Diving into the depths: Houston Astros

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This is part of a 30-article series looking at each team’s depth chart headed into spring training.
Houston Astros
Rotation
1. Roy Oswalt
2. Wandy Rodriguez
3. Brett Myers
4. Bud Norris
5. Brian Moehler
6. Felipe Paulino
7. Yorman Bazardo
8. Wesley Wright
9. Gustavo Chacin
10. Polin Trinidad
11. Chris Sampson
12. Josh Banks
Who knows just what Myers has left, but the Astros rotation sure looks nicer now than Moehler can be viewed as a fallback, if that’s the way manager Brad Mills wants to go. Given that GM Ed Wade just committed $3 million to Moehler, he’d probably like the veteran in the rotation. Paulino, though, needs to be given every chance to win the fifth spot. The Astros will have to catch some breaks in order to have any hope of contending, and a breakthrough season from Paulino would qualify as a big one.
Bullpen
1. Brandon Lyon
2. Matt Lindstrom
3. Alberto Arias
4. Tim Byrdak
5. Jeff Fulchino
6. Sammy Gervacio
7. Wesley Wright
8. Chris Sampson
9. Brian Moehler
10. Felipe Paulino
11. Roy Corcoran
12. Gary Majewski
The top five should be locks for spots. Gervacio might well prove to be better than any of them, but since he has options left, it’s possible he could be pushed back to Triple-A for the start of the year. It’d become a more likely scenario if Paulino wins a rotation spot, putting Moehler in the bullpen. That’s leave just one opening for Gervacio, Wright and Sampson. Sampson was a forgotten man in the second half of last year, but the Astros kept him in their plans when they decided against non-tendering him in December.


Catcher
1. J.R. Towles
2. Humberto Quintero
3. Jason Castro
4. Brian Esposito
First base
1. Lance Berkman
2. Geoff Blum
3. Chris Shelton
Second base
1. Kaz Matsui
2. Jeff Keppinger
3. Edwin Maysonet
Third base
1. Pedro Feliz
2. Geoff Blum
3. Jeff Keppinger
4. Chris Johnson
Shortstop
1. Tommy Manzella
2. Edwin Maysonet
3. Geoff Blum
4. Wladimir Sutil
Plenty of weak links here. The Astros aren’t likely to suddenly start trusting Towles, and Quintero isn’t even a good backup. Since Castro would benefit from another year in the minors, the team could use Rod Barajas or Yorvit Torrealba. They’re out of budget room now, but maybe they’ll be able to steal one of the two for $1 million.
The rest of the infield is set. At the end of last season, it sounded like Maysonet would have a utility job. However, since the Astros retained both Blum and Keppinger and brought in Feliz, there’s not going to be any room for him unless someone gets hurt. Manzella will be the shortstop and should do a decent Adam Everett impersonation.
Left field
1. Carlos Lee
2. Jason Michaels
3. Brian Bogusevic
4. Alex Romero
5. Yordany Ramirez
Center field
1. Michael Bourn
2. Jason Bourgeois
3. Jason Michaels
4. Brian Bogusevic
5. Yordany Ramirez
Right field
1. Hunter Pence
2. Jason Michaels
3. Alex Romero
4. Yordany Ramirez
5. Brian Bogusevic
Between Michaels, Blum, Keppinger and the backup catcher, four of the five bench spots are set. Bourgeois is still the in-house favorite for the one opening, even though he’s currently on waivers after being dropped from the 40-man roster. Ideally, the Astros would find a better backup center fielder. Michaels lacks range, and neither Bogusevic nor Ramirez figures to prove a capable replacement in the event that Bourn gets hurt.

Royals pay tribute to late Yordano Ventura during spring training opener

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 12: Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on August 12, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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The Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.

Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).

A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.

The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:

A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.