2016 Fantasy Baseball: Houston Astros Team Preview
2015 Quick Overview
The Astros finished 86-76 on the 2015 season. That marked a 16-game improvement from the previous season and a 35-game improvement over a two year period. Most interested observers believed 2016 would be the season where they would burst onto the playoff scene, but it came a season early. In fact, they brought the Royals closer to elimination than any other team. Unfortunately for them, the bullpen broke down at the end, and the offense didn’t provide nearly enough punch to make it all the way.
2016 Offseason Overview
The Astros came into the offseason with three distinct question marks. First, they wanted to make sure they had quality bats at their corners and thought they would be losing Colby Rasmus to free agency. Instead, Rasmus became the first player in MLB history to accept the new qualifying offer. He will earn 15.8 million dollars to serve in the same role he served last season. That effectively checked the corner question off the list.
The second major question was their bullpen. The Astros bullpen performed well for most of the 2015 season but faded big time in September and October. Jeff Luhnow wanted a big time closer, and he got one when he traded five minor league players for fireballer Ken Giles and a very young shortstop prospect. Giles took over as the Phillies closer after they traded Papelbon and seems to be up for the job. They also re-signed lefty Tony Sipp to a three-year, 18 million dollar deal. Those two combined with holdovers Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek, and Josh Fields combine to give the Astros one of the deepest pens in the AL.
Finally, the Astros wanted one more rotation arm to give them a little more depth. They were in on the Scott Kazmir negotiations, but ultimately did not get him. As of press time, the Astros have not added that arm yet, but they could be on some of the free agent holdovers as the calendar flips to February. If they fail to sign any of them, they will have to hope that Scott Feldman returns to health.
Fantasy Impact Bats
The strength of the Astros starts in the middle of the diamond. Both Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa are borderline first round players. Some ranking systems have Altuve going in the first round. The key for him will be if he can repeat his relative power burst he showed last season. Couple 15 home runs and 40 stolen bases and you can see the value. Carlos Correa will show more power than that, but considerably less speed. He is not on the same fantasy level as Altuve, but he will be the better player.
Carlos Gomez joins them in the middle of the diamond, and he should be gone within the first five rounds of the draft. Like Altuve, he combines tantalizing power and speed and should return to the 20/20 player he flashed before 2015. George Springer is also a sure bet to produce those kinds of numbers if healthy. The fantasy prospect list thins out from there. Colby Rasmus is making big money, but he is a fringy fantasy starter. He just doesn’t hit for high enough average to be viable in most standard five-category leagues. The same is true for third baseman Luis Valbuena and designated hitter Evan Gattis.
Fantasy Impact Arms
Obviously, the aforementioned Ken Giles changes the landscape of this bullpen. He is a top five closer prospect when you couple the electric stuff and the fact that he is now pitching for a contender. However, the best fantasy prospect is clearly the reigning Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel. Fantasy players have bet on him to regress two seasons in a row and they’ve bet wrong. I wouldn’t bet on that again.
Collin McHugh is a more sure bet to regress following a magical season that saw him win 18 games. He should still be solid but is probably closer to a fourth or fifth fantasy arm than what he showed a year ago. If you are looking for a sleeper, you should probably set your sights on Mike Fiers. He had some bad batted ball luck in Milwaukee and with a better infield defense behind him, those numbers should turn around. Meanwhile, Lance McCullers returns for his second season. We’ve seen young pitchers struggle in their second season, so I’d tread lightly there.
What’s on the farm?
The Astros consistently were ranked among the top five in farm system depth before the trade deadline this past season. They swung deals for Scott Kazmir, Mike Fiers, Carlos Gomez, and Ken Giles since then. Those deals collectively drained the farm system of ten pretty good prospects. The cupboard isn’t bare, but it isn’t brimming over either. There are few impact prospects at the top of the system.
A.J. Reed was recently rated as the 91st best prospect according to MLB.com’s pipeline. They also rated him as the best first base prospect after he slugged more than 30 home runs and drove in more than 100 runs a year ago between advanced A ball and AA. He should start in AAA this season, but he may be up by midseason. Otherwise, there are some fringy prospects like Matt Duffy and Tyler White that may fill in at first while they wait. The job will be given to Jon Singleton for the time being, but he doesn’t qualify as a prospect anymore.
At first glance, you would predict bigger and better things for the Astros. It is easy to say they were betrayed by the pen at the end of the season and now they have a better one. Unfortunately, that kind of analysis is far too simplistic. Often seasons like 2015 are built on out of context performances that won’t be repeated. A quick look at the rotation is proof of that point. You could argue that every one of their returning starting pitchers outperformed expectations. The same could be said for a few of their relievers as well. Still, there is more than enough talent here to stay in the race and Luhnow has proven he is willing to pull the trigger on a deal if need be.