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Houston's New Lineup: Who Makes The Cut?

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It's been a busy week in Astros land and there are plenty of new faces that will have to be plugged into the lineup by manager A.J. Hinch.

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The Crawfish Boxes' Timmy Kennedy got a raw deal.

He wrote a fantastic piece on optimizing the Astros lineup for the 2015 season, and then the Astros front office completely reworked the lineup. Timmy wrote his post before the Astros had acquired Evan Gattis, Luis Valbuena (while shipping out Dexter Fowler) and Colby Rasmus.

Maybe the Astros are finally done adjusting the roster and A.J. Hinch will be choosing from what is currently under Houston control. Maybe this piece will also be premature and another lineup piece will be incoming.

Spring Training is shaping up to be a fun time for Houston as there will be position battles all over the place and plenty to sort out for Hinch. Even Hinch likely would struggle to fill out his Opening Day lineup card right now, so lets take it by position area and see how things shake out.

Catcher

As pointed out in Timmy's piece, the TCB staff overall likes Hank Conger to start over Jason Castro. It should be a very close race with Conger being the better defender -- especially pitch framer -- although Castro has improved his defense to an above average level. Had Castro performed offensively in 2014 like he did in '13, this would likely be a unanimous pick in Castro's favor, but his spike in strikeout rate and overall power outage brought him down in Conger's range as a hitter. The Astros' catching picture became clearer with Carlos Corporan being designated for assignment. The consensus belief is that Max Stassi is headed for AAA Fresno and Gattis will not be catching. Castro and Conger should be a fine combination at backstop for Houston.

Conger will provide plenty of competition for Castro in spring training, but Castro and Jose Altuve have been the closest things to cornerstones for Houston. As long as he's in Houston come April, expect Castro in the Opening Day starting nine.

Infield

Starting with the least confusing -- Altuve will start at 2nd base for Houston. Almost equally as likely is Jed Lowrie at shortstop.

At third base, the likely winner of the job will be Luis Valbuena, but the question becomes how much he will play. Incumbent third baseman Matt Dominguez had one of the worst offensive seasons in all of Major League Baseball  last season after hopes he could build on a solid second half in 2013. Matty D was not completely horrible against left-handed pitching -- an 86 wRC+ for a 3B is still bad -- but a .228/.272/.371 career line  vs. righties signals that Valbuena will at least be in the lineup against a right-hander.

Valbuena had a breakout year in 2014, and still had plenty of trouble with left-handed pitching (75 wRC+). A platoon is the likely scenario if Dominguez makes the 25-man roster. Of course, that's not a definite, but it would be difficult for Houston to give up on the 25-year old Dominguez.

At first base, things are more complicated. There's an infield header above this section, but multiple spots in the Astros starting lineup hinges on where Gattis plays. If he plays at first base more, than Jon Singleton will likely be struggling for at-bats. If Gattis is in left field, Jake Marisnick, Robbie Grossman and Alex Presley are all searching for playing time (more on that later). The most likely scenario is that Singleton plays first out of the gate. Despite his struggles in 2014, he has shown enough promise as a prospect, and even in flashes last season, to warrant the first try at first base.

If Singleton hits in April like he did last season, then a move may be made, including Chris Carter or Gattis, of course. But expect Gattis in left, Singleton at first and Carter at DH.

Outfield

One who destroys worlds must be played, so George Springer will be in the Astros lineup. Colby Rasmus and his $8 million dollar deal will definitely be in as well. Springer looked fairly comfortable in right field last season, but Rasmus, an above-average defender, can handle right as well. Either way, the Astros will cover the right-center field gap quite well. Left field, however, is a different story. Unless Singleton isn't playing first base, Gattis or Carter will be in left field. The common assumption is that Gattis will get the nod, but Carter has had his moments of brilliance in the outfield.

Look at that form.

Carter is a bit underrated as an athlete -- he stole five bases last year -- and could possibly handle a large load in left. Learning to read balls off the bat and being able to throw runners out is a different story, but Carter has an advantage of more than 200 innings career played in LF over Gattis. Either way, expect Carter/Gattis to exit the game in favor of Marisnick, Grossman and Presley come the late innings if Houston has a lead.

Upon the announcement of Dexter Fowler's trade, there appeared to be a spot in the outfield waiting for Marisnick. Instead, Rasmus was signed the next day, signaling a possible trip to AAA Fresno for the 23-year old. A defensive outfield of Marisnick, Springer and Rasmus would be incredible, but unfortunately unlikely. With Springer, Rasmus, Grossman, Presley and the combination of Gattis/Carter taking up a spot, there's already five outfielders. Marisnick's bat still could use some seasoning at the minor league level, and Rasmus's signing creates this luxury.

Conclusion

Barring any changes the Astros will be taking the field opening day with this lineup (by fielding position only)

C Jason Castro
1B Jon Singleton
2B Jose Altuve
SS Jed Lowrie
3B Luis Valbuena
LF Evan Gattis
CF Colby Rasmus
RF George Springer
DH Chris Carter

Taking a page from Timmy's book, let's see what Baseball Musings thinks of a starting lineup based on Steamer projections. The site's system came up with two lineups that project to score a healthy 4.47 runs per game:

1. Jose Altuve
2. George Springer
3. Evan Gattis
4. Jed Lowrie
5. Chris Carter
6. Jason Castro
7. Jon Singleton
8. Colby Rasmus
9. Luis Valbuena

1. Jose Altuve
2. George Springer
3. Colby Rasmus
4. Jed Lowrie
5. Chris Carter
6. Jason Castro
7. Jon Singleton
8. Evan Gattis
9. Luis Valbuena

The Astros incredible amount of power has produced a couple odd combinations. The first things that stick out immediately (at least to me) is Rasmus and Gattis in the eight-hole in the respective lineups. Gattis batting eighth will likely never happen, but Rasmus there is a possibility. The other standout would be Jed Lowrie batting cleanup. He doesn't fit the bill as a prototypical cleanup man, but could handle the role for Houston if needed.

To see all of the lineup combinations, or to create your own, head on over here.

What do you say? Would you make changes to the personnel? How would you line up the Astros?