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Starting Nine: Astros pitchers and catcher report


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Quiet. Can you hear it? It's the sound of baseballs popping leather gloves.That is right boys and girls, baseball season is back.

For the first time in a while the Astros are among the teams that genuinely have a shot at the championship. That doesn't mean the team is perfect. The Crawfish Boxes staff talks about the questions remaining for the 2016 Houston Astros as they enter Spring Training:


What are the biggest questions you want answered this Spring Training related to the Astros?


Brian Stevenson

There are several questions that need answering, but the biggest one is clearly who will be manning first base on Opening Day. Singleton seems to have the inside track, but between A.J. Reed, Tyler White, Matt Duffy, Luis Valbuena and others, it's far from certain.

A platoon situation of some kind is also possible, but given Singleton's pedigree and super-friendly contract, the ideal situation, and the one the front office has to be hoping for, is for him to win the job outright. Spring performance isn't a great indicator; sometimes a big Spring leads to good things (Michael Bourn) and other times, not so much (Brett Wallace), but nothing would be nicer than to see Singleton light it up in our final year in Kissimmee.


It will be interesting to watch the pitchers vying for the bottom of the rotation. Will Fister look like a pitcher on the rebound...or just another soft-tossing arm? How well will Feldman return from his season-ending surgery last year? And, don't be surprised if Wandy Rodriguez makes a surprisingly good impression in the spring. Wandy is now the crafty LHP, and he shares similar capabilities with Feldman and Fister. And, it's always intriguing to watch the high level prospects, like Musgrove and Martes, when they face major league hitters for the first time. And, of course, the "depth" contenders, like Straily and Wojo, can enhance their chances of an early call-up if they have a strong spring. Will the competition for the 5th slot be exceedingly strong, with one of the losers ending up in the pen? We shall find out.

David Coleman

Let's get this out of the way first, because I may not write it again this spring.

Spring Training stats don't matter.
Spring Training stats don't matter.
Spring Training stats don't matter.
Spring Training stats don't matter.

Okay. Now that tradition has been completed. I wish I had a better answer. I'm sure the Astros will be looking at how guys come into camp, especially at crowded positions like first and third base. I'm sure they'll be looking to see if Max Stassi can hold up as the backup catcher or who will find time as the fourth and fifth starter. It all matters, but it's probably not going to be decided by just this spring.

Let's take catcher. The Astros likely are 85 percent of the way to a decision on that spot. This spring will determine that other 15 percent, which isn't nothing, but also won't dictate all of it. If Stassi is significantly ahead of Tyler Heineman already, but Heineman hits 40 points better this spring, he still will lose the job.

If that's the case, the most important question to answer this spring is who will stay healthy?

The next six weeks will be a war of attrition, trying to keep all the Astros starters healthy and on schedule to start the season. That's all I want to see. They already lost Gattis for a time. If that's the only significant injury that they suffer, they'll be extremely lucky. Fact is, more than one pitcher will probably go down and maybe a position player or two.

The Astros just need to have luck on their side in Florida. If they can answer that question in the positive, the season will look brighter.


I'm going to do something I rarely do, and disagree with Mr. Coleman.

Spring Training stats ARE going to matter in the biggest question mark that I have: backup catcher. A lot of people think that the job is Max Stassi's to lose, because he appears to be top guy on the totem pole due to longevity and because he has recently been proclaimed a top-notch pitch framer.

How. Ev. Ah....

Stassi has been an so awful with a bat in his hands over the past two seasons that nearby players should worry that it might be contagious. Like, one of the worst hitters in the hitter-friendly PCL awful. For two straight years. Stassi may be the backup catcher to start this season, but only if he doesn't fall on his face offensively during Spring. If Stassi shows lifeless production with the stick during Spring, the Astros should be almost obligated to sign a minor league Free Agent, or else promote somebody more deserving. They can't commit to Evan Gattis, who will be injured for most of Spring Training, and it should take a pretty convincing performance (with scouting reports to match) for Alfredo Gonzalez to win the job, or for another catcher to be added to the 40-man roster.

David Coleman

229 PA, .229/.311/.448
190 PA, .235/.302/.376
210 PA, .225/.287/.361
258 PA, .176/.295/.308
173 PA, .188/.253/.253

Those are the lines for the last five seasons from Astros backup catchers. Max Stassi is currently projected to hit .217/.265/.359 by ZiPS, putting him as the second-worst line since 2011 Carlos Corporan. If he loses the job, it'll not be because of what he does this spring, it'll be because what he does this spring confirms the decision the Astros already made.

Also, god help me, I looked at all the Astros projected catchers offensive numbers. That position is three black holes that have merged together to very nearly tear the fabric of space and time apart. It's awful, in other words.


So what you're saying is the Astros projected catchers offensive numbers conclusively confirmed the existence of gravitational waves? In that case, I think we owe them a huge thank you for this giant leap in scientific knowledge.


The biggest question I want answered: Is Jon Singleton ready?

I do think Spring Training statistics are more or less worthless, but seeing Singleton create a rhythm would be encouraging. For the first time, entering camp, the job is Singleton's to lose. A.J. Reed and Tyler White aren't far off after fantastic 2015 seasons, but it seems all but certain that those two will begin the 2016 campaign in the minor leagues. Perhaps Singleton's biggest problem was never having consistent playing time at the MLB level. Perhaps he's just not very good. But this spring, he'll be able to prepare throughout March knowing that he'll be starting at first base on Opening Day in New York, and I think that means something. Whether he takes advantage of it is a whole different story.

Brian Stevenson


Terri Schlather

1 - 1st Base?
2 - 3rd Base?
3 - Backend of the rotation?
4 - Why haven't they brought stirrups back into the uniform?


Well, this is kind of what I meant: "If he loses the job, it'll not be because of what he does this spring, it'll be because what he does this spring confirms the decision the Astros already made."

Dave Spradley

I'm interested to see what will happen with the infield prospects this year. Namely Colin Moran and Alex Bregman.

If either of them start the season hot and Valbuena falters offensively, will the front office be tempted to call up Moran or try Bregman at 3B?

Or in a slightly different scenario, if all of the first base prospects don't pan out could we see Valbuena back at first and Moran manning the hot corner?