2009 MLB Preview: #24 Houston Astros

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Offseason Movement: The ‘Stros signed Aaron Boone in the offseason, but he recently announced that he’s scheduled to undergo open heart surgery and therefore his season, if not his career, is over. Houston also added pitchers Mike Hampton and Clay Hensley, as well as outfielder Jason Michaels and shortstop Jason Smith.

Top Prospect: Jason Castro, C
The 21-year old catcher was the first of five draft selections for Houston in 2008. Castro has flashed good plate discipline and if he develops, could add power to an already above-average bat. He probably won’t blow anyone away defensively, but he’s more than adequate behind the dish and should make a solid overall player in the future.

The Big Question: Where’s the pitching?
Roy Oswalt is a freak – a true No. 1 starter who usually gives the Astros a win every five days and halts losing streaks with ease. But after him, the starting rotation looks awfully bleak. Mike Hampton is never healthy, Wandy Rodriguez strained an oblique muscle earlier this spring and Brian Moehler hasn’t looked particularly great to this point. The fifth spot in the rotation is up for grabs between Brandon Backe, Russ Ortiz and Jose Capellan. Yikes.

Outlook: The Astros’ lineup is pretty solid. Kazuo Matsui has good speed, Hunter Pence has above average power (although he needs to lift his average quite a bit), Lance Berkman is one of the best switching hitters in baseball and Carlos Lee continues to drive the ball out of the park and knock in runs. Geoff Blum also had a career-high in home runs last year with 14 and Michael Bourn has demonstrated the ability to get on base. The bullpen is solid as well, led by closer Jose Valverde, who topped the NL last year in saves with 44. But after Roy Oswalt, the starting rotation could be the worst in baseball and that’s why Houston is destined to finish near the bottom of the NL Central Division. They just don’t have enough quality arms and while there are things to like about the lineup, the offense just isn’t good enough to carry this club on its own. Oswalt is also a candidate to be dealt at the trade deadline.

Projection: 5th NL Central

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