It all comes down to this.
Tonight, the Astros will take on the Texas Rangers and open their American League era. All spring long, we've prepared for this by looking at players likely to make Houston's 25-man roster with previews, looking at what they did in 2012 and what they're projected to do in 2013.
This morning, we're going to put it all together through some questions about this roster and how it fits together. Who's the best hitter? Who might break out and provide unexpected fantasy value? Which pitchers should be targeted, if any?
Let's answer those questions by looking back through those previews.
Who is Houston's best hitter?
Expect continued development in all aspects of Altuve's game, particularly his defense. If he can dig deep and find a little more gap power to edge toward his minor league power numbers, it wouldn't surprise me if he ended the season in the 3-4 win range. Even if he can't tap into his power more, though, expect him to continue to improve as a major league player and to be one of the sparkplugs on offense.
Altuve will be leading off for Houston, so there is ample reason to think he can match his 30 steals from 2012. If he hits 10 home runs and has a .290 average, he's a pretty fine fantasy player at second base, certainly the equal of someone like Neil Walker and should be a solid mid-round pickup in most fantasy leagues.
Are there any other likely fantasy candidates on this roster?
Which Veras will the Astros get next season? That's the big question. Jeff Luhnow and Co. are betting it's the consistent, strike throwing machine, which means Veras should become a solid closer and provide them the potential to flip him at the deadline for prospects.
It may be a rollercoaster ride with him as the closer, but this team could use a little excitement, huh?
Veras made a deep run with the Dominican Republic in the Wold Baseball Classic, harnessing the power of the plantain. He had an up-and-down spring in a very small number of innings with Houston, but appears on track to hold down the closer's role for at least a few months.
The problem with Veras' value is that Houston won't be getting more than 30 saves this season and that's through an entire season. If we assume Veras will be flipped at the deadline to a team needing setup options, Veras may only end up with 15-20 saves this season.
Which hitter could be this year's breakout player?
Jason Castro is our man here, as EVERYONE is predicting his power surge will translate to the regular season. Give him above-average power at a valuable position and Castro could be a nice surprise for Houston. Here's what illinibob said in his preview:
Encouraging, however, were his September stats, as 4 of his 6 homers last year came in the final 2 weeks of the season. His OPS rose from .718 in the first half, to .766 in the second. His walk rate , at 11%, is more than acceptable, as is his K rate. (61K/31BB).
According to Baseball Prospectus, his TAv was 17th among catchers. Castro will turn 26 in June, and Catchers often continue to develop into their late 20's and early 30's, so there is more than enough time for Castro to show he is at least Major League average , both as a hitter, and as a fielder.
What about Trogdor?
Chris Carter, or Trogdor as the Athletics Nation crew dubbed him, has potential to surpass both Jason Castro and Jose Altuve among Houston hitters. His pure power is great to see and a refreshing sight for a power-starved lineup the past few years. While Carter doesn't figure to hit for a high average and he doesn't play a premium position, he does have the potential to add 30 home runs to the team.
Here's what I had to say earlier this spring
There's no question that Carter will be one of the best hitters in Houston's lineup from the get-go. Although he's lost some of his "prospect" status, Carter is still a young player who hasn't gotten much of a chance as an everyday player in the majors.
Carter has that chance now and he'll be playing every day in either left or first base or at designated hitter. That should give him ample opportunity to hit 30 or more home runs. That is, if his platoon splits don't get him first.
Are there any bigger trends offensively about this team?
Home runs, home runs, home runs. I touched on this in an article two weeks ago, but the Astros under Luhnow have gotten much, much more powerful.
In fact, the 2013 Astros should hit anywhere from 175-180 home runs. That would have put them on the cusp of MLB's top 10 last season. Teams can make the playoffs without hitting home runs, like the Cardinals, Braves and Reds proved, but, it's infinitely easier to slug your way there like the Baltimore Orioles did last season.
The beauty of what Luhnow did is that none of his players are projected to hit more than 28 home runs. He filled a team with guys who could hit 15-17 home runs given the right playing time. Everyone can hit with some pop, even if they don't all have the power of Giancarlo Stanton.
While this Astros team may not make much contact, when the do hit it, it's going far.
Who is Houston's best pitcher?
Almost let go at the end of Spring Training last year, Lucas Harrell showed the Astros something towards the end of Spring Training that resulted in him getting an opportunity to start. Harrell rewarded them with a 2.8 WAR in 193.2 innings pitched. His FIP and xFIP numbers indicate that last year was no fluke and that he's in for just as good a season this year.
Harrell opens the season against the Texas Rangers on Tuesday and how much he regresses from his stellar 2012 season will be fascinating to watch. Harrell's strikeout rate has improved, so there is a chance he could sustain his low ERA with that extreme ground ball rate and a decent K rate.
What about Bud Norris?
Norris got the Opening Day nod, but he did not have the best season in 2012. Can he bounce back? Here's what conroestro said earlier this spring:
It seems like Astros fans have been waiting for Bud to have a breakout season ever since he broke into the majors in 2009 with his 6-3 record and 4.53 ERA in 55.2 innings. Unfortunately for Bud it just hasn’t happened. Granted he did show improvement in 2011, but his ERA has fluctuated from 3.77 (low - 2011) to 4.92 (high - 2010) in the three seasons since 2009, and his FIP has consistently remained in the low four’s at 4.02 (low - 2011) and 4.23 (high - 2012) while averaging 169.1 innings pitched a season.
Still, there is at least a decent chance that Bud can improve this season. As Clack has mentioned here and in several other articles and comments, Bud looks to be a good candidate to show some positive regression and improve upon last season. With any luck hopefully 2013 is the year that we see Bud Norris take that big step forward.
Is that an article inside an article inside an article? That's some Inception-level quoting there...
At any rate, it seems like Bud is a great candidate to see his luck turn around in 2013. He pitches very well at home and will be changing his routine on the road to match what he does at home. Of course, a good first half may also get Bud a one-way ticket out of town in another trade. So, it's a bit of a good news, bad news prospect to a Norris breakout.
After Veras, are there any pitchers who could fill into the closer role in case of trade or injury?
Josh Fields, the No. 1 pick in the Rule 5 draft from the Red Sox organization. Here's what kyuss94 said about him earlier this spring:
So just how good can Josh Fields be as a big league reliever? To me, the sky is the limit. He still has the same fastball/curveball combo that made him the 20th overall selection, and his experience closing on a big stage in college should give Bo Porter plenty of confidence trotting him out to finish games for the 'stros. If he can maintain the command he showed in 2012 in the high minors, I have utmost confidence in him seizing the closer role and running with it. Some will consider this a bold statement, but he may be the most dynamic relief pitcher in terms of raw stuff that the Astros have had since Brad Lidge left town.
Fields was not a lock to make the roster, as he was part of one of the final roster decisions as Houston decided between him and Edgar Gonzalez. Still, the stuff is there for him to be a lock down closer given the chance. Hector Ambriz may get a shot to close before him and Wesley Wright is also a possibility, if Houston gets creative.
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