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Astros Likely To Start Opening Day Without Four Of Their Star Players

Astros Jose Altuve starts the season with a fractured thumbThe 2023 MLB season kicks off next week, and the defending World Series Champion Houston Astros are off to a shaky start. Both veteran Michael Brantley hasn’t played a game in Spring Training since shoulder surgery and SP Lance McCullers reaggravated a forearm strain back in February. Either one of them are unlikely to be fully healthy at the start of the season.

What’s more is slugger Yordan Alvarez finally starts his first game of Spring Training today. Alvarez had been recovering from a sore hand since his arrival to training camp and has dealt with multiple hand injuries last season.

As if it couldn’t get any worse, the news surrounding Jose Altuve’s fracturing his thumb in the World Baseball Classic has him sidelined for at least two months. The Houston Astros will likely need more support from their bench and farm system to remain as the top team in the American League West for the first few months of the season.

Likely Replacements

Possibly losing three position players (Brantley, Alvarez, and Altuve) in the early going creates a huge hole at the OF, 2B, and DH spot. The Astros have plenty of possible suitors to replace in their roles:

David Hensley

David Hensley is a fine substitution, as he played second base as a defensive replacement several times last season and in the playoffs. In just 29 at-bats, Hensley sported a .345 AVG with ten hits and 16 total bases. In the playoffs, he made quite an impression with his plate discipline, putting up a strong at-bat against Seattle Mariners’ Paul Sewald in Game 1 of the ALDS with a hit by pitch following a 3-2 count. This started the 9th inning comeback rally finished by Yordan Alvarez’ walk-off home run.

Hensley’s Spring Training stats have been serviceable. Although he’s rocking a .242 AVG just with eight hits in 33 at-bats, his OBP is .390, so he has the potential to be a tough at-bat. These two months could showcase his potential to become a mainstay in the MLB.

Mauricio Dubón

Utility player Mauricio Dubón bulked up big during this offseason. Last year, he weighted just under 170 pounds. Coming into training camp, Dubón gained around fifteen pounds worth of muscle, and his power has shown it. According to NBC Sports Bay Area, Dubón mentioned “hitting baseballs around 450 feet, probably, in live BP,” he said on a Zoom call with reporters Friday.

Despite his poor offensive stats in 2022, (.208 AVG, .254 OBP and .294 SLG) the Honduran Native is known to be a tough out. Last season, Dubón only struck out 12% of the time in his total plate appearances (216) with Houston.

The glaring issue is his hit selection. Dubon’s hard hit and line drive percentage are below league average, which is why the majority of his outs are in play. Hopefully his recent weight gain during the offseason increases these percentages throughout the regular season. The versatility he adds to the field gives him opportunities to start games in replace of the injured stars. If Dubon continues to underperform, Houston should designate him for assignment and give struggling OF Jake Meyers a chance.

Justin Dirden

Why not provide newcomer Justin Dirden with some opportunities as well? The 6’3 prospect had a solid 2022 season in the minors, smacking 24 homers and 101 RBIs with a .942 OPS in 477 at-bats. His performance in the minors translated very well during this years Spring Training. In 22 at-bats, Dirden’s been on a tear, hitting .364 with two homers and a .500 OBP.

His defensive performances are also worth noting; Dirden made a diving snag in RF to rob Jeff McNeil of a hit in Tuesday’s game against the New York Mets, followed by throwing out Boston Red Sox runner Enmanuel Valdez at home plate with a laser from right field, according to Michael Shapiro from

In a small sample size, Dirden looks MLB ready. Consider experimenting him in the lineup playing the outfield with Chas McCormick and Kyle Tucker or as a DH.

Hunter Brown

The loss of Lance McCullers for a period of time will bring in more crucial opportunities to Astros prospect Hunter Brown. Called Justin Verlander-lite, the 24-year old showed Astros fans a moderate sample size of his capability on the mound in both the regular season and playoffs. He will get more opportunities to showcase his dominance in the final slot of the pitching rotation.

Increased Competition

The Houston Astros already have their work cut out for them with these injuries early on before the start of the season. While there’s no need to panic, the American League West has gotten significantly stronger. The Texas Rangers have signed pitchers Jacob DeGrom, Andrew Heaney, and Nathan Eovaldi to bolster their pitching rotation. All-Star position players Marcus Semien and Corey Seager look to have a bounce back year. Plus, they brought in three-time World Series Champion Bruce Bochy to manage their club.

The Seattle Mariners are also a formidable threat. Although Houston swept them in the ALDS, all three games weren’t easy to beat. 2022 Rookie Of The Year Julio Rodriguez looks to improve in his sophomore season. The acquisition of slugger Teoscar Hernandez from the Toronto Blue Jays significantly improves their starting lineup with regards to power. His hard hit, barrel rate, and exit velocity are among the best in the majors. Also, Luis Castillo, who was acquired last season, looks to become the ace of their solid pitching rotation.

While the Los Angeles Angels have been nothing short of disappointing over the several reasons, maybe this is the year they finally get over the hump. The recent World Baseball Classic championship win certainly adds more credibility to Shohei Ohtani’s sheer talent on the field. They also still have Mike Trout, who is always dangerous. The acquisition of Hunter Renfroe adds more depth to their top-heavy lineup. It’s also worth noting the impressive Spring Training that Anthony Rendon has had. Rendon looks to have a major comeback season after three straight years of injuries.

Houston Is Still Very Good

Regardless of these injuries, Houston still has a formidable lineup. With the likes of Alex Bregman, Jeremy Peña, Kyle Tucker, and newly acquired Jose Abreu, there’s no doubt that the Astros will still become one of the top offenses in the league. Their pitching is also no slouch either, with a solid one two punch in Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier. All injured players will likely be back on the field before the All-Star Break. It’s a long season, so there’s plenty of time to turn it around come postseason.




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