2007 was a trying year for the Houston Astros. Injuries, inconsistencies, and indecision plagued the team as a whole, as well as the performance of many key contributors. The pitching struggled, and the offense looked just as bad. The ‘Stros were expected to be able to put some runs on the board in ‘07, but the offense fizzled for nearly the entire season. Houston spent the off-season beefing up their lineup, and hope that their moves will lead to success in ‘08. The pitching rotation, held together by paperclips and chewing gum in ‘07, remains largely unchanged. They’ll need an arm to step up.
Roy Oswalt (SP): Take a quick glance at Roy Oswalt’s numbers from ‘07, and you may be under whelmed. Take a closer look, and you’ll see that Oswalt was his excellent self. His 14-7 record was ho-hum, but it certainly wasn’t his fault. His 3.18 ERA was undoubtedly good enough to earn more victories, but a stagnant Astro offense gave him little run support. With an improved lineup, I’d expect Oswalt to get back to his form of 18-20 victories in 2008. One concern to note is that Oswalt’s strikeout numbers have decreased is each of the last 4 seasons. It definitely seems like a trend, but he’s shown that he doesn’t need a high number of strikeouts to perform at high level. I wouldn’t be too worried about it.
Jose Valverde (RP): Valverde rebounded from a disastrous 2006 season to finally take hold of and thrive in the D-Backs closer’s role in ‘07. He led the league in saves with 47 and had his electric stuff working all season long as he racked up 78 K’s 64.1 innings (Not to mention an excellent 2.66 ERA). Valverde benefited greatly from the ridiculous number of one run games that Arizona was involved in in 2007. Inconsistency at the back end of the bullpen was a huge reason for the Astros’ failures in ‘07. With Brad Lidge now in Philly, Valverde will get a chance to prove he’s no one year wonder in Houston. If the Astros struggle to score runs again in ‘08, Valverde will have a huge impact on how the season will play out. He’s the kind of back end stability that the Astros sorely need, and I expect him to get plenty of chances to close the door in ‘08.
Carlos Lee (OF): One of the few bright spots offensively for the Astros in ‘07, Carlos Lee earned his 2nd career Silver Slugger Award and proved to be an excellent addition. Lee’s numbers were rock solid all-around. He played in every single game, hit .303, smashed 32 homeruns, drove in 119, and even sprinkled in a useful 10 steals. While Lee’s homerun total took a slight hit, his average, RBI total, and runs scored total were among the best of his career. If anything, I would expect Lee’s power numbers to increase in his second season in Minute Maid Park, and with an improved supporting cast. Lee’s best asset is his consistency. You know what you’re getting, and it’s worth a pick in the first 3-4 rounds of your fantasy draft.
Lance Berkman (1B): While many feel that Berkman had a down year in 2007, Lance actually put up some very impressive numbers, just not ones that matched his ‘06 totals. In a floundering offense, Berkman was once again able to flourish. While his .278 average was a bit lower than normal, his power numbers of 34 HR’s and 102 RBI were still above his career averages. Berkman will once again be the anchor of an improved Astros offense, and should continue to put up top notch numbers. On a side note, playing first base full time will help to slow down much of the wear and tear that Berkman would otherwise experience on his body. I would expect Berkman’s average to rise back up closer to .300, and for the rest of his numbers to improve slightly as well.
Hunter Pence (OF): One of the real surprises of the 2007 season, Hunter Pence burst onto the scene. Pence seems to be the prototypical 5 category producer. If not for an injury that sidelined him for about 40 games, Pence may well have won Rookie of the Year honors. In just 108 games, Pence hit a sizzling .322 with 17 HR’s, 69 RBI, and 11 SB. Regardless of where he’s placed in the order, Pence should be able to rack up at least 30 HR’s and 100 RBI. The sky’s the limit for this guy, we can only hope that injuries won’t become a trend for him.
Kaz Matsui (2B): Few players helped their stock in the playoffs last season more than Kaz Matsui. The NLCS MVP had the best season of his career by far in ‘07. While his offensive numbers certainly don’t jump off the page, Matsui was an excellent source of steals with 32. His .288 average and 84 runs don’t hurt either. Mind you these numbers came in just 104 games. While he won’t put up great power numbers (4 HR’s and 37 RBI) the rest of his numbers are more than good enough to warrant a spot on your fantasy roster. I would draft him in the latter rounds as a good source of runs and steals, ideally as a reserve, but he could be a lower level starter at second base.
Ty Wigginton (3B): Wigginton has been teasing fantasy owners for years (ever since his days with the Mets) with his nice power stroke and multi-positional eligibility. While he’s disappointed on many occasions, he’s seemed to have found his niche and settled into a decent stat range. In 2007 Wigginton accumulated a .278 average, 22 HR’s, and 67 RBI. While those are solid numbers, he was still expected to do more coming off an excellent 2006 with Tampa (.275-24-79 in just 122 games). While Wigginton has never developed into the 30 HR, 100 RBI guy many expected, he’ll get you a decent average and at least 20 HR’s, so he’s a nice depth guy to have on your fantasy roster.
Wandy Rodriguez (SP): Sure, Wandy Rodriguez was nothing to write home about in ‘07, but he had the best season of his young career and is the #2 man in the Astro rotation. His 9-13 record and matching 4.58 ERA were very average, but at least he’s beginning to improve. While he is definitely better suited for the back of the rotation, he’ll have to step up as long as the ‘Stros have no better options. If nothing else, Rodriguez has good stuff as he K’ed 158 in 182.2 innings. Rodriguez is by no means a great pitcher, but as long as he’s near the top of the Astros’ rotation, he’s a decent bet to rack up some victories. He’s nothing more than a late round flier with potential to improve.
Brandon Backe (SP): Look up injury prone in the dictionary and you know what you’ll find? Nothing, it’s two separate words stupid, but if it was a word, a picture of Brandon Backe would be staring back at you. While he hasn’t seen much action over the last two seasons, he has been pretty effective in very limited time. In 2006 he posted a 3-2 record with a 3.77 ERA in 8 starts, and in ‘07 he went 3-1 with a 3.77 ERA in 5 starts. If he could ever stay healthy, Backe could be just what the Astros need near the top of their rotation. That is a big if, however. I don’t think that there’s any harm in taking a last round flier on him in deep drafts as he has shown that he has great potential. I would take him, expecting the worst, but hoping for the best.
Miguel Tejada (SS): Miguel Tejada has been an unquestioned top tier shortstop for the last five years. This has changed for a couple of reasons, however. For the first time in his career Tejada suffered a significant injury, and broke his impressive consecutive games played streak in ‘07. Also, there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding his status following the accusation of steroid use in the Mitchell Report. If Tejada is able to find his way out of trouble, he’s actually in a very good position to succeed. He’ll be inserted into a much more potent lineup than he had in Baltimore, and he’ll also be playing in a ballpark he’s had great success in before (Remember the 2004 Home Run Derby?). As long as he can stay healthy and in the lineup this season, there’s an excellent chance that Tejada can rebound to his 30 HR and 100 RBI form. I’d be cautiously optimistic when drafting Tejada.
Michael Bourn (OF): Okay, Michael Bourn isn’t technically a prospect at age 26, but his lack of experience and small sample size land him in this category. Bourn was the main piece that the ‘Stros received in the Brad Lidge trade. He seems to be the prototypical lead-off man, and will be promptly thrust into that role by Houston in ‘08. In just 119 at bats, Bourn hit .277 with 1 HR, 6 RBI, and 18 SB’s in ‘07 with the Phils. They aren’t impressive numbers, but he received at bats sporadically over the course of the season, and had little chance to maintain any momentum he may have gained. I’m very encouraged by the 18 SB’s, and it looks like he could be a bona fide 50 steal man. I wouldn’t draft him (unless you’re in a deep NL only league), but I would keep an eye on him, and jump on him during the season if you’re in need of steals.
J.R. Towles ( C ): Could it be that the offensive futility at the catcher position is finally over in Houston? I think so. While Brad Ausmus was brought back, it appears as though Towles will have a good shot at winning the starting job. Towles was very impressive in just 40 at bats last season, putting up a .375 average with 1 HR and 12 RBI. He absolutely exploded in a late season game against the Cardinals, going 4-4 with 1 HR, 8 RBI, and 4 runs. If his late season success was a true glimpse at his potential, this guy could be something special. I wouldn’t draft him as a starter (unless your league utilizes two catchers), but I would nab him as a reserve in the last round and hope for a continuation of his great success lat last season.
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