Friday, March 4, 2016


By Michael Wong

Kissiimmee, Fla.--It was just a few short years ago when the Houston Astros were the laughingstock of Major League Baseball.  From a downright putrid team to a farm system that many considered one of the worst in the major leagues, the Astros seemed to be a major work in progress to even be a decent team in the near future.  Fast forward to 2015 and the Astros put the finishing touches on a tremendous season that saw them beat the New York Yankees in a wild card game and advance into the NLCS where they came up short.  Just the fact the Astros got that far showed how rapid a move to contention the team made as they rode the unbelievable rookie debut of shortstop Carlos Correa from their much-maligned farm system, to a Cy Young pitching campaign from Dallas Keuchel.  So as the 2016 dawns, let's take a closer look at some of the major themes centering on the team.

1.  Is Carlos Correa already knocking on the door to top five overall status?  Absolutely as Correa was the real deal during his monstrous 2015 debut.  Not only did Correa bat .277 with 22 home runs and 14 stolen bases, he did it in only 387 at-bats at the age of 21.  With a full season of counting stats staring back at him for 2016, it is scary to think how dominate the numbers could be.  A conservative estimate has the five-category stud that is Correa coming in at 30 home runs with 90 runs and RBI to go with around 20 stolen bases and an average inching toward .300.  That is top five material for sure and by 2017 we could be talking about Correa in the Bryce Harper and Mike Trout class.  Especially when you consider how rare these kind of offensive numbers are at shortstop.  No matter what you pay at the draft table for Correa this season, he will be worth every penny. 

2.  Now onto the other big 2016 piece.  Was Dallas Keuchel's completely out of the blue Cy Young season in 2015 an outlier or is he a true fantasy baseball ace?  This one was a bit confounding as Keuchel was a pitcher who seemed to be destined for a minor league career as his 2013 ERA soared to 5.15 and his fastball struggled to top 90.  However Keuchel went back to the drawing board for 2014 and leaned on his strengths which were impeccable control and through the development of a devastating curveball and slider.  A 2.93 2014 ERA was followed up his Cy Young-winning 2015 when he won 20 games with a 2.48 ERA and bumped his K Rate to the heights with 216 strikeouts.  So where does he go from here and is 2015 repeatable?  The best thing to do here is to lean on the top control and very impressive four-pitch arsenal that Keuchel has to project him for another terrific ERA and WHIP while also putting himself in a spot to win a bunch of games.  The 2016 strikeouts and 2015 K rate however we have to see again before we go out predicting its return.  Keuchel again has never approached such a number before and we think he is more 180 K than 200-plus for 2016. 

3.  Correa is joined by the "other" half of the best middle infield in baseball in the diminutive but fellow five-category stud Jose Altuve.  The guy just continues to get better huh?  Just when we thought we saw the best that Altuve had to offer in 2014 when he won the batting title with a .341 average and stole 56 bases, the 5-7 dynamo goes out in 2014 and proceeds to reach a new height in home runs with 15 while still putting up top numbers everywhere else.  While the average came back to earth from his outlier 2014, Altuve was the definition of a five category star at a shallow second base position and he remains in his early prime at the age of just 25.  Altuve should join Correa in Round 1 of drafts and he too is a great selection that high/ 

4.  Which version of Carlos Gomez will we see in 2016.  The star from 2014 or the hobbled one who looked like he was in early decline from last season?  Nothing went right for Gomez in 2014 as he constant injuries to his legs and lower-body kept him from running and saw his average and power dip.  Still keep in mind Gomez was a first round pick for a reason prior to 2015 as he went 24/40 in 2013 and 23/34 in 2014.  Gomez is still young at the age of 30 and entering a new season healthy should help him get back to at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases.  The average is never a lock to be helpful as Gomez still whiffs too much but this is a good guy to invest in due to the bounce back upside and the cheaper draft cost.

5.  Can George Springer graduate to outfielder 1 status this season?  Springer is the real deal in terms of power/speed ability but his fractured wrist took out a large chunk of his 2015 season to put a cap on the numbers.  Still in looking a bit deeper here, Springer made some nice strides by cutting down on his high K rate from 2014 and also figuring out his timing stealing bases as he swiped 16 bags in just 388 at-bats.  This is a 20/20 lock and with an improving average, Springer could very well be that outfielder 1 we anticipated all along this season. 

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