Sep 5, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Hunter Brown (58) reacts after a strikeout against the Texas Rangers during the fifth inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports
Fred Faour: despite a stacked roster, the Astros have some burning questions heading into spring training
As the Astros pitchers and catchers report for spring training this week, the questions about this team are pretty small. It has not stopped Astros fans from fretting over them all winter. This team did hoist the trophy last year for a second time, but that hasn’t eased the angst. Let’s take a look at some of the “concerns” going into the season:
Will the shift ban impact Framber Valdez?
The Astros employed the shift as much as any team in baseball last season, so it will definitely have an impact. But Valdez will adjust, as will all the Astros pitchers. The Astros have some of the best analytics people in baseball. They will figure it out. And look at the positive: Kyle Tucker should be much more effective with no shift. So no real reason to sweat this one.
Is Luis Garcia’s delivery illegal?
Garcia’s rock-a-bye-baby approach will likely have to change due to a new focus on balk rules this season. While technically not a balk (runners have to be on base), it can be deemed an illegal pitch. Garcia will simply have to adjust. Mild concern here is fair, but Garcia is also likely the fifth starter at best.
Who will be the backup catcher?
As of now, it looks like youngsters Korey Lee and Yanier Diaz will battle it out to back up Martin Maldonado, who will handle the bulk of the work. He should be healthier this season and more productive at the plate, but he is a solid defender regardless, and the pitching staff loves him. One of the kids will likely step up, and if not, this is an easy fix through trade and not a huge concern at all unless Maldonado suffers a significant injury.
Can Chas McCormick lock down center field?
He has shown flashes, and his defense has been solid. No one will ever forget his clutch catch in Philly to help win the World Series. But his bat has been inconsistent, and he will need to improve in that regard. If so, the Astros will be solid at every position. But this is the biggest question entering 2022.
Who will be the next Astros ace?
You can argue Valdez is already there. Cristian Javier had an ace-like season last year and can improve. Lance McCullers has always had ace stuff when he can stay healthy. But the real key might be Hunter Brown, who was excellent in a late-season call-up and strong in limited playoff appearances. If he steps up and the other three stay where they are, that’s four legitimate potential No. 1s, even with Justin Verlander gone to the Mets. Throw in the solid Jose Urquidy and Garcia at the back end, and this is potentially the strength of the team. So this is a good problem to have question-wise.
Again, these are small issues. The reality is the Astros should once again be in the mix for another World Series, and the journey starts this week.