Fantasy Baseball

Houston Astros: 2016 AL West Division Champions

It’s been quite a while since the Houston Astros have had a respectable record.  In 2008 they finished 3rd with 86 wins but haven’t placed above that since.  From 2003 to 2006 the Astros finished in 2nd place with no less than 82 wins per season, and from 1997 to 1999 and 2001 they were the NL West Division winners.  Yes, not to long ago the Astros were a winning team and actually made it to the world series in 2005.  Granted they were swept by the White Sox, but still, they made it.

Are the Astros on the verge of another winning streak?  By the looks of their current roster and what is awaiting them in the minors, they could be.  The early promotion of George Springer and Jonathan Singleton should give Houston fans hope, and with players like Carlos Correa and Mark Appel on the way there is reason for excitement.  Here’s a look at what the Houston Astros could look like in 2016 along with the fantasy implications of each player.

First Base – Jonathan Singleton:Singleton was one of the players acquired by the Astros from Philly in the Hunter Pence trade in 2011.  Singleton’s 2013 numbers are rather pedestrian, mostly due to the fact that he missed the first 50 games and never really got going after that.  His AA numbers in 2012 and this year in AAA are more indicative of the player you should expect to see in the future.

2012 AA 461 94 27 21 79 88 131 .284 .396
2014 AAA 195 37 10 14 43 42 52 .267 .389

It’s clear Singleton knows how to hit home runs.  He’s only 22 so with a few more years and a few more pounds of muscle we could see 30 or more home runs a year.  His main problem is strikeouts, and that 22% strikeout rate needs to be lowered some.  Singleton is patient at the plate and can draw a high number of walks; this will help balance out some of the K’s, but he’ll need to continue improving his contact rate in order to be successful.  Defensively Singleton does very well for himself and holds a .989 minor league fielding percentage (37 errors in 3,515 chances).

Fantasy Impact: Singleton has the potential to be a high second to third round pick, and his long-term value is tied to his strikeouts and batting average.  If he doesn’t improve you’re looking at a Jay Bruce type player, but if he can lower his strikeout rate he could be another Adrian Gonzalez (the HR version, not the current one).  In keeper leagues he should be locked up in leagues that keep 6 or more players.  In leagues that keep less, use your own discretion based upon the other players you own.  As for next year…..well, lets see how this year plays out, you might be able to get him at a discount in 2015.

Second Base – Jose Altuve: The real life little engine that could.  The pint-sized Astro came into the season underrated by many due to concerns about his average, stolen base success rate and ability to score runs.  He’s corrected 2 of those 3 problems on his own and the third will improve as more reinforcements arrive from the minors.  In 2012 & 2013 Altuve stole 33 and 35 bases, but he was caught 11 and 13 times.  This year he’s only been caught 3 times in over 25 attempts.  His current batting average is close to the .324 he put up in the minors, a majority of that due to the reduced strikeout rate this year.  I’m not sure if Altuve has improved or if the presence of Springer changed the pitch selection he’s been seeing, we can determine that at the end of the year when we have more data.  As for scoring runs, his chances will improve as Springer, Singleton and company mature.  Altuve has made some improvements defensively.  He had 11 errors in 2012, 9 in 2013 and has just one so far this season.  That’s a .997 fielding percentage.  His UZR for the past 3 years is -18.7, but just looking at this year it’s -3.2.  Altuve is slowly becoming a complete player.

Fantasy Impact: I don’t think many will doubt him again next year.  With an improving batting average, speed to steal 30+ bases and a chance to score 80+ runs, Altuve is a legitimate 3 category player.  He’s currently batting leadoff which will limit his RBI opportunities, but if he moves to second when Delino DeShields arrives, Altuve can fill up 4 categories.  He should be ranked in the top 10 next year for second basemen, and while he may not make the top 5, he could eventually move there as some of the aging veterans above him start to regress.  If you want him next year I’d say you’ll have to grab him between rounds 5 and 7, that’s where Matt Carpenter and Ian Kinsler were selected this year.  12 team leagues that keep 5 players or less can probably let him go and grab him back with one of their first few picks, but if you keep more than 5 use your best judgment based upon your other players.  14 team leagues and deeper, Altuve is a keeper with 5 or more players.

Third Base – Matt Dominguez: He’s not the best third baseman in the league but he’s not the worst.  Dominquez isn’t the best guy for batting average as his career .247 BA will attest to.  He is slightly better with runners on base and has shown huge improvements against lefties this year (now he needs to figure out righties).  Power is his calling card and at 24 years old, he’s still developing.  With an average flyball distance of 279 feet last year and 285 feet this year, you can expect 20+ home runs annually here.  Defensively he’s about average.  Dominquez committed 16 errors last season and finished with a .964 fielding percentage.  That’s almost in line with Adrian Beltre for a comparison.

The Astros will likely live with the shortcomings of his batting average for now.  Dominquez is under club control and eligible for arbitration thought 2018 so he’ll remain affordable for the time being.  The Astros also have 20-year-old Rio Ruiz in A+ ball right now.  Depending on how quickly he develops there is a chance we see him on the active roster sometime in 2016, early 2017 at the latest.  Ruiz possesses the same power as Dominquez along with similar defensive skills.  Regardless of which man is playing third in the future, the only thing that will be different is the batting average (which is in Ruiz’s favor).

Fantasy Impact: Dominguez’s power could get him into the top 20 for third baseman, but his limited run and RBI numbers combined with his batting average makes him waiver wire material in 10 and 12 team leagues that don’t use a CI slot.  In leagues with 14 or more teams, he’s a bottom option for third but has a little more value if those leagues that use a CI slot.  More than likely this is not someone you want to draft and odds are, can be found on your waiver wire right now marked “in case of emergency, break glass”.  He’s a better baseball player than a fantasy one.

Shortstop – Jonathan Villar / Carlos Correa: Who is here in 2016 will depend on how much Villar has improved by the end of 2015 and how quickly the Astros 2012 #1 draft pick moves through the minors.  Villar batted .258 in the minors so it’s no surprise he has struggled at the major league level.  His walk percentages are down from last year (10.0 to 6.8) and his strikeout percentage hasn’t budged (29.5%).  If it wasn’t for his ability to steal 30+ bases, I’m sure the Astros would have moved on by now.  Defensively Villar possesses the range to play the position, but the errors piled up in 2013 (16 in the majors, 18 in the minors / 34 in 146 games).  There is a chance he improves, but that window is closing quickly.

Carlos Correa was ranked the 7th best prospect by coming into this season and is currently destroying pitchers in A+ ball. 

2013 A 450 73 44 9 86 58 83 .320 .405
2014 A+ 237 46 16 5 54 35 43 .329 .426

He doesn’t turn 20 until September but is already showing advanced power.  Correa can also run and has 20 stolen bases so far this year.  Eventually he could be a 20/30 player and he can hit for average too.  He batted .320 last year in A ball and is at .329 this year in A+.  His walk rate is better than average and while I don’t see him maintaining the .400+OBP he’s held the past two years, he should be able to put up something in the .350 area.  Defensively all reports are positive, strong arm, good instincts and the skills to stick at his position.  If he is promoted to AA sometime in July, it’s possible that we see Correa sometime next Summer (at the very least a September call up).

Fantasy Impact: Villar has no real fantasy value other than steals.  He can contribute some runs and hit 10-11 balls over the wall, but other than steals, his numbers scream replacement level players.  If you use a MI slot he’s an option, but you may want to look elsewhere.  Correa on the other hand has big time value, but only in keeper leagues.  Those in redraft leagues can ignore him this year and even in the 2015 draft (unless something drastic happens).  I’m not going to talk dynasty leagues because he should be locked up in those.  If he  has the potential to start in 2016, he becomes someone to target in the 8-12 round range depending on the hype surrounding him at the time.  If he is starting out in the minors, he becomes a late round flyer to stash on your bench.  There are several other very good shortstops in the minors you can grab if you miss Correa, but we’re talking Astros here.

Catcher – Jason Castro & Max Stassi: Castro showed us last year he has the ability to be a top 10 catcher.  This season he is struggling against right-handed pitching while holding his own against lefties, a situation that was reversed last year.  The batting average is a work in progress.  Castro is hitting his weight this year after batting .276 last year and .293 in the minors.  The .277 average we saw in AAA is more than likely what we can expect from him going forward.  He doesn’t have great power, but enough to hit between 15 to 20 home runs each year.  Defensively his fielding percentage has been equal to Buster Posey going back to last season.  As for base runners, he allowed 58 stolen bases last season while catching only 19.  This year runners are still challenging him but he has shown some improvements in throwing them out.  With another year of development, Castro has the skills to turn into a solidly unspectacular catcher.

His potential counterpart/replacement Max Stassi is a right-handed version of Castro

A+ 435 70 24 17 64 43 105 .257 .331
AA 289 40 20 17 60 19 68 .277 .333
AAA 211 24 15 6 31 11 47 .246 .292

Stassi is in his first year at AAA and while he’s progressing nicely, I would not expect a promotion until next season (unless there is an injury).  He has a little more power than Castro, but other than that the two are very similar with their bats and defense.  Castro has 2 arbitration years left so he should still be here in 2016.  Depending on how both players develop will determine which one is still in Houston beyond that point. 

Fantasy Impact: With so much talent at the catcher position as of late, Castro will be hard pressed to finish inside the top 10 like he did in 2013.  Long term he will be one of the last catchers taken off the board in 12 team leagues or possibly not drafted at all.  He is a steady backup to own with the potential to be more when everything clicks.  In two catcher leagues he’s one of the top players to grab once the top 12 are gone just for the power potential.  Stassi could be in a similar boat once he arrives, but it will be a few years before he is fantasy relevant.  As long as Castro is on the team I would ignore Stassi, check back in 2016 for an update.

Right Field – George Springer: Springer got off to a slow start after his promotion.  He has since turned things around and is making up for lost time.  Nobody questions his talent or skill set, the only real question about Springer was his plate discipline and how it would translate and mature in the majors.

NCAA 184 692 128 161
A+ 106 433 56 131
AA 95  346 48 121
AAA 75 270 50 80
Majors 53 204 25 76

Walks are not an issue with Springer as his 12.3 minor league BB% suggests, but a minor league 26% K% could hinder him in the future if he doesn’t improve.  This puts his batting average in question meaning he could end up hitting anywhere between .250 and .300.  Defensively Springer is a gem in the outfield with only 4 errors throughout his minor league career.  He’s better suited for centerfield and could very well move there if Dexter Fowler is not offered arbitration at the end of the year or is not resigned after the 2015 season.

Fantasy Impact: Due to his power/speed combination, Springer is definitely someone to target in leagues that keep 5 or more players.  Where he will be drafted next year and in the future will depend on his batting average.  If it finishes on the low side he can be a Mike Cameron type player worthy of being taken anywhere from rounds 2 to 4.  If he can lower his strikeouts and raise his average, you’re talking about a future first round or high second round pick.  Either way he’s somebody fantasy owners will want to target and should be locked up long-term for those in keeper/dynasty leagues.

Center Field – Delino DeShields: Dexter Fowler is making $7,350.000 this year and is due for arbitration at the end of the season.  With several outfield prospects on the cusp of joining the big team (DeShields being on of them), I don’t see the Astros bringing him back.  Given the Astros record this year, it wouldn’t surprise me if Fowler is gone before the end of the 2014 season.  As for DeShields, this is what he had done to date.

909 169 39 19 100 113 122 226 .257 .352
A+ 548 117 27 7 63 69 70 114 .303 .393
AA 183 33 6 5 19 25 19 52 .230 .322

Deshields has similar power to Jose Altuve, he can reach double digits on a very good year but don’t expect that.  His main asset is his speed which will help him cover a lot of ground in centerfield.  With his speed, a walk percentage close to 11 and a .364 minor league OBP, it makes him the perfect candidate to lead off.  He’ll need to lower his 20% strikeout rate a smidge to be truly successful but should be fine even without that correction.  As for his defense, that is still up in the air.  He committed 24 errors in each of the past 2 seasons at second base.  This year playing center, he’s committed only 3 errors and has a fielding percentage of .967 in 37 games.  He is only 21 so there’s much room for improvement still.  If his glove isn’t up to par when the time comes,a move of Springer to Center and Deshields to one of the corners could be an option.

Fantasy Impact: With his speed and hitting at the top of an improved Astros lineup, Deshields is a 2 category player who won’t hurt you in batting average.  He can easily be a 50 stolen base threat annually.  For a comparison, think Juan Pierre with a slightly lower average but a few more home runs.  That puts him in the 7-12 round range in drafts depending on his average and how successful he is on the base paths when he arrives sometime next year.  He won’t be worth holding in keeper leagues unless you keep 8 or more players, but he will be someone to target in the later part of the first half of the draft.

Left Field – Domingo Santana – Teoscar Hernandez – Preston Tucker: It will be a race between these three men for the job in left field.
Santana is the closest to being ready, although he’s not the best option of the three and is a right fielder by trade.  He was the player to be named in the Hunter Pence trade in 2011.  The 21-year-old is in his 6th season in the minors, signing as a 16-year-old  His minor league numbers to date may not impress, but they’re pretty good considering his age.  This year (his first in AAA) he’s batting close to .300 with 10 home runs.  Santana hit 20+ home runs the past two season in A+ and AA so the power is real.  He has a little speed to him, but only enough to reach 10 or so a year.  His biggest problem (as with many rookies) is strikeouts which help explain the fluctuations in his batting average from year to year.

2012 A+ 457 87 26 23 97 55 148 .302 .385
2013 AA 416 72 23 25 64 46 139 .252 .345
2014 AAA 273 41 18 11 41 32 85 .286 .363

If Santana is to reach the majors this year, or have a shot in spring training next year, he’s going to have to learn to play left field (unless Dexter Fowler is not around next year and Springer moves to center).  Defensively Santana is nothing special in the field but plays well enough to hold his own.  He could displace Chris Carter at DH since he has similar power, and his average could/should be an improvement there.

Preston Tucker is the next closest and was recently promoted to AAA.  He hit over .300 in his four years of NCAA ball and in the low minors, but that high average hasn’t carried over to AA.  Still, despite the pedestrian batting average, the rest of his numbers look good.

2013 AA 237 36 14 10 29 27 46 .262 .347
2014 AA 261 41 17 17 43 26 46 .276 .342

There were improvements in the batting average this year and he has decent but not outstanding power.  Average walks and low strikeouts showcase his patience so the average should eventually come around.  He’s the only one of these three outfielders that has spent time in left field, but defensively he’s below them right now in the pecking order.  That’s not to say he’s bad, just slightly below average.  It’s his bat that will get him to the majors, not his glove.  Tucker is also a candidate for the DH slot if Houston tires of Chris Carter’s all or nothing swing.

Teoscar Hernandez is the final candidate and is currently playing centerfield so a move to left shouldn’t be much of a challenge if needed.  The 21-year-old was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2011 and is progressing nicely in the minors.

2013 A 499 97 25 13 55 24 41 136 .271 .328
2014 A+ 253 51 16 12 54 21 32 86 .292 .376

Hernandez has a nice combination of power and speed, but just like Santana above, he needs to cut down on his strikeouts.  All the skills are there for him to be a 5 tool player, he just needs some time to develop.  This makes him a longshot for 2016, but he could be a September call up with a chance to make the team in 2017.  The only real chance he has of making the team in 2016 or of earning an earlier call is if he has a lights out spring and one or both of the men above fall short of expectations.  With all the pieces Houston has in play right now, they might be willing to give the less experience player a shot if it helps then win it now.  Defensively he’s above average with a strong arm and his talent should allow him to play any field Houston asks him to occupy.

Fantasy Outlook: Santana could struggle when first promoted so fantasy wise, he’s not someone to jump on.  Granted you could catch lightning in a bottle, but I believe that will be short-lived once pitchers figure him out and adjust.  Long term I can see him being a decent third outfielder if he cuts down on his strikeouts and can maintain a respectable batting average.  Tucker may struggle as well, but he has the better chance of correcting himself and seeing success at the major league level.  I think he has the best chance of being the starting left fielder in 2016 and is the one to target late in the draft.  He could make a very useful fourth outfielder, nothing fancy, but solid and stable numbers.  Hernandez is the one to target if you’re looking for a long-term options, but he is a long shot for 2016 so you can more than likely ignore him in drafts.  Dynasty league owners may want to throw a dart his way, but like I said, don’t plan on seeing him until late in 2016.  With 3 good options available, there is a chance one of these men get traded for some bullpen help or a third base prospect, two areas Houston is lacking.

Robbie Grossman and Alex Presley are currently holding down the fort in left, but neither one is the answer and if either one is still in Houston in 2016, it will be as a backup/fourth outfielder.

Designated Hitter – Chris Carter: Carter is under arbitration until 2018 so depending on how much he demands (and how bad his average gets), he may or may not be in Houston in 2016.  He has power, there is no denying that.  Unfortunately he strikes out like he went to the Adam Dunn school of hitting and Mark Reynolds was his instructor.  At age 27 there is little chance of things changing.  With his batting average being worse than last year (You thought that wasn’t possible), I can’t see Carter wearing a Houston uniform come 2016.  There are several outfield options above that are close to being ready for the majors.  It is highly probable that one of them replaces Carter and he is sent back to the minors (or packing).

Fantasy Outlook: People still own Carter just like they owned Dunn and Reynolds in the past (and currently) despite the horrid batting average.  If you’re desperate for home runs I guess you gotta do what you gotta do.  I can’t see myself being this desperate though.

Here’s a look at how I see the Houston Astros lineup card come 2016.

Projected 2016 lineup Lineup with Correa
1 CF – Delino DeShields 1 CF – Delino DeShields
2 2B – Jose Altuve 2 2B – Jose Altuve
3 RF – George Springer 3 SS – Carlos Correa
4 1B – Johathan Singleton 4 RF – George Springer
5 DH – Chris Carter / Domingo Santana 5 1B – Johathan Singleton
6 3B – Matt Dominguez 6 DH – Chris Carter / Domingo Santana
7 LF – Preston Tucker 7 3B – Matt Dominguez
8 C- Jason Castro 8 C – Jason Castro
9 SS – Johathan Villar 9 LF – Preston Tucker

Carlos Correa is tentatively placed in the three hole as that is where he should eventually end up.  More than likely though, he will start off hitting near the bottom and work his way into the prime real estate at the top of the order.  Before this year, Altuve was the only player worth drafting and owning long term in fantasy.  Come 2016, Houston hitters will be targeted and that should tell you something about this team and its players.

That covers the bats, but what about pitchers?  Don’t you worry, Houston has plenty of arms on the way.  Here is a rundown of the talent they have on the current roster and down on the farm.  Who actually makes the starting lineup in 2016 will depend on how quickly those players in the minors develop and advance through the system.  I’m no Nostradamus, but I’ll attempt to play a version of him with my predictions on what the 2016 starting lineup will look like.  We’ll start with the two biggest names that everybody is talking about.

Read on to page 2 for the starting rotation, potential problems, what has to
happen for the Astros to win and a quick look at the rest of the division.

Pages:   1   2

By Jim Finch

The self proclaimed Grand High Exhausted Mystic Ruler of Fantasy Baseball. While I am not related to Jennie or Sidd Finch, I will attempt to uphold the integrity of the Finch family name as it relates to baseball.