Sleepers on the ‘Stros

The Houston Astros aren’t going to be a good baseball team next season. But that doesn’t mean they should be ignored in fantasy baseball. Players on lowly teams like the Astros can often fall under the radar — becoming the ideal sleeper candidates. The Astros have at least two such players next season in Bud Norris and J.D. Martinez. Both players took steps towards relevancy last season, and appear poised for larger roles this year. What should owners expect out of Norris and Martinez going forward?

Martinez burst onto the scene — hitting .274/.319/.423 following the jump from AA. While his on-base percentage wasn’t particularly impressive, Martinez’s minor league slash line of .342/.407/.551 offers a possibility of improvement from the 24-year-old. If Martinez is able to adjust to major league pitching, he could greatly outperform his draft position next year. That’s far from guaranteed, though, as Martinez’s struggles in September (.250/.307/.315 with 1 home run) could indicate that major league pitchers had figured him out. After a brief showing in 2011, Martinez will have to prove he truly belongs in the majors in 2012.

Even if he’s unable to raise his walk rate, Martinez looks like a good bet to provide a high batting average and some pop from the outfield position. While he’s never hit 20 home runs in a full season, he could approach that number next season. He should be able to at least match last year’s average, and there’s potential for his slugging percentage to rise to about .450. At the slot he’ll be drafted, he looks like a solid sleeper.

Norris has always been a bit of a favorite among stat-heads, but last season he proved his worth. While his 3.77 ERA was slightly better than his 4.02 FIP, Norris looked much improved in 2011. His strikeout rate may have dropped, but it came with a 3.39 walk rate — Norris’ best performance in that area over his career. Even though his 8.52 K/9 rate is still tremendous, Norris also managed his best K/BB rate in his career. With fewer men on base, Norris’ propensity for the long ball didn’t come back to bite him as much as it had in the past.

As is, Norris looks like a solid sleeper next season. If he can continue to improve his walk rate, Norris could establish himself as an extremely strong talent. He might not win many games with the Astros — he only won six last season — but his other stats should make up for that deficiency. Don’t let that deter you next season, however, Norris looks like a potential breakout star.

The Astros are not expected to be a good baseball team next season. For that reason, many owners may be willing to overlook their players, assuming there’s little talent to be found on such a poor team. That level of ignorance can often be an advantage for savvy owners who do their homework. J.D. Martinez and Bud Norris look like potential breakout players next season. Don’t be the owner who passes them up simply because they play on a lowly team.

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Chris is a blogger for He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

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As a Bud Norris owner for part of last year I noticed a bothersome trend with him where he gets progressively worse as he goes through the line up. That 6th inning especially where he’s seeing guys for the third time through he starts to get lit up. .291 BAA, 4.71 ERA reduced K/BB in that trouble inning. I saw a lot of his good looking starts go bad in the 6th and 7th. Looking at the numbers he also struggled in the 3rd (second time through the order). I think he really relies heavily on that slider and the more looks guys get at it, the more they start to pick up the rotation. I wonder if he doesn’t need to mature into learning how to build a start, not throw all his A stuff out of the gate. Keep a little in reserve. A la Chris Carpenter for instance.