HOUSTON – It’s that time again.
The sounds of baseball return this week across the major leagues and camp sites in Arizona and Florida.
More than 1,100 miles from Minute Maid Park sits West Palm Beach and the Fit Team Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. In short, it's the Astros' home away from home for the next six weeks. The March 28 opener at Tampa is just more than six weeks away.
The Astros are fresh off a franchise-record 103 wins and a trip to the American League Championship Series where they fell to the eventual World Series Champion Boston Red Sox. As the 2019 season approaches, not much has changed when it comes to the powers in the American League.
The Vegas World Series odds all favor the Yankees, Red Sox and, yes, your Houston Astros.
Let’s the 162-game marathon begin.
How many roster spots are open?
The Astros enter camp with likely 23 of the 25 roster spots already slotted, according to fifth-year manager A.J. Hinch. Still, there will be competition for those remaining two spots for role players and solidifying the pitching rotation and bullpen.
What will the pitching staff look like?
The pitching staff will have some new faces in 2019. Dallas Keuchel remains a free agent and Charlie Morton signed with the Tampa Bay Rays in the offseason. Righthander Lance McCullers Jr. is out for the season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
Wade Miley arrives from Milwaukee and Collin McHugh is expected to be added to the rotation after a relief role in 2018. They join 2018 Cy Young contenders Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, who lead the rotation.
In his first season in Houston last year, Cole finished 15-5 with a 2.88 ERA and 276 strikeouts. Verlander’s first full season as an Astro produced a 16-9 season with 290 strikeouts.
Add in the likes of Josh James competing for a spot and a solid bullpen and the Houston pitching staff is built to win and dominate. Health of the arms will be the No. 1 factor during the course of a long regular season.
What will the lineup look like?
The Astros lineup appears to be potent offensively and defensively with the return of big time production from 2018 and new addition Michael Brantley, who general manager Jeff Luhnow signed over the winter. Brantley is versatile and can play up to four positions when called upon by Hinch.
Here's a look at the Astros starters at each position and their statistics last season:
Who else should we watch for?
A player to watch at camp in the battle for a roster spot is utility man Tony Kemp, who was clutch in 2018. He appeared in 97 games, hitting .263 with 30 RBI while playing outstanding defense. Outfielder Jake Marisnick is also back trying to win a job and playing time after appearing in 103 games. His defense has long set him apart, but he’s struggled offensively hitting just .211 in 2018.
When does spring training start?
Astros pitchers and catchers open workouts Feb. 14 with full squad workouts set to begin on Feb. 18 in West Palm Beach.