In my mind, there are 15 players that everyone expects to be on the 2017 Opening Day roster. There are a few more that MOST people agree on, but these were the 15 players that seemed the safest from any disagreement:
Jose Altuve, Carlos Beltran, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Ken Giles, Marwin Gonzalez, Luke Gregerson, Yulieski Gurriel, Will Harris, Dallas Keuchel, Brian McCann, Lance McCullers, Collin McHugh, Josh Reddick and George Springer
Who are the other 10 players that you expect to fill out the roster by the time Opening Day arrives?
Gattis for C2, DH
Tucker for LF, DH
Marisinick for OF5
Reed for 1B2, DH
Musgrove for SP5
Quintana for SP1B ***
Devinski for MR
Sipp... for LHSP (could also be Tolliver, depending on if he takes off in ST)
Fiers for LR/SP5
Feliz for SR
Evan Gattis will definitely be on the roster as the second catcher and regular DH, sharing that position with Beltran, who will be in the field fairly often. You don't pass up a guy whose 162 game pace last season was 41 home runs. He also boosted his walk rate by an impressive amount in 2016. Gattis is a well-above-average major league hitter and should be a regular in the lineup.
Chris Devenski was one of the best relievers in all of MLB last season. He's definitely in the bullpen, and possibly in a high-leverage role. He's one of the more overlooked pieces on the team. How many folks realize that he nearly posted 3 WAR in 2016, more than any Astros pitcher except McHugh? Tony Sipp will also be in the bullpen after what looks like a flukey bad season. There's no reason to think he'll repeat the worst season of his career in 2017, and impossible to ignore how good he was in 2014 and 2015.
Backup outfield will be Jake Marisnick and Teoscar Hernandez. Both provide strong defense with a reasonable expectation to not be pathetic at the plate, though both will rightly hit at the bottom of the lineup.
Preston Tucker will be back in AAA after his injury-riddled season. He needs to prove he can hit there (particularly against lefties) and that he can stop making mental mistakes in the field before he gets another crack. But Tucker is an important part of the club because of Aoki's and Beltran's advanced years, and because of Reddick's injury prone-ness. The door isn't closed. A.J. Reed will join him for regular at bats in Fresno, until he forces his way into the majors mid-season and goes all Anthony Rizzo on the league (it's gonna happen!).
For the fifth starter spot, it's hard to guess. I think it will come down to spring performance and whether or not the Astros make a trade. I know that's a horsecrap dodging of the question. Most likely, Fiers will be the fifth starter, with Musgrove stashed as an insurance policy or until he forces his way back up. Same with Michael Feliz and David Paulino. We know the Astros like to have depth. Musgrove and Feliz are protection against a major league injury and/or poor performance. I'd prefer Musgrove to be the opening day fifth starter, but I don't think it will shake out that way.
Where is Morton? Seems like he has to be a lock for a roster spot.
Let's go around the diamond:
C - McCann/Gattis
1B - Yulieski Gurriel
2B - Jose Altuve
SS - Carlos Correa
3B - Alex Bregman
LF - Nori Aoki/Carlos Beltran
CF - George Springer
RF - Josh Reddick
DH - McCann/Gattis/Beltran
SP1 - Dallas Keuchel
SP2 - Lance McCullers
SP3 - Collin McHugh
SP4 - Charlie Morton
SP5 - Mike Fiers/Joe Musgrove
That's 20 dudes before we even count Marwin, who's a lock to be on the roster. Add in Jake Marisnick as the second backup outfielder and we're at 22 spots already taken.
Two of those spots will go to relievers, meaning James Hoyt, Michael Feliz, Jandal Gustave, David Paulino, Reymin Guduan, Brady Rodgers, Kevin Chapman and waiver pickup Ashur Tolliver to the mix. I'd be surprised if they didn't break camp with two lefties, meaning one of those two open bullpen spots goes to Guduan, Chapman or Tolliver. I'd also guess either Hoyt, Feliz or Paulino get that last spot.
We're left with one more spot for a backup infielder. That will come down to either A.J. Reed or Colin Moran, probably. There's a chance Reid Brignac claims a spot, but I doubt it. Though he doesn't provide as much flexibility, Yuli could play at third or in left, meaning Reed gives Houston more mix-and-match options and could get the nod.
If you're wondering why I left Nori Aoki on here, well, he's making $5.5 million this year. I don't see the Astros eating that money to just cut him. He's also listed as the starter in left by Tags over at the Astros.com depth chart. I would count on him making the Opening Day roster.
So, which races are left for the roster?
Fifth starter - Fiers or Musgrove or Peacock or Brady Rodgers
Second lefty in the bullpen - Guduan or Chapman or Tolliver
Seventh guy in the bullpen - Hoyt or Feliz or Paulino
Second backup infielder - Reed or Moran
Those are some interesting competitions, but not really the drama we're used to seeing in Astros spring training. Most of these spots are set, barring a last-minute trade for Jose Quintana.
I honestly forgot about Aoki but with him and Beltran I would shift Tucker to AAA.
That seems about right. But I honestly would be surprised if Feliz isn't close to a lock for the bullpen, practically to the same extent as Devinski. It's possible that the Astros could go another season with only one LHP in the bullpen (not that I like it), if Hoyt has a great spring and Tolliver and Guduan don't impress. Paulino strikes me as pretty likely to start the year in AAA.
Here are my remaining ten:
I don't have A.J. Reed on the roster because I don't think there is a good way to fit him into the lineup every day and he ought to be getting regular at-bats, so let him do it at AAA. As a reminder, Reed has only played in 53 AA games and 70 AAA games. Tyler White did fine as a bench player toward the end of last season, so he seems like the better fit for this role.
I understand that Fiers might be SP5 instead of Musgrove, but I'm just tired of watching Fiers bounce back and forth between adequate and terrible and would rather see what Musgrove can do in a full season at the MLB level.
While I'm not going to go out on a limb and say that Devenski will make the rotation, let's not forget that Hinch has said they will take a look at him as a starter during Spring Training. I do think Devenski could be a capable starter, but I think he is too valuable in his bullpen role to make the move.
As far as Tolliver, it's a gut feeling really. The Astros have a history of under the radar acquisitions, especially for pitchers. I'm hoping Tolliver is the next addition to the list that includes McHugh, Harris, and Sipp.
Others have given lists, so I'll just talk.
I think the key position is going to be first base. By that, I mean that, once you answer the question of "who's on first," everything else will fall into place. Is it Gurriel? That leaves LF open for Aoki to get most of the time there. If it's Reed, then Gurriel is in LF and where is Aoki? The bench? I don't think they're paying him for that, and I imagine that, unless Reed just comes to camp and destroys everything in sight, they want him in AAA for more seasoning.
With that in place, you now have room for two other outfielders on the bench. Marisnick is one for his glove and pinch-running value, so it's either Teo Hernandez or Tony Kemp for the other. I like Kemp, personally; he's a more polished hitter, and brings another left-handed bat into Hinch's arsenal.
Beltran should never see the outfield. He might, sadly, but that doesn't mean he should. He's the everyday DH. I'm honestly not sure what happens with Gattis when he's not catching. If we're facing a lefty, Hinch will find a spot for him, but on most other days, I guess he ride the bench and pinch-hits.
Marwin Gonzalez looks like he might legitimately be the only backup infielder on the opening day roster, and maybe that's okay. He's gotten a lot of playing time in the last couple of years, and maybe they're fine with just having him as the one backup and using him often. Gurriel could play third occasionally, but then again, who's on first on those days? White or Reed won't be on the roster just to play once a week.
The fifth spot in the rotation baffles me. It should be Musgrove; he's better, he's ready, he's the future. But what do you do with Fiers? Can he work in long relief? Will he be willing to without whining to Hinch in the dugout on live TV? Boy I wish they'd traded him during the off-season. But we have him, and we have to figure something out for him. Giles, Gregerson, Harris, Devenski and Sipp are locks for the bullpen (the latter because of his contract). Assuming you don't have Musgrove in AAA to start the season, that leaves two spots. Feliz is a good bet for one, and if Tolliver impresses, he probably gets the other, simply because they're desperate for another lefty out there.