The Astros informed reporters of a handful of roster decision this afternoon (relayed by Brian McTaggart of MLB.com and Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle). Most notably, outfielder/third baseman Corey Julks and catcher/first baseman César Salazar are making the Opening Day roster. Neither player is yet on the 40-man roster, so the club will have to formally select their contracts in the next few days.
Houston will carry three catchers to start the season, as backstop Yainer Diaz is also breaking camp behind veteran starter Martín Maldonado. Díaz is already on the 40-man after making his MLB debut late last season. Catcher Korey Lee, outfielder Bligh Madris, infielder/outfielder J.J. Matijevic and infielder Rylan Bannon were all optioned, while non-roster invitees Dixon Machado, Justin Dirden, Austin Davis and Ty Buttrey were reassigned to the minor leagues.
Julks is a Texas native who attended the University of Houston. An eighth-round pick by his hometown club in 2017, he’s played five minor league seasons. The 27-year-old had a strong season with Triple-A Sugar Land last year, hitting .270/.351/.503 with 31 home runs and 22 stolen bases in 27 attempts. Baseball America slotted him as the #27 prospect in the Houston system this offseason as a result, the first time he’d placed among the organization’s top 30 farmhands. The outlet credits him with roughly average tools across the board and suggests he could step immediately step in as a fourth outfielder. He’ll earn that opportunity after a .275/.318/.550 showing in 40 plate appearances this spring.
Salazar, also 27, was a seventh-round pick in 2018 out of the University of Arizona. The 5’9″ backstop spent the majority of last season with Double-A Corpus Christi. He posted a solid .277/.350/.489 line while connecting on 16 longballs in 85 games. Salazar only walked at a 6.8% clip but kept his strikeouts down to a modest 16.5% rate. While he only has 18 games of Triple-A experience, the Astros are confident he’ll be able to handle the jump to take on big league arms. He’ll add a left-handed bat to the bench and give skipper Dusty Baker some added flexibility to sub out Maldonado for a pinch-hitter as long as Houston carries three catchers.
Diaz is one of the organization’s best offensive prospects. The 24-year-old only got into six MLB contests last year but combined for a .306/.356/.542, 25-homer showing in the minors. He adds a bat-first complement to Maldonado behind the dish and could also see occasional starts at first base or designated hitter.
Houston will need to create a pair of spots on the 40-man roster. Placing second baseman Jose Altuve on the 60-day injured list feels like an inevitability, as he won’t begin baseball activities for two months after fracturing his thumb. Starting pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. could be another 60-day IL candidate as he’s slowed by a forearm strain, though general manager Dana Brown was noncommittal on that possibility today (via Rome).