Houston Astros


The Houston Astros opened spring training with precious few roster spots up for grabs, the clearest indication of the franchise stability at the foundation of their three postseason appearances over the previous four seasons, including a World Series pennant in 2017. And, even with the departures of several revered contributors (Dallas Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, Charlie Morton, Brian McCann, Evan Gattis), the Astros are among the favorites to with the 2019 World Series. General manager Jeff Luhnow has built a sustainable winner, and manager A.J. Hinch seemingly has the perfect disposition to steward a clubhouse of young veterans.
And while there are new faces to integrate (left fielder Michael Brantley, left-hander Wade Miley, catcher Robinson Chirinos and utility infielder Aledmys Diaz), the Astros’ title hopes rest on the right arms of starting pitchers Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, a deep bullpen, and the health of their four core stars: Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and George Springer.
Team MVP: Jose Altuve

It speaks volumes of second baseman Jose Altuve that, despite making his first-ever trip to the DL and essentially playing the second half of 2018 on one leg, Altuve produced a 133 OPS+ and claimed his fifth consecutive Silver Slugger award. Altuve required knee surgery in the immediate aftermath of the Astros’ American League Championship Series loss to the Boston Red Sox, but returns fully healthy and is angling to secure his fourth batting title in six seasons.
Best-Value Pitcher: Josh James
A strained right quad cost right-hander Josh James a shot of claiming a slot in the rotation this spring, but James’ electric fastball (97.7 average four-seam velocity) made him a fan favorite following his Sept. 1 debut last season while his effectiveness (2-0, 2.35 ERA with 29 strikeouts over 23 innings) makes him a viable candidate to fill the swing role as a high-leverage reliever and spot starter. With his rookie status intact through this campaign, James could offer the Astros the most bang for their buck among anyone on their projected staff.
The 2019 projections on James are difficult to decipher, but he flashed potential as both a starter and reliever following his promotion, showcasing a comfort level toggling back and forth that should leave the Astros confident in his ability to handle whatever task is thrown his way.
Best-Value Position Player: Alex Bregman
Third baseman Alex Bregman signed a five-year, $100 million extension this spring that kicks in during his age-26 season in 2020. In the interim, he is set to earn just $641,000 this campaign, his third full season in the majors, and after finishing fifth in the AL MVP balloting following an awe-inspiring breakthrough (100-plus RBIs and runs with 51 doubles and 31 homers), Bregman will remain the best bargain in baseball for one more year.
Bregman is a budding superstar. That he is surrounded by All-Stars in Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer only lightens the load for Bregman, who relishes the spotlight with zest.
Best Addition: Michael Brantley
A healthy Michael Brantley provides everything the Astros need in left field and in the batter’s box: an experienced, reliable veteran capable of dependable defense plus a dangerous left-handed bat set to offer the Astros’ right-handed-dominant lineup some needed balance. Brantley quietly made 631 plate appearances with the Cleveland Indians last season, second only to the 676 he posted while finishing third in AL MVP balloting in 2014. If Brantley mimics his production from any of his three previous All-Star campaigns, the Astros will thrive.
The X-Factor: Tyler White
While the back three-fifths of the starting rotation warrants a mention, designated hitter Tyler White has finally reached that point in his career where the opportunity to fulfill his promise as a hitting maven is unobstructed. White delivered a dynamic second half in 2018 (.287/.350/.551 slash line with 10 homers and 39 RBIs) but faltered in the postseason with just one extra-base hit over 18 plate appearances. With Evan Gattis gone, White opens this year unchallenged as the DH, and should he produce over the course of six months like he did last August when he posted a 1.095 OPS, the Astros will be that much more potent offensively.


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