Who will close?
Not Mark Melancon - that's all we know. This will play out during spring training and bears watching ... if you like horror movies.
Brandon Lyon (insert grumbling or vomiting here) remains the likely option, at least to start, given a normal recovery from season-ending right biceps surgery. That's not to say he wasn't hittable before he went down for the count, but he isn't as bad a hurler as he showed in his damaged 2011; he often pitched above his FIPs.
Still, he's resting on save-experience laurels. Houston would do well to test out their future by installing a more skilled option - or a committee - especially if the impending free agent stumbles or is traded. Right-handers Wilton Lopez and David Carpenter initially rank as the best succession bets, per the traditional succession of the setup depth chart.
Lopez is more grounder- and control-friendly than overpowering. Having a non-dominant profile, naturally, didn't stop Houston from giving Lyon SVOs. Bradley Mills values Lopez in the late innings, which, as we know, is enough for the green light. Carpenter closed in A ball and carries the stereotypical stopper makeup, but he's a bit gophery and, from a 26-year-old, you'd like to see more time at the high minors.
Rhiner Cruz, the No. 1 pick in this year's Rule 5 Draft, seems like a prototypical "wild heat" long shot. Fangraphs's Mike Newman has moreon his rawness. Juan Abreu, 26, fanned 12 in 6 2/3 MLB innings last year and has minor-league closing and K familiarity, but he's a project as well.
Until Houston pegs someone else, consider Lyon a cheap but poisonous selection, with Lopez and Carpenter nipping at his heels. Houston has a problem. You're better off avoiding what's looking like a vomit-inducing expedition at your draft launch - and only boarding during the season if you can quickly exit the aircraft with as little damage as possible.
Why should I care about bats not named Carlos Lee?
Don't overlook promise in the outfield. J.D. Martinez destroys the ball - when he makes contact - and can sniff 20 homers and plenty of ribbies with his middle-of-the-order stick. Jordan Schafer's clip will kill, but he quietly hides 30-swipe upside at a pauper's price, maybe while adding a few more dingers.
Jed Lowrie's hits touch the sky often, which could boost his homer potential at Minute Maid Park. The switch-hitter was buried in Boston but will be hailed in Houston as the starting shortstop; playing time with disjointed but intriguing stick skills can be gold for MI-desperate fantasy squads.
Jose Altuve and Jimmy Paredes might become in-season assets. Paredes' steals-heavy, shaky-hitting blend isn't traditional for a third sacker, but SB-hungry owners won't care. Altuve still has maturing to do in nearly every facet but could be an NL-only BA contributor with double-digit homers from the keystone if a few components come together.
Digging deeper: Outfielder Brian Bogusevic showed some power growth in Class AAA, though he relies heavily on batting average and splits versus righties. Jason Bourgeois produces steals whenever he obtains playing time. Don't forget post-hyper Fernando Martinez, NL-only speculators. Maybe Brett Wallace can play his way back into relevance; he has always intrigued at the plate, even if his results have eroded lately. Jack Cust ... well, at least he can hit homers.
Team stigma creates fantasy baseball bargains. While none of these options will carry you to a title, some of them could play an underappreciated but important bit role in getting you there.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.
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