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AL West Preview: Houston Astros

The Astros are the class of the AL West and one of the best and youngest teams in baseball.

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

At a glance:

Astros (2015)

Batting (wRC+)

105 (2nd in AL)

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-7.6 (11th)

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

93 (3rd)

Bullpen (FIP-)

82 (1st)

The Astros were legitimately one of the best teams in baseball last year. Their long, drawn out rebuilding process paid dividends and they found themselves in the think of the playoff race a year or two early. But as good as this team was, they weren’t perfect. The limits of relying on young stars led to a late season slide that pushed them into the Wild Card game. Innings limits, fatigue, and inexperience each played their part in what was otherwise a dream season for Houston.

Key Additions:

Key Losses:

RHP Doug Fister

C Hank Conger

RHP Ken Giles

1B Chris Carter

SS Jed Lowrie

SS Jonathan Villar

LHP Scott Kazmir

RHP Vincent Velasquez

With such a deep farm system and a roster filled with young stars, the Astros had very few holes to fill this offseason. Their biggest move was to ship off a number of their pitching prospects in exchange for their new closer, Ken Giles. He provides an upgrade to a bullpen that ranked among the league’s best last year but faltered in the playoffs. With much of their pitching depth leaving in free agency or traded away, the Astros also needed to bolster the back end of their rotation. Enter Doug Fister. Injuries and tumbling velocity make signing him a risk, but the Astros paid very little to sign him and his fastball has rebounded this spring.

Projected Lineup

C Jason Castro
1B Jon Singleton
2B Jose Altuve
SS Carlos Correa
3B Luis Valbuena
LF Colby Rasmus
CF Carlos Gomez
RF George Springer
DH Evan Gattis

The Astros have three of the best players under 25 in baseball in Carlos Correa, George Springer, and Jose Altuve. The fact that these three franchise players are all peaking at the same time seems unfair. Add to that group a healthy Carlos Gomez, who suffered through an injury-plagued year last year, and you have a core that rivals any in the American League. These four players are projected to accumulate 15.2 fWAR together, more than all of the position players on five different National League teams.

The supporting cast around the core should be more than sufficient but a few questions still remain. A spring training battle between Jon Singleton and Tyler White will determine who will hold down first base until the next hyped prospect, A.J. Reed, is ready for the show. Until then, the Astros will have to be satisfied with below average production from a position that should be easy to fill. Evan Gattis is slowly recovering from a sports hernia and has been limited in spring training. He would have been their designated hitter but its looking like he’ll start the year on the disabled list.

Projected Rotation

LHP Dallas Keuchel
RHP Collin McHugh
RHP Mike Fiers
RHP Lance McCullers
RHP Doug Fister

The Astros rotation is led by the reigning Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel. Adding an above average strikeout rate to his already elite ground ball rate launched him into the upper tier of starting pitchers in the American League. Behind him, McHugh, Fiers, and McCullers should all be above average starters who all have the ability to rack up strikeouts. McCullers has the highest ceiling of them but he’s been sidelined with a shoulder injury and will start the year on the disabled list. Scott Feldman should temporarily take his place in the rotation before being pushed to the bullpen as the swingman.

* * *

FanGraphs is projecting 87 wins for the Astros—best in the West and good enough for second best in the American League. Full years from Correa and Gomez should provide enough of a boost to overcome any shortcomings the rest of the roster might have. And with another year under their belt, the young stars shouldn’t break down again in September and October. Make no mistake, the Astros and the class of the AL West and everyone else will be staring up at them throughout the year. And like the Rangers, their deep farm system will help them stay on top of the West for years to come.