2014 MLB PREVIEW: HOUSTON ASTROS
February 14, 2014INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
Are the Houston Astros still considered a major league baseball team? It was hard to tell after watching the season end on a 15 game losing streak and 111 losses overall. 2013 marked the third consecutive year the Astros have lost 100 plus games.
Houston’s management cut the payroll down to a mere $13 million last season after sending Bud Norris and Jose Veras packing and releasing 1B Carlos Pena. The Astros believe they are building toward the future and will have MLB’s first overall pick in the June amateur draft for the third consecutive season.
In the meantime, get ready for another tough season. Houston did spend a little money in the off-season by acquiring P Scott Feldman, P Chad Qualls, P Matt Albers and OF Dexter Fowler.
Houston’s pitching staff had the third worst ERA in 2013 (4.72) but 2014 looks much more promising. This year’s rotation will consist of Jarred Cosart (1.95 ERA in 10 starts), Brett Oberholtzer (4-5 2.76 ERA in 10 starts, 3 relief), and Scott Feldman (12-12 3.86 Bal/Chic). Feldman gave up only 159 hits in 181.2 innings with 132 K’s. The rest of the rotation will consist of RHP Brad Peacock, RHP Paul Clemens and LHP Dallas Keuchel. Lucas Harrell had a horrible 2013 going 6-17 with an ERA of 5.86. Harrell will also get a chance to turns things around in 2014. Brad Peacock will also get a chance to prove himself this spring. Peacock went 5-6 with an ERA of 5.18 in 2013.
Houston’s bullpen was worse in 2013 with an ERA of 4.92. Closer Jose Veras was traded last July so the Astros will turn to Josh Fields. Fields was taken in the Rule 5 draft over the winter and struck out 40 hitters in 40 innings. Chad Qualls has 51 career saves and will be next in line if Fields comes up short. Qualls is a ground-ball pitcher who went 5-2 with a 2.61 ERA with Miami in 2013. If Jesse Crain is healthy, he will get a shot out of the bullpen. Crain has a fastball-slider that is nasty when under control.
Despite the long season in 2013, the Astros did have some bright spots including Jose Altuve. Altuve is only 5-5 and 175 pounds but his bat was huge in September after banging out 41 hits and hitting .357, the best average in the majors. Altuve also led all second basemen with 35 SB’s and turned 114 double plays. Joining Altuve will be SS Jonathan Villar, a former Phillies product who is very quick and has an excellent glove. In 57 games, Villar stole 18 bases and had 252 chances which ranked fourth among all American League rookies. At 3B will be Matt Dominguez after hitting 21 HR’s and driving in 77 in his first full season. Dominguez was second among AL third basemen with 323 assists in 431 total chances. First base will have a battle between Brett Wallace and Chris Carter. Carter may have the edge because of his homerun power (29) but neither one will be very good in the field.
The catching duties will be in good hands with Jason Castro returning after a club record breaking season in 2013. Castro set team records in home runs by a catcher with 18, doubles (35), extra-base hits (54), slugging percentage (.485), multi-hit games (33) and OPS (.835). Defensively, Castro needs some work after allowing too many passed balls. Carlos Corporan is a capable back-up after hitting .225 with seven homeruns and 20 RBI in limited action.
Houston may be assembling one of the more athletic outfield combinations in baseball with Dexter Fowler, Robbie Grossman and L.J. Hoes. Fowler is a switch-hitter who will lead-off and play centerfield. The former Rockies outfielder will bring speed to the top of the Astros order along with the ability to hit the long ball (12 HR’s in 2013). If Fowler is to reach Houston’s expectations, he must stay healthy. Grossman was acquired from Pittsburgh and showed promise from July on (.322 BA .816 OPS in 35 games). Hoes will battle with George Springer in right field. Hoes hit .287 in 46 games last season while Springer hit 37 HR’s and stole 45 bases in the minors in 2013.
Most baseball people know Houston has a long way to go before they are competitive. Some have said the product they are putting on the field is a joke and manager Bo Porter never seemed to have them ready to play in 2013. Western Division teams will be happy to play the Astros 19 times each again in 2014 and that spells another 100 plus losses this season.