For a time last year, the Astros looked like the worst team in baseball, which was especially discouraging for an organization that had stripped its minor-league system of talent in recent years, leaving only one elite prospect in Jordan Lyles.
But then their pitching staff started to come together. Brett Myers finally lived up to the potential that long eluded him in Philadelphia, and Wandy Rodriguez got back to performing the way he did in 2009, giving the Astros a steady top of the rotation that not even the midseason departure of longtime ace Roy Oswalt could disrupt. The strong finish for J.A. Happ, who came over in the Oswalt deal, only solidified the Astros' identity as a pitching-first team. And that's with Lyles still in the minors.
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Of course, pitching isn't everything, and until the Astros solve the other half of the equation, they'll have to fight to stay out of the cellar. They tried valiantly this offseason with the acquisitions of Bill Hall and Clint Barmes, but Hall is a one-trick pony who never could hold down a full-time job, and Barmes is a glorified utility player who hit .241 the last two years in Colorado. Neither figures to strike fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers.
And the truth is nobody on the Astros can do that anymore. Carlos Lee's steep decline and Lance Berkman's midseason departure leave the middle of the lineup with a hole that Hunter Pence, solid as he is, can't fill.
Hence, you won't see any Astros going off the board in the early rounds of Fantasy drafts, and unless young players like Brett Wallace, Chris Johnson and Jason Castro rise to the occasion and blow all projections out of the water, that doesn't figure to change anytime soon.
Bounce-back player ... Wandy Rodriguez, SP
Rodriguez actually bounced back over his final 18 starts last season, when he went 8-2 with a 2.03 ERA, a 1.02 WHIP and 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings. But by the time that happened, the Fantasy owners who drafted him had already cut him, cursed him and vowed never to touch him again. So they won't be thinking about his strong finish last season. They'll be thinking about how he let them down with a 3-10 record and 6.09 ERA over his first 14 starts. It's an emotional game, isn't it? If you can overcome your bitterness, you can capitalize on everyone else's by seeing Rodriguez's first half for the fluke it was. He didn't lose any velocity or command. He simply didn't get the results he should have gotten, as his .359 BABIP during that stretch would suggest. He offers the upside of a No. 2 starting pitcher for the price of a No. 4.
Bust ... Brandon Lyon, RP
Lyon came as a breath of fresh air to the Astros and Fantasy owners following the Matt Lindstrom disaster of early August, offering a high number of saves in a short period of time. But all the Lyon enthusiasts are forgetting one critical detail about him: He was the unreliable one coming into the season. He bombed as a closer for the Red Sox. He bombed as a closer for the Diamondbacks -- twice. He's usually not so bad in the beginning -- he's not a bad reliever, after all -- but over the course of time, his vanilla stuff just doesn't hold up when opposing offenses are in survival mode. And with live arms like Wilton Lopez and Mark Melancon behind him, he's far from untouchable. The Astros have an above-average pitching staff and a below-average offense, putting Lyon in position for cheap saves early. But sooner or later, the wheels will come off.
Sleeper ... Bud Norris, SP
Norris suffers from some of the usual shortcomings of young pitchers: He issues too many walks and has trouble pitching deep into games. But he stands out in ways that should attract at least some attention on Draft Day. His stuff speaks for itself. He struck out more than a batter per inning in 153 2/3 innings. He also showed improvement over the course of the season by pitching six innings or more in 13 of his final 17 starts, going 7-5 with a 4.03 ERA during that stretch. But he never did overcome his wildness. If he can learn to contain it -- as Jonathan Sanchez and, to a greater extent, Ubaldo Jimenez eventually did -- his strikeout rate would make him a Fantasy mainstay. As it is, he's just a hope and a prayer in the late rounds.
|Projected Lineup||Pos.||Projected Rotation|
|1||Michael Bourn||CF||1||Brett Myers||RH|
|2||Clint Barmes||SS||2||Wandy Rodriguez||LH|
|3||Hunter Pence||RF||3||J.A. Happ||LH|
|4||Carlos Lee||LF||4||Bud Norris||RH|
|5||Chris Johnson||3B||5||Nelson Figueroa||RH|
|6||Brett Wallace||1B||Alt||Ryan Rowland-Smith||LH|
|7||Bill Hall||2B|| |
|8||Jason Castro||C||CL||Brandon Lyon||RH|
|Top bench options||SU||Wilton Lopez||RH|
|R||Jeff Keppinger||INF||RP||Jeff Fulchino||RH|
|R||Jason Bourgeois||OF||RP||Mark Melancon||RH|
|R||Jason Michaels||OF||RP||Wesley Wright||LH|
|System's one true elite prospect getting rushed because of upside. Could win job this spring.|
|Late-rounder in 2009 has done nothing but mash in the minors. Could reach bigs by midseason.|
|3||Delino DeShields||18||2B||Rookie league||Class A|
|First-rounder in 2010 could follow in dad's footsteps as leadoff man, perhaps with more power.|
|4||Jonathan Villar||19||SS||Class A||Double-A|
|Key piece in Roy Oswalt deal doesn't hit well yet, but burner's glove makes him SS of future.|
|Converted pitcher showed decent pop in minors. Likely to play key reserve role for big club.|
|Best of the rest: Mike Foltynewicz, SP; Jiovanni Mier, SS; Jimmy Paredes, 2B; Tanner Bushue, SP; Austin Wates, OF; Mark Melancon, RP; Ariel Ovando, OF; Aneury Rodriguez, SP; Fernando Abad, RP; Henry Villar, RP; Enerio Del Rosario, RP; Jonathan Gaston, OF; Thomas Steele, OF; Ross Seaton, SP; Douglas Arguello, SP; and Koby Clemens, 1B.|
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