HOUSTON -- Do you hear it? Listen closely. You can almost hear the baseball striking the catcher's mitt. It's one of the best sounds in sports, especially in February, when Spring Training gets underway with great expectations.The expectations will be especially high again this year for the Astros when they
HOUSTON -- Do you hear it? Listen closely. You can almost hear the baseball striking the catcher's mitt. It's one of the best sounds in sports, especially in February, when Spring Training gets underway with great expectations.
The expectations will be especially high again this year for the Astros when they hit the field in West Palm Beach, Fla., for the first time in two weeks. Coming off a 103-win season on the heels of their 2017 World Series championship, the Astros figure to be in the thick of contention.
:: Submit a question to the Astros Inbox ::
So as we await the start of another Spring Training, let's open the Inbox to see what's on your mind regarding the Astros:
With the possibility of losing even more starting pitching next year, and Lance [McCullers Jr.] returning from Tommy John surgery, shouldn't the Astros focus on finding more starting pitching for not only this year, but for the next couple of years?
-- Hank M., Westmoreland, N.Y.
The Astros on Thursday agreed to a one-year deal with left-hander Wade Miley, who had an impressive bounceback season in the Brewers' rotation last year. But you're right. Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Collin McHugh -- Houston's 1-2-3 starters -- are all free agents after '19, and McCullers will be coming off Tommy John surgery in 2020. The rotation is facing a dramatic makeover soon.
So what does the future of the rotation hold? The Astros are in love with their young starting pitching, led by No. 7 overall prospect Forrest Whitley. He's one of four arms they have on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 list, joining Josh James (No. 62), Corbin Martin (No. 81) and J.B. Bukauskas (No. 97). James could be in the rotation this year, and Whitley and Martin could make their debuts. The cupboard certainly isn't bare, but there appears to be some innings that could be filled with veteran arms.
Are you expecting Devo (reliever Chris Devenski) to bounce back, or did he already reach his peak?
-- Marc A., Benton, Ark.
I certainly don't think Devenski has reached his peak. I mean, he was pretty terrific in 2017, when he was an All-Star and had an unhittable changeup, but the best could be yet to come. Devenski was terrific in the first half last year (2.33 ERA) before sliding in the second half (12.46 ERA in 10 games) while battling injuries and ineffectiveness. Devenski will come into camp with a chance to be one of the Astros' high-leverage relievers.
Why haven't the 'Stros brought back [Tony] Sipp?
-- Tate S., Kansas City
Sipp, in the final year of a three-year, $18 million deal, did a nice job as the lefty specialist with a career-best 1.86 ERA in 2018. He's still a free agent and will be signed by somebody. Could that be the Astros? Absolutely. The club is still shorthanded in the bullpen when it comes to southpaws. Once the reliever market gets rolling -- and we've seen a couple of relief pitcher signings in the last few days -- Sipp should be able to find work, and I wouldn't rule out Houston.
Which of the following players makes the postseason roster: Whitley, Kyle Tucker, Martin, Yordan Alvarez?
-- Alan B., Houston
Fun question. A lot could happen between now and October, so it's a pretty open-ended question, but of that group I'd say Whitley. I don't see a scenario in which he stays healthy and that he won't be on the big league roster by the middle of the season, and he has the kind of stuff to be an effective pitcher from the start. Tucker could force his way into the lineup at some point, but of those four, I'd go with Whitley in this race.
Hey, Brian. OK, we're at T-minus 14 days or so until pitchers and catchers report. Unfortunately, due to the Aledmys Díaz [trade], I just don't see a place on the roster for Marwin Gonzalez to return, but as far as Dallas Keuchel...? Hmm. What's your thought? Give me a percentage you feel he's likely to return. Thanks!
-- Mark H., Chino, Calif.
About half of all the questions that landed in my Inbox this week were about Gonzalez and Keuchel, and I understand the interest, especially since Astros owner Jim Crane told MLB.com's Alyson Footer and others on Friday the door was open for both to return. I agree that the addition of Diaz might close the door on Gonzalez, but if his market dries up and the price is right, the Astros would find some way to fit him into the roster if he signs. Of the two, I think Keuchel is the most likely to return, considering Houston's need for a starting pitcher, but I'd put it at less than 20 percent.
Hey, and don't be so down about Diaz. He's pretty versatile himself and did post a higher OPS than Gonzalez did last year.
Will Tucker play a big role on this year's team?
-- Curt C., Tyler, Texas
When the Astros signed veteran Michael Brantley to start in left field, that seemingly ate up the only starting spot available in Houston's outfield with George Springer in center and Josh Reddick in right. What happens next is up to Tucker. If he comes to camp and mashes and opens the season in Round Rock and puts up huge numbers, he could force his way into the Houston lineup. He had a chance last July, but it didn't pan out. He's still young and has exceptional tools, but he'll have to show the Astros he's ready for another shot.
Can you see the Astros winning 105 games this year?
-- Michael M., Humble, Texas
Yes, I can. That would put them in rare company and set a franchise record (they won 103 last year), but consider the AL West. The division isn't strong. The Astros went 13-6 against the Angels last year and 12-7 against the A's and the Rangers. The only team in the division that played them well last season was Seattle, which was 10-9 against Houston. The Mariners are rebuilding and shouldn't be very good. In short, the Astros should be able to win 50-53 games in the division, which would put them about halfway to 105 wins. Ultimately, I see them in the 98-100 range with the team as it's currently configured.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow <ahref="http: twitter.com/brianmctaggart"="">@brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.</ahref="http:>