There has been — and it will continue for the next few weeks — much speculation about the Astros’ 25-man roster and just who will break camp with the big club when new manager A.J. Hinch leads his first Texas team onto the field next month. Is the roster better than 2014? Is it deeper in certain places? Who will play where? That question applies to positions and cities (e.g. Houston, Fresno, Corpus Christi, etc.).
To be sure, fewer roster spots are up for a battle royal than in the recent past. However, several positions are still undetermined, though you could argue they are “filled” and it’s just a matter of which player will settle in. Technically, it could shake out several ways, but the real decisions may involve only a handful of players.
So, let’s take a look. There are four classes of players. We’ll call them the locks, the probables, the bubble guys and the long shots. Barring trades, injuries or a 2-hit spring training (10.50 ERA for pitchers), here are the categories. An asterisk (*) denotes non roster players.
The locks (16). These are the guys who could probably hit .200 or give up 10 HRs in 5 IP and still make the club.
- Catcher. Jason Castro and Hank Conger. About as solid of a prediction of any position on the roster.
- First base. There are no locks for this position, but it seems clear that two of (take your choice) Jon Singleton, Chris Carter or Evan Gattis will be on the roster.
- Second base. Jose Altuve.
- Third base. Luis Valbuena. Hey, Luhnow traded for the guy, so he’ll be in the opening day lineup.
- Shortstop. Jed Lowrie. See Valbuena.
- Outfield. Simultaneously settled and also the biggest unsettled mess of recent springs. George Springer, Colby Rasmus, Gattis.
- DH: Carter.
- Rotation. And you’ll need five to start the season. Scott Feldman, Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh.
- Bullpen. Chad Qualls, Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek, Josh Fields.
The probables (4). These guys need only to hold their own, be solid and not have a bubble guy have a 1991 Bagwell-like spring. In other words, they aren’t locks, but it wouldn’t be surprising at all for these guys to slide over to the first list.
- Rotation. Brett Oberholtzer.
- Bullpen. Tony Sipp.
- Infield. Marwin Gonzalez.
- Outfield. Jake Marisnick.
The bubble guys. These guys may not necessarily control their own destinies. Whether or not they break camp with the Astros may be determined by other players, injuries, trades or other acquisitions.
- First base. Singleton.
- Infield. Jonathan Villar, Matt Dominguez, Ronald Torreyes, *Joe Sclafani.
- Outfield. Alex Presley, Robbie Grossman, L.J. Hoes.
- Rotation. These guys will need to step up and separate themselves from the pack. Dan Straily, Alex White, Asher Wojciechowski, *Roberto Hernandez, Sam Deduno, Jake Buchanan.
- Bullpen. Kevin Chapman, Will Harris, *Darin Downs, *Joe Thatcher.
The long shots. Players who are in camp, but have little or no chance to leave town with the big club.
The real battles. There are several, but here are the basic battles for roster spots, not necessarily by position.
- Marisnick vs. Singleton. It may come down to who makes the better case in spring. It’s obvious the Astros like Marisnick and have hedged their bets with Singleton. If Singleton blows it up this spring, it will push Gattis into more OF starts and perhaps send Marisnick to Fresno to start the season. If Marisnick is the guy, it will push Gattis to 1B or DH and result in Singleton starting in Fresno.
- The fifth starter. It may be the best group of legitimate options a Houston manager has had for this role in several years. Straily has the inside track, Hernandez has a nice MLB contract if he makes the squad, but all eyes will be on Wojo and White not to mention Appel, who is already making noise this spring.
- The bench. Four guys, that’s it in the American League. Versatility counts, so does experience. That means Gonzalez has the edge. Presley has a major league contract. As for the rest of the bench makeup, put ’em in a hat. You can make many arguments here and they would all be right. It may come down to the Singleton-Marisnick battle and where Gattis and Carter end up.
- The bullpen. Seriously, this “position” may be set better than at any time this decade. With Qualls, Neshek, Gregerson, Fields and Sipp all likely pegged, it leaves only two spots available. Think a long guy (Sam Deduno or Jake Buchanan?) and another lefty (Thatcher?) or another surprise (Harris? Downs?) and you’re set. Either Wojo or White could also be swing man candidates since they are already on the 40-man roster.
By position. Settled or up in the air? To punctuate the decisions that remain, here’s a rundown of each position. Some are “settled” though it’s not necessarily a head-to-head battle for the spot.
- Catcher. Settled.
- First base. Up in the air.
- Second base. Settled.
- Shortstop. Settled.
- Third base. Settled.
- Outfield. Two out of three settled. Springer and Rasmus.
- DH. Settled.
- Rotation. Three of five settled. Oberholtzer a solid pick for fourth spot. Fifth spot up for grabs.
- Bullpen. Five of seven appear settled. Two spots remain unclaimed.
- Bench. Next to #5 starter, the only Donnybrook left.