The 2012 Houston Astros will take the field in 15 days to begin the season. No one's expecting miracles out of a team that finished dead last in baseball in 2011 with a 56-106 record, but this could be the year potential superstars begin to emerge from a lineup full of youth.
Spring Training for the Astros has been a battle of who will play where. Almost every spot on the field has been up for grabs. With just over 2 weeks left before I settle into a seat at Minute Maid Park to watch the Astros play the first game of the season, I wanted to take a crack at who I think I'll see play that night.
Here's my best guess:
Pitcher - Bud Norris: This may be my most controversial pick for the lineup. The obvious choice would be Wandy Rodriguez, but I like Bud for this role this season. In 6 innings pitched so far this Spring, Studly Cuddly Budly's pulled a 7.50 ERA, only marginally better than Wandy's 9.95 in 6.1 innings. So why do I pick Bud? Simply put, if the Astros are counting Norris as a building block of the future it's time to put their money where their mouth is and let him stand up as a leader on this team.
Catcher - Jason Castro: What's not to like about Castro as the starting catcher? Many fans were saddened that he was injured last season and we didn't get to see him in a starting lineup. Those same fans are, I'm sure, rejoicing at what they've seen of him so far in camp. He seems to have rehabbed well and is even hitting .364 thus far. Not so shabby, Jason.
1B - Carlos Lee: There's no way that the Astros will sit this very expensive piece of the organization on the first day of baseball in Houston. Carlos may not be the absolute fan favorite, but I've heard he's been working out consistently in the gym over there in Kissimmee and what we've seen of him so far in ST games shows that perhaps his bat is alive a bit earlier than we're used to from the past. Fingers crossed...
2B - Jose Altuve: I have no reason to believe that Jose Altuve will not be the everyday second baseman for the Houston Astros. He played well there last season and during the few ST games I watched last week, the guy is playing his heart out. His batting might not be yet where many had hoped, but defensively he plays hard.
3B - Chris Johnson: I made an argument for CJ at third a couple of weeks ago, but with what we've seen from him this March, that prediction is only solidified. He's hitting .367 so far this Spring and although it's a small sample size, I have no reason to not believe that his bat will continue to produce and with an OPS of 1.100, I think I'm in love. It'll be CJ at third. All of his hard work this past offseason seems to be paying off.
SS - Jed Lowrie: The acquisition of Lowrie from the Red Sox this offseason was meant to fill a void covering the hole between second and third base and it's silly to think that the Astros would start anyone but Jed. Add that to the fact that he's hitting .348 and his OBP is .464 and I just can't imagine that anyone else would be in that spot on Opening Day.
Left Field - JD Martinez: It's a known fact that I'm a JD fan, but I promise that's not why I put him on the Opening Day roster. He's earned the spot. His hitting has been spot on so far this Spring with an astounding 12 RBIs and a batting average of .393. I don't expect that average to hold, but it wouldn't surprise me to see him hang near the .300 mark this season. Martinez in person is impressive right now with obvious added size which I expect will continue to help his power hitting.
Center Field - Jordan Schafer: Despite his currently sprained hand, I would put Schafer in for the starting role at CF on Opening Day. Hitting .391 with an OPS over 1 so far this Spring, Jordan has shown some grit defensively as well. He's seemingly in good shape and I believe has his head in the right spot to focus on baseball, work hard and play well.
Right Field - Brian Bogusevic: Bogie's batting hasn't been what I would like or expect from him so far this Spring, but I still slot him into the RF position for the Astros. His ability to flat out sail a ball from RF to third or home makes him a defensive weapon and last season taught us that he can be an offensive powerhouse. I'm banking on the fact that he's starting slow this year and we'll see his bat come alive in the coming weeks.
That's my Opening Day lineup. As for what Jeff Luhnow and Brad Mills will do? Well, that remains to be seen, but I feel pretty confident that this is the cast of characters we're likely to see. Regardless of who takes the field on April 6th, I'll be in the stands cheering on my favorite baseball team.