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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
Rockies pitcher Rex Brothers working to fix command issues
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:25 am ET) Rockies pitcher Rex Brothers gave up four runs on four hits in Thursday's game, his first rough patch of spring training. Brothers thinks his command faded when he got batters down in the count, reports the Denver Post.

"It was like an out-of-body experience," he said Friday. "Just one of those oddity nights. I was sharp until I got into put-away counts, then it was brutal. Absolutely brutal."

Manager Walt Weiss isn't concerned about his appearance and thinks it was more of an aberration.

"There's been enough positive signs in spring to feel good about where he is," Weiss said. "But fact of the matter is, that stuff is always right around the corner. Not just him, but anybody."


Seven no-hit innings for Royals' Yordano Ventura
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(12:56 am ET) Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura threw seven no-hit innings in Friday's start. 

Ventura walked two and struck out four, while throwing 49 of his 88 pitches for strikes. He lowered his spring ERA to 5.14.

The Royals took Ventura from the game after the seventh, as reliever Jason Frasor made it one out further before giving up a hit. 

The bullpen completed the one-hitter. 


Brewers pitcher Will Smith holds key to success out of the bullpen
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:49 am ET) Brewers pitcher Will Smith could be the best cog in Milwaukee's bullpen this season. Manager Ron Roenicke sure hopes so, reports MLB.com.

"I think coming into it, we're counting on him to pitch some high-leverage innings," Roenicke said Friday. "He's going to be a huge part of that bullpen and what we do and how I match up the seventh and eighth inning. He's going to be important."

Smith has a 0.87 ERA in eight appearances this spring and posted a 3.70 ERA in 78 games last season.

"My last two outings I felt really good out there, really strong," Smith said on Friday. "Me and the catchers are on the same page for everything now. I think I'm good to go now."


Still no decision between Mariners' Taijuan Walker, Roenis Elias
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(12:43 am ET) Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon still hasn't named a winner in the battle for the fifth spot in the starting rotation. 

RHP Taijuan Walker and LHP Roenis Elias are in the running for the spot. Walker has a 0.00 ERA in 18 innings this spring, while Elias' ERA is 6.75. 

McClendon said he wouldn't announce his fifth starter until the final week of spring. Saturday marks the start of the final week, and McClendon said he'd "be close" to making the call, per MLB.com's Greg Johns.


Brewers to decide leadoff hitter Monday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:36 am ET) Brewers manager Ron Roenicke plans to decide between Scooter Gennett and Carlos Gomez for the leadoff spot in the lineup by Monday, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Gennett hit .289 with 54 RBI and 55 runs scored in 440 plate appearances last season while Gomez hit.284 with 23 home runs and 73 RBI in 574 plate appearances.


Phillies' Jake Diekman historically bad in loss
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(12:33 am ET) Phillies pitcher Jake Diekman declared his Friday appearance, "the worst outing in the history of the world." 

Diekman entered a scoreless game in the fifth inning and promptly gave up a double and four singles before recording an out. He ended up allowing seven runs in one third of an inning.

"I fell behind in counts and every strike I threw they took a good swing at," Diekman said, per CSN Philly. "It’s embarrassing. ... It's unbelievable." 

Despite his 12.27 ERA, Diekman got a vote of confidence from manager Ryne Sandberg. "There’s no concern," he said. 


Brewers' Jonathan Lucroy gets first start at first base Friday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:30 am ET) Brewers regular catcher Jonathan Lucroy drew his first start at first base after being cleared from a strained right hamstring injury. Manager Ron Roenicke wanted to be able to see Lucroy's versatility.

"Thought we needed to do it, so hopefully we can do it at least once more,” said Roenicke to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "But as much as he gets out there, it will help. There’s some pitchers that we still want him to catch and if we can get through those then maybe some other days we can get him over there again."

Lucroy was happy to finally be back on the field.

"I've been doing a little bit out there every day," Lucroy said. "Taking some grounders and stuff to stay sharp over there."


Cardinals' John Lackey ready for the regular season
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(12:25 am ET) John Lackey pitched seven innings, the longest of any Cardinals starter so far this season. 

Lackey allowed one run on six hits and didn't walk a batter, throwing 84 pitches. 

"Throwing seven innings, that was probably a little bit further than I thought I'd go today with the pitch count," said Lackey, per MLB.com's Jennifer Langosch. "But they were pretty aggressive, and I was throwing a lot of strikes. It worked out pretty good."

Lackey had his catcher call the game as if it were a regular season game, and his performance indicates that he's ready for the season to begin.

"That's what it looked like," coach David Bell said. "It looked like he was making all his pitches. The velocity was there. He probably had a little more in the tank, which is a good thing."


Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez not worried about role on staff
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:21 am ET) Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez gave up just one run on five hits in five innings of work Friday against the Nationals. Martinez, who is competing for the final spot in St. Louis' starting rotation, has allowed just seven runs in 16 innings of work.

"I've been working hard," Martinez said through an interpreter to MLB.com. "Some of the outings haven't gone as good as I've wanted to, but I'm just trying to learn from that and get better every day."

Martinez is still focused on earning a starting spot.

"Right now I'm fighting to be a starter," Martinez said. "But if they call me into the bullpen I'm going to be ready for the team. I just want to help the team win, and I'm going to be ready when my name gets called."


Rays pitcher Everett Teaford making push for spot on pitching staff
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:16 am ET) Rays pitcher Everett Teaford tossed two scoreless innings Friday, sending all six batters down in order. The 31-year-old is making management give him an extra look before deciding on the final pitching staff, reports MLB.com.

"I thought he threw the ball well. First pitch, Reimold was ready to go, but after that I thought Teaf did a nice job of mixing pitches just like he always does," manager Kevin Cash said.

Cash likes that Teaford can get out of nearly any situation that arises.

"He's been around enough that he's probably given up enough home runs and big hits so he knows how to handle it when he does deal with some adversity," said Cash. "I wouldn't have expected anything other than that from him. Just getting right back into the strike zone again."

Teaford has spent most of spring training working on his command and effectiveness.

"That's really been the biggest thing I wanted to do this spring is not walk anybody. If I'm going to get beat, make them beat me and up to this point, I really have," said Teaford.


 
 
 
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