Sixty one. That's the magic number of players who have come to spring training with the Houston Astros this year.
Well, sort of. That numbers could be a little higher or lower depending on how you view minor league invitations. Still, it's a huge number of players for just the 25 that will end up on the Opening Day roster.
Part of that is the unprecedented level of turnover on this roster. As Zachary Levine noted today in the Houston Chronicle, the Astros could have nine new starters come Opening Day compared to last season. That's unusual enough, but it also plays into the number of players in camp.
While Houston has been no stranger roster upheaval at third base and shortstop over the past decade, it's the openings in the outfield that make the roster numbers so high. See, it's hard to find a ton of depth for position battles at short, but there are always extra outfielders on the market that will accept a spring invite and be part of a battle.
Looking back at the recent history of the franchise, you have to go back to 2007 to find a season when there were three new starters in the outfield from the previous season. The same thing happened in 2005, but in both cases, there were highly regarded prospects or free agents who were given the job outright.
No, to find a time when all three spots were up for grabs in spring training, you have to hearken all the way back to 1991. That was one of the lowest points of Astros history in terms of won-loss record, but it turned out pretty well in the end.
Why was that? Two of the three starters that season were Luis Gonzalez and Steve Finley, each of whom went on to long and illustrious careers in the major leagues. Gonzalez started more Opening Days in left field than anyone else in franchise history, outside of Jose Cruz.
That's what Houston is hoping to have found in J.D. Martinez, who easily holds the title of "Most Likely To Succeed" from last year's rookie class. Since being drafted in the 20th round in 2009, Martinez has done nothing but hit, hit and hit in the minors. He even showed a propensity for that in his short stint in the majors in 2011.
The reason for that is Martinez has become a whiz at making adjustments. Even though his season last year wasn't the most impressive, it was the midseason callup that seems to conform a little to what he went through in 2010. In that season, Martinez hit well in High A Lancaster, and struggled somewhat in his Double-A stint. His walk rate dropped and his K rate skyrocketed, much like what happened last season.
Don't expect him to hit .320/.400/.520 this season, but it's not unreasonable to assume that he could neatly fill Hunter Pence's production from the last few years. 20 homers combined with a .290/.350/.490 line would be a great season for the young left fielder and a great sign for future success with the Astros.
Right field will also be up for grabs, as Brian Bogusevic and a host of non-roster guys seem to be competing for the spot. Travis Buck, Fernando Martinez, Brad Snyder, Justin Ruggiano and even rookies like Jake Goebbert and Brandon Barnes.
Bogey also seems to have the inside track, but in a wide-open competition, don't rule anyone out. As dark horse contenders, don't rule out Ruggiano or Goebbert. Ruggiano is very similar to Bogusevic, without the detour on the mound. He'd be a safe pick, but without the upside of a guy like Buck. Goebbert also provides an interesting choice. The more polished college outfielder flew through the system last season and could provide good defense and a serviceable bat.
There are plenty of other spots up for grabs, like the fourth and fifth rotation spots, pretty much every bullpen spot and even third base. We'll touch on each of those in the coming weeks, but for now, it's the outfield that both provides the most competition and the most intrigue.
It's a change from previous springs and a sign of hope for a team that lost over 100 games last season. Every team should have hope in the spring before the season starts. It's nice that Houston is among them.