Despite still not getting the credit he deserves, Jose Altuve is a bona fide Major League star. He won the batting title in 2014, slashing .341/.377/.453 while leading the A.L. in hits (225) and stolen bases (56). Oh, and he's still just 24 years old. This upcoming season, Altuve won't be the only threat in a new-look lineup that should offer him some protection on a daily basis. That's a recipe for success, as long as he doesn't fall off significantly in 2015.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY SportsTroy Taormina
2014 was, in many ways, the wackiest season that MLB has had in a while. Nobody expected the Kansas City Royals to power their way from an unlikely Wild Card berth all the way to Game 7 of the World Series ... but they did. Prior to 2014, K.C. was seen as a scrappy young team with promise that "wasn't quite there yet" ... sound familiar?
APDavid J. Phillip
A more dangerous offense
GM Jeff Luhnow didn't sit on his hands this offseason, bringing in Evan Gattis, Colby Rasmus and Luis Valbuena to add some veteran presence to Houston's young crop of talent. Adding the new guys to a lineup already featuring Chris Carter, Jon Singleton, George Springer and other feast-or-famine hitters will almost assuredly result in a huge uptick in offensive strikeouts this season (Gattis almost hit 100 last year and Rasmus finished with 124). Despite that, the Astros should be deeper 1-9 and more flexible this season than they were the past few years.
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY SportsRobert Mayer
George Springer's breakout potential
Despite racking up a ton of Ks and making some mental errors, George Springer was pretty impressive in 2014. He hit a few home runs that made jaws drop, and there's no reason to assume that won't continue. In fact, there's probably even more reason to expect a strong year from Springer in 2015, given that he's had some time to heal and get his body back to 100 percent after being slowed down by a few nagging injuries toward the end of 2014. Pencil him in as an option for 'breakout player' in 2015.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsKim Klement
More kids waiting in the wings
The Astros' revved-up rebuilding process will be on display in 2015 — but don't forget about the blue-chip prospects on the horizon. One such player is Carlos Correa. The shortstop's 2014 was cut short by a bad leg injury, but he should conceivably get back to business in 2015. Pitcher Mark Appel will likely start the year in Double-A, but don't be surprised if his rapid ascent through the Astros' minor league system brings him into the discussion sometime toward the late summer. All this to say: if things go their way, the Astros could have some pretty solid options in the minors to turn to for late-season help.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY SportsTommy Gilligan
Again — anything can happen
The "unpredictable nature of baseball" narrative comes into play again when considering what the Astros' A.L. West foes in Oakland did in 2012. Pegged by most experts that year to finish with more than 90 losses, the A's flipped the script, dramatically snatching the division away from the Texas Rangers with a scorching hot streak over the final few weeks of the season. The 2015 Astros aren't expected to be as bad as most of the 2012 A's critics thought they'd be, so Houston has that going for it. What happens next, then, will be interesting to see.
Getty ImagesThearon W. Henderson
The division is uneven
Everybody seems to think the Seattle Mariners will be the Los Angeles Angels' main threat in the West in 2015, but that's not necessarily how it's going to play out. The Mariners have question marks with their offensive additions, for one. The Angels' core is a year older and their starting staff has yet to be finalized. The Oakland A's have almost an entirely new roster that may or may not perform as expected, and the Texas Rangers are relying on huge bounceback years from Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo. What's that mean for Houston? Well, while the West will be tough, the five teams are — at least on paper — on a relatively even playing field, as it stands right now. Get ready for a fun, exciting season in the division.