StrategyMarch 2, 2013

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30 Teams in 30 Days: Houston Astros

By R.J. White

Fifteen years ago, the Milwaukee Brewers were in unfamiliar territory: moving to the National League after spending their entire existence as an AL club. This year, the Houston Astros find themselves in a similar situation, trading in 51 years of NL play to head to the American League. It seems somewhat ironic that the team to finish last in the National League in 2012 in runs, hits, batting average, slugging percentage and other offensive statistics is now tasked with coming up with a designated hitter on a regular basis. Maybe by designating someone a hitter, it’ll take the pressure off the other eight guys.

After finishing sixth in the NL Central the last two years, the Astros have nowhere to go but up: they’ll be guaranteed at least a fifth-place finish in their new division. But is another 100-loss season in the books? And even if it is, do the Astros have any intriguing fantasy names?

In “30 Teams in 30 Days,” the Fantasy Baseball Cafe will preview each team in Major League Baseball on a daily basis. In addition to projecting starting lineups, rotations and closing situations, the Cafe will identify potential targets for 2013 fantasy baseball drafts.
Offensive Starters

C Jason Castro.257.334.401296290295 
1B Brett Wallace.253.323.424249240254 
2B Jose Altuve.290.340.3998073733630 
SS Tyler Greene.230.274.40034113012330w/2T
3B Matt Dominguez.284.310.477145160113 
LF Chris Carter.239.350.5143816390260w/OAK
CF Justin Maxwell.229.304.4604618539352 
RF Fernando Martinez.237.300.466126140130 
DH Carlos Pena.197.330.3547219612600w/TB

Unsettled: Shortstop and outfield. The Astros and A’s completed a five-player trade in February that muddled the Astros’ shortstop and outfield depth charts by shipping out Jed Lowrie while bringing Chris Carter in. At shortstop, Tyler Greene will compete with Marwin Gonzalez and Jake Elmore to win the role of regular starter. Greene is the favorite, bringing an intriguing power/speed combo to fantasy leagues that’s worth a look in an MI slot. Elmore is the darkhorse but would also be an interesting option were he to win the job, having stole 32 bases in 40 attempts at the Triple-A level last year while hitting .344/.442/.465. Elmore seems like he could excel at the top of the order if last year’s stats aren’t a fluke.
Carter’s arrival means he’ll likely man left field for the Astros this year. He played first base more often than not in his career but does have experience in left. His presence displaces J.D. Martinez, who will likely compete with Fernando Martinez in right field for playing time. Top prospect Jonathan Singleton could eventually push for playing time either at first base or in right field after serving his 50-game suspension for marijuana use.
Target: Jose Altuve. The diminutive second baseman is likely considered an all-speed, no-power option in fantasy baseball thanks to his stature. However, Altuve hit 15 home runs in the minors in 2010, 12 total between the minors and majors in 2011 and seven last year in his first full major-league season. His average jumped to .290 last year, and he has the skill-set to repeat that mark in 2013. Whether it’s his size, his mediocre team or something else, Altuve might not be getting due credit, and I’m seriously considering moving him up in my rankings, maybe even all the way to No. 3.
The Rotation
Bud Norris (R)7-134.651.3716566168.1 
Lucas Harrell (R)11-113.761.3614078193.2 
Jordan Lyles (R)5-125.091.429942141.1 
Philip Humber (R)5-56.441.548544102.0w/CHW
Erik Bedard (L)7-145.011.4711856125.2w/PIT

Unsettled: Despite pitching the 21st perfect game in major-league history in 2012, Philip Humber found himself on the waiver wire after the season ended, and the Astros jumped on him. The team later signed Erik Bedard to a minor-league contract. Those two guys figure to round out the rotation, mostly because the Astros just don’t have many other options. John Ely is probably the best bet to put up a fight, while Dallas Kuechel and Alex White are other options. Of the group, Bedard at least offers some fantasy upside with his consistently high strikeout rate, though wringing more than 120 innings out of the guy should be considered gravy.
Target: Bud Norris. Despite an ugly 4.65 ERA, Bud Norris pitched at close to his 2011 level last season, which his strikeout rate and walk rate both rising slightly. He’s the ideal late-round sleeper for fantasy teams, as he has shown the ability to strike out close to a batter an inning over a full season, with the upside for more. Yes, his value is hurt moving from the NL Central to AL West, but he isn’t worth dismissing completely. I took a shot on him as my ninth pitcher in an AL-only league — at the price, there’s nothing but profit potential.
The 8th and 9th Innings
Jose Veras (R)13.631.51794067.0w/MIL
Wesley Wright (L)13.271.19541752.1 

Chasing Saves: On no team is the term “chasing saves” more apt, as the Astros figure to have the shakiest ninth-inning profile in the league. Jose Veras is the favorite to win the job, but he’s been consistently terrible at limiting free passes, and a 10.0 K/9 can only take you so far. There’s a reason Houston is the last team to have a reliever picked in many drafts, and it’s honestly probably better to grab some non-closers with better skills at the end of the draft than to hope someone runs away with the Astros job and, even more importantly, performs well in 2013. Along with Veras, Houston closing candidates include Rhiner Cruz, Hector Ambriz, Wesley Wright and Josh Fields, and maybe even a few others.
Final Thoughts
The Astros get a pretty frightening welcome to the AL West when the Rangers come to town to start the season, and it doesn’t figure to get much better from there. Fantasy owners will want to keep an eye on the shortstop battle, as the winner could join Jose Altuve and Chris Carter as usable fantasy hitters this year. Bud Norris is worth a look late in drafts thanks to his strikeout potential. Do yourself a favor and ignore the closer “battle.”
Check back tomorrow for our look at the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe and contributes to's MLB Rumors blog. He has previously written for FanHouse, Razzball and FanDuel. Catch up with him in the forums under the name daullaz. Follow him on Twitter; don't follow him in real life.
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