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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Houston Astros

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The Astros have set franchise records for most losses in a season three years in a row, and last season's dive resulted in a 51-111 record. The rebuilding is likely to continue, but 2014 will probably be the year Astros fans will begin to see the fruits of a revamped farm system in earnest.

The youth movement started to get underway last season, as Bud Norris was dealt to the Orioles and Erik Bedard and Lucas Harrell moved into swingman roles, making way for Jarred Cosart, Brett Oberholtzer, Brad Peacock and Paul Clemens to enter the rotation as the season wore on. All four are expected to return in starting roles this year, filling out the rotation behind free agent signee Scott Feldman.

2014 Fantasy Outlooks
A.L. East N.L. East
Orioles Braves
Red Sox Marlins
Yankees Mets
Rays Phillies
Blue Jays Nationals
A.L. Central N.L. Central
White Sox Cubs
Indians Reds
Tigers Brewers
Royals Pirates
Twins Cardinals
A.L. West N.L. West
Astros Diamondbacks
Angels Rockies
Athletics Dodgers
Mariners Padres
Rangers Giants

Once again, Jason Castro, Jose Altuve and Chris Carter will anchor the lineup, but offseason acquisition Dexter Fowler will be a new presence at the top of the order. Further down, Matt Dominguez, Jonathan Villar, Robbie Grossman and L.J. Hoes will likely reprise the roles they took on for all or part of last season. Expect the Astros' roster to be fluid throughout the year, though, as they will likely need to make room for prospects like outfielder George Springer, first baseman Jon Singleton and starting pitcher Mark Appel.

Some positions could be in flux from spring training on forward. Marc Krauss, Jesus Guzman, Brett Wallace and Japhet Amador are among those who will vie to win the job at first base, though whoever emerges out of camp could just keep the seat warm for Singleton. Bullpen roles are also unclear as the Astros head into Grapefruit League play. Josh Fields and Chia-Jen Lo, who each got save opportunities last year, will be back in the mix to close, but so will newcomers Jesse Crain and Chad Qualls.

The Astros have probably hit rock bottom, but they're unlikely to be good enough to produce many Fantasy-relevant options. Even if they find a closer to keep the job all season, there may still be a dearth of save opportunities. Should Springer and Singleton spend a large chunk of 2014 in the majors, they still might lack the lineup protection and run-producing opportunities to launch them into Fantasy superstardom. With the emergence of some top-notch prospects along with the return of a few solid Fantasy contributors, such as Altuve, Castro and Villar, there is at least something for owners to pay attention to when they happen upon an Astros game while channel surfing this year.

Rotisserie gem ... Jose Altuve, second base

2013 projected lineup
Player Name Position
1. Dexter Fowler CF
2. Jose Altuve 2B
3. Jason Castro C
4. Chris Carter DH
5. Matt Dominguez 3B
6. Marc Krauss 1B
7. Robbie Grossman LF
8. L.J. Hoes RF
9. Jonathan Villar SS
Bench Jesus Guzman 1B
Bench Cesar Izturis 2B/SS
A year ago, Altuve finished as the eighth-ranking second baseman in Rotisserie value, but it would be a mistake to think that he doesn't belong in the top five this year. What Altuve produced in 2013 represents his floor. We already knew he was capable of 35 steals in 152 games, and from his first full season in 2012, we know that Altuve is able to hit for a little more power and score 80 runs, even while hitting in an anemic lineup. He could easily leapfrog Matt Carpenter, Daniel Murphy, Brandon Phillips and Ian Kinsler just by getting back to the level of his '12 performance. Turning just 24 in May, Altuve could still enjoy a breakout and vault even higher in the rankings.

Late-round flier ... Matt Dominguez, third base

Altuve and Castro are clearly draftable in all standard mixed league formats, but it's time to add Dominguez's name to this brief list. Last year, his 21 home runs tied him for eighth-most among third baseman, as he experienced a breakout that was presaged by a homer spike that occurred when the Marlins promoted him from Double-A to Triple-A in 2011. As he's not much of a line drive hitter, Dominguez will disappoint those looking for a high batting average, but he should improve from last season's .241. A 20-plus home run season with a .260ish average will put Dominguez on a par with Brett Lawrie and Aramis Ramirez in terms of overall value, and that makes him worthy of a late-round pick.

Impact prospect ... George Springer, outfield

2013 rotation/bullpen
Player Name Throws
1. Scott Feldman RHP
2. Jarred Cosart RHP
3. Brett Oberholtzer LHP
4. Brad Peacock RHP
5. Paul Clemens RHP
ALT Dallas Keuchel LHP
Bullpen Breakdown
1. Josh Fields RHP
2. Jesse Crain RHP
3. Chad Qualls RHP
4. Matt Albers RHP
5. Kevin Chapman LHP
The Astros may want to send Springer to Triple-A to start the year in order to delay his arbitration clock, but it's just a matter of time before we see him in H-Town. Springer strikes out far too often -- he recorded a K in nearly one out of every three at-bats last year -- but that's end of his list of negatives. He hits for tremendous power, has posted high walk rates and is a stolen base threat. Between Double-A and Triple-A, Springer was three home runs short of a 40-40 season. Unless he is called up in June or later, he's a good bet to finish as a top 50 outfielder in 2014.

Prospects Report

Springer could be the first of the Astros' major prospects to graduate to the big leagues, but several others could follow in short order. As mentioned above, Singleton could earn a callup as long as he rebounds from a disappointing, suspension-shortened 2013 season, and he even has a slight chance to break camp with the team. ... Outfielder Domingo Santana has a lesser chance to show up in the majors this year, but if his power hitting continues to improve like it did the last two seasons, he could force his way onto the big league roster. ... Shortstop Carlos Correa is one of the top prospects in all of baseball, but he is still probably at least a year and a half away. ... Mike Foltynewicz and Asher Wojciechowski have long surnames, but neither may have a long wait to make their debuts in the Astros' rotation. Both are legitimate targets in dynasty leagues and deep single-season AL-only leagues. The same is also true for Appel, the first overall pick in the 2013 amateur draft, even though he has yet to pitch above Class A. ... Starting pitchers Vince Velasquez and Lance McCullers won't likely be relevant to single-season league owners until 2015 at the earliest, but both need to be owned in dynasty formats.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Brewers' Jim Henderson returns to action with strong game
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:45 pm ET) Brewers reliever Jim Henderson turned in a strong inning of work on Wednesday.

Henderson, who missed the second half of last season due to shoulder surgery, got in his first game action in months. He pitched a scoreless inning, striking out two during the appearance. Henderson did allow one walk.

Following the game, Henderson said he was glad to be back out there. "It felt great to have that umpire back there and a hitter in there," Henderson said. "I think I threw two balls in a row and had to remind myself, 'Just treat it like a live BP type of thing and just focus on the glove.' That's was all I was concerned about."

The 32-year-old Henderson posted a 7.15 ERA over 11 1/3 innings before being shut down last year. He's expected to open the season in Milwaukee's bullpen.


Melvin: Athletics' Matt Olson 'very impressive' in camp
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:39 pm ET) Athletics manager Bob Melvin said Wednesday that first-base prospect Matt Olson has been "very impressive" this spring in his first big-league camp, MLB.com reports.

"He's been very impressive," said manager Bob Melvin. "Works hard, and you can tell just by watching him take BP that he's our type of hitter. He has the power, he's got a great eye. Even some of the reports I've heard about him pulling the ball, you can see in BP he stays the other way at times and certainly identifies where the baseball is very early."

Olson drew the start at designated hitter Wednesday after Billy Butler was scratched due to a stomach bug. The 2012 first-round pick went 0 for 3 at the plate but did notch an RBI on a groundout. Olson hit .262/.404/.543 with 37 home runs and 97 RBI in 512 at-bats with high Class A Stockton last season.


Padres C Griff Erickson joined Padres for 'opportunity'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:33 pm ET) Padres catcher Griff Erickson is in camp as a nonroster invitee and said Wednesday he chose to join his hometown team for "the opportunity," U-T San Diego reports.

"It's not about the money," Erickson said. "I could've signed somewhere else, got paid more money. It's about the opportunity. I feel like here, not only is it just because it's my hometown, it's a great opportunity."

Erickson is in major-league camp for the third time this season. He hit .297/.384/.510 with seven home runs and 29 RBI in 155 at-bats with Triple-A Albuquerque in 2014.


Angels, Huston Street to exchange offers soon
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:28 pm ET) The Angels and reliever Huston Street are expected to exchange offers soon, according to MLB.com.

Both sides are interested in a possible extension, but Street wanted to wait until some time had passed once camp started to begin negotiations. Street does not have an agent, and will represent himself during talks. 

"I treat it just as if I'm negotiating a real-estate lease in Austin -- don't waste my time," Street said. "Either we're moving towards a direction, towards a point, or we're not."

The 31-year-old posted a 1.37 ERA over 59 1/3 innings last year. He's set to make $7 million in the final year of his current deal.


Rockies pitcher Jordan Lyles shows his array of pitches in spring debut
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:25 pm ET) Rockies pitcher Jordan Lyles came into spring training with the goal of making his new changeup becomes a weapon in his arsenal. Lyles faced eight batters in his spring training debut Wednesday and was able to mix in most of the pitches he wanted to throw, reports the Denver Post.

"I wanted to throw everything," Lyles said. "I usually start out slow throwing just fastball-changeup. But I really wanted to work in everything, especially the changeup. I probably threw six or seven of those. That was the gameplan going in. That was my second most-used pitch today."

Lyles allowed no hits with two strikeouts and a walk in his appearance against the Diamondbacks.


Mariners' Taijuan Walker tosses two scoreless frames
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:24 pm ET) Mariners pitcher Taijuan Walker tossed two scoreless frames in his spring debut on Wednesday. 

Walker gave up just one hit during his two innings of work. He struck out two during the start. Walker is considered a strong favorite to open the season in the rotation, but is technically competing with Roenis Elias for the fifth spot. 

Walker said he was pretty amped for the start, but calmed down after the Mariners put an early run on the board. "The first inning I was up just because I was amped up for the first game and facing their best hitters and potential starting lineup," Walker said. But for the most part, I calmed down, especially after D.J. hit that home run. I was, 'Whew, OK, we got a run. Let's get 'em now.'"

Walker, 22, posted a 2.61 ERA over 38 innings last season. 


Reds' Anthony DeSclafani goes two innings in spring training debut
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:20 pm ET) Reds pitcher Anthony DeSclafani went two innings in his spring training debut Wednesday, allowing two hits and one run. He did record two strikeouts and feels he has a shot to claim a spot in the starting rotation, according to MLB.com.

"I felt really good. I felt like everything was working," DeSclafani said. "[It was] the same plan as always, just attack hitters. It feels good to get the first one out of the way."


Rangers' Colby Lewis struggles in spring training debut
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:14 pm ET) Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis struggled on the mound in his spring training debut Wednesday, allowing six runs in his only inning of work. He threw 36 pitches, but managed to get three strikeouts.

"I actually felt great, threw a lot of strikes," said Lewis, a notoriously poor starter in spring training. "Of course, the results aren't what you want, but it is what it is."


Indians outfielder Carlos Moncrief goes 4 for 4 in spring debut
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:08 pm ET) Indians outfielder Carlos Moncrief had a perfect day at the plate, going 4 for 4 with two runs scored in Cleveland's 4-2 win over the Reds Wednesday. Moncrief also doubled in the game. 

Diamondbacks counting on Mark Trumbo to provide offensive spark
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:59 pm ET) Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale knows what Mark Trumbo can bring to the lineup. So much so, that Hale tends to forget about him when worrying about different guys in the lineup, reports AZCentral.com.

"When we talk about all the potential offensive stars that we have, sometimes he gets forgotten," Hale said. "We're looking for Tomas to do this, we're looking for Goldy (Paul Goldschmidt) to do this, we're looking for Lamb to come — and all of a sudden you start thinking, Trumbo has done it. He's hit 30 home runs in Anaheim. He knows what he's doing."

Trumbo hit .235 with 14 home runs and 61 RBI in 328 plate appearances in 2014.


 
 
 
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