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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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Reds' Johnny Cueto slated to start vs. minor leaguers Friday
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(3:41 pm ET) Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto is scheduled to make a start Friday night against a Dodgers' minor-league squad, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Cueto was away from the team for a week while he returned to the Dominican Republic for a family medical situation. He returned Thursday, and appears on track to pitch on Opening Day.

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Locke, who is competing with Vance Worley for the final spot in the rotation, has a 6.59 ERA through five spring appearances (four starts). He has nine strikeouts through 13 2/3 innings.


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Zimmermann posted a 2.66 ERA over 199 2/3 innings last year. He has allowed only two earned runs in 13 2/3 innings of work this spring.


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(3:24 pm ET) The Marlins have reassigned Scott Sizemore down to minor-league camp, according to MLB.com. He had just four hits in 12 at-bats this spring. The Marlins have 36 players remaining in camp. 

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(3:17 pm ET) Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy suffered a shoulder injury during a second-inning collision with second baseman Jonathan Schoop on Friday, according to MLB.com. Manager Buck Showalter removed him from the game and will evaluate him on Saturday.

"I was kind of falling, diving at the same time just to knock that ball down and keep it in the infield and then I think Schoopy was doing the same thing," Hardy said. "We kind of collided. It wasn't bad. My glasses came down, my hat, all that stuff, but nothing was ... It was no big deal."


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Phillies OF Domonic Brown takes BP, remains unsure for opener
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(3:11 pm ET) Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown tested his sore Achilles on Friday with a round of batting practice. It was his first batting practice since suffering the injury last week. Brown is expected to run the bases Saturday, along with batting practice. If he clears those hurdles, he'll be inserted into minor-league games for extra at-bats, per the News Journal.

Brown believes he'll be ready for Opening Day.

"I've been doing a lot of conditioning, but that stop and start, that’s going to be the big test," Brown said. "Just been running kind of long distances and I sprinted [Friday] and it felt good.

"I'm excited because I was scared last week, I'm not going to lie to you."

However, manager Ryne Sandberg revealed that Opening Day "could be unlikely" for Brown, according to the Philadelphia Daily News.


Angels 3B David Freese (elbow) expected back in lineup Saturday
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(2:44 pm ET) Angels third baseman David Freese, who suffered a hyperextended elbow Tuesday, took batting practice Friday and is expected to return to the spring lineup Saturday, per The Orange County Register.

Freese is batting .282 (11 for 39) with one home run, three doubles and seven RBI in 14 spring games. 

"Night and day," Freese said Friday when asked how he feels this spring compared to last, per MLB.com. "I'm more confident in where I'm at right now. I can't explain it. I don't really know how I was thinking last year, I just know how I feel right now, mentally, physically."


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Melvin added, however, Reddick might be ready to play during the team's season-opening, seven-game homestand from April 6-12.


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(2:21 pm ET) Athletics manager Bob Melvin announced Friday reliever Tyler Clippard will open the season as the team's closer with Sean Doolittle sidelined with a shoulder injury. Melvin added Dan Otero will be the right-handed setup man and left-hander Eric O'Flaherty will also be used in setup situations.

Clippard was the Nationals' full-time closer in 2012, recording 32 saves in 37 chances. He spent the last two seasons in a setup role. He has 34 career saves over eight MLB seasons.


 
 
 
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