HOUSTON -- When I asked you to submit questions for this Inbox, many of you asked about the situation in left field. Since then, the Astros have signed steady veteran Michael Brantley, so there’s your answer. The Astros’ heavy lifting for the offseason now appears to be done, so let’s look deeper into the future with some questions that will impact the 2023 season.
It seems like the Astros have had an impactful rookie every year since 2016. Who do you think could be the impact rookie for 2023?
Despite trading away so many prospects in deals the last few years and not having a first-round pick in the MLB Draft two years in a row, the Astros have still churned out elite big league talent from their system. Yordan Alvarez was a unanimous AL Rookie of the Year winner in 2019, Cristian Javier finished third in '20, Luis Garcia was second in '21 and Jeremy Peña won the ALCS and World Series MVP in '22, finishing fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting.
To your question, the club’s rookie to watch in '23 is right-hander Hunter Brown -- the Astros’ top prospect who got his feet wet in the big leagues last season and should be in the rotation on Opening Day. Catchers Korey Lee (No. 7) and Yainer Diaz (No. 3) will both get a shot to show what they can do backing up Martín Maldonado, with outfield prospect Justin Dirden (No. 11) a dark-horse candidate to make a big impact in '23.
Yes, I certainly think it’s something the Astros will begin to look at sooner than later, but there’s no real urgency until maybe a year from now. Kyle Tucker, who’s turned down an early contract extension, is probably a bigger priority at this point, but he still has three years of team control remaining. The crazy money being thrown around this offseason probably has Tucker salivating over what he would be worth in a few years, but there’s still plenty of time to get a deal done.
A couple more good seasons like Bregman had in 2022 would make him a big name on the free-agent market in '24, as well. As far as Altuve, he’s signed two extensions to stay in Houston, and a third would probably make him an Astro for life.
With the ending of the full shift, will Tucker or Alvarez benefit the most?
After reading the story on Seager, I asked Petriello specifically about Tucker and Alvarez. The numbers show Alvarez should benefit more than Tucker. Petriello had Alvarez at +7 hits without the shift -- a number that would be higher if he didn’t hit more balls past the shift. The impact on Tucker may be pretty much negligible, which means he was either hitting balls past the shift like Alvarez or hitting balls into the shift that would have been outs in a regular defense.
Is Pedro Leon an option for the OF to start the 2023 season?
Yes, it appears the club's No. 4 prospect will be in the mix for playing time in center this spring, along with Chas McCormick, Jake Meyers, Dirden and Corey Julks (No. 30). As it stands now, and assuming the Astros don’t add another outfielder, the starting job should be McCormick’s to lose, but he still figures to play some time in left. In other words, they’ll need more than one center fielder.
Will a healthy Meyers put it together at the plate? That’s a huge question entering the spring. Leon has a great arm and is a great defensive center fielder, though his approach at the plate is still lacking. The Astros have tinkered with him at different positions, but he will need to show he can hit enough to push for a spot.
How much do you think the shift ban will [affect] the pitching staff? I know the defense is good, but with more holes and no dominant strikeout guys in the rotation [either], and the pitchers being sped up, seems like it could change the performance of the rotation.
As far as the pitch clock goes, I turned to our Sarah Langs for help and, as usual, she hit a home run. Starting next season, pitchers will have 15 seconds to throw a pitch (20 with runners on base). Check out this link: It shows the Astros’ pitch-tempo data, which measures time between each pitch. There’s also a “timer equivalent,” which uses that time between pitches to estimate the timing number for the timer -- which is from receiving the ball from the catcher to the beginning of the delivery. As you can see, all the Astros' starters should have no trouble with the timer.
What are the chances of Diaz or Lee playing backup to Maldy next season?
The Astros had interest in free-agent catcher Willson Contreras -- through they didn’t make him a formal offer -- and Sean Murphy, who was traded to the Braves. When those two catchers were off the radar, it become apparent they were going to give Diaz or Lee a chance to back up Maldonado next season.
There’s lots to like about both. Diaz can really hit and can play first base, but Lee has a tremendous arm. I still think the Astros will try to bring in a veteran catcher who could fill in for Maldonado if he gets hurt, but either Diaz or Lee should have a real opportunity in 2023 to establish themselves.