added 02/11/2017 by Bob Hulsey
Managers, coaches and executives will always tell you that positions at training camp are "wide open" and players have an "equal shot" if they impress. When it comes to the Astros, don't believe it. There might be competition for playing time or competition for roles, but the 25-man roster is practically etched in stone as the Houston franchise opens their first camp at their new facility in West Palm Beach, FL.
Contracts are contracts. Nobody is going to send down a veteran who hits 1-for-30 in the spring, nor is it likely that a .500-hitting spring will vault a player onto the parent club. Last year, a hot March put Tyler White on the roster while pitchers Chris Devenski and Michael Feliz did so well that the Astros found a way to keep them in Houston even if it meant stints in the bullpen.
This spring at West Palm, the 25-man is mostly stamped. Batting orders and pitching roles seem to be the real competition to watch this year.
Here's what the Manager A.J. Hinch will have on hand:
Catchers: Brian McCann, Evan Gattis
First Base: Marwin Gonzalez, Yulieski Gurriel
Second Base: Jose Altuve
Shortstop: Carlos Correa
Third Base: Alex Bregman
Outfielders: Nori Aoki, Carlos Beltran, Jake Marisnick, Josh Reddick, George Springer
Designated Hitter: a floating role mostly between Gattis, Gurriel and Beltran.
That's a dozen guys right there and the only one who might have to fight for a job on the roster is Marisnick but his superb defense and baserunning make him a likely keeper for late-inning substitutions. Besides, he's now past his pre-arbitration years and is getting paid like a veteran.
Should the Astros keep only 12 pitchers, an opening comes up for a thirteenth non-pitcher. If so, that player might be a veteran non-roster invitee such as catcher Juan Centeno or infielder Reid Brignac who have big league experience and no long-term future in the organization.
This is all bad news for guys like White, Tony Kemp, Teoscar Hernandez, A.J. Reed, Colin Moran, Max Stassi, Preston Tucker and Derek Fisher who could have cemented a job with a better performance last year.
We all know injuries occur and adding guys on the wrong side of 30 increases the chances they could be candidates for the disabled list at some point in the year. In particular, newcomers McCann and Beltran might push their bodies beyond what Father Time will allow. So there's still hope for all those prospects but, realistically, a year in Fresno awaits.
The pitching half of the roster is a similar story. The rotation will feature Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers, Mike Fiers and newcomer Charlie Morton. Devenski and Feliz will also compete but are likely assured of a return to the bullpen if they can't crack the five. Joe Musgrove impressed late last season and has a legitimate chance to stick as well.
The bullpen will have three closer candidates: Ken Giles, Luke Gregerson and Will Harris. Tony Sipp has the lefthanded relief role nailed down.
So there's 12 pitchers and Musgrove is the only "maybe". All the talk of Francis Martes and David Paulino is probably window dressing unless/until the injury bug strikes. Hinch would dearly love another lefty to pair with Sipp so it may be that a 13th spot will be available for either Kevin Chapman, Ashur Tolliver, Reymin Guduan or non-roster invitee Brian Holmes.
At minimum, I've identified 22 players certain of making the club and two more "likelies" if you count Marisnick and Musgrove. It will take a lot for one last guy to claim the 25th job.
The team mantra for 2017 is "Earn It" which is meant more for the end of the season than the beginning. Early Vegas oddsmakers set the over/under for wins by the Astros at 87.5. The Rangers are right behind with 86.5. Only Cleveland and Boston rate higher. So the Astros have their work cut out for them even if they reach expected levels.
Houston's day-to-day lineup may seem like a Rubik's Cube but the roster it will draw from is rock-solid.