A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE ASTROS
Houston was a pretty good club the second half last year, even after they traded Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt, but I don't think that's going to be the case this year. . . . I'll try to be as respectful as I can: The infield is a disappointment. . . . I'm not convinced Brett Wallace is going to hit. Anything north of 92 mph is going to give him fits, especially on the inner half. . . . Bill Hall and Clint Barmes are utility guys being given starting jobs at second and short, and Chris Johnson at third? You see him and think, wow, he's 6'3", reminds you of Tim Wallach. That's where the comparison ends. A lot of swings and misses. . . . Their outfield has a chance to be the best part of their club. Michael Bourn puts on a show defensively. Gets to balls both over his head and in front of him. . . . I don't think Carlos Lee has lost it at all. He's rounding into shape—with emphasis on the word "rounding." He's still a dangerous low-ball hitter. You pitch him mid-thigh to mid-calf, and you can duck. I think he's good for .280, 25 home runs this year. . . . Rightfielder Hunter Pence is on a mission. He's a righty but is now shooting the ball toward right center, and with authority. A .300 hitter for sure. . . . Brett Myers's secret? Brad Arnsberg, the pitching coach. I've seen him do this for years, with A.J. Burnett and Brad Penny in Florida, and Roy Halladay in Toronto. Arnsberg has no life, because his attention to video is unlike anything I've ever seen. For me, Myers's success comes from his cutter, and that curveball is nails.
WITH 2010 STATISTICS
MANAGER BRAD MILLS
2ND SEASON WITH ASTROS
Percentage of the Astros' stolen bases in 2010 by centerfielder Michael Bourn. The two-time defending NL stolen base champ (52 steals in '10) was the only player last season to account for at least half of his team's thefts. In fact he's done it each of the last two years.
Last year the Astros drew 415 walks, the fewest of any team in the majors and 48 below the NL's next most impatient team, the Pirates. The 2011 version of the team may make the '10 Astros look like a lineup full of Rickey Hendersons. Lance Berkman (60 walks before he was traded in July) is gone. Jason Castro (22 walks in about half a season) is out for the year with a torn right ACL. Clint Barmes and Bill Hall, who combined for just 69 unintentional walks last year, are the new double-play combination, pushing Jeff Keppinger, who had a respectable 51 walks, back to the bench. Given that there's no way the Astros can score enough runs to contend, they should embrace their identity and sell themselves as a team out of time, rejecting the take 'n' rake approach currently in vogue across the majors and offering fans snappy ball-in-play baseball that gets them home at a reasonable hour and recalls the teams of the 1970s. Bring back the Day-Glo stripes, the multicolored seating and, if he's up for it, Jose Cruz Sr. The Astros are going to be hard-pressed to have a team OBP of .300 or anything but the worst offense in the league. Why not have some fun with it?
KIRK SIDES/ICON SMI (BOURN)