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Playing Pepper 2012: Houston Astros

Posted on March 5, 2012 at 11:30 AM
Filed Under: Houston Astros | Playing Pepper
In 2009, I decided to get a feel for other teams around baseball by asking bloggers for those teams some questions about their squad.  Not only has this series been very popular, but it spawned the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  With camps opening up again and spring training getting into gear, it's time once again to play a little pepper.

Houston Astros
56-106, sixth in the NL Central

These aren't your father's Astros.  Actually, check that.  These aren't your older brother's Astros.

The team that had some epic contests with the Cardinals in the early part of the millennium is now history.  Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio retired.  Roy Oswalt moved to Philadelphia before deciding on the Roger Clemens career path.  And what stings Astros fans the most, Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran are Cardinals.

What those stars of the 2000s have left behind is a young team with limited abilities.  Houston finished 40 games out last year and, as much as they'd like to make a run in their last year of NL play, it'd take even a bigger miracle than Miracle Max is able to conjure up.

While it may be sad for us to see a respected rival fall by the wayside, there are some intrepid bloggers that feel the pain much more intensely.

Terri Schlather writes for the Aerys blog Tales From The Juice Box.  You can follow her always-entertaining Twitter feed at AGirlInTheSouth.

Steve Duer typically follows those that have stopped in Greenville on their way up the ladder at his blog Appy Astros.  You can also find him on Twitter at AppyAstros.

Long-time readers of this blog will know James of Astros County.  James and I have written for each others blogs occasionally and James has been a part of UCB Radio Hour and our annual NL preview show.  You can find him on Twitter at AstrosCounty.

After the jump, they'll talk about that noted Cardinal killer and just what they thought of their new GM coming from the Redbird ranks.

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C70: What was your opinion of the team's offseason? 

TFJB: The Astros had an outstanding offseason. I say that predominantly because they didn't do anything outlandish. Since there wasn't a market for their high dollar players they were hoping to shop (Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers, Carlos Lee) those contracts remain, but Jeff Luhnow added depth in places it was needed by making low risk signings of veteran players who have the ability to play quite well when healthy - Jed Lowrie, Jack Cust, etc. These moves go a long way to helping the clubhouse situation as well as filling in gaps so there isn't as much pressure to use developing players who perhaps aren't really ready for the Majors.

AA: It has been a very exciting off season as the new ownership has taken over and the new front office has taken shape. From a player development perspective, hiring Jeff Luhnow as the GM looks like a great move. He has a good track record of developing talent in the St. Louis organization. He also is extremely accessible and willing to think differently. His hiring of Mike Fast and Sig Mejdal tell us this isn't going to be business as usual. They have already made a move that raises eyebrows by moving Brett Myers to the closer role. I am not sure how that will work out but it is definitely a non traditional way of thinking.

AC: They didn't do much, and that was fine by me. The Astros are pretty clearly looking beyond 2012, so the low-risk signings they did make won't change the dynamic of the team for years to come.

C70: Will Wandy Rodriguez make it through the year as an Astro? 

TFJB: If there is a God, then no. Seriously though, Wandy's a talented guy, but may not be the best fit for this team as it's rebuilding. If he starts off strong I believe there will be a market for him at the trade deadline. This is, of course, dependent upon his throwing well, but I think it's more likely than not that he not be wearing an Astro uni at the end of the season.

AA: If Wandy produces a solid season, there is no way he makes it through the trade deadline. However, if he struggles and with his contract being what it is; I could see him on the roster at the end of the year.

AC: That's a great question. I'm guessing the front office isn't real happy about the big-money (for the Astros, anyway) extensions given to Wandy and Brett Myers by Ed Wade following the 2010 season. That trade deadline saw the departure of Berkman (as you well know) and Oswalt - and you could just tell that Myers' season was too good to be true. Wandy is a solid starter, but he has a trade provision in his contract that will likely make teams think twice about trading for him. It's probably 50/50 if Wandy is gone, maybe more of a chance that he stays, given that Myers is now apparently going to come out of the bullpen.

C70: Bud Norris finally proved he could beat other teams besides the Cardinals' last year. Will he continue to improve this season? 

TFJB: It's no secret that I'm a fan of Bud Norris (I call him Studly Cuddly Budly) but I truly believe this is a kid that gets better each year. He claims to be in the best shape of his life, but now, with him being one of the "veterans" of the team and taking on a mentoring role with younger players there is a maturity that is starting to show with him. That maturity will go a long way to helping his continuing development. Look for strong performances from Bud this season and I think it's possible we'll see him as the #2 guy in the rotation.

AA: Bud has improved each of the three seasons he has been in the majors. Last year, he ran out of gas at the end of the year. He has reported that he wants to pitch 200 innings, if he can do that, he will have definitely improved this season.

AC: I think so. He's just now 27, and really hit his stride in 2011. His strikeouts stayed about the same, but his walks went down considerably - from 4.5 per 9inn in 2010 to 3.4 per 9inn in 2011. He has said repeatedly that his goal for 2012 is 200+ IP, and if he can hit that, he'll be a solid pitcher for the Astros.

C70: Is there a prospect that will make an impact on the team this season? 

TFJB: With a team stocked with prospects, the possibilities are endless on who could break out this year. My money is on Brian Bogusevic. Of all the rookies that joined the team last year, Brian was by far the most productive and I look for his impact to continue this season. His versatility in the OF and his former-pitching arm make him a serious force to be reckoned with for hitters. Fielding aside, he was gaining a nice command of his bat last year and the winter ball numbers make him look like the guy to watch.

AA: Last year was the year of the debut for the Astros. They has 11 players making their rookie debut in 2011. Some of those players; like Jose Altuve & J. D. Martinez, are penciled in as starters for 2012. That amount of movement has decreased the pool for players to jump to the majors and make an impact this season. There are a few pitchers at AA that should be watched this year. Those include Jerred Cosart and Paul Clemens. As for position players, Jonathon Villar is the most advanced prospect. He struggled at AA as a 20 year old last year so he still needs some seasoning. 

I am watching for some prospects starting at lower levels that could make multi level moves in 2012. I am not expecting Jose Altuve like moves where he went from High A ball to the MLB in one season. I am talking about starting in one level and finishing strong in the next level. Those I will be looking for that kind of movement are: Jonathon Singleton, Domingo Santana, and Delino DeShields Jr.. I will also be watching the development of Ariel Ovando.

AC: I'm really expecting J.D. Martinez to have a great year. He was a 20th Round 2009 pick, and fell because of questions about his knees. If he can hold on for one more year, then the Astros will be needing a DH, after all. Martinez is projected to play LF, which is just fine for an outfielder with sketchy knees, if Carlos Lee can do it for four years. He has hit at every level, winning minor-league batting titles in 2009 and 2010, with a minor-league slash line of .342/.407/.551. Martinez should be playing every day, and routinely has taken a little while to adjust to a higher level, so hopefully he figured some things out in his time in Houston in the 2nd half of 2011.  

C70: Where will the team finish in their division and what are you most excited about for 2012? 

TFJB: I'm crazy if I say anything other than dead last, right? But I don't think they'll finish last. I look for the Astros to be 4th in the division at the end of the season. I think there's something a little bit special about this new General Manager and his attitude and approach that will remind us all that even though you need talent to win ballgames, there's a lot to be said for heart. 

As for what I'm most excited about? I'm thrilled to be here as a diehard fan when the team is picking itself up off the floor. It's not often in sports that you get to say "I was there when..." but with this ball club right now that opportunity exists. The sky is the limit for this group and I can't wait to see them find their way out of the cellar and begin building a new brand of Astros baseball.

AA: The climb out of the cellar is going to be tough. Last year, the Astros lost 106 games. This year, if they make a 10% reduction in the number of losses, it will be real progress. So I say the team goes 67-95 and stays in the cellar in the NL Central. I would love to be wrong! 

There are things to be excited about with the Astros. They have the number one pick in the draft! New leadership with a plan of turning the team around! Young players who ware hungry to make their presence known in the big leagues! The future what I am most excited about.

AC:Oh, they'll finish last. At least that's what I'm preparing myself for, so I don't get mad when it happens. I don't know if they'll lose 100 games again, but I'm solidly expecting 90+ losses. The thing about 2012 I'm most excited about is Carlos Lee's expiring contract, and seeing the younger guys the Astros have drafted/traded for develop for the future.

My thanks to Terri, Steve and James for their thoughts about the Houston team.  I'm going to miss that rivalry when the 'Stros head to the American League in 2013.

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