After suffering through baseball’s worst record from 2011–2013, the Astros and their fan base need something to look forward to. During the past three years, they are 118 games worse by record than baseball’s best team, the Texas Rangers (280-206).
To make matters worse, the Astros are 33 games worse over this time frame than the team with the second-worst record, Minnesota (195-291).
Unfortunately, the PECOTA projection for Houston this year predicts a record of 66-96 for 2014, so things may stay the same for one more year. In 2013, the Astros were tied for 26th in runs scored, 28th in OBP and 29th in batting average. Their starting rotation did not fare well either, placing 26th in K/9 and 28th in ERA.
So why do the Astros intrigue fans and especially dynasty Fantasy owners?
“The Astros — they’re like Disneyland. If the kids come, it’s a great attraction.” — Scott Boras
Do not look any further than the picture at the bottom of this page. Following all of the top prospect list releases in the past two weeks, it is clear that the Astros have help on the way. There are seven Astros on Keith Law’s and MLB.com’s top 100 lists. Baseball Prospectus included five Astros prospects in their top 101 published last week. Players like George Springer, Carlos Correa, Mark Appel, Jonathan Singleton and Mike Foltynewicz provide hope for 2015 and beyond.
For 2014 though, the Astros have made a few additions in an attempt to bridge the gap until the prospect wave can descend upon Houston. They traded for Dexter Fowler who has been a Fantasy disappointment, but is only 27 years old and has a career slash line of .270/.365/.423. While that is not overwhelming, consider that last year, the Astros used 11 different leadoff batters who averaged a combined .249/.310/.321.
The Astros also signed free agent pitchers Scott Feldman, Jerome Williams, Chad Qualls and Jesse Crain to provide depth not only in their rotation, but at the back of the bullpen as well. None of these moves are a big splash, but that is not part of the plan. Here is their projected lineup, rotation and bullpen as 2014 opens, although only one of their players is being drafted in the top 100 of NFBC drafts.
Projected 2014 Houston Astros “Go-To” Lineup
- Dexter Fowler, CF
- Jose Altuve, 2B
- Jason Castro, C
- Chris Carter, DH
- 5. Brett Wallace, 1B
- Robbie Grossman, LF
- Matt Dominguez, 3B
- L.J. Hoes, RF
- Jonathan Villar, SS
- SP1 Scott Feldman
- SP2 Jarred Cosart
- SP3 Brett Oberholtzer
- SP4 Jerome Williams
- SP5 Brad Peacock
- Others: Paul Clemens, Anthony Bass, Dallas Keuchel
- Bullpen: Chad Qualls (Closer), Jesse Crain, Josh Fields
Fantasy Studs: Jose Altuve (91.49), Jason Castro (156.49)
With the talent pool that could arrive in Houston soon, it is easy to overlook Altuve, who is only 24 years old and entering his third major league season.
It is apparent that the Astros community loves him despite his stature. He won his face of the franchise contest against Yadier Molina of the Cardinals in MLB’s Twitter voting.
After suffering a drop in his runs scored in 2013, Altuve may have been a victim of trying to do too much. His swing rates increased last season as reflected in his O-Swing % (pitches swung at outside the strike zone) rising from 30.5% to 37.6% in his second season and his Z-Swing % (inside the strike zone) from 59.7% to 64.4%.
It is natural when a player is trying to do too much to sacrifice plate discipline in an attempt to spark the offense. I believe this is what happened to Altuve, but he still finished in the top ten for Fantasy second basemen according to ESPN’s player rater.
As of this writing, his NFBC ADP shown above has him as the seventh second baseman selected and a return to 80-plus runs scored like his rookie season and a bump in home runs (he hit 15 in the minors in 2010) can put him in the top five at his position.
After being the only prospect ranked in top 100 lists for the Astros in 2009, Castro finally was healthy in 2013 and flashed his potential. What benefits Castro in comparison to other catchers is his spot in the lineup. Batting third provides him with the opportunity to score more runs and to drive them in.
While Castro’s BABIP of .351 last year may regress, a catcher with 20-plus HR potential that can bat .260 or higher has to be on Fantasy radars. For now he is only the 11th catcher in NFBC drafts, but he has the ability to provide value, especially in two-catcher leagues.
His 18 home runs tied him for third at his position last year and his 56 RBI placed him eighth. Castro should be able to match last season’s totals and if Dexter Fowler can stay healthy and hit for his career averages, the RBI will be on the rise as well.
Breakout Candidate & Top Rookie: George Springer, OF (188.91)
Springer cannot be considered a sleeper since most Fantasy players know what he accomplished in the minors last year. If you missed it, here is his stat line from last year:
- Springer’s 2013 Double-A/Triple-A Stats: 135 G, 106 R, 37 HR, 108 RBI, 45 SB, .303/.411/.600
Because of the super two arbitration clock, Springer may not be with the Astros until May, but he is already the third Astro being taken in NFBC drafts and is the 43rd outfielder selected.
What brings caution to Springer is not his ability to hit home runs or steal bases, but his propensity to strikeout. He has been able to hit for average in the minors and it remains to be seen if that will translate to the major leagues. Regardless, there is no question that he can go 20/20 even if his arrival in Houston is delayed by a month. But what if it isn’t?
There is a chance that Springer could force his way on to this team with a strong spring and be the hitting version of Jose Fernandez in this year’s drafts. His projections are varied but here is a sample:
I tend to agree with the ZiPS projection the most, as the slash lines are the most accurate in regards to his average for this year. But aren’t you willing to risk that at the end of your draft? Like Boras said above, this is one of the kids you should be willing to pay the price of Disneyland for.
Sleeper Candidate: Chad Qualls, RP (433.18)
Qualls is neither sexy nor was he fantasy relevant outside of NL only leagues last year but it seems he is in line to be the Astros closer. There will be those who will want Jesse Crain in this role but Qualls has a two year contract with a vesting year. He features a 94 mph sinker and an 87 mph slider which both regained velocity in 2013. His slider featured a 33% whiff/swing rate according to BrooksBaseball.net and his ability to induce ground balls (Sinker 71%/Slider 55% GB rates) will play well in Houston. In fact, batters only hit .212 against his slider last season. In a bullpen of question marks, Qualls may have the most answers.
AL Only Guys to Know:
Chris Carter: With the lack of power in the major leagues, Carter finished seventh in home runs for all first base eligible players with 29 in 2013. His 82 RBI put him 12th as well. Carter’s slash lines of 223/320/450 are not too far off of Chris Davis’ first year with Baltimore of 270/326/501. If he could improve his BABIP and get his average to the 240/250 range, he could be a great value in 2014. Dual eligibility for first base and the outfield only helps in AL only formats.
Brad Peacock: A rough debut masked his strong finish in 2013. In the second half he pitched 54.1 innings with a 3.64 ERA, 3.89 FIP and averaged 8.94 K/9. As a fifth starter for the Astros, he is the only pitcher in this rotation with strikeout upside. Especially if he uses his curve and slider more, in September Peacock had a 3.28 ERA with 25 K’s/6 BB and a FIP of 2.80.
Brett Oberholtzer: Slated to be the No. 3 starter, his value lies in his ability to keep runners off base. Although his fastball only averages 90 mph, Oberholtzer mixes in his sinker, change and curve with his changeup being his best swing and miss pitch. In September, he decreased his sinker usage and in 32.1 innings saw his ERA drop to 1.95 with 20 K’s against 7 BB. His FIP was 3.26 and his K/9 was only 5.57 but in AL only formats, he could be a valuable late-round add.
Jonathan Singleton: He also finds himself a big spring away from the Astros. After serving a substance abuse suspension, he was able to gain traction in his winter leagues. If he regains his approach at the plate his power will play well at Minute Maid Park. He was the only first base prospect to appear on BP’s top 101. So even at a shallow position in prospect lists, the Astros have one.
This should be the last year that the Astros are such a shallow source of Fantasy goodness. With one of the top minor league systems in baseball and top prospects on the way, the Astros string of losing seasons could end as soon as next year.
To quote Albert Einstein, “I never think of the future, it comes soon enough.” Astro and Fantasy fans alike could not agree more.
I want to thank David Gonos for the opportunity to represent our great site RotoAnalysis.com. We feature live Fantasy updates on baseball, basketball and football, as well as articles, rankings and analysis. Some examples of our work, Player Profiles here and our own Matt Cott’s Top 125 Prospect List, you can also follow us @RotoAnalysis and @gjewett9.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs.com, BrooksBaseball.net, CBSSportsline.com, AstrosCounty.com, and NESN.com (ADPs), projected lineups and PECOTA wins projection courtesy of BaseballProspectus.com.
2014 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep
|Strategy:Drafting Rds 9-16 | Drafting Rds 4-8 |Drafting the First 3 Rds | 7 Steps to Success | Positional Tiers | 30 for30 Draft Results|
|One-Man Mock Drafts: Mixed Roto (1/27) | Mixed H2H (2/4)|
|AL East: Baltimore | Boston | N.Y. Yankees | Tampa Bay | Toronto|
|AL Central: Chi White Sox | Cleveland | Detroit | Kansas City | Minnesota|
|AL West: Houston | L.A. Angels | Oakland | Seattle | Texas|
|NL East: Atlanta | Miami | N.Y. Mets | Philadelphia | Washington|
|NL Central: Chicago Cubs | Cincinnati | Milwaukee | Pittsburgh | St. Louis|
|NL West: Arizona | Colorado | L.A. Dodgers | San Diego | San Francisco|
|Prospects: Top 50 Prospects | Nick Castellanos | Javier Baez|
|Stat Deep-Dives: Expected RBI Totals from 2013|