Since the last roster projection I made 3 days ago, a fairly significant amount of changes have come about. Livan Hernandez was released, freeing up a spot in the rotation, and just today in an article written by Brian McTaggart, Mctaggart says that the Astros will indeed carry a 12 man pitching staff by having 7 pitchers in the bullpen.
General manager Jeff Luhnow is pleased with the choices the Astros have in the bullpen this spring. There are still some decisions to be made, but Luhnow will be content with any of the seven pitchers the club decides to take to Houston.
This creates some possibilities and circumstances that I hadn't foreseen a few days ago (because I was unable to add up the math that 24 ≠ 25) such as an increasing possibility that flame throwing Rhiner Cruz makes the bullpen with Lucas Harrell now being targeted for the starting rotation.
Here is what the roster will probably look like for a sellout opening day crowd at Minute Maid Park next Friday.
1. Wandy Rodriguez
*Barring a SP acquisition by next Friday
*Opening day start is questionable due to injury. Expect Angel Sanchez if Lowrie starts season on DL.
As it stands now with the current roster, the starting rotation is pretty much set with Lucas Harrell taking the final spot in the starting rotation with the only other option being Jordan Lyles, who has all but earned himself a ticket to to Oklahoma City after today's game. As clack had mentioned about the sudden and unexpected release of Livan Hernandez, the Astros may be expecting to trade for a starting pitcher or are planning to acquire a starting pitcher when other teams are trimming down their rosters. This option seems somewhat likely considering how quickly Livan Hernandez was released. But if the Astros do stick with Harrell in the rotation, it's probably a temporary solution given that Paul Clemens seems close to ready for the majors.
It has become clear that the Astros will carry seven pitchers in the bullpen starting the year off. Since the last roster projection I made 3 days ago, I have made 3 changes. Fernando Abad will be the LOOGY in the pen and David Carpenter will be in the bullpen along with Rhiner Cruz. David Carpenter pitched well last year and expects to be a key part of the bullpen this year. Fernando Abad has pitched excellently this spring, striking out 11 batters in 8.2 innings while only walking one and giving up 4 hits (two of them homeruns). He has an edge on Wesley Wright, who is out of options. Although the Astros' LOOGY depth is thin, the small chance that another team claims Wesley Wright does not hurt since the LOOGY position is a fairly minor role in the bullpen depending on how you perceive the usefulness of a LOOGY.
Rhiner Cruz has a 100mph+ fastball that not a whole lot of other clubs can stake claim to. Also showing a nice breaking ball this spring, his potential is high if he can get his control and command together. Since Harrell might be pitching in the rotation, this gives the perfect opportunity to keep Rhiner Cruz on the roster. I previously said that Cruz would probably not make the roster since his command profiled similarly to Juan Abreu's and that Abreu had been sent down quickly because of that. But with Cruz improving in recent games and yet another bullpen spot available if Harrell makes the rotation, why not give it to him rather than have two lefties in the pen?
Moving to the starting lineup, there's not much change since my last analysis, except for a switch in lineup positions for Chris Johnson and Brian Bogusevic. Since Chris is lightening hot lately, I expect Mills to move him up in the order for opening day. Also, it appears that a Jed Lowrie return by opening day is not likely. There is no structural damage to his thumb, but it is very tender. If Lowrie does not make the roster, Angel Sanchez will probably be the opening day starter for the second year in a row due to a shortstop injury. Since Angel has done well this spring and has MLB experience, he would be preferable to the somewhat struggling Marwin Gonzalez who might be intimidated by the sellout crowd.
As for the bench, I expect Matt Downs won't be considered to back up SS, increasing the possibility that Marwin Gonzalez makes the roster since Brett Wallace would be unable to play SS. I also expect both Justin Ruggiano and Travis Buck to make the 4th and 5th outfielder spots since Ruggiano has done well the past few games and is right handed.
Update April 1, 2012:
Confirmed: Marwin Gonzalez makes opening day roster; Brett Wallace will be everyday 3rd baseman at OKC.
Astros send Wallace to Triple-A, announce Marwin Gonzalez has made the club— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) April 1, 2012