Astros finalize Opening Day roster
HOUSTON -- Three rookies -- outfielder Corey Julks, catcher Cesar Salazar and catcher/first baseman Yainer Diaz -- earned the final spots on the Astros’ 26-man Opening Day roster, the team announced Tuesday. Julks and Salazar are on the Major League roster for the first time as the Astros open the season Thursday, while Diaz is on his first Opening Day roster.
With All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve (fractured right thumb) and outfielder Michael Brantley (right shoulder surgery) set to start the season on the injured list, the Astros had a couple position-player openings they didn’t anticipate. Diaz can help cover the absence of Brantley in left, and Julks gives them another option in center field with Chas McCormick and Jake Meyers.
Here is Houston’s 26-man roster:
Catcher (3): Martín Maldonado, Yainer Diaz, Cesar Salazar
While everyone expected either Diaz (Astros’ No. 2-ranked prospect) or Korey Lee (No. 7) to battle for the backup job, Salazar was a surprise pick. Diaz’s impressive spring at the plate and ability to play left field and first base set him apart, and general manager Dana Brown said Lee needs to play every day in Triple-A. Salazar has experience being a backup catcher -- the role he’ll serve in Houston to start the year.
First baseman (1): José Abreu
The Astros signed Abreu, 36, to a three-year deal in November after he played his first nine Major League seasons with the White Sox, where he was consistently one of the top middle-of-the-order run producers in the game.
Second baseman (1): Mauricio Dubón
Altuve’s fractured right thumb will keep him out for at last the first two months of the season, opening the door for Dubón to get the start at second base to open the season.
Shortstop (1): Jeremy Peña
Despite the Astros’ star power, few players are as popular as Peña, who took over for franchise icon Carlos Correa last year and won an AL Gold Glove, the ALCS Most Valuable Player and World Series MVP Awards as a rookie -- an unprecedented list of accomplishments. What will he do for an encore in 2023?
Third baseman (1): Alex Bregman
Bregman rebounded last year and returned to his elite form, hitting .259 with 23 homers, 87 walks, 93 runs and 93 RBIs while playing in 155 games after battling injuries the previous two seasons.
Outfielders (4): Kyle Tucker, Chas McCormick, Jake Meyers, Corey Julks
Justin Dirden (No. 9 prospect) was the talk of the spring after hitting .324 in Grapefruit League play, but the Astros opted to go with Julks -- their No. 30-ranked prospect -- as their fourth outfielder to start the year. Julks, an eighth-round pick in 2017 out of the University of Houston, blasted 31 homers and drove in 89 runs last year at Triple-A -- numbers the Astros couldn’t ignore. Dirden has very limited Triple-A exposure and will get needed experience at Sugar Land.
Designated hitter (1): Yordan Alvarez
Alvarez began swinging a bat only last week after reporting to camp with a sore hand and had only a handful of at-bats in Grapefruit League play. Still, he was hitting the ball hard enough and without any pain, which means he’s ready to go for Opening Day.
Bench/utility (2): David Hensley
Hensley can play all four infield spots and left field and has a solid approach at the plate. Dubón will get most of his playing time at second, especially to start the season, but he can also play center field.
Starting pitchers (5): Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, José Urquidy, Luis Garcia, Hunter Brown
The loss of Justin Verlander in free agency and Lance McCullers' injury leaves the Astros without two top-line starters, but Houston’s pitching depth is well equipped to absorb those losses. Valdez has emerged as an ace, and Javier, who signed a five-year, $64 million extension at the start of camp, is one of the league’s top young arms. Urquidy and Garcia are quality big league starters who were limited to relief outings in last year’s postseason. Brown -- the No. 43-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline -- had a sore back near the end of spring but is cleared for the start of the season.
Relief pitchers (8): Ryan Pressly, Ryne Stanek, Phil Maton, Rafael Montero, Bryan Abreu, Héctor Neris, Seth Martinez, Ronel Blanco
The Astros’ decision to option left-handed pitcher Matt Gage to Triple-A Sugar Land last week meant the club was going to carry eight right-handed relief pitchers. Six of those spots were sure things with Pressly, Stanek, Maton, Montero, Abreu and Neris. Blanco and Martinez, both of whom can throw multiple innings, got the final two spots.