Brian T: What will I be watching this spring?

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.

Zzzzzz …

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?


65 comments on “Brian T: What will I be watching this spring?

  1. Brian, I think you put up as full a list as we could possible expect under the “boring” aspects of the upcoming spring training. Here is what I am most interested in…
    – I want to see who of the prospects is getting the most looks between White, Duffy, Reed, etc.
    – I want to have a feel for who will be the next men up if there is an injury at every position.
    – Speaking of next man up, what is really different is the starting pitching situation this season vs. last season. In 2015 the Astros started the season with not even 5 solid starting pitchers – Keuchel, McHugh, Feldman, Roberto Hernandez and Asher Wojciechowski while Brad Peacock was trying to heal. They had to reach all the way to AA for McCullers as the next man up. This year they could well have the next man up pitching the swing position in the pen (Feldman?) or be able to bring up one of a number of shiny prospects from AAA – Musgrove, Devenski, Feliz, etc.
    – I would like to see if any of the struggling guys have changed their approach (Singleton, Valbuena, Gattis, Castro, Marisnick) to hitting. Please tell me they worked on something in the off-season.
    – I want to see if Rasmus was just hot at the end of 2014 or if he found some fundamental clue to being a better hitter.
    – I want to see a backup catcher throw somebody out, anybody out.
    – I want to see if any of the minor off-season moves turns into this year’s version of McHugh, Sipp or Harris.
    – I want to see Carlos Correa playing just because he is such a joy to watch at such a young age and because I want to be able to say that I saw almost all of a Hall of Fame career
    – I want to see minimal injuries and maximum fun and some improvement for those on the cusp


    • Good point, Dan. You didn’t throw his name out there, but Oberholtzer was a decent safety net. I’m not sure how to feel if Feldman or Fister flame out this year about our depth. It does look better at the top though!


  2. There are so many things I will be watching:
    1. The middle of the order. The Astros hit .237, .230, .220, and .229 in the 3-7 slots in the batting order as a team last season. The 4 middle of the order spots accounted for 658 strikeouts. They have to be better in the middle of the order!
    2. I want to see if the Astros give players on the verge of the majors a look see at the opposition’s starting pitchers in the first few innings. Remember that the teams throw their starters in gradually ascending innings at the beginning of the game for several weeks and I want to see how Kemp, White, Duffy and Reed hit the starters, before all the lesser pitchers follow up in the later innings.
    3. I want to see if Marisnick’s new swing is the real deal and if Colby picks up where he left off in October.
    4. I want to see if James Hoyt has the stuff to force his way into the bullpen.
    5. I want to see less errors from Correa. I’m sure a lot of that was from nervousness from a 20 year old rookie, but I want to see him settle in and be The Captain.
    6. I would love to see one of Fiers, Feldman or Fister come in and pitch better than they ever have and give us the best #4 starting pitcher in the league.
    7. I would like to see the Astros hit like the Mets did last spring. Last spring the Mets were the bomb in ST and they ended up in the WS because of their pitching. I want to see the Astros hit over .300 in the spring and make other team’s pitchers nervous every time one of our guys strolls to the plate, instead of licking their chops at another strikeout.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ditto OP1 on all counts.

    On a side note and one that really should have been addressed in the roster ranking thread, a comment was made that its hard to rank a starting pitcher amongst those who play every day. But if you were to consider how many events/plays happen in a game the importance of a starting pitcher shows up a little more. The pitcher is involved in pretty much every play in the game. In a typical start by Keuchel he will deliver close to 100 pitches and in his case especially be involved in several infield plays. Correa will have his 4 or 5 at bats and maybe 8-10 fielding opportunities. So Keuchel will be involved in many more individual events during the course of a game than all the other guys combined with only the catcher being close. That’s also why catchers are so important and why even if Castro sucks at the plate again I’m OK with keeping him if he handles the pitching staff well and provides good defense. I’m anticipating another year of good pitching and greater consistency where we get more games over 500 every month and don’t plateau at +10-14 like we did in 2015.


    • Well you know I made the comment about ranking everydays vs. pitchers – but in reality I see the value for sure – which is why I put so many pitchers fairly high up in the rankings.


  4. OP and everyone else pretty right on here. I’m hoping to see Puff daddy traded away with a couple other going no where AAA folks. Hoping to see White makes the team and AJ coming up in July because we made another trade.


  5. What will I be watching? The first week I’ll just be glad to be watching BASEBALL again. The first week really doesn’t mean a lot – especially if a player does not have absolutely atrocious performances in back-to-back-to-back games. After the first week, I’ll be pay close attention to:
    a. where on the field Valbuena is hitting the ball, and whether he’s hitting line drives, weak grounders, or high flies,
    b. how Tucker, Singleton, White, and Reed look and react in the field;
    c. whether Singleton can get and keep his OBP over .340 [in ST it should be easy];
    d. how Feldman, Peacock, and Neshek appear to be bouncing back from their respective injuries;
    e. what kind of velocity and movement Fister can muster after last year’s horrible showing;
    f. how Kemp, Sclafani, Aplin, Feliz, Musgrove, Devenski, and Kemmer do with whatever chances they get;
    g. how our most expensive acquisition of the off-season – Mr. Giles – does with his assigned job of throwing strikes, missing bats, and making the league’s best hitters look like Chris Carter;
    h. whether Evan Gattis remembers how to put on catching gear.


  6. I forgot something!
    I would like to read about Hinch saying “wow” when asked about what he thinks about Colin Moran, when they send him to the minor league camp after a few weeks.
    I would like to read about how impressed they were with his bat and how he was better in the field than expected and about how they think he is going to be a fine third baseman when he is ready.
    Moran could be the guy who seals the infield and makes all the talk about Correa moving to third go away for years. He’s the guy with the left handed bat that moves into the lineup as a solid batting average/low K guy with natural opposite field power to the Crawford Boxes without having to try to lift the ball.
    But, more than that, he is the guy who could move into your lineup at 3B for years at a great price, that keeps the team from having to go out and pay big money for a free agent, or trade away prospects for.
    Moran could be that guy that lets you add a leadoff guy like Bregman to your outfield because 3B, SS, and 2B, and 1B(Reed) are secured by great talent and Bregman then adds to that talent, rather than replacing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree….Collin Moran wasn’t a top pick by the Marlins for nothing. I hope he shows up ready to make Valbuena expendable after this year. Which brings me back to Bregman….where do you play a guy as talented as he is at short? You want his bat in the lineup, but no where to play him. *IF* Moran succeeds at third, and we have the best outfield in baseball, there’s no where to play him. Now, if he could play first that would be great, but I don’t think that’s a possibility anytime in the near future, but you never know. I think he’s got a dollar sign on his back, and will be involved in a trade sometime this season.
      Dan~~~Saw that piece about Castro this afternoon while I was getting chemo. The very fact that it was for so little money, it probably put a bad taste in Castro mouth.Or at the very least it probably sends a message “thanks but no thanks”, as far as working out a contract with the organization.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Carlos Gomez is making $10 million this year and is a free agent at the end of this year. Colby Rasmus is making $15.8 milllion this year and is a free agent and both of them will be 30 or older. Two thirds of our outfield will be free agents. Moran is too slow to play in the outfield but Bregman is not.
        If Moran is a good third baseman and hits, you put him at 3B and put Bregman in the outfield. He is quick, he has a shortstop’s arm and he should have the power to hit 15 home runs and steal some bases at the leadoff spot and could easily play LF.
        Kemmer or Kemp or even Rasmus could be your third outfielder in 2017.
        This team is then starting to look like the Royals, but with more power and all of the players are affordable.
        Becky, picture a lineup of
        Bregman LF
        Altuve 2B
        Correa SS
        Reed 1B
        Springer CF
        Moran 3B
        White DH
        Kemmer or Rasmus RF
        Heineman C
        Lots of speed, great defense, Lots of power, team batting average of over .270. many bases on balls and only two guys with a built-in 20% K rate in Springer and Reed. That’s seven out of nine batters with a proven track record of low strikeouts and every one of the nine have had a history of higher than average BA.
        And you still have Marisnick Tucker, Duffy, Fisher and Davis in the hunt and Alfredo Gonzalez at catcher, who’s history is of a contact hitter.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Becky, who’s got the dollar sign on his neck? Moran or Bregman. We have a left fielder and center fielder on a contract year. Do you think both will be extended. I would bet not. Which opens up a place for new talent. Concerning Moran, I’m with all of you in hoping he can provide an answer for third, but from all information that I’ve gathered, Bregman has a higher floor and ceiling than Moran. He has much more range than Moran, more speed, and as good an arm. The only area Moran might compete with Bregman is hitting and I’ll take Bregman on that one too. Quicker bat speed, more selective with pitches and a better base runner. Plus anyone who has followed LSU knows he brings energy and leadership with a tremendous locker room presense.


      • And I also suspect you are overestimating Bregman’s offensive potential. I think he hits well enough to be a big leaguer, but I don’t think he will be a difference maker. I would think he could be very Jed Lowrie-ish as a ceiling.

        The problem with Kemp in your lineup is when he has a bad BABIP season, as he did at AAA last year, he is fairly useless. He has no power and his defense in the OF is very average. If he gives you a .260 avg one year, he is doing it with no other impact – who wants .260 with 2 HR and 25 SB over 500 PAs? Might as well call back Willy T, at least he could win a gold glove.

        I think we are all on board with Reed and White. I have no reason to think these 2 hitters are not the real deal. Moran, I just don’t know about having a third baseman that has questionable power, but if he becomes Wade Boggs, so be it, but I don’t see it, he strikes out too much.

        OP I do agree with like 80% of it, but sometimes I think you think just a little too highly of some minor leaguers. I’ll concede though that you have been beating the drum on a lot of them earlier than anyone else – I never heard of Tyler White until you were beating the drums about this guy and I went and looked him up. I do share your optimism on White, Reed, and even Heineman, I’m curious about Kemp and Moran, either of who I could see improving and earning a job, but I could also see not panning out.

        I think the Astros are doing it the right way, letting these young guys come to camp and earn their jobs. I don’t have a problem with Singleton getting a shot knowing that White or Reed are there as catchfalls, and if Reed does what I think he will do, he will just simply take the job from Singleton. I wouldn’t just drop Valbuena, I would make Moran come to camp in 2017 and take the job away from him. These guys will get their shots to take the jobs away from the guys we both want gone – Gattis, Valbuena, Singleton, etc., I agree with the system that says Gattis is here until White PROVES he is expendable, not one that gets rid of him because I suspect that he will make Gattis expendable.


      • I’ll also concede though that the fear exists amongst fans, from previous experience with this franchise, that they will be slower to give Reed the job even if he demolishes pitchers in ST and Singleton struggles. That plays a part in how our opinions are informed on which direction we want them to go or the direction they should go.


    • Steven, I think it’s fair to talk about Kemp’s BABIP in Fresno in 2015 only if you include it with his BABIP in Corpus Christi in the same year. Look at the year combined and it looks good. BABIP caught up with Kemp in Fresno, but you still have to consider the full year, especially when you are talking BABIP.
      Also, Kemp rebounded to be named the MVP of the PCL Playoffs, so that is a pretty high honor for him in AAA.
      Also, Moran’s best year in the minors was in 2015, so I don’t see him as a guy who is not moving up or somebody not to be excited about. I am not the guy ranking Bregman and Moran as top 10 prospects in our organization. Others are. I’m just agreeing with them and am very familiar how badly we have needed a full-time, long-term, above average hitter at 3B in the worst way for years.


  7. I have never looked at Castro as a true orange blooded Astro. I can never put my finger on it , just never seems passionate or has that IT factor to win. It’s not all his fault, but to me he is a reminder of an average baseball player that was the best guy on some horrible Astro teams. I hope he has at least a decent first half and we can get something for him and move on, I think it would be for Castro and us.


    • Got to give the guy a break. He has suffered through the worst seasons this team has ever had. Imagine year after year with nothing to look forward to. He seemed to have a bit more passion last year than in 2014.
      I think he should have won the arbitration just because if that.


  8. Castro is one of those guys they rarely interview, so it is really hard to know his heart. He is a California guy, so he may be just laid back emotionally. He is a Stanford guy, so he has to be intelligent. Maybe he is just a smart logical unemotional person.
    Something to think about is this – this is his contract year and he has just been told in so many words that he is not going to be paid what he thinks he is worth here. You would think that if he has any way to improve performance that this is the year it will happen. If he could get 1/2 way back to the way he hit in 2013 – like a .250 BA / .320 OBP / .735 OPS – that would be a great boost to the team….and the multiyear contract he will want to sign with someone after the season.


  9. Another thing I am looking for in ST is to see if JL pulls a string on another trade. Something like moving Altuve to make room for one of the new guys and picking up someone special at another position (Catcher ? or !B?). That was just an example.

    My point is you take a serious look at the team, someone is going to be moved. Maybe not an Altuve, but someone that no one would expect to be moved. Maybe a couple in the high minors for a couple prospects the FO thinks have a better ceiling that are in the low minors. Something to alleviate the log jam. We can not send everyone back to Fresno for another year and expect them to be happy.


    • yeah dan the article i saw was vague, it said he “recently” had surgery and the only time line on the 4 – 6 week recovery was “he wont be ready for the teams first workout feb. 23”.


    • Heck, I was talking a month or two ago about him coming up with a hamstring pull, thereby giving White a real shot in ST. The Hernia issue will definately slow him down and impact any real workouts for more than a month. This is where our minor league depth should come into play.


      • But rj, I kind of feel bad for the guy too, because he made a real effort to be in top shape for the season. Not all of our guys seem to be so willing, at least in the case of a particular first baseman.


      • yeah you have to feel for the guy, he obviously wants to improve and isnt afraid to put in the effort, but its probably a blessing in disguise because of all of the extra at bats now going to reed, white, singleton, tucker et al. we should get a fair evaluation of those guys. i hope though that when gattis gets healthy he forces his way back into the lineup, at least for this year.


  10. Things like this are exactly what I meant about the apple cart getting upset. Gattis out for 4-6 weeks probably means he starts the season on the DL. So Stassi or Heineman definitely come in as a backup catcher. Tucker is assured a spot, and now someone like Duffy gets a chance to come in and maybe platoon at DH with him. A DH platoon with Duffy and Tucker means when they are not starting they are on the bench to be that pinch hitter.

    If it works out — and if Gattis spends more than a few weeks on the DL — then maybe Gattis becomes obsolete.

    Apples everywhere. Mass pandemonium.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Injuries can certainly overturn that cart. Under-performances can do it. Breakout additions like McCullers in 2015 can roll those apples all over the road.
      They make mention in the article to the surgery being taken into account during the arbitration hearing – bad timing for Gattis on that. And I’ve never had one but I’m guessing crouching behind home plate and recovering from a hernia are mutually exclusive.


      • I have had two hernia surgeries and they are somewhat tender to come back from. These surgeries are now done on an out-patient basis. Man, that first sneeze!!!!!!! WOW!!! Gattis should be fine within the time period discussed. I was 34 and 47 when I had mine and I bounced back well. Gattis is much younger. No worries.


  11. My boys and I will be in Kissimmee during their Spring Break. We are attending the March 15th and 16th game in Kissimmee and the 17th game in Lake Buena Vista against the Braves. I also purchased my tickets for the Astros home opener on April 11th. Both of these are annual traditions for us and I am looking forward to this.

    Liked by 4 people

  12. -Has to be disappointing for Gattis after all the work he has put in this offseason.
    -White, Duffy and Tucker have their opening. Will they take advantage?
    -Tim, please try to have even more fun in Florida, and tell the Captain how much Chipalatta loves him!
    -What GM would trade the best second baseman in baseball, when he is yours for years 26-29 for a mere $5mil a year, when the second-best second baseman in baseball is making $24 million a year for the next eight years? Jose is probably the most well-liked player in baseball and has no injury history. Don’t even think about it.
    -Max Stassi, Mike Fiers, the jobs are there. Are you good enough to handle them.? This is your big chance!
    -Luis Valbuena, you are making good money in your free agency swing year. This is your chance to strike it rich. Can you take advantage of it and bust out?

    Liked by 1 person

  13. MLBTR is reporting that the Orioles are close to a deal with Gallardo. This is good for my Astros, because it means they would move up one spot in the draft with a little bit more slot money. The Birds have the #14 pick, currently, and would vacate that spot and everone behind them moves up one. That’s one more player available to choose from in the #17 spot..

    Liked by 1 person

    • I guess it’s possible, Tim, but I don’ think this is going to be a Gehrig type moment in history. The Gattis injury sure could turn out to be pivotal for somebody, maybe even Gattis.
      I have to admit that I once knew the Pipp story and had to go to wikipedia to refresh my memory, but for some reason Drew Bledsoe keeps flashing in front of my eyes.


  14. OMG! Josh Donaldson and the Bluejays have reached a two year extension settlement and he will make more than $4 million LESS than Colby Rasmus will this year.
    Donaldson had 7 WAR in each of 2013 and 2014 and in 2015 he had over 8 WAR to win the MVP. The Jays have to be ecstatic!


  15. Good afternoon everyone. As a few of you know, chemo sucks. I’m standing on 2nd base with home plate in my sights! I’m half way through my treatments…4 down, and 4 to go! I’ve had a few bumps in the road, but nothing I can’t handle. I am humbled by all the prayer warriors who have reached out to me…I thank you from the bottom of my heart for praying for a woman you have never met! I love you ALL, Becky⚾⚾

    Let’s talk baseball!! The O’S look like they are gonna give the Yankees a run for it in the AL East. Signing Gallardo will not only cost a high pick, it will put them over the moon with luxury tax! I’m reading between the lines about the Gattis hernia surgery was Luhnow not informed about it until yesterday? Who knows….but it sounded like Luhnow was caught off guard. Paging Tyler White, paging Tyler White…your table is waiting!! I need to explain myself about Bregman. The reason I said he had a💲on his back was, there WILL be another trade for this organization either during spring training or by the first of May. Bregman is a really good short stop, and there will be more than a few teams lining up to trade for him. What I have a real problem with is trading anymore pithers. Luhnow said he is in discussions with a few teams working on anything that might improve this team. I’m not dissing Bregman at ALL, I’m just saying he’s as good as money in any trade deal. Personally, I would LOVE to see him in the lineup for a long time, but if Luhnow thinks he can work a deal that includes him, he most certainly will.


    • We have been sending prayers for you from over her in Mississippi, Becky. We are praying for your complete recovery.

      On the baseball subject, I totally agree with you. I also believe there will be another trade within the time frame you mention. It will be made to obtain someone to fill a big gap on the 25 man roster to replace someone who is not performing and where a replacement is not yet ready in the Astros “17th ranked farm system” — according one writer. Or, it could simply be for some prospects in the lower minors to help clear the log jam.
      We shall see.


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