Astros Spring Training Preview
The Houston Astros have kicked off their 2020 Spring Training following a painstakingly long offseason. While the dust is starting to settle on the old-as-time tradition of stealing signs and media narratives will shift to the next big headline, we’ll focus on the Astros roster, what it will look like come opening day, and who should be on the watch list moving forward.
There are currently 19 non roster invitees in Spring Training with the club, which puts the team at 59 players total. With the new MLB rule, rosters will expand from 25 players to 26. Teams will be limited at 13 pitchers until August 31 and through the postseason, except from September 1 through the end of the season, when teams are allowed 14 pitchers on the roster.
This will be the first of many battles to watch. At the top of the rotation, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, and Lance McCullers are fully entreched as starters for the 2020 season. Based on what he was able to do in 2019 and especially in the postseason, I fully expect Jose Urquidy to have every opportunity to hold down the 4th spot in the rotation. Urquidy, 24, signed with the Astros in 2015 as an international free agent from Mexico. In the 2019 postseason, he posted a 0.90 ERA over 10.0 innings pitched, allowing 9 hits and 2 BB. For comparison, Charlie Morton posted a 0.90 ERA over 10 innings in the same span. He allowed 8 hits and 5 BB. Jose Urquidy held his own against the game’s best lineups, and posted an almost identical line to a player fans never wanted to leave.
For the fifth spot, a 3-way raced has emerged. The three potential candidates include Austin Pruitt, Framber Valdez, and Josh James. Pruitt, 30, is a local player from The Woodlands College Park. He played collegiately at the University of Houston and was 9th round selection by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2013 MLB draft and acquired by the Astros for Cal Stevenson. Pruitt has had an up and down career to this point, sporting a 4.82 ERA and spent the majority of last season in the long reliever role for the Rays, a role similar to what Josh James and Framber Valdez has played to date. Pruitt does have an elite spin rate, and could be Strom’s latest reclamation project.
In addition to the 3 listed above, keep an eye out for Forrest Whitley and Cristian Javier. Despite having a down 2019 riddled with injury, Whitley has all the tools to eventually be a top of the rotation starter. Despite giving up 2 earned runs in 1 2/3 innings today, I believe he’ll eventually find his footing and could make his major league debut in 2020. Cristian Javier has been outstanding throughout the minor leagues thus far for the Astros and appears to be a contributor in the major league club by as early as next season. If he continues to have a good camp, he could be a guy that makes the roster out of the gate.
The bullpen will likely feature a couple new faces to begin the season. Stalwarts Osuna, Pressley, Peacock, Josh James (if not a starter) and Joe smith have all solidified their roles for 2020. Biagini and Devo are still working to make the team. Framber could also come out of the pen as well if he doesn’t lock down the 5th role. Blake Taylor is a name to keep an eye on for the 2020 season. Taylor (24) was a 2nd round pick for the Pirates in 2013 before being traded to the Mets where he finished the 2019 in AAA. Taylor, like most other pitchers the Astros buy extremely low on, has an elite spin rate as well and could become a contributor in an albeit limited role out of the bullpen next season. Bryan Abreu is a name fans should be excited about. He has elite stuff, potentially the best breaking ball in the system. His issues today are his command and location, if he can harness that and get it under control, his potential is limitless. He is widely regarded as a top 10 prospect for the Astros in 2020. A few other notable options to fill out the bullpen include Rogelio Armenteros, Cy Sneed, Pruitt, Andre Scrubb and Jared Hughes.
Pretty cut and dry here. Journeyman Dustin Garneau is likely locked in on the roster for the 2020 season with Martin Maldonado splitting time with him. Garrett Stubbs is likely next in line and could likely win a spot in 2020 due to his position versatility. A name to keep an eye on is Lorenzo Quintana. In 2019, Quintana hit .299 with 17 HR’s and 56 RBI’s in 76 games across AA and AAA. As a non roster invitee, his chances of making the club out of the gate makes him somewhat of a long shot, but he could get the call up with a good spring training and start to the season. Ritchie batted .270 with 20 doubles and 33 RBI’s over 79 games with the Round Rock Express in 2019 and is a name to keep an eye on for future years.
Slightly void of potential big league depth after the Grienke trade that sent Seth Beer to the D-Backs, there are only 2 first basemen in Spring Training right now for the Astros. Yuli Gurriel, and Taylor Jones. Jones is a massive 6’7 255 lb top 30 prospect in the farm system and a former 19th round pick out of Gonzaga in the MLB draft. He is regarded as a plus defender and brings some power to the plate. He hit 22 HR’s in 2019, and has risen through the ranks quickly. He can also adequately play left field in a pinch. While Taylor is essentially blocked from making the roster at first or in the outfield in 2020, he’s a player to keep an eye on moving forward as the potential long term answer at the position, especially if injuries start mounting up.
Jose Altuve is locked in as the starter for the foreseeable future. Behind him, Aledmys Diaz and Jack Mayfield figure to battle for a utility role in 2020. A name to keep an eye on in 2020 and especially 2021 is Alex De Goti. De Goti, a non roster invitee, hit for the cycle last season. He will look to continue to improve and advance through the farm system in 2020, but likely will be stuck in the minors until he can become a more consistent player at the plate.
Carlos Correa leads the pack with an exciting group of prospects behind him. Because of the sign stealing dilemma, the rumors of Correa being shopped this offseason by Luhnow were quickly put on the backburner. We don’t know yet if new GM James Click will look to extend or trade the the infielder at the deadline, but the position long term appears to be in good hands either way. Grae Kessinger, a 2nd round pick in the 2019 MLB draft, is regarded as a top 30 prospect in the Astros farm system. A name to get excited about moving forward is non roster invitee Jeremy Pena. Pena, a former 3rd round pick in 2018, is only 22 years old and hit .303 in the minors last season between quad cities and Fayetteville with seven HR’s, 54 RBI’s, and an .825 OPS. If he can continue to develop and skyrocket through the farm system rankings, he could be a September 1 callup, or even earn a roster spot as soon as 2021.
Alex Bregman leads the position with Abraham Toro behind him. Toro was a late season callup last year and stayed with the roster throughout the remainder of the season. In 2019, Toro slashed .324 across AA/AAA with 17 HR’s and a .938 OPS. In the Majors, he hit .218 over 89 plate appearances with 2 HR’s last year for the Astros. He’s a versatile utility infielder that can make a huge leap in 2020.
Another interesting group to evaluate in 2020 and moving forward. Michael Brantley, George Springer, and a combination of Josh Reddick and Kyle Tucker are the starters for next season. By trading Marisnick, the team has seemingly opened up the crowded room for Tucker to have every opportunity to become an everyday player next season. Because of the expanded roster, Myles Straw figures to have an inside track at making the big league club out of the gate, especially with his speed and versatility to also play in the infield if need be. Marty Costes rounds out the last of the roster invitees, where he hit .270 across 57 games in Quad Cities and High-A ball. A name to keep an eye on moving forward is Chas McCormick. McCormick was an organizational all star for the Astros last season where he hit .269 with 14 HR’s across AA and AAA last season. If he continues to improve, he could see time with the big league club late in 2020 or likely 2021. Ronnie Dawson, a former 2nd rounder out of Ohio state, rounds out the group with Drew Ferguson and Stephen Wrenn.
**Photo Credit: Tammy Tucker**