2014 Houston Astros - Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep
Although the offseason is still fairly young, the Astros starting lineup is already beginning to take shape. Short of some sort of blockbuster trade or surprise free-agent signing, we already have a pretty good idea of who will be taking the field for the Astros on Opening Day. While the roster lacks star talent, fantasy owners will want to pay attention to the Astros, because even without top-30 talent they have several very useful players for fantasy purposes, many of them at key positions where finding talent in the later rounds of the draft is often difficult.
One note to keep in mind is that some of the Astros players I consider fantasy relevant tend to be more useful in rotisserie leagues than in head-to-head points leagues. This is largely because these players derive a disproportionate amount of their value from one or two specific categories (home runs or stolen bases) and display serious flaws or question marks in the rest (batting average, RBI and runs scored). Because of the nature of their skillsets, their production tends to come in scattered bursts throughout the course of the season. Owners looking for consistent weekly production will have to adjust their valuations of these particular Astros players accordingly. In any case, in the interest of learning more about who might contribute from the current Houston lineup, let's take a look position-by-position at the probable starters for the 2014 Houston Astros.
Hitters Preview & Projections - 2014 Houston Astros
1B is obviously one of the weaker positions in the Astros lineup for fantasy purposes. You can expect to see some sort of platoon between Wallace and Guzman in the early part of the season, and with their at-bats thus limited, these two flawed players lose a lot of their value in fantasy leagues. The upshot on both players is that they both have some power. Guzman clubbed nine home runs in only 126 games, and Wallace for his part exceeded this number with even less playing time, hitting 13 home runs in 79 games. The downside is that beyond power , there's very little else to like with these two. Both are coming off seasons in which they hit around .220 an got on base at below a .300 clip. Each could make for an interesting replacement option or matchup play should you need to plug a hole at first in a deeper league, but neither should be the first name you turn to. Needless to say, neither should be drafted except in the deepest of leagues (think 14-team, AL-only leagues), and even then there are probably better options out there.
As the season progresses, one player to keep an eye on at 1B is Jonathan Singleton. After a disappointing 2013, he'll almost certainly begin the season at AAA, but a strong performance could see him called up in the second half. I'll discuss him in greater detail in a later article on top Astros prospects.
Recommendation: Don't draft
2B: Jose Altuve
2013: .283/.316/.363, 5 HR, 64 R, 52 RBI, 35 SB
Steamer 2014 Projections: .288/.331/.400, 9 HR, 85 R, 56 RBI, 31 SB
After signing a long-term extension last year, there's little doubt that Jose Altuve will be the Astros Opening Day 2B. As such, he's definitely a useful fantasy piece for owners who choose to wait on drafting a 2B. He'll give you an above-average batting average with his major contributions coming in stolen bases and runs scored. He doesn't have much power, but power isn't why you'd draft Altuve. He's not a flashy pick, but he's a healthy, dependable 2B and there's a lot of value to that. I like him as a ninth- or tenth-round pick myself, and I certainly see him cracking the top ten at the position for the 2014 season.
Recommendation: Round 9-10, all formats
3B: Matt Dominguez
2013: .241/.286/.403, 21 HR, 56 R, 77 RBI, 0 SB
Steamer 2014 Projections: .255/.306/.421, 18 HR, 60 R, 65 RBI, 1 SB
In terms of probable fantasy production, Matt Dominguez profiles as similarly to what one could expect to see out of the Wallace/Guzman platoon at 1B, albeit with a better batting average, which in this case still just isn't good enough for draft day. There's nothing wrong with a league-average batting average, but Dominguez just doesn't provide enough in the rest of the major fantasy categories to be worth drafting in standard leagues. He'll have some value as a late-round draft pick in 14+-team mixed leagues and AL-only formats, because he does have some power and will both produce and score runs, but his very limited upside should curtail his use in standard leagues to merely a free-agent injury replacement.
Recommendation: Late-round pick in 14-team mixed leagues and deeper
SS: Jonathan Villar
2013: .243/.321/.319, 1 HR, 26 R, 8 RBI, 18 SB (note: in only 58 games)
Steamer 2014 Projections: .243/.303/.370, 54R, 49 RBI, 30 SB
In many ways, Villar is a difficult player to value, because his fantasy production is so dramatically lopsided toward the speed metrics. While he doesn't give you much of anything else, I'd say that the Steamer projection is probably the floor for Villar's stolen base totals if he is given a full season worth of at-bats in 2014. As a marginal player on a rebuilding team-- a team which happens to have a shortstop as one of its top prospects in Carlos Correa-- I think Villar will be treating this next year as a season-long audition for a starting job in the majors. He'll be looking to contribute in any way possible, and he knows that his biggest asset is his legs. I think he'll be looking to show off that speed, and given the possible trade chip he'd make to a team hunting for a shortstop at the deadline, I'm inclined to believe the Astros will let him run. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see him steal 40 bases if he is given a full season of plate appearances and as such, even with his less-than-stellar numbers in other areas, I like him as a pick in the last couple of draft rounds. Stolen bases have been harder to come by in recent years, and a talent like Villar's in this regard shouldn't be ignored, especially since it comes at a premium and shallow position like shortstop.
Recommendation: Very late-round pick in rotisserie formats
C: Jason Castro
2013: .276/.350/.485, 18 HR, 63 R, 56 RBI, 2 SB
Steamer Projection: .250/.332/.413, 17 HR 68 R, 69 RBI, 3 SB
Castro was the Astros' breakout player of the year in 2013, showing he had the potential to be an above-average power hitter at what is probably the most offensively-starved position in the majors. The main question with Castro is whether he can continue to produce enough solid contact to make up for his tendency to strike out in a quarter of his at-bats. If he can, he's probably the ninth- or tenth-best fantasy catcher in the majors, but there's a lot of risk to Castro, and it's not just batting average regression. He's had knee problems his whole career, and as a catcher that's something that's not going to get any better with time. You should be happy getting 120-130 games out of Castro, so making him your starter will require checking the waiver wire for backups some weeks. That said, considering that you'll be able to get him as late as rounds 19-21 in a standard-league draft, he's not a bad option to target if you miss out on a top catcher like Posey or Molina. There aren't a lot of catchers in the majors with 20-HR potential, after all.
Recommendation: Round 19-21, all formats
DH: Chris Carter
2013: .223/.320/.451, 29 HR, 64 R, 82 RBI, 2 SB
Steamer 2014 Projection: .235/.328/.464, 29 HR, 73 R, 83 RBI, 2 SB
The first number that jumps of the page when looking at Chris Carter is the 29-HR power. Ever since his days as an A's prospect, Carter has shown he has monster power, and honestly this is a guy that has the potential in him to hit 40+ home runs. The biggest question about Carter is whether he can make enough contact to tap into that potential. It's no secret that Chris Carter strikes out a lot, recording a K in a whopping 36.2% of his plate appearances in 2013. That strikeout rate can't help but lead to the kind of batting average that makes fantasy owners away slink away in fear (although he walks enough that OBP owners should see a lot more to like in him). There are going to be a lot of drafts out there in which Chris Carter strays on the board. I think there is something very wrong with that. As a last-round pick you can stash on your bench, I think you could do a lot worse than Carter. Maybe he never puts everything together, but at 27 years old-- an age in which players typically hit their primes-- Carter practically oozes upside. His potential is a 4-HR, 850R, 100-RBI season, which is about what Jose Bautista owners are hoping for when they take him in fourth or fifth round. I know that I'll own Carter in almost every league I play in, and I recommend that you do the same.
Recommendation: Very late-round pick; I would consider him a sleeper pick in all formats, but would emphasize owning in roto leagues.
LF: Robbie Grossman
2013: .268/.332/.370, 4 HR, 29 R, 21 RBI, 6 SB
Steamer 2014 Projection: .247/.328/.359, 6 HR, 44 R, 38 RBI, 12 SB
Robbie Grossman has bit of speed, some solid on-base skills to make up for a below-average batting average, and very little else to offer to fantasy owners. He's an injury replacement in deep leagues, but unless you're a fan of 16-team AL-only leagues, I can't imagine a scenario in which you'd want to draft him. Everyone needs outfielders, but if you want to win your league you should look elsewhere for yours.
Recommendation: Don't draft
RF: L.J Hoes
2013: .282/.332/.365, 1 HR, 24 R, 10 RBI, 7 SB
Steamer 2014 Projection: .270/.340/.374, 6 HR, 58 R, 39 RBI, 13 SB
If that Steamer projection reminds you of Robbie Grossman, congrats! L.J Hoes is essentially Robbie Grossman with a slightly above-average batting average. That might make him more useful as a short term injury replacement in deep leagues, but just as with Grossman, I want no part of him on draft day. You shouldn't either.
Recommendation: Don't draft
CF: Dexter Fowler
2013: .263/.369/.407, 12 HR, 71 R, 42 RBI, 19 SB
Steamer 2014 Projection (note: compiled BEFORE his trade to Houston): .270/.368/.435 with 12 HR, 88 R, 51 RBI, 18 SB
I analyzed Fowler's situation in fairly great detail in my post regarding the Astros' Offseason Trades and Signings, but just in summary, I'm not as afraid as most people are of how Fowler's performance will hold up now that he's no longer playing half his games at Coors Field. I see Fowler going forward as something around a .260 hitter with 10-HR and 20-SB potential. He's still a strong candidate for 60-70 R as he'll be locked-in as the Astros leadoff man for all of 2014, and a floor of 30-35 RBI seems reasonable to expect to go along with that. Altogether it's a step down from his potential production were he still in Colorado, but he's still a very useful, young fourth or fifth outfielder who has a lot of upside. Considering that he won't be going until the 17th or 18th rounds in most drafts and that you could even nab him as late as the 20th in many cases, I'm rather high on Fowler this year. I see him as a great buy-low candidate to add some serious depth to a contending team.
Recommendation: 17th-18th round pick in all formats
Note: I'll discuss him at greater length when I go over the Astros top prospects in a later article, but a big wildcard in the Astros outfield is top prospect George Springer. Already knocking on the door to the major leagues after destroying the minor leagues in 2013, he could easily push Hoes or Grossman to the side with a strong spring training performance. Wil Myers' rookie season is a good comparison for what Springer is capable of and even more considering what some minor league scouts say about him. His draft status is in limbo right now due to uncertainty over where he will start the year, but his is one name fantasy owners will want to pay attention to this spring.