The Astros Outfield: Spring(er) Time in Houston

Relevance in baseball and relevance in fantasy baseball are two completely different things. While the Houston Astros themselves haven’t been relevant to the real baseball world since the Biggio and Bagwell days, there have been a few players from Houston who have done right by the fantasy community. Just because their team sucks, doesn’t mean they do. You have to look at it like stripping down a car and selling off the parts. Collectively, they aren’t worth much, but separately, you’ve got some real nice value to be had. And so it is with the Astros outfield. On the whole, it’s not looking too good and there are numerous other outfields you’d rather see on your favorite team. But fantasy-wise, there’s still hope.

One of the more interesting moves the Astros made over the winter was acquiring center fielder Dexter Fowler from the Rockies in exchange for Jordan Lyles and Brandon Barnes. Not a steep price to pay if you buy into Fowler’s potential, which, obviously, the Astros do. If he can stay healthy, something he’s had some struggles with in the past, he can be an outstanding defensive center fielder and leadoff hitter. His speed obviously helps his range in the outfield and on the bases, although he’s going to have to learn to be a better base-stealer because it’s not all about how fast you are, as evidenced by his 49.4-percent career success rate (if you can even call that a success rate). But a .365 career on-base percentage certainly breeds hope that the club can help him improve his work on the bases this season.

Fowler has also shown a nice increase in power over the years, something that fantasy owners can appreciate. From his first full season in 2009, he’s seen a steady increase in his ISO each year right up until last season. He opened the year strong, banging an unbelievable eight home runs in April, but quickly fizzled out, hitting just four all year after that. We also saw just three triples out of him last year after never having fewer than 10 in a given season. Perhaps it was the small spike in his K-rate after April as he tried swinging for the fences a little more. He tried to right that ship quickly with some improved plate discipline in May, but quickly reverted back. Overall though, his final walk and strikeout numbers should a bit of improvement from the year before. Hopefully now, here in his age-27 season, and with the change of scenery, Fowler can put it all together. Getting a 15-20 season out of him would be outstanding and certainly a huge boost to his fantasy owners.

The Houston outfield corners, as it stands right now, don’t exactly breed as much excitement as Fowler does in center. Over in left field you’ve got Robbie Grossman who, right up until I wrote this piece, was best known for his strong plate discipline. He doesn’t have much in the way of power and his speed is fairly modest as well. He was getting on-base fairly well, but a massive spike in strikeouts over the last two months killed him.

Backing up Grossman is former San Diego Padres reserve, Jesus Guzman. He flashed some nice power potential at one point and as a dead-pull hitter Minute Maid Park just might be a nice boost to his home run total, but his plate discipline is average, at best and defensively, there’s really nothing exciting. If you could take his power and meld it with Grossman’s minor league plate discipline and defensive prowess, you just might have yourself a complete ballplayer.

On the other side of the field in right, we’ve got L.J. Hoes whose improved plate discipline in Double and Triple-A made some people stand up and take notice. There’s not much in the way of power, but he has shown some quality speed potential in the past. The Orioles gave him a call-up last year and he then landed in Houston as part of the Bud Norris deal, but overall, there was nothing too exciting about his game. After all, how do you get excited about a guy with a 61-percent ground ball rate. Yes, 184 plate appearances still qualifies as a small sample size but jeez. A 3.36 GB/FB? Yuck.

Which then brings us to fourth outfielder Marc Krauss who flashed some nice power in the minors, but strikes out more than that creepy old guy who’s still out clubbing with the 22-year-olds. You can have the greatest OBP in the world at every level in the minors, but if you can’t even come close to matching it in the bigs, then no one is going to want you in their lineup…not even the Astros.

Save for Fowler, the Astros outfielders don’t exactly paint the most beautiful picture, do they? Collectively it’s a disaster and separately, again, save for Fowler, there’s not much there individually either. It’s like stealing a Yugo and chopping it down. Some collector will buy the emblem from you, but the rest of the car should just hit the scrap heap. And that is why it’s time to get excited about George Springer, the prized prospect of the Astros organization.

Springer’s minor league numbers have made him the apple of many a fantasy prospector’s eye over the last couple of years. Last season, he batted .303 with 37 home runs and 45 stolen bases between Double and Triple-A, earning him all sorts of minor league accolades. The strikeouts could be a bit of an issue, but the power/speed potential is just too tempting to pass up on. In truth though, I could sit here and gush about him incessantly, but instead, I’ll just point you towards Scott Strandberg’s piece from earlier in the month.

While Fowler will remain in center, neither corner outfield position seems like it’s locked down to the point where Springer can be held down in the minors for long. In fact, there’s a real good chance that he opens the year in left field ahead of Grossman and Guzman. Sure, the budget-conscious Astros could keep him down in the minors for the first two months to push his arbitration clock back a year, but is that really going to be worth it? They’ve had a payroll of under $23 million in each of the last two years. Do they really need to save more or would it be better for them to get the fans excited about the team and put some butts in the seats in April? I know it would certainly be better for fantasy owners and really….isn’t that what’s most important here?



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Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over 10 years on a variety of websites. In addition to his work here, you can also find him at his site, RotobuzzGuy.com, Fantasy Alarm, RotoWire and Mock Draft Central. Follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or for more direct questions or comments, email him at rotobuzzguy@gmail.com

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Plucky
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Plucky

The Astros can afford for Springer to hit arbitration early, even if from a longterm perspective it’s highly inneficient (at the margin you’re paying ~15m deferred for about 2 months of playing time now. No one except peak-roided Bonds is actually worth that much). What would be outright stupid for them would be to sacrifice a year of control, which would happen if he starts opening day and sticks in the bigs without any send-downs. Callups before about April 18 will get a full year of service time, and hit FA a year earlier as their end-of-6th-year service time clock is 6.00 rather than 5.8 or so. I’d expect him in Houston around May 1