MADISON, February 4, 2014 — Over the next few weeks this column will unveil its MLB Power Rankings starting with the weakest team and working towards the strongest. Today the process begins with the Houston Astros.
2013 Record: 51-111 with a -238 Run Differential
Projected 2014 Lineup:
OF Dexter Fowler
2B Jose Altuve
C Jason Castro
DH Chris Carter
1B Brett Wallace
OF Robbie Grossman
3B Matt Dominguez
OF LJ Hoes/George Springer
SS Johnathan Villar
Projected 2014 Rotation:
Key Losses: OF Brandon Barnes, RHP Jordan Lyles
Key Additions: OF Dexter Fowler, RHP Scott Feldman, RHP Chad Qualls, RHP Matt Albers, RHP Jesse Crain
Best Case: Dexter Fowler returns to his 2012 level and alleviates concerns that he may struggle when taken out of Coors Field. George Springer tears the cover off the ball through spring training and forces the Astros to allow him to start the season in the majors where he proceeds to win AL ROY. Chris Carter makes strides to improve command of the strike zone and is able to bring his strike out rate down to near 30% while maintaining his power. The veteran bullpen the Astros have cobbled together performs well building the young staff’s confidence in the first half and allowing Astros GM Jeff Luhnow to trade them for more prospects at the trade deadline. Brad Peacock and Jarred Cosart break through and provide the Astros with a couple of reliable rotation pieces while the club waits for more arms to develop in the minors. The Astros still finish last in the AL West, but have the fourth worst record in baseball.
Worst Case: Fowler struggles as his home/road splits suggested he might when taken out of Coors Field. Springer struggles to make contact and is sent back down to the minors after three months where he works to regain his confidence. Altuve continues his struggles from last year making it seem that 2012’s production was an outlier. Brett Wallace continues to hit like MLB Brett Wallace and is demoted but prospect Jon Singleton also struggles when promoted to take his place. Scott Feldman continues his odd Bret Saberhagen like trend and continues to struggle in even years. The rest of the rotation fails to make a leap forward and the Astros finish with the worst record in baseball for the fourth straight year.
Prospect Watch: George Springer (OF) could potentially break camp with the Astros, but the Astros could also leave him in the minors to open the season to push back his arbitration clock. Springer posted a .303/.411/.600 slash line across AA and AAA last year with 37 HRs and 45 SBs. The knock on Springer is that he swings and misses a lot, 161 K’s last year, and that may prevent him from reaching his potential. Short stop Carlos Correa was the number one overall pick in the 2012 MLB draft and thus far has not disappointed. Correa posted a slash line of .320/.405/.467 and has shown defense that leads most scouts to think he will be able to stay at shortstop. Last year’s first overall pick in the draft Mark Appel posted a 3.79 ERA while striking out 33 in 38 innings in A after completing his senior year at Stanford. Finally, the Astros will again have the first pick in the draft this year (see a trend?) which could be Carlos Rodon who many believe would be a top 20 minor league prospect if he were already with a team.