Nothing quite matches the excitement of a baseball fan like Opening Day. Everyone owns a clean slate and has hope, no matter how little. To say there was little hope among Astros fans over the past five years is likely an exaggeration. But as the rebuilding plan has moved closer to MLB success, the Houston fan base has plenty of reasons to be excited for the 2015 Astros. TCB is glad to bring back the Starting Nine for the 2015 season beginning with today's question.
What storyline about the 2015 Astros are you most excited to follow?
Tim De Block
The continued development of the Astros core players: Jose Altuve, Jason Castro, and Dallas Keuchel. All three have significant time at the big league level and have had good years and bad years. This should be the year though that we start getting a better grasp on their value as players.
There's a lot of things that I want to confirm were "legit." Carter's second half was great, but can he be great all the time? Altuve broke out and won a batting title, but can he hit over .300 consistently? And of course, can Keuchel and McHugh truly repeat? A lot of our improvement last year stemmed from big breakouts, and not nearly all breakouts turn out to be sustainable even the next year, much less for whole careers (case in point; 2013 vs. 2014 Jason Castro). If we're going to take the steps forward this year that we're hoping for, they'll all basically need to prove that they really are the top-shelf players that they looked like last season.
I'm most interested in the meta-story of how the coverage of the team and front office lines up with actual performance. That has been very interesting to date and I expect it to remain so.
As far as players go, I'm very interested in Marisnick's bat.
I cannot wait to see what Springer will do, and I'm also very excited to see McHugh. I think Springer could hit 40 homers if he stays healthy, and if he is finally unleashed on the basepaths, a 30-30 (or even 40-40) season is well within reach. I also think McHugh will improve this year (as long as he stays healthy) and finally get the national recognition he deserves. I'm calling top 10 in Cy Young voting.
James Van Hooser
I'm interested in tracking on the "all-or-nothing offense" narrative. The potential power on this roster is intoxicating, but will the overall offense be tanked by the accompanying strikeouts? I don't necessarily think so, but I guarantee you that casual fans and the media are going to whine about the Ks. I think folks are going to complain about the aesthetics of the Astros offense the same way they complain about James Harden and the Rockets: "All he does is take threes and drive to the basket to get fouled!" "All they do is strikeout! (or hit bombs)" Personally, I couldn't care less about how it looks -- as long as it works.
Well, pretty much everything others have said. Foremost, I want to see how much the W/L record advances this year. That's not easy; look back at the number of young teams which regressed in the season after they broke through to respectability. I'm not predicting a .500 record, but I think it's possible. Among the players, I am most interested in finding out whether Altuve and Springer will be recognized as legit stars throughout baseball. I am curious as to which minor league prospects will arrive at the ML level.
I think I am most interested in following the progression of our prospects (or former prospects) that did not play to their perceived potential in 2014. In particular, I am interested in Singleton, Dominguez, Villar and Santana.
After almost a full season with the Astros, can Singleton make the adjustment (whether it is mechanical, or mental) while getting everyday at-bats in Fresno that will allow him to be the asset we think he is at the MLB level? Same for Santana (minus the amount of MLB experience). His time up in the majors was less than stellar to say the least. Both of these guys are still young, so I am interested to see how they grow and mature this season.
Is this the last stop for Matty D in the Astros organization, or will the time in AAA help him out?
Villar made the roster by learning a new position (and hitting well) this spring. How will that carry over? Does he stick all season with the big club?
So many questions! It will be interesting to see how all of these guys progress in 2015.
The human element to sports is what hooks me the most, so if I have to pick one storyline, it would be how our big offseason acquisition Evan Gattis does. Moving away from the rigors of a catcher, I am first and foremost hoping for a full, healthy season from El Oso Blanco. Secondly, I am very intrigued as to how his immense power will play. Given a full season of at-bats, I don't think a 30-40 HR season is out of the realm of possibilities.
Given his interesting journey, that would be fun to watch and root for. I felt the same way after I read Collin McHugh's thoughtful and downright inspirational blog entry regarding the not-so-lavish realities of most minor leaguers working hard and trying to get their chance at the big league level. It made me smile just a little bigger every time I saw him dominate another start. I hope Gattis breaks out similarly, and finds the same success, both on and off the field.
There are several story lines I'll be watching:
- Statistically, I'm less concerned about meaningful regression from Jose Altuve, Dallas Keuchel, Chris Carter, and Collin McHugh as some others appear to be. Rather, I'm very interested to see if there will be regression in the positive direction for Brett Oberholtzer, who posted a 3.56 FIP last season. His xFIP was poor, but as an extreme fly ball pitcher, he can maintain a low HR/FB rate, which indicates that his true run prevention indicator may be closer to FIP than xFIP.
- I'm eager to see who becomes the fifth starter over the long haul. Last year we saw breakouts from Keuchel and McHugh because of tangible changes to their approach. There is a possibility that the Astros could identify a similar approach change that will cause Dan Straily to return to 2013 form. He is the same age right now as Keuchel and McHugh were last year during their breakouts, for whatever that's worth, and there's no doubt the Astros coveted him for a reason, after they unsuccessfully tried to acquire him from the A's and then insisted on his inclusion in the Fowler deal with the Cubs. There were also positive signs from Brad Peacock at the end of last season, and he also only just turned 27. He's still a former Top-100 prospect, after all--the talent is there, Lastly, I think Asher Wojiechowski, Brady Rodgers, and eventually Mark Appel will all have the chance this year to prove they deserve a 2016 mid-rotation spot (somewhere) just the way Oberholtzer did in 2014.
- I want to see if the Astros can shatter the team strikeout record and still be near or at the top of "Runs Scored" leader boards. I believe that will be the case this season, and perhaps we'll have some ammunition against the local talk show jockeys and newspapermen that continually harangue the Astros for the K's.
- Which minor leaguer will force the Astros to make a major league move because of impressive performance? No matter the national rankings, there is still a large number of nearly-MLB-ready prospects who, if they murder the high minors, will make for interesting roster decisions. Prime candidates include Appel, Rodgers, Jon Singleton, Domingo Santana, Matt Dominguez (yes...), Preston Tucker, Andrew Aplin, Joe Sclafani, a handful of relievers, and Max Stassi. For the first time in a decade the Astros may be faced with real roster logjams that will allow them to push their players with internal competition, or to deal with other clubs from a position of strength.
- I believe McHugh will be in the mix for an AL Cy Young award until the season's end, and that George Springer will receive a handful of votes for AL MVP.
The biggest storyline for me is the lack of storylines...at least off the field. After the general P.R. nightmare of 2014 that consisted of Springer's service time, the Aiken/Nix debacle, Sports Illustrated's 2017 champs cover, ground control database hack, Appel bullpengate and replacing Bo Porter, if 2015 is just about baseball then that's a win for the franchise and fans. I'm hoping for a quieter season, and anything with a couple of solid June draft picks, Springer having a breakout year and Appel coming up with a nice debut would make me very happy. Though the Astros' actions and the national media were both sometimes at fault last year in negligence and blowing stories way out of proportion, I'm interested to see if the team perception stays just on the field this season.