WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Astros will open the regular season against the A’s in Oakland two weeks from Thursday, which means spring camp is winding down. The club’s roster was pretty much set heading into the season, but there are still a few roster positions to be determined in the coming days.
Of course, the shape of the 26-man roster will depend on how many pitchers the Astros carry. With four off-days in the first three weeks of the regular season, the Astros could use four starters for a good chunk of April, which would give them an extra arm in the bullpen. That means they could carry 13 pitchers and 13 position players. Or do they opt for more pitching depth and go with 14 pitchers and 12 position players?
Here are four position battles to watch with less than two weeks to go in Spring Training:
Final bullpen spot
If the Astros carry 13 pitchers, which is likely, that means they will have eight relievers. Seven of those spots are locked up with Ryan Pressly, Joe Smith, Ryan Stanek, Pedro Báez, Enoli Paredes, Brooks Raley and Blake Taylor. There is some uncertainty with Báez’s availability for Opening Day considering he’s yet to pitch in a game this spring after testing positive for COVID-19.
Final rotation spot
The only reason the Astros have an open rotation spot is the injury to Framber Valdez, who fractured his left ring finger in his first start of the spring (the club announced Wednesday that Valdez wouldn’t need surgery). The club signed veteran Jake Odorizzi shortly after the Valdez injury, but he has yet to pitch in a game this spring and will need some time to get stretched out. He likely won’t be ready for Opening Day.
That opens a spot for Garcia, Abreu or Bielak, though one of them could be used in long relief as well. Abreu reported to camp in better physical shape after a disappointing 2020. Garcia broke through last year and posted a 2.92 ERA in five games, including one start, before starting Game 5 of the ALCS. Bielak started strong last year, posting a 1.69 ERA and .573 opponents’ OPS in his first 21 1/3 innings, including three starts. It went downhill from there; he posted a 16.88 ERA and 1.503 opponents’ OPS in 10 2/3 innings in his final seven games (three starts).
Final outfield spot
The Astros will enter the regular season with Michael Brantley, Myles Straw and Kyle Tucker as their three starters in the outfield. The fourth outfield spot will come down to Chas McCormick, Jose Siri or Steven Souza Jr. McCormick has yet to play in the Majors, but the club thought enough of him to put him on a playoff roster last year as a pinch-run option. McCormick has played all three outfield spots in his Minor League career.
Siri, who was signed to a non-roster deal in December, has played mostly center field and would provide some insurance if Straw doesn’t get on base enough for him to use his speed. Souza, who’s also a non-roster invitee, plays mostly the corners, which would leave the Astros a bit exposed in center, though Souza said he can play all three outfield positions. Souza has started only six games in center in his six-year big league career, though.
Final infield spot
The Astros have the same starting infield they did when they won the World Series in 2017: Yuli Gurriel at first, Jose Altuve at second, Carlos Correa at shortstop and Alex Bregman at third. A trimmed-down Aledmys Díaz is back for his third season as the team’s utility infielder who can play left field as well.
There’s room for another infielder, either Abraham Toro or Robel García. Claimed off waivers from the Angels on Feb. 27, García can play shortstop, second base and third base, in addition to perhaps left field. Toro started at first, second and third last year but went 13-for-87 (.149) at the plate. Both are switch-hitters.