Charlie Morton signed with Tampa Bay over the offseason, Lance McCullers will miss the 2019 season due to injury, and Dallas Keuchel does not look like he is returning as a free agent. This leaves three spots in the rotation open from last season. Having Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole is a good start, and takes some pressure off the backend arms, especially with the offense backing them up too. Joshua James is a name to keep an eye on, as he is going to be slotted into the rotation this season. James is a talented him with a power fastball and good changeup. James carried a high strikeout rate in the minors, and it transitioned into the majors for at least the sample size we have seen. Brad Peacock is likely to slide back into the rotation after being a bullpen arm for the last season. He has been a starter before, and is another arm that revived his career with Houston. The fifth starter is still up for grabs, but Collin McHugh is a name that could get it. They also have Forrest Whitley getting close to a debut in the majors.
The Astros already had an incredibly deep and talented lineup, but adding Michael Brantley was something we didn’t expect to happen. Brantley adds a solid left-handed contact bat, that can also chip in with some power and speed. He will hit to the middle of the lineup, which is a good spot with Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel in front of him. Brantley is also a positive defensive player, and if he can provide another healthy season, we are looking at another potential all-star for Houston. Because Brantley has had a troubled injury past, Houston has some depth to backup Brantley if anything was to happen. Overall this is a great signing that I am sure had other teams kicking themselves for not making it.
Justin Verlander will be 36 years old when the season starts, and has shown no signs of slowing down with Houston. His strikeouts are up, and Houston has turned up the strikeouts for most names coming into the team. Verlander cut back his walks and upped his strikeouts for a full 2018 season with Houston. Gerrit Cole had the biggest transformation coming over from Pittsburgh. Cole’s was beginning to look more on the side of an average right-handed arm, but all of a sudden the strikeouts came about. He had 276 strikeouts which was over 70 strikeouts more than his prior high of 202. Unless there is some unexpected velocity drop for the two, they should continue to keep rolling as the team aces. They both have found something in Houston, and with the track record over the last few seasons of other arms, they have also followed up their trends in future seasons.