The Florida sun grows hotter and the days longer as spring training reaches its close and April 3 is ushered in. Kissimmee’s days are numbered before the doors of Osceola County Stadium are closed and the Houston Astros exit, the equipment lugged out and empty name plates preside over empty lockers.
Fans crowd around the exit of the swinging clubhouse door, crying for photos and autographs of their heroes as they leave a 6-run lead over the Detroit Tigers to a crop of future Astros. Their cheers and hoopla enter the halls of the clubhouse and into the locker room behind the 6-foot-2 figure of Colby Rasmus.
It was a successful day for the outfielder, who smashed a changeup for another check under the home run column in his spring outing.
“I’m trying to stay focused on my approach and where I finished up last year,” he says. “Trying to keep that same kind of swing going.”
Rasmus became the first player to ever accept a qualifying offer since the system was installed three years ago. He’ll earn a generous $15.88 million this season with the Astros, who will be unable to trade the veteran until June 15, 2016. Not that they’ll need to. In a clubhouse of young guns, Rasmus has a lot to offer at only 29 years old. That is, if he can bring it to the plate.
“I’m happy to be able to hit some breaking balls early,” he said. “I’ve had some problems with that in the past, but I’m a little older now and making some adjustments.”
The 25 home runs he produced in 2015 were a single season best for him, and his 9.7 percent walk rate was the second best in his career. Still, there was a hole in his offensive strategy and his batting average suffered at the hands of a stout strikeout rate of 31 percent. His strikeout rate has declined the past three seasons, but nearly half (46.5 percent) of his plate appearances have ended in one of the three true outcomes: walk, home run, or strikeout.
Still, No. 28 has room to improve and so does his club.
“I think last year gave us a little taste of what we can do.”
The Astros brushed with postseason glory once again in 2015, only to fall in chaos and heartbreak to the Kansas City Royals in games 4 and 5 of the American League Division Series.
“We played some good baseball down the stretch, and we all felt we played the Royals really well when a lot of people thought we couldn’t.”
Now, with a new season approaching and a promising spring performance displayed by Houston, there’s little doubt as to what the Astros are capable of achieving. There will be battles around the league as well as inside the clubhouse. There are still players in line that could steal Rasmus’ show time from him.
Jake Marisnick and Preston Tucker sit behind him on the depth chart, and Andrew Aplin is likely to start the season behind him in Triple-A. Another season above 20 home runs, rounding 60 runs and RBIs with a sub-.250 batting average is more than likely in store for Rasmus. His power is what makes him a viable fifth outfielder, but that doesn’t faze him.
Rasmus, like his team, is building momentum. They’re hungry for October.
“In the playoffs, with the big lights on, we played well,” he said. “I think that just gave everybody some hunger this year and everybody’s got confidence, coming in here with a little swagger, feeling good.”
Only time will tell if his adjustments and confidence will pull him above another average joe season. He may not be guaranteed his position, but he’s still got his job, and he’ll be back for at least one more spring training run with Houston – the cheers won’t be silenced in Kissimmee.