|Fantasy Baseball: Houson Astros Preview|
Written by Mike Chiari (Contact & Archive) on February 08, 2008
2007 was a trying year for the Houston Astros. Injuries, inconsistencies, and indecision plagued the team as a whole, as well as the performance of many key contributors. The pitching struggled, and the offense looked just as bad. The ‘Stros were expected to be able to put some runs on the board in ‘07, but the offense fizzled for nearly the entire season. Houston spent the off-season beefing up their lineup, and hope that their moves will lead to success in ‘08. The pitching rotation, held together by paperclips and chewing gum in ‘07, remains largely unchanged. They’ll need an arm to step up.
Jose Valverde (RP): Valverde rebounded from a disastrous 2006 season to finally take hold of and thrive in the D-Backs closer’s role in ‘07. He led the league in saves with 47 and had his electric stuff working all season long as he racked up 78 K’s 64.1 innings (Not to mention an excellent 2.66 ERA). Valverde benefited greatly from the ridiculous number of one run games that Arizona was involved in in 2007. Inconsistency at the back end of the bullpen was a huge reason for the Astros’ failures in ‘07. With Brad Lidge now in Philly, Valverde will get a chance to prove he’s no one year wonder in Houston. If the Astros struggle to score runs again in ‘08, Valverde will have a huge impact on how the season will play out. He’s the kind of back end stability that the Astros sorely need, and I expect him to get plenty of chances to close the door in ‘08.
Carlos Lee (OF): One of the few bright spots offensively for the Astros in ‘07, Carlos Lee earned his 2nd career Silver Slugger Award and proved to be an excellent addition. Lee’s numbers were rock solid all-around. He played in every single game, hit .303, smashed 32 homeruns, drove in 119, and even sprinkled in a useful 10 steals. While Lee’s homerun total took a slight hit, his average, RBI total, and runs scored total were among the best of his career. If anything, I would expect Lee’s power numbers to increase in his second season in Minute Maid Park, and with an improved supporting cast. Lee’s best asset is his consistency. You know what you’re getting, and it’s worth a pick in the first 3-4 rounds of your fantasy draft.
Hunter Pence (OF): One of the real surprises of the 2007 season, Hunter Pence burst onto the scene. Pence seems to be the prototypical 5 category producer. If not for an injury that sidelined him for about 40 games, Pence may well have won Rookie of the Year honors. In just 108 games, Pence hit a sizzling .322 with 17 HR’s, 69 RBI, and 11 SB. Regardless of where he’s placed in the order, Pence should be able to rack up at least 30 HR’s and 100 RBI. The sky’s the limit for this guy, we can only hope that injuries won’t become a trend for him.
Ty Wigginton (3B): Wigginton has been teasing fantasy owners for years (ever since his days with the Mets) with his nice power stroke and multi-positional eligibility. While he’s disappointed on many occasions, he’s seemed to have found his niche and settled into a decent stat range. In 2007 Wigginton accumulated a .278 average, 22 HR’s, and 67 RBI. While those are solid numbers, he was still expected to do more coming off an excellent 2006 with Tampa (.275-24-79 in just 122 games). While Wigginton has never developed into the 30 HR, 100 RBI guy many expected, he’ll get you a decent average and at least 20 HR’s, so he’s a nice depth guy to have on your fantasy roster.
Brandon Backe (SP): Look up injury prone in the dictionary and you know what you’ll find? Nothing, it’s two separate words stupid, but if it was a word, a picture of Brandon Backe would be staring back at you. While he hasn’t seen much action over the last two seasons, he has been pretty effective in very limited time. In 2006 he posted a 3-2 record with a 3.77 ERA in 8 starts, and in ‘07 he went 3-1 with a 3.77 ERA in 5 starts. If he could ever stay healthy, Backe could be just what the Astros need near the top of their rotation. That is a big if, however. I don’t think that there’s any harm in taking a last round flier on him in deep drafts as he has shown that he has great potential. I would take him, expecting the worst, but hoping for the best.
J.R. Towles ( C ): Could it be that the offensive futility at the catcher position is finally over in Houston? I think so. While Brad Ausmus was brought back, it appears as though Towles will have a good shot at winning the starting job. Towles was very impressive in just 40 at bats last season, putting up a .375 average with 1 HR and 12 RBI. He absolutely exploded in a late season game against the Cardinals, going 4-4 with 1 HR, 8 RBI, and 4 runs. If his late season success was a true glimpse at his potential, this guy could be something special. I wouldn’t draft him as a starter (unless your league utilizes two catchers), but I would nab him as a reserve in the last round and hope for a continuation of his great success lat last season.