Spring Training is a full go now with the Astros playing in their first game this afternoon. So before play starts, I asked the TCB staff the following question regarding Spring Training.
What story line you are most looking forward to during Spring Training? Could be a player, a position, reigning champs, anything.
I mentioned it in my names to watch article but I will be paying close attention to Derek Fisher. While the Astros have Marwin, it appears the left field position will be an open one. Derek Fisher’s ceiling rivals that of Springer in a way. A guy with a solid power/speed combination who can also get on base.
Prior to the 2017 season, Fisher was ranked as the #83 prospect in baseball. After his tear to start the year in AAA he moved up to #54 per Baseball America. We saw glimpses of what he could do last year hitting the ball all over the field. Fisher will be 24 to start the season, the same age as Springer when he debuted in 2014.
If Fisher can become what many of us hope, it will just add another lethal left hand bat to an already great lineup. My hope is that Fisher takes over the left field spot and be a .260/.340/.440 type of guy with 20/20 potential. Also will be keeping an eye on the depth guys like White and Davis.
For me, the biggest storyline is going to be seeing how AJ Reed is going to be used...and how he’s going to perform. I’m working on a separate piece with more detail, but Reed finished 2017 on a superhuman tear and still didn’t receive a call-up in September, and I think that put a chip on his shoulder. Also, the news about Yuli moving around the field is huge, and implied to me that they’re trying to make more PA available for Reed, since he’s essentially a first base-only player.
I want to see the prospects, in particular the pitchers who are nearly-MLB-ready. I can’t help but be a little antsy after the entire rotation exploded not far into the 2017 season. There are some guys who might be in the pen to start and could move to the rotation, but Musgrove is gone to Pittsburgh, Fiers to Detroit, and none of the prospects called up to pitch last year really established themselves. I want to see if someone looks like they could help early on if things go sideways again. Rogelio Armenteros is starting today’s spring opener, which is being broadcast on TV; my DVR is set.
I’m actually looking forward to a few storylines aside from the most obvious one. (WS Champs taking the field)
1. Anthony Gose- Remember when the Astros acquired him in the Oswalt deal then immediately shipped him to Toronto for Brett Wallace?(or should I say Redhawks first basemen?) Well in a strange twist of fate, he’s with the team... as a pitcher. I doubt he stays with the club, but I thought I heard he can throw 100 MPH.
2. Brady Rodgers- If he had stayed healthy last year, we may have seen him start a few games. Remember that he was the 2016 PCL pitcher of the year. Now it’ll take a while until he sees game action, but this could mark the beginning of the end for him in Houston. There are a few players ahead of him. I’m curious to see if he becomes the Colin Moran type player. You know the guy who can contribute but because of a loaded roster has no place on the team? Also he’s an ASU alum, and I’m a bit biased towards them.
3. The pitching staff. So there’s 4 guys set in stone in the rotation right? Morton deserves the fifth but McHugh wants it. So there’s a pitchers battle.
I’m excited to see what happens with the very few position battles the Astros have. To me that’s the last spot in the rotation (Morton, McHugh, Peacock), left handed bat (A.J. Reed) and left handed reliever (Sipp, Gose, the field). The left handed bat and left handed reliever are the two spots where I could see the Astros adding from outside the organization if they aren’t happy with the internal options. Personally I’m hoping Reed and Gose stand out this spring training and grab those spots.
I don’t know that it’s necessarily a Spring Training-related thing, but I’m watching Jandel Gustave and Brady Rodgers, both of whom are coming off of Tommy John surgery. I expect Rodgers to do a stint in the minors in late May, early June, and to compete for a spot on the big league squad around the All-Star break. I believe Gustave is on roughly the same timeline.
These are two arms on the 40-man roster that we can basically count on to be “midseason pickups” to help the Astros down the stretch, so watching their arm strength during spring drills (they’re expected to do some “light throwing” and PFP) will give us some good early indications of what kind of shape they’re in. I still expect good things in particular out of Rodgers, who has shown remarkable tenacity as a pitcher.
I am looking forward to seeing how Max Stassi looks at the plate. If he can hit well enough and if the coaching staff thinks his approach will carry into real major league action, then his inclusion on the 25-man roster could have far-reaching impact.
First, he probably represents a defensive upgrade over Evan Gattis behind the plate as a backup catcher. That would free Gattis up to be a more regular DH, which in turn could have impact on the playing time for multiple players. Derek Fisher would be forced into a true backup role, as Marwin Gonzalez would see more time in Left Field, with DH being less of an option to keep his bat in the lineup. This would make Fisher and Marisnick somewhat redundant. The situation would limit playing time of Tyler White, A.J. Reed, or J.D. Davis, if any of those three would even make the roster, with Stassi taking their spot.
An additional impact could be the Astros carrying one fewer reliever in the bullpen. The bullpen is already log-jammed with at least two established major leaguers possibly on the outside looking in out of Collin McHugh, Tony Sipp, Buddy Boshers, and Anthony Gose. Holding a third catcher could prevent a qualified reliever from even making the squad.
Not lost in all of this: if Stassi can hit well enough to provide league-average offense or better at the catcher position, then it has the potential to answer the question over who will replace McCann as the primary backstop in 2019. Far-reaching implications, indeed.
Clarence Johnson (Clack)
I will be watching how Tyler White and A.J. Reed perform in the spring. I view them both as guys who will have a career as ML players, but they are limited to 1b and DH. White may be able to get some random time at 3B, but the indication that Gurriel will play around the infield may limit that benefit. Also, the relief pitcher performances will be of high interest, particularly LHers (like Gose). Remember that Peacock was not widely regarded by fans prior to last spring, but made his name more well known after a great spring.
I’m probably most interested in the pitching this year. We’ve got a lot of starter talent, but not enough open spots, traditionally at least. Will the Astros experiment with an extended rotation? Will they have four confirmed starters and the fifth spot is a platoon? Heck, maybe they use the extra arms in more long relief roles to keep pitch counts down. Who knows, but it’ll be exciting.