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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
Albert Pujols ejected Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:56 pm ET) Angels first baseman Albert Pujols was ejected from Thursday's game against the Red Sox.

Pujols was thrown out in the sixth inning. He struck out earlier in the inning, but was thrown out a few batters later. Manager Mike Scioscia left the dugout to argue balls and strikes, and was immediately tossed from the game. Though Pujols remained in the dugout, he was also thrown out. Pujols went 0 for 3, with two strikeouts before he was ejected. It was just the sixth time in his career Pujols was thrown out of a game. 


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(8:40 pm ET) Cubs pitcher Blake Parker will act as the 26th man Thursday against the Giants.

Parker was added for Game 2 of the team's doubleheader. He'll likely be optioned to the minors following the game. Parker has a 6.57 ERA over 12 1/3 innings in the majors. 


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Carlos Sanchez to get the call Friday
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(8:31 pm ET) White Sox infielder Carlos Sanchez will be called up Friday, according to MLB.com.

Sanchez will take the place of Gordon Beckham on the roster. Sanchez has hit .293/.349/.412 over 437 at-bats at Triple-A. 


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(8:27 pm ET) Red Sox outfielder Yoenis Cespedes left Thursday's game due to a personal matter.

Cespedes left in the top of the fourth inning. He was replaced by Will Middlebrooks. Cespedes struck out in his only at-bat of the game. 


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Joaquin Benoit believes he'll avoid the disabled list
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:31 pm ET) Padres reliever Joaquin Benoit believes he'll avoid a stint on the disabled list, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Benoit was able to throw a bullpen session prior to Thursday's game. He said the session went well, and doesn't think he'll need to spend time on the DL. Benoit has a 1.64 ERA over 49 1/3 innings. 


Garrett Richards potentially still worth keeping
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(7:30 pm ET) What a sad day for Garrett Richards and his Fantasy owners. What an unfortunate end to a brilliant season that probably hasn't gotten the pub it deserved.

He was the ace for the best team in baseball at the time of his injury. And because his breakthrough was so unexpected, he was a waiver claim in most Fantasy leagues. With that kind of production at that low of a cost -- and from a dual-eligible pitcher, no less -- you could argue Richards was the most valuable player in Fantasy for the 5 1/2 months he was healthy.

But now, he's not -- and because an injury no one would have expected. We've all learned to brace ourselves for the next torn up elbow, but not knee -- not for a pitcher, anyway -- which means we don't really know what comes next. The timetable for Richards is 6-9 months, which is an extremely wide range. It gives him some hope of returning by opening day but also allows for him to miss up to half the season.

My guess he misses some time -- enough to diminish his keeper value in a league where you keep just a handful of players, and all on equal terms. But if you keep as many as one-third of your players, and you keep them relative to what they cost you, again, given the price tag for Richards coming into the year, I'd hold on to him.


Oliver Perez hit with the loss Thursday
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(7:29 pm ET) Diamondbacks pitcher Oliver Perez was hit with a loss Thursday against the Nationals.

Perez entered a tie game in the eighth inning, and was able to hold the Nationals scoreless for an inning. He came out to start the ninth, but was pulled after giving up a single to Denard Span. Span would steal second against Evan Marshall, and came around to score on a throwing error for the walkoff win. Perez was charged with the run and the loss. He dropped to 2-3.


 
 
 
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