Long title, simple setup. Who are the five guys most likely to have nice seasons that would be pleasant surprises. In essence, who are the guys who may break out on this current roster? Let's run through my choices and logic, but feel free to add your own below.
1) J.D. Martinez - After talking with him at FanFest, I'm convinced he can make the adjustments this season to have a nice and productive season in left field. That means hitting for enough power and seeing that on-base percentage rise a bit. Looking at his minor league numbers, that's certainly a good possibility. Just look at what he did in his return to Corpus.
What would a breakout season look like for Martinez? Well, if he approximated Hunter Pence's numbers (.280/.330/.470, 20 HRs, 30 2Bs), I think Houston would be thrilled. It's possible, though, that his OBP could be higher, which would only make his season more of a success.
2) Juan Abreu - Call him a sleeper candidate to take over the closer's role this season. Of all the hard-throwing, not-controlling arms in the bullpen, I think Abreu has the best chance at grabbing that ninth inning job and locking it down this season. He's an older prospect, he's had a little time in the majors and, yes, he throws very very hard.
Will that push him past Brandon Lyon, David Carpenter, Wilton Lopez and other guys for that crucial role? That's the question. If Houston wants him to be its closer, he's going to have to strike guys out. Maybe a closer role is asking too much from this season, but Abreu could have a season like Brad Lidge's in a seventh inning role and really turn some heads. Fun fact, Lidge was 26 in his breakout season, when he struck out 97 in 85 innings and finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting. Abreu will be in his Age 27 season this year.
3) Aneury Rodriguez - With the fifth and final spot in the rotation pretty much wide open, there's a chance Aneury jumps up and seizes the opportunity. He's got an intriguing profile, but his control needs to be better. Could he turn a corner this season and become a middle of the rotation starter?
I think a breakout season for him may be similar to what Josh Collmenter did last season for the Diamondbacks. 28-29 starts, 160 innings with 110 strikeouts and a low walk rate. That's a very solid campaign and would go a long way to cementing Houston's future in the rotation while giving the younger prospects time to develop.
4) Jed Lowrie - The next two choices are sort of cop-outs. But, I didn't ask for non-obvious choices, did I?
Lowrie has a chance to solidify the shortstop position and provide an answer at the position for Houston. If he puts in a solid season and sticks there for 150 games, I think that could be counted as a pleasant surprise, given his injury history.
However, he also has the potential to do more than that. Let's set that bench mark around what Marco Scutaro did in his final season in Toronto (.280/.380/.400, 12 HRs, 30 2Bs, 10 SBs). The steals won't come, but Lowrie certainly showed in limited time two years ago that those numbers aren't unreachable.
5) Bud Norris - Yeah, after Norris' 2011 season, there's not a ton of room for him to "break out." I still think he can surprise this season.
What would be surprising? His first All-Star appearance, a sub-3.50 ERA/FIP and the first 200 strikeout season in ages. That'd do the trick. If that gets him 15 wins, all the better, but wins don't tell us much about his performance, after all.
If he throws in a no-hit bid, all the better.