2018 finish: 103-59, First in AL West, Lost in ALCS to Red Sox
SI's 2019 prediction: 103-59, First in AL West
Key additions: LF Michael Brantley, C Robinson Chirinos, INF/OF Aledmys Díaz, SP Wade Miley
Key departures: SP Charlie Morton, SP Dallas Keuchel*, C Martín Maldonado, C Brian McCann, INF/OF Marwin González, RP Tony Sipp, DH Evan Gattis*
*Current Free Agent
1. CF George Springer
2. 3B Alex Bregman
3. 2B José Altuve
4. SS Carlos Correa
5. LF Michael Brantley
6. 1B Yuli Gurriel
7. DH Tyler White
8. RF Josh Reddick
9. C Robinson Chirinos
C Max Stassi
INF/OF Aledmys Díaz
OF Jake Marisnick
OF/2B Tony Kemp
RHP Justin Verlander
RHP Gerrit Cole
LHP Wade Miley
RHP Collin McHugh
RHP Brad Peacock
RHP Roberto Osuna (closer)
RHP Ryan Pressly
RHP Héctor Rondón
RHP Will Harris
RHP Chris Devenski
LHP Framber Valdez
RHP Josh James
Injured List: RHP Lance McCullers Jr. (out for year), RHP Joe Smith
Movin’ On Up!Michael Brantley, who has a lot of life left in his bat, even if his days as a five-tool star are behind him. Brantley’s superior contact skills—over the past five years, only slap-hitting Ben Revere has connected on more pitches when he swings—should prove excellent clay to be molded by Houston’s staff.
Sell! Collin McHugh, who is moving from the bullpen to the rotation and will naturally see his rate stats take a hit as a result. He had been trending down as a starter before converting to relief last year; his stuff won’t be quite so nasty when hitters have to face it three times a game.
Appreciate This Man! Alex Bregman, who had a sensational 2018 at the plate, one that augurs even better things in 2019 and beyond. He paired 31 homers with a .394 OBP, and he hit 51 doubles while walking (96) more than he struck out (85). A favorite stat: the last 12 men under 25 to produce 30-homer seasons while walking more than striking out are Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Johnny Bench, Don Mattingly, Frank Thomas, Gary Sheffield, Ken Griffey Jr., Albert Pujols, and Bregman. The Astros have a lot of great contact hitters—Yuli Gurriel, José Altuve, and now Brantley—but Bregman also brings a first-rate batting eye. Among qualified AL hitters, only Mookie Betts swung at fewer pitches outside of the strike zone. He waits for his pitch, and then he destroys it. Not much more to baseball than that, is there?
A Modest Proposal From Joe Sheehan: The selection of Carlos Correa with the first pick in the 2012 draft was a defining moment for the new Astros’ front office. Correa shot to the majors in less than three years, won the 2015 NL Rookie of the Year award at 20, and was the shortstop for a World Series winner at 22. So why does he feel so disappointing at 24? Perhaps it’s the injuries—a torn thumb ligament in ’17, a bad back in ’18—that have cost him 50 games in both of the last two years. Perhaps it’s the career lows in home runs, batting average, OBP, and SLG he posted in 2018. Perhaps it’s the way speed and defense have disappeared from his game: Correa has six stolen base attempts and two triples in two years, and his numbers at shortstop in 2018 (-8.6 UZR/150, -4 DRS) were the worst of his four-year career. When healthy, Correa is an MVP candidate, but we need to see him healthy.
MLB.tv Rating: 9.2
The Astros are so stacked lineup-wise that Correa and George Springer can have down years and nearly 800 runs still follow. And the pitching makes the offense look bad! Houston allowed just 534 runs in 2018, 112 fewer than the AL’s second-best staff (Tampa Bay). You don’t reach those heights in run production and run prevention without a bunch of great (and eminently watchable) players. Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole are appointment viewing; there’s not a bad hitter in this lineup. And though it’s hard to imagine anyone tuning in to watch one-inning relievers work, the Astros have a bullpen that stacks up favorably with any in the game.
Keep an Eye Out For... Outfielder Kyle Tucker struggled in his first big-league stint in September of last season, but tore up the Pacific Coast League as a 21-year-old with Triple A-Fresno prior to his call-up. Righthander Forrest Whitley is consensus top-10 prospect with tremendous strikeout skills. In 12 innings this spring, Whitley posted a 1.50 ERA and struck out 15. Righthander Ryan Pressly was unhittable in the second half last year after coming over from Minnesota. He should have a prominent role in the Astros' bullpen this year.
A rival scout analyzes the 2019 Houston Astros.
What is the key question surrounding this team in 2019?
It’s probably the rotation. Lance McCullers is out. The health has hurt them a little bit, and they still may turn around and get Dallas Keuchel back to help solidify it. Wade Miley should be alright for them; he’s a lesser version of Keuchel. If they transition Collin McHugh back into the rotation, we’ll see there. They got Framber Valdez penciled for the fifth spot, but most people don’t know exactly who the four and five will be.
Who is the most overrated player on the team?
I’m going to go with Josh Reddick. I’ve never been a huge Reddick guy. I just don’t think he’s ever been as good as people think he is.
Who is the most underrated player on the team?
Michael Brantley. He’s under-the-radar for this club. He’ll slot right in there in this lineup.
What young player(s) is/are on the cusp of stardom?
Forrest Whitley. If they don’t figure out the rotation, you can probably expect him in the big leagues by the middle of the year.
What young player(s) is/are the biggest bust candidate(s)?
It has a chance to be Valdez. He hasn’t learned how to command the strike zone at all. He might not be what they’re hoping for this year. He might figure out in the long-term, but he’d be my candidate for this year.”
Who gets the most out of his talent?
José Altuve. Not because he’s 5’ 6”, he gets the most out of it because steals bases, defends and does pretty much everything.
Who gets the least out of his talent?
Jake Marisnick, for the ability that’s there and for the ability to not really do anything with it yet.
Who has the nastiest stuff on the team?
Probably Gerrit Cole. Back on the Pirates, he always threw the s*** out of the ball and didn’t make great use of his talent. He was really good last year. Maybe it’s something they do there, the pitch selections and all the analytical stuff they break guys down with.
Who has the best baseball instincts/IQ?
Carlos Correa. It was him or Altuve. Correa’s just instinctively great. He’s playing the number one leader position at such a young age, and until he got hurt, he always seemed to figure it out.
Whose batting practice makes your jaw drop?
Springer. It’s fun, it’s loud, it goes to different parts of the field. It’s just exciting, the tools are all there.
Name two guys on this team that you would immediately trade for.
Correa and Altuve.
Who do you want at-bat or on the mound in a season-defining moment?
Altuve. No doubt.
Who don’t you want in that situation?
I probably wouldn’t want Robinson Chirinos up there, just ‘cause he strikes out all the time. I’m pitching around three or four guys to get to him.
Which under-the-radar prospect/non-roster invitee could make a splash this season?
Josh James, who came up toward the end of last year. He came up as a starter, they used him in the bullpen, and this year I think they’re trying to transition him back to the rotation
Is the current manager one that you would hire to run your club?
I would, yeah. A.J. Hinch understands a little bit of everything. He’s been successful, he’s been horrible, he’s taken a beating. He gets the most out of his players. He’s managed the bridge between the analytics and the players very well.
What is the ceiling for the team this year? What about the next three years?
It looks good here for the future. They’ve got some good young arms, some younger position players who are on the way up. And they’ve got the core guys in Correa and Alex Bregman, and Altuve’s locked in there.