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Astros set to see new-look squad in action

After long offseason, Beltran, Reddick, McCann and Co. ready to hit the field at camp
February 11, 2017

With Spring Training fast approaching, will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Astros squad each day this week. Today's topic: Spring Training is here.HOUSTON -- Imagine buying a new car and having to wait three months to take it for a test spin. It's been

With Spring Training fast approaching, will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Astros squad each day this week. Today's topic: Spring Training is here.
HOUSTON -- Imagine buying a new car and having to wait three months to take it for a test spin. It's been that kind of winter for the Astros, who made big splashes early in the offseason by signing outfielders Carlos Beltran and Josh Reddick and trading for catcher Brian McCann.
The moves set the Astros up as one of the teams to beat in the American League, making the 2017 season the team's most anticipated in more than a decade. Beltran, Reddick, McCann and the rest of the Astros will finally hit the field for the start of Spring Training this week at the team's sparkling new Spring Training facility -- the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, Fla.
:: Spring Training 2017 preview ::
The Astros are banking on healthy starting pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers to lead the rotation, and they are hitching their wagon to an impressive young core led by two-time AL batting champion Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer and Alex Bregman, who is entering his first full season in the big leagues. The bullpen returns intact.
"The biggest vulnerability any team faces, including ourselves, is starting pitching health and keeping the guys out there and getting through five, six innings of every game with a chance to win," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "Our offense is probably going to put up enough runs where if our starting pitchers stay out there six innings a game, we should be OK. I do believe our bullpen is going to be a strength again."
It's not a team without questions, however. The health of Keuchel and McCullers -- both of whom were shut down at the end of last season -- will be crucial. Springer will get reacquainted with center field, making way for Reddick in right, while McCann will be working with a new pitching staff.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch hopes to get more out of infielder Yulieski Gurriel, signed last year to a five-year, $47.5 million deal. Gurriel is pegged to play first base, though prospect A.J. Reed and former AL Player of the Week Tyler White will go to camp looking to win a spot.
Most of the spots on the 25-man roster appear to be set, but the Astros know injury and underperformance can change things in a hurry. Unlike the past couple of years, the Astros have enough depth to handle the unexpected, and enough talent to make 2017 a season to remember.

What follows is a glance at the Spring Training picture for the Astros as camp opens.
Pitchers and catchers report: Tuesday
Position players report: Friday
First Grapefruit League game: Road vs. Tigers on Feb. 25 at 12:05 p.m. CT
New faces
There are plenty, led by outfielders Beltran (one year, $16 million), Reddick (four years, $52 million) and Norichika Aoki (waivers), catcher McCann (traded from the Yankees) and pitcher Charlie Morton (two years, $14 million). The additions of Beltran, Reddick and McCann give the Astros some much-needed bats from the left side, and all three bring experience, as well. Beltran will get most of his at-bats at designated hitter, and McCann will take over as starting catcher. Reddick, a right fielder, will push Springer to center, a position he played in college and the Minor Leagues. Aoki, who has played in the World Series, is one of the hardest to strike out in baseball and should start in left field against right-handers. Morton, if healthy, is in the rotation and provides depth Houston didn't have last year.

Interesting non-roster invitees
Hard-throwing right-hander Francis Martes, the Astros' top prospect by in 2016, is destined to start the season at Triple-A Fresno, but he'll get his first look before the Major League staff. He went 9-6 with a 3.30 ERA in 25 games (22 starts) at Double-A Corpus Christi last year, with 131 strikeouts in 125 1/3 innings. Outfielder Derek Fisher -- the Astros' fourth-ranked prospect and the Majors' 83rd-ranked prospect overall -- has tools that could translate at the big league level. He hit .255 with 21 homers, 21 doubles, 76 RBIs, 28 steals and an .815 OPS in 129 combined games between Corpus Christi, where he was a Texas League All-Star, and Fresno (27 games). Lefty reliever Charles Riefenhauser, who made 29 appearances in the Cubs' Minor League system last year, topping out at Triple-A, could push for a spot. Riefenhauser, infielder Reid Brignac and catcher Juan Centeno could all provide depth at some point this season.
Prospects to watch
In addition to Martes and Fisher, 6-foot-7 pitching prospect David Paulino -- the team's No. 4-ranked prospect -- will be in camp again after getting his first taste of the big leagues last year, working in three games. Paulino spent most of the season at Corpus Christi and went 5-2 with a 1.83 ERA in 14 games (nine starts). Third baseman Colin Moran (No. 7) will be in his second camp with Houston and will get some time across the diamond at first base. Outfielder Teoscar Hernandez, Houston's No. 9 prospect, will push for a roster spot after a nice showing in his big league debut in 2016. No. 11 prospect J.D. Davis, a third baseman, brings impressive raw power from the right side. Left-handed power arm Reymin Guduan will flash his stuff in big league camp for the first time.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.