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.

Rotation
1. Wandy Rodriguez
2. Brett Myers
3. J.A. Happ
4. Bud Norris
5. Ryan Rowland-Smith
6. Nelson Figueroa
7. Wesley Wright
8. Jordan Lyles
9. Aneury Rodriguez
10. Cesar Carrillo

The scary thing is that this probably qualifies as the strength of the team. Myers will be hard-pressed to match his 2010 season, but a full season from Happ should help the group and Norris could take a bit of a step forward, though I still believe his future lies in the pen and the closer’s role. … I expect that the team will add a veteran to battle Rowland-Smith and Figueroa for the fifth spot in the rotation. Jeremy Bonderman, Rodrigo Lopez and Dave Bush are a few of the pitchers likely to be forced to accept minor league deals.

Bullpen
1. Brandon Lyon
2. Mark Melancon
3. Wilton Lopez
4. Nelson Figueroa
5. Fernando Abad
6. Jeff Fulchino
7. Alberto Arias
8. Aneury Rodriguez
9. Wesley Wright
10. Gustavo Chacin
11. Sergio Escalona
12. Sammy Gervacio
13. Casey Fein
14. Enerio Del Rosario
15. Henry Villar
16. Lance Pendleton
17. Chia-Jen Lo

Beyond Lyon, it’s a pen full of relative unknowns. However, Melancon and Lopez impressed after getting opportunities last season, and Arias could function as another solid setup man if he returns from shoulder surgery as hoped. Giving away Matt Lindstrom was a mistake, but the Astros should be OK here.

Catcher
1. Jason Castro
2. Humberto Quintero
3. J.R. Towles
4. Carlos Corporan

First base
1. Brett Wallace
2. Carlos Lee
3. Brian Dopirak
4. Koby Clemens

Second base
1. Bill Hall
2. Jeff Keppinger
3. Matt Downs
4. Angel Sanchez
5. Anderson Hernandez

Third base
1. Chris Johnson
2. Jeff Keppinger
3. Matt Downs
4. Oswaldo Navarro

Shortstop
1. Clint Barmes
2. Tommy Manzella
3. Angel Sanchez
4. Oswaldo Navarro
5. Anderson Hernandez

The infield is going to make a whole lot of outs, especially if Barmes bats second as anticipated. I don’t see Johnson as a long-term regular, and Wallace has an awful lot to prove as well. The Astros do have the option of playing Carlos Lee at first, but given that they haven’t upgraded their outfield at all, Wallace figures to get every opportunity to win the job. … I’m listing Keppinger as the primary backup at two spots, but he’s expected to miss at least the first few weeks of the season after toe surgery last month. The Astros could again seek to trade him once he’s healthy.

Left field
1. Carlos Lee
2. Jason Michaels
3. Jason Bourgeois
4. Brian Bogusevic
5. J.D. Martinez
6. David Cook

Center field
1. Michael Bourn
2. Jason Bourgeois
3. Jason Michaels
4. Brian Bogusevic

Right field
1. Hunter Pence
2. Jason Michaels
3. Brian Bogusevic
4. J.D. Martinez

I could have copied this depth chart from a year ago. Unfortunately, Bogusevic was a disappointment again last season and it no longer seems likely that he’ll turn into even a legitimate fourth outfielder. Martinez could be one candidate to step in if Wallace struggles and the Astros decide to move Lee to first base during the season.

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉