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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
Michael Mariot moved to 60-day disabled list
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:22 pm ET) Royals pitcher Michael Mariot has been placed on the 60-day disabled list Thursday.

Mariot was in the minors, but was called up and placed on the DL. The move was made in order to free up a spot on the team's 40-man roster. 


Santiago Casilla saves No. 12 Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:19 pm ET) Giants reliever Santiago Casilla saved his 12th game Thursday.

Casilla entered with a three-run lead and easily shut the door. After giving up a walk to the leadoff man, Casilla settled in. He set the next three hitters down in order, picking up the save. He lowered his ERA to 1.68 following the outing. 


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(7:07 pm ET) Rays pitcher Drew Smyly will be held to about 150 innings this season, according to the Tampa Tribune.

Joe Maddon said Smyly would likely be held between 150 innings and 160 innings. Smyly has already reached his career-high in innings, and currently sits at 141 1/3 on the year. Smyly has put up strong numbers, posting a 3.31 ERA, but he's never thrown more than 117 innings over a full season. 


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by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:02 pm ET) The Athletics have swapped Jeff Samardzija and Scott Kazmir for the upcoming series with the Angels, according to the Bay Area News Group.

Samardzija will now move up a day and pitch Saturday. Kazmir will be pushed back to Sunday. Both players will take on the Angels. It's unclear if Kazmir was moved in order to give him more rest following a poor start, or if the team just wanted to adjust the pitching matchups based on who the Angels were throwing. 


Daisuke Matsuzaka activated Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:58 pm ET) Mets pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka has been activated from the disabled list, according to ESPN.

Matsuzaka has been sidelined since July 24 due to an elbow injury. He's been able to get through his rehab starts and is ready to return. Matsuzaka will take Vic Black's spot on the active roster.


Vic Black lands on disabled list
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:56 pm ET) Mets pitcher Vic Black was placed on the disabled list Thursday.

Black received an injection in his neck in order to treat bone spurs. He'll need some time to recover following the injection. Black posted a 2.20 ERA over 32 2/3 innings. 


Yusmeiro Petit wins one, breaks record
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:53 pm ET) Giants pitcher Yusmeiro Petit turned in an excellent start Thursday against the Rockies. 

Petit allowed one run on four hits over six innings. He struck out nine and did not issue any walks. Petit didn't allow a hit until the third inning. That's significant because Petit broke the MLB single-season record by retiring 46 consecutive hitters. Petit had been pitching out of the bullpen recently, and had not allowed a hit over his last six appearances. 

While Colorado would scratch a win across in the third, Petit wasn't flustered. He was able to get through the last three innings without giving up another run. With the win, Petit improved to 4-3. He'll take on the Rockies if he remains in the rotation for another start. 


Jordan Lyles tosses quality start
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:49 pm ET) Rockies pitcher Jordan Lyles tossed a quality start Thursday against the Giants.

Lyles allowed three runs on four hits over six innings. He struck out five and walked three during the outing. The Giants were able to tag Lyles early, but he settled in after briefly stumbling. After giving up a single to lead off the second inning, Lyles allowed Gregor Blanco to belt a two-run homer. He would settle in at that point, keeping the Giants off the board over the next three innings. He couldn’t keep San Francisco off the board in the sixth. After a leadoff single, Lyles walked two batters, loading the bases. Hunter Pence managed to bring home another run on a sac fly. Despite walking the next hitter, Lyles was able to get out of the inning without giving up any more runs.

With the loss, Lyles fell to 6-2. He’ll take on the Giants in his next start.


Drew Smyly must-own, but not must-start
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(6:40 pm ET) Drew Smyly probably isn't as good as he's shown since joining the Rays. Granted, you shouldn't put anything past their coaching staff -- Alex Cobb, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi all appear well on their way to maximizing their talents -- but in his last four starts, Smyly has been as good as the man he was traded for, perennial Cy Young contender David Price. No transformation is that sudden.

The most telling number for me is that one that falls well short of Price's standards: During that four-start stretch, Smyly has averaged 6.7 strikeouts per nine innings. And yet he's allowed 11 hits in 30 2/3 innings. The result is an impossibly low .111 BABIP.

Of course, one look at his 0.88 ERA during that four-start stretch would tell you it's something he can't sustain, so maybe I'm going overboard digging into the advanced numbers there. My point is this: He's good, but with middle-of-the-road strikeout ability and an occasional vulnerability to home runs, I don't see him becoming start-him-every-week good.

In a relief pitcher spot in a points league, maybe, but otherwise, keep an eye on the matchups and weigh your alternatives.


Alex Rios sitting due to thumb
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:27 pm ET) Rangers outfielder Alex Rios was not in the starting lineup Thursday against the Astros, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Rios will miss the game due to a thumb injury. Rios indicated he wanted to play, but manager Ron Washington thought it was for the best to hold him out. Washington expects Rios to start Friday. 


 
 
 
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