Predicting the Astros' Opening Day roster
James enters camp in competition with Peacock, Valdez for rotation spot
HOUSTON -- There won't be many roster battles when the Astros open camp later this week, and they won't be decided until the final days of the team's stay in West Palm Beach, Fla. Houston has an open competition for its fifth starter spot heading into Spring Training, and the club also has to sort out a crowded outfield and the final spots in the bullpen.
A look around the diamond reveals All-Star-caliber players at many positions, including former American League Most Valuable Player José Altuve at second base, 2018 All-Stars George Springer in center and Alex Bregman at third base and former Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa at shortstop. Starting pitchers Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole finished in the Top 5 in the AL Cy Young Award voting last year.
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"I think I could pencil out the 25-man roster right now and [manager] AJ [Hinch] could and probably match on 24 out of the 25 names," Astros president of baseball operations and general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "We've got to see these guys go out and play. We want it to be a competition and we want players to have a good spring and have a chance to make this team."
Let's take a shot at predicting the 25-man roster:
Catchers (2): Robinson Chirinos, Max Stassi
The Astros signed Chirinos to a one-year, $5.75 million deal in December to stabilize their catching situation following the departures of Brian McCann and Martin Maldonado in free agency. There was some belief the club would upgrade further by trading for J.T. Realmuto, but that didn't happen. Still, Chirinos gives the Astros a steady veteran with some pop, though his defense has slipped. Stassi got off to a hot start at the plate before fading last year, but is a strong pitch framer. This is a position the club could still upgrade moving forward.
First base (1):Yuli Gurriel
At 34 years old last year, Gurriel had a solid, though not spectacular season at the plate. He hit .291 with 13 homers and 85 RBIs after starting the season on the injured list. He did evolve into a good defensive first baseman, and Hinch said he should have been in the Gold Glove discussion. Expect him to move around the infield a little more this season and play some third base and second base.
Second base (1): Altuve
Altuve couldn't quite duplicate his 2017 MVP season, but he still was good last year while battling knee problems in the second half. He hit .316 with 13 homers and 61 RBIs while being limited to 137 games after going on the injured list for the first time in his career. Altuve was leading the Majors in hits when he got hurt. He underwent surgery after the season to repair a broken right kneecap, and he should be 100 percent for the start of the regular season.
Third base (1): Bregman
Bregman blossomed into one of the premier players in the game in 2018 en route to being named the Astros' Most Valuable Player, the All-Star Game MVP and earning a fifth-place finish in the AL MVP Award voting. He set career highs across the board, hitting .286 with 105 runs, 170 hits, 51 doubles, 31 homers, 96 walks and 103 RBIs. Bregman led the Majors in doubles and had the second-most extra-base hits (83) in the AL. He also played a Gold Glove-caliber third base.
Shortstop (1): Correa
The former No. 1 overall Draft pick will be looking to rebound from a tough season in which he dealt with back problems for much of the second half. Correa hit a career-low .239 last year with 15 homers and 65 RBIs in only 110 games. He was on the injured list for 36 games, but he still became the first shortstop in Major League history to have at least 20 doubles and 15 homers in each of his first four seasons.
Outfield (4):Michael Brantley, Springer, Josh Reddick and Jake Marisnick
The addition of Brantley, who signed a two-year, $32 million deal in December, gave the Astros a strong left-handed bat to insert into their right-handed-heavy lineup, while filling a hole in left field. Springer and Reddick are starting together for the third season in a row, and Marisnick should once again be the fourth outfielder. Top prospectKyle Tucker and Tony Kemp figure to push for playing time, as well.
• Brantley's bat has Astros buzzing
Utility (2):Aledmys Díaz and Tyler White
White, who had a .888 OPS in 66 games with Houston last year, should get plenty of at-bats at designated hitter along with first base. He should help fill the void of super-utility player Marwin Gonzalez, who's a free agent. Diaz will be asked to play first base, left field, third base and shortstop, which is his primary position. A former All-Star with the Cardinals, Diaz had a .756 OPS in 130 games with the Blue Jays last year.
Starting pitchers (5): Verlander, Cole, Collin McHugh, Wade Miley and Josh James.
The Astros have to replace nearly 500 innings they lost from last year's rotation following the free-agent departures of Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr.'s Tommy John surgery. Verlander and Cole were terrific last season, both surpassing 250 strikeouts. McHugh moves back to the rotation following a strong season out of the bullpen, and Miley was signed to provide veteran depth. James, the hard-throwing rookie, will compete with Framber Valdez, Brad Peacock and others for the fifth spot.
Relief pitchers (8):Roberto Osuna, Ryan Pressly, Héctor Rondón, Chris Devenski, Will Harris, Peacock, Valdez and Dean Deetz
Osuna and Pressly, both acquired at last year's July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, are elite relievers who should help the Astros lock down games. It's Houston's most stable back-end bullpen in recent memory. Beyond that, there's experience and depth. Devenski and Harris are former All-Stars, and Peacock brings versatility if he's not in the rotation. The loss of Joe Smith to an Achilles injury opens the door for Valdez, Deetz or lefty Reymin Guduan. Valdez, if he doesn't make the rotation, could be the lefty in the bullpen.
• Astros are built to win now, and in the future
In Tucker and top pitching prospect Forrest Whitley, the Astros could have two prospects push for significant playing time as the season progresses, but here are the predicted 25 players on the Opening Day roster:
RHP Lance McCullers Jr.
RHP Joe Smith
RHP Francis Martes