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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
Yankees OF Jacoby Ellsbury returns to starting lineup Wednesday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(11:23 am ET) Yankees outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury returned to the starting lineup at the leadoff spot Wednesday against the Rays in Grapefruit League play, per ESPN. Ellsbury was sidelined since March 15 with an oblique injury, He is 6 for 27 with one RBI this spring.

Delino DeShields Jr. beats out Carlos Peguero for final roster spot
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(11:10 am ET) Rangers outfielder Carlos Peguero will start the season in Triple-A, which means Delino DeShields Jr. has earned the final spot on the 25-man active roster, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Wednesday.

DeShields, a Rule 5 draft choice, is hitting .235/.278/.382 with one RBI this spring. Peguero is hitting .350/.435/.500 over 40 at-bats in Cactus League.


Jose Pirela a non-factor if Didi Gregorius needs DL stint
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:49 am ET) Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius remained out of the lineup Wednesday afternoon against the Rays with a wrist injury.

Gregorius tweaked his wrist on a check swing Saturday and was scheduled for two days of rest. He has been sidelined now for four days, and if he requires a stint on the disabled list to start the season, Jose Pirela would still be a non-factor to earn a roster spot, per the Journal News.

New York will have split-squad games against Detroit and Pittsburgh on Thursday.


Mets' Lagares in talks about four-year, $20M-plus contract extension
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:43 am ET) Mets outfielder Juan Lagares confirmed Wednesday he is in discussions about a contract extension, but nothing has been finalized. He added he wants to sign before Monday's season opener against the Nationals, per NJ.com.

Baseball insider Jim Bowden was the first to report Wednesday that Lagares has agreed to a four-year contract extension, which includes a club option. CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman confirmed Lagares is in talks with the Mets.

Lagares' contract extension will net him more than $20 million. The contract covers all of Lagares' arbitration years and the team option covers his first year of free agency in 2020.

Lagares is considered one of the best defensive center fielders in the majors. Although, his offense is not quite up to par. Lagares has a career .262/.302/.368/.669 slash line over two seasons in the majors. He is having a good spring at the plate, however, batting .345 (19 for 55) with one triple, three home runs, six doubles, six RBI and 13 runs in 18 games.


Astros' A.J. Hinch hints that Chris Carter will be primary 1B
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:42 am ET) Astros manager A.J. Hinch told reporters that Chris Carter will be the team's primary first baseman to start the season, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Carter played 14 of his 145 games at first base last season. The 28-year-old slashed .227/.308/.491 with career-best 37 homers and 88 RBI over 507 at-bats last season. He has a .257 batting average with two home runs and 10 RBI this spring.


Astros finalize rotation plans for start of season
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:37 am ET) Astros manager A.J. Hinch told reporters his rotation will line up with Dallas Keuchel on Opening Day against Indians, followed by Scott Feldman on Wednesday and Asher Wojciechowski on Thursday. Collin McHugh will open a three-game set at Texas on Friday, followed by Roberto Hernandez on Saturday, per the Houston Chronicle.

Red Sox hints that Shane Victorino will open season in RF
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:33 am ET) Without formally announcing it, Red Sox manager John Farrell hinted that Shane Victorino will open the season in right field, according to ESPN on Wednesday. Victorino slashed .188/.278/.250 with two RBI over 32 at-bats this spring.

Farrell indicates that Wade Miley will pitch Red Sox's fourth game
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:27 am ET) Red Sox manager John Farrell indicated that Wade Miley will be his starter for Boston's fourth regular season game on Friday against the Yankees in New York, according to the Providence Journal.

Although it appears as if Justin Masterson is Boston's third starter, Farrell has not confirmed his pitcher for Thursday's game against the Phillies.


GM: Erasmo Ramirez could see 'meaningful innings' with Rays
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:22 am ET) Newly acquired Rays pitcher Erasmo Ramirez will make the Opening Day roster and pitch " meaningful innings," possibly as a starter, general manager Matt Silverman told reporters on Wednesday, per the team's official website.

Ramirez was acquired by the Rays in exchange for pitcher Mike Montgomery on Wednesday. The 24-year-old right-hander went 1-2 with a 6.23 ERA this spring.


Rays will revisit closer-by committee approach once McGee returns
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:17 am ET) Rays manager Kevin Cash reiterated that he won't name a closer for now, and will take a closer-by committee approach to start the season, per the Tampa Tribune on Wednesday.

"We're not going to name a closer," Cash said. "There's going to be guys that we'll lean on to pitch in those (high) leverage situations. It just doesn't make sense to me to come out and name a closer when the game can be on the line in the seventh and eighth inning."

Brad Boxberger, who saved two games last season, was deemed as the favorite by Cash earlier this spring to see the ball in the ninth while Jake McGee is sidelined with an elbow injury. Grant Balfour and Ernesto Frieri have combined for 152 out of 164 career saves on Tampa Bay's active roster.

Cash indicated that he will revisit his closer approach once McGee returns from injury.

"We'll revisit it," Cash said, "but it's too early to tell."


 
 
 
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