This is perhaps the most boring time of the year as a baseball fan. The Winter Meetings are behind us, and the next event is Spring Training, which unfortunately is three months away.
The title of this post may not make much sense, as essentially the entire team is young, but I'm going to give it a shot anyway.
1) Matt Dominguez, 3B - Dominguez is probably not the 1st name that comes to mind when you're doing a post like this, but for me, I think he is the guy who has to step up next year, because we have absolutely no depth whatsoever behind him in the minors outside of the young and raw Rio Ruiz. We all know that Dominguez has a special glove, but in 2013 his bat is really going to need to come around. He performed quite well last year in his limited time with the 'Stros, hitting .284 while slugging .477 in 113 plate appearances. Of course, his walk rate was an abysmal 3.5%, but he at least kept the strikeouts to a minimum, striking out just 15% of the time. He's got some legitimate pop in that bat, and if he can get on base at least at a respectable rate, he should be a solid regular for us going forward.
2) Jordan Lyles, SP - Last season was a very inconsistent one for Lyles. While he got knocked around pretty good in just about every start, he pitched very well for four or five innings in most of the starts, and then just completely imploded in either the 5th or 6th inning. His fastball gained a little bit of zip last year, as it sat in the 91-93 range, and his curveball made good progress, too. His changeup had flashes of becoming a solid pitch, but he left it up in the zone too many times and got hammered every time he did. If he can improve those two secondaries in ST along with making some progress with his overall command, he could be a solid pitcher for us in 2013. Keep his age in mind before you write him off.
3) Fernando Martinez, OF - F-Mart showed off his power stroke last year, as he slugged .466 in 130 plate appearances, but that was just about the only positive thing he did. He struck out 26% of the time and walked just 4.6% of the time. His defense looked okay at times but the bat is what earned him playing time. The feel around the organization is that he'll get the 1st crack at RF in ST (assuming Maxwell moves to CF or LF), & I agree with that, because he could become a pretty good player for us with that power, but it's essential that he improves his approach at the plate, because he can't fall back on his defense like Dominguez can. Top prospect Domingo Santana is still a bit of a wildcard, but he'll start at AA this year and could make his way up to the big leagues sometime during the 2014 season, so we do have some sort of a backup plan at RF if F-Mart fails to produce this season.
4) Jason Castro, C - Injuries plagued Castro once again last season, but he still played in 87 games and had a pretty good season behind the plate. He finished with a .257/.334/.401 line, so there's still hope that he can become a regular for us behind the plate, because he certainly played like one down the stretch last season. His defense wasn't as good as it was in the minors, but I'd like to think that was due to his injuries (though he still had a rocket of an arm). Chris Snyder is gone, which means Castro will get every opportunity next year to play consistently. I'm hopeful that he'll crack double digits in HRs, because I do think he could hit 12-14 bombs next year, but he's going to have to stay healthy.
5) Jimmy Paredes, OF - This slot could definitely be either J.D. Martinez or Brandon Barnes, but JP is the one guy who needs to start making some progress. He's still got great tools and he's still an electrifying athlete, so it would be a real shame if he can't even be a contributing role player. He has yet to make much progress with his approach at the plate, and he's still striking out too much. He lit up AAA last season (with a poor walk rate, of course), so it would seem like he's ready to make an impact in The Show. He'll likely be given a long look at RF & CF during ST in March, so if he can't impress out at Kissimmee against MLB competition, then it's going to be hard to give him another legitimate opportunity to play consistently.
Any feedback would be appreciated.