I'm stealing a page out of Brian McTaggart's book here and writing a post where we try to figure out what the Opening Day roster might look like. With the exception of a fifth outfielder, this team looks pretty set, so why not speculate on who's making it and who's not.
Let's start with the pitching staff:
Longshots and Non-Roster Invitees - Fernando Abad, Evan Englebrook, Matt Nevarez, Polin Trinidad, Jose Valdez, Henry Villar, Josh Banks*, Gustavo Chacin*, Roy Corcoran*, Casey Daigle*, Gary Majewski*, Chia-jen Lo*, Danny Meszaros*
As we have discussed before with the Myers signing, the rotation will likely consist of Oswalt, Rodriguez, Myers, Norris and a fifth starter to be found out of a group that includes Moehler, Paulino and possibly Banks, Lopez, Wright, Trinidad and Chacin. I was tempted to put Moehler and Paulino both in the bubble category, simply because that fifth spot has some competition. With a new manager and pitching coach, a good spring by Chacin or Trinidad may bump one of them out of the rotation or the swingman role in the bullpen.
That's not likely, however, as the starred names above would have to be added to the 40-man roster and bump off one of the other players. Unless the Astros decide to release someone who underperforms this spring, it'll be hard for those guys to win a spot. On the other hand, Wade has consistenly shown a knack for getting these 'scrap-heap' guys on the roster somehow, whether it was Moehler and Russ Ortiz making the team as NRIs or Yorman Bazardo signing as a minor league free agent and making it to the majors.
My guess is that there is some shakeup in the bullpen with Brad Mills coming aboard. I think Sampson is the most likely candidate to either be placed on the injured list or cut, while Wesley Wright, Tim Byrdak and Casey Daigle fight it out for the LOOGY role.
One of the kids making it is intriguing, though a definite long shot. Wade and Bobby Heck are fond of pushing guys aggressively and I could see someone like Henry Villar making it on the strength of his fastball and Mills hiding him in the 'pen until he shows he can be a successful pitcher. Fernando Abad has never struck me as a terribly consistent reliever, even as he put up good numbers the past two seasons. The addition of Lo and Meszaros was mine, as they are not on the 40 or on the NRI list, but both have intriguing arms, are older prospects and could easily slot into the bullpen and pitch effectively late in games. There's little chance either break camp with the team, but I can't say that chance is zero either.
As for the position players, this is how it looks:
I think you could probably downgrade Matsui a level too, as he's a pretty good bet to stay for the last year of his contract, but I'm not completely convinced the team wouldn't move away from him if he was outplayed by Maysonet. The catching situation is such that none of them can be considered locks, though it looks like Q and Towles will probably be break camp as the guys. If Jason Castro shows up and wows Mills, he might win the job, but it's unlikely for one big reason. If he opens as the starter, his arbitration clock starts ticking.
A more likely scenario is that Castro 'wins' the job out of the spring but spends April at Round Rock until getting called up. It's not fair to the other two guys, but it is better for the team in the long-run. Esposito and Fixler are two guys in the minor leagues that could surprise in Kissimmee. Esposito may be a free agent, however (he's old and moved between Corpus and Round Rock last season, Crash Davis-style) and Fixler doesn't have a ton of Triple-A experience, but has excelled in a backup role at three different minor league levels. Fixler was a 19th-round selection out of Indiana University in 2007.
The infield is pretty set with Feliz, Manzella, Matsui and Berkman from left to right. I'm a little concerned about Manzella being handed the job. He could struggle early this spring and leave Kepp with the full-time position, or both could struggle and force a trade/free agent signing. The longest shot here is a guy like Wladimir Sutil, who's on the 40-man roster because he signed at a young age and ran out of protected years. Sutil is a defensive whiz, probably better than Manzella, but hasn't shown a propensity for getting on base. His inclusion on the Opening Day roster is more likely in 2011 than it is this season.
Blum is also a guy I have a bit of a concern about. I'm sure he makes the roster, but he could get cut/decide to retire if he struggles badly. Wade hasn't shown he does this much heading into a season, but it's always in play. If he leaves, I think the Astros will definitely get more help via trade or waivers to replace his veteran leadership.
I am not sold on Chris Johnson. I may have said it before, but he's only flashed power potential and strikes out a fair amount. He also doesn't make great contact and is probably a bit overrated. If he has a great spring, a la Luke Scott, he probably makes the roster at the expense of someone like Blum, but I doubt this happens. Chris Shelton is an intriguing name from a power perspective and could also provide that veteran leadership if Blum departs. However, his defensive limitations make him less versatile and thus decrease his odds of making it.
I threw Collin DeLome because he reminds me a lot of Luke Scott. With his prodigious power potential and ability to play all three outfield positions, he's certainly valuable. His high strikeout rate, though, and the fact he hasn't hit above Double-A will likely keep him in the minors. His is still a name to watch.
You can see the hardest cuts may come in the bullpen. If Moehler does get bumped out of the rotation, that may carry a ripple effect down through the ranks. Sure, he could turn into a Doug Brocail/Russ Springer mentor down there, but more than likely, his tenure in the 'pen means someone like Sampson or Wright is gone. This is also assuming all the relievers have good, healthy springs, which is not always the case. The position players look pretty set and while the Astros could still add a left-handed hitting outfielder for that fifth spot, they could also just move up a guy like Alex Romero and fill the need that way. Either way, there are some story lines to follow once pitchers and catchers report.