After being a laughing stock for three straight seasons, the Houston Astros turned in a respectable 70-92 record in 2014. Entering its third season as a member of the American League West, Houston’s improvements are directly tied to its home run output. As a team, Houston clubbed 163 home runs, which ranked third in the American League. Houston’s offense is led by designated hitter Chris Carter, who hit 37 home runs last season and second baseman, Jose Altuve, who won the American League batting title. Altuve will be joined by catcher Jason Castro, first baseman Jonathan Singleton, shortstop Jed Lowrie, and third baseman Luis Valbuena in Houston’s infield. Houston’s outfield will be manned by Jake Marisnick, Colby Rasmus, and George Springer. Houston's starting rotation is filled with a bunch of relatively unknown names, but top prospect, Mark Appel, should join the starting rotation sometime during 2015. Here are five storylines to watch during Spring Training.
Storyline #1: Gattis’ Role in Houston
The biggest move of the offseason for Houston was the acquisition of Evan Gattis from the Atlanta Braves. Gattis, who has the ability to play first base, outfield, and catcher, will provide even more power to the middle of Houston’s batting order. In just 369 at-bats last season, Gattis clubbed 22 home runs. Gattis did strikeout 97 times, which pegs Gattis as a ‘feast or famine’ type of player. The trio of Gattis, Carter, and Springer should result in at least 90 home runs (and a bunch of strikeouts). Gattis’ position is yet to be determined, so monitor his repetitions during Spring Training.
Storyline #2: Sorting Out the Outfield
After acquiring Gattis, Houston has a glut of outfielders. Gattis and Carter, who will likely play first base and rotate at designated hitter, have the ability to play in the outfield. Springer, Marisnick, Rasmus, Robbie Grossman, and Alex Pressly can all play each of the outfield positions. Springer and Rasmus are assured starting positions, but the battle for the last outfield spot will be intense. Expect a spirited battle between these talented outfielders.
Storyline #3: Youth Movement
It’s no secret that Houston has one of the best farm systems in baseball. Houston started to realize the fruits of its farm system during 2014 when Springer and Singleton were promoted to the Major Leagues. Fans are anxiously awaiting the arrival of shortstop Carlos Correa and Appel, who are two of the best prospects in baseball. Both players had rough campaigns in 2014. Correa broke his fibula while Appel struggled in high Class A. Still, both players possess above average, game-changing talent and should be promoted to the Major Leagues during 2015. Their development will be closely monitored during Spring Training.
Storyline #4: Acquiring a Pitcher
Houston has a starting rotation filled of relatively unknown names. Dallas Keuchel had the best season among Houston’s starters last season, posting a 12-9 record with 2.93 ERA in 200 innings. Collin McHugh struck out 157 hitters in 154 innings. Appel will not be called up right away, so Houston may need to make a move for another starting pitcher. Free agent pitcher, James Shields is still available, so expect Houston to at least inquire.
Storyline #5: Power, Please
As a team, Houston’s home output ranked among the best teams in baseball. Carter’s 37 home runs ranked second in the American League while the acquisition of Gattis gives Houston even more power. Minute Maid Park is built for power hitters, so expect Houston to continue to layer in more power hitters. Expect an impressive aerial show from Houston’s power hitters during batting practice and the games.
The current average price for Astros spring training tickets for 14 games at Osceola County Stadium is $58.89.