CATCHER J.R. Towles. Towles flamed out in an earlier attempt to install him as the team's catcher of the present. But established catchers Brad Ausmus and Ivan Rodriguez have moved on, and Humberto Quintero is a backup at best. The club is high on Jason Castro -- the team's number one draft choice several years ago. But Castro has yet to play above AA ball, so he's expected to start the season with AAA Round Rock, giving Towles the job by default.
Lance Berkman. Berkman has been the team's full-time first baseman since 2006, when Jeff Bagwell retired. And he's found a home at the position, turning himself into an above-average defense player to go along with his bat. Berkman's been suffering from injuries the past several years, and his numbers have begun to drop. Berkman had minor knee surgery just weeks before the scheduled start of the season, and it's unknown at this writing whether he will be on the disabled list come the start of the season. But the position is his once he is healthy.
Kazuo Matsui. Matsui has fantastic range, a good glove, and a good arm. He's also an injury risk, and rare is the season when he plays 100 games -- his 134 games played last season is a career high. He's got speed, which is useful when he gets on base, which isn't often. He strikes out more than he walks, he has little power, and his batting average does nothing to improve his on-base percentage.
Tommy Manzella. Manzella's a 26-year-old rookie who was handed the job even before the off-season departure of Miguel Tejada. A former third-round pick (2005) of the Astros, Manzella possesses a decent glove and decent range, which will make for a marked improvement over Tejada. But Manzella's ability with the bat is questionable, he has never hit over .300, nor has his on-base percentage ever been above .350 as pro.
Pedro Feliz. Feliz was a free agent signee this winter, after spending the last two seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies. Feliz is known as a decent glove who, given the right personnel in front of him in the lineup, can knock in some RBI. Even playing in Philadelphia's hitter friendly park, his power numbers were poor, and his batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage numbers have always been slight. If Berkman, Carlos Lee, and Hunter Pence get on base in front of him, he could do some damage. But that's a big if.
Carlos Lee. Lee will hit. He's good for 25-plus homers and 100-plus RBI a year, though his numbers did take a dip last year. But he's a left fielder in name only. He's not much with the glove, and singles often turn into doubles as he tries to get to the ball. Michael Bourn's presence in centerfield helps out a bit, and as long as he keeps putting up big power numbers, the Astros will live with his problems on defense.
Michael Bourn. Bourn is one of the few youngsters the Astros have playing every day, and he is fun to watch. He's got speed, lots of speed. And he covers the Minute Maid Park centerfield better than any outfielder the Astros have put out there in center, even Carlos Beltran. He's the team's lead off batter, and he has proved more than able to get on base. Once on base, he can easily turn a single into a double, and he can score from second on a single to just about any part of the ballpark.
Hunter Pence. Pence earned a National League All Star spot last season, in just his third season in the majors -- and only his second fulltime season. Like Bourn, he's fast, and can cover lots of ground in the outfield. He's got a good arm, and base runner and coaches are learning not to send players to third and home on balls hit to Pence. He can hit for power, and due to his speed, he is able to hit from just about every spot in the order.
Roy Oswalt. Oswalt is the team's longtime ace, and as of this writing, he's scheduled to be the team's Opening Day starter for a team record eighth straight season. He's been dealing with injuries the past several seasons however, with the primary problem being a bulging disc in his lower back. He's already had problems with a hamstring this spring, and he recently received an injection into his lower back.
Wandy Rodriguez: After years of promise, the left-handed Rodriguez finally delivered last season. The 31-year-old led the team with 14 wins last season. If the Astros are to have any hopes of a winning record this season, then Rodriguez is going to have to deliver a second straight outstanding season.
Brett Myers: The injury-prone and temperamental was brought in as a free agent and given an incentive-laden contract to help stabilize a rotation that last year consisted of Oswalt, Rodriguez, and whoever could toss a baseball. The Astros don't need a miracle. They just need him to stay healthy.
Bud Norris: Norris is entering his first full season as a major league starter. He was 6-3 in 10 starts. Like every rookie, he was consistently inconsistent. Some games he looked like the second coming of Greg Maddux, and in others he looked like the second coming of Mike Maddux.
Felipe Paulino: Paulino has major league stuff. Especially a blazing fastball which can hit the high-90s. He's got a fantastic slider. But he's had trouble getting everything to work when it really matters, in a major league ballgame.
Matt Lindstrom. This is a huge question mark for the team. Brandon Lyon was signed to a free agent contract to close, but he's been recovering from an arm injury. Lindstrom has closed in the past. And he has really good stuff. So he's getting this spot by default until Lyon is ready.
Brandon Lyon: Lyon hasn't impressed in his outings this spring. He'll probably start as the set-up guy, though look for Chris Sampson to take this spot if Lyon doesn't start getting better. And if Lyon does start to improve, look for him to assume that closer's role before the All Star break.