As the top four teams in the league make a push for the World Series, the other 26 clubs turn the focus to next year. For the Astros, the roster trimming has already begun. Last week the club decided to decline Matt Albers' $3 million option for the 2015 season. Houston also outrighted 1B Jesus Guzman and LHP Rudy Owens to the minors. In addition (or in this case subtraction) RHP Jorge De Leon was claimed off waivers by the Oakland A's. That leaves 36 players on the 40-man roster.
DeShields: Decisions, Decisions...
(c) Tammy Tucker
Expect the pruning of the Astros' roster to continue as Jeff Luhnow and company prepare for the upcoming Rule 5 Draft. Luhnow's prospect pipeline includes several players that will need to be added to the 40-man roster to avoid exposure to the draft, meaning it's time to clear out the deadwood.
Free agent bust Jesse Crain is still on the 60-day disabled list and should become a free agent. Pitchers Jose Cisnero and Josh Zeid, also on the DL, have a better chance of sticking around but could also be vulnerable. Other pitchers who could be pushed to the curb include Anthony Bass, Samuel Deduno, Darin Downs, and Alex White. I wouldn't miss Zeid, Bass, or White for a minute. While I've seen enough of Downs, I think Deduno and Cisnero deserve a longer look.
As for the position players, one player in particular could be at a crossroads. The Astros have shown plenty of patience with Marc Krauss, but time could be running out on the 27-year old. A .200/.274/.341 hitter in 320 career at bats, Krauss has yet to translate his raw power into big league success. It's starting to look like Krauss is more of a Brett Wallace than a J.D. Martinez.
I thought Alex Presley showed enough all-around ability to stay on-board as an extra outfielder, but Presley is arbitration eligible and the Astros could decide to sever ties. Fellow outfielder L.J. Hoes has one more minor league option year remaining. For that reason, I wouldn't expect a decision to be made on him until later.
Matt Dominguez and Jonathan Villar both started the season as everyday players but eventually fell back into lesser roles. Although neither should be viewed as long term solutions, simply releasing them may not be the best option. One would hope the team could get something in return for for a couple of youngsters with a smidgen of big league success under their belts. A trade involving one or both of the infielders could be forthcoming.
The list of players to be added to the Astros' 40-man roster starts with a trio of top prospects. Former first round pick Delino DeShields would be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft and is a clear cut choice to be protected – along with right-handed pitchers Vincent Velasquez and Michael Feliz.
DeShields, 22, spent last season at AA Corpus Christi. While his overall numbers were down from previous seasons, Delino still managed to reach double-digits in homers and eclipse 50 stolen bases. With Jose Altuve firmly entrenched at second base in Houston, Delino's future appears to be as an outfielder. Certainly his speed would seem to be more of an asset there. DeShields is the type of player that will draw interest from other teams. With a number of promising outfield prospects in the system, I wouldn't be surprised to see Delino packaged in a deal to bring the Astros a middle-of-the-order hitter.
Velasquez, a second round pick in 2010 out of high school, has struck out 10.5 batters per 9 innings and boasts a solid 1.15 whip in 263 minor league innings. Injuries have been the only detractor for the 22-year old righty. Velasquez missed all of 2011 after Tommy John surgery and was limited to only 64 innings last season due to a groin injury. When healthy, Velasquez has been as dominant as any pitcher in the Astros farm system. The club loves the youngster's mound presence as well as his work ethic. The combination of a mid-90's fastball and an outstanding changeup helps Velasquez keep hitters off balance. Vincent's curveball also has the potential to become a plus pitch for him.
Feliz, a 21-year old out of the Dominican Republic, already has a NY-Penn League ERA title to his credit. A high 90's fastball, a slider and a changeup are all solid components of the starter's arsenal. Feliz has consistently struck out more than a batter per inning throughout the minor leagues, including last season at Quad Cities. At 6-4 and 210 pounds, the righthander has a body type that big league pitching coaches want.
Roberto Pena is another Rule 5 eligible player that should be added to the 40-man roster. The 22-year old catcher earned a spot on the 2014 Cal League All-Star team, mainly due to his defensive prowess. Pena threw out an amazing 52 of 92 runners attempting to steal last season and boasts a 42% caught stealing rate for his career.
Infielder Ronald Torreyes also has a good chance of being added. Torreyes slashed .298/.345/.376 as a 21-year old at AAA last season. 20-year old Danry Vasquez, who hit .291/.353/.407 at Lancaster is also likely to make the roster. Power hitting first-baseman Telvin Nash and 25-year old Matt Duffy should be considered longshots. Both were left unprotected last season and both went undrafted.
Thomas Shirley, a 6-5, 220-pound lefty, is the pitcher most likely to join Feliz and Velasquez on the roster. Shirley had a breakout season in 2014, posting a 2.53 ERA in 117 innings between AA and AAA. Shirley allowed only eight homers and 32 walks while striking out nearly a batter per inning.
Right-handers Jandel Gustave, Chris Devenski, David Rollins, and Matt Heidenreich should be able to fly under the radar and avoid being selected. For that reason, I suspect all four will be left unprotected.
- Greg Thurston
Special thanks to Mike Tauser and his Farmstros database used as a research guide for this article.