’s not ready.
    The best scenario is to stand pat for the season at catcher and see whether Castro is really the 2013 Castro or the 2012 Castro. That gives Stassi his full AAA season and you have your large sample to assess his potential.
    Right now, Castro is not hitting well enough to say he could be your DH or 1B because he has not been hitting well enough to commit to that. I would like the Castro of last season to show up in the batter’s box.


    • If it is determined that Stassi be brought up, both Corporan and Castro can stay. Simply make Castro the DH against right handed pitching. Let him sit against southpaws. You just can’t count on the guy against lefty pitching. He finally showed improvement against them in 2013, but this year, 7 singles and a double against them for a .562 OPS. We need more than that out of guys hitting third or fourth, or 7th for that matter. But oldpro, I’m not sure if it is time for Stassi yet. What will his .305 OBP translate into here? So I think we agree.


  8. Some news thru Astros County. Vincent Velasquez has suffered a groin injury while working out. He is flying to Kissimmee today and may require surgery. Any promotion for Hader may have just flown the coop and that also may mean Appel might head back to Lancaster instead of Corpus. Who knows what they’re thinking! I just know this is not good news about a good pitching prospect having a good year in a tough place to pitch.


  9. This team, in spite of its terrible offensive start, could be close to .500 had the pen been all as advertised. I disagree that someone on this young team should be stepping up and becoming a leader. That’s Bo Porters job, especially since it’s a young team. Maybe it will be Altuve someday, but he’s still gaining his own confidence out there. Castro is just not the guy. I don’t see enough passion out of the guy. And he’s certainly not the catcher of the future. You want that particular guy, the backstop, to be a leader. I get the impression that he’d be happy as a full time DH.

    Almost time for Singleton. Krauss will get a couple of more weeks. But even if he does get the average up over .200, Singleton is still the guy. So why wait much longer? Bad luck for Wates. Without a couple of injuries, he might be here already. But hold off on Santana. He can work on being more selective and getting his OBP up. Same with Stassi.

    Keuchel and Cosart are the real thing. Both have great stuff. Cosart’s road will be a bit bumpier because he does not always get the ball over the plate. But both guys have excellent mound presence. They don’t flip out when things go bad.

    No reason why Correa and Hader should not get to Corpus by early summer. That’s a bad break for Velasquez. But they’ll find other guys to pitch in Lancaster rather keeping Hader there if he’s ready to move.


  10. – Yes – right now the pen is the third leg of the three legged stool and it is such a short leg the farmer keeps falling off the stool.
    – Have to agree with Brian T – Altuve was acting like a leader throughout the end of last night’s game and he is having the type of year that should be getting the respect of the young guys.
    – I’m not giving up on Jason Castro after a slow start to the season offensively – but there is a feeling that he may not be the catcher of the future. I would not want to trade him while he is at a low point – we tend to do that and get less than we should for players.
    – Keuchel – very impressed with him – he seems to be a real pitcher and I love that he is not sitting at 55 pitches after 3 innings.
    – Cosart looks like he may be the next coming of Bud Norris – Solid pitcher – at times very good — but can’t seem to keep his pitch count down enough to get through 7 or 8 innings. That will be the key to him being long term help.
    – McHugh – too small a sample, but at least it has been a good sample instead a pile of…not so good pitching.
    – Porter will look like a much better manager if the relievers come in toting fire extinguishers instead of Molotov cocktails.
    – Promotions? There are some folks putting up numbers that should put them at the forefront – including Thomas Shirley and Correa, etc. but in many cases it will depend on someone ahead of them playing well enough to be promoted or demoted.
    – Lyles – He had a real good month with us last season (I think it was June) – so let’s see what happens over time – but I always hate to trade young pitchers.
    – I ain’t talking about the non-TV deal.


  11. With my perfect 20/20 hindsight I still don’t like the Lowrie deal although I admit Stassi may make me eat my words. But Carter is a bust, Peacock is a huge maybe and Stassi is not can’t miss. I think Lowrie would have been the leader the team needs. He performs well enough to hit in the top part of the division leading team’s lineup, plays solid defense at a critical position and came out of a system that knows how to win. Porter is the director of this team but I don’t think he’ll ever be a leader. One thing I’ve never seen from Porter is him seeming to enjoy the game. His visage is almost always sour or dour and IMO he is too quick to deliver critical post mortems instead of proactive positive instruction and leadership. The guys who have improved the most in more areas are Altuve and Villar and they are coached primarily by Pat Listach. Dominguez looks quiet and somewhat enigmatic but I think a real competitor lurks inside. Right now he is the guy I want at the plate when we need a big hit with men on base.

    As for the young pitchers, I think Keuchel is for real and will continue to improve. Cosart has that competitive fire that I really like in a pitcher and I sometimes allow myself to speculate on what kind of closer he might be if additional competent starters become available. I’m not totally sold on McHugh but so far I like his makeup and his approach.

    If we can get more offensive production from DH, LF and 1B the next 41 could be fun. Singleton solves the 1B problem, Krauss might help the DH situation and ???? helps in LF. These are prime offensive positions and right now we stink at all three.


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