With pitchers and catchers reporting today, Astros’ spring training is officially underway! Until the end of March and starting tomorrow with their first workout, we’ll be following some important stories for Houston entering the 2021 regular season.
Let’s take a look at five of them...
1. Yordan Álvarez’ status
The 2019 American League Rookie of the Year underwent surgery in both of his knees last year and missed almost the entire 2020 season. Even though he’s expected to be fully healthy to begin action in camp, his health will remain a question mark at least at the beginning of spring training.
If healthy during the campaign, Álvarez will play a huge role in the Astros’ potential success, especially after George Springer’s departure, so spring training is a good time to have a sense of what Álvarez’ 2021 might look like.
2. Another chance for Whitley
Forrest Whitley knows he could break into the bigs this season and even he can be successful. But he needs to impress in camp and make everybody know he’s finally ready to help the Astros.
Even though a good performance in March wouldn’t put him in the Opening Day roster, it’d leave a good taste and definitely will let the door open for an eventual debut in 2021. If everything goes as planned, Whitley could play a role in the big-league team this year, at the age of 23.
For him, it’ll mark his first action since a good showing in the Arizona Fall League, back in 2019. That time, he threw 25 innings of 22 hits, eight earned runs, nine bases on balls, and 32 strikeouts. That’s the Whitley the Astros are hoping to see this spring.
3. A close look at prospects
There’s more beyond Whitley. Among members of the 40-man roster and non-roster invitees, the Astros will have a bunch of prospects in camp. Catcher Korey Lee, infielder Jeremy Peña, pitcher Tyler Ivey, and Int’l prospect Pedro León —among others— will have a chance to prove themselves.
Out of that group, Lee is seen as the regular catcher for the long term, though he hasn’t played above Short Class A. Ivey had an outstanding 2019 season and, now at 24, he might be ready to contribute at the highest level. Peña finished 2020 as the fourth-best prospect in the organization. And León received the highest signing bonus of the current international period ($4MM) and is the center fielder of the future for the Astros.
Besides those four, there are names such as IF Freudis Nova and RHP Bryan Abreu, who will be in camp as part of the 40-man roster.
4. Bullpen roles
As for now, the rotation seems to be locked, as it might easily be formed in order by Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers Jr., Framber Valdez, José Urquidy, and Cristian Javier. But the bullpen is something that still needs some work.
Although Ryan Pressly is expected to serve as the closer, nothing has been confirmed so far. Where will Pedro Báez and Ryne Stanek pitch? Will Andre Scrubb and Enoli Paredes be given important roles? Are the Astros looking for more help? Will pitchers like Steve Cishek or Héctor Velásquez earn a spot in the Opening Day roster? Lots of questions about their bullpen will be answered in March.
5. No Springer, Straw’s turn
Myles Straw is the guy everyone will be looking at during spring training. Why? He is going to replace George Springer at center field, or at least is going to get the opportunity. Even though we can’t expect Straw to play like Springer, hit 30 home runs, and drive in 90 runs —he’s not that kind of player— he needs to make a good impression.
Straw’s mission in spring camp will be to make the Astros feel comfortable and make them know he can embrace the role. If he can look like his 2019 version, the team will be okay with him as the everyday center fielder.