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Astros spring training roster battles: Ranking the bullpen, third base and the rotation

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Who's got a leg up at this point in the spring?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, we looked at the Astros outfield situation and why the team may have to send Robbie Grossman to Triple-A. Today, we check in on the rest of the roster to see who's in the lead in various spring battles.

Third base

Go ahead and pencil Luis Valbuena in as your Opening Day starter. Barring a miracle recovery by Matt Dominguez, it appears that Valbuena will be the starter there.

Valbuena is 6-for-12 this spring with one home run, one double and three strikeouts. Dominguez is 3-for-10 with no extra-base hits, a walk and one strikeout.

Houston seems set on carrying 12 pitchers, which leaves 13 position players on the 25-man roster. Nine starters leaves four bench players. Evan Singleton takes one of those spots. Alex Presley takes the other. Hank Conger gets a third.

That leaves one more backup infield spot for Marwin Gonzalez, the third base loser and Jonathan Villar.

The team is giving Villar an opportunity to show his versatility by playing in the outfield, but you have to figure this is Marwin's job to lose. He's got versatility, has played in the outfield before in a pinch and has the best offensive track record of the three. Both Dominguez and Villar can be sent down to the minors, so the Astros don't have to "give up" on either player, while also not sacrificing depth on the infield.

Bullpen

The pitching side may be the only place where spots are still up for grabs. Let's assume Neshek's foot thing doesn't get any worse. The Astros would then have two spots of competition in the bullpen.

Joe Thatcher may have a leg up in the second lefty role. He's got a history with manager A.J. Hinch and a track record of success. Plus, Kevin Chapman has options.

Thatcher has thrown two scoreless innings this spring with one walks and two hits allowed. Chapman has also thrown two scoreless innings iwht two hits allowed and two strikeouts. A third lefty, Darin Downs, gave up two runs and two hits with two walks in his only spring inning thus far.

The seventh bullpen spot is the one that could see the most competition. Will Harris, Samuel Deduno and Roberto Hernandez could all be in this competition, with 40-man roster guys like Jake Buchanan, Alex White and Asher Wojciechowski probably on the outside looking in for various reasons.

If it comes down to Harris and Deduno, the latter probably has the edge. He fills the long relief/swing man role the front office seems to prefer for that spot. Deduno has allowed one run and four hits in five innings this spring with five strikeouts. Harris, meanwhile, has thrown 2 2/3 scoreless innings with two hits allowed.

Starting rotation

Look, I'm not picking sides here. I'm just trying to read the tea leaves and make the best predictions for how these battles shape up.

With that said, it appears that Dallas Keuchel, Scott Feldman, Collin McHugh and Brett Oberholtzer have rotation spots sewn up.

That leaves Dan Straily, Brad Peacock and Roberto Hernandez in the main competition for that fifth starter role.

Of the three, Straily has the inside edge right now, only because his competition has all missed time this spring. Hernandez had to work through those visa issues first while Peacock is working back slowly from his hip injury.

Straily has started one game this spring, allowing two runs on four hits with one strikeout and no walks. Hernandez pitched in one game, throwing two innings while allowing no hits or runs with two walks.