Houston Astros 2020: Scouting, Projected Lineup, Season Prediction

How will things shape up in the AL West?

They won 100 games for a third straight season and secured the American League pennant with one of the most seismic swings in franchise history. Still, the 2019 Astros will be remembered for one fact: They came eight outs away from a World Series title in their home ballpark. Eight of their nine everyday position players from the best lineup in franchise history return. Two bona fide aces will front the rotation, too, for another run at an elusive second title in 2020. Ensuring that the back end of their starting rotation can handle a full season and finding reliable middle relievers are among the team’s foremost spring goals. More pressing will be handling the fallout from the electronic sign-stealing investigation that enveloped their offseason and cast the franchise’s recent renaissance with undeniable shame.

 

The players may largely be the same — save for the departure of newly minted $324 million man Gerrit Cole — but there has been a seismic shift in management. Major League Baseball handed down one of its largest penalties ever for the Astros' well-documented cheating that help net them the 2018 World Series. GM Jeff Lunhow and manager A.J. Hinch were suspended one year and quickly fired by owner Jim Crane. The team replaced Lunhow with a similarly analytically minded executive in James Click from the Rays. But they will enter this new era with one of the most successful player-friendly, old-school managers around in Dusty Baker. It will be up to him to get the most out of this extremely talented roster.

 

Opposing Scouts Size Up the Astros

Houston Astros logo“I really don’t worry about this group, even with the sign-stealing scandal. If they get a full season from Carlos Correa, their offense could actually be even better. They just take such good at-bats; guys like Alex Bregman and Michael Brantley know what they want, and they aggressively go after it. Jose Altuve hits anything, year after year. Yordan Alvarez is one of those guys who must be happy about the three-batter minimum because those lefty specialists can kill him with sliders away. The only real issue with this team is whether the extra month will cause any decline by Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke. But if you’re worried about those two, it’s a good problem to have — they’ll be 36 this year, but they’re so smart and they haven’t slowed down at all yet. Lance McCullers is back, but can he stay healthy throwing so many breaking balls? I liked Jose Urquidy even before the postseason — he’s a good long-term building block for them — and Roberto Osuna, Joe Smith and Ryan Pressly are guys you can trust in the bullpen.” [Editor's note: This scouting report was submitted before MLB's investigation into the sign-stealing scandal was complete and the penalties, which resulted in a new GM and manager being hired, were announced.]

 

Beyond the Box Score

 

All in the Family In what amounted to an early succession plan, owner Jim Crane added his son, Jared, to the Astros’ leadership team in place of longtime team president Reid Ryan. Jared Crane will report to his father along with the franchise’s entire business team. Ryan, the son of Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, will continue as an executive adviser but is expected to pursue other opportunities in baseball. Reid Ryan had been the team’s president of business operations for seven seasons. Nolan Ryan, whose contract as an executive adviser was set to expire in February, is not expected to return to the team, either.

 

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Luxury Living For the first time in the franchise’s existence, the Astros are poised to exceed baseball’s competitive balance tax — commonly called the luxury tax. Houston’s Opening Day payroll is expected to exceed $208 million and could even broach the second tax threshold at $228 million. Penalties for exceeding the first threshold is a 20 percent tax on all overages. Houston’s payroll has increased in each of the last four seasons, an affirmation of Crane’s pledge early in his tenure to spend money when a championship window appeared open.

 

Smith’s Staying For reliever Joe Smith, re-signing with the Astros made sense from both a baseball and life perspective. Smith and his wife, Turner Sports sideline reporter Allie LaForce, saw their foundation take off while in Houston for the last two seasons. The HelpCureHD Foundation aims to help those with Huntington’s Disease — a genetic disease that affects Smith’s mother. Those with Huntington’s Disease in their family line have a 50/50 chance of passing it to their children. Smith and LaForce’s foundation provides financial support to those families seeking a form of in-vitro fertilization that can ensure that embryos do not have the disease. Smith and LaForce are undergoing a similar IVF journey with doctors in Houston.

 

Projected Lineup

 

LINEUP

CF    George Springer (R)

2B    Jose Altuve (R)

3B    Alex Bregman (R)

SS    Carlos Correa (R)

DH   Yordan Alvarez (L)

1B    Yuli Gurriel (R)

LF    Michael Brantley (L)

RF    Josh Reddick (L)

C     Martin Maldonado (R)

 

BENCH

OF    Kyle Tucker (L)

INF   Aledmys Diaz (R)

C      Dustin Garneau (R)

OF    Myles Straw (R)

INF   Abraham Toro (S)

 

ROTATION

RHP    Justin Verlander

RHP    Zack Greinke

RHP    Lance McCullers Jr.

RHP    Jose Urquidy

RHP    Brad Peacock

 

BULLPEN

RHP    Roberto Osuna (C)

RHP    Ryan Pressly

RHP    Joe Smith

RHP    Josh James

RHP    Chris Devenski

RHP    Joe Biagini

LHP    Cionel Perez

 

2020 Prediction: 1st in AL West

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