It's time for another edition of Amazin' Avenue's Five For Five Series Preview! Tonight, the Mets begin a three-game series with the Astros at Minute Maid Park, who sit at 8-14 and are even with the Cubs at the bottom of the NL Central. In order to give us some background on the 'Stros, I asked David Coleman, Managing Editor of SB Nation's Astros blog "The Crawfish Boxes", a few questions about the team and he graciously took the time to answer them for us. I also answered some questions about the Mets over at The Crawford Boxes.
SS: After losing 106 games in 2011 and struggling to develop the farm system under Ed Wade, the Astros’ new ownership has entered into a rebuilding period led by new GM Jeff Luhnow. Looking at the roster, it seems to be littered with unfamiliar names. Who are some of the players that we should keep an eye on for future Astros contending teams?
DC: Well, you certainly look to the young guys like J.D. Martinez and Jose Altuve first and foremost when you talk of who may be around when the Astros contend again. Catcher Jason Castro also might fit that bill, but the problem with all three is that they may be too old to stick around once Houston is good again. Only Altuve (21 going on 22) is really a "young" rookie who may be around when the next wave of prospects is ready for the majors.
At the same time, the way some of the older "young" guys are playing right now, contention may not be as far off as everyone has assumed. If that's the case, expect those three names to be the core of that contending squad, with maybe Bud Norris and Jordan Lyles thrown into the rotation as core players.
SS: Outfielder J.D. Martinez is off to a hot start, hitting .310/.430/.493 and running a near 1:1 BB:K ratio, though carrying an inflated .373 BABIP. He also was not all that well known a prospect. Tell us a little more about Martinez and whether you think he’s "for real" or not.
DC: Martinez has a fascinating backstory. He was drafted in the 20th round out of Division II Nova Southeastern in Miami and has done nothing but hit since he got into the system. Every time he got moved up, the excuses followed him. "Oh, he's old for his level." "Oh, his swing will never work against advanced competition." "Oh, he doesn't have enough power to man a corner spot."
So far, he's just kept hitting. His walk rate last season in a brief major league appearance can be misleading, as he had solid numbers throughout the minors and jumped straight to the majors from Double-A last year. I'm not sure if he's ready to hit .300 consistently, but he could definitely finish this year with a .280/.370/.490 line with 18-20 home runs and Astros fans wouldn't bat an eye. He's a professional hitter who seems to understand how to make the little adjustments so he can maintain that success, too. Almost every one of TCB's writers chose him as the best candidate to be the team's best hitter by the end of the season.
SS: 21-year old Jose Altuve has gotten off to a great start after being pushed to the big leagues rather quickly a year ago. As a short guy myself, I’m fond of ballplayers who succeed despite lacking typical baseball height. Give Mets fans a little insight into Altuve’s game and what you think his future might look like.
DC: Talking about Altuve's height is inevitable, because you notice when a guy is just 5-foot-5 and playing in the major leagues. I had no problems picking him out in the clubhouse after a game earlier this year, because he was so much shorter than the rest of the people in the room.
However, his ability as a hitter can't be overlooked. Most importantly, he's got great plate discipline. The big storyline last season is he never walked, so the Astros worked with him on that in spring training and he came out of the gate very patient. Those walks have tailed off lately, but it's because pitchers seem to be challenging him in the strike zone with sinkers and off-speed stuff in an attempt to get him to roll over on the ball for easy groundouts.
So far, that hasn't happened, and he's continued to hit the ball with authority. I'm not sure he can hit .360 for the entire season, but .310? Maybe, and it's because of the control he's shown over the strike zone.
SS: Veteran righty Brett Myers was moved into the closer’s role before the season despite throwing to a 4.26/3.75 FIP/xFIP a year ago. Myers has looked good out of the pen early on, but I would imagine that pitching in the rotation would allow the Astros to receive more in return should they deal him later this season. What is the team’s reasoning behind moving him to the pen and were fans okay with that decision?
DC: Heh, the funny thing about Myers is I think the move to the bullpen actually improved his perceived value with other teams. He's got a $10 million contract that Wade gave him after he pitched one year in Houston. As a starter, he's overpaid for his performance level and there's no real market for him.
As a reliever? And if Houston eats some of that money? Suddenly, his value rises dramatically. Every contending team is looking for bullpen help in July. If Myers can bring back a decent prospect or two, I think Houston will have gotten much more for him than they could have if he stayed in the rotation and posted another 4+ ERA.
DC: The majority of fans are against the move and now blame Bud Selig for forcing it onto us. Personally, I fall into that camp. I'll miss a lot of the NL rivalries that have built up over the years (as with the Mets and that great '86 series), but it's the game that will take the most getting used to.
I really enjoy the strategic aspect of the National League, playing the squeeze bunt and all the little things that a DH simply kills. The real problem is one of the reasons they're doing it is to build a rivalry with the Rangers that doesn't exist. Rivalries can't just be created, they have to evolve based on competition. Just putting two teams together that happen to be in the same state doesn't a rivalry make, unfortunately.
It's a little depressing making this tour of the National League and seeing all the ballparks we'll be missing too soon. But, at least the club itself is playing better than expected. That makes everything a bit easier to stomach.
Once again, a big thank you to David Coleman of The Crawfish Boxes! The next Amazin' Avenue Five For Five Series Preview will run on Friday, prior to the start of the Mets' series with the Diamondbacks at Citi Field.