2016 Record - 84-78
Third Place, AL West
Team ERA: 4.06 (11th)
Team OPS: .735 (14th)
What Went Right
What went right? Not enough, for a team with this much talent. Jose Altuve did his thing, pacing the American League in batting average (.338) while setting career highs in home runs (24), RBI (96), OPS (.926), and runs scored (108). He’s going to get MVP votes, though the award will probably go to Mookie Betts or Mike Trout. Altuve also racked up 30 stolen bases in 2016, clocking his fifth straight season of 30-plus steals. Top prospect Alex Bregman earned a callup in late July and exploded after a sluggish first 10 games, slashing .313/.354/.557 with eight home runs, 34 RBI, and 30 runs scored over his final 39 contests. There was a hamstring injury in mid-September, but he recovered from it way quicker than expected and saw some action in the regular season’s final week. The second overall pick in 2015 out of LSU, Bregman looks like a ready-made star. Evan Gattis set a career high in homers, as did George Springer. On the pitching side let’s give rookie right-hander Chris Devenski some love for his 2.16 ERA in five starts and 43 relief appearances covering 108 1/3 innings.
What Went Wrong
The starting rotation looked strong leading into 2016, but 2015 American League Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel suddenly became below-average, offseason acquisition Doug Fister had the worst season of his career, and young right-hander Lance McCullers began the year with shoulder troubles and finished the year with an elbow issue. Houston starters combined for a 57-59 win-loss record and a 4.37 ERA. The bullpen was better, but not all at the same time. Luke Gregerson, Will Harris, and Ken Giles each took an extended turn at closer. Carlos Correa had a very good year by all accounts, but he didn’t take the step into superstardom that many thought he might. The same can probably be said for Springer. There was a little too much mediocrity for a team that entered the season with World Series aspirations, and then there were guys who completely bombed like highly-touted first base prospect A.J. Reed and former All-Star center fielder Carlos Gomez. Gomez did find new life down the stretch with the AL West-champion Rangers, which only made his first four months in Houston sting even more.
** The biggest fantasy fish on this team is Jose Altuve, and there will be talk of him going second or third overall in drafts next spring after the kind of five-category production he offered in 2016. Altuve probably isn’t going to continue his power rise into 30-homer territory, but a 25-homer middle infielder with the ability to bat .340 and steal 40 bases obviously carries top-tier appeal. Altuve’s stolen base numbers have dropped over the last three seasons, but he’s only 26 years old. It should remain a big part of his game until sometime in his 30s. Another thing to consider when rating Altuve in the overall player pool is that the second base position is doubtful to prove as deep in 2017 as it was in 2016, factoring in regression and natural decline and basic recent history.
** If you go by Yahoo’s average draft position data, Carlos Correa (10.2 ADP) was actually more popular than Altuve (13.6 ADP) leading into the 2016 season. That was somewhat logical given how great Correa looked as a 20-year-old in 2015 while earning American League Rookie of the Year, but Correa figures to fall this spring after a relatively underwhelming sophomore showing -- definitely out of the first round and possibly out of the second. The rise of young stars at the shortstop position (see: Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Francisco Lindor, Xander Bogaerts, Addison Russell) will play a role here and there’s a decent-to-good chance Correa goes unduly overlooked. Keep in mind he just turned 22 years old and batted .274/.361/.451 with 20 homers, 96 RBI, and 13 steals in 2016. There’s much more ceiling for Correa to scrape.
** Another top-25 fantasy guy on Houston’s roster is outfielder George Springer, who carried a Yahoo ADP of 31.9 into 2016 and went on to tally 29 home runs, 82 RBI, and 116 runs scored in 162 games. He finished behind only Mike Trout, Josh Donaldson, Mookie Betts, Kris Bryant, and Ian Kinsler in runs, and Astros manager A.J. Hinch seems committed to Springer as his everyday leadoff man for 2017. The stolen bases haven’t been there quite yet for Springer, but some of that is bad luck. He’s at a ripe age (27) for running and the former 11th overall pick out of UConn had 88 steals in 292 minor league games. Draft him next spring and be happy.
** There was no bigger detriment to success for the Astros in 2016 than the disappearance of ace Dallas Keuchel, but A.J. Reed falling flat was right up there in terms of disappointment. Reed had a monstrous season in the minor leagues in 2015, batting .340/.432/.612 with 34 home runs and 127 RBI in 135 games between High-A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi. But he could not handle the jump from Triple-A Fresno to Houston in 2016, slashing just .164/.270/.262 with 48 strikeouts over his first 122 major league at-bats. Reed isn’t the first young slugger to experience initial failure in the majors and he won’t be the last. Mark the 23-year-old down as a worthy late-round gamble in drafts for 2017. Tyler White won’t be a threat to playing time at first base once Reed really gets going. Bet on young talent every time.
** Houston took a chance on a 32-year-old Cuban named Yulieski Gurriel in late July -- signing him to a five-year, $47.5 million deal -- and the early returns weren’t great. Gurriel rose to the majors in August after showing intriguing power in 15 minor league games, but he batted just .262/.292/.385 over his first 137 big league plate appearances and struggled through a lingering right hamstring injury. Gurriel is locked in as the Astros’ starting third baseman to open 2017, but it’s hard to guess what we might see in his first full MLB season. While the power seems legitimate, the Astros have a number of ways to turn at the hot corner if Gurriel can’t find some offensive consistency. His younger brother Lourdes Gurriel, a 23-year-old shortstop, will be a big-ticket item this winter.
Team Needs: The parts are all here. Starting pitching might seem like a big need on the surface, but McCullers has been getting good health reports, Joe Musgrove looks promising, and there are a number of intriguing arms in the Astros’ minor league system. Keuchel obviously has to be better.