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October 31, 2014

Fantasy Team Preview

Houston Astros

by Keith Cromer

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The 2017 World Series champs? Well, that’s what one publication boldly predicted earlier this year. Maybe that prediction was based on all the previous BP staffers on the current Astros payroll, maybe not, but while a 2017 World Series appearance may seem like a stretch for a team that has averaged 104 losses the past four seasons, and has only appeared in one World Series in their 53-year team history, there is reason for optimism for Astros fans. The next wave of top prospects—Carlos Correa, Mark Appel, Colin Moran, among others—should arrive in Houston over the next couple of years to join an already young nucleus of talented players.

The Astros did lose 92 games last year, but on the flipside, they improved by 19 games in 2014 with their core of young players. They also accomplished that 19-game improvement despite having players lose 902 games to the DL and a bullpen that blew a league-leading 25 saves. They are a young team that does swing and miss a bunch, but it’s an exciting roster and one that could yield multiple fantasy contributors.

A note for our readers. While informative, since we are still months away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, these previews are far from definitive or complete. Free agent signings, trades, and other offseason news will change the landscape for most teams. For any moves that take place after a team’s preview is written, please look to our Transaction Analysis coverage for instant reactions, and then check back on the Team Previews for more detailed updates (including lineups, rotations, bullpens, etc.) as we get closer to the 2015 season.

Another note for our readers. The characterizations below (for example, “stud”) are designed to be taken in context for each team. Not every team has a Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton, for example, so the “stud” category represents best player or players on each team and not necessarily in comparison to the league.

Studs

Jose Altuve – 2B
Not many “studs” last year on the Astros, but there were few bigger fantasy surprises last year than Jose Altuve. Houston’s little guy was a hitting machine at the top of the Astros line-up, leading all of MLB in hits and batting average. His 225 hits were the most in a season by a second baseman since Charlie Gehringer had 227 hits back in 1936. When you add in his 56 steals, he was a fantasy stud. While it would be tough for him to repeat his .341/.377/.453 slash line, the steals and BA will make him a top five fantasy 2B again next year, so bid confidently.

Duds

Jon Singleton - 1B
I know he is a work in progress and many believe Singleton’s ceiling is high, but I think expectations need to be tempered next year. The Astros did like him enough to trade for him and then lock him up for the next five years with three team options, but in the big picture, the financial investment is a drop in the bucket even for a small-market team. Yes, Singleton has upside, but who knows if we will ever see it. He has already been suspended 50 games for marijuana use, and has admitted publicly to having a problem with this banned substance. He looked awful with the Astros last year, and while he did draw some walks, 134 strikeouts in 310 at-bats are a sign he needs more seasoning. I would not count on Singleton making an impact in the big leagues in 2015. He just does not look ready yet.

Matt Dominguez – 3B
After a breakout 2013 in which he smacked 21 homers and drove in 77 runs in his age-23 season, he took a drastic step back in 2014. Dominguez was one of the worst every day regulars to step on the field last year, putting up a horrific .586 OPS in over 600 plate appearances, which is simply dreadful for a corner infielder. Dominguez was considered more of a ”glove-first” third baseman coming up in the minors, and that may be his calling in the big leagues. There was nothing I saw from Dominguez to make me think he will repeat his 2013 season. Steer clear of Dominguez unless you are desperate to fill your corner spot in the endgame. There is a possibility that Colin Moran or even Rio Ruiz could get a shot at 3B at some point in 2015.

Up And Coming

George Springer – OF
Not quite a stud yet, but the former 2011 first-round pick lived up to the hype after being called up in mid-April, and launched 20 home runs in just 78 games before an injury ended his season prematurely in July. Springer is a special talent and should take another step forward next year. I was all over Altuve heading into 2012 and now I am on the George Springer bandwagon. Last year’s spectacular May—when he slugged .667 with 10 long flies—was just a glimpse of what we can expect from Springer going forward. The power/speed combination is what fantasy owners dream about, and he will only get better. The swing-and-miss rates are a concern, but he has too much ability to let them be a deterrent. This is a guy you want to grab, particularly in dynasty leagues.

X-Factor

Dallas Keuchel – P
Keuchel was a pleasant surprise last year, to say the least. Entering 2014 he had a career 5.20 ERA and 1.54 WHIP in 47 games. He proved to be the Astros’ workhorse and most consistent pitcher in 2014, logging 200 innings pitched and five complete games while never registering an ERA over 3.58 in any month. He’s no flamethrower, but he induces a lot of groundballs and is always pounding the zone. There might be some regression, but Keuchel should still be a solid fantasy option in all formats.

Chris Carter – DH
Carter took a step forward last year, heating up in the summer months hitting 24 bombs from July 1st until the end of the season. The big man will not help your batting average, but he will be a solid power source. The concern with Carter is obviously his swing and miss rates (518 strikeouts over 1,345 big-league at-bats). He is also very streaky. Carter was hitting .184 with 13 homers and 30 RBI heading into July, before his second half explosion. If you own Carter, you have to expect him to go through drastic ups and downs. Carter is only a two-category player and a major BA drain, so he is not a guy you want to chase if he goes past your sheet price in auctions or ranking in draft formats. I would expect a season somewhere in between Carter’s 2013 and 2014 campaigns.

Chad QuallsRP
The back end of the bullpen was the Astros’ Achilles heel last season. Houston led all of baseball with 25 blown saves; it was not pretty. As Bob Lemon famously said, “The two most important things in life are good friends and a strong bullpen.” Qualls was an unimpressive 19-for-25 in save opportunities, but was the team’s best option to close out games and will be in line to close next year unless the Astros acquire a reliever in the offseason. Josh Fields and Tony Sipp could be in the mix for saves again, but neither is reliable. The Astros could look to the farm for a closer as well. Lance McCullers has been a starter in the minors, but some believe his niche is in the back end of the bullpen.

What You See Is What You Get

Dexter Fowler – CF
Fowler is the elder statesman of the Astros’ everyday players, entering his age 29 season. Fowler is what he is: an outfielder who will hit 10-12 homers, steal 10-15 bases, hit about .270, and earn around $15-$18 in standard 5x5 AL-only formats. He was once a fantasy tease with his power/speed potential, and while the post-hype sleeper love is gone, Fowler is still a serviceable fantasy player. He is not sexy, but will probably earn what you pay for him and there is nothing wrong with that.

Scott Feldman – P
Feldman got the big contract from the Astros in the off-season to be the anchor of their young rotation, and he did just that. Feldman started 29 games while logging 180 1/3 innings and putting up a respectable 3.74 ERA. However, for fantasy purposes, his K rates do not excite, he will struggle for wins, and is a probably only a match-up play in reserve leagues. You should be able to get him off the waiver wire in most leagues.

Sleeper

Jake Marisnick – RF
To me, Marisnick is the most intriguing fantasy player for the Astros heading into 2015. He is a five-tool player but is still raw. He has the defensive skills to be a future Gold Glove winner but also has the power and speed to be a fantasy asset. He has the same poor contact/plate discipline problem that many Astros hitters have and struggles with breaking pitches, but he is still just 23 years old and the tools are too good to ignore. His defense is going to keep him in the lineup and he has 20/20 potential if he can stay healthy.

AL-Only

Collin McHugh – P
McHugh might have been even a bigger surprise than Keuchel in 2014, as he was as an offseason waiver claim by the Astros with low expectations after awful 2012 and 2013 seasons with the Mets and Rockies, respectively. He does not appear to have swing-and-miss stuff, but that did not stop him from putting up a 9.2 K/9 rate last year. It’s difficult to expect McHugh to duplicate last year’s performance, but it’s too early to dismiss him in 2015. He’s a more interesting play in deeper AL-only formats, and a guy you should circle on your draft sheets as a player to target in the endgame. He carries high risk, but obviously could be a high-reward player if he proves 2014 was no fluke.

Jason Castro – C
Castro had a down year in 2014 after his All-Star performance in 2013, due to a big drop in BABIP, LD%, HR/FB rates and a big jump in K/BB ratios. Will Castro resemble the 2013 version or the 2014 version going forward? Small sample size and the rigors of the position make it difficult to project catchers in general. Castro may not be an All-Star caliber catcher again, but does possess the power to be a solid option in two-catcher leagues. His price will probably be low due to his subpar 2014, so he could be a sneaky value play in AL-only formats.

Jonathan Villar/Marwin Gonzalez – SS
Carlos Correa is still a year or two away, so the Astros are looking for a reliable placeholder at SS until the former number one pick is ready. Villar was the Opening Day shortstop for the Astros in 2014 but struggled mightily. After a May and June where he hit .176 with an OPS south of .500, Villar was shipped to Oklahoma City. Gonzalez then took over as the primary SS and did a fine job in his place, but provides little fantasy upside. Villar has more upside, and if he can improve on those K:BB rates and show the Astros brass he can once again be the everyday shortstop, he could be in line for a 30-SB season with double-digit home run totals.

Prospects for 2015

Lance McCullers – P
There is not much on the Astros active roster to give competition to Qualls, so McCullers could at some point become a candidate for the ninth. McCullers was a starter in the minors, but his stuff and characteristics on the mound lead some to think he will be a major-league closer.

Michael Foltynewicz – P
Foltynewicz is another arm that could have some fantasy value in 2015. Like McCullers, the former first rounder in 2010 has been used primarily as a starter in the minors, but might project better as a high leverage late inning pitcher in the majors. The big righty can hit 100 MPH on the gun and was called up in August strictly as a reliever (albeit to keep his innings down). With the state of the Astros bullpen, Foltynewicz could be an option to close at some point in 2015.

Colin Moran – 3B
The sixth-overall pick out of UNC in 2013 by the Marlins was shipped to the Astros in an interesting trade before the deadline last year. The Astros gave up a promising young arm in Jarred Cosart, but got back a toolsy outfielder in Marisnick, Moran and a 2015 compensation pick. Moran has the frame to be a power hitter, but has not grown into his body yet. Many thought he might be the overall no. 1 pick in 2013, and with Houston’s concerns over Dominguez at 3B, it’s not unrealistic to see the rebuilding Astros calling up Moran to see what he can do. The impact Moran will have in 2015 is still to be seen, but he is a major target in dynasty leagues.

Mark Appel – SP
The former overall no. 1 pick out of Stanford has all the tools to be a front-end rotation workhorse for years to come. After a rough go in high A-ball last year (9.74 ERA over 12 starts), the Astros promoted Appel to AA, and received some criticism in the media for that decision. Appel responded by flashing the skills in AA that made him such a coveted arm, and has continued this success in the AFL this fall, tossing 12 scoreless innings with 12 K. At his age, with his stuff and his makeup, all reports say he appears to be major-league ready, so the only question is will the Astros be patient with him? Looking at their rotation, I think he will see time in Houston at some point in 2015.

Domingo Santana – OF
Santana was the PTBNL in the Hunter Pence trade back in 2011, which turned out to be a clerical error on the Phillies part and may prove to be a windfall for the Astros. Santana has showed good power at all levels of the minors, and his impressive showing in his first year in Triple-A last year as a 21-year-old led to a pair of brief call-ups to Houston in 2014. Santana is very raw, but has a ton of potential. Keep him on your radar.

Keith Cromer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Keith's other articles. You can contact Keith by clicking here

Related Content:  Houston Astros,  Fantasy

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