So, we’re about three and a half weeks from Spring Training games. Welcome back to the Grapefruit League, folks! Well, in 24 days. But you get my point.
So, what will I be watching for this spring?
Honestly, this could be a boring spring in many ways. We don’t have six position battles and three rotation spots open. On the rotation side of things, the only question is which very solid, competent, experienced Major League starter will nail down the back-end of the rotation? Scott “When I’m Healthy, I’m Better Than Average And It’s A Free Agent Walk Year” Feldman, or Doug “Same Here” Fister?
I’m pretty sure we all know who’ll be manning the three outfield spots in the bottom of the first inning at Yankee Stadium on Opening Day. Barring any injuries (I’m looking at you, George Springer!) it’ll be Colby “Qualifying Offer” Rasmus, Carlos “Way Too Excited” Gomez and “Bounce Back” Springer.
Oh, sure, we’ll all be looking to see who that fourth – and possibly fifth – outfielder might be. And maybe – MAYBE – Fister edges past Mike “No-No” Fiers for the fourth spot, moving Fiers to the fifth spot.
So, what are we waiting to see this spring? Well, here are the nine most intriguing story lines for this spring in ascending order. So, without any further delay, let’s have a look at what might keep your attention during the Grapefruit League games:
9. Signs of change
Looking at the players who impacted – negatively – the Astros’ offense the most, the ones coming back who might be up for a bounce back season, or at least an improvement over 2015, are Luis Valbuena and Evan Gattis. Both showed a lot of power (25 HRs and a .438 SLG for Valbuena, 27 HR and a .463 SLG for Gattis) but both also couldn’t get on base decently (.310 OBP and .285 respectively). Awful BABIPs were the main concern, though neither was bad at BABIP too far beyond their norms. Still, an upswing in BABIP this spring might be a good sign.
8. Backup catcher
Once Jason Castro is signed for $5 million (he’s not worth the extra $250,000), the focus will move toward his back up. Max Stassi or Tyler Heineman are the obvious choices, but watch to see if Gattis puts on the old backstop equipment this spring.
7. Upsetting the apple cart
The late cuts could lead to some roster crunches. In 2014 Spring Training, the Astros cut J.D. Martinez and added Alex Presley. Or maybe a Chris Devenski, Michael Feliz or Joe Musgrove puts up numbers that push for a roster spot. In that case, maybe some other team is willing to pick up a healthy Scott Feldman. Maybe (Lord forbid) Altuve strains a muscle or two and needs a few weeks R&R. You never know when a trade or an injury will upset the whole equation.
6. The bench
Let’s see: Nine offensive starters, five in the rotation, seven guys in the bullpen. That’s 21 players. You need that backup catcher, so if it’s not Gattis, there’s a spot. That leaves three places. Marwin Gonzalez is one. Jake Marisnick is one. Who gets that last spot?
5. That last bullpen spot
Is the bullpen set? You’ve got Ken Giles, Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek, Tony Sipp, Will Harris and a long reliever (Scott Feldman?). Who gets that seventh spot? Is it Josh Fields? Michael Feliz? Someone from AA or AAA?
4. Any kids pushing for a roster spot
Which brings me to the kids. Are either Musgrove or Feliz pushing for a roster spot? Feliz is already on the 40-man roster, so moving him to Houston is not a huge burden. Bringing up A.J. Reed before Super Two (and giving Singleton that chance to fail) seems more unlikely. But if he crushes it in the Grapefruit League, the clamoring will only intensify.
3. The final rotation spot
Fiers, Fister or Feldman? Or Feliz? Still, whoever brings up the last spot is important. They need to be healthy, effective – especially against another team’s No. 5 – and an innings eater.
2. Third base
This spot is essentially Luis Valbuena’s to lose. That said, Colin Moran, Tyler White and Matt Duffy will all make their case. Oh, and don’t forget J.D Davis.
1. First base
Speaking of Duffy, White and the aforementioned J.R. Reed will all be vying to unseat pseudo-incumbent John Singleton. There are 40-man and Super Two considerations to, well, consider. But do you care? I will be watching for any sign of weakness from Singleton.
So, what will pique your interest this spring?