The countdown starts us out with the Houston Astros. The Astros have a new manager, Bo Porter, and after playing 51 years in the National League, they move to the AL West starting this season. The Astros have some good young players who can surprise, but it will be very tough for them to compete in a very good AL West. The issue with the Astros is they have no identity. After moving a couple veterans last season, they traded starting SS Jed Lowrie to the Athletics, leaving them with very little leadership.
Lets for a minute focus on some positive. The amount of position openings has allowed for many former prospects with high ceilings to get their chance in Houston. Jose Altuve is their star player. Around him, they have a chance to play former prospects, Chris Carter, Justin Maxwell, Fernando Martinez and Matt Dominguez. A lot was expected out of each of the before mentioned, so if they play to potential, the Astros may produce more than expected offensively. Tyler Greene comes over from St Louis and Carlos Pena from Tampa Bay, with LF JD Martinez and C Jason Castro rounding out the lineup. If I was putting together the lineup, I would go Greene SS, Maxwell CF, Altuve 2B, J Martinez LF, Carter 1B, Pena DH, Castro C, Dominguez 3B, F Martinez RF. Altuve could lead off, but he is by far the team's best hitter. If Carter, Dominguez or F-Mart perform extremely well, Altuve can move back to the leadoff spot. Brett Wallace has the best chance to play among the bench players, as he can play 1B, 3B or DH. Among non-roster players, prospects Delino DeShields Jr, Jonathan Singleton and Carlos Correia could see the bigs sooner rather than later and perhaps Rick Ankiel can make the team as a 4th OF.
While I can say the offense has some upside, I think the pitching is going to be terrible. Lucas Harrell and Bud Norris are their two best starting pitchers. As time goes by, Harrell should become the ace, but now the job should go to Norris, who has more experience. Norris was 6-11, 3.77 in 31 starts, 186 IP and 176 Ks last season. Jordan Lyles and Phil Humber will be middle of the rotation starters, with rookie Jarred Cosart grabbing the number 5 spot. While Harrell, Cosart and Lyles have promise, it is expected they will get hit around this season, as they take their lumps. Jose Veras will be their closer, with Wesley Wright and former Mets farmhand Rhiner Cruz being the primary set-up men. This team will give up a lot of runs.
I mentioned some of the things that have to happen for this team to overachieve. Some of the offensive players getting second chances need to become the stars they were supposed to be. Harrell and Cosart need to reach full potential right away. And there has to be some more surprises along the way. This is all unlikely. Vegas put the Astros over/under at 59 1/2; I think it is too high. The Astros could be better in 2014, but I see them finishing 51-111, last in the AL West. However, I see this being a productive season which is likely to see the debuts of Cosart, Singleton, Correia and DeShields.