As opening day inches ever closer, the play on the field for the Astros has finally begun to get more attention — at least locally — than the disaster off the diamond during the offseason. During Spring Training, most players aren't concerned about stats as they work on fine tuning their games and getting ready for the season. That and, of course, avoiding injury.
For the 'Stros, there are four guys in particular who will be critical to the success of the team in 2020. Let's break them down.
It feels like every season is supposed to be the "breakout" season for Correa. No one doubts his skillset. But, as good as he has been (and he has been VERY good at times), he hasn't lived up to the hype yet, mainly because he has so often had his seasons derailed by injuries. Last year was the rather infamous massage injury that cost him a big chunk of the year. But Correa is just two seasons from unrestricted free agency making him eligible for a sizable extension sooner rather than later. That is assuming he can justify that payday and this season would seem to be a critical one for his future and the future of this young Astros core. If Correa plays up to his potential this season and stays healthy, it could mean big things for the offense in 2020.
Tucker remains a somewhat enigmatic young player on the field. No one disputes he has real skills, but he has yet to consistently show them at the major league level. He has had moments and there is little reason to send him through another Triple A season, something he has nearly mastered. But, with the sudden and dramatic success of Yordan Alvarez last season, Tucker, who was nearly Alvarez's equal at Triple A in 2019, ought to be feeling the pressure. He is likely to platoon with Josh Reddick in right field, especially with the 0-for start he has had this spring, but the Astros really need Tucker to break out and become the indispensable everyday outfielder they believe he can be.
Overshadowed by the sign stealing scandal was the continuation of the controversy over the trade for Osuna, who missed a huge chunk of major league playing time due to a domestic incident. As if Osuna needed any help overcoming all of that, former Astros VP Brandon Taubman had to go full a-hole in the clubhouse after the ALCS, taunting reporters about the Astros closer. In truth, Osuna was an outstanding closer, but he had some significant blown moments, something the best closers can't have. He has a lot to prove, but he can go a long way toward doing that in 2020.
Lance McCullers, Jr.
There is no greater question mark and hope going into this season than the return of McCullers from Tommy John surgery, which cost him all of 2019. McCullers has one of the best breaking pitches in baseball, but he hasn't made it to 130 innings once in his four seasons in the majors. The Astros are hoping to keep him under that again in the regular season, protecting the arm that has been injured previously. But, they are going to need dependability from him after losing Gerrit Cole in free agency. McCullers is still young, but he needs to have a fully healthy season to prove he can be a part of the team's future rotation