Astros: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Preview

Sep 23, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros third baseman Yulieski Gurriel (10) and shortstop Carlos Correa (1) celebrate after scoring runs during the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

AL East: BAL, BOS, NYY, TB, TOR

NL East: ATL, NYM, PHI, MIA, WAS

AL Central: KC, CWS, DET, CLE, MIN

NL Central: STL, PIT, CHC, MIL, CIN

AL West: SEA, LAA, TEX, OAK

The Astros added a lot of bats during the offseason when they should have focused on pitching. This could be a team to avoid the starting pitchers.

The Houston Astros had a down season based on their expectations. The team is young and hungry, but couldn’t make it to the playoffs. The Astros haven’t won more than 90 games since 2005. It’s been a rocky road since joining the American League West.

The Astros have a lot of players with promise, especially on offense. Though, the pitching staff leaves a lot to be desired. With this, the front office still decided to go after more bats instead of adding a viable arm to the rotation.

The team didn’t lose much in the offseason. Luis Valbuena, Colby Rasmus, and Jason Castro were the only starting hitters to sign elsewhere. Doug Fister is still a free agent, but the front office signed his replacement in Charlie Morton. The rest of the rotation is still intact, good or bad.

The offense featured eight double-digit home run hitters. Three of them are no longer with the team, but with the additions to Astros made this offseason, they can easily replace them. Fantasy owners are hoping to get more contact from their lineup. Only two batters hit over .270.

The starting rotation wasn’t much better. Only one had an ERA under 3.50 and that pitcher made just 14 starts. While there were a couple of 10-plus win pitchers, they allowed too many batters to reach base and score.

The bullpen, however, was solid, for the most part. There were three relievers with at least 12 saves. That could cause a headache for fantasy owners, but there is a clear-cut closer that you need to own.

Last season, Minute Maid Park was in the bottom half in regards to favoring hitters. That could change this season, though. The famous Tal’s Hill is gone and the center-field measurement dropping to merely the sixth deepest in baseball, we could see more home runs in Houston. This could also hurt the starting pitchers in the process. The opposing batters will get the advantage of a friendlier Minute Main Park, too.

I have 12 Astros players in my top 300. Nine of them are batters. Like I said, this pitching staff leaves a lot to be desired.

Aug 16, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel (60) walks off the mound after pitching during the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The names in the rotation should excite you, but their performance last year didn’t.

Collin McHugh, Dallas Keuchel, Mike Fiers, Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton are the five starting pitchers. Keuchel and McCullers are the only two I rank in my top-70 starting pitchers.

Keuchel went 9-12 with a 4.55 ERA and 1.286 WHIP. He also had a 7.7 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in 168 innings. It wasn’t a good follow-up to his Cy Young season in 2015. Wins can’t be predicted, so you can’t draft for that. I wrote about a potential rebound here. He is ranked just outside my top 40.

McCullers was the pitcher with the below 3.50 ERA that I mentioned in the introduction. In his 14 starts, he had a 3.22 ERA, 1.543 WHIP, 11.8 K/9 and 5.0 BB/9. Some of those numbers look good, the others don’t. I think he’ll be able to reduce his walks and keep the other stats around the same. This puts him at No. 68 for me.

Fiers was a strikeout machine with Milwaukee but didn’t show that in Houston. He and McHugh allowed too many home runs. Morton is Morton.

Sep 23, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros relief pitcher Ken Giles (53) reacts after a pitch during the ninth inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Astros bullpen has three solid options, but there’s only one to draft, for now.

Ken Giles was great for Philadelphia last season. He posted another 15 saves, but his ERA ballooned from 1.80 to 4.11. I will chalk some of the inflation up to the move from the National League to the American League. He is my No. 11 closer but I also wouldn’t be surprised if he is removed from the role at some point.

If he is pulled from the closer role, both Luke Gregerson and Will Harris will be in line for save opportunities. They recorded 15 and 12 saves, respectively, last season. Gregerson had a 3.28 ERA, 0.971 WHIP, 10.5 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 while Harris had a 2.25 ERA, 1.047 WHIP, 9.7 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9.

They are both great replacements and would target them as a handcuff or support for your closers.

Aug 22, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa (L) and second baseman Jose Altuve (27) and center fielder Jake Marisnick (RC) and left fielder Teoscar Hernandez (R) celebrate after defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. The Astros won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Astros made a lot of moves that shook up their depth chart for 2017.

The first was trading for catcher Brian McCann. With the loss of Castro, Houston needed a replacement. I wrote about the move here. I don’t he’ll spend all of 2017 behind the plate. To keep him healthy, the Astros will likely slot him in at DH for a game or two per week. He is my No. 9 catcher.

First base is a bit of a question mark. Roster Resource lists Yulieski Gurriel as the starting first baseman. Marwin Gonzalez is still on the roster and can get playing time. The Astros also have A.J. Reed, Jonathan Singleton, and Tyler White in Triple-A.

Gurriel hit 3 HR/15 RBI/.262 in 36 games. Gonzalez hit 3 HR/13 RBI/.254 in 141 games. Neither are listed in my top 300, so you should look elsewhere.

Jose Altuve is undoubtedly my top second baseman. My colleague Brad Kelly thinks Altuve is the No. 1 overall player. While it’s definitely close, he is still missing the power to put him over Mike Trout. Altuve is a five category player. He hits for power (24 home runs) and contact (.338 average). He scored 108 runs and drove in 96 more. Altuve also stole 30 bases. It’s hard to find a player that can do all that.

Alex Bregman is a sleeper third baseman. Even at No. 11, I don’t think he’s getting enough love. He hit eight homers,34 RBI, and .264 in 49 games. Looking at his minor league numbers, he can easily be a top-50 player at the end of the season.

Kelly wrote about Carlos Correa’s struggles and if they will affect his 2017 value. He had good power, 20 home runs and 96 RBI, but just a .264 average. He also stole just 13 bases. As a consensus first round pick, this was a bit of a disappointment. I think he will bounce back greatly and be a top-20 player this season.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Houston Astros

In addition to adding another catcher, the Astros muddied the outfield waters too.

The team signed veterans Carlos Beltran and Josh Reddick. They also claimed Nori Aoki off waivers. The Astros already had an abundance of outfielders with George Springer, Jake Marisnick, and Preston Tucker.

The current starters look to be Reddick, Springer, and Aoki. I wrote about the Reddick signing here. He is not an outfielder I’m targeting in standard leagues. He is my No. 69 outfielder.

Kelly questioned if you can trust Springer this season. He does strike out more than I’d like, 178 times in 2016, but his power is something that you can’t deny. Springer can hit 30 homers and 100 RBI this season. He is my No. 12 outfielder.

I did not rank Aoki.

Beltran will be the full-time DH. He may play a game or two in the outfield based on the opposing pitcher. All of this leaves 32-home run hitter Evan Gattis on the bench. My article on the Beltran signing created quite a stir. I don’t see a consistent spot for Gattis and that’s a shame.

MLB: Houston Astros at Cleveland Indians

The Astros have a lot of hitters worth drafting this season. The starting pitchers are ranked like fliers than reliable options. I can see the three different relievers record 10 saves like last season, which makes it tough to draft.

This team should score a lot of runs again. Let’s just hope the pitchers don’t allow just as much.

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