The Astros went through the end of an era in 2010, trading superstars Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt as they elected to shed payroll and begin building for the future. Strangely enough, the same squad that went 36-53 before the All-Star break managed to go 40-33 after it, reaching a surprisingly high total of 76 wins given the circumstances.
On paper, the roster assembled by general manager Ed Wade doesn't look that bad. Still, the Astros remain one of the weaker farm systems in baseball and outside of top prospect Jordan Lyles, there are few impact players knocking on the door to contribute at the big league level. If this year's squad has any chance to compete in the NL Central, it will require growth from the young everyday hitters and consistency from a pitching staff that has flashed potential at times.
Here's a look at what the 2011 Astros offer on draft day.
ADP Depth Chart
C – Jason Castro (N/A) – Still very young and could surprise as former top prospect.
1B – Brett Wallace (397.7) – "All bat" prospect finally seems to have settled in at first base.
2B – Bill Hall (N/A) – AVG is a concern, but should hit 20-25 HR at little cost.
SS – Clint Barmes (389.8) – Career .618 OPS away from Coors Field. Pass.
3B – Chris Johnson (353.0) – CT skills and MiLB numbers suggest 2010 was a fluke.
OF – Hunter Pence (84.6) – Quietly one of the more consistent OF options around.
OF – Michael Bourn (115.4) – No longer a secret, but leadoff role and SB are stable.
OF – Carlos Lee (134.0) – .265/.315/.457, 19 HR, 68 RBI after June 2. Rebound candidate.
Truth be told, the middle infield has been significantly upgraded from a year ago when Tommy Manzella and Kaz Matsui occupied the starting roles. As noted above, Barmes hasn't produced well outside of Coors Field, so it will be interesting to see if he can deliver anything resembling useful numbers in Houston. A trio of young players – Castro, Wallace and Johnson -- will be under significant pressure to hit consistently if this lineup is going to deliver ample run support. Although his second-half numbers made him a popular pickup last season, Johnson actually seems like the worst bet to improve in Year 2.
SP – Wandy Rodriguez (118.9) – 2.11 ERA and 1.036 WHIP, 3.61 K/BB after break.
SP – Brett Myers (164.6) – Still durability concerns here, FIP says ERA will rise.
SP – J.A. Happ (323.4) – Posted a career-high 7.6 K/9IP after trade to HOU.
SP – Bud Norris (378.7) – Misses more than a bat per inning, worth a late-round flyer.
The Astros' rotation could exceed expectations this season, although we're not willing to bet on a complete 2010 repeat from Myers in particular. Skills wise, they should miss plenty of bats and if Norris in particular can shave his walk rate, he has the tools to be a viable top-40 starter at seasons end. No fifth starter is listed above because frankly, we can't recommend drafting one. Nelson Figueroa is a journeyman capable of chewing up innings at a replacement level if needed, but Ryan Rowland-Smith or Rule 5 selection Aneury Rodriguez should ultimately keep the seat warm until the Astros decide to make top prospect Jordan Lyles a part of their future.
CL – Brandon Lyon (346.5) – Could have a Ryan Franklin type season if he stays healthy.
RP – Mark Melancon (N/A) – Once hailed as heir apparent to Mariano Rivera in NY.
Here's the second reason why the Astros' starters are a bit of a liability. Any leads they carry into the sixth or seventh inning will be turned over to a very shaky cast comprised of mostly unproven arms. Lyon won't post a great strikeout rate, but he offers the "been a closer before" sticker and could actually hold the job all season if his health permits him to do so. Melancon is the sleeper here, however, as he was part of the return in the Lance Berkman deal with the Yankees last season. His minor league history shows that the control could definitely improve (4.3 BB/9IP in 37.2 MLB innings). If that happens, the Astros have a high-leverage reliever capable of seizing the ninth-inning role from Lyon at some point this season.