WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Astros will break spring camp following Sunday’s game against the Nationals, and they should have their 25-man roster set in the next few days. Other than a couple of extensions to Alex Bregman and Ryan Pressly, the club has enjoyed a relatively quiet camp,
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Astros will break spring camp following Sunday’s game against the Nationals, and they should have their 25-man roster set in the next few days. Other than a couple of extensions to Alex Bregman and Ryan Pressly, the club has enjoyed a relatively quiet camp, which means there were no significant injuries.
Coming into camp, injuries were a big storyline with Bregman and José Altuve coming off surgery, and Carlos Correa wondering how his back was going to respond. All three of those guys appear ready to go heading into the season. So let’s take a look at what’s in the Inbox as Opening Day approaches:
I’m picking Bregman to win the American League MVP Award this year. There, I said it. He put together an amazing all-around season last year and finished fifth in the voting, making a late push because he wasn’t getting any MVP consideration heading into the season. Everyone knows who he is now, and I expect he’s going to make a strong bid for an MVP.
Of course, a healthy Altuve -- who won the award in 2017 -- figures to be in the mix again, and a healthy and productive Correa certainly has the potential to win an MVP, as well. I think Correa wins the award at some point in his career, and perhaps it’s this year.
It is unique for a team to have three legitimate MVP candidates, but not unprecedented. The Red Sox could tout 2018 AL MVP Award winner Mookie Betts as a candidate, along with J.D. Martinez (fourth last year) and perhaps even Xander Bogaerts and Chris Sale.
The pitchers in camp are the ones who will open the regular season on the Astros’ roster. Yes, they lost about 500 innings from their starting rotation last year with Charlie Morton going to the Rays, Lance McCullers Jr. having Tommy John surgery and Dallas Keuchel still out there in free agency, but they did add lefty Wade Miley, who had a very strong season last year with the Brewers. They have promising young starting pitching at Triple-A Round Rock. They could also add pitching at some point during the regular season if they feel it’s a need.
As it stands now, the Astros can beat the Red Sox. In last year’s AL Championship Series, the Red Sox outplayed the Astros, sure, but Boston also got every break imaginable (Andrew Benintendi catch to end Game 4; fan interference call on Altuve’s home run ball). The Astros also weren’t healthy. Altuve was days away from major knee surgery, Correa had a significant back issue and McCullers was pitching through a torn ulnar collateral ligament. A healthy Astros team should be good enough to win the World Series. Will it? That’s why we’re about to play the games.
It’s pretty safe to say Myles Straw won't break camp unless there is an injury and then it's still a maybe. So how does our basestealing look for this season?
Stolen bases aren’t going to be a huge part of the Astros’ game plan. The team has a deep lineup that should be able to produce runs without having to steal bases. That being said, manager AJ Hinch wants Houston to be more aggressive on the basepaths this year, which includes better leads taking an extra 90 feet when possible.
The Astros have some speed, sure. Altuve led the AL in stolen bases twice, but he injured his right knee sliding into second last year and had knee surgery after the season. George Springer stole a ton of bases in the Minors and is trimmed down this year, which could lead to a few more steals, but he hasn’t been a great basestealer in years past in the big leagues. Straw, whenever he arrives, could provide that dynamic, but where will he play? We’ll see him at some point, but he’ll start the season at Triple-A.
I don’t really put any stock in Spring Training numbers when it comes to a veteran player. I have no idea how Collin McHugh is going to pitch in the regular season, but he’s a lock for the rotation. Just like any other player, if he falters during the season, the Astros will replace him. McHugh had a terrific season last year in the bullpen and is back in the rotation, where he has performed quite well throughout his career.
A player is granted free agency after six years of service time. A Major League season consists of 187 days, but a full year of service time is considered 172 days. Thus, teams can wait at least 15 days into the season before calling up prospects and having them not earn a full year of service time. In short, he could stay in the Minors a couple of weeks and reach the big leagues and not cost the Astros a year of service time. Whitley has pitched only 41 innings in his career above Class A, though, so he definitely could use some more time in the Minor Leagues.
Brad Peacock will be the fifth starter to open the season. He outpitched Framber Valdez to start the year, and Josh James’ right quad injury took him out of the rotation running early. The Astros haven’t announced this yet, but I believe this will become official in the next couple of days. I think Valdez will open the season in the rotation at Triple-A, with lefty Reymin Guduan claiming the final bullpen spot. The other six relievers to start the year will be Roberto Osuna, Ryan Pressly, Will Harris, Chris Devenski, Hector Rondon and James.
Nick Tanielu had a nice showing in big league camp, which is why he’s going to get rewarded by traveling with the club to Houston for next week’s exhibitions. Hinch said his performance put him on the radar as a viable big league option, so I think it wouldn’t be a stretch to see him called up at some point this season. The Astros are stacked in the outfield with starters Michael Brantley, Josh Reddick and Springer and backups Jake Marisnick and Tony Kemp. Then there’s top position-player prospect Kyle Tucker in Triple-A, as well. There would have to be an opening for Tanielu, but his shot could be coming.
Kemp and Tyler White are both out of options, which means the Astros would have to put them through waivers to send them to the Minor Leagues. Every team would get a shot at claiming them, which means the Astros would risk losing them. Those kinds of decisions weigh heavily on how a team constructs its Opening Day roster. Kemp and White may have made the Opening Day roster anyway, but the fact that they’re out of options made it a lock.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.