MLB reports: The Astros come into 2011 as a rebuilding team. After trading away franchise icons Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt, this year’s edition of the Astros operates without a known identity. After years of gutting the farm system, poor drafting and development, Houston finally decided wisely last year to blow the whole team up and start again. For fans of the Astros, this means an education as to who will be the future stars of the team. Is there any hope for the Houston Astros in 2011? Judging on its 1-5 start, Houston is exactly where most prognosticators picked them. Only the winless Red Sox and Rays have worse records. Whereas the law of averages will even out Sox and Rays records soon, the Astros may not be so lucky. In what will likely be one of the toughest seasons in team history, lets take a look at some of the faces behind the ‘Stros and find if there are any players currently on the team worth keeping an eye on.
Brett Myers: Houston’s top starter has no record in his first two starts, with a sparkling 2.03 ERA. A strong season a year ago, the Astros will lean on Myers to carry their young team and pitching staff. His 6/4 BB/K ratio is a concern early on, as well as a lack of run support. Myers should be able to keep his team close in most games this season, but a shaky bullpen and lack of offense means a low win total. If Myers keeps up his strong pitching, the Astros would be wise to move him by the deadline and continue to replenish their bare farm system.
Wandy Rodriguez: Every year people jump on the Wandy bandwagon and every year I sit and watch in disbelief. The thirty-two year old Dominican left-hander has shown glimpses of good ERAs and WHIPs and even won fourteen games in 2009. When Wandy is on, he is lights out. But in just as many games he tends to be off and can be extremely frustrating to watch. The Astros just handed Rodriguez a nice contract, which will hopefully look good in the books of another team by season’s end. I don’t expect Rodriguez to be taking the Astros to the Promised Land anytime soon…thus a move for prospects is also in order. The only other pitcher worth watching in Houston is J.A. Happ, who will also be taking lumps and showing growing pains. Another inconsistent pitcher, Happ will definitely miss the run support in Philly. In a year or two, Happ should become a solid number two or three guy in the rotation.
Brandon Lyon: I will insert firstly a disclaimer that I am a huge Brandon Lyon fan. I heavily respect the man and wish him well. But there is something about Lyon being the “man” in the bullpen that doesn’t seem to work well. Looking at his year thus far, he got tattooed in his first outing to the tune of 0.1 Inn, six hits and three runs. Ouch. A solid clean outing in his second outing and two hits given up in a runless inning in his third time around. When a team relies on Brandon as their closer, they are playing with fire. With a team for nothing to play for, the Astros are willing to take their chances on Lyon for the next two seasons. I feel bad for the Houston fans as they will need to sit nervously through most ninth inning leads to Lyon pitching. He is an ok stopgap at best. Hopefully the Astros will discover a young flamethrower that will eventually take over the role. In the interim, be patient Astros fans. Be patient. Sifting through the rest of the Houston bullpen, I find little if anything to get excited about.
Hunter Pence: The current face of the Astros, Pence now twenty –eight is coming off three straight twenty-five home run seasons. With pop in his bat and spring in his glove, Pence now has to jump to the next level to be successful. With little protection in the lineup, I expect to see Pence getting fewer quality pitches to hit. This will either lead to more walks or strikeout as a result. My hope that it is the former rather than the latter. Pence’s development is up to him, if he wants to remain a decent outfielder or rise to a superstar. Patience is key and with patience will come additional power. I remain skeptical as to whether Pence can jump to the forty home run club, as I see him unfortunately plateauing at his current levels. Maybe he will prove me wrong…only time will tell.
Brett Wallace: The next big thing in Houston, Wallace had the first base job handed to him and hopefully he will run with it. One of the purest hitters in the minors, I see his bat translating well in the bigs. My only reservation is that he has mighty big shoes to fill after the departure of Berkman. Hopefully the pressure does not crash this talented young player, as the sky is the limit given his potential. Wallace will need a full year in the majors to get himself going, but I am expecting big things from him come 2012.
Carlos Lee: As the final Astros position player of note, the soon to be thirty-five year old Panamanian is the poster child for failed big contracts. With age tends to come decline and in the case of Lee, the evaporating skills are showing. Still showing decent pop, reports indicate Lee’s defense is much below par. He would be a DH if playing in the AL but with Wallace entrenched at first, there is no where else to hide him in the field but left. While the Blue Jays hit the jackpot by unloading the Vernon Wells contract on the Angels, the Astros are not going to be as lucky to find takers for Lee. The hope is that Carlos can continue to be a leader in helping the younger plays learn the ropes and hit enough to compensate for his lack of defensive skills.
Besides Pence, Wallace and Lee, I really could not find any other positional players worth discussing. While Jason Castro was finally supposed to breakout in 2011, his season ended prematurely before it even began with injury. An unfortunate occurrence but ironically fitting for a team that has hit rock bottom. To all of the Houston fans, there is hope. You still have a beautiful park and the promise that your team is finally investing in scouting, draft picks and developing players. You do not have to look far but see Cincinnati and what they went through to rebuild into the power house today. With some luck and good scouting, hopefully you will get there yourself in a few years. Good luck on the season…you will need it.
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Filed under: Digging Deep - Analysis Tagged: | Astros, baseball, Brandon Lyon, Brett Myers, Brett Wallace, Carlos Lee, Fantasy, Hunter Pence, J.A. Happ, Jason Castro, Lance Berkman, mlb, Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez