Spring camp has kicked into high gear with the final arrivals to the Astros' facility in Kissimmee, FL. Just down the highway from the Magic Kingdoms of Orlando, this will be Houston's next-to-last rodeo before an expected 2017 move to West Palm Beach, FL and a shared camp with the Washington Nationals.
Gattis, Hinch talk strategy
(c) Associated Press
Non-roster invitee Roberto Hernandez is still confronting visa issues but the rest of the squad are there to stretch their arms and legs, work on their timing, meet new teammates and somehow mesh into what they hope will be the franchise's first winning unit since 2008. Yes, the Astros are oh-for-Obama.
Shortstop Jed Lowrie and third baseman Luis Valbuena hope to add some punch to the lineup as do new outfielders Evan Gattis and Colby Rasmus. AL batting champion Jose Altuve returns to second base while holdovers Chris Carter, Jason Castro and George Springer expect to show improvement.
The pitching staff welcomes new faces too. Dan Straily hopes to win a starting job after he came over with Valbuena from the Cubs for Dexter Fowler. Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek were signed to bolster the bullpen which returns Chad Qualls, Tony Sipp and Josh Fields.
The starting rotation stayed largely intact from last year when Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh posted winning records. Veteran Scott Feldman hopes to turn things around from a frustrating 2014.
All of this will take place under the watchful eye of new manager A.J. Hinch and some new coaches. If all this makes you think they should pass out those "Hello, My Name Is..." tags over the next week or two, it wouldn't be such a bad idea.
If the decision scientists have done their jobs well, the Astros will post a .500 or above record while still paying their players less than 28 other major league teams. This is what the Moneyball meme is all about, fans, - winning games with meager payrolls.
We'll get our first measurements of the new formula on March 5th with the Grapefruit League opener against the Philadelphia Phillies and then they begin playing for keeps on April 6th with a home date against the Cleveland Indians.
There will be some interesting storylines to watch, such as who will become the closer, will Jon Singleton blossom, will Carter or Gattis look worse in the field, will the Astros challenge their own big league record for most strikeouts in a season and will Altuve cement himself as one of the game's best and least-known second basemen with another 200-hit season?
Stick around as Astros Daily hopes to provide the answers. Play Ball!
- Bob Hulsey