HOUSTON -- In addition to a new manager in A.J. Hinch and many new faces on the coaching staff, the Houston Astros will welcome several new key players when spring camp opens next week in Kissimmee, Fla.
Because of their work through trades and free agency, the Astros could have as many as four different bats in the starting lineup from a year ago, as well as the key newcomers to the bullpen, which was an area of emphasis that needed upgrading entering the offseason.
RHP Luke Gregerson: Gregerson signed a three-year, $18.5 million deal with the Astros in December and is the likely candidate to be the closer. The 30-year-old has been one of the most dependable setup men in the game. Last season, his first with the A's after five with the Padres, he went 5-5 with a 2.12 ERA in 72 outings. He has made at least 61 appearances in each of his six big league seasons, and at least 72 in five of them.
RHP Pat Neshek: Neshek, who admittedly had a hard time finding a job a year ago, signed a two-year, $12.5 million deal with the Astros and should be a key cog in the back of the bullpen. The 34-year-old is coming off an All-Star season with the Cardinals in which he went 7-2 with a 1.87 ERA in 71 games. He struck out 68 batters and walked only nine in 67 1/3 innings, while saving six games.
OF Colby Rasmus: The 28-year-old spent the last four seasons with the Blue Jays after coming up with the Cardinals, where he was drafted by Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow. Rasmus, who signed a one-year, $8 million deal, is a career .246 hitter with 116 homers and 352 RBIs in six seasons. He hit .225 with 18 homers and 40 RBIs last year and should add some punch to the lineup.
OF/DH/C Evan Gattis: A catcher by trade, Gattis figures to play several different positions after being acquired in a trade with the Braves. He might see time in left field, at catcher, first base and designated hitter, but the Astros signed him with power in mind. He hit .243 with 21 homers and 65 RBIs in 2013 and he was seventh in the National League Rookie of the Year Award totals. Last year, Gattis hit .263 with 22 homers and 52 RBIs in 108 games at catcher.
3B Luis Valbuena: Acquired from the Cubs in the Dexter Fowler trade, Valbuena, a left-handed hitter, will either platoon at third base with Matt Dominguez or be the outright starter. Valbuena, who agreed to a one-year, $4.2 million contract, hit .249 and set career highs in games played (149), home runs (16), runs (68), hits (119), doubles (33), triples (four), and RBIs (51) last year for the Cubs.
RHP Dan Straily: Acquired from the Cubs in the Fowler trade, Straily will battle for a spot in the rotation. The 26-year-old appeared in 14 games (eight starts) for the A's and Cubs last year, but in 2013 was among the top rookie arms in the American League by going 10-8 with a 3.96 ERA in 27 starts. He has an average fastball, but good secondary stuff.
C Hank Conger: The first acquisition of the offseason, the Astros brought Conger from the Angels with the intent of having him back up Jason Castro. The 26-year-old played in 251 games with the Angels in the past five years in a backup role and is known for his ability to frame pitches. Conger is a career .224 hitter who last season batted .221 with four homers and 25 RBIs in 80 games.
RHP Will Harris: Harris, acquired on waivers in November, appeared in 29 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season, striking out 35 batters and walking just nine in 29 innings pitched, setting a franchise record by ending the season with 16 consecutive scoreless appearances. He also appeared in 43 games at Triple-A Reno and had a 0.99 ERA, striking out 44 in 45 2/3 innings.