Opening Day for the Houston Astros is right around the corner and the reigning champions of the baseball world have set their final roster.
Three players whose names stood on the final 26 were catchers Yainer Diaz and Cesar Salazar as well as right-handed pitcher Ronel Blanco, and outfielder Corey Julks.
While some might be surprised to see their names on the main roster, the Astros’ logic behind it reveals the focus is not just on this season, but for the future as well.
Let’s start with Diaz and Salazar, who both edged out prospect Korey Lee for the backup catcher position. Lee was the Astros’ first-round selection in the 2019 draft. His numbers during 2023 spring training were .258/.343/.827 with two home runs and six RBI in 31 at-bats.
In comparison, Diaz’s slashes were .325/.317/.892 with one home run and eight RBI in 40 at-bats. Salazar put together a slash line of .286/.407/.978 with a home run and seven RBI in 21 at-bats.
While not making the opening day roster is a blow for Lee, Houston general manager Dana Brown said it is not necessarily a reflection of where the organization views him as a player.
Brown said it is vital for Lee to play every single day being a first-round sound selection. That would not be the case had he made the Astros roster, with Martin Maldonaldo solidified as the starter.
“He's like a big time, frontline guy with some power, so you can't have guys like that sitting on the bench at the Major League level, so you have to get him playing time,” Brown said. “Whereas Salazar is a backup catcher, and he fills that role better.”
While that argument works regarding Salazar, it will be interesting to see what Diaz does with his roster spot. Both Diaz and Lee are 24 years old. Diaz made his MLB debut last September and appeared in only six games for the Astros.
As for Blanco, the right-handed pitcher put together an impressive spring training for Houston that earned him his spot in the bullpen. The Dominican Republic native pitched 14 innings, giving up only one run. He put together a 0.64 ERA.
Blanco is going to be raring to showcase to Houston his improvement from last season. He had a rough 2022 season in the big leagues, appearing in only seven games and giving up five runs and accumulating a 7.11 ERA.
The 29-year-old beat out pitchers like Brandon Bielak and veteran Austin Davis to make the team’s crowded bullpen. For Blanco, it is all about producing in the majors.
One final player to spotlight is Corey Julks. He came as a bit of a surprise as well, with many thinking Justin Dirden's impressive spring could get him a spot on the roster. But Julks has more experience and posted a big year with the Space Cowboys in 2022. The former University of Houston Cougar crushed 31 home runs for Sugar Land last year and had a slash line this spring of .275/.318/.550 with 2 homers.