Young players hold key for Astros

Perhaps it’s foolish to assume Carlos Lee, Michael Bourn and Wandy Rodriguez will each have rebound seasons, and perhaps it’s too much to ask Hunter Pence and Bud Norris to keep improving. Can Brett Myers and Chris Johnson possibly duplicate their success of a year ago? That, too, is a question the Astros will ponder.

For the Astros to make any kind of noise in an improved National League Central in 2011, they will certainly everyone to be at their best. They’ll need Lee and Wandy to perform like they did in the second half, and Pence and Norris to continue to blossom. They’ll need Myers and Johnson to prove last year wasn’t a fluke, and newcomers Bill Hall and Clint Barmes to make an immediate impact.

These are not unreasonable expectations, though it’s likely there are going to be road bumps. But more than anything else, the Astros’ need to get more from their youngsters, specifically catcher Jason Castro and first baseman Brett Wallace. The Astros are committed to these two left-handed bats in the lineup, both of whom were taken high in the first round in the 2008 Draft.

Wallace, traded from the Blue Jays last July, and Castro both got their feet wet in 2010 with varing degrees of success/disappointment. But now it’s time for them to jump right in. Imagine how the whole lineup would change if Wallace slugs like he did in the Minor Leagues and Castro blossoms into a solid hitter? That would suddenly give the Astros a deep batting order to go along with a pretty good rotation.

The Astros dealt with and certainly expected both to struggle a year ago, but now they’re fully invested in Wallace and Castro. The Astros have some good catching prospects on the farm, but none on the immediate horizon. Castro is the guy. The team toyed with bringing in a left-fielder as an insurance policy if Lee had to move to first to replace Wallace, but general manager Ed Wade said at the Winter Meetings they wanted to remain fully committed to Wallace.

Hopefully, for the Astros’s sake, Wallace and Castro can reward that confidence this season and come into their own.

_____________________________________________________________________________

I hope everyone had a great holiday season, and, like most of you, I’m back to work this week. We’ll find out Wednesday if Astros icon Jeff Bagwell made it into the Hall of Fame, and the more I hear and see feedback from those with a vote, the less likely I think it is that he’ll make it on the first ballot. Colleague Peter Gammons thinks he should make it eventually, for what it’s worth.

Wednesday also begins the salary arbitration filing period, a list that is now down to five players following the trade of Matt Lindstrom: Wandy Rodriguez, Clint Barmes, Jeff Keppinger, Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence.

 

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