Here in the fantasy section at Baseball Prospectus, we are trying a few different things this year, as you may or may not have already noticed. Our newest addition is a team-centric fantasy preview that will be paired with the release of an organization’s Top 10 Prospects List. Yesterday, Jason Parks and company unveiled the first installment of their highly awaited product: the Houston Astros Top 10 Prospects.
Today, we follow suit with a look at the rest of the organization from a fantasy perspective. We’ll march through projected roster construction, including lineup, rotation and back end of the bullpen. We’ll also touch on positional battles to watch out for as we head into spring and the triumvirate of the fantasy world: a player to target, a player to avoid and a deep sleeper.
The Astros as an organization, despite having the incredible wherewithal to hire a number of Baseball Prospectus alums, are very weak on the major league level. There’s plenty of help coming, as the prospect list covers, but 2014 is likely to be another rough season as far as production goes. Here is a look at what you need to know, as the Astros currently stand:
- 2B Jose Altuve
- RF L.J. Hoes
- C Jason Castro
- 3B Matt Dominguez
- 1B Brett Wallace
- DH Chris Carter
- LF Robbie Grossman
- CF Brandon Barnes
- SS Jonathan Villar
It’s extremely early in the offseason and there are a lot of moving parts here, as Houston has depth, although it’s not extremely talented depth. Grossman is likely to see at least half a season’s worth of at-bats as part of an outfield rotation. The other areas of upheaval (1B, CF) are likely to impacted by Houston’s farm system (Singleton/Springer, respectively), though it’s hard to know exactly when those players will make their presence felt. Aside from extremely deep leagues, I’d say it’s worth avoiding all of the above aside from Castro, Altuve, Carter, and Villar. Carter and Villar are especially flawed fantasy assets, but they’re good at what they do (power and speed, respectively). Given the dearth of firepower in this offense—and that extends to when the prospects arrive, as we’ve little idea how they’ll adjust—expect counting stats to be hard to come by even for the more talented members of the lineup.
There’s not much of interest here, but as above, it should get deeper as the season progresses thanks to call ups and the like. The one player worth mentioning is Max Stassi, as there’s a chance he could be carried as a third catcher/DH at some point early on, though Triple-A remains the most likely destination for him.
And you thought the lineup was bland. There is some hope here but it’s definitely one of those “better in real life than in fantasy” situations. Cosart is the most interesting arm when it comes to upside thanks to his electric stuff. The issue of course is that he seems to find more bats than he misses, and he’ll give back a lot of value in the WHIP department. Lyles is a matchup play and waiver add in generic leagues and worthy of owning as a backend end guy in deeper leagues. Oberholtzer impressed last season, though he did so more by limiting his walks than missing many bats. There can be value here in the right matchups, but the upside isn’t there. Peacock has some upside as he can miss bats (8.3 K/9), but he’s homer-prone enough that he may end up an option in the bullpen.
Projected Closer Candidates
Speaking of the bullpen, it’s a disaster. My money is on Fields getting the job, if not a free agent, because he strikes out more and walks fewer guys than Lo. That being said, there’s no bet I would take that he keeps the job the whole year if he does start with it. If all that’s not enough to turn you off, this is likely to be one of the worse teams in baseball, limiting the opportunities whoever they pick to be closer will get. Make no mistake, a closer on a bad team can still rack up saves, but neither of these two have the talent that make them worth the risk they’ll pose. Draft them, certainly, but make it at a point where you won’t mind replacing them immediately.
Positional Battles to Watch
Corner Outfield: L.J. Hoes vs. Robbie Grossman vs. J.D. Martinez
I never promised they would be interesting positional battles. There’s only enough room at the beginning of the season for two of these players in the starting lineup, and right now it looks like Martinez may be the one on the outside looking in. Of course, Martinez also spent a good portion of May and June in the cleanup spot for the AL West bottom dwellers. Each player brings a slightly different skill set to the table for fantasy purposes: Hoes can hit for a little average and could steal 20 bases if given enough at bats. Grossman can on base at a pretty good clip and could reach double digits in homers and steals. Martinez has the most pop of the group and could reach 15 homers over 500 at bats.
Center Field: Brandon Barnes vs. George Springer
There is going to be a LOT of Springer hype as we move closer and closer to Spring Training, and in the long-term it’s justified, but those expecting fantasy stardom this year may be ultimately disappointed. There’s certainly a chance that Springer comes out and looks amazing in Arizona, giving the Astros no choice but to carry him on Opening Day; however, there is too much money to be saved by keeping him down on the farm for at least a few weeks (and possibly until June). Barnes is no great shakes, especially for fantasy, but he’s solid defensively and could return a small power/speed combo until Springer does get the call.
Player to Target: Jonathan Villar
He’ll likely fetch one of the highest prices on this Houston roster in drafts (particularly in rotisserie formats), but then again, that’s not saying much. Villar stole 18 bases in just 58 games last season and did just about nothing else. Well, except get caught stealing—which he did eight times. The value in Villar is not necessarily in the speed, but in the entire package. First of all, he does have the talent to hit for a better average than the .243 he carried last season (.260 is possible). Secondly, he did show some pop in his minor league career, including 33 home runs in the last three seasons. But in order for that to show through in Houston, he’ll need to improve on his incredibly paltry 14.1 percent fly-ball rate. Finally, the biggest thing Villar may have going for him is the lack of depth at the shortstop position in the organization. He’ll have a long leash, which is a great thing because he may need it (from a real-life perspective, not a fantasy one).
Player to Avoid: Jose Altuve
This one is all about name recognition and how it can play tricks on players’ values. There’s certainly value with Altuve–that’s not the issue–it’s what his price says about his potential performance that doesn’t add up. This past season, he was the sixth best second baseman for fantasy, but this was about as good of a season as you could have hoped for out of him. He’s solidified himself as a 30 steal player at this point, but he brings no pop to the table and the counting stats are below average at the position. If he could be counted on for a near .300 average, all his sins would be forgiven, but all of Altuve’s plate discipline stats moved in the wrong direction last year (including his strikeouts). If he’s a .270 hitter, there’s just not very much upside here compared to other second basemen likely to go in the same range.
Deep Sleeper: Alex White
This one works on two separate fronts. White had Tommy John surgery in April of 2013, so he’s not going to be ready for the start of the season, but the former first round pick could be back in Houston by May or June and is likely way off everyone’s radar. He hasn’t found that success yet as a starting pitcher, though he’s not off that track yet. His best pitch is a sinker that he can get ground balls on with ease, but he has had issues with the long ball and the free pass (minor problems, I know). As a starting pitcher he’s of mild interest in AL-only formats, but if he were to get moved to the bullpen, he could end up seeing time at the end of that wide-open bullpen.