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Uncertainty? Astros Spring Training 2024

Heading into 2024, the Astros have an axe to grind with the team up Interstate 45 in Dallas. Houston remained quiet in the off-season, but their major move to shore up their bullpen was huge. Fangraphs have placed the Astros with a 60% chance to win the American League West, with an 11% chance to win it all. They sit behind the Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Dodgers in both categories. The West is much more difficult now than it has been. Heading into the 2024 Spring Training games, the Astros hope to 2024 remain with a World Series championship.


Joe Espada replaces Dusty Baker.

Where does this one lay? Will the new manager, Joe Espada, be able to transition from bench coach to full-time and full-on manager? His being bi-lingual already gives him a hands-up on the squad more than what Dusty had in his bag of tricks. Espada has proven his merit as a bench coach, filling in where and when he could for the squad when needed. He has expressed interest in drives that use traditional managerial skills and instinct, along with implementing analytics into his approach. He has proven his mettle as a squad member these past few years; will the squad provide him with the same sense of trust and security heading into the 2024 regular season?

First Base

Abreu – Mere Blip or Question Mark

Was the 2023 Astros season for first baseman José Abreu merely a late-season blip, or was it the beginning of the end for a once-grand infielder? Abreu will follow up his early lackluster start with the Astros, which we all hope will be a return to his standard form. This was something Astros fans caught glimpses of following a late-season injury.

Middle Infield

This might be one of the most robust and most assured locations for the Astros. José Altuve and Jeremy Pena are heading into 2024 with over a few years of contract entanglement. The Astros’ middle infield will likely be secure for the next few seasons.

Altuve, an Astro for Life

Just at the beginning of Spring Training, José Altuve accomplished what so many Astros fans were wishing and waiting for from him – signing a long-term contract. With this in the bag, Altuve will continue to be a member of the Astros’ roster until 2029, almost assuredly confirming his final years will be in Space City.

Pena’s new approach

Shortstop Jeremy Peña has taken off-season to adjust his approach at the plate. After his rookie campaign, which garnered him the Rookie of the Year award for the American League, a gold glove for his defensive work, and a World Series MVP as a rookie, Peña slid off a bit and experienced a Sophomore Slump. During the last off-season, Peña became a more cut baseball player, but the second half of his season was lacking in production. He will approach the plate this season with a new, adjusted swing. The work and discipline Peña has shown to accentuate his skills and improve his performance is precise. The results remain to be seen.

Third Base

Will Bregman be an Astro in 2025?

At the beginning of the 2024 off-season, there were several questions. One of the largest was what to do with long-term Astros’ favorites and leaders, José Altuve and Alex Bregman. The Astros signed Altuve, answering that question. Now, the issue boils down to a handful of players – the biggest and longest-tenured name would be Alex Bregman. In a season where Bregman will need to shine to get the best possible deal from prospective suitors, the Astros seem to be hedging their bets following the signing of Altuve. In looking forward, his off-season regimen picked up, and there are hopes, from the team, the fan base, and Bregman himself, that he will return to his previous regular-season form. 

The Outfield & Designated Hitter

The Jake Meyers Experiment continues.

The job is for Jake Meyers to make his own. There has been consternation over the playing time of Chas McCormick versus that of Jake Meyers, and rightfully so. McCormick’s numbers have shined, while Meyers’s have yet to achieve the same luster. Despite this, he is excellent in the field, playing great defense in the outfield, possesses good range, and has a strong arm — all things the Astros will need in the outfield this season. The hope and experiment is that his bat will finally catch up to his glove.

Another wrench in the works for the future of the Astros will be the potential of signing outfielder and young slugger Kyle Tucker. Altuve, Bregman, and Tucker were the big names looking at 2025 and beyond once the off-season started. One of these stars will remain with the club until he retires. Will the Astros add to Altuve with a couple of stalwarts, keep one complementary figure and let one go, or scrap them both for the hopes of emerging prospects?

There is likely to be heavy rotation in the outfield this season. Yordan Álvarez, Kyle Tucker, Chas McCormick, Jake Meyers, and likely a small number of backups such as Mauricio Dubón, reprieving them on occasion. Of those, the most likely to see most of the time at DH is Álvarez. However, don’t be surprised to see the emerging clubhouse leader spend considerable time in left this season. He logged 56 games at the position in 2022, following that up with a 40-game spot there last year. DH has no shortage of options, so don’t be surprised to see several Astros receive a break from the field, including José Altuve, Mauricio Dubón, and José Abreu, among others. 

Starting Rotation

Verlander Setback

Last week, pitchers and catchers arrived at their respective spring training locations. For the Astros, that includes future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander and previous year’s emerging star J. P. France. While he made it to the stadium and the field for conditioning and drills, Verlander was only partially 100%. He told reporters he is about two weeks behind schedule in his readiness, experiencing a minor issue with his shoulder. Instead of pressing forward with the possibility of further damage and setback, Verlander is taking his time, is not concerned, and that the setback has resolved itself. Slowing down to care for the issue put him a few weeks behind schedule. France’s shoulder inflammation emerged a few weeks ago during a bullpen session. A resulting MRI caused the team to slow France down, taking activities on a day-to-day basis.

More Injury Concerns?

The question remains with Lance McCullers Jr.: It’s not that it’s unknown if he can pitch; he clearly can. The question becomes if he can make it throughout the season without additional time on the Injured List. Unfortunately, he has only played in 130 games in his career. He sustained his most recent injury while in a bullpen session at the beginning of spring training last season. While he progressed to throwing sessions at Minute Maid, he suffered a setback in May, had surgery on his flexor tendon in June, and remained out for the rest of the season. 

Luis García didn’t fare much better. In addition to McCullers, the Astros lost Luis García following a May 1 injury. He underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and ended up missing the entirety of the 2023 season. In addition to McCullers’ likely return in the middle of the season, García plans to be back in the rotation around the same time, becoming a factor in the second half of the season.

The Bullpen

A New Closer

In one of the late-minute off-season moves, the Houston Astros signed free agent Josh Hader, most recently with the San Diego Padres, to a five-year deal. What started as a quiet off-season couldn’t have ended with much louder of a bang. As one of the premier closers in the game today, his addition to Pressly especially makes the bullpen a much-feared entity heading into the 2024 season. This should ease the worries following a depleted bullpen from last season’s free agents and the loss of Kendall Graveman to injury. 

For multiple seasons, Ryan Pressly has walked out to the mound from the bullpen under the notes of Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.” Those days are now at a close. When the Astros signed free agent closer Josh Hader, there was speculation about what might happen between the two renowned relievers. When pitchers and catchers reported spring training, Astros manager Joe Espada confirmed that Hader would take over the closer duties this season. Pressly has bought in, stating after the announcement that “I get paid to go get three outs; it doesn’t matter if it’s in the fourth inning or the ninth inning.” 

Main Photo Credits: Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports



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