We all know that the 2009 Astros are being looked upon as the presumed bottom feeders of not just the NL but the entire majors. To have your team (just 4 seasons removed from the World Series) compared to the likes of the Royals and Pirates is a tough pill to swallow. I'd like to give my own preview of the 2009 Astros.
3B Ty Wigginton: Despite missing time early, Wigginton was a key to the Astros strong second half in 2008. Its not likely that the team will be able to replace his production unless Chris Johnson breaks out.
IF Mark Loretta: The ultimate utility man. He could play all of the infield positions and was excellent as a pinch hitter. Not many guys can start on short notice or come of the bench in late innings to pinch hit like he did.
C Brad Ausmus: Sure, most of us will miss him for his bat (Hes hitting .393 in 28 AB for the Dodgers. FYI.) All joking aside, the pitchers will most likely miss his veteran presence behind the plate.
LHP Randy Wolf: A mid season acquisition, Wolf was another key to the strong second half. His 6-2 record and 3.57 ERA were enough to make the brass want him back. The initial offer of 3/30 was pulled for "economic reasons" and Drayton and company settled for Mike Hampton instead.
RHP Mike Hampton: Hampton is coming off a season in which he pitched his most innings (78) since 2005 (69) His 4.85 ERA and 38 SO in those 78 innings were unimpressive but the more important factor was that he stayed healthy. Hampton claims he feels good during spring training and the results have been overall good. Keep in mind Hampton hasn't pitched significant innings since 2004 so barring early injury, he may show some wear in the 2nd half. If he can make 25 starts, the Astros should be in decent shape.
C Pudge Rodriguez: The catcher's spot could see something Astros fans haven't seen in a while. Offense. Many people are curious if the 37 year old is in decline after his performance with the Yankees last year but I expect he will put up decent numbers in MMP and take a liking to the Crawford Boxes.
Roy Oswalt: A slow start last year turned into a great run down the stretch and made The Wizard a 17 game winner. Expect nothing but the same from him this year. He could once again be a 20 game winner if all things go right. My prediction is 18-7 3.13 ERA.
Lance Berkman: An unbelievable 1st half (.347/22/73) last season was followed by a less than spectacular (.259/7/53) Look for him to be a bit more balanced this year and the numbers should be pretty good for the Puma. My prediction: .310/36/120
Miguel Tejada: The former MVP was a huge let down last year even though his numbers were much better than the production of Adam Everett. I believe he was negatively affected by being named in the Mitchell Report and the loss of his brother. With the legal action behind him, I look for Miggy to be on the rebound this year and put up nice numbers. .290/18/85
Hunter Pence: After a hard to top rookie campaign, his 2nd year was a bit of a let down. The league adjusted to him and his weaknesses were exposed. A bounce back might be expected here as well. The issue last year was his inability to identify the breaking pitch, leading to a plethora of strikeouts. If he can fix this, there's 30/100 potential in his bat. Prediction .296/27/93
Michael Bourn: 2008...Terrible...just terrible. To put it simply, he was one of the worst everyday players in the majors. He rarely walked, he struck out too much, didn't put the ball on the ground and had an inability to bunt. Yet he stole 41 bases. Theres still potential but I don't know if he will work out. He'll get his chance early but Brian Bogusevic is waiting in the wings providing Ed Wade admits his mistake on Lidge for Bourn. My prediction .230/1/10 14 SB for a month or so but loses his job to Bogey.
Russ Ortiz: Ortiz, having not pitched since 2007 has done a nice job during the spring and has all but been named the 5th starter. A solid year from him could be critical to the Astros making a run. He should get the nod over Jose Capallan due to his experience. Expect a decent year by standards of a 5 hole starter especially one returning from TJ surgery. Prediction: 11-9 4.41 ERA.
There are a few minor league guys that could have a hand in the Astros 2009 season.
3B Chris Johnson: A highly touted prospect, Johnson was slated for Round Rock until Boone's season ended. Hes now in line to receive a majority of the at-bats at the hot corner. Theres rumors that the Astros are sniffing around on the trade market which would be a mistake in my opinion. There isn't enough talent to go trading it away. If Chris Johnson is the 3B of the future he needs to play. The J.R. Towles approach should NOT be taken here. Name him the starter and let him play 5 days a week. If he sucks, he sucks. Let him take his lumps and get used to major league pitching. He is one that I'm keeping my eyes on because although he was bad at AAA last year, I think he could put up decent numbers for the club in '09.
2B Drew Sutton: I'll go ahead and say it...I'm on the Sutton train. I think this guy is an all around ball player and more than a ML bench player as some have slated him. Expect him to receive significant playing time once Matsui makes his annual trips to the DL for a paper cut and a hangnail.
OF Brian Bogusevic: Having made an inexplicably quick move from the mound the outfield, Bogey should be in the mix at some point this year, most likely depending on Bourn's performance. I'm excited to see what can do as he's projected to be a high average, decent power, speed guy.
There are certainly some bright spots that we can look forward to in 2009. As with any team, there are IFs. The Astros just have more IFs than sure things. IF Wandy finally comes around, IF Hampton stays healthy, IF Moehler replicates last year and IF Ortiz comes back successfully, the Astros will compete in 2009. All these questions hang on whether or not the pitching is decent. So far this spring, the pitching has been a bright spot. If they keep it up and the offense comes around, how great would it be to win Coop's predicted 90 games and stick it to Baseball Prospectus and their 66-96 projection.