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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
Report: Phillies hoping to deal Jonathan Papelbon to Red Sox
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:41 am ET) The Phillies are trying to convince the Red Sox to trade for closer Jonathan Papelbon, according to the Boston Globe.

Such a deal could make sense for Boston considering that current closer Koji Uehara has lost a bit of velocity and owns an uncharacterstic 4.15 ERA with two runs and five hits allowed in his last 2 1/3 innings.

Papelbon, on the other hand, has been lights-out. He is 4-fof-4 in save opportunities and had not yielded a run until Sunday. He is also quite familiar with pitching at Fenway, having served as the Red Sox closer from 2006 through 2011. Papelbon is one of only a handful of major league closers that have maintained that role for more than a few years.


Padres prospect Robbie Erlin coming on strong at Triple-A
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:27 am ET) After a slow start, Padres pitching prospect Robbie Erlin is coming around at Triple-A El Paso.

The 24-year-old Erlin (3-1) owns a 4.50 ERA that has been shrinking. He managed his second straight strong start Sunday in a defeat of Salt Lake, yielding one run on seven hits and striking out three in six innings.

Erlin has allowed just two earned runs in 12 innings over his last two starts, but has surrendered 28 hits in 22 innings on the year.


Chris Perez opts out of Brewers contract, becomes free agent
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:07 am ET) Pitcher Chris Perez has opted out of his minor-league contract with the Brewers and become a free agent, the team announced Monday.

Perez will presumably pursue a deal with a team that gives him a better shot of quickly reaching the majors. He surrendered eight earned runs on 14 hits and four walks in 7 2/3 innings while striking out three in six appearances with Triple-A Colorado Springs.


Mets will turn to six-man rotation to keep Matt Harvey fresh
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(11:04 am ET) As pitcher Matt Harvey continues to recover from the Tommy John surgery that sidelined him last year, the Mets will take a cautious approach to keeping their ace healthy, experimenting with six-man rotations in order to ensure Harvey keeps his start total right around 30 this season, per Newsday.

The report says the Mets' plan is to try and keep Harvey at 30 starts, with no more than 32 during the regular season. To that end, New York will temporarily switch to a six-man rotation and call up Rafael Montero to start Tuesday against the Marlins. 

Harvey is 4-0 with a 3.04 ERA in four starts and is averaging 6 2/3 innings, a pace that would put him at 200 innings for 30 starts or 213 innings for 32 by the end of the season -- more than the 180 to 190 the Mets had planned for the pitcher.


Rays INF Nick Franklin set to begin rehab this week
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10:59 am ET) Rays infielder Nick Franklin has told the Tampa Bay Times that he is set to begin a rehab assignment this week at Port Charlotte. No date was specified.

Franklin, who has been sidelined all season with an oblique injury, hit just .160 in 81 at-bats a year ago.


Cardinals 3B Matt Carpenter sees hit streak end at 12
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(10:13 am ET) Matt Carpenter, who had been one of the keys to the Cardinals offense to start the season thanks to his 12-game hitting streak, saw the run come to an end Sunday despite a couple of loud outs. 

Carpenter, who picked up 22 hits over the 12 games, remains fourth in the NL in hitting at .366 with a league-leading 10 doubles. 

"That's why hitting streaks are so hard," Carpenter told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "You have days when you hit balls right at people and you have a day when the pitcher is dictating your at-bats and a day when the umpire is dictating your at-bats. To be honest, that's what it felt like."


Rays dispatch Allan Dykstra to Triple-A Durham
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10:05 am ET) Two days after he was designated for assignment, first baseman Allan Dykstra has been outrighted to Triple-A Durham by the Rays. He had been demoted to make room for James Loney.

The 27-year-old Dykstra managed just four hits in 31 at-bats during his brief tenure with Tampa Bay this year.


Blue Jays leadoff hitter Jose Reyes dealing with new reality
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(9:57 am ET) Jose Reyes is a switch-hitter who is not a switch-hitter at this time. A cracked rib and muscle strain in his left side are preventing the Blue Jays leadoff hitter from batting left-handed. So he is batting right-handed against righties.

And it's not working.

Reyes has just two hits in his last 19 at-bats since being forced into that move. His 2-for-13 slump over four previous games makes it even tougher to deal with. His average has plunged from .417 to .250 since April 12.

"I'm hanging in there," he told the National Post. "The more pitches I see, the more comfortable I'm going to feel. But it's a little bit weird."

Switch-hitters have an advantage in watching breaking balls always break toward them, but Reyes has lost that advantage against right-handed pitchers.

"When I hit against a righty from the left side, the slider comes to be, you know," Reyes said. "Now, right on right, the slider goes away from me. That's a different ball game."


Cardinals will look internally to replace P Adam Wainwright
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(9:56 am ET) With starter Adam Wainwright likely done for the season with an Achilles injury, the Cardinals will initially look at internal candidates to replace the pitcher, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Cardinals GM John Mozeliak said that to fill Wainwright's spot in the rotation Thursday, the team will look to either lefties Tyler Lyons and Tim Cooney or righthander Zach Petrick

That would seem to eliminate the Cardinals making a move for a veteran pitcher like the Phillies' Cole Hamels, at least for now. 

"If you get into May and early June and you don't feel like the internal options are the solution you were hoping for, then you might have to look outside," Mozeliak said. 


Tigers prospect Buck Farmer remains on roll in Toledo
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(9:41 am ET) Tigers pitching prospect Buck Farmer could be knocking on the door. A short trip north from Toledo to Detroit might not be far off if his start to this season is any indication.

Farmer raised his record Sunday to 3-0 with a blanking over six innings of Indianapolis. He allowed just two hits, walked four and struck out seven. He also learned to make adjustments in facing a team the second time after failing to do so earlier in the year against Louisville.

And considering he did not give up a run against the Indians, his disappointment at the lack of perfection could be thought of as admirable.

"I was really pleased with the first five innings, then I lost the zone for a little bit in the sixth," he said via milb.com. "I walked a couple people and I have always been a guy that would rather give up a coiple runs than walk someone."

Farmer, who was 12-6 with a 3.07 ERA a year ago, is on a similar pace. He owns a 3.00 in 2015 with 28 strikeouts in 21 innings. Walks have been an issue - he has 10.


 
 
 
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