It is tough to picture the word spring merging with the fact that here in the Houston area it will hit 12 degrees this Monday. (And for my metric friends that is in Fahrenheit, not Celsius). We are facing the coldest long stretch here that I can remember since we moved here in 1966.
But a time zone to the east and hundreds of miles farther south, the Astros pitcher and catchers report next Thursday the 18th with the rest of the crew due on the 22nd. It will be in the ’80s in West Palm Beach that day and will be a lot closer to Spring normalcy than the rest of the country will be facing this week.
So what are the expectations for this spring training for this edition of the Astros?
- This is the first time since 2015 that the Astros come to Spring Training with a team that had a losing record in the previous season. Yet our expectations are not those of fans of a losing club. They are the expectations of fans who had three straight years of 100+ wins slightly tempered by a 2020 that was too weird to register. The team did not have a good regular season, but they got on a run in the playoffs and at least gave the impression that a return to the 2017-2019 type team was possible in 2021.
- The Astros were a very middle of the road offensive team in 2020. They were 7th in the AL in runs scored (279), 10th in BA (.240), 11th in OBP (.311) and 9th in OPS (.720). It is almost counterintuitive for the team to lose one of their biggest offensive cogs in George Springer and expect an improved offensive performance by the team. But with Yordan Alvarez returning, the expectation of better seasons from Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, and Yuli Gurriel and the further maturing of Kyle Tucker hope spring eternal.
- Along those lines, we expect to see Yordan Alvarez return with two repaired knees that allow him to return to the transcendent performance we saw in the second half of 2019.
- The starting rotation was above average and especially down the stretch when Jose Urquidy rejoined the rotation, was the strength of the team. The expectation here is that the quintet of Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers Jr. Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy will form a solid base for the rotation. The expectation is that other than Greinke and possibly Valdez, none of these pitchers is likely to put up near the 175-200 innings normally required from starters.
- As a follow up to that, the expectation is that multiple pitchers must step up to be the next wave of starters as it will probably take 10-12 starters to get through this much longer season than 2020. Chief among them is the enigma known as Forrest Whitley. It is critical that he finally put it together for this organization that has stuck with him through some tough times. But if he doesn’t this is where the many other arms down on the farm have a chance to show their stuff.
- The bullpen was middle of the road, which was a huge surprise considering how inexperienced the relievers were as a whole. Ryan Pressly had never been the main closer on any team, yet he picked up the yoke and did a decent job of it. The expectation is that the youngsters / inexperienced pitchers in the bullpen, (Enoli Paredes, Blake Taylor, Brooks Raley, Andre Scrubb) will be even better in their second go around. This is one expectation that might be a little over the top.
- The expectation is that the moves made by the Astros front office to bolster the bullpen, the signings of Pedro Baez, Ryne Stanek and Steve Cishek, will give a boost to a group that lacked experience. Of course, there is still the hope (not an expectation) that the Astros will make one more move and sign someone like Trevor Rosenthal to give an even bigger boost to the back of the bullpen.
- The fans also have expectations that the team will use Spring Training to figure out who their 3rd and 4th OFs will be behind Michael Brantley and Kyle Tucker. Will it be Myles Straw, Chas McCormick, Steven Souza Jr., Jose Siri, Pedro Leon or even Norel Gonzalez?
- The fans expect the team to sort out how the workload will be split behind the plate between the incumbent Martin Maldonado and the old newbie Jason Castro.
What are your expectations for the 2021 Spring Training for the Astros?