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2011 Houston Astros Roster: Some Solid, Some Promise, Some Questions, Some Battles

As of the time I write this article, at about 6 A.M. on Wednesday morning, the Houston Astros still haven't decided some of their roster spots. Mostly this is due to a rash of injuries that have hit the team recently, from Clint Barmes' broken hand, J.A. Happ's sprained oblique, to even seemingly minor problems like J.R. Towles' back. The Astros Opening Day Roster looks a little something like this.

The knowns (barring chainsaw incident in Astros locker room prior to the first game of the season): 

Catchers: Humberto Quintero and Towles will split time, if Towles is healthy. If Towles back acts up on him again before the season, his likely replacement is Carlos Corporan. If you're a fantasy leaguer in some sort of sad NL-only league where these players matter, you're rooting for Towles to win the full-time job at some point.

First Base: Brett Wallace has locked the position up, and he'll be starting on opening day after a torrid spring. You've got to think he'll be better than his cup of coffee last year, but how much better will he do?

Second Base: Offseason acquisition Bill Hall will start off at second base even though he might be a better pick for shortstop with Barmes' on the shelf. Hall is on a one-year deal and will be looking to prove that he can still be an everyday player.

Shortstop: Barmes' injury throws this one wide-open for the moment. Most of the beat writers seem to think Angel Sanchez will be penciled in to start the season while Barmes recovers. Tommy Manzella, last year's shortstop for most of the season, is the only other player on the roster likely to play shortstop without embarrassing himself. 

Third Base: Chris Johnson will try to avoid a sophomore slump after showing he was for real in last season's second-half. But Pedro Feliz was such a veteran gamer!

Backup slots: The Astros will be going with two backup infielders, and once Barmes and Jeff Keppinger recover, they'll likely bounce both of these guys back down to the minors. Assuming the solutions are on the 40-man roster right now and not NRI's, it's likely that Matt Downs and Manzella will cover the backup infield duties at the start of the season. If they go off the roster, Joe Inglett or Anderson Hernandez could get the call.

Outfielders: Carlos Lee*, Hunter Pence, and Michael Bourn will return to form the strongest unit for the Astros again this season. Lee will be looking for a bounceback year at the plate after he was horrendous in 2010, and the other two will continue to build their resumes as solid starters at their positions.

Backup slots: Jason Michaels is definitely on the roster, because he used to be a Phillie. (Okay, he's got some right-handed pop too, it's just too easy sometimes.) The fifth outfielder spot will be between J.B. Shuck and Jason Bourgeois, with Bourgeois the likely winner because he's already on the 40-man roster.

*-technically, he does play outfield.

Starting rotation: Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, J.A. Happ, Bud Norris, Nelson Figueroa.

These slots are all locked in, barring a change in Happ's condition. If Happ is unable to go at the start of the season, the Astros two most likely candidates to give them some innings are Rule Five pick Aneury Rodriguez and Seattle cast-off Ryan Rowland-Smith.

Bullpen: Brandon Lyon, Wilton Lopez, Mark Melancon, and a bunch of questions.

There are so many ways to go with the last few spots the Astros have in the bullpen. There are lefty-specialists (Rowland-Smith, Fernando Abad, Gustavo Chacin), and a slow of guys who could potentially make the roster, from the 0 ER spring of Enerio Del Rosario to Jeff Fulchino to Henry Villar. A lot of this will depend on just how bad Happ's strain is, because that could shuffle a few spots. McTaggart's picks are here. I think Abad, Fulchino, A. Rodriguez, and Del Rosario complete the pen, with Rowland-Smith coming as well if Happ's injury is serious.

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.