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Storylines to watch out for as Astros open Spring Training

Let’s see what are the stories you should be following this spring!

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

(Editor’s note: This is the second in our series of spring training/pre-season preview articles.)

Spring Training is that time of the year in which teams get ready for a long, long MLB season. However, it’s more than preparation and getting into shape. It’s an exciting month in which different storylines develop around every single team, and the Astros don’t escape that reality.

We’ve come up with some interesting storylines for you to follow as Spring Training is literally around the corner. Let’s dive in…

Again, Forrest Whitley

Whitley has been one of the most promising yet injury-plagued prospects in the Astros organization over recent years. But in 2023, when he’s just 25, he’s supposed to be finally healthy to have a regular Spring Training with the team and find out how far he is from the Majors.

Armed with an overpowering fastball, Whitley didn’t have a good 2022, but at least he threw 40 innings for the first time since 2019. He only made 13 appearances and finished the year in Triple-A but his ERA closed at 6.53 over 40 innings pitched in which he kept his usual high strikeout rate (10.1 K/9). This is likely a make-or-break year for him.

Find out the right spot for Hunter Brown

Brown is among the Astros’ most-prized arms. Still just 24 years old, he had an outstanding 2022 season as Brown starred in Triple-A before making his MLB debut. He shone in the Majors, going 2-0 with an 0.89 ERA over 20 1/3 innings of work across seven games (two starts). Then, he logged three scoreless appearances in the postseason to help the Astros bring home the World Series trophy.

However, there’s no clear room for Brown. The Michigan native needs to be a starter and the Astros rotation is full right now – with Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Lance McCullers Jr., Luis García, and José Urquidy, which may end up leaving Houston via trade sooner than later. According to FanGraphs’ Roster Resource, Brown will begin the season in Triple-A. An eventual call-up seems imminent.

You’re right: Will the Astros trade Urquidy?

Urquidy has been linked to trade rumors a few times. In fact, last year, the Astros were said to be nearing a deal with the Cubs that would have sent Urquidy to Chicago in exchange for star catcher Willson Contreras, who ended up signing with the Cardinals months ago.

Is this the right time to trade Urquidy? That’s something the new GM, Dana Brown, will need to decide. Urquidy still has three controllable years and is coming off a strong season – his best year so far, actually. Trading him at this point can bring value to the big league team or even prospects to help a farm system that needs help. While it could weaken the Astros’ pitching depth, it can open a rotation spot for Brown. It’s a risk that could go really good or really bad.

Which version of Jeremy Peña will show up?

Peña is going for his second MLB season after enjoying a memorable, rounded-up debut campaign in which he finished fifth in the ROY voting, won the Gold Glove at shortstop, and was named both the ALCS and the World Series MVP.

But it wasn’t always like that for Peña. Before getting red hot in the regular season's final month and crushing the ball in October, Peña struggled heavily between June and August, hitting for a .216/.248/.356 slash line with a .604 OPS in 60 games from June 4 to August 28. Will he find consistency to jump to the next level? We’re about to see that.

José Abreu’s new home

After having Yuli Gurriel for the past six full seasons as their first baseman, the Astros signed fellow Cuban José Abreu for three years and $58.5 million. Abreu, 36, spent his entire career until last year with the White Sox and was an absolute star, establishing himself as one of baseball’s most consistent, productive hitters.

In Houston, he’ll form an incredible Cuban duo with powerful Yordan Álvarez and may feel at home right from the start thanks to the massive Latin presence in the Astros’ clubhouse. Will he find his power back after hitting only 15 out of the park in ’22? Will he keep developing as an excellent hitter lowering his strikeout numbers, increasing his walks, and hitting for a high batting average? Those are important questions around Abreu’s game.