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Five observations after 3 weeks of Astros camp

@brianmctaggart
March 4, 2019

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- It's been a rather routine spring camp for the Astros, who pretty much had their 25-man roster set before pitchers and catchers even reported. With about three weeks remaining before they open the regular season March 28 against the Rays, Astros manager AJ Hinch is

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- It's been a rather routine spring camp for the Astros, who pretty much had their 25-man roster set before pitchers and catchers even reported. With about three weeks remaining before they open the regular season March 28 against the Rays, Astros manager AJ Hinch is happy with the vibe around the team and its attention to detail.

"I've come to expect it because our players are really good about showing up ready to get better, but every year I'm reminded how fortunate we are to have this group of players," he said. "Our players get it, they know what they have to do to get ready for the season, and they put in the work. I don't think anyone prepares better than we do."

Here are five observations from the first three weeks of Astros camp:

1) The players have taken to the aggressive approach on the bases.
The Astros are running more and pushing the tempo. That's not only stolen bases, but stuff as simple as leads and breaks off the bases. The Astros are pushing the envelope to the extreme and taking advantage of test cases in the spring. They aren't going to start piling up stolen bases, but getting max leads and making the pitcher and catcher uncomfortable can only help the hitters.

2) The young pitching is impressive.
While prospects Forrest Whitley (ranked No. 7 overall by MLB Pipeline), Josh James (No. 62), Corbin Martin (No. 81) and J.B. Bukauskas (No. 97) have gotten much of the attention, the next wave of arms has been impressive. Brandon Bielak, Bryan Abreu and Jose Hernandez have impressed and put themselves on the radar of the Major League staff. That pitching depth is crucial considering the top four starters in the rotation will be free agents after this season.

3) The lefties are meshing well into the lineup.
The signing of lefty Michael Brantley to add to the right-handed core of the lineup -- George Springer, Alex Bregman, José Altuve and Carlos Correa -- added much-needed balance, and the steady Brantley has fit in well. The club has only two other lefty bats in outfielders Josh Reddick and Tony Kemp, and they'll need to produce in the regular season from the left side if the lineup is going to have any balance.

4) Any concerns about the health of Correa, Altuve and Bregman is over.
Correa has been crushing the ball and is clearly over the lower back issues that plagued him last season. Altuve (knee) and Bregman (elbow) are both back on the field after undergoing offseason surgery. Right-hander Collin McHugh was skipped in the rotation because of a sore back, James has a quad strain and reliever Dean Deetz reported to camp with a sore shoulder, but the Astros are in pretty good shape health-wise.

5) Don't undervalue Brad Peacock.
You can't make too much out of his stellar Grapefruit League debut last week, but he's the clear favorite to be the fifth starter, especially with James' injury. Peacock was, after all, terrific in that role in 2017 (10-2, 3.22 ERA in 21 starts) before being moved to the bullpen, where he spent all of last season. Having a quality pitcher like Peacock as the No. 5 starter is better than what most teams have.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.