Going into the spring, we knew that a majority of this team was set in stone:
- the bullpen
- the front four starters in the rotation
- the five outfielders
- starting infield
In the past few weeks some things have changed that have caused the Astros to re-evaluate their roster heading into their April 6th opening day game against Chicago. Pudge Rodriguez was signed to a one year contract, most likely sliding JR Towles down to AAA. Luckily, Lou Palmisano was not taken back by Milwaukee, which allowed the Astros to keep keep him as a minor leaguer. Catcher depth is never a bad thing.
Aaron Boone had to have heart surgery, opening up a roster spot for a platoon partner with Geoff Blum. Chris Johnson is an option, but he would not be an ideal platoonmate with Blum, since both hit best against right handed pitchers. Jeff Baker, Juan Uribe and Jeff Keppinger are but a few names that have been tossed around as potential options at the hot corner. Internally, Chris Johnson seems to be our best, and only real option. Again, although he may be on the opening day roster, it doesn't mean that he will be successful immediately.
The fifth starter's slot was Brandon Backe's to lose, and as a result of injury and poor performance, Backe slides out. Going up is most likely Russ Ortiz. A non roster invitee, Ortiz has been impressive, no more so than in his last start against the Reds, a six inning, one hit, no run performance. Jose Capellan is another NRI, but after a shaky start against the Blue Jays, I'd expect him to be on the Express roster when Spring Training breaks.
As for our back up middle infielder, the Astros brought in a plethora of guys with plenty of warts. Whether it be age (David Newhan, Matt Kata, Jason Smith) or lack of a solid bat (Tommy Manzella and Edwin Maysonet), or lack of defensive skills (Drew Sutton).
It all depends on what Cecil Cooper is looking for. If he wants someone who can come in and hit well, I'd argue that Sutton is his best bet. Jason Smith has hit well in the spring, but he is a journey man and has never shown the ability to perform on this level. Sutton's pedigree is above average, and if given the opportunity to get ABs on a consistent basis, he could become a very serviceable major league hitter. This won't happen right off the bat, as he has been sent back to AAA. Smith's defense is suspect, and Kata, Newhan and Manzella have not performed well enough to earn a spot on the ML roster.
That leaves Edwin Maysonet, who has played well defensively and recently contributed to the offensive cause by knocking two home runs off of Toronto ace Roy Halladay.
Ortiz looks like a winner, Towles goes back down...for now
So where does that leave us? Here's what I think our 25 man roster will be heading into the regular season:
Catchers (2): Ivan Rodriguez, Humberto Quintero
Infielders (6): Lance Berkman, Kazuo Matsui, Miguel Tejada, Geoff Blum, Edwin Maysonet, Third Baseman- my vote goes to Jeff Baker if Colorado releases him
Outfielders (5): Carlos Lee, Michael Bourn, Hunter Pence, Jason Michaels, Darin Erstad
Starting Pitching Rotation (5): Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez, Mike Hampton, Brian Moehler, Russ Ortiz
Relief Pitchers (7): Tim Byrdak, Chris Sampson, Doug Brocail, Jose Valverde, LaTroy Hawkins, Wesley Wright, Geoff Geary
This leaves us with nice depth in AAA. Players such as Alberto Arias, Jose Capellan, Bud Norris, Drew Sutton, Brian Bogusevic and Chris Johnson will gain valuable experience while giving the Astros options should injuries/poor performance occur.