Tag: Josh Fields

Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch Astros

2015 Preview: Houston Astros


Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2015 season. Next up: The Houston Astros.

The Big Question: Are the Astros ready to contend?

This is Year 5 of the Astros’ scorched-earth rebuilding plan that has seen them lose 106, 107, 111, and 92 games while overhauling the front office, firing a pair of managers, ditching veterans, and stockpiling young talent. Last year’s 70-92 record was the fourth-worst in baseball and might suggest it’ll be another long season in 2015, but the Astros made big strides in the second half and added plenty of veteran help via trades and signings this offseason.

Clearly general manager Jeff Luhnow believes the Astros are ready to take a big step forward.

Houston went 34-38 over the final 72 games of the season, including 20-20 for the final six weeks. And then they started adding pieces. They traded for slugger Evan Gattis, remodeled the bullpen by signing Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson, picked up a starting shortstop by bringing Jed Lowrie back into the fold as a free agent, added Colby Rasmus to the outfield and Luis Valbuena to the infield, traded for a backup catcher in Hank Conger, and gave the rotation depth a boost with Dan Straily and Roberto Hernandez.

None of those are championship-making moves, certainly, but most of them were made with the short-term good of the team in mind and together they clearly signal a shift from full-on rebuilding mode to actually building something. Last season’s five best players–Jose Altuve, Dallas Keuchel, George Springer, Chris Carter, Collin McHugh–are all still around and all 28 years old or younger. And stockpiling young talent in the minors has already started to show some dividends, with another wave of high-end prospects on the way soon led by back-to-back No. 1 picks Carlos Correa and Mark Appel.

Houston will be better in 2016 than in 2015 and better still in 2017, but the Astros have a chance to be a .500 team this season if a few things break right for them.

What else is going on?

  • Houston’s bullpen ranked dead last in baseball last season with a 4.80 ERA. Luhnow tried to address that problem in a huge way by making serious runs as big-ticket free agent relievers David Robertson and Andrew Miller. Those attempts fell short, but the Neshek-Gregerson duo is a damn good consolation prize. They combined to throw 140 innings with a 1.99 ERA and 127/24 K/BB ratio last season and both right-handers have a career ERA under 3.00. Toss in Chad Qualls and Josh Fields from the right side and Tony Sipp and Joe Thatcher from the left side and the Astros’ bullpen may actually be a strength.
  • Dallas Keuchel came out of nowhere last season to rank as one of the league’s best left-handers, throwing 200 innings with a 2.93 ERA and winning a Gold Glove award. He was the easy pick to start Opening Day and his ability to avoid turning back into a pumpkin is one of the biggest keys to the Astros’ season. Keuchel is a ground-ball machine and gets a decent number of strikeouts, which is always a winning combo, but prior to 2014 he had a 5.20 ERA in the majors and a 4.74 ERA at Triple-A through age 25.
  • Springer immediately lived up to the hype in his (injury-shortened) debut, but fellow top prospect Jon Singleton struggled mightily by hitting .168 with 134 strikeouts in 95 games during his first taste of the big leagues. Singleton cracked Baseball America’s top-100 prospect list four times and seems all but certain to hit for big-time power eventually, but his lowly .241 batting average at Triple-A combined with tons of strikeouts mean he still has a lot to prove as an all-around hitter.
  • Lots of power and lots of strikeouts is basically the story of the Astros’ entire lineup, even more so than last year when they led the AL in strikeouts and ranked third in homers. And the amazing thing is that Altuve had the most plate appearances on the team with 707–a hundred more than anyone else–and struck out just 53 times. It may not always be pretty and will lead to some extended slumps, but for the most part strikeouts are just a type of out rather than something to be avoided at all costs and Luhnow sacrificing contact in the name of adding elite power at a time when it’s particularly tough to find is an intriguing strategy. They could top 200 homers for the first time since 2001 and just the third time in franchise history.

Prediction: Another step forward to 75-plus wins, another avoidance of last place, and enough progress to convince everyone they’ll contend for the playoffs in 2016.

Ranking the bullpens: 2014 edition

Detroit Tigers v Atlanta Braves

We tried this with the rotations the other day. Once again, I’ll be dipping into my 2014 projections here to rank the bullpens. To come up with the following bullpen ERAs, I simply combined each team’s seven highest-IP relievers, according to my projections.

Royals – 2.93
Red Sox – 3.14
Athletics – 3.16
Rangers – 3.31
Tigers – 3.35
Rays – 3.36
Blue Jays – 3.39
Twins – 3.40
Mariners – 3.42
Indians – 3.49
Orioles – 3.55
White Sox – 3.58
Angels – 3.58
Yankees – 3.77
Astros – 3.97

– That’s a weaker showing for the Rays than I would have guessed, but they still have excellent depth and a couple of the lesser knowns will surely surprise, as they always do. My projections call for essentially the same ERAs from their 6th-12th relievers.

– The Blue Jays would have come in fourth here had I used both Dustin McGowan and Jeremy Jeffress instead of adding in Esmil Rogers. Rogers, though, seems like the best bet to have a spot.

– Boston comes in second even though it’s big addition, Edward Mujica, has the worst projected ERA of its seven relievers. However, Ryan Dempster is still projected as a starter for these purposes and would bring the group down a bit if he starts off in the pen.

– I assume the Yankees will add a veteran reliever prior to Opening Day. Even so, that ranking isn’t going up at all with such a big gap to the White Sox and Angels.

Dodgers – 3.07
Braves – 3.16
Cardinals – 3.19
Giants – 3.24
Reds – 3.29
Diamondbacks – 3.29
Nationals – 3.31
Padres – 3.31
Marlins – 3.38
Pirates – 3.42
Brewers – 3.50
Mets – 3.59
Cubs – 3.59
Phillies – 3.61
Rockies – 3.79

– The Pirates’ ranking here is getting dragged down by Jeanmar Gomez and Vin Mazzaro, who are both projected to throw more innings than the top guys in their pen. They’ll be higher in the subjective rankings.

– The Cardinals are kind of an odd case, given that I have both Joe Kelly and Carlos Martinez projected to open up in the pen but also spend some time in the rotation. The only three pitchers I have on the team in that typical 60-, 70-inning range are Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist and Seth Maness. So, the depth is in question. On the other hand, a Jason Motte-Martinez-Rosenthal combo has the potential to be the best in the majors in the late innings, depending on how things shake out.

Here’s my ranking, 1-30, along with the top three ERAs from each team:

1. Royals (Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, Luke Hochevar)
2. Athletics (Sean Doolittle, Danny Otero, Ryan Cook)
3. Dodgers (Kenley Jansen, Paco Rodriguez, J.P. Howell)
4. Braves (Craig Kimbrel, Luis Avilan, Jordan Walden)
5. Red Sox (Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Andrew Miller)
6. Cardinals (Trevor Rosenthal, Randy Choate, Kevin Siegrist)
7. Rays (Jake McGee, Grant Balfour, Joel Peralta)
8. Pirates (Mark Melancon, Jason Grilli, Tony Watson)
9. Diamondbacks (Brad Ziegler, J.J. Putz, David Hernandez)
10. Reds (Aroldis Chapman, Sean Marshall, Sam LeCure)
11. Rangers (Neal Cotts, Tanner Scheppers, Neftali Feliz)
12. Blue Jays (Aaron Loup, Sergio Santos, Casey Janssen)
13. Nationals (Craig Stammen, Tyler Clippard, Rafael Soriano)
14. Giants (Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, Jean Machi)
15. Tigers (Al Alburquerque, Joe Nathan, Bruce Rondon)
16. Twins (Glen Perkins, Jared Burton, Casey Fein)
17. Padres (Joaquin Benoit, Alex Torres, Nick Vincent)
18. Indians (Cody Allen, Josh Outman, Marc Rzepczynski)
19. Mariners (Charlie Furbush, Yoervis Medina, Fernando Rodney)
20. Marlins (Steve Cishek, Mike Dunn, A.J. Ramos)
21. Rockies (Rex Brothers, Boone Logan, Wilton Lopez)
22. Orioles (Darren O’Day, Brian Matusz, Tommy Hunter)
23. Brewers (Brandon Kintzler, Will Smith, Jim Henderson)
24. Angels (Ernesto Frieri, Joe Smith, Dane De La Rosa)
25. White Sox (Nate Jones, Scott Downs, Daniel Webb)
26. Cubs (Pedro Strop, Wesley Wright, Blake Parker)
27. Mets (Bobby Parnell, Gonzalez Germen, Josh Edgin)
28. Yankees (David Robertson, Preston Claiborne, Shawn Kelley)
29. Phillies (Jake Diekman, Jonathan Papelbon, Antonio Bastardo)
30. Astros (Jesse Crain, Chia-Jen Lo, Josh Fields)

– The Royals are an easy No. 1 in my mind. Not only do they have the elite closer in Greg Holland, but all seven of their relievers have ERAs under 3.40 in my projections. Even if they take away from the group by sticking either Wade Davis or Luke Hochevar back in the rotation, they’d still take the top spot, though that would narrow the gap considerably.

– Even though they seemed to be in pretty good shape anyway, the A’s added $15 million in relievers in the form of Jim Johnson and Luke Gregerson. I still have the incumbents (Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook and Danny Otero) with the best ERAs of the group.

– The Mariners were set to be ranked 21st before the Fernando Rodney signing.

Pirates sign Josh Fields to minor league contract

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Last offseason the Royals acquired Josh Fields from the White Sox along with Chris Getz in exchange for Mark Teahen, but after one injury wrecked season in Kansas City the former top prospect and 2004 first-round pick was non-tendered a few weeks ago.

Fields has latched on with the Pirates, agreeing to a minor-league contract with an invite to spring training, where he’ll likely compete with fellow prospect bust Andy Marte for a bench job.

Fields showed lots of power as a 24-year-old rookie in 2007, hitting .244 with 23 homers and a .788 OPS in 418 plate appearances, but has managed just 10 homers since then while hitting .228 with a .649 OPS and ugly 102/29 K/BB ratio in 353 trips to the plate.