Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. Who will be the starting catcher?
The starting job is a two-man race between 2008 first-round pick Jason Castro and former No. 1 prospect J.R. Towles, who fizzled after being given the starting job to start the 2008 season. Humberto Quintero is also competing for a job, but he's not going to start, leaving Castro and Towles to battle it out.

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Towles showed some good signs at the end of last year, while Castro has moved quickly through the system since the Astros drafted him out of Stanford. Castro is the catcher of the future, but whether that future begins Opening Day or later in the season remains to be seen.

2. Who is going to close games?
The Astros have had some high-profile closers the last few years, from Billy Wagner to Brad Lidge to Jose Valverde, who signed with Detroit after two seasons in Houston. The job is open going into camp with Brandon Lyon and Matt Lindstrom vying for the spot.

Lyon has a better pedigree as a closer than Lindstrom. Lyon, who signed a three-year, $15 million deal, has saved 54 games in his career, including 26 with Arizona in 2008. Lindstrom has an electric fastball, but has saved only 20 games, including 15 last year in Florida.

3. How will the bottom of the rotation shake out?
Houston's starting rotation got a little deeper with the signing of Brett Myers last month, meaning there will be more competition at the bottom of the rotation. Myers is slotted in the No. 3 spot behind Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez, leaving a handful of candidates for the fourth and fifth spot.

Bud Norris, who went 6-3 in 10 starts as a rookie, appears headed for a rotation spot. Veteran Brian Moehler will likely get the final spot if hard-throwing Felipe Paulino doesn't cut it. Paulino might be on his last chance with the Astros to prove he can pitch at this level.

2009 record
74-88, fifth in the NL Central

Projected batting order
1. CF Michael Bourn:
  .285 BA, .354 OBP, .384 SLG, 3 HR, 35 RBI in 2009
2. 2B Kaz Matsui:
  .250 BA, .302 OBP, .357 SLG, 9 HR, 46 RBI in 2009
3. 1B Lance Berkman:
  .274 BA, .399 OBP, .509 SLG, 25 HR, 80 RBI in 2009
4. LF Carlos Lee:
  .300 BA, .343 OBP, .489 SLG, 26 HR, 102 RBI in 2009
5. RF Hunter Pence:
  .282 BA, .346 OBP, .472 SLG, 25 HR, 72 RBI in 2009
6. 3B Pedro Feliz:
  .266 BA, .309 OBP, .386 SLG, 12 HR, 92 RBI in 2009
7. C Jason Castro:
  .293 BA, .362 OBP, .385 SLG, 3 HR, 29 RBI in 2009 (Double-A)
8. SS Tommy Manzella:
  .289 BA, .339 OBP, .417 SLG, 9 HR, 56 RBI in 2009 (Triple-A)

Projected rotation
1. Roy Oswalt, 8-6, 4.12 ERA in 2009
2. Wandy Rodriguez, 14-12, 3.02 ERA in 2009
3. Brett Myers, 4-3, 4.84 ERA in 2009
4. Bud Norris, 6-3, 4.53 ERA in 2009
5. Brian Moehler, 8-12, 5.47 ERA in 2009

Projected bullpen
Closer: Brandon Lyon, 3/6 saves, 2.86 ERA in 2009
RH setup man: Matt Lindstrom, 5.89 ERA in 2009
LH setup man: Tim Byrdak, 3.23 ERA in 2009

The new guys
RHP Brandon Lyon: The Astros raised some eyebrows by signing Lyon to a three-year, $15 million contract in the offseason, but they feel they got a quality reliever who could wind up as their closer. He's saved 29 games the last two years and posted a 2.86 ERA last year in 65 games with the Detroit Tigers.

RHP Matt Lindstrom: The hard-throwing right-hander was acquired in a December trade from the Marlins, who used Lindstrom as closer to start the year. He will play a key role in the back of the bullpen, whether as closer or setup man.

RHP Brett Myers: Myers has proven to be a workhorse as a starter, and the Astros are hoping to plug him into the middle of their rotation and have him make 30 starts.

3B Pedro Feliz: A solid defensive player who can drive in runs, Feliz is moving from a pretty good hitters' park in Philadelphia to a better hitters' park at Minute Maid Park.

Prospects to watch
C Jason Castro: He's expected to be the starting catcher at some point this year, and if Towles doesn't impress in camp, Castro could be behind the plate on Opening Day.

SS Tommy Manzella: Can he hit? That's the biggest question surrounding Manzella, who is a terrific defensive shortstop.

RHP Chia-Je Lo: The first Taiwanese players signed by the Astros, Lo could contend for a roster spot after striking out 74 batters in 64 1/3 innings in the Minor Leagues last year.

On the rebound
RHP Roy Oswalt: His chronic back condition became a concern late last year, but he still made 30 starts and threw three complete games. The problem is he won a career-low eight games and set a franchise record with 16 no-decisions.

1B Lance Berkman: Other than a three-week stint on the DL with a strained calf, he was healthy. But his batting average, homers and RBIs were well below his career averages.

RHP Chris Sampson: Sampson was solid in the first half of the season, going 4-0 with three saves and a 2.09 ERA in his first 36 games. He struggled in the second half, dealt with shoulder spasms and ended the year in Triple-A.

Long gone
INF Miguel Tejada: The Astros will miss his 86 RBIs, 199 hits and leadership, but he would have cost too much money to bring back and can't play shortstop very well anymore.

RHP Jose Valverde: One of the top closers in the game, the Astros gambled and offered him arbitration, but he turned them down and wound up signing with Detroit.

RHP LaTroy Hawkins: Hawkins had a great run in Houston, posting a 1.71 ERA in 89 games with the Astros. They tried to re-sign him, but Milwaukee offered a second guaranteed year.