If you've been reading these team previews with any regularity, you know that I typically try to start them on a somewhat-positive note. It might be a summation of 2012 or a look ahead to 2013, but there's usually at least a few good nuggets for every team, no matter how bleak the outlook might be.
And then there's Houston.
There really isn't much to say. The Astros went 55-107 a year ago, and were rewarded by being shipped to the American League West, perhaps the strongest division in baseball. They only have three players (Jose Altuve, Bud Norris and their closer, likely Jose Veras), who are locks to be owned in mixed leagues. Chris Carter, Carlos Pena, Fernando Martinez, Lucas Harrell and Jordan Lyles could provide some value in deep mixers and/or AL-only leagues, but that's about where the fantasy train ends for this team.
So in looking for something positive, I guess I can say this: I really enjoy the
1. Jose Altuve, 2B 2. Tyler Greene, SS 3. Chris Carter, LF 4. Carlos Pena, 1B 5. Brett Wallace, DH 6. Justin Maxwell, CF 7. Fernando Martinez, RF 8. Matt Dominguez, 3B 9. Jason Castro, C
1. Bud Norris 2. Lucas Harrell 3. Jordan Lyles 4. Phil Humber 5. Dallas Keuchel
It came as a surprise, then, that Norris regressed in 2012. His walk rate crept up slightly, but his ERA and FIP jumped to 4.65 and 4.23, respectively. He gave up 1.23 homers per nine innings, the worst ratio of his career since his 55.2-inning cup of coffee in 2009. His velocity dipped and rose in all the wrong places. His average fastball fell to 91.8 mph from 92.6, his slider dropped to 84.2 from 86.3, but his average changeup registered at 85.3, up from 83.1 in 2011. The six-mph difference from fastball to changeup isn't going to fool many major league hitters, and it showed in Norris' results. On top of all that, he's leaving behind the cozy NL Central for the menacing AL West. Gone are the Cubs and Pirates, replaced by the Rangers and Angels. I've been one of Norris' strongest supporters over the years, but I'm staying away this season.
George Springer, a 23-year-old outfielder, had a huge year with High-A Lancaster in 2012, hitting .316/.398/.557 with 24 homers, 21 doubles, 87 RBI and 32 steals. It would be nice if he had a little more experience above that level given that he's 23, but last year was also just his second professional season. He'll start the year at Double-A Corpus Christi, and is a good bet to earn a promotion to Triple-A, at the very least. The story is the same here as it is with Singleton. Make sure he's on your radar if you're in a league that uses minor league rosters.
In his first full year in the majors, at age 22, Altuve hit .290/.340/.399 with 33 steals, which was essentially a seamless transition from the minors. In 382 career minor league games across four levels, Altuve hit .327/.386/.481 with 117 steals. His bat probably doesn't have any more than 10 homers in it, but you can bet on good rates and 30 steals. That's a pretty nice floor for a second baseman. He won't score a ton of runs for a leadoff man because of the Astros' paltry offense, but no one will lose a league this year because of having Altuve at second. The reason we're not underrating him is because the position has gotten a lot deeper in recent years, and Altuve is the one guy who will start in a 12-team league who won't get to at least 16 or 18 homers. If you own him, you'll need to make up your power deficit elsewhere.
AL-only guys to know