A TRIPLE PLAY!
Houston Astros title defense could come down to 3 critical factors
The defense of the 2022 World Series Championship has officially begun for the Houston Astros.
With pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, the full roster arriving in the coming days, and the team playing its first game on Feb. 25, there are a few storylines to keep an eye on as the days go from February to March and eventually the regular season.
Here are three things to watch during the Astros’ spring training.
1) Hunter Brown’s progression
Right-handed pitcher Hunter Brown got a crash course on being a Major League Baseball professional last season. Making just seven appearances in the regular season, Brown started in two games for the Astros.
Giving up just two earned runs in his seven appearances, both of which came in the same game against the Detroit Tigers in mid-September, Brown was then thrust into some heavy pressured postseason moments.
Brown pitched in three innings in the American League Divisional Series against the Seattle Mariners and got crucial outs to help Houston sweep the series. While it wasn’t pretty, he also did enough to keep the Yankees at bay in the ALCS.
With Justin Verlander no longer on the Astros, there is an opening in the rotation that could be won by Brown. With Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier and Lance McCullers likely in the top three of the rotation, Brown is competing with Luis Garcia and Jose Urquidy for a secured spot in the starting rotation.
With Houston fans excited for Brown’s future, how well he looks during spring training will be something to monitor to see if he truly is the next young star on the Astros roster that always seems to reload when they lose a previous key piece.
2) Jose Abreu’s first dance with the Astros
The biggest acquisition by the Astros this offseason was signing first baseman Jose Abreu away from the Chicago White Sox.
Abreu is already in Florida. With the 36-year-old replacing long-time first baseman Yuli Gurriel, Houston fans will be anxious to see how the big-name acquisition gels with the team. In his early stint with reporters, it is clear he is already making himself at home with Houston.
Jose Abreu asked his impressions of the Astros coaching staff and how they do their jobs: “It’s simple. I’m working with the champs.” pic.twitter.com/9LM8I1CCQn
— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) February 16, 2023
How quickly he adjusts to the Astros, and how fast he begins to impact the team on offense and defense will be what the Houston faithful will watch during spring training. After playing for nine years and posting .292/.354/.506 for his career, Abreu has a chance to elevate an infield that already has Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Jeremy Peña.
3) Michael Brantley’s return
The left-handed hitter is undoubtedly the Astros’ wild card heading into the regular season. After missing a bulk of the 2022 year with his shoulder injury, Houston was forced to pivot throughout its World Series run.
If Brantley, who is also already in Florida with the team, can get back to producing at the level he was at last season prior to his injury, it will be a huge bonus for the Astros. The biggest reason would be because of the flexibility it gives Houston.
Having a career .298/.356/.439 hitter that can play left field or just be a designated hitter option gives manager Dusty Baker another weapon in his arsenal.
With Kyle Tucker commanding right field, Chas McCormick, Jake Meyers and Mauricio Dubon will likely be the remaining players not named Yordan Alvarez that can join Tucker in the outfield. If Brantley is healthy, his bat and defense would be a welcomed get for the Astros.