So I was looking up the Rule 4 MLB 2016 amateur draft order and I couldn’t find the Astros in the top 5 picks. This seemed weird because they seem to always pick near the top of the draft. I actually had to scroll all the way down to #17 to find the Astros’ first pick. After five years of tanking, their young players start putting it together and a make a surprisingly magical run to their first trip to the Post-Season in 10 years. Houston puts a cap of on their season with a dominant Wild Card victory over the Yankees before they run into the buzzsaw known as the 2015 Kansas City Royals.
Down the stretch of the 2011 season in which Houston found themselves 40 games out of first place in the NL Central, they hired GM Jeff Luhnow to get the ship back on course. Although Astros’ fans might not have realized it until last year, he had a plan to rebuild the team by replenishing the farm system with high end talent and patiently wait for them to make an impact. He started with the 2012 draft where he selected Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers and Preston Tucker. He has quietly continued to have strong drafts and make under-the-radar signings to strengthen the team. In 2014, Houston finished out of the cellar for the first time in four years and fans could see that there was hope and they were just a few years away. Last year, the shocked the world with a hot start and did enough down the stretch to make a statement that they have indeed arrived and are here to stay.
There wasn’t a lot of off-season moves by the Astros this winter, however, I like what they did…
Notable Off-Season Additions:
- Ken Giles (Acquired from PHI)
- Doug Fister (Signed as FA)
Notable Off-Season Subtractions:
- Jonathan Villar (Traded to MIL)
- Jed Lowrie (Traded to OAK)
- Chris Carter (Signed with MIL)
- Vincent Velasquez (Traded to PHI)
- Brett Oberholtzer (Traded to PHI)
- Mark Appel (Traded to PHI)
- Scott Kazmir (Signed with LAD)
- Chad Qualls (Signed with COL)
Houston has needed a legitimate Closer for some time. This was a need the team identified as key to winning games down the stretch. Although only one full year in the 9th inning, Giles does fit the mold they have been using to build the team. He is only 25 years-old who is under club control through 2020. He throws heat but his velocity did drop his first full season closed out. I’m not convinced his career 1.56 ERA and 1.82 FIP will continue in a full time closer role. His WHIP increased to 1.200 and his BB/9 to 3.2 in 2015. He he can get those ratios back down and continue to keep the ball in the park, he could become an elite closer. Even if his ERA goes up a point and the control numbers stay the same, he should be a top 10-15 Closer which will solidify the position.
Signing Doug Fister as the 4th/5th starter is really a nice under-the-radar move. Doug had a tough season last year as he struggled with injuries and while on the mound he barely performed a replacement player level. People seem to forget that the previous two seasons he boasts a 4.5 and 4.1 WAR respectively. I will take that at the back of my rotation. If he regains his form, he will be a bargain on a one-year deal for $7M. Otherwise is was a minimum investment that eats innings until their young pitchers are ready to pitch at the Major League level.
Astros’ fans should not be too concerned about the personal loses this off-season. Mark Appel was a much-hyped prospect but thus far has failed to live up to anywhere near it. Kazmir is a year removed from his All-Star season and basically pitched at a replacement player level in 2015.
Projected Opening Day Lineup:
- Jose Altuve (R) – 2B
- George Springer (R) – RF
- Carlos Correa (R) – SS
- *Evan Gattis (R) – DH
- Carlos Gomez (R) – CF
- Colby Rasmus (L) – LF
- Luis Valbuena (L) – 3B
- Jonathan Singleton (L) – 1B
- Jason Castro (L) – C
* Likely beginning season on DL
Projected Opening Day Bench:
- Preston Tucker (L) – OF
- Jake Marisnick (R) – OF
- Matt Duffy (R) – 1B/3B
- Marwin Gonzalez (S) – INF
- *Tyler Heineman (S) – C
* Max Stassi (R) likely to start season on DL
The Astros’ lineup features several highly talented young , right-handed hitting, players at the top of an incredible string of potential platoons at the back half. Traditionally, this lineup is scary in a bad way with all the righties grouped at the top. Coach A.J. Hinch could bat Colby Rasmus or Preston Tucker cleanup while Gattis is out to break it up a little. However, it appears that he is recovering nicely from his hernia surgery and will likely only miss a few weeks.
Only 25 years old, 2B Jose Altuve already has three All-Star appearances, two Silver Sluggers and a
partridge in a pear-tree Gold Glove in four and half seasons. He is a perennial 30+ SB guy, has two 200+ hit seasons and flashed a little power with 15 round-trippers in 2015. Altuve should be the first 2B off the board in virtually any fantasy league.
George Springer is ready for a breakout. He hasn’t been healthy in either of his Major League seasons, but his tools have been off-the-charts. I’m looking to target Springer in as many leagues as I can because some owners could be down on him. Carlos Correa overshadowed him last year due to an incredible half season. Quietly, Spring cut back his K rate (33% to 24.2%) and continued to walk at an 11% clip. If he gets 600 plate appearances, I expect numbers like .275/.350/.465 with 25 HRs and 15 SB. This is a damn productive player that should finish as a Top-20 OF this season if healthy.
I mentioned Carlos Correa. Not sure I have to go into much more detail. If you are reading articles about baseball and/or fantasy baseball, you likely know who he is. In MLFB League 2, I have been hit up by no less than half the league on Correa’s availability for trade. I heard some very intriguing offers, but in the end, I’m not going to move the best SS in the league (by far) and Top 5 overall fantasy hitter. Reigning Rookie-of-the Year and future perennial MVP candidate, Correa features an excellent blend of plus power and plus speed with excellent plate discipline at a premium position. I expect to see a slash line of .275/.365/.535 with 35+ HRs, 25+ SBs. He had an excellent rookie campaign where he had an 18.1 K% and 9.3% BB%. The strikeouts may go up a tick as teams are more careful with him and he sees less strikes. With this his walks so increase as well which is why I think we will see him get on base around 36-37% of the time this year.
The bottom of the order may feature up to four platoon situations
- LF – Colby Rasmus (L) / Jake Marisnick (R)
- 3B – Luis Valbuena (L) / Marwin Gonzalez (S)
- 1B – Jonathan Singleton (L) / Matt Duffy (R)
- C – Jason Castro (L) / Max Stassi (R)
All these players have some value in deeper leagues but should be late round players or waiver-wire claims.
Projected Opening Day Rotation:
- Dallas Keuchel (L)
- Collin McHugh (R)
- Mike Fiers (R)
- Doug Fister (R)
- *Scott Feldman (R)
* Lance McCullers (R) will likely start season on DL with sore shoulder.
Projected Opening Day Bullpen:
- CL – Ken Giles (R)
- SU8 – Luke Gregerson (R)
- SU7 – Will Harris (R)
- MR – Tony Sipp (L)
- MR – Josh Fields (R)
- MR – Pat Nesheck (R)
- LR – Dan Straily (R) / Scott Feldman (R)
Houston has a solid but not spectacular bullpen. I broke down Giles at the top of this article and Gregerson, Harris and Sipp should slot into RP 50 to 100 range. Leagues with deep bullpens and/or reward holds could do a lot worse than these guys. Sipp is a high strikeout guy that holds bonus value there.
The Astros don’t just have the reigning ROY; they have the reigning Cy Young Winner as well in Dallas Keuchel. He is a legit #1 Starter in real life as well as your fantasy roster. He is durable and doesn’t hurt you in any category. His four-pitch arsenal gives you plenty of Ks (23.7% in 2015) and he has exceptional control (5.6% BB%). It is possible he could take a small step back now that the league is fully aware of him and will be game-planning for him. He is still a Top-10 SP and could arguably be in the Top-5.
Mike Fiers is a pitcher that I will be targeting in middle rounds this year. He is somewhat of anomaly as he is a strikeout pitcher whose two-seamer averages only 89 MPH. Last season he put an emphasis on the curveball and it really kept hitters off balance. He gets a lot of pop flies, but as a 42% fly ball pitcher he lets up quite a few homers as well. Once McCullers is back, he will slot into the #4 spot in the rotation and won’t have the pressure of having to be the man. If he keeps the ball in the park, he is an excellent fantasy sleeper to as doesn’t wow you in any one category but doesn’t really hurt your either (unless you have sabermetric categories that heavily penalize HRs allowed).
Last pitcher I want to highlight is Lance McCullers. He was shut down due to a sore shoulder and will likely miss the his first few starts of the season. He has two plus pitches (fastball and curve) and they have been incredible in his limited exposure at the Major League level. What’s even more impressive is that he has never pitched at the AAA level. He got bumped up last year to make a few spot starts and ended up with 22 on the season. Now I expect other teams to be better prepared for him this year, but his tools are legit and should slot in at the #3 spot once healthy. Scott Feldman gets bumped to the Long-reliever role at this point and Dan Straily goes back to the minors. I don’t think Houston will rush him back because they will want to limit his workload and not take a chance that he could re-injury the shoulder. He is a top dynasty asset and is worthy of a roster spot in all leagues that have enough roster spots or a DL to stash him for the first month.
Spring Position Battles:
1B – Singleton/Duffy Platoon vs. A.J. Reed vs. Tyler White
The one and only real position battle I see in Spring Training is the starting 1B job. This is very intriguing as it could possibly begin the A.J. Reed era in Houston or the give disappointing Jon Singleton one last chance. Singleton has been downright awful in his MLB career sporting an eye-popping 39% career K rate and .171 career batting average in 420 plate appearances. He allegedly has prolific power and does get on base so there are tools to work with. I anticipate this being the direction the team goes with Matt Duffy getting the majority of starts against lefties.
A.J. Reed is the 1B of the future. I profile him in my review of 1B prospects from back in February. He is a plus power hitter, developing plus hit tool and has good plate discipline despite a propensity to strikeout. Truth is, he is the long-term plan at first base and I fully expect him to stay in AAA until the Super-Two deadline for service time has passed.
Tyler White is not as well known as A.J. Reed, but he could possibly win the job out of camp if Singleton continues his brutal Spring (.103/.133/.241 slash). White is a polished hitter that will walk more than strikeout and could potentially get on base around 40% of the time. He doesn’t have the power that profiles at 1B but his defense will limit him to that position. He would be just a bridge to Reed, but Hinch indicated that he could come north with the team. If he does, he will probably play and he is worth a late round flier.
The Astros are setup to have another great season and thank to GM, Jeff Luhnow, they are setup for the next decade to be a force in the AL West. I know they faded a bit down the stretch, but they are young and with another year of experience for Correa and Springer, I expect great things from them this year. Call me crazy, but I see a 90 Win season and a first place finish in the AL West. I firmly believe they are the best team in the division and will be ready for the Royals this post-season. Yes, I am on the Astros’ Bandwagon…
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Major League Fantasy Baseball Weekly: Join Lou Landers and Kyle Amore live on Thursday March 17th, 2016 from 8-10pm EST for episode #4 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Weekly. We will discuss player positions and help prepare you for the coming draft season. This will run every Thursday as a live broadcast that will take live callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This week we will discuss everything fantasy and MLB related in the N.L. East.
Come join a lively debate!
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Major League Fantasy Baseball Show: Join Corey D Roberts on Sunday March 20th, 2016 from 7-9pm EST for this week’s episode of the Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show. We are a live call in radio show so we encourage callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This week we will break down everything fantasy and MLB relevant for the N.L. Central division.
Our guests this week are Andy Macuga and Phil Weiss. Andy is the head baseball coach at Borrego Springs H.S. in Southern California, and a veteran owner in MLFS leagues. Phil Weiss’s resume includes working as a CPA with a large public accounting firm as well as private industry (Fortune 500), specializing in international corporate tax planning. Also earned the Chartered Financial Analyst designation. Chief Financial Analyst for Independent RIA, responsible for individual securities held in client accounts.
Frequent guest on CNBC and Bloomberg television. Multiple appearances on Bloomberg radio, local and national radio.
Regularly quoted in Wall Street Journal, Reuters, New York Times, AP, thestreet.com, local news, Financial Times
Fantasy Baseball Experience:
Seasoned fantasy player since college and also a Major League Fantasy Baseball team owner for 3 years.