HOUSTON -- As has been the case for the past few years, the Astros entered Spring Training with very few position battles up for grabs. Despite losing arguably their best starter (Gerrit Cole) and best reliever (Will Harris) in free agency, the Astros were set to enter the 2020 season loaded and among the favorites to contend in the American League.
Still, a few battles that emerged in spring camp are now on hold while baseball has been put on hiatus following the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Here’s a closer look at which Astros position battles are still up for grabs while we await the sports world to restart:
Camp began with a rotation featuring Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke at the top with Lance McCullers Jr., who missed all of 2019 following Tommy John surgery, set to return. José Urquidy, who burst onto the scene last year as a rookie, was considered the No. 4 starter, with Austin Pruitt, Josh James and Framber Valdez locked in a battle for the fifth spot. As camp progressed, rookie Bryan Abreu emerged as a legitimate candidate for the fifth spot as well.
The Astros announced Tuesday that Verlander was going to face six weeks of recovery after undergoing right groin surgery, but he could still be ready for Opening Day considering the start of the season is being pushed back several weeks.
Playing time in right field will be something that will be fluid throughout the season and not necessarily decided during Spring Training. Outfielder Kyle Tucker clearly has nothing left to prove in Triple-A and performed well enough in limited action last year to earn a spot on the playoff roster. The Astros still have veteran outfielder Josh Reddick in right field in the final year of his four-year contract, so Tucker is going to have to outplay Reddick to get on the field consistently.
Reddick hit a combined .209 in July and August last year (before hitting .339 in September) and was 1-for-20 at the plate in Grapefruit League play. Spring Training results don’t matter as much to a veteran like Reddick, but he will have to hit once the season starts or watch Tucker get most of the at-bats.
The 26th roster spot
The final spot on the 26-man roster will be between infielder Abraham Toro and catcher Garrett Stubbs. Toro is a switch-hitter who can play the corner infield spots and could have the leg up over Stubbs, a catcher who last year began playing the outfield. The Astros were hoping to get Stubbs some reps at second base in the spring, but that never materialized.
How the final two spots in the bullpen shape up depends on which player wins the fifth spot in the rotation. As it stands now, Roberto Osuna, Ryan Pressly, Joe Smith, Chris Devenski and Brad Peacock (if healthy) are the only sure things in the bullpen. Pruitt or James figure to be locks to be in the ‘pen if they don’t win a rotation spot.
Beyond that, Valdez and Abreu will be in the mix in the bullpen if they aren’t starters, along with Cy Sneed, Joe Biagini, non-roster invitee Jared Hughes and lefty Blake Taylor, who threw well in camp.