Quickie Thursday: It’s spring, everything is new


Full workouts are underway and the Astros play their first spring game next week. Here are a few questions to whet your appetite for the season. Your answers and reasons may differ from mine, so let’s hear your thoughts on what with gather your attention when you turn on the TV, radio or reach for the day’s box scores.

What are the 2-3 things that you will be watching for this spring?

  1. Jon Singleton. The Astros’ first baseman will either create a log jam of an issue for Houston or make life easier for Jeff Luhnow in regards to how and where to play Evan Gattis and Chris Carter.
  2. The rotation. Even though three and perhaps four spots are already essentially reserved, eyes will still be focused on Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh. If they can settle in early, it will bode well for the rest of the rotation.
  3. A.J. Hinch. It will be interesting to hear feedback from players (and there will be some) as well as watch the first-year manager tinkering with lineups.

Who is the most intriguing player in camp?

  • Mark Appel. A good spring and solid attitude could almost single-handedly change the outlook of recent drafts. If Appel actually develops as the #1 pick the Astros used to take him in the 2013 draft, 2016 could be a banner year. Appel, Carlos Correa, Colin Moran among others could burst onto the scene and establish themselves and the Astros as solid contenders.
  • Joe Sclafani, Moran and Preston Tucker. Why? These players along with the aforementioned and a couple of others will provide a glimpse into 2016 and 2017. Is there a cavalry on the way?

Who would be the biggest surprise to break camp with the Astros?

  • Appel or even Moran. Both probably need more work in Fresno, but they both could set themselves up for a 2015 return with a solid spring.

The player you have high expectations for who could bomb?

  • Singleton. Despite some of the fodder in recent days, Singleton is still a strong candidate to stick as a solid producer at the major league level. Note that starting the season in Fresno would not make him a failure, but if he was not in the Astros’ lineup by late May or early June, it would be disappointing.
  • Honorable mention: Jake Marisnick or Brett Oberholtzer. The team is counting on these players and, while neither needs to be a star, the Astros need their solid production in their roles.

2015 or bust.

  • Asher Wojciechowski and Alex White. It’s their time. Or you could also write it this way: It’s now or never. Both are 27, and both appear healthy and have a unique opportunity. They’ve held valuable 40-man roster spots for a couple of years and, while they may begin the season in Fresno, a strong spring could catapult either onto the 25-man roster.
  • Honorable mention: Matt Dominguez, Singleton, Robbie Grossman. Their basic competition last year was themselves. Now, the pressure is on and none are guaranteed a roster spot.

Player who could have the biggest impact, on and off field.

  • Scott Feldman and Jed Lowrie. These are two veterans on a largely youthful, still-adjusting-to-the-majors roster. Feldman is a natural, but Lowrie could become the veteran presence the Astros need in the lineup and in the clubhouse. Will he take the role?
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42 comments on “Quickie Thursday: It’s spring, everything is new

  1. Chip, I will also be following the progress of Delino DeShields Jr., Jandel Gustave, and David Rollins this spring. I will not actively be following the progress of Ariel Ovando.

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  2. I’m interested in Preston Tucker’s defense.
    I’m interested in what people not in the Astros’ organization have to say about Correa’s spring.
    I’m interested in anything about Rasmus, other than his hair.
    I’m interested in what Jake Marisnick worked on this winter.
    I’m interested in Dan Straily’s fastball and Brad Peacock’s hip.
    I’m interested in Springer playing CF.
    The biggest surprise player to break camp with the team for me would be the guy with two names, no visa, no-show, and a ridiculous contract.
    Player I have high expectations for who could bomb: Gattis.
    2015 or bust: Villar
    Biggest impact on and off the field: Lowrie and then Springer, both so important to be big when they’re playing, and so important not to be injured.
    Most intriguing player in camp: Coming off a terrible injury, top player in the minor leagues, incredibly young and with so much pressure on him to succeed, hands down Carlos Correa.
    Player on the 40-man who could surprise me most: Ronald Torreyes.
    What I would like to see disappear immediately if not sooner: Dave Hudgeons’ Persistent Puckering. Stop kissing, start fixing!!!

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    • I don’t think Gattis could bomb in the sense that he would become a bad hitter all of a sudden, but if you mean bomb in the sense that he may not be on the field or in the batters box as often as you would like, I can definitely see that.

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  3. Two to three things – I would agree with two of your selections. Definitely ALL eyes on Singleton – he will decide the lineup for the most part. Keuchel and McHugh are key to success. I really won’t care much about Hinch outside of how he uses his bullpen pieces. I’ll give my third to where Springer lines up on the first day of ST, CF or RF.

    Most intriguing – agree with OP, Correa. That’s just personal though. Signing Lowrie was the sign to me that the Astros would have zero interest in breaking camp with him going to Houston instead of CC or Fresno. But I can’t wait to see the guy.

    Biggest surprise – I would take Appel. I would also be very surprised to see Dominguez break going to Houston unless there is an injury. I fail to see any configuration of a passable bench that has him on it.

    Player that I have high expectations for that would surprise me if he bombed – I don’t have high expectations on Marisnick, so that won’t surprise me. I don’t really see Valbuena or Lowrie as huge success stories waiting to happen, so if they fail it won’t surprise me. Rasmus with them. I’ll take Springer. I’m expecting super star level production, to finish his season with his name in conversation as one of the best hitters in baseball, but if he can’t control his K rate a little more and is so reliant on an unreliable stat like BABIP, he could be not as good as we hope. Gattis not being able to stay on the field is another form of a possible bomb.

    2015 or bust – Is Wojo really 27? Wow. Two good choices. Both one time praised prospects at a point its now or never. Also would agree with your three knuckleheads, prove it now or they probably are not ticketed to be in Houstons 2016 Spring Training. I think Presley is on the roster, but if he ever wants to show that he can handle an everyday job and 500 plate appearances, its probably this year or a lifetime of pigeon holed backup duty.

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  4. And as for veteran impact – Feldman and Lowrie both are injury prone. I would be surprised to get 100 games from Lowrie or 25 starts from Feldman. For either to be adopt that “veteran” presence they have to be on the field and proving their worth to the guys that would look up to them.

    I actually see Altuve becoming the leader of the clubhouse. Young, yes. The daily proverbial dirty uniform? Most definitely.

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  5. “What are the 2-3 things that you will be watching for this spring?”

    First: Barring an injury, who has a higher OBP and OPS, who scores more runs and has more RBIs per plate appearance, and who strikes out less per plate appearance, between the following: Marisnick, Presley, Grossman, Tucker, Aplin, Santana, and Hoes.

    Second: Barring an injury, who has a lower ERA and WHIP, who gets a higher percentage of swings and misses, who gives up the fewest BBs per IP, and who records the highest GO/AO ratio, between the following: Straily, White, Wojo, Feliz, Buchanon, and Hernandez.

    Third: Where does Colby Rasmus play most of the time – and a couple of weeks into ST will he look more like the 2013 or 2014 version of Colby Rasmus at the plate? I have a REALLY bad feeling about and really low expectations for him, as I have pointed out before.

    Fourth: Which of our lefty relievers, other than Sipp [assuming he’s not injured], is getting lefties out best and walking them the least. Thatcher? Chapman? Downs? Cruz?

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  6. * Player who could have the biggest impact, on and off field *

    Jason Castro. Another year like last one – in attitude or performance – and nothing anybody else does [read that George Springer] will really matter. But if we have a bounce back year from Castro offensively – and a significant improvement in his attitude by reason of Mr. Porter’s departure – both our line-up and our team could suddenly be get really fun to watch.

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  7. Nice set of topics Chip

    What I am watching:
    – Who will win the closer role
    – Who the 4th and 5th starter will be
    – How the Carter / Gattis / Singleton logjam breaks

    Most intriguing player – Singleton – because I really don’t know if they are dying to see him succeed or hoping they have a reason to AAA him coming out of ST

    Biggest surprise to break camp – Matt Dominguez – I don’t think he will be the 3B and if he is not the 3B he is not going to be the supersub on the bench

    High expectations guy who could bomb – Rasmus – I think they are handing him a starter’s job and I could see him not succeeding – I hope he is good though

    2015 or bust – I totally agree on Wojo and White – they kept them on the 40 man for a reason, if they don’t show what the reason is they may well be released

    Biggest impact on and off the field – Altuve – he plays the game right and he seems to be a good guy in the dugout and he is the youngest grizzled veteran you will meet.

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  8. Watching this Spring: Waiting to see if Bopert continues to be “Where is Waldo?” Intriguing: So far, he has been pleasantly dull, but I have to say Hinch. Can he lead the team? Bomb or Bust: I hope more of “A” and less of “B”. Biggest Impact: AT&T/Direct TV. They have reversed the cash flow to Crane. So he now has a chance to spend and improve the team. Nothing crazy, just steady improvement especially at the deadline. If he dumps 3-4 higher paid for “prospects” – we have our answer. And will they 4 putt the draft again?

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    • I’m on the fence here. I don’t think the lineup is quite good enough to contend – not enough OBP to balance the swing and miss, but there is a reason they play the games. I’m hopeful that we don’t unload veterans at the deadline for A ball or PTBNL deals, but wouldn’t mind seeing moves that bring prospects with a chance to compete in 2016. Then again, if we are within striking distance of a WC come July, I would hate to wave the white flag.

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      • Devin, I hear what you are saying. But I don’t think the OBP situation is as dire as people are making it out to be.
        Last year Valbuena’s OBP against righties was almost 100 points higher than Matt D’s with each having a ton of AB’s, but his OBP against lefties was still .309, which was 29 points higher than Matty D’s OBP against lefties. If Valbuena stays the same as last year, our OBP there figures to be a huge improvement in just one position.
        If Singleton or who ever plays 1B has any kind of decent year at the plate, our OBP there cannot help but be much higher than last year.
        I just can’t imagine Jason Castro’s OBP not taking a good jump this year. He always has been a guy who could draw a walk and I see him bouncing back this year in that part of his game.
        What I like most about this team is that it is not only young, but even it’s veterans are still in their twenties and a lot of them have not reached their peaks yet. The guys I include in that category are Gattis, Valbuena, Carter, Grossman and Altuve. Springer and Singleton and Marisnick have not even tapped into their abilities yet and Lowrie and Rasmus should be at the top of their games this season, based on their time of service and age. I think this year could really surprise some people.

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  9. It was good to read about Jose Altuve mentoring Carlos Correa – can’t wait to see them playing together soon.
    In other news they said Jon Singleton was being mentored by Jeff Spicoli. Gnarly, man!

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  10. I just can’t envision Singleton, Carter and Gattis on the same 25 man roster unless Gattis ends up as our leftfielder. Of course, that might happen, simply because Luhnow has already said it probably won’t.

    I’ll be watching Springer. The team had a different dynamic when he was on the field last year. And I’ll be watching the guys in the pen. And Sclafani too. But I’d rather see him go play everyday in Fresno until Lowrie gets hurt.

    Sure, Appel would be a great surprise. Would be stunning to see him turn into that guy we expected initially. But Moran would be a bigger shocker. Especially since we just got a new guy to play third.

    Don’t really have high expectations for Singleton or Marisnick. The biggest bomb? I suppose I’d be disappointed if Oberholtzer did not earn a slot and do a good job at the back of the rotation. But I’m not giving up on Wojoski yet either.

    Biggest on field impact? Springer. Off? Sadly, Singleton.

    One thing for certain. This 2015 edition of the Houston Astros, as we approach a month away from opening day, still has question marks all over the place.

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      • Tim, in 2014, we were set at third, second, catcher and CF. In 2015, we are set (at least at this point) at short, second and catcher. Hopefully we’ll be a better squad in 2015, but I think we still have at least as many unresolved issues than at this time last year.

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      • Dave,

        We weren’t set at 3B last year as we still had Dominguez and Dominguez only. He was still abysmal in 2013, but since 2014 was so bad we seem to think 2013 was decent. It wasn’t. This year we are set at 3B, all OF positions, SS, catcher, 2b and DH. Really the only question mark is 1B>

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      • Tim, I understand where you are coming from. My comment was strictly literal. We should be a better club But today, we don’t know who is playing where in the outfield. First base is up in the air. How much will the new guy play at third? Can Lowrie give us a full season? We’ve got two openings in the rotation. We’ve again got a remade pen. Who is the DH? That’s a lot of questions a month out. More than most clubs. .

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      • Dave,

        I don’t think it is more than most teams. We have many options, but we know, for the most part, who is going to make the 25-man roster. We just aren’t sure the positions they will be playing. For example, we know Gattis is on the opening day roster, but is he DH or LF. The Astros really only have about 3-4 spots on the 25-man roster open to competition and that is par for the course for most teams.

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  11. I learned some stuff reading Jose de Jesus Ortiz articles this morning.
    I learned that the bullpen catcher was the guy who realized Brad Peacock was tipping his pitches last year while catching him in the pen. He went to Strom and they got with Peacock.
    I learned that after Aiken refused to sign, that the Astros actually went back to Nix with a lower offer than the $1.5mil to at least try to sign him and he turned them down.
    I learned a lot about Brady Rodgers and his childhood links to the Astros. I learned that the Astros are trying to get him to NOT throw all out 100% on every pitch and pace himself so that he can call on his best when he needs it.
    I also got to read about Roberto Pena raving about the late movement Appel had on his 97mph fastball.

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  12. What he [Mgr. A.J. Hinch] said: “Home runs are nice, but sustaining rallies and moving runners are important as well.”

    What he meant: “Please, please give me at least two people besides Jose Altuve to plug into this line-up who will at least get a single or double every fourth at bat and not just strike out every third one.”

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  13. Good article on Preston Tucker in the Chronicle this morning……his nick name is “Bam-Bam”! The kid can play 1st. base and left/right field. Good kid to have around when his call up comes! I hope Correa gives Luhnow no choice, but to promote him to AAA after ST. I’m getting impatient waiting to see him on this team!
    And Hernandez is still not in Florida.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Seems like every year forever different guys down in the Dominican or wherever would come in late due to visa problems. It is weird because this guy is a veteran – it is not his first time to negotiate the waters of the visa.

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  14. Spring training games will be on 790am. The games on Thursday and Friday will be on a delay (12:30 EST) the Sat/ Sunday games will be live. Collin McHugh is slated to start the first game on Thurs.

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  15. Kevin……you better hang with us, we hash out stuff on Spring training too!
    Looks like I’ll be left out of the TV again this year……..Suddenlink isn’t going
    to pick up Root Sports. Damnit.

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  16. Minnie Minoso passed away. Played in 5 decades. He was a very colorful ballplayer. My favorite story about him was he was in a terrible slump. After one game he went into the shower fully dressed in his uniform. When his teammates asked what he was doing, he explained he was washing off the evil spirits. The next day he went 5 for 5. That day all his teammates took their shower wearing their uniforms.

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      • I convinced my wife to read James Hoyt’s story in this morning’s (spit) article. When she finished the story she got up and commented on how long the story was.
        When someone loves baseball, it is like a great lifelong relationship. When someone doesn’t love baseball. they will not understand how every story is another wonderful day in a great relationship.

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  17. Old pro…….I’m married to a man who lives for Golf, I’d rather watch paint dry.
    So I feel ya friend! Saw where Berkman will be with the boys this week in Florida…
    I hope he can watch Singelton, and give some sage advice! Sure can’t hurt.

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    • I’ve been lucky enough to live in both of those worlds, but it’s funny how, after I lost the ability to play golf when I had made my living doing it, I lost my desire to even watch it on television. I watch the US Open Final Round each year and that is it.
      But many years after losing the ability to play baseball I still have the passion for my one team. I watch and follow the Astros, but have a very hard time even following the World Series, because my team has made no effort in years to be there. Now, finally they seem suddenly interested.
      I told my wife today that 25 years from now I believe Carlos Correa will be inducted into the HOF as a great SS turned into a third baseman, and then I realized that I won’t be around to see that. But I think I will be around to see my Dad’s favorite Astro get inducted this summer and maybe one more before I head to the dugout. I’m happy to see Correa start his journey and I’ll ask my boys to keep an eye on him when he goes to Cooperstown.

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      • Were you on the tour? I dated Tom Jenkins when we both were young and stupid!
        I followed him after he went on the Sr. circuit, but I think he’s out of golf now.
        Aren’t you glad you have a place to “talk” about the Astros?!! I am! Unless you know more than your doctor does……you’ll be around for a while, and who knows we might just live long enough to see Altuve get in the HOF too! You know more about baseball than I will EVER know, and I love reading your insight on this team.

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      • Make it your goal to live long enough to see it! You never know what kind of break through will come in our lifetimes!

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      • I wasn’t on the tour. I always was the world’s worst putter and ended up in the golf course side of golf.

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  18. Josh Fields is gonna push the envelope again this year with his “flowing locks” of hair! Personally……..I like it! What I want to see from this kid, is to take the bull by the horns and show up as the next (if not NOW) closer! It’s his time to step up, and fill those big shoes that Wagner, and Lidge left for him to step into.

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