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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
Starling Marte picks up a hit Wednesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:26 am ET) Pirates outfielder Starling Marte collected one of the few hits for his club Wednesday against the Giants. 

Marte finished 1 for 4, singling in the seventh inning. He was one of three Pirates to notch a hit against Madison Bumgarner during the contest. Bumgarner gave up just four hits during a complete game shutout. Marte also struck out once and stranded two runners. 


Tim Hudson to start Game 2 of NLDS
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:25 am ET) Giants pitcher Tim Hudson has been tabbed to face the Nationals Saturday in Game 2 of the National League Division Series.

Hudson has delivered an ERA under 4.00 for eight straight seasons, but he was rocked this September, going 0-4 with an 8.72 ERA and 14:5 K:BB ratio in 21 2/3 innings over five starts. Hudson has pitched in six postseason series (four with Oakland, two with Atlanta), finding himself on the losing side each time. He owns a 3.46 ERA postseason ERA in 54 2/3 innings. Hudson faced the Nationals twice during the regular season, earning a win each time.


Jake Peavy to start Game 1 of NLDS vs. Nationals
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:19 am ET) Giants pitcher Jake Peavy will take the mound for Game 1 of the National League Division Series in Washington against the Nationals Friday.

Peavy excelled after returning to the NL West this summer, going 6-4 with a 2.12 ERA and 58:17 K:BB ratio in 78 2/3 innings over 12 starts. Prior to joining the Giants, he delivered a 4.48 ERA in 30 starts with the Red Sox after posting a 4.00 ERA in 84 games (83 starts) with the White Sox. He's posted a 3.77 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 14:3 K:BB ratio in 14 1/3 innings in two starts at Nationals Park.


Report: Justin Smoak likely to hit free agency this offseason
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:06 am ET) Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak will likely reach free agency this offseason, as the team is expected to pay the $150,000 buyout of his 2015 option, the Seattle Times reports.

Smoak has a $3.65-million club option for next season, but the Mariners figure to pay the buyout and decline to tender the first baseman a contract. The option would have vested if he made 525 plate appearances in 2014. Instead, he hit .202/.275/.339 in 276 plate appearances.


Russell Martin collects one hit Wednesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:02 am ET) Pirates catcher Russell Martin picked up one hit Wednesday against the Giants.

The Pirates only mustered four hits against Madison Bumgarner, so Martin was one of the standout performers during the contest. During his last at-bat, the fans chanted for Martin to re-sign with the club during the offseason. The team continued to chant even after Martin flew out. He gave the fans a tip of the cap before going into the dugout. Martin is set to be a free agent during the offseason.


Andrew McCutchen goes hitless Wednesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10/1/2014) Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen went hitless Wednesday against the Giants.

The entire Pirate offense was shut down by Madison Bumgarner, who allowed just four hits all night. McCutchen struck out, flew out and grounded out in three at-bats. He did reach base once, walking in the fourth inning. McCutchen hit .314/.410/.542 over 548 at-bats during the regular season.


Joe Panik delivers three hits in wild-card win
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10/1/2014) Giants second baseman Joe Panik enjoyed a fantastic postseason debut Wednesday, going 3 for 5 in his team's 8-0 wild-card win over the Pirates.

Panik plugged a hole in the infield in the middle of the season, hitting .305/.343/.368 in 269 at-bats during the regular season. He figures to continue to occupy the second spot of the lineup in the National League Division Series, starting with Game 1 Friday in Washington.


Brandon Belt drives in three runs in wild-card win
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10/1/2014) Giants first baseman Brandon Belt went 2 for 3 with two walks and three RBI in his team's 8-0 wild-card victory over the Pirates Wednesday.

Belt was on base when Brandon Crawford opened up the scoring with a fourth-inning grand slam, and the first baseman tacked on a run in the sixth and two more in the seventh on a pair of singles. Belt and the Giants face the Nationals in Washington Friday in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.


Josh Harrison the only bright spot Wednesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10/1/2014) Pirates infielder Josh Harrison was the lone bright spot Wednesday night.

Harrison was the only player on the club to collect two hits during the outing. In his final two at-bats, Harrison hit two singles. The Pirates managed just four hits off Madison Bumgarner during the contest. Half of those came from Harrison's bat. Harrison enjoyed a breakout during the regular season, hitting .315/.347/.490 over 520 at-bats. 


Brandon Crawford becomes first SS with postseason grand slam
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10/1/2014) Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford went 1 for 5 with a grand slam in his team's 8-0 wild-card win over the Pirates Wednesday.

After the Giants loaded the bases in the fourth inning with two singles and a walk, Crawford deposited a ball over the right-field fence to break a scoreless tie. He became the first shortstop in postseason history to swat a grand slam. Grand slams are nothing new to Crawford, as he's collected three while hitting 27 career home runs (postseason included). The blast was all starter Madison Bumgarner would need, as he coasted to a complete-game shutout. The Giants open the National League Division Series Friday in Washington against the Nationals.


 
 
 
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