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2016 Team Previews: Houston Astros

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Throughout the long, cold offseason, I am doing team by team previews to get you ready for the 2016 fantasy baseball season. Today it's the Astros.

Carlos Correa almost single-handedly carried the 'Stros to the postseason. What is the 2016 outlook for this roster?
Carlos Correa almost single-handedly carried the 'Stros to the postseason. What is the 2016 outlook for this roster?
Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to my 2016 fantasy team previews. I will be breaking down 2016 prospects for the relevant fantasy players on all 30 teams, one team at a time. Check back throughout the offseason for new team previews. You can catch up on old ones in my archive (here) or in the section (here). Because there are 30 teams to cover in limited time, I have to get started now, even though there will certainly be some trades that move players around and open up larger roles for existing players. Also, free agents and guys that moved midseason will be analyzed with one of the teams they played for, even though they likely (or definitely) won't be on that team in 2016 so they don't get missed. Hopefully you can bear with me on those issues and remember that these were written before those trades occurred.

I am starting at the bottom of the standings and working my way up. In each team preview, I will attempt to follow the same layout. First, there will be two tables of stats for hitters (showing stats acquired while playing for this team; traded players will be missing some stats) followed by quick analysis of the most fantasy relevant of those hitters (relevance at my discretion). After that, two tables for the pitching stats and some pitcher analysis. I will then present one breakout player (aka sleeper) and one breakdown player (or bust, if you prefer) for the team. Got it? Ok, let's get started.

Houston Astros

Hitters

Name Position PA HR R RBI SB CS BB% K% AVG OBP SLG
Chris Carter 1B 460 24 50 64 1 2 12.40% 32.80% 0.199 0.307 0.427
Luis Valbuena 1B, 3B, 2B* 493 25 62 56 1 0 10.10% 21.50% 0.224 0.31 0.438
Marwin Gonzalez 1B, SS, 2B*, 3B*, OF* 370 12 44 34 4 5 4.30% 20.00% 0.279 0.317 0.442
Jose Altuve 2B 689 15 86 66 38 13 4.80% 9.70% 0.313 0.353 0.459
Jed Lowrie 3B 263 9 35 30 1 0 10.60% 16.30% 0.222 0.312 0.4
Hank Conger C 229 11 25 33 0 1 10.00% 27.50% 0.229 0.311 0.448
Jason Castro C 375 11 38 31 0 0 8.80% 30.70% 0.211 0.283 0.365
Evan Gattis DH, C*, OF* 604 27 66 88 0 1 5.00% 19.70% 0.246 0.285 0.463
George Springer OF 451 16 59 41 16 4 11.10% 24.20% 0.276 0.367 0.459
Colby Rasmus OF 485 25 67 61 2 1 9.70% 31.80% 0.238 0.314 0.475
Preston Tucker OF 323 13 35 33 0 2 6.20% 21.10% 0.243 0.297 0.437
Carlos Gomez OF 163 4 19 13 10 3 4.90% 19.00% 0.242 0.288 0.383
Jake Marisnick OF 372 9 46 36 24 9 4.80% 28.20% 0.236 0.281 0.383
Carlos Correa SS 432 22 52 68 14 4 9.30% 18.10% 0.279 0.345 0.512
Jonathan Villar SS 128 2 18 11 7 2 7.80% 22.70% 0.284 0.339 0.414

Name BABIP LD% GB% FB% HR/FB SwStr% Soft% Med% Hard% ESPN Player Rater
Chris Carter 0.244 18.40% 29.80% 51.80% 18.90% 16.40% 15.10% 48.20% 36.70% 0.64
Luis Valbuena 0.235 20.30% 34.20% 45.50% 16.70% 10.60% 14.50% 52.60% 32.90% 1.71
Marwin Gonzalez 0.326 22.70% 44.30% 33.00% 13.80% 11.20% 19.10% 49.10% 31.80% 1.63
Jose Altuve 0.329 18.10% 46.70% 35.20% 7.40% 5.30% 19.70% 54.30% 26.00% 11.87
Jed Lowrie 0.233 21.20% 34.90% 43.90% 10.80% 6.50% 12.70% 50.80% 36.50% -1.22
Hank Conger 0.271 21.60% 34.50% 43.90% 18.00% 11.90% 17.00% 58.20% 24.80% -1.12
Jason Castro 0.28 24.40% 37.30% 38.20% 12.80% 14.60% 10.70% 57.80% 31.60% -1.78
Evan Gattis 0.264 17.00% 45.60% 37.40% 16.00% 11.60% 21.50% 47.10% 31.40% 3.86
George Springer 0.342 24.50% 45.40% 30.10% 18.80% 13.90% 19.70% 47.20% 33.10% 4.45
Colby Rasmus 0.305 20.00% 28.40% 51.60% 17.60% 13.70% 16.30% 49.70% 34.00% 2.86
Preston Tucker 0.274 17.70% 46.60% 35.80% 15.70% 12.00% 20.70% 48.70% 30.60% -0.39
Carlos Gomez 0.278 16.50% 41.70% 41.70% 8.30% 10.60% 23.00% 50.80% 26.20% 3.90
Jake Marisnick 0.31 19.70% 41.90% 38.40% 10.20% 13.50% 23.40% 52.90% 23.80% 2.70
Carlos Correa 0.296 22.40% 48.60% 29.10% 24.20% 8.40% 20.10% 47.00% 32.90% 5.64
Jonathan Villar 0.36 19.50% 57.50% 23.00% 10.00% 10.20% 13.50% 62.90% 23.60% -1.13

*Will lose this eligibility in 2016

**The ESPN player rater is based on a player's standard 5 x 5 category performance relative to average. A score of 0 is replacement level and negative values mean the player is actually hurting your team. Values in the 1-2 range generally are for your worst starting player, unless you are unlucky. There are no positional adjustments, though, so shortstops and catchers will often have very low scores relative to everyone else. It is normalized so that guys with little playing time can be compared to guys that played all year.

Analysis

Chris Carter can be counted on for two things: home runs and walks. He's awful at everything else. Despite three straight seasons of 24 or more home runs, he is so bad at making contact that he has lost his starting job on several occasions. After his poor 2015 season, he was cut and is a free agent. He's always been a cheap source of power in OBP leagues, but his huge slumps and awful contact make me wonder if he's even worth rostering anymore. I've owned him in a dynasty league for two years and I think it might be finally time to cut him. I just don't see him having enough playing time wherever he ends up.

Luis Valbeuna is like Carter with fewer strikeouts. He still has contact issues and plate discipline issues, but he has good power, is eligible at two positions, and can be very useful in deep leagues at your corner infield spot. He's penciled in as the starting 3B, so he should have playing time. But Colin Moran could start to take away some playing time later in the year.

Marwin Gonzalez is SS eligible and has decent power, but I don't think he will have the playing time to have value and could easily regress even if he does get time because he has a history of poor hitting.

Jed Lowrie is now on the A's, but doesn't offer much fantasy value, unless he gets his SS eligibility back. As a SS, he could be a top-15 stable, high-floor option (15 HR, decent average, some runs scored), but at another position, he has little use in fantasy. Maybe at 2nd he would have some value, but even then we are talking #18-25 at best.

I don't think either catcher on this roster is useful in fantasy.

Evan Gattis is losing his catcher eligibility and with it, most of his fantasy value. He was the #2 catcher on ESPN, but just the #49 outfielder and the #101 hitter overall. That should give you an idea of his value as a DH-only player. He could easily reproduce his 2015 season in 2016, but as a DH. In fact, Steamer projects him for a nearly identical season. Value him accordingly.

George Springer just can't seem to stay healthy for a full season. If he ever does stay healthy, a 30/30 season is within reach. I'm a big believer in both his speed and power and also his walk rate. I don't think we've seen his peak yet, so I'm buying him expecting a little more than what he's produced so far. He hits the ball hard and his athleticism helps him rack up doubles. A 20/20 season is a near lock if he stays healthy. He should be considered a top-15 OF at minimum.

Colby Rasmus will be back in 2016 and offers the same low-average high-power package as always. His slumps and poor average make him only a little useful in fantasy, but that also keeps his price down. He's good for 20+ HR every year, but his average could be 0.210 easily.

Preston Tucker did better than expected given his scouting report. He showed 25 HR power and...and...not much else I guess. He didn't take walks, didn't hit for average, and had a high swinging strike percentage. The power looks legit, but he's the 4th outfielder on this roster and hasn't shown enough plate discipline to be consistent enough for fantasy owners.

What has happened to Carlos Gomez? He used to be a first round draft pick every year after going roughly 20/40 for three straight seasons. The power, speed, and average all dropped in 2015. He still got 17 steals in 2/3 of a season, so the speed is still there. I think, based on his lower hard hit % and four-year low slugging percentage, that his power is in decline. I'm going with 16 HR and 28 steals for 2016. I think the average will be about 0.260 and he will hit somewhere in the top of the lineup (anywhere from 2-5), so runs and RBI should be available. He's not going to be a first rounder anymore, but he could be useful in the fourth.

Jake Marisnick is a speed-only OF option, but won't get enough playing time to even matter as a steals streamer.

Jonathan Villar isn't fantasy relevant.

Now we come to the real fantasy star on this roster. Can Carlos Correa possibly keep up his 2015 pace for a full season and avoid a sophomore slump? The short answer is yes. Yes, he can. There is nothing showing significant luck in his 2015 numbers or looming regression. The most likely thing to regress is his HR/FB ratio, which was twice the league average and could fall some, reducing his home run pace to 27 or 28 HR over a full season instead of 33-34. But that's about it. He's a sure fire 1st rounder, which is incredible for a guy that is 22 years old. I'm not going to put him in the top 4 of Trout, Harper, Goldschmidt and Kershaw, but he's in the mix with McCutchen, Donaldson, Machado, and Arenado for the next group.

Jon Singleton should start the year as the main first baseman. He's got above average power and a great walk rate with a huge strikeout rate. Does that sound familiar? Former teammate Chris Carter is almost the same player. That is the downside here. He could struggle to hit 0.200 and have long slumps with a 30+% strikeout rate. He could also hit 0.230 with 25+ HR. That's the outcome range here. He's a bigger risk in leagues without OBP because those walks will help stabilize his value. He's a risk in any league, though. Personally, I'll probably avoid the risk, but I understand those that might want to take a chance on him figuring things out and hitting 30 HR. Another issue is a certain prospect racing through the minors at this position.

Who is this guy? 2014 draft pick AJ Reed, of course. He tore apart A+ and AA, hitting a combined 34 HR, 113 R, 127 RBI, and a triple slash line that goes 3/4/5. I love what he's done so far after winning college baseball player of the year in 2014 and he looks like a complete hitter, like Kyle Schwarber, a fellow big guy that can hit for power and average. I think there's a very good chance he's up in Houston this year, especially if Singleton struggles (as he likely will). The Astros want to win this division and won't mess around when it comes to calling up prospects, as evidenced by Correa's call up last year. He's one of the top hitting prospects likely to make his debut in 2016, so go ahead and stash him if you can.

Making the first base position even more cloudy is Tyler White, who is a non-prospect that did well in AAA and the Dominican Winter Leagues this season and has some potential. This is quite a mess. I'm hoping Reed just takes the job and runs with it. He's my favorite to be the long term option and do well.

Colin Moran could be the long term third baseman for Houston. For fantasy, he is capable of hitting for a good average with just average power. That isn't very exciting and the upside there is Martin Prado, basically. Tony Kemp is another prospect that could be up this year. He plays the middle infield, but will be moving to the outfield since there is no where else for him to play. He has good speed, but little power, and a high average. Playing time will be tough with so many veterans in this outfield and he doesn't have a ceiling high enough to add him to your watch lists, anyway.

Pitchers

Name Position IP ERA FIP xFIP WHIP BABIP LOB% GB% SwStr%
Will Harris RP 71 1.9 3.66 3.31 0.9 0.192 87.40% 51.10% 8.40%
Tony Sipp RP 54.1 1.99 2.93 3.34 1.03 0.271 88.00% 38.80% 14.40%
Luke Gregerson RP 61 3.1 2.86 2.71 0.95 0.264 67.90% 60.40% 15.20%
Joe Thatcher RP 22.2 3.18 3 3.73 1.54 0.361 80.40% 45.00% 11.40%
Josh Fields RP 50.2 3.55 2.19 3.33 1.14 0.308 69.40% 34.20% 12.80%
Pat Neshek RP 54.2 3.62 3.94 3.93 1.12 0.273 73.40% 32.00% 10.30%
Chad Qualls RP 49.1 4.38 3.52 2.99 1.11 0.288 67.90% 59.90% 11.70%
Samuel Deduno RP 21 6.86 5.09 4.49 1.57 0.328 62.90% 47.00% 8.70%
Roberto Hernandez RP, SP* 84.2 4.36 4.48 4.53 1.37 0.29 66.10% 51.90% 6.40%
Dallas Keuchel SP 232 2.48 2.91 2.75 1.02 0.269 79.40% 61.70% 10.30%
Lance McCullers SP 125.2 3.22 3.26 3.5 1.19 0.288 75.00% 46.50% 9.80%
Michael Fiers SP 62.1 3.32 4.39 4.08 1.06 0.217 77.40% 37.30% 10.70%
Collin McHugh SP 203.2 3.89 3.58 3.91 1.28 0.31 74.30% 45.40% 10.30%
Scott Feldman SP 108.1 3.9 4.32 4.09 1.31 0.291 75.10% 48.90% 7.10%
Scott Kazmir SP 73.1 4.17 5.19 4.86 1.39 0.288 73.50% 39.10% 9.70%
Brett Oberholtzer SP 38.1 4.46 4.49 4.75 1.59 0.328 72.70% 48.80% 7.20%
Vincent Velasquez SP 55.2 4.37 3.46 4.15 1.28 0.31 68.20% 31.30% 10.50%

Name SV HLD K% BB% Soft% Med% Hard% ESPN Player Rater
Will Harris 2 13 24.60% 8.00% 21.10% 52.40% 26.50% 3.93
Tony Sipp 0 13 28.70% 6.90% 16.70% 54.40% 29.00% 1.96
Luke Gregerson 31 0 24.70% 4.20% 25.00% 54.80% 20.20% 6.42
Joe Thatcher 0 6 26.00% 12.00% 11.30% 66.10% 22.60% -1.35
Josh Fields 0 5 32.10% 9.10% 20.50% 50.80% 28.70% 0.85
Pat Neshek 1 28 22.90% 5.40% 19.00% 57.60% 23.40% 0.61
Chad Qualls 4 10 22.80% 4.50% 26.90% 48.30% 24.80% 0.40
Samuel Deduno 1 0 17.70% 9.40% 11.90% 52.20% 35.80% #N/A
Roberto Hernandez 0 0 11.80% 7.30% 15.30% 55.20% 29.50% -1.25
Dallas Keuchel 0 0 23.70% 5.60% 25.20% 53.60% 21.20% 11.79
Lance McCullers 0 0 24.80% 8.30% 21.00% 50.20% 28.90% 3.23
Mike Fiers 0 0 23.40% 8.30% 22.20% 52.60% 25.20% 3.41
Collin McHugh 0 0 19.90% 6.20% 21.40% 53.80% 24.80% 5.30
Scott Feldman 0 0 13.50% 6.00% 18.20% 59.00% 22.90% 0.19
Scott Kazmir 0 0 16.70% 7.40% 20.10% 50.60% 29.30% 4.41
Brett Oberholtzer 0 0 15.80% 9.90% 18.30% 54.00% 27.80% -1.93
Vincent Velasquez 0 0 25.10% 9.10% 18.00% 54.70% 27.30% -0.85

*If they were outside the top 550 pitchers on the player rater, they will show up as #N/A

Analysis

This rotation starts with Dallas Keuchel. He put up a true Cy Young season in 2015. He put it all together. There aren't any weaknesses in his approach. Ground balls? He's got 'em. Strikeouts? Check. Few walks, excellent command and control? Yep. Ability to limit hard contact? Yessir. How about an ERA, FIP, and xFIP starting with a 2. Indeed. I'm not going to project him for a repeat because that would be nearly impossible, but he's certainly an ace and an anchor for your fantasy rotation. Due to his lack of track record pitching this well, I would take him behind some other guys that have been doing it for longer like: Kershaw, Scherzer, Sale, deGrom, and Bumgarner. But, he would be in the next group with Carrasco, Arrieta (who I would actually put in the first group, even with a short track record), and others.

After walking everyone he could in the minors, I though Lance McCullers would struggle in his first season in Houston. Somehow, he pulled the rare feat of walking fewer batters at the major league level. That allowed his strikeout stuff, velocity, and decent ground ball rate to work. A 3.26 FIP and 3.5 xFIP in your first season in the AL isn't too shabby. I have only two concerns: his swinging strike rate was only average for a starter and that walk rate is very suspicious. It is unusual for a pitcher to suddenly find control at a higher level of competition. I would not be surprised at all to see his walk rate at 10% this season. His swinging strike rate likely corresponds to a K% of about 20%, not 24%, so I see his K% dropping. That would shrink his K%-BB%, a good indicator of pitcher performance, from a very good 16.5% to a mediocre 10.5%. I'm not saying you shouldn't take a chance on this talented young pitcher, but I just want to warn you that there is some real downside here.

Mike Fiers is the same guy he has been. He gives up too many fly balls and home runs, but makes up for some of that with great strikeout stuff. He nailed a no-no in 2015, but his FIP and xFIP look awful for the season. His low WHIP and those strikeouts will keep him fantasy relevant, but avoid him in all small ballparks, including his home park if you can. I'll probably steer clear just because he is the kind of risky high-strikeout, high-homer starter I tend to avoid. Sometimes, it works like with Marco Estrada in 2015 or Fiers in 2014. Sometimes, it blows up in your face like Ian Kennedy or Fiers in 2015.

Collin McHugh was disappointing because he did so well in 2014 and showed promise of continuing that production in 2015. He still has the same swinging strike rate as Keuchel and put up a decent 3.58 FIP. However, his xFIP was mediocre, the WHIP was bad, and his most often-used secondary pitch, a slider, lost 4% in terms of swinging strike rate, down to a dismal 8.3% (a typical slider is 13%). He just isn't fooling hitters quite as much and there is some risk that he turns into a mediocre starter with a 3.7-3.9 ERA. He still has a great curveball, but I'm just not sure he can figure it out and go back to his 2014 form.

I discussed Scott Kazmir in my A's preview, but I basically said he is just another Collin McHugh or Yovani Gallardo type innings eater, despite his success in recent years. He's just lost his "stuff" to a large degree and isn't as effective as he used to be.

Vincent Velasquez was traded away in a big deal that sent Ken Giles to H-town. He debuted in 2015 and had some big ups and downs. His 3.46 FIP, 25% K%, and great 10.5% swinging strike rate look great. His xFIP, ERA, WHIP, BB%, and ground ball % paint a much worse picture. As a Phillie, he will have every chance to start, but it is unclear how successful he will be. He's a big wild card. Moving to the NL should help and he showed that great strikeout stuff. If he can cut down on walks and get just a few more ground balls, I think he could be usable in fantasy. He could even develop some more and turn into a very good pitcher. If he continues doing what he did in 2015, however, he will be too inconsistent to have any value. If I was forced to pick one side or another, I would take a chance that he figures it out because young pitchers are all lottery tickets to some degree. If it isn't working out after a month, I'll cut him.

Ken Giles is now the closer on this team and is in the 6-9 range among closers in the league. He has excellent "stuff" and has demonstrated consistency. He will be a very small improvement over the 2015 version of Luke Gregerson. Gregerson will still be an excellent source of holds and Ks and a good guy to grab for saves if Giles gets hurt. The rest of the bullpen has good strikeout stuff but is very up and down. Wait until we see how they are used if you are looking deep for holds. Neshek, Sipp, Qualls, and Fields all have shown strikeout ability, so who knows who will emerge.

After trading much of their pitching to Philadelphia, there aren't many close pitching prospects to discuss. I'm only going to mention Francis Martes and one other here. Martes shot through Houston's system in 2015 after his velocity jumped up. He's only 19, so he probably won't be called up in 2016, but he did make it to AA last year. He's got a near plus-plus fastball, a plus curveball and at least average control. Being so young, a lot can still change, so his upside isn't even known. Michael Feliz is another pitching prospect that could debut, but likely won't. He's also in AA and has a similar arsenal to Martes, but instead of a curveball, he's got a good slider. Both look like #3 starters right now, but that could change.

Breakout

AJ Reed

As if there was any doubt after reading the above stuff about him? He has dominated the minors so far and that first base position is wide open for someone to take it. This is a playoff team in need of offense from the first base position, so I see them calling him up around June. I love this kid's makeup and expect big things.

Breakdown

Lance McCullers

I detailed this at length above, but I'm mainly worried about his control issues rearing their ugly head and him reverting back to a guy with lots of strikeouts and lots of walks, leading to a 3.8 ERA or so and fantasy mediocrity.

Check back soon for the next team preview as we keep moving up the standings. Tschus!