For the Astros, 2012 was a season of mounting losses. They lost 107 games, improbably topping the total of 106 from the year before. The Astros also lost Wandy Rodriguez, Carlos Lee, J.A. Happ, Brett Myers and Chris Johnson via trade, and they lost manager Brad Mills after the team lost 82 of its first 121 games. Finally, they lost their league, as the Astros moved to the American League during the offseason, ending a 51-year run in the senior circuit.
|A.L. East||N.L. East|
|A.L. Central||N.L. Central|
|A.L. West||N.L. West|
While the Astros shed some of their established players, they have continued to restock the farm system, picking up several prospects through trades, including starting third baseman Matt Dominguez, pitching prospects Brad Peacock and Rudy Owens, and catching prospect Max Stassi. This offseason, they have focused mostly on filling some of the holes in their major league roster, acquriring designated hitter/first baseman Carlos Pena, first baseman/outfielder Chris Carter, starting pitchers Philip Humber and Alex White and reliever Jose Veras. Wilton Lopez, their incumbent closer, and shortstop Jed Lowrie were the Astros' only notable losses, as they were dealt to the Rockies and Athletics, respectively.
While most of the transactions of the past year show an emphasis on building for the future, those moves may not pay a dividend in 2013. Pena -- an exception to the front office's long-term approach -- appears to be past his prime, Carter doesn't have a clear role, Dominguez's bat is unproven and neither Humber nor White is a lock to succeed as a starter. Veras is likely to replace Lopez as the team's closer, but he has all of five career saves.
With top prospects like George Springer, Carlos Correa and Jonathan Singleton in the wings, the Astros' longer-term future looks considerably brighter. For the coming season, though, it's entirely possible second baseman Jose Altuve will be the only player drawing interest in standard mixed league drafts and auctions. Even rotation ace Bud Norris -- coming off a 4.65 ERA -- is likely to get passed over outside of deeper formats. Unfortunately for AL-only owners, the Astros won't bring a bounty of talent to their player pool right away, but within a couple of years, their recent moves could bear fruit in Fantasy.
Inury-risk sleeper ... Jason Castro, catcher
Because Castro has drawn walks at every level, he came to the majors with some appeal for owners in deeper points leagues. Heading into last season, Castro lacked mixed league relevance, as he hadn't hit for power since Class A ball, and he was also coming off a year missed due to knee surgery. Castro's power reemerged in 2012 in the form of six home runs, two triples and 15 doubles in 257 at-bats. That he was able to achieve this even though he experienced a sizeable drop in his flyball rate is encouraging. Castro experienced some problems with his right knee again last season, but if he can stay healthy, playing time shouldn't be a problem. The potential upside makes Castro someone to consider as a low-end second catcher in mixed leagues.
Buyer beware ... Jose Veras, relief pitcher
It appears Veras will get a chance to close for the Astros, and to look at his double-digit strikeout rates per nine innings from the last three seasons, one might think he could succeed in the role. Veras is able to get Ks as a result of recording a high rate of called strikes, but far too often his pitches fall outside the strike zone. Of this season's prospective closers, only Carlos Marmol threw strikes at a lower rate last season. Marmol has had his problems in the ninth inning and Veras doesn't miss as many bats as the Cubs' closer. Even in deeper leagues, owners can find safer options than Veras, and he could very well lose his job to Wesley Wright, Jarred Cosart or Josh Fields by midseason.
Rotisserie gem ... Justin Maxwell, outfielder
There is no shortage of ways Maxwell can hurt Fantasy owners, particularly in Head-to-Head leagues. He doesn't hit many doubles, has a poor walk-to-strikeout ratio and doesn't hit for even a decent average. What Maxwell does do is hit homers and generate runs. He was also a pretty fair base-stealer in the minors, though that skill hasn't transferred to the majors. Even if Maxwell doesn't get more than 10 to 15 steals, he is still someone to consider in deeper mixed Rotisserie leagues. According to ESPN.com's Home Run Tracker, Maxwell had seven "no-doubt" homers last year, which tied him for seventh in the National League, even though he had only 315 at-bats. That's the kind of raw power that should allow at least some owners to put up with his shortcomings.
George Springer and Jonathan Singleton are the best of the Astros' position prospects who could make an impact in 2013. Springer is particularly enticing, as he hits for power, draws walks and has 30-steal potential. Singleton's value is hurt by his 50-game suspension for a positive marijuana test, but he could still be up later this season. ... Pitchers Jarred Cosart, Rudy Owens and Brad Peacock could be relevant in deeper mixed leagues at some point this year, though for Cosart it's not clear if that would be as a starter or as a closer. ... Shortstop Carlos Correa (first overall pick in the 2012 amateur draft), second baseman Delino DeShields (102 steals in 2012) and starting pitchers Mike Foltynewicz and Lance McCullers are all at least a couple of years away, but all have enough upside to merit attention in long-term keeper leagues.
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