Good morning, happy Monday! The Astros are 10 games away from the midpoint of 2015 and in a place no one dreamed just three short months ago. Again, No. You. Didn’t. Okay, maybe you did dream it, but you woke up in a cold sweat when you got to the part where Jim Crane was revealed to really be Gomer Pyle and he said “Sur-prise! Sur-prise! Sur-prise!”
Seriously, just when you think the Astros will bottom out, fall apart, go to pieces or end the run, somehow, someway, they pull out a series or a game.
The bottleneck is still coming.
If you recall, I wrote last year about the financial bottleneck that is coming in 2019-20. So many players will hit arbitration and free agency in that time frame that Jeff Luhnow will have to become a master juggler. Dallas Keuchel and Evan Gattis can be free agents in 2019, That same year, Springer, Collin McHugh and Brett Oberholtzer would be third-year arb-eligible, and other younger players will in the “system” by then as well.
That said, the bigger bottleneck is shaping up for as early as next season and 2017. As Dan so eloquently laid out over the weekend, the drafts are providing plenty of talent, which will free up funds. No, you know why Luhnow signed Colby Rasmus to a one-year deal. Preston Tucker, Domingo Santana, Springer are already in Houston, and Tony Kemp, perhaps Andrew Aplin and Brett Phillips will be here sooner than later. Throw in a surprise or two and the 2017 outfield (maybe even 2016) becomes a log jam.
The question before then may be to judge that talent and the ones you want on that team and delicately and shrewdly turn the others into a solid rotation piece and/or more compensation picks.
Seriously, other than perhaps catcher and perhaps, perhaps, first base) is there any place for a free agent signing this winter on the position side? Or will all/most of the money go to the rotation this off-season?
Speaking of bottlenecks…
Who’d have thought lining up the top of the order would be a problem for A.J. Hinch in June? Okay, yeah, you thought it might be an issue, but not in a good way. When Altuve returns, how do you hit the order? With Springer hot and Carlos Correa settling into the two-hole, do you dare move them away from 1-2? A contending team could do worse writing in the reigning AL batting titlist as its third hitter.
Here’s my thought for the top of the order: why mess with success? Is yours different?
If Jed Lowrie returns hitting like when he left (.300/.432/.567), Hinch will have to plug him in topside somewhere as well.
Can the Astros count on the young guys?
It’s a significant jump for a position player from AA to the majors. It’s highly unusual for a pitcher, and the Astros have jumped two this spring in Lance McCullers Jr. and Vincent Velasquez (three if you count Michael Feliz‘ short stint). Remember when Altuve, J.D. Martinez and Jimmy Paredes made that jump. Worked out well for Altuve, who hit the lineup running and never left. Martinez and Paredes struggled, though Martinez has clearly found his stride…in Detroit.
McCullers is clearly a keeper, but Velasquez may need more seasoning in how to miss bats and throw more “bad” strikes. And that is the tale of jumping players a complete level. Santana may also need more time at AAA, but Tucker seems ready to plant his flag somewhere in the order. When August and September roll around, which other players — either in Houston or not — do you believe will be making a contribution on the roster?