Football — both college and pro — has had its moments in the sun over the past weeks. Now, no major events stand between us and the beginning of spring training, and only one is left (NCAA Final Four) remains before the beginning of the 2015 baseball season.
Houston pitchers and catchers — all of ’em — report on February 19 and the first full team workout is set for February 25. First spring game? That would be March 5 in Kissimmee versus the Phillies.
So, before we move forward, let’s take a look back at some snapshots in time.
About that 2012 draft?
- With that one failed Seahawks’ goalline call in Sunday’s Super Bowl, it’s evident that one single decision can change a game, a season or even a reconstruction plan. Byron Buxton is still the #1 prospect in all of baseball and Kris Bryant will be in Chicago this season filling a role (third base) the Astros just can’t seem to plug. Of course, Carlos Correa is beginning to look like the difference-maker at another critical position (shortstop) and that could be more valuable than a strong hot corner. The Astros chose Correa ahead of Buxton, Mike Zunino and Kevin Gausman, the last two of which are already contributing in the majors. Appel was the #1 pick in 2013, butothersnow rank ahead of him as well. AretheAstros seeing things others are not or does this simply prove the draft is a crapshoot?
Will Astros be last in 2015?
- For all of us predicting great improvement for the Astros in 2015, it appears that the so-called experts don’t share the same optimism. Still, the interesting thing is that those same experts project somewhat of a balanced AL West where teams will likely beat up on each other. While the Mariners are getting most of the love, Fangraphs, for example, suggests the Astros will finish 77-85, just a game behind the Rangers (78-84). The A’s and the Angels (both 84-78), are projected to be only 7 games better than Houston, which — if this were a political matchup — would be close to the margin of error in a 162-game season.
- Question: Is Fangraphs wrong? Remember, these guys predicted a 67-win season in 2014 and the Astros won 70.
- Question 2: Even if Seattle wins the division, what record could squeeze the Astros into the playoffs as a Wild Card?
Astros not among most improved. But, are they improved?
- While Jeff Luhnow obviously made major changes — even those that would be considered significant upgrades — many pundits yawned at the Astros’ moves in comparison to some of the movement of other teams like the Padres, Cubs and Mariners. Yes, it’s hard to compare the acquisitions of Evan Gattis and Luis Valbuena to those Jeff Samardzia, Jon Lester or Matt Kemp. Here’s one list of the top 5 most improved teams. While they may not be the most improved — or even in the top third of teams most improved — the Astros have clearly positioned them to possibly be a surprise team. And, while it may not be the most improved on paper, A.J. Hinch‘s club could still claim the real most improved team for back-to-back years with a winning record in 2015.
- Question: The Astros will likely have new starters at third base, shortstop and possibly two outfield spots, not to mention a revamped bullpen. The levels of improvement have been debated, but what one addition between now and the beginning of the season (or even the trade deadline) would solidify and perhaps guarantee that improvement for 2015?
And, how ’bout that rotation?
- While the everyday lineup is improved, it’s clear the bread and butter of the team is still the upper part of the rotation. Is it among the best in the majors? Probably not. Can it puttheAstros in position to contend for 2015. Yes. But since Houston will play the majority of its games against AL West teams, how does the top-end of that rotation stack up within the division?
- Astros. Scott Feldman, Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh.
- Rangers. Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Nick Martinez.
- Angels. Jered Weaver, Garrett Richards, C.J. Wilson.
- A’s. Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez.
- Mariners. Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma.
- Note: These names came directly from the teams’ depth charts.
- Question: Is it possible that one of the other pitchers (e.g. Mark Appel, Brett Oberholtzer, others) will supplant one of Houston’s top three by mid-season?