The Astros and GM James Click have a huge offseason ahead of them. Their entire starting outfield of Springer, Brantley, and Reddick are all set to be free agents. Springer is expected to get paid somewhere else and Reddick is expected to walk, but the Astros have a decent chance of locking up Brantley.
Losing George Springer is definitely not an ideal situation, because the Astros don’t have any center field prospects, and the free-agent market at that position isvery thin after Springer. The Astros outfield farm system is weak, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have any options to replace George Springer and/or Michael Brantley.
Enter Pedro Leon. The 22 year old Cuban superstar, ranked as the number 6 overall international prospect in this upcoming signing period, has reached an agreement to sign with the Astros once the international signing period begins in January. Leon has done nothing but rake while playing in the Cuban league. Across 2 years of play, he’s slashed .359/.420/.678. Scouts also say he has potential to have 5 above average tools. Obviously, that’s not all going to translate the MLB, however. He is scouted as “Major League ready”, but he’s more than likely to get a stint in AAA or AA to begin the season to see where he’s at. The only scenario that I can see him making the Opening Day roster is if Houston is astonishingly low on outfield depth, which is where they’ll be if James Click stands pat this winter.
Leon is one option. The other outfielders in Houston’s system that may be ready for 2021 include Kyle Tucker, Myles Straw, Chas McCormick, Ronnie Dawson, Taylor Jones*, Yordan Alvarez*, and Aledmys Diaz* (*primary position is infield/DH). That’s not a great list outside of Tucker, who has the RF spot locked up. As for the others, only Myles Straw is projected to have an fWAR over 1 next season, according to fangraphs.com. Below is a graphic from the Fangraphs website that projects the Astros outfielder’s fWAR for the 2021 season.
So yeah… that’s pretty ugly. Starting with center field, I’m perfectly fine with platooning Straw, Dawson, and McCormick, with each getting decent playing time. I feel like one of them is bound to break out and have a decent year. If Straw can return to his 2019 form, where he put up a 105 wRC+ in 56 games with great defense and baserunning that put him on track to be a 3-4 fWAR player in a full year, we’ve filled that hole. Even if Straw can only put up a 91 wRC+ and a 1.4 fWAR as Fangraphs projects, that wouldn’t be a terrible situation. If the Astros aren’t confident in any of their in-house names, they can always go after Jackie Bradley Jr. or Kevin Pillar on the free-agent market. As for left field, it gets a little rough. On the upside, the corner outfield FA class is pretty decent; highlighted by names like Marcell Ozuna, former Astro Robbie Grossman, Joc Pederson, and obviously Brantley. There are some decent replacements there. Pairing Ozuna with the Crawford Boxes would be game-changing, but unrealistic due to the Astros having the DH spot locked up with Alvarez. Grossman, who had a career year in the shortened season, put up a 126 wRC+ while leading AL left fielders in OAA. He would certainly be a great fallback option if the Astros aren’t able to retain Brantley or acquire Ozuna.
In conclusion, there’s going to be change. The George Springer era in Houston has likely come to a close, but it’s time to look ahead. The Astros definitely don’t have the same lethal outfield they sported for the last few years, but they have potential with their young guys. Don’t forget that the Astros still have what many consider to be the best pure infield in the league, and they have a very serviceable rotation with Valdez, McCullers, Greinke, Urquidy, Javier, and whoever they sign on the open market. Their relief group is headlined by shutdown close Ryan Pressly, as well as other names such as Paredes, Scrubb, Taylor, and Raley that all played well this season. One thing that’s clear is that the Astros will go as far as their young talent will take them. Whether that’s just a playoff berth, another ALCS appearance, or a World Series championship is yet to be seen. No matter what happens to them in free agency, the Astros are a team to keep an eye on going forward.