The Cleveland Indians are in Houston, patiently awaiting the first pitch of the series – and of the season. As Tribe ace Corey Kluber prepares to take on Dallas Keuchel, we asked Jason Burke of Climbing Tal’s Hill five important questions, in the hopes of finding out a little more about what to expect from the Astros’ this season:
In 2014, he had 225 hits, 56 stolen bases, and a .341 average. Will Jose Altuve lead the league in hits and steals again, or will he come back to earth?
JB: Altuve will definitely come back down to Earth a bit, but he could still swipe 40+ bags and hit around .310. If he gets 600 at-bats, that’s still 186 hits. As for the steals, he has the ability (as he showed last season), but the Astros may have a change in game plan this season with all of the power hitters in the lineup. He may not attempt as many steals this season at the risk of being thrown out with the thump hitting behind him. It will be an interesting topic to keep an eye on.
Can Keuchel hang on to his title as the Astros’ ace, or will we all finally need to learn to spell Asher Wojciechowski‘s name?
JB: Keuchel may be challenged as the team’s ace, but it will be by Collin McHugh, not Wojo. While Wojciechowski has been dominant this spring, 2015 will be his first rodeo. McHugh and Keuchel proved themselves over the course of a full season last year, and we’re all hoping they repeat their previous success. If I had to choose, I’d go with Keuchel because he’s a lefty, and he has an amazing beard.
Jon Singleton and George Springer were big news last season. Which other prospect will make the biggest impact on Houston this year?
JB: There are high hopes for Springer in his first full season. If he stays healthy, he should break out in a big way. Singleton is still looking to put his name on the map, but he’ll be starting the season in Triple A. Wojciechowski is the only prospect that made the team out of camp that could make a big impact this season, but keep an eye out for Mark Appel. If he has a good first month, he could be promoted to Fresno quickly. Best case scenario is Appel is on the team after the All-Star break. That said, hopefully fans aren’t clamoring for his call-up, because that would mean the rotation is in shambles.
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How will Chris Carter do this season, now that Evan Gattis is around to compete with him for DH at-bats?
JB: As of right now there shouldn’t be an issue, with Singleton in Triple A. When he’s ready, there’s a chance Houston could look to trade Carter, but that would be a bit risky before Singleton has proven himself. If all three players – Gattis, Carter and Singleton – are on the team at the same time, that likely pushes Robbie Grossman off of the roster, with Gattis and Carter spending some time in left field to get all three bats in the lineup. It would look something like: Gattis in left, Rasmus/Marisnick in center and Springer in right, with Singleton manning first and Carter as the DH.
And last but not least, James Harden’s glorious beard is (probably) the key to the Rockets’ success. The Astros can (probably) achieve equal success just by offering him a place with the team during the NBA’s off-season. What position should he play?
JB: I asked the CTH staff, and the only response I received twice was shortstop, but I could see him as more of a utility player. His speed could make him solely a pinch-runner as well. I’m not sure that I trust him with a bat. I would caution the Astros that too many fantastic beards could lead to beard envy, which is completely real.