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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
Report: SP Mike Wright to rejoin Orioles on Thursday night
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5:51 pm ET) Pitcher Mike Wright is set to join the Orioles in Toronto on Thursday night, per the Virginian-Pilot.

Wright has been sidelined with an oblique injury for five weeks and has recently completed a rehab stint at Triple-A Norfolk. He is a candidate to start Saturday in Toronto, according to MASNsports.com.

The right-hander owns a 2-3 record and 4.99 ERA in seven big league outings, including six starts.


Cubs RP James Russell dispatched to Triple-A Iowa
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5:43 pm ET) Cubs reliever James Russell has been outrighted to Triple-A Iowa after being designated for assignment Tuesday, MLB.com has reported.

Russell suffered through a miserable stretch in August, sending his ERA soaring from 2.70 to 5.29. He allowed 12 runs in 7 1/3 innings during that time.


Twins' Eddie Rosario mashes first grand slam of career in loss
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(5:36 pm ET) Twins outfielder Eddie Rosario connected on his first-career grand slam on Thursday, but it wasn't enough to avoid the 6-4 loss to the White Sox.

Rosario came to bat with the bases loaded and his team down 1-0 in the third inning. With one swing of the bat, he gave the Twins a three-run lead. The bullpen was unable to make that lead last however.

The four RBI is a new career-high for the Twins rookie. Rosario is batting .237 (9 for 38) with two homers and six RBI over his last 10 games.


White Sox RP David Robertson gets easy save on Thursday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(5:31 pm ET) White Sox closer David Robertson struck out a batter in a clean ninth inning, preserving Thursday's 6-4 win over the Twins. Robertson needed just 14 pitches to record his 28th save of the year.

The right-hander hadn't pitched since throwing two innings and getting the win on Sunday. He has successfully converted eight of his last nine save opportunities. 


Braves P Manny Banuelos gets another shot at starting Sunday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5:27 pm ET) The pounding Braves starter Manny Banuelos absorbed in his first outing since returning from an elbow injury has not prevented Fredi Gonzalez from keeping him in the rotation for now.

Gonzalez confirmed that Banuelos will start Sunday in Washington, but will be limited to about 70-75 pitches, per MLB.com.

Banuelos performed well during a three-week stint in July before going down. But he allowed three runs on six hits in just 2 2/3 innings Tuesday against Miami.


Twins SP Kyle Gibson gets no-decision despite quality start
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(5:23 pm ET) Twins right-hander Kyle Gibson turned in a quality start on Thursday against the White Sox, but was left with a no-decision. Gibson allowed three runs on five hits over six innings. He struck out four and did not walk a batter, as the Twins dropped the series-finale 6-4.

Gibson allowed an early run in the top of the first inning, but the Twins rallied to take the lead on the heels of an Eddie Rosario grand slam in the third. But the White Sox chipped away, adding runs in the fourth and sixth innings. He left the game with the score tied 3-3, but the bullpen gave up three runs in the seventh.

Gibson has allowed three runs or fewer in five of his last seven starts, as his ERA is down to 3.84 on the year.


Tigers RP Al Alburquerque could be ready to pitch Friday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(5:18 pm ET) Tigers reliever Al Alburquerque threw a bullpen session Thursday, according to the Detroit News. He said he felt good and could be game ready Friday against the Indians.

Alburquerque added the MRI on his injured hip showed no structural damage. He has not pitched since Aug. 24.


White Sox SP Jeff Samardzija gives up grand slam, still gets a win
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(5:15 pm ET) White Sox starter Jeff Samardzija was actually out-pitched by opposing Twins starter Kyle Gibson on Thursday, but the tall right-hander walked away with his ninth win of the season. Samardzija allowed four runs on five hits over 6 1/3 innings. He walked four and struck out four, en route to the 6-4 victory.

Samardzija (9-11, 4.87 ERA) didn't pitch quite as poorly as his line may suggest. All four runs came from one swing of the bat--a grand slam by Eddie Rosario in the third inning. The White Sox, meanwhile, were able to rally back and retake the lead.

The win snapped a personal six-game losing streak for Samardzija. Still, he has allowed a total of 14 earned runs over his last three starts, spanning 17 2/3 innings.


Nationals' Taylor available off bench, but likely to get a few more days off
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(5:12 pm ET) Nationals outfielder Michael Taylor still has some swelling in his knee as of Thursday and could be held out of the starting lineup for a few more days. He is available off the bench against the Braves, but manager Matt Williams said he needs to rest so the injury will heal.

Pirates CF Andrew McCutchen (knee) only expected to miss one game
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(5:07 pm ET) Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen received a day off Thursday against the Brewers to deal with a left knee injury, which manager Clint Hurdle said has been bothering the All-Star outfielder for 5-6 days.

"We’ve been talking about a day off for the past four or five days," Hurdle said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Last night, we decided today would be a good day off."

Hurdle added, however, he is only expecting McCutchen to miss one game. He said McCutchen will be in the lineup Friday unless he "misses the flight."

McCutchen is batting .382 (21 for 55) with two home runs, five doubles, eight RBI, eight runs, eight walks, 10 strikeouts and one stolen base in his last 15 games.


 
 
 
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