The Starting Nine is a series that will identify the batting order for every American League team and project each player’s outlook for the upcoming 2018 fantasy baseball season. These articles will provide information on who to avoid, who to target, and when to draft them.
The Astros were the number one offense by a wide margin last year. They finished first in runs, RBIs, hits, batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, and total bases. In fact, they collected 183 more total bases than any other Major League team. Houston is stacked with young, legitimate talent both on their roster and in their farm system. Their starting lineup contains three former 1st round draft picks (Springer, Bregman, Correa), the reigning American League MVP (Altuve), and another first round outfielder, Kyle Tucker, who may be called up later this season. This is the friendliest of fantasy teams, one that you are going to want a lot of exposure to, especially the first 4 hitters.
George Springer (OF)- Springer is not a prototypical leadoff man. His skill-set more closely resembles that of a cleanup hitter as illustrated by last season’s 34 home runs and a ridiculous .522 SLG percentage. He played in 22 less games than he did in 2016, yet produced more home runs and RBIs while still scoring 112 times. He has dynamic power, but it should be noted that his stolen bases have regressed in each of the past three seasons (16, 9, 5), which will make him more of a second round asset. Hitting atop the best offense in the majors locks Springer into another 100+ runs, 25+ home runs, and 80+ RBIs providing he stays healthy.
Alex Bregman (3B, SS)- After hitting .333 at AAA Fresno in 2016, Bregman was called up to start the 2017 season in Houston where he finished with 88 runs, 19 home runs, 71 RBIs, 17 stolen bases, and a .284 average. The 23-year-old may be entering his sophomore season, but he has shown the ability to play well beyond his years. He was the 2nd overall pick in the 2015 draft, the 2016 Minor League Player of the Year, and a gold medalist in the 2017 World Baseball Classic (WBC). Bregman is a 5-tool player hitting near the top of an explosive lineup, but his average draft position (ADP) is outside the top 40. Many will write off the third baseman simply because of the small sample size, but don’t be afraid to reach for his services near the beginning of the 4th round.
Jose Altuve (2B)- Year in and year out Altuve finishes the regular season amongst the league leaders in batting average, runs, and stolen bases. Last season, he led all of baseball with a superb .346 average, while finishing 6th in both runs and stolen bases (112 and 32, respectively). He has also become a consistent source of power, hitting 24 home runs in each of the past two seasons. At 27 years old, Altuve is in his baseball prime and should continue punishing American League pitching in 2018. Not much else needs to be said about the 5-time All-Star. He is a proven fantasy commodity and the consensus number two pick in drafts.
Carlos Correa (SS)- Short stops traditionally do not provide much power at the plate. Many are smaller and quicker due to the physical demand at the position. However, Correa is built like a linebacker. Last season, the 6’4” Puerto Rican slugger hit .315 while accruing 82 runs, 84 RBIs, and 24 home runs, even though he missed a little over 6 weeks with a torn thumb ligament. While ligament damage can drastically affect a player’s power, Correa did not miss a beat upon his return to the lineup. From his first game back on September 3rd, to the night the Astros won the World Series on November 1st, Correa had amassed 9 home runs and drove in 31. He is ready for another power-packed season in 2018 and should be considered near the beginning of the 2nd round. He is still only 23 years old.
Josh Reddick (OF)- Reddick only hit 13 home runs in 134 games during his inaugural season with the Astros. As a result, many will pass on the outfielder noting the dip in his home run production. However, if we dive deeper into his stats, Reddick actually had career highs in hits (150), doubles (34), and SLG (.484). The veteran also had a 42% fly ball rate, which suggests that many of those doubles could turn into home runs in 2018, especially playing at hitter-friendly Minute Maid park. Batting 5th for Houston should provide ample opportunity for Reddick to flirt with last season’s RBI total (82), but Yuli Gurriel’s return to the lineup in late April could change his current situation. He does not offer much upside, but is in a prime position to start the year and is someone to target in the late rounds of the draft.
Marwin Gonzalez (1B, 2B, 3B, SS, OF)- Gonzalez is a Swiss Army knife of sorts as he is eligible at five different positions. Having a breakout season in 2017, Gonzalez batted .303 with 138 hits, 23 home runs, 90 RBIs, and .907 OPS, all career highs. He is slated to begin the regular season batting 6th in the lineup but should still be able to produce, especially if he can sustain his power numbers from last year. He is currently being drafted 134 overall according to FantasyPros and has an ADP of 163 in Yahoo mock drafts. He is a late round bargain.
Evan Gattis (DH, C)- Gattis is coming off the worst season of his career. He finished with a slash line of .263/.311/.457 and hit a career low 12 home runs in 84 games. He should bounce back in a big way however, since his “career low” .457 SLG was still 31 points higher than the league average last year. The concern with catchers is usually health, but with Gattis primarily serving as the Astros designated hitter, he will have a better chance of staying healthy throughout the season. Gattis is currently ranked 7th in Yahoo and should be targeted in the middle rounds of drafts.
Yuli Gurriel (1B)- After undergoing hamate bone surgery on February 28th, Gurriel is projected to begin the regular season on the disabled list. In addition, he will also be serving a 5-game suspension for his insensitive gesture toward Yu Darvish during the 2017 World Series. As a result, he should return sometime in late April. In Gurriel’s first full season with the Astros, he finished with 69 runs, 18 home runs, 75 RBIs, and a .299 average. He usually bats 5th but will most likely need to shake off some rust when he returns to the lineup. Gurriel is a career .329 hitter who has proven to be a consistent contributor in every category outside of steals. With a current ADP of 250 he is basically free and worth picking in the last rounds of the draft.
Brian McCann (C)- Currently ranked 11th among eligible catchers, McCann has trended down in recent years. Last season, the former Silver Slugger collected 18 home runs and 62 RBIs, but batted a mediocre .241 and, as a result, was assigned to the bottom third of the lineup in 45 of his 97 games. McCann also had a career low 29.4% hard contact rate last year, which means the power numbers will likely come down a bit this season. Although his stats do not point to a drastic regression, there are far better catchers available just a few rounds earlier. Get a preferable option like Wilson Ramos or the aforementioned Evan Gattis before you reach the bottom of the barrel.