HOUSTON -- More than three months after the coronavirus pandemic forced the Astros to halt their preparations for the season in the middle of Spring Training, the club on Sunday released its initial player pool that will participate in the summer camp set to start this week at Minute Maid Park.
• FAQ: Roster and transaction rules for 2020
The Astros’ player pool consists of 56 players, leaving the club some roster flexibility down the road if it wanted to add a player through waiver claims, free-agent signings or trades. Of the 56 players, 26 are position players and 30 are pitchers. The player pool cannot exceed 60 players.
“The primary, and in a lot of cases, only priority is finding all the players that are going to help us win a championship in 2020,” Astros general manager James Click said. “I know that there are some questions about whether players are on there for developmental reasons. While there was some consideration for that, our player development department has done such an amazing job of finding ways for our players to develop even without baseball games to be played that we didn’t feel pressured to put them on there just to continue their development. The guys that are on this squad are there because we think this is the group that’s going to help us win a championship.”
• FAQ: All you need to know about 2020 season
The deep roster of the defending American League champions features 12 former All-Stars: José Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, George Springer, Michael Brantley, Aledmys Díaz, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers Jr., Ryan Pressly, Roberto Osuna and Chris Devenski. In addition, pitcher Forrest Whitley, the only Astros player on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list (No. 19), is in the pool.
• Astros FAQ: Details on the upcoming season
Those 56 players, under strict guidelines and protocols set out by Major League Baseball to keep them safe, will work out at Minute Maid Park in advance of the team’s season opener, which will be on July 23 or 24. The Astros will have to trim their Opening Day roster to 30 players, sending 26 players to continue to work out at an alternate site that’s reported to be the University of Houston.
Teams can field a 30-man Opening Day active roster, which they must reduce to 28 players at the season’s two-week mark. Two weeks later, on Day 29 of the season, they must slice that roster to 26 players. They will carry 26 players for the rest of the season.
Catchers (5): Dustin Garneau, Martín Maldonado, Michael Papierski, Jamie Ritchie, Colton Shaver, Garrett Stubbs
The skinny: Maldonado and Garneau are the team’s primary catchers, though the expanded roster opens the door for Stubbs to make the Opening Day roster as the third catcher. Stubbs can also play some outfield and was set to work out at second base this spring, though that didn’t happen before camp was shut down. Each team will be permitted a three-player taxi squad for every road trip from among the player pool, and one of those has to be a catcher. So if Stubbs makes the Opening Day roster, there will be an opportunity for one of the other catchers to travel with the big club.
Infielders (10): José Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Alex De Goti, Aledmys Díaz, Yuli Gurriel, Taylor Jones, Jack Mayfield, Nick Tanielu, Abraham Toro
The skinny: The Astros have perhaps the deepest and most talented infield with Gurriel entrenched at first, Altuve at second, Correa at shortstop and Bregman at third. Then there’s Díaz, a versatile and experienced backup. Toro and Mayfield made their Major League debuts last year, with Toro likely to make the Opening Day roster again this year. Jones turned heads in camp before he was sent down and could be set for his debut at some point in 2020.
Outfielders (10): Yordan Alvarez, Michael Brantley, Ronnie Dawson, Drew Ferguson, Chas McCormick, Jake Meyers, Josh Reddick, George Springer, Myles Straw, Kyle Tucker
The skinny: Springer, Brantley and Reddick are three veterans to lead the outfield pack, with Tucker likely pushing for more playing time this year. Straw was a bubble consideration to make the Opening Day roster and figures to benefit from the expanded Opening Day roster considering he’s one of the fastest players in the game and the club traded away fourth outfielder Jake Marisnick in the offseason. If you’re looking for a sleeper in the group, McCormick posted an .818 OPS at the upper levels of the Minor Leagues last year. Alvarez is listed as an outfielder and will be the everyday designated hitter.
Pitchers (30): Rogelio Armenteros, Bryan Abreu, Brandon Bailey, Joe Biagini, Brandon Bielak, Brett Conine, Chris Devenski, Shawn Dublin, Luis Garcia, Ralph Garza, Zack Greinke, Josh James, Cristian Javier, Lance McCullers Jr., Roberto Osuna, Enoli Paredes, Brad Peacock, Cionel Pérez, Ryan Pressly, Austin Pruitt, Nivaldo Rodriguez, Andre Scrubb, Joe Smith, Cy Sneed, Blake Taylor, Jojanse Torres, José Urquidy, Framber Valdez, Justin Verlander, Forrest Whitley
The skinny: There are arms aplenty here. Barring injuries, the starting rotation to begin the season will be Verlander, Greinke, McCullers, Urquidy and either James, Pruitt, Valdez or Abreu in the fifth spot. Locks in the bullpen are Biagini, Devenski, Osuna, Peacock, Pressly, Smith and whichever pitchers from among James, Pruitt, Valdez or Abreu don’t make the rotation. Sneed is likely in the bullpen mix, and Taylor had a strong camp and could push for a lefty spot in the ‘pen. Bailey was returned to the Astros in March from the Orioles, who took him in the Rule 5 Draft. Don’t sleep on Torres, who’s already throwing gas at just 24 years old. He made his domestic pro debut last year and dazzled, going 12-0 with a 1.71 ERA, .175 opponents’ average against and 107 strikeouts in 94 2/3 innings between Class A Quad Cities and Class A Fayetteville. Armenteros is rehabbing from surgery performed in March.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.