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2011 Fantasy outlooks: Houston Astros

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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.

Houston Astros Fantasy Outlook
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
Bullpen Breakdown
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
Rookies/Prospects Age Pos. 2010 high Destination
1 Jordan Lyles 20 SP Triple-A Triple-A
System's one true elite prospect getting rushed because of upside. Could win job this spring.
2 J.D. Martinez 23 OF Double-A Double-A
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.
5 Brian Bogusevic 27 OF Majors Majors
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.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can e-mail us your Fantasy Baseball questions to DMFantasyBaseball@cbs.com . Be sure to put Team outlooks in the subject field. Please include your full name, hometown and state.

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Player News
Reds sign Brennan Boesch to minor league deal
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(11/26/2014) The Reds have signed outfielder Brennan Boesch to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. Boesch, 29, is a career .256/.309/.412 hitter over five seasons for the Tigers, Yankees and Angels.

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Rollins is due $11 million this season and his contract is up at the end of 2015. Rollins hit .243 with 55 RBI and stole 28 bases in 2014. 


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(11/26/2014) Padres right-handed pitcher Blaine Boyer cleared waivers Wednesday and will enter free agency, according to U-T San Diego. Boyer was designated for assignment last week.

Boyer appeared in 32 games last season for the Padres and posted a 3.57 ERA. 


Rays designate Sean Rodriguez for assignment
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(11/26/2014) The Rays have designated 29-year-old Sean Rodriguez for assignment. 

Rodriguez hit .211 with 12 home runs last season. 


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(11/26/2014) Catcher Jose Molina and infielder Cole Figueroa cleared waivers and were released by the Rays Wednesday. 

Both Molina and Figueroa were designated for assignment Thursday. Molina, 39, hit .178 over 225 at-bats last year, while Figueroa hit .233 in 43 at-bats. 


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(11/26/2014) The Rays have announced signing of right-hand pitcher Ernesto Frieri to a one-year contract. Frieri will make a base salary of $800,000, going up to $3.15 million with incentives, according to the Tampa Tribune.

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Yankees' Sabathia confident he can return to being 200-inning pitcher
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(11/26/2014) Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia continues to deliver positive updates coming off July knee surgery.

"The knee, I have no complaints," Sabathia told YES Network. "I’m able to do all of my workouts. … I’m changing a few things. Not as much pounding and running. I’m in the pool a lot, on different machines to get cardio, (on the) bike. Just adding a few different things to get some cardio in."

Despite coming off surgery and being limited to eight starts (46 innings) in 2014, Sabathia feels he can get back to being a 30-start, 200-inning pitcher in 2015.

"Yeah, for sure," he said. "I feel like I can. If you asked me that a couple of months ago, I would have said, ‘I don’t know,’ but the way I’m feeling now and being able to work out, definitely."


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(11/26/2014) Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun is optimistic coming off October thumb surgery. Braun underwent a cryotherapy procedure in Los Angeles on Oct. 2, in which a needle was inserted at the base of his right thumb to essentially freeze a nerve.

"It definitely worked," Braun said Wednesday, per MLB.com. "It makes a huge difference."

Braun swung a bat 10 days after the procedure and was happy the pain in his thumb was gone.

"Right now, I don’t feel any [discomfort], and I haven’t been able to say that for two years," he said. "I think I’ve told you guys, it [bothered him] shaking hands, writing -- you know, just everyday activities. Now I don’t feel it at all, so I’m excited."

While Braun is definitely optimistic, he is also a bit cautious because he isn't in the grind of playing baseball every day. He has received full clearance, however, for all offseason activities.

"I’m encouraged by how it feels, but at the same time, I think I have to be cautiously optimistic [until] I get into spring training and see how it responds," Braun said. "But it hasn’t felt this good in a really long time."


 
 
 
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