HOUSTON (AP) - The mindset of the Houston Astros headed to spring training is pretty simple: Last season was great, but it’s over.
“I’ll be pretty direct with our guys to make sure that we don’t look back too far into last season because it doesn’t count for this season’s record,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “It’s a nice base for us to build from, but it doesn’t get us one win this year.”
The Astros put behind years of losing in 2015 with a surprising playoff run and now that they’ve made it back to the postseason, they won’t be content unless they climb higher this season.
“It is rewarding knowing that all the work we did over the past four years since (owner) Jim (Crane) bought the team has led to this point,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “But it also makes us nervous at how do we make sure we keep going forward. Because the closer you get to the top, the harder it is to stay there and move forward. And our goal is not to stay there. Our goal is to get back to the playoffs and go further this year and win a championship.”
Houston went 86-76 last season to reach the postseason for the first time since 2005 with a wild-card spot, and reached the American League Division Series by eliminating the Yankees with a 3-0 win in the wild-card game. The Astros came within six outs of advancing to the ALCS before they were eliminated by Kansas City.
“Our players will remember both the celebrations but also the angst that comes with being eliminated in the playoffs, so motivation won’t be an issue,” he said.
The Astros return most of their key pieces from last year’s team, led by 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and AL Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa.
Some things to know about the 2016 Astros as they prepare for spring training:
WHO’S ON FIRST?
The biggest question facing the Astros as they enter spring training is who will play first base. The job became open when Houston didn’t offer a contract to Chris Carter, who started 105 games there last season. The leading option to replace him is Jon Singleton. The 24-year-old has shown incredible power in Triple-A, but has yet to put it together in the majors. He hit just .168 in 95 games in 2014 before spending most of last season in the minors.
“He’s got the talent,” Hinch said. “He’s had all the seasoning that’s necessary for him to succeed and now is his opportunity.”
The Astros will look to Dallas Keuchel to anchor the top spot of their rotation after his spectacular 2015 campaign. Keuchel won the wild-card game and also pitched Houston to a victory in Game 3 of the ALDS to cap a stellar year where he led the AL with a career-best 20-8 record and was second in the AL with a career-low 2.48 ERA. Keuchel’s big season earned him his second straight Gold Glove award to go with his first Cy Young trophy.
CORREA’S SOPHOMORE SEASON
Star shortstop Carlos Correa set a franchise record for home runs by a rookie with 22, which were the most by an AL rookie and the most by a shortstop in the majors last year despite spending the first third of the season in the minors. The 21-year-old didn’t have any trouble adjusting to the big leagues, and hit .279 with 68 RBIs, 45 extra-base hits and 22 doubles to give the Astros their first rookie of the year since Jeff Bagwell won the NL award in 1991.
The Astros are eager to see what Correa can do in a full major league season.
New addition Ken Giles is the front-runner to take over as the closer this season. The 25-year-old, who joined the team in a trade with the Phillies, was the Astros biggest offseason acquisition. He comes to Houston after going 6-3 with a 1.80 ERA and converting 15 of 20 saves for Philadelphia last year. But they aren’t just handing the job to him. He’ll have to compete for the spot in camp with a handful of players led by Luke Gregerson, who converted 31 of 36 save opportunities in 2015.
WILL GATTIS BE READY?
Designated hitter Evan Gattis won’t be working out with the team when it begins spring workouts after undergoing surgery to repair a sports hernia on Feb. 9. The team said he’ll be out four to six weeks, but will join the Astros at the beginning of spring training and rehabilitate with the team’s medical staff in Florida. In his first year with the Astros last season, he led the team with 27 homers and 88 RBIs, both career highs.
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