TCB Writer Roundtable Spring Training 2013

POP QUIZ HOT SHOT! - Bob Levey

With the Astros about to start Spring Training games I decided to gather the writers of TCB for a little Q&A

Feel free to add your own answers to these questions in the comment section below.

Lets get right into it:

What player are you going to be paying particular attention to this Spring Training?

Glenn (wgr56):

While a lot of focus will be on the other corner infield spot, I'm going to be paying attention to Matt Dominguez over at third base. He's got some holes in his game, but he still feels like a fit to me at the hot corner, and I want to see if he can continue to develop and maybe start to show some plate discipline to go along with the good defense. If he could learn to take some walks, I think we'll have a more-than-serviceable player at third base.

Clack:

Josh Fields. And I'll expand that to everybody in the bullpen. Relief pitchers are so volatile that you never really know what you've got in the bullpen. The Astros are banking on a lot of guys without a lot of ML experience stepping up. I'm not expecting Fields to become a closer candidate, but it would be nice if he can be a reliable, hard throwing arm for the 6th and 7th inning.

Anthony:

Jarred Cosart. I'm still having a little bit of difficulty figuring him out, and I've begun to wonder if he's emotionally ready to be a big leaguer. There's still some question about whether he ends up a reliever or a starter, or whether he puts it all together at all, and every time he's faced with adversity, his reaction just seems a bit... "off." So I'm curious to see how he responds, now that he has a chance to prove himself.

Chris (CRPerry13):

My attention will be on Brett Wallace. I still believe in his bat and think he could end up seeing a lot of playing time at first base, designated hitter, left field, and third base. In my opinion there are questions surrounding Dominguez' bat and the shortstop position. As much as we joke about it, if Wallace is in shape he could be an answer at those positions...as weird as that may sound.

Robert (astrosblogger):

Jimmy Parades - Parades reminds me a lot of Chris Burke in the sense that he is a player without a position, but has his athleticism and power potential as a switch hitter keep him on the roster. The best case scenario for Parades is he out plays the Martinii enough to take an outfield spot. I believe he has the ability to, it's just a matter of whether he is able to put it all together.

Spencer (kyuss94):

I’ll go with Nate Freiman- I like his upside, and hope he does enough to cement his spot on the roster. Playing time at first base and designated hitter will likely be divvied up based on spring performance, so Freiman has a chance to really carve out a nice role for himself as a rookie if he plays well in Florida. His combination of power, patience and underrated contact ability could make him an offensive threat if he takes well to the big leagues.

Brooks (Subber10):

I am torn between Brett Wallace and Jordan Lyles. Lyles started to do some really nice things toward the end of the season last year and I want to see if he continues to get stronger and build on that. He's not guaranteed a spot, according to Porter, and he needs to solidify himself as a long-term contributor to this team in the rotation. Wallace supposedly has revamped his swing (sounds familiar to last Spring Training) and uses his legs more. Let's see if that's true.

Jesse (conroestro):

Alex White. In the minors White was a groundball pitcher while also showing swing and miss stuff. His control has evaded him in the majors up to this point, but if he can show a little of what put him on the map then there might be something to look forward to there.

Curtis:

I'll mention two guys for this one. I'm interested to see what Matt Dominguez can do offensively, as he's already the leader for the third base job. Hopefully his bat shows some progression like it did in the last few weeks of 2012. Second is Brett Wallace. I'm intrigued by the changes he's supposedly made to his swing, hopefully he shows the coaching staff some progression of his own.

Ryan (d_more55):

My focus will be squarely on Brett Wallace. We all know Wallace’s history as a hot potato prospect. He has been unable to hold onto a starting spot on a team that has lost 100 games the past two seasons. The prospect of new hitting mechanics and another possible position at designated hitter makes Wallace an intriguing man to follow in Kissimmee this spring.

David:

I'm going to keep my answers brief, since some of the writers on here just went on and on and on!

Jose Veras isn't the most intriguing story of camp, nor is he a guy who will be on the bubble and needs a good spring to break with the team. But, if the Astros want to turn him into a closer they can flip at the deadline, it'd be nice to see him dealing this spring. With a guy like him, I'm less worried with spring training stats and more worried about his control. Is he hitting his spots? Does he look locked in? What kinds of hits is he giving up?
Getting Veras out to a hot start this year would be huge for the team come July.

Sean (native_astro):

Jake Elmore. While Marwin Gonzalez and Tyler Greene will get most of the attention for the shortstop job in spring, it could be Jake Elmore that steals the show. People tend to forget how well he hit in the PCL, a .344/.442/.465 line with 32 SB, 74 BB, and only 54 SO is pretty impressive even in a hitters league.

What is the most interesting position battle this Spring?

Glenn (wgr56):

For me, it's the whole first base/designated hitter battle, simply because there are so many bodies. Brett Wallace, Chris Carter, Nate Freiman and Carlos Pena will all be fighting it out, and to be honest, there are major concerns about all of them. Wallace has also been mentioned at third base, and Carter will also get looks in left field, so it will be interesting to see how it all shakes out.

Clack:

I think the outfield is the most interesting position battle. Maxwell seems to be the only outfielder who is close to a sure thing for a starting spot. We've got a lot of story lines here: J.D. and F-Mart try to nail down at least a platoon spot; Ankiel is a wild card-he may or may not make the team, and if he does, his role could range from starter to back up; And Carter as a possible LF candidate really jumbles up the potential choices.

Anthony:

Shortstop. Yeah, I mean, the designated hitter/first base/outfield battle has all the sexiness, but the shortstop is the quarterback of the defense. We've got a couple of guys in Jake Elmore, Marwin Gonzalez, Tyler Greene, and Jonathan Villar in camp, each of whom has some question marks, but each of whom also has some upside. Can any of them be a full-time starting major league shortstop?

Chris (CRPerry13):

The obvious answer is first base/designated hitter but I am more interested in the rotation. The way I see it, only Harrell and Norris are locks to make the opening day rotation, and I wouldn't be shocked if Norris were traded in March. I'm a huge fan of a couple of guys who are under the radar: Humber and Ely.

Robert (astrosblogger):

The 5th starter battle is really peeking my interest with all of the potential candidates Houston has brought in. With John Ely, Phil Humber, Alex White, Dallas Keuchel, Edgar Gonzalez, Brad Peacock, Rudy Owens (possibly) in the mix I expect a real fight for the final starting spot.

Spencer (kyuss94):

I think the most interesting position battle is for the closer spot. Jose Veras is the favorite, but Josh Fields and Hector Ambriz have chances to stake a claim to the role. Wesley Wright could also be a choice if Bo Porter wants to go with a veteran. Veras would have to really be a disaster to lose the role in the spring, but it’s very possible that another player could take over for him when the inconsistent Veras inevitably struggles during the year. My money is on Josh Fields.

Brooks (Subber10):

first base/left field/designated hitter. There are a lot of different options on how to fill each of those positions and they are all dependent on how certain players perform to force the Astros hand. With so many potential configurations, it'll be interesting.

Jesse (conroestro):

I'm going to go with shortstop. It will be interesting to see how the battle for shortstop shakes out. I'm a fan of defense, especially at short, so Marwin Gonzalez has a slight edge in my book at this point. I'm just not for sure that the Astros can afford to sacrifice that much offense at any one position, although with Greene and Elmore as the other contenders it's still up for debate how much offense would be sacrificed. I am hoping that the power display that Greene showed towards the end of the season last year was for real, and him and Gonzalez can hold down the position. I haven't heard enough good things about Elmore's defense to get excited about him, but I would love to be proved wrong there.

Curtis:

Most interesting position battle is definitely for the last few spots in the starting rotation. Norris and Harrell have the top locked up and it's probably safe to say Lyles will be the #3. I'm really pulling for Alex White to pitch well and win a job, I know Bo Porter had some positive things to say about him in workouts last week. John Ely has good stuff, Phillip Humber and Erik Bedard could provide solid veteran help, and who knows, even Jared Cosart could light it up and win a spot.

Ryan (d_more55):

Shortstop is a position with no front-runner; Tyler Greene, Marwin Gonzalez, and Jake Elmore are all competing to turn double plays with Jose Altuve. The 2012 opening day starter, Gonzalez may hold the position with his glove. Greene may take the position if Bo Porter is indeed looking for a lead off hitter in front of Altuve. Though, Greene would have to improve on his less then stellar OBP (.275 over the past three seasons). I wouldn’t be shocked if Jake Elmore came in and stole it.

David:

It's the outfield, simply because there is a ton of competition but no real difference between about six guys competing for two spots. The Martinii and JMaxx have the inside track on starting spots right now (we think), but Ankiel is definitely in the mix, along with Lin, Robbie Grossman, Marc Krauss, Jake Goebbert, George Springer, Trevor Crowe and even Chris Carter.

Someone will shake out from that group and I bet we don't expect it. Remember when Travis Buck improbably made the roster over F-Mart last year? Shades of that happening again, maybe with a Crowe making the roster out of the blue.

Sean (native_astro):

I don't know if it's the most interesting, but it's the one with the most competition and that's the starting rotation. As of right now, I think that the only two starters that have spots locked up are Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell and if Norris gets dealt during spring that leaves four spots in the rotation up for grabs. I think that at some time this year your going to see Alex White, Jon Ely, and Brad Peacock in the rotation together. I'm just not sure it will be to start the season. Let's not forget about Jarred Cosart either. The Astros have really set themselves up to be really flexible at the trade deadline. By adding depth, they should at least be in a position to entertain offers for Lucas Harrell and Bud Norris to go along with guys like Bedard and Humber at the trade deadline or maybe sooner.

Who needs to have a really good Spring Training?

Glenn (wgr56):

Brett Wallace. I can't think of a player who's been more polarizing in terms of TCB comments than Wallace. He's a former first-round draft pick and a Luhnow guy, but you just wonder when (or if) it's ever going to come together for him. After being traded so many times in his young career, you know he's been a desirable commodity, but also one who's failed to establish himself or find a perfect position fit. This is the year where he really has to show something. If the bat doesn't play, there's no reason for him to be on this team.

Clack:

A lot of players. There is so much competition that nobody can afford a terrible spring training. I would particularly focus on F-Mart because he is out of options, and Elmore, because he has to look really good to make the 25 man roster.

Anthony:

I suppose it's cheating to say everyone, so I'll say both of the Martinii. They're basically the incumbents at the corner outfield spots, but with the addition of Chris Carter, there are a lot of questions, most of the answers to which involve the Martinii. Fernando in particular is out of options, so that adds a wrinkle.

Chris (CRPerry13):

Nate Freiman, to stay on the team. Also, I think Marwin Gonzalez is currently the 3rd option at Short and will need to play magnificently to make the team. Finally, anybody wanting to make the rotation is going to have to play balls-out this spring.

Robert (astrosblogger):

Jason Castro. Castro is expected to handle the majority of the catching duties for the Astros this season which means his is expected to see a lot of playing time. Seeing Castro come out of Spring Training where he left off at the end of last season is going to make me much more optomistic about the prospect of a non-100 loss season. Also, Castro's knee injury going into last season really hampered his ability to work on blocking balls in the dirt. I hope that he will be able to make substantial improvement with his defense this season.

Spencer (kyuss94):

Brett Wallace. I really think he’s nearing the end of the line. With Chris Carter now in town, there’s a legitimate, young option available to displace Brett, who hasn’t done anything to convince me he’s a major league hitter, and his defense definitely won’t keep him on the diamond. If Wallace struggles in the spring, I think his days in Houston may be numbered.

Brooks (Subber10):

Brett Wallace and the Martinii. All three are in danger of not being on the opening day roster and will be damaging to all of their values if they don't. JD has the least risk involved but the others could easily fall out of favor with bad ST.

Jesse (conrostro):

I will go with Nate Freiman here because considering the fact that the Astros have depth at first base/designated hitter/left field I think there's a real good chance that he could be sent back to the Padres if he struggles. His situation is different than last year's rule 5 position player pick Marwin Gonzalez. Marwin showed strong defense in the spring, and was the best option (at least defensively) on the team for the utility infield position. Freiman doesn't offer that kind of value. If he makes the team it is clearly going to be because of his bat, and it will be because he showed off that bat this spring.

Curtis:

Nate Frieman needs to have a really good spring training, because his job essentially depends on it. The first base/designated hitter rotation is already full with Wallace, Carter and Pena, so Frieman needs to separate himself offensively from at least two of those guys (Wallace could move to third base or a utility role). The staff is obviously pretty high on Frieman, but we're pretty strong depth-wise at that position so he needs to show the staff something.

Ryan (d_more55):

Call it cop out but everyone outside of Altuve, Maxwell, Norris, Harrell, and Lyles, needs a good Spring Training. Bo Porter won’t put the player’s names on the back of their jerseys until the 25-man roster is set. Yes, its corny but this coaching staff is trying to show that every position is up for grabs. That said, I will single out J.D. Martinez. Chris Carter and Justin Maxwell are penciled in for the outfield, leaving slim-picking for spot not in Oklahoma City.

David:

Surprisingly, I think it's Jordan Lyles. Bo Porter basically put him on notice earlier this spring that he was not a lock to make the rotation, and I think he's got to show some progress this spring to alleviate some concerns about his performance.

Sean (native_astro):

J.D. Martinez. J.D. is really going to have to hit his way onto this team out spring with guys like Fernando Martinez, Chris Carter, Rick Ankiel, Robbie Grossman, and Marc Krauss in the mix for playing time OF playing time this spring. I think that fans are still in love with the J.D. that we saw during in his rookie season, but it's hard to say how this Astros front office views J.D. Martinez.

Which five pitchers make the rotation out of Spring Training?

Glenn (wgr56):

Lucas Harrell
Bud Norris
Jordan Lyles
John Ely
Eric Bedard
This question gives me indigestion. Barring injuries or a trade, I think the first three are locks. Mike Fast said some nice things about Ely the other day, so I'm putting him in there, and I think it's likely the rotation will have one left-hander, so choosing among Keuchel, Bedard and Oberholtzer, I'll go with Bedard. Now if you'll all excuse me, I'm going to go throw up.

Clack:

(1) Norris (2) Harrell (3) Lyles (4) Bedard (5) White. I wouldn't be surprised if we see some strategic movement back and forth between Oklahoma City and Houston for that No. 5 slot. We might see Ely and White, sharing the 5 spot with that type of arrangement. I think Humber has to have a terrific spring in order to nail down a rotation slot, but I think the odds are that he gets the "long reliever" role out of the bullpen.

Anthony:

Norris, Harrell, Lyles, Humber, and White. Humber is out of options and I don't expect Luhnow to just toss him aside, so the real question is whether he'll be in the pen or the rotation. I like him as a starter. White has the shakiest hold on his spot... with Ely, Peacock, Bedard, Keuchel, et al. fighting for his job... but I like AW and I think he's going to do some nice things for Houston. I doubt, however, that we'll have a traditional five-man starting rotation. I think there could be constant variations on it; either a six-man rotation, or changing the #5 guy each time through the rotation, or something wild and crazy. This is a team with the luxury to try wild and crazy things.

Chris (CRPerry13):

This is so tough. I'm picking Bedard, Harrell, Norris, Lyles, and Ely, with Humber as a swing man. And actually, I think it could be a very underrated rotation that will catch opponents by surprise.

Robert (astrosblogger):

Astros starting 5 are: Norris, Harrell, Bedard, Lyles, and White with Humber and Gonzalez as long relievers.

Spencer (kyuss94):

My picks are Lucas Harrell, Bud Norris (assuming he’s still an Astro), Jordan Lyles, Phillip Humber and Alex White. I think that White and John Ely will be battling for the last spot in the rotation to the bitter end, with no announcement on the winner of the battle until right before the season begins. I’m an Ely fan, but I think he’ll begin the year as the staff’s long man merely on quality of stuff. White still has the talent to be a starting pitcher. He deserves a chance in that role before being transitioned to the pen (where I like him more long term), and if he is moved to a relief role I think that Ely and Brad Peacock are the best bets to replace him. I think for Erik Bedard (who will be 34 when the season starts) to be in the rotation when the season starts, he’ll need to really star in spring. He put up a 4.07 FIP last year and there’s a good chance he won’t even be healthy through Spring Training anyway.

Brooks (Subber10):

Bud Norris, Lucas Harrel, Jordan Lyles, Eric Bedard, and Phillip Humber

Jesse (conroestro):

Tough one. At this point I'm going with Norris, Harrell, Lyles, Bedard, and White. The fifth spot is tough, and I could really see any one of Ely/White/Humber breaking camp in that spot, but for now I will lean on White. Bedard is also not a lock for the rotation by any means as an Non-Roster Invite, but I think that the Astros would probably have one lefty in the rotation, and if Bedard is healthy he is probably the best option out of him, Keuchel, and Oberholtzer (more Oklahoma City seasoning).

Curtis:

Starting Five (in order): Norris, Harrell, Lyles, White, Humber

Ryan (d_more55):

Norris, Harrell, Lyes, Bedard, Humber - Luhnow will take these two veterans on what might be their last stops, and flip them at the deadline.

David:

BudChuck, Harrell, Humber, Ely, Bedard - I see Humber knocking Lyles out and back to Triple-A, while I really like Ely as a sleeper. Go against Mike Fast at your own risk...

Sean (native_astro):

I'm going to go on a little but of a limb here and say that the rotation out of spring will look like this.
Lucas Harrell
Erik Bedard
Jordan Lyles
Phil Humber
Alex White

That's right! A Bud Norris trade. This is just speculation, but I wouldn't be surprised if one of the teams that calls on Bud Norris is the San Diego Padres. The Astros could use this as an opportunity to acquire the rights to Nate Freiman in a package plus prospects for Bud Norris.

The more likely torsion out of spring is...
Lucas Harrell, Bud Norris, Jordan Lyles, Erik Bedard, and Phil Humber.

Which player do you expect to surprise everyone and break camp with the big league club?

Glenn (wgr56)

I don't expect any real shockers, but since I'm being asked to pick one, I'll say it's not inconceivable that Jarred Cosart could have a really good spring and maybe start his MLB career in the bullpen, then move into the rotation when one of the starters falters, which, realistically, might not be long.

Clack:

I don’t know that I expect anybody to do it. They wouldn’t be a surprise, if I expected it. A reliever like Lo could make the bullpen, or Paul Clemens could look so good that the Astros want him in the bullpen. Those would be surprises, but they aren’t outside the realm of possibility.

Anthony:

Middle relievers don't count, right? I mean, that doesn't surprise anyone. It's a boring position to pick. I'm going to say Jake Elmore. Now, most of us at TCB know who he is, but the average fan almost certainly has never heard of him. I think he'll start the season at shortstop, if he can show that he's anywhere near defensively-adequate at the position. Which, mind you, is a really really big question mark. But I think he's got enough skills to rise above Greene and MarGo and lock it down.

Chris (CRPerry13):

I think Jake Elmore will be the opening day shortstop, and most fans will have never heard of him.

Robert (astrosblogger):

Jimmy Parades will hit well enough to take over a starting corner outfield spot. J. D. Martinez starts off in Oklahoma City.

Spencer (kyuss94):

I’ll go with Chia-Jen Lo. I think he’s ready for a big league run after his excellent 2012 season that returned him to relevance. His hard fastball and command would make him one of the more intriguing arms in the Astros bullpen, and there’s not much between him and a role in the later innings.

Brooks (Subber10):

I'll go Nate Frieman. Big Spring Training with an uphill battle to win a spot. If he performs very well and makes the roster, it's going to have an interesting trickle down effect on who gets sent to AAA or released.

Jesse (conroestro):

J.D. Martinez. From most of the hints we've been getting so far, it seems like the Astros would like to have Chris Carter see his fair share of time in left field. It also sounds like they may be thinking about using a revolving door of sorts out there. Given Luhnow's comments about the Carter acquisition, Martinez has to know that his time is running out with this club. I could see him coming to camp extremely motivated, and if healthy, do what he's done at every stop along the way (hit, and hit well) and force his way onto the roster.

Curtis:

I'll go with Jake Elmore as the dark horse to have a good spring and win a roster spot. His AAA numbers are impressive, and he has more all-around potential than Marwin at this point.

Ryan (d_more55):

Going back to the starting rotation, both Bedard and Humber will be in the starting rotation come opening day. Brandon Peacoak and Alex White will get their turns after either Bedard or Humber flame out or get traded.

David:

Obvs, Jake Elmore. He'll be the starting shortstop and hitting leadoff in front of Jose Altuve.

Sean (native_astro):

Jake Elmore making the team out of spring wouldn't be a big surprise, but Marc Krauss, Robbie Grossman, or a mystery player that isn't on the current roster or in Astros camp would be a surprise. I wouldn't be shocked if a player that isn't with the Astros but is acquired by trade, free agency, or by waivers breaks camp with the Astros after spring.

Will CSN Houston get a deal done with another carrier before the season begins?

Glenn AKA (wgr56):

No

Clack:

Probably. But CSN really needs to close many deals with a number of cable providers in order for the Astros to be available to viewers like they were last year. That may take longer. This is particularly of concern to those of us in Texas who are outside the Houston area.

Anthony:

No

Chris:

No. And that means I have no way to write a recap unless I do it from radio. Comcast is not offered in my neighborhood and the games are blacked out on MLB TV.

Robert (astrosblogger):

It would be nice, but no.

Spencer (kyuss94):

I doubt it. It hasn’t been publicized enough for a quick resolution to come.

Brooks (Subber10):

Crane is facing so much backlash that he needs to get something done, so I'm gonna say yes.

Jesse (conroestro):

I've been ignoring this as much as possible this offseason. I have to stay optimistic and say yes because I don't want to think about the alternative.

Curtis:

Will the CSN Houston deal get done? No. Crane's comments don't sound optimistic at all if you read between the lines. He wants has much dough as he can get from this deal, and the providers don't want to pony up. I just have a feeling it's going to be a really ugly stalemate (like the Longhorn Network) and will ultimately turn many casual fans away from this team for good. Either Jim Crane has no idea what he's getting himself into, or he genuinely does not care about the interest in his team short term and is hedging his bets on Houstonians flocking back when we're competitive again.

Ryan (d_more55):

No, simply put they have no reason to. If a playoff caliber Rockets team isn’t going to sway a deal to be made between CSN and the other 60% of Houston’s providers, then another 100 loss Astros team won’t move the dial one bit. My Hulk-like rage is rising as a result of it.

David:

Let's ask the Magic Eight Ball...
...
...
Signs point to no.
If I had to guess, I'd say that one major carrier will pick up the channel by opening day. I don't expect it to be DirecTV, but it could be someone like Time Warner.

Sean (native_astro):

I hope so. I don't think that Astros can afford to alienate a fan base that is hanging on by a thread. The last the that the Astros want to do is to make this team any more irrelevant that it already is.

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