Astros Monday Roundup: Jeff Luhnow snags Justin Maxwell

Apr 6, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros center fielder Jordan Schafer (1) dives back to first against the Colorado Rockies in the fifth inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE

The outfielder is the latest project player to be snagged by the Astros GM.

Let us not give Jeff Luhnow too much credit for all these waiver grabs. It helps when you have first dibs. One of Ed Wade's strengths was picking up bits and pieces Wilton Lopez, Jason Bourgeois etc. Still, this team is looking mighty fine for a spare-boot franchise.

At this point the only way this team is going to succeed is to trust in its current talent, picking up players whose careers have stalled elsewhere until they can replenish the franchise at all levels. In-house overachievers meet out-of-house underachievers. It's neat symmetry isn't it?

Justin Maxwell fits that bill. He never worked out with the Nationals and after a great spring with the Yankees, the Astros took him with both hands, preferring him to Justin Ruggiano, sent back to Oklahoma City when they broke camp with 13 pitchers.

Maxwell will give Brad Mills right-handed cover behind Brian Bogusevic and Travis Buck. Compare what Maxwell brings to early-spring castoff Jack Cust and Luhnow has come up trumps. As a defensive replacement he might work in left field over right. He also can play center field (better than Bogey? we will see).

At 28, he has a smattering of speed, solid power and great on-base skills. Quoting Clack who was himself reading from Yankee Analysis:

Maxwell, a 28 year-old career minor leaguer, is nobody's idea of a top prospect at this stage in his career. He has flashed great tools throughout his career, but has been unable to translate the tools into consistent production. Maxwell has shown the ability to hit for power, slugging as many as 27 home runs in a minor league season, as well as some decent plate discipline. He has also demonstrated solid defensive ability at all 3 outfield positions. However, the inability to make consistent contact has handicapped Maxwell throughout his minor league career, leading to sky-high strikeout rates and low batting averages.

If Buck or Bogusevic were injured Fernando Martinez might have been the first callup, but with Maxwell it gives the Astros a chance to let the former-Met prospect chill for a bit this year. And Maxwell is only two years away from being the Nationals eighth-best prospect, ranked by Baseball America.

But in six months we now have real baseball to talk about. And what baseball it was. While some franchises are already in full panic mode at 0-3, the Astros sit pretty at 2-1, getting above .500 for the first time since July 2009 after two horrendous starts to seasons in 2010 and 2011.

Coming off three excellent starts by Wandy Rodriguez, Lucas Harrell and Bud Norris, the real test is how the back-end of the rotation fares. Brandon Beachy against J.A. Happ and Tommy Hanson against Kyle Weiland look like mis-matches in the Braves favour. Hanson in particular has mowed down the Astros in five career starts, posting a 0.97 ERA.

It is not enough for your top two or three to motor unless you have a Bronx-Bomber style offense (which the Astros most definitely do not have). You need quality starts 1-5 with regularity. Last year the Astros went 27-34 with either Rodriguez or Norris starting (61 starts). For the other 101 games their record was 29-72.

That is a .280 winning percentage compared to .442. And Rodriguez and Norris hardly had world-beating seasons.

So if you expect an uptick in pitching, and expect the Astros to blow slightly less than the 25 blown saves last year, then we have to hope the new arrivals can pick up the slack left by Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence. J.D. Martinez and Lee should be able to equal the production from Pence and Wallace last season, but whether Jordan Schafer and Jed Lowrie can equal or surpass Bourn and Clint Barmes' value is questionable.

Carlos Lee has started this season on April 6 rather than June 1 like he did last year, which is always a good sign. This team may not surprise a lot of people in 2012, but I think elements of this team will surprise a great amount of people this season. Hopefully Houston fans stick around to enjoy that distinction.

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