Spring Training is finally upon us, and with the Astros’ first game set for Friday, here are some things to be on the lookout for as we prepare for the upcoming season.
JV is Back
Justin Verlander will get the start in Houston’s first Spring Training game against the Cardinals. This will be the first time Verlander has faced hitters in a game since July 24th, 2020 against the Seattle Mariners on opening day in 2020. Justin Verlander enters the 2022 season having fully recovered from Tommy John surgery that kept him out for the entirety of the 2021 season.
Verlander is someone to keep an eye on, as he was noted to be hitting the 95-96mph range on his fastball in camp. From the looks of it, Verlander could step right back in as if he’d never left, but let’s try to not get too far ahead of ourselves here.
It’s uncertain how far into the game the Astros will let JV pitch, or how many Spring Training games he’ll throw in, but expect to see Verlander on the mound for Opening Day against the Los Angeles Angels.
The Battle for Shortstop
With free-agent shortstop Carlos Correa yet to sign with a team, the Astros are deciding who to give the starting job to. The Astros will start their new guys in Friday’s game and one of them is minor league star shortstop, Jeremy Peña. Peña has been getting the majority of the reps at shortstop so far in camp, as the Astros prepare for a potential season without Correa. Manager Dusty Baker had nothing but praise for Peña in an interview calling him the “front-runner” for the shortstop role.
However, Peña isn’t the only one fighting for the shortstop role. Aledmys Díaz is also competing for the job, and he makes the most sense. Díaz can play everywhere in the infield and could be the opening day starter if the Astros feel that Peña isn’t quite ready. Díaz in 2021 had one of his best years offensively and defensively, and if he doesn’t get the job, he will see playing time in his utility role.
The shortstop position is perhaps going to be the most-watched position in Houston this season. With Correa leaving some pretty big shoes to fill, whoever lands the job will have to prove that they’re up to the challenge.
Much like the battle for shortstop, the centerfielder position could also be up for grabs. This battle was ongoing during the season last year between rookies Chas McCormick and Jake Meyers, with both players equally as talented. However, the job is most likely to go to McCormick because Meyers still isn’t 100% healed from his injury in the ALDS last season. When healthy, Meyers can be a force and can probably win back the spot.
However, there is one sleeper player that can battle for the spot as well, Jose Siri. Siri has yet to report to the Astros camp (Visa Issues), but he’s ready. Siri played in the Dominican Baseball Leagues this winter, so he’s gotten his reps in. Siri was explosive for the Astros during his tenure in the regular season but struggled in the ALCS and World Series when called upon in place of McCormick and Meyers. Siri has the potential to be a starter, but it’s up to Dusty Baker on who gets that spot.
As for the other two positions in the outfield, leftfield, and rightfield, the Astros have them covered. In leftfield, the Astros turn to veteran Michael Brantley who enters his third year with the team with his contract expiring this winter. In rightfield is the fifth year man coming off his best season yet, Kyle Tucker. Tucker, or “King Tuck” as the fans call him, was very good last season hitting 30 home runs with a batting average of .294. Tucker exceeded his expectations last year in replacement of departed George Springer, and then some.
Lastly, there’s the big-time power threat and occasional left fielder, Yordan Alvarez. Yordan got some time in the field last season and was decent. Yordan has a bigger build than the other two outfielders which causes him to be a bit slower, but much like Tucker, he’s got a cannon for an arm. Yordan is the perfect left fielder when Brantley has a day off, but even if Brantley decides to leave, the Astros would still benefit from having Yordan in the outfield.
All three positions/players listed above are must-see TV during Spring Training, and it’ll be fun to watch each of them play. My predictions for the shortstop and centerfield positions are as follows:
Díaz gets the starting SS job, Peña takes over by midseason
Jose Siri starts at the beginning of the season, Meyers, McCormick, and Siri rotate throughout the season.
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