Editor’s note: Baseball is back and Yahoo Sports is previewing all 30 teams over the next month. This year’s previews will focus on fantasy and reality, as our MLB news staff and our fantasy baseball crew come together to assess each team before opening day. Next up, the Houston Astros.
The Houston Astros, now a season removed from a World Series win, have a window that’s wide open to re-capture baseball’s ultimate prize. The road coming out of the American League is tough — real tough — but at least the Astros don’t have another mega-power in their division like the Yankees and Red Sox do in the AL East.
George Springer, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, and Jose Altuve continue to highlight their offense, while a newly re-signed Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole form a formidable 1-2 punch atop the rotation.
Everybody mentioned is a desirable pick, whether we’re talking about real baseball or fantasy baseball. After that, the Astros have plenty of upside to draft too, whether it’s free-agent addition Michael Brantley, a seemingly rejuvenated Wade Miley or the next wave of talented Astros prospects.
They’re a team that could make plenty of noise, either in the AL West or on your fantasy baseball roster. The real question for Houston is what happens come October. - Mike Oz
Astros’ offseason grade
There’s no doubt, the Astros lost some key players to free agency, as Marwin Gonzalez, Charlie Morton and Brian McCann signed elsewhere, while Dallas Keuchel still remains on the open market.
The Astros are hoping that their young core improves this year, that a healthy Carlos Correa closes any gaps and that a few of their new signees (Miley, Brantley) have significant upside.
If Brantley is healthy and productive, he extends that lineup and if the Astros can work some of the spin-rate magic with Miley, they may not miss Keuchel or Morton.
Our grade: B- — Houston didn’t win the offseason, but they made some high-upside moves and extended Bregman and Verlander. - Mike Oz
Astros projected lineup and pitching staff
Who is Houston’s fantasy buy?
Two seasons ruined by injuries have lowered Carlos Correa’s draft stock, but this is a 24 year old shortstop who’s one season removed from posting a 152 wRC+ mark. Batting in the middle of a loaded lineup, Correa is a dark horse MVP candidate who’s available in the fourth round or later in fantasy drafts, so he’s going to be a real difference maker if health cooperates. - Dalton Del Don
Who is the Astros’ fantasy sleeper?
Mixing an extreme pitcher’s park with Houston’s secret spin rate sauce while throwing in real talent produces a nice fantasy sleeper in Brad Peacock, with opportunity finally being the last hurdle to overcome (he’s the leading candidate to act as Houston’s No. 5 starter). Peacock’s 28.0 BB-K% last year ranked seventh-best among relievers, and his 13.5 SwStr% ranked ahead of Brad Hand and Kenley Jansen, so he’s a steal at his round 20 ADP. - Dalton Del Don
Houston’s prospects to watch
Somehow, the Astros still have an embarrassment of riches in the minors. Pitcher Forrest Whitley is the most promising name. He enters 2019 as a consensus top-10 prospect in baseball and has ace potential. He’ll open the year in the minors, but is probably major-league ready now. He should be up soon.
In any other organization outfielder Kyle Tucker would contend for a starting job this spring. While he struggled in the majors last season, Tucker has hit everywhere else, and is a borderline top-10 prospect in the game. The Astros signed Michael Brantley in the offseason, meaning Tucker will start the year in the minors. Brantley has a lengthy injury history, though, so Tucker could see time sooner than expected. - Chris Cwik
Things that MUST go right for the Astros
1. Rotation replacements: Losing Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton to free agency and Lance McCullers Jr. to Tommy John surgery would devastate most teams. That's because most teams don't have anything close to Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole to serve as rotation anchors. Wade Miley and Colin McHugh provide some veteran stability, but it feels like they'll need another pitcher or two to step up and give this rotation a needed boost. Our eyes will be on prospects Forrest Whitley or Josh James.
2. Carlos Correa returns to form: After an impressive start to his career, Correa took a noted step back in 2018, posting a disappointing .239/.323/.405 slashline. His back problems undoubtedly played a big role in those struggles. By the postseason, he admitted every swing caused him pain. The good news is he should be able to bounce back with improved health. The bad news is back ailments can be tricky to deal with. Getting Correa back to 100 percent will be crucial to the lineup.
3. Michael Brantley stays healthy: The Astros didn't make many additions this winter, but the one that could pay the biggest dividends is new left fielder Michael Brantley. The 31 year old has proven to be an offensive force when he can stay on the field. Unfortunately, he's only topped 90 games once since 2015. Given Houston's depth, they can afford to give Brantley ample rest in hopes of keeping him fresh while also hoping he provides the needed left-handed balance to their strong right-handed hitting lineup. - Mark Townsend
If this team had a walk-up song, what would it be?
Houston rap godfathers UGK need to be the choice here — more specifically their fantastic song “International Players Anthem.” There’s no super obvious parallel to the Astros except Houston, but that’s enough.
How about this? Like the Astros, this song is really good. - Mike Oz