2015 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide: Houston Astros Team Preview
Although the Houston Astros weren’t a very good team last year as they only won 70 games, their 19-win improvement from 2013 was encouraging after a stretch of three consecutive years with at least 105 losses. While the Astros may have a tough time coming out of the loaded AL West to reach the playoffs, fans can expect the team to take another step forward this season as the front office was extremely busy making deals in the offseason to further improve the ballclub.
They bolstered the back end of the bullpen by signing veteran relievers Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson to handle the 8th and 9th innings as well as trading for catcher/outfielder Evan Gattis, third baseman Luis Valbuena, and starter Dan Straily. Additionally, the Astros signed free agents Colby Rasmus and Jed Lowrie to solidify the shortstop and center field positions, respectively. Their key departure of the offseason was Dexter Fowler, and while he’s a fine player in his own right, they won’t be haunted by him leaving. With a young and talented nucleus combined with a solid mix of veterans to stabilize the clubhouse, the future finally looks bright for an organization that has been preaching patience the last few years.
Top Draft Picks (Studs)
Jose Altuve (2B): The 24-year-old is coming off a career-best season that saw him hit a blistering .341 as he staked claim to his first batting title, and his standout year hasn’t gone unnoticed by the fantasy baseball community if his 13.1 ADP is any indication. Besides the stellar average, the diminutive second baseman also provided fantasy owners with an abundance of speed as he swiped a career-high 56 bases. Projected to leadoff with an improved lineup around him, Altuve should improve upon his 85 runs scored last year and is on the verge of becoming a three-cat dynamo. Although he won’t provide much in the way of home runs or RBI, that’s clearly not the reason you’re drafting him. While he’s likely to regress in average and steals, he’s still a great bet for a .300+ average and 40+ steals. He’s a safe pick in the second round.
George Springer (OF): Although his season ended early last year due to a quad strain, Springer showed his lethal power as the rookie walloped 20 homers and 51 RBI in only 78 games. The 25-year-old possesses a dynamic power/speed skillset so don’t let his five stolen bases last year fool you. He had three separate stints in the minors with at least 22 steals and he has the potential to supply a 30/20 season. His 47.7 ADP makes him a late fourth-round pick in standard 12-team leagues and he could breakout in his first full season. His propensity to strikeout will likely hinder his average so owners shouldn’t count on him to hit over .240, but Springer makes for an excellent OF2 selection with the potential to be an OF1.
High Upside (Sleepers)
Chris Carter (1B/DH): If you’re looking for power in the middle rounds and don’t mind taking on someone who won’t provide a great average, look no further than Carter. His 37 home runs were tied for the second most in MLB and as of now he’ll only cost you a late 10th-round pick. In addition to the plethora of bombs, he also had 88 RBI. Over the last two years with the Astros, Carter has averaged 33 homers and 85 RBI and that’s a fair baseline to project for the behemoth slugger this year. Keep in mind Carter had a 31.8% strikeout rate last year and is a career .222 hitter, but you can’t acquire many players this late that are capable of 40 home runs.
Collin McHugh (SP): McHugh broke onto the scene for the Astros last year as he managed to post a 2.73 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and 157/41 K/BB ratio over 154 2/3 innings as a rookie. His WHIP was the sixth-best mark in the league while his mark in ERA was tied for 15th-best. His 3.11 FIP suggests his success last year wasn’t a fluke either. His slider rated as 18.5 runs above average, good enough for the third-best mark in the league and his curveball is a nice weapon as well. He likely won’t be as good as last year, but with two plus pitches, good command, and peripherals that support his success, owners have reason to be cautiously optimistic of his chances of providing SP4/SP5 value.
High Downside (Busts)
Evan Gattis (C): There’s no denying Gattis’ insane power is going to play quite well with the short porch in Houston as he’ll be taking aim at the Crawford Boxes, but the question remains whether he can stay healthy enough to fulfill his 30-homer potential. Gattis has been injury-prone throughout his two-year career as he’s played in only 105 and 108 games, albeit most of those were as a catcher. In limited action, he’s hit 21 and 22 homers the last two years so it’s conceivable he could clear the 30-homer plateau if he’s able to play in 135+ games.
Gattis is a liability in the outfield and Carter is penciled in at DH, so it looks like he will see the bulk of his playing time at first base. His catcher eligibility makes him a top-5 option at the position due to the likelihood of a drastic increase in games played, health permitting. The problem is Gattis sports a 94.7 ADP, meaning he’s going in the 8th round on average. This doesn’t leave much room for profit, and in a one-catcher league there is no way yours truly is spending a top-100 pick on him. El Oso Blanco is a career .253 hitter and doesn’t possess speed so he’s essentially a two-cat producer. He strikes out at a healthy clip and pairs it with an underwhelming walk rate, not exactly harbingers of success. Gattis is the epitome of a risk/reward pick, and, for me, the risk outweighs the reward.
Luke Gregerson (RP): The 30-year-old was rewarded with a three-year, $18.5 million contract by the Astros in the offseason after posting a 2.12 ERA and 1.01 WHIP as a setup man for the Athletics a season ago. While Gregerson has never recorded more than nine saves in a season, he’s expected to get the first crack at the closer job and is expected to have that role come Opening Day if he doesn’t suffer too many hiccups throughout Spring Training. While Gregerson doesn’t possess the typical velocity of a closer, he’s proven to be an extremely effective reliever throughout his career as evidenced by his career 2.75 ERA.
The Astros are going to be better this year and he has a good chances to post 20-25 saves if he’s able to hold onto the job all year long. He won’t cost you much on draft day so if you can get him as your third or fourth closer, you’re doing just fine. Keep an eye out on Chad Qualls and Pat Neshek if he falters at all.
Impact Minor Leaguers
Carlos Correa (SS): Correa is an elite prospect as evidenced by Keith Law ranking him as the third overall prospect in 2015 and he could be ready for the show by Opening Day 2016. The former No.1 overall pick was raking at High-A Lancaster last year before suffering a fractured fibula while sliding into third base, delaying his development. The tantalizing prospect owns an intriguing mix of power and speed to go along with elite defense and the scary part is he’s only 20 years old. Look for him to advance quickly through the Astros minor league system.
Mark Appel (SP): Last year was certainly a trying year for the former No.1 overall pick of the 2013 draft as he dealt with a myriad of issues that contributed to his struggles. Law ranks him as the 44th-best prospect this year after coming in at 11th in 2013. The brunt of his problems came from a lack of command, although he managed to rebound at Double-A Corpus Christi. If he’s able to iron out his command and post better overall numbers this year, it’s likely he’ll receive a promotion at some point this season. Just don’t expect much initially from a fantasy perspective.
The owner of a career 5.20 ERA and 1.55 WHIP entering 2014, Dallas Keuchel had a breakthrough season as he posted a 2.93 ERA and 1.18 WHIP, making him the 35th-best starting pitcher in standard 5×5 leagues. Keep in mind though that Keuchel only struck out 146 batters over 200 innings last year, leading to an underwhelming 6.57 K/9. He lacks true swing-and-miss stuff and will likely regress from his stellar season last year, although he still makes for a good SP5 target.
Thanks to FanGraphs, Yahoo, ESPN, and FantasyPros for the statistical information. Be sure to comment below with any questions or remarks. You can follow me on Twitter @MattMoczy and I’m more than willing to answer any questions.