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2012 Fantasy outlooks: Houston Astros

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer
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The Houston Astros' 2012 campaign is going to mark the end of an era.

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Beginning as the Colts .45's in 1962, the Houston franchise has always been a member of the National League. But that is going to change in 2013 when the Astros pack their bags for the American League.

Therefore, baseball enthusiasts get to enjoy the Astros in the Senior Circuit for one more year. Then again, "enjoy" probably isn't the right word when it comes to discussing this year's team. "Rebuilding effort" and "extended losing streaks" might be better phrases.

Houston has made nine playoff appearances through the years, but 2011 wasn't one of them. Last year's team finished with a franchise-worst 56 wins and lost north of 100 games for the first time in team history. At least the good news for the 2012 squad is that likely won't get any worse.

The days of Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio are distant memories. The only real star bat left is Carlos Lee, but the big question is who will provide El Caballo with lineup protection?

The rebuilding project began the last few years as Houston traded stars Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn. The Astros are now ready to start over with the likes of J.D. Martinez, Jose Altuve, Brett Wallace, Jason Castro, Jason Bourgeois and Jordan Schafer, but the Astros aren't built to contend this season.

The strength of this year's Houston squad lies in its rotation. Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers and Bud Norris give the Astros a potentially potent 1-2-3 punch. Houston could also get a huge lift from lefty J.A. Happ if he pitches more like the guy that went 12-4 in 2009 with Philadelphia and not the 6-15 arm he was in 2011. Houston is also hoping homegrown arm Jordan Lyles can solidify the back of the rotation instead of heading back to the minors for more seasoning.

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The two biggest offseason acquisitions were shortstop Jed Lowrie and catcher Chris Snyder. Lowrie will now get to play every day without looking over his shoulder. Snyder's ability to handle a pitching staff will be a welcomed addition in Houston and also his presence will help ease Castro back into action after he missed last season with a knee injury.

Once considered a weakness, the Astros have started to rebuild their farm system. Trades have brought them potential stars in Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart, and strong drafts have landed them George Springer and Delino Deshields.

But that seems to be the underlying theme with Houston -- building toward the future.

Sleeper ... J.D. Martinez , OF

Martinez has developed into a steal for the Astros. He hasn't even played a full season in the majors, but has already surpassed expectations as a 20th round draft pick in 2009. Martinez sped through the minors thanks to a .342 average, .414 on-base percentage and .958 OPS. He has more of a line-drive swing and is a better doubles hitter, but he could get some cheap homers at Minute Maid Park. The good news for Martinez is that manager Brad Mills is likely to hit him third in front of Carlos Lee. Martinez hit .295 with five homers, 12 doubles and 31 RBI in 44 games batting third in 2011.

Injury-risk sleeper ... Jed Lowrie, SS

Let's take a moment to reminisce about the season that could have been for Lowrie in 2011 had he not developed a nagging shoulder injury. He hit .306 with a .354 OBP and .804 OPS in his first 46 games (40 starts). He also had 21 RBI in that span. Unfortunately, Lowrie went on the disabled list in mid-June and didn't return until early August, but he wasn't the same. He hit .195 in his last 42 games. That's going to be the biggest question mark for Lowrie heading into this season. If healthy, he could end up a steal for Fantasy owners. But his shoulder problem and the fact he no longer plays for a contender means you can't invest more than a late-round pick on Lowrie.

Late-round flier ... Bud Norris, SP

Norris hasn't had a winning season since his rookie campaign in 2009 and might be headed for a third straight losing campaign in 2012, but we still feel the best is yet to come from the soon-to-be 27-year-old hurler. Fantasy owners might not realize, but Norris is averaging 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings in his career, which is his strongest Fantasy asset. However, Norris also lowered his ERA to 3.77 and his WHIP to 1.33 in 2011. It's also worth pointing out that opponents have hit .256 or worse against Norris the last two seasons. He remains only a late-round flier because the wins could be hard to come by, but Norris definitely has appeal as a back-of-the-rotation Fantasy arm.

2012 Houston Astros Fantasy Outlook
Projected Lineup Pos. Projected Rotation
1 Jordan Schafer CF 1 Wandy Rodriguez LH
2 Jose Altuve 2B 2 Brett Myers RH
3 J.D. Martinez LF 3 Bud Norris RH
4 Carlos Lee 1B 4 J.A. Happ LH
5 Brian Bogusevic RF 5 Livan Hernandez RH
6 Jed Lowrie SS Alt Jordan Lyles RH
7 Jimmy Paredes 3B
Bullpen Breakdown
8 Jason Castro C CL Brandon Lyon RH
Top bench options SU Wilton Lopez RH
R Jason Bourgeois OF RP Juan Abreu RH
R Chris Snyder C RP Sergio Escalona LH
R Brett Wallace 1B RP Fernando Rodriguez RH
Rookies/Prospects Age Pos. 2011 high Destination
1 Jonathan Singleton 20 1B Class A Double-A
Former Phillies farmhand that has potential to hit .300 with 25-30 homers in majors.
2 Jarred Cosart 21 SP Double-A Double-A
Another key part of Hunter Pence trade, Cosart has ace potential but could transition to closer as well.
3 George Springer 22 OF Class A Class A
First-round pick from 2011 who is a five-tool player. A power-speed combo guy in the mold of Matt Kemp.
4 Jonathan Villar 20 SS Double-A Double-A
Villar's strengths are his defense and speed, but needs to improve strike-zone discipline.
5 Domingo Santana 19 OF Class A Class A
The word that best describes Santana is raw, but the ceiling is high if he reaches his full potential.
Best of the rest: Paul Clemens, SP; Brett Oberholtzer, SP; Delino Deshields, 2B; Mike Foltynewicz, SP; Telvin Nash, 1B/OF; Kyle Weiland, SP; Adrian Houser, SP; Austin Wates, OF; Jiovanni Mier, SS; Tanner Bushue, SP; Ariel Ovando, OF; Nick Torpeano, SP

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Michael Hurcomb at @CBSHurc . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Red Sox promote slew of players from Pawtucket
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:51 pm ET) Ballyhooed Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo is far from the only promotion from Triple-A Pawtucket made by the Red Sox on Wednesday. But he is certainly the most significant.

The team has also brought up left-hander Edwin Escobar, right-hander Heath Hembree, third baseman Garin Cecchini, outfielder Bryce Brentz and catcher Ryan Lavarnway.


Hanley Ramirez targeting weekend return
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:41 pm ET) Don Mattingly has claimed that Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez is feeling better Wednesday and could rejoin the lineup this weekend against the host Cubs.

Ramirez pinch-hit Tuesday and is not starting Wednesday in Colorado. He has been dealing with an elbow strain.


Michael Morse not ready for return Wednesday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:36 pm ET) Giants left fielder Michael Morse is still absent from the lineup Wednesday against the host Diamondbacks.

Morse has been out since Aug. 31 with a strained oblique, but is expected back soon. He will return with a stat line of .280/.338/.477.


Angel Pagan still a no-go Wednesday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:33 pm ET) A back ailment continues to sideline Giants center fielder Angel Pagan in Arizona on Wednesday afternoon. He is out of the lineup.

Pagan has been sidelined since Sunday and has been limited to 95 games this season.


Wilmer Flores upping his stock for 2015
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:55 pm ET) Granted, if the Mets make a play for Starlin Castro or some other high-profile shortstop this offseason, all bets are off, but Wilmer Flores' two-homer performance Tuesday against the Marlins was just the latest indication that the 23-year-old is on the verge of turning the corner.

And that's an exciting prospect for Fantasy owners now that he's proven at least competent at the weakest position in the game.

In his last 18 games, he's batting .303 with five home runs and a .984 OPS. He has struck out just twice in 66 at-bats during that stretch. In 43 games since the All-Star break (or since his return from the minors, more accurately), he has struck out just nine times in 140 at-bats.

That was his calling card in the minors, where he never struck out even 80 times in a season and was typically between 60 and 70. The high contact rate often resulted in a .300 batting average -- particularly in the upper levels, when he began to develop the power to hit 15-plus homers and 30-plus doubles.

It's a skill set similar to the one Edgardo Alfonzo brought with him to the majors in the late 90s. If you were playing Fantasy then, you'll probably remember he had a few years when he was a pretty stellar option even at the height of the steroids era. And he wasn't even a shortstop during that time.

Sleeper alert?


Report: Twins contemplating shutting down Glen Perkins
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:52 pm ET) The Twins could be considering shutting down closer Glen Perkins for the season, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Ron Gardenhire has admitted he's worried about the struggling veteran left-hander.

"Yes, I'm concerned," he said about Perkins' recent drop in velocity. "We're going to talk with him (Wednesday). There's a lot of frustration involved right now. We're going to definitely talk with him and see where we're at and see how he's feeling because he just came off that (neck/shoulder) thing and he's had a couple outings where we think the velocity is down. We just want him to be honest with us and not hurt himself."

Perkins has blown three of his last five save opportunities, including Tuesday night, when he surrendered a three-run homer to Detroit slugger J.D. Martinez in the ninth inning. He has allowed five homers in his last eight appearances and at least one hit in each of his last nine.


Jake Arrieta gives owners something to remember
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:32 pm ET) Just in case you were beginning to have some doubts about Jake Arrieta, noticing that he hasn't been quite as dominant in recent weeks with a 3-4 record, 3.67 ERA and 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 12 starts since his breakthrough June, he made sure that line of thinking wouldn't haunt you in the offseason, regardless of how his final two starts go, with his performance Tuesday night.

Not only did he record his first complete game and shutout, but he threw a one-hitter, setting a career high with 13 strikeouts. It was a start even better than any of those he had in June, and he did against the same Reds team that beat him up for six earned runs in four inning back on Aug. 28 -- one of two ugly starts that served to inflate his ERA during that 12-start stretch.

The 28-year-old right-hander has maintained his velocity throughout and, apart from a trio of three-walk games at the beginning of July, hasn't encountered any of his past control issues. And for all his strikeouts, he has one of the lowest home run rates in the majors, making him the best of both worlds as far as quality pitchers -- a groundballer who won't give up a bunch of cheap singles pitching to contact.

In other words, he checks off every box on the list.

The one exception, of course, is durability. Until he goes 200 innings, you have reason to wonder if he can. But once all the established aces go off the board, Arrieta will rank as high as any pitcher in 2015. Top 25 seems like a lock.


Jake Lamb, David Peralta still out for Diamondbacks
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:18 pm ET) Diamondbacks third baseman Jake Lamb (quad) and outfielder David Peralta (back) remain absent from the lineup Wednesday against visiting San Francisco.

Lamb has had just one at-bat since Friday after an encouraging 7-for-19 stretch. Peralta has been sidelined since Sept. 5.


Nolan Arenado down again Wednesday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:09 pm ET) Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado is set to sit again Wednesday against the visiting Dodgers with a chest contusion. Rafael Ynoa has been tabbed to man the position.

Arenado was on a 1-for-13 slide before going down.


Hanley Ramirez again a no-go Wednesday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:03 pm ET) An elbow strain that prevented oft-injured Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez from playing Tuesday night also has him sidelined Wednesday afternoon in Colorado.

Ramirez, who has missed more than 30 games this season, boasts a stat line of .277/.362/.444. He had nine hits in 17 at-bats before his latest physical setback.


 
 
 
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