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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
Diamondbacks going with platoon at third base for now
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:55 am ET) Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers has announced that the deal that shipped Martin Prado to the Yankees has Jordan Pacheco and Cliff Pennington set to platoon at third base.

Pacheco will handle the duties until Pennington returns from a thumb injury. He owns a .259/.312/.376 stat line and has yet to go deep this season.


Andy Marte makes splash in first major league AB in four years
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:50 am ET) Andy Marte made his first major league game since 2010 something special Thursday night. The Diamondbacks third baseman slugged a pinch-hit, two-run homer to help his team beat the Pirates.

Marte, who was called up from Triple-A Reno earlier in the day and arrived to the park in the second inning, became the eighth player in franchise history to blast off in his first at-bat with the team. His resurgence was fueled by a fine year with the Aces in which he compiled a stat line of .330/.384/.513 with 13 home runs, 62 RBI and 59 runs scored.

"It feels great to be back," Marte told azcentral.com. "I went there to Triple-A and worked hard to prove I can still play here (in the majors)."


Rajai Davis to be unleashed following deadline
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:46 am ET) Stuck in a role that saw him log inconsistent playing time, Rajai Davis didn't get talked about much for the first few months of that season. That should change moving forward, as the Tigers decision to trade Austin Jackson has seemingly opened up a full-time starting job for the speedy veteran in center field.

Jackson might end up stretched a bit thin as an everyday player, given his .250/.297/.333 triple-slash line this season against right-handed pitching. Still, Davis is one of the best base-stealers in baseball and has now been unleashed for an everyday role that should see him rack up steals, making him a very valuable commodity.

Davis was one of the big winners of the trade deadline, and should be worth an add in most mixed-league Fantasy formats at this point. 


Path to starting job clearer for Tommy Milone
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:44 am ET) The Twins assigned newly acquired pitcher Tommy Milone to Triple-A  Rochester Thursday, a bad break for a guy with major-league talent who was already upset with the A's sending him down before the trade. However, he is not likely to spend much time in the minors before he gets a chance to join the Twins rotation, with Logan Darnell's spot looking ripe for the taking.

Milone is the type of pitcher for whom the term "crafty" was invented, given his soft-tossing ways from the left side of the mound. The 27-year-old has logged nearly 500 innings at the major-league level with a 3.84 ERA, including a 3.55 mark in 96 1/3 frames this season. Those numbers should make him a useful Fantasy option, though he will likely need to miss a few more bats if he is to become more of an option in shallower mixed-leagues moving forward.

Given the amount of uncertainty surrounding his role at this point, Milone is not someone you should run out and grab. But, he is absolutely worth a flier in AL-only leagues right now, with a somewhat clearer path to a consistent starting job carved out ahead of him. Mixed-league owners should be ready to jump when he gets the call. 


Report: Tommy Layne promoted to Red Sox
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:31 am ET) The Red Sox have called up left-handed reliever Tommy Layne from Triple-A Pawtucket, sources have told WEEI.com.

Layne has struggled at times with his control this season but has otherwise been solid with a 5-1 record, 1.50 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 48 innings. He also pitched 2/3 of a shutout inning for Boston during a brief stint with the team in early July.


Short porch could fuel a rise for Stephen Drew
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:23 am ET) The Red Sox waited two months and paid a pretty hefty sum to get 131 at-bats and a .583 OPS out of Stephen Drew this season. They were able to get out from under his deal by shipping him off to the Yankees just before the deadline, and now Drew will try to re-establish himself as a contributor as the Yankees everyday second baseman.

Drew has been a major disappointment this season, though there are reasons to believe he might be able to turn things around following this trade. First and foremost, when looking at Drew, we have to acknowledge that he has been the victim of some absolutely rotten luck, overall. He is hitting just .176 overall, though that comes paired with an abysmal .216 BABIP; that number was .320 a year ago, and .304 for his career.

Even with that bad luck on his side, Drew has been much better recently, hitting .215 but with four home runs and 11 walks over his last 19 starts, a span of 28 games. And he has been doing that in a park that is less forgiving for left-handed batters than his new home stadium.

Drew is never going to provide much in the batting average category, but he is certainly better than the sub-Mendoza level he has managed so far. A change of scenery could be just what Drew needs to spark his bat, and he might be worth a look in deeper Fantasy leagues if you need middle-infield help.


Jose Bautista upset at team's inactivity at trade deadline
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:22 am ET) Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista expressed disappointment Thursday at his team's perceived inability to add talent at the trade deadline.

"Of course it's a little disappointing that we somehow weren't able to get anything done, but everybody around us that's in contenteion ... somehow figured it out," he told the Toronto Star.

The Jays had been rumored to be interested in several players, but teams such as Detroit and Oakland landed the biggest fish in the trade market.


Martin Prado unlikely to find any Yankee Magic
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:22 am ET) The Yankees acquired super-utility man Martin Prado just before the trade deadline from the Diamondabcks, and will likely begin plugging him in around the diamond. However, he might find playing time a bit harder to come by in New York than Arizona, where he was seeing the majority of his playing time at third base.

The Yankees have no obvious hole which needs filling by Prado at this point, especially since their biggest need is at right field, a position Prado has logged just two innings at in his career. Prado should still play somewhat regularly, but is unlikely to have an everyday spot in the Yankees lineup locked down.

Prado is useful for Fantasy for many of the same reasons that he is in real life, since you can slot him anywhere a need arises and count on decent production. Unfortunately, he isn't a productive enough hitter to be worth counting on as a regular starter each week if he is only starting 3-4 times a week. Consider him droppable in many mixed leagues at this point.


Report: Henry Owens on the way to Pawtucket
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:02 am ET) The Red Sox have promoted premier pitching prospect Henry Owens to Triple-A Pawtucket, sources have told WEEI.com.

The 22-year-old southpaw earned the promotion by compiling a 12-4 record and 2.60 ERA. He has yielded just 89 hits in 121 innings with 126 strikeouts. Given the trades of Jon Lester and John Lackey on Thursday, Owens could be on the fast-track to Boston.


Report: Tyler Skaggs likely heading to DL
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10:56 am ET) Angels left-hander Tyler Skaggs expressed confidence that the forearm strain that knocked him out of the game Thursday against Baltimore is not serious. But it will likely land him on the disabled list, according to the Los Angeles Times.

That would mark his second trip to the DL this season.

Skaggs, who is scheduled for an MRI on Friday, is 5-5 with a 4.30 ERA in 2014.


 
 
 
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