What a difference a year — or two — makes for Astros

So, right now we’re all looking over the National League, trying to figure out who the Astros will play in the World Series and checking Trip Advisor to get an early look at hotel prices in San Francisco, New York and Chicago (just kidding) for late October.

Yeah, the times they are a changin’.

I remember last year saying the Astros would win 81-85 games, finish third in the division and miss the playoffs but give it a good run. Obviously, my predictions will aim a little higher in 2016.

So, what were we looking at this time last year … and the year before that?

Well, as we wait for breathless reports of pitchers and catchers unpacking their toiletries in their lockers, high fiving old teammates and making reservations at a steakhouse before hitting the field to stretch tomorrow, here’s a look back.

Feb. 18, 2015. Chip wrote a rather prescient piece on the depth of our minor leagues at each position.

* His top first baseman? A guy named A.J. Reed that most of us knew only as the Golden Spikes winner who could also pitch.

* Preston Tucker was the fourth-best outfielder. Two of the ones higher on the list are now with the Brewers. The best guys on this list are now younger — Kyle Tucker and Daz Cameron — but I’m pretty sure we all miss Brett Phillips.

  • Even with the graduation of Carlos Correa, Nolan Fontana is still the second-best shortstop in the Astros’ minor league system.
  • The list of pitchers has been decimated. So long Mark Appel and Vincent Velasquez. That said, with the emergence of Joe Musgrove and Frances Martes … plus the return of Michael Feliz, do we miss them that much?

The whole article has nary a mention of Tyler White or Matt Duffy. Or Chris Devenski for that matter.

Of course looking over the article from 2015 doesn’t seem all that out of place. A few names have changed, but we’re talking about many of the same guys. Preston Tucker, Lance McCullers and Carlos Correa are still hot topics. Many of the same minor leaguers would make a similar list this year.

A few days later, Chip again gave us a post about decisions facing Jeff Luhnow. First base was on the agenda, with Chip suggesting the ball was in John Singleton’s court.

Yeah …

Starter options looked like Roberto Hernandez, Dan Straily, Brad Peacock and Sam Deduno.

But looking back to Feb. 18, 2014, we have an interesting look at Carlos Correa coming out of his low A season at Quad Cities and how a big spring in 2014 just might catapult him past Jonathan Villar in 2015.

Interesting, yes. But for my money, I’ll go back an extra day to Dan’s tragic look at how a revamped bullpen can catapult a team to respectability.

Tragic? Well, the point he makes about the 2011 Diamondbacks bullpen (an improved unit from the 2010 version) and the 2008 Rays bullpen (vs. the bad version in 2007) and how those pens changed the complexion of their teams is spot on.

He then goes on to write about how Chad Qualls, Matt Albers and Jesse Crain (yikes!) will alter the landscape of the Astros’ fortunes. This was so bad, Crain was seen as the closer, and he never pitched again in the majors after that article was written. He did pitch in the AFL for the White Sox last year, but his Baseball Reference page still shows him in an Astros cap.

Like I said. Yikes.

Go a day later on Feb. 19, 2014, and you have a cringe-worthy piece by Chip (believe me, my “What The Heck Was He Thinking” stories are littered across the landscape a couple of years ago) that takes a look at potential diamonds in the rough.

Peter Moylan — the Aussie with the down-under motion — is now providing pitching depth in the Royals’ system. He actually logged 10.1 decent IP for Atlanta last year.

The other gem in hiding was Alex White, who looks to be out of baseball.

The point here isn’t to pick on Chip — or Alex White or Peter Moylan — but to look at how far we’ve come.

Today, our diamonds in the rough story would be about which excellent first base prospect we send out to the pillow at Yankees (spit!) Stadium on opening day. Our biggest worry in the rotation is which major leaguer with a proven track record will start the season in the Astros bullpen. Our biggest concern in the outfield is whether Preston Tucker — a guy with an OPS above .730 — will make the squad.

Rejoice Astros fans.

So, what did you worry about in 2014 or 2013 (or even this time last year) that doesn’t concern you anymore?

What do you think will be less worrisome in 2017? Is there anything that will keep you up nights this time next year? Contract extensions? How those World Series rings are messing with everyone’s grip on the bat?


65 comments on “What a difference a year — or two — makes for Astros

  1. I predict this season will be a return to the old Astro ways (2004-5), slow start, but strong finish. This will be good as the Astros will eliminate the last lingering dead wood, ( Singleton) and bring up A.J. Reed. Of our 4-5-6 starting pitchers, I see at least one not getting through the season and one of the other two not being very effective. The Astros finally bring up Musgrove and he becomes part of the strong finish. Gattis will be given a chance to catch a few games and on his third opportunity will blow out a knee and then White takes over DH.

    We will ponder over the off season as to how many more wins we would have had if the Astros had started Reed, White and Musgrove to begin with.


  2. Alex Bregman is the second best SS in the system.
    I’m not worried about the starting pitching in 2016, like I was a year ago.
    I am worried about 1B, like a year ago.
    I am not worried about the outfield, like I was a year ago.
    I am worried about Castro not hitting, like a year ago.
    Hank Conger makes me worry less about whether Stassi can catch.
    I’m not worried about SS, at all.
    I’m not worried anymore about Lowrie getting hurt and not playing.
    I am not worried about Robbie Grossman being on the 25-man roster.
    I am not worried about having no decent relievers in Fresno.
    I am not worried about making excuses for Mark Appel’s lousy pitching.
    I’m not worried about Velasquez taking so many pitches to get batters out.
    I’m not worried about the manager, like I was a year ago.
    I’m not worried about Valbuena’s fielding, like I was a year ago.
    I am less hopeful about Fields, even though he appears a lock.
    I am more hopeful about DH in the future because of Bregman, Kemp, White, Reed, Moran, PTucker, Duffy and Kemmer. It seems they all have a decent shot to be good hitters, and a couple of them actually will be. And all of them will be inexpensive and available for years.


    • 1OP – looks like your operating in a stress free environment. I too hope to stay away from the Rolaids this year and hope for good things for the team.


  3. Last year at this time a large number of bloggers – and the F.O. – were sure that Chris Carter was going to shake off the slow start of 2014 and blow everyone away all year. Not so much. This year I hear similar talk about Luis Valbuena and Carlos Gomez. Really? One thing is for sure – for both of those guys, 2016 is every bit as much of a make or break year as 2015 was for Chris Carter.


  4. Geez Brian couldn’t you link to my April 27, 2015 column where I said Yes its early but it could be one of those years – haha.
    I will point out that I was right about what a difference bullpen improvement could mean to a team – I just barely missed on how much difference Albers, Crain and Qualls would be – more haha…

    What am I not worried about any more that I was previously?
    The manager
    When they are bringing up Springer / Correa
    The back end of the rotation
    Jose Altuve – his relatively poor 2013 had a number of us worried
    When the Astros are going to make it back to the playoffs
    The bullpen

    What I am worried about?
    The ability of the hitting coach to get the problem children to adjust
    The OBP and K numbers of the hitters
    Any regression
    The front office not playing to win from the get-go
    One of the other divisional rivals getting on an early run
    Brian T digging up more of my predictions….


    • DanP: If you get a chance, destroy both our old predictions. I just knew that Wallace was the answer at 1st AND 3rd base. I would like to predict that Bregman is starting by years end, but that may jinx him too.


    • It is funny but I feel like the bad predictions are easier to remember (or harder to forget).- like Carter repeating his hot 2nd half of 2014 or trading Altuve while he still had value….


      • I remember holding out against the “trade Altuve” movement publicly, but privately I kept thinking, “what if everyone is right?”

        And I was so SO sure Carter would be the answer.

        Win some, lose some.


  5. My main worry this time last year was the new manager. Not a worry today
    I worried last year about a line up of strike outs. Still a concern but not major.
    I worried about the FO being more concerned about money than winning. That still bothers me.

    The Astros will win the ALW this year….I just feel it in my heart.
    April can’t get here fast enough. LETS PLAY BALL

    Liked by 1 person

  6. If you want to know how different it is this year, when you go to MLB Trade Rumors, skip the Arb of Castro & Gattis. Then skip Gattis injury, there are not even “Rumors” for the Astros this past month. That is very quiet for this time of year. (Unless you get a lot of Worth out of Danny)


  7. What me worry??? Nah, the kids are allright! What I keep hearing over, and over again…is how glad the guys are that the core players are back this year! The fellas are more excited to see each other again, as we are to see THEM! So far Hinch is actually surprised the pitchers are coming to spring training ready to pitch! The front office and Luhnow are focused on winning it all this year, and if a trade presents itself in May or June….look for them to pull that trigger. With all the ugly stuff I’ve been going through…..I ain’t worried about nuttin! We ALL will win!
    Like Sandy just said…LET’S PLAY BALL!! YAAAAA HOOOO!!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Maybe he could take the other one with him. A two for one special. St Louis is so much closer to the northeast, I’m sure Evan would feel a lot more comfortable moving a closer to his real home, where they play real baseball.


      • I lost any semblance of respect I had for JJO when he used the #LoseNow hashtag on twitter. Feel free to write an article critical of any Astros player, manager or front office employee, but when he resorted to this stupid hashtag he showed his true lack of class. I will not miss him at all.


  8. What did I worry about in 2014 or 2013 (or even this time last year) that doesn’t concern me anymore?

    Our bullpen has been vastly improved during 2015 and into this new season. Included is the extra addition of solid starters in the three through six spots. In the past, the bullpen had me ducking whenever a pitcher came in to relieve when we had a lead (see Chad Qualls). Now I feel comfortable when any of the relievers come in.

    I shuddered at the first base and shortstop offerings. Carter and Villar? Now, at least, the shortstop issue has been rectified for the long term and the first base issue has a stud in the future.

    Play ball!


  9. To look at how things have changed, you need only look at the rotation concerns in spring training in 2014. Keuchel and McHugh were not on anyone’s “superstar” radar. Keuchel was fighting for that fifth spot at the back of the rotation. McHugh was an afterthought despite a decent spring (spring training numbers don’t matter). After Feldman, most of us were hopeful for that breakout season from Oberholtzer. Other hopefuls were Paul Clemens, Cosart, Folty and … Lucas Harrell.

    We’ve come a long way.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Even look at last season – we came out of ST with Feldman, Hernandez and Asher W in the 3 thru 5 spot ( with Peacock and Obie trying to get well).
      Basically our 3rd best starter a year ago is probably our 6th best starter right now.


      • That’s why I said I don’t worry about the rotation. We have pitchers who can pitch and we have kids in the minors who will be pitchers in a year or two.
        Now, the Astros could end up like the Nationals did last year, but we just can’t worry about it because the front office has done a real good job of providing us a #1, a #2, a #3, a #4, and two #5’s, and Wandy as a #7.
        The Nationals cratered because they hated their manager and that clubhouse wasted a good team for an entire year.
        I think the only way the Astros crater is if a couple of pitchers get hurt and a couple more have bad years. But the way we baby our pitchers and with the guys we’re going to have in Fresno, it’s hard to see that happening.
        I see the Astros as a young lion who drew a lot of blood last year fighting the old kings before he withdrew and this year his claws and fangs are long and sharp and he is primed to take over the pride. Let’s see that heart!


      • I think the Nationals never overcame injuries at the beginning of the year, had predictible regression from high starting pitchers, and had a crappy bullpen. Matt Williams got a raw deal and could be the next AJ Hinch.

        Houston’s starting rotation is not good enough to overcome an all or nothing offense. They have to balance it out and put up more games scoring 4+ and fewer at 2 or less or we could be deep in the standings early on. That’s my concern.


      • High starting pitchers should have read “high cost.”. I have no knowledge of whether certain guys were actually high, but some of my Nationals fan friends would likely suggest it.


      • Devin, we see things a little differently.
        Last season the Astros starting rotation had one of the best ERAs in baseball and I believe they are better this year than last year. McHugh had his regression that was called for and still won the second most games in the AL, behind Keuchel.
        I think they have the ability to shake off an all or nothing offense, but I’m counting on management to not allow that kind of offense on the field. They learned that they can’t wait all season for hitters to start hitting. Keeping that kind of offense cost them the division. Let’s hope waiting on Carter forever last year taught them a big lesson. They need to get their hitters on the field and I’m sure they won’t let that happen again, because 2016 was always THE YEAR and it’s here and they don’t need to do dumb stuff.
        If the Astros have below. 200 hitters after the first month, they need to replace them with the next wave.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Well….for all of you clamoring for Tucker to play 1st base, you’re getting your wish!
    Tucker is going to try and transition to 1st in Spring training. It ain’t as easy as it looks, so I’ll keep watching to see how he does. This just tells me they want Tuckers bat in the lineup REAL bad. I might be the only one who thinksthis, but I’m done with the Jon Singelton experiment. The guy did nothing over the winter, at least that’s what he told the press. Correa said he didn’t come to Spring training to prepare for the seadon, he said we was ALREADY prepared for the season, just working on his offence.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Have to wonder why they finally determined just now to have Tucker spend time over at first. Why not have given him a head start and sent him somewhere over the winter? Makes me think that maybe Singleton is becoming a long shot already. That ten million dollars might be the worst thing that ever happened to him.


    • Dave, my thinking is that:
      A. They like Tuckers LH bat and they want it in the lineup.
      B. Gattis is going to miss considerable time.
      C. They might not be happy with Singleton’s offseason. Even Castro worked all offseason on his swing(this morning’s Spit.com). Chilling out might not have transferred well to Singleton’s physique or his bat..
      D. Of all the LH batters the Astros have on the 40-man, Tucker and Rasmus are the only ones with the potential to hit consistently, and that includes Marwin, who is much better hitting from the right side.
      E.Tucker has experience at 1B in college, though scouts report his defense was not too good.
      F. They really want Reed to get that fourth year of arbitration.
      G. Do they think Duffy is a major league player or a good AAA player?
      F. If White or another RH batter hits their way way to the temporary DH spot at the start of the season, Tucker’s LH bat at 1B might balance out that lineup considerably. Always keep in mind that a majority of pitchers are RH and are generally less effective against LH batters.


    • I don’t really buy that 15 extra pounds on Singleton being muscle. Strength was not an issue with the kid. But yes 1OP, if there is a way to get Tucker’s bat into the lineup without doing damage defensively, I’d love to see him at first, because I think if given the chance, he will hit, at least against righty pitching. And with Gattis on the shelf, White might get a real shot at DH, at least until Gattis and his salary gets back.


    • I guess I should not ask the question about how somebody who was not working on anything in the off-season and was just chilling put on 15 lbs. of muscle. If it is true he needs to write a new book – “15 lbs. of Pure Muscle By Doing Nada”.


  12. Not sure what to think of this – but this is a mlbtraderumors article quantifying the risk of a pitcher needing TJ surgery.
    If you click on Interactive Tables and full results you will find that according to their study the Astros pitchers at highest risk are Sipp, McCullers, Feldman and Giles. Their chances are not super-high, but they are a good bit higher than average for the majors.


  13. The top 15 things that Make Me Go HMMMMMM when thinking about 2016:

    1. What % of one-run games will we win?
    2. What will be our record away from MMP?
    3. What will be our record against the Texas Rangers?
    4. Will we have anyone who has BA over .315?
    5. Will we have more than one regular position player who hits over .300?
    6. Will we have at least five regular position players who hit above .275?
    7. Will our DH be in the top ten of the American league in even one of the following offensive categories BA, OBP, OPS, RBI, 2B, HR?
    8. Will we get a collective OBP of over .325 from the 1-2-3 spots in our line-up?
    9. Will we get a collective OBP of over .300 from the 4-5-6 spots in our line-up?
    10. Will anyone on the team get 90 or more RBIs?
    11. How many games will George Springer play?
    12. Who, if anyone, will have a BARISP of over .300?
    13. How many games will Doug Fister start?
    14. How many saves will Ken Giles notch?
    15. How many players will get over 500 ABs – and other than Altuve and Correa, who will those players be?


    • Dang, Bill, you have chummed my waters.
      1. 51% of 1-run games
      2.Away record 40-41
      3. Against the Rangers 10-9
      4. Altuve at .323
      5. Correa at .300
      6. No we will not have as many as 5 players over .275
      7. I don’t think our DH will be in the top 10 in any of those categories, unless Reed gets 600 PAs and is in all of them.
      8. Yes
      9. Yes
      10. Correa
      11. Springer in 149 games
      12. Correa
      13. Fister? 20
      14. Giles Saves? 35
      15. Gomez, Altuve, Correa, Springer get 500 ABs.


      • All that sounds really good to me! But I would be just as happy with T. White at DH instead of Reed [who would, in my dream scenario, be permanently installed at 1B by June 15] – realizing that HRs would almost certainly be a category in which T. White will not make the top 10.


      • I would like Reed at 1B also and White at DH, but White probably would not get into the top 10 in HRs and Reed would! If Reed and White were in the lineup from opening day, I think the Astros would run away with the AL West.


      • To win the AL West I think the answers will have to be as good as the following:
        1. 55% of one run games;
        2. away record 40-41
        3. Against the Rangers, 11-8
        4. Altuve at .320 or above;
        5. White [at least 400 ABs], Reed [at least 400 ABs], and Correa all above .300.
        6. Springer above .275, making 5 players above .275.
        7. Our DH in top 10 in at least 3 of those categories, one of which must be RBIs;
        8. Our top three collective OBP over .335;
        9. Our 4-6 guys’ collective OBP over .310;
        10. Correa. Springer, and our DH position all get over 90 RBIs;
        11. Springer plays in 140 games;
        12. Altuve, Correa, Gomez, and DH has BARISP over .300;
        13. Fister has 15 + starts – and keeps ERA under 3.50 and WHIP under 1.25
        14. Giles gets 30 or more saves;
        15. Altuve, Correa, Springer, and DH position get over 500 ABs


  14. I know I am going to get drubbed again as I did last year, but IF certain things happen, then others fall into place. Such as I mentioned last year, give me 3-4 SPs near 200 innings and this saves the bullpen and you will be in most games late in the game. In 2015, we had two over 200 and Kazmir & Fiers (counting their two teams each) were creeping up on it. In 2016, short of injury, we should have 3 or 4 nearing those number of innings.

    That said, as to MB & 1OP above, we need to have a similar year from many, and an improvement in a few. We have beat 1st & 3rd to death, but it needs to improve. Either by an individual improving, or bringing someone else in to play. It would help if the DH and Catcher improved at the plate, but really don’t see much improvement coming there. Finally, to win, we need the 2013-2014 Gomez to be in CF. He could be a difference maker if he is healthy this year. And finally, we need Springer to stay healthy.

    If all of this falls into place, then it will produce the necessary wins to get into the playoffs.


    • IM not gonna drub you for your opinion….by the way I agree with you. Everything needs to fall in place for this team to succeed. You are exactly right as far as the pitching goes, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple of the guys go down with an ingury. Not the season ending stuff, but like Gregersen has right now, oblique ingury. The only real black hole for ME is 1st base, but we have 3 or 4 guys who are in camp right now who are going to fight it out for that honor! Nice problem to have!!


  15. By the way it wasn’t 15 lbs that Singelton put on, it was *25* lbs. He just said that the 15 were muscle….the rest is Krispy Kreme I guess.


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