The Astros have reached that point in Spring Training when everyone is checking their watches to see what day it is. The World Baseball Classic is already into their quarterfinals and Opening Day is two weeks away. Soon, it will be time to break camp and find out who is making the 40-man roster.
For the Astros, those decisions are a bit easier than most teams. Their team is mostly set with a few injury-related exceptions. But, it still feels like spring is dragging and everyone is anxious to get back to real games, us included.
Here's what's going on this week in Astro-land (you thought we were going to say Astroworld, didn't you?).
Please note there is no mention of Yuli Gurriel signing with the Marlins below because we are still in mourning.
Astros/Rockets could buy AT&T SportsNet Southwest.
The Houston Chronicle has reported that former partners in CSN Houston, the Astros and Rockets, could team up again to own a regional sports network. This time, it would be the flailing AT&T SportsNet Southwest, which is facing bankruptcy after its owner Warner Bros. Disney said they are leaving the RSN business, which includes AT&T SNS. The Astros would most likely have the greater share because they have more games, but it is unclear how the network would look or function.
Unlike some teams who are going to have to scramble for channels and carriage agreements in the wake of the largest RSN, Bally's, filing Chapter 11 this week, both the Astros and Rockets are in good position thanks to their previous dealings with local cable networks when they were part of CSN Houston. Their deals to remain on Xfinity, DirecTV and AT&T are good through 2032 regardless of which RSN is carrying the games.
CSN was a really good network. If they could revive even something close to what they had there, it could end up being a boon for local sports fans.
Lance McCullers will start the year on the IL with soreness in his forearm, but there is good news on that front. He has said he is pain free and throwing, though not hard yet. Doctors have checked his surgically repaired arm and said there is no damage and what he had was a mild sprain. Don't expect him back until probably early May, however, as he ramps up his throwing routine over the next few weeks.
Michael Brantley will almost certainly miss the first week or two of the season because he missed some camp time dealing with an undisclosed family issue. It was a surprise when, early in Spring Training, the team said they expected him back for Opening Day following shoulder surgery late last season. In his place, could camp phenom Justin Dirden actually make the 40-man?
Yordan Alvarez, he of the swollen hand, has been swinging a bat and is still expected to make the Opening Day lineup. It sounds like he could be back in games in a week.
Finally, we got our first glimpse of rookie Pedro León after offseason sports hernia surgery. León was expected to at least challenge for a spot in the outfield, but was limited by his recovery. Astros fans should still expect to see him get a call up at some point this season. He has been a beast at Triple A Sugar Land.
Diaz and Lee heating up
After some wicked struggles at the plate, both rookies vying for the backup catcher job have started to find their way. Yanier Diaz, who was .083 with one double at this point last week, is now slashing .261/.261/.478/.739 with five doubles. He has also flashed his cannon arm throwing out runners on the base paths.
Korey Lee has been a bit more consistent throughout camp, but even his numbers are trending upward with a 1.151 OPS including two homers. He's also shown good plate discipline with just two strikeouts in Spring Training.
While Lee is the more overall steady player behind the plate, Diaz probably has the edge here. The Astros love his bat and his strong arm. He can also play first base, something Lee just began doing.
Jose Abreu underrated?
It's a weird concept, but hear us out. Abreu signed his deal with the Astros very early in the free agency period. It wasn't the kind of flashy nine-figure, 10-year deal that have been thrown around the league with reckless abandon. It also didn't have the drama and intrigue of Carlos Correa's leg saga. Additionally, Abreu doesn't have to be "the guy" with the Astros like he was in Chicago. It's likely he'll bat sixth, sandwiched between Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker.
As a result, we haven't heard or read much about the first base slugger. He's just been quietly going about his business. But, no one can deny the potential impact. When you consider the eventual return of Michael Brantley, the Astros could have a lineup of Jose Altuve, Brantley, Alex Bregman, Alvarez, Abreu, Tucker and Jeremy Peña. That is a brutal order for opposing pitchers. So, let Abreu stay under the radar for now. He can do his talking with his bat during the season.