Houston Astros - PlayerWatch

2B Jose Altuve is skipping winter ball for the first time in his career. The 2012 All-Star consulted with the Astros' front office before the sides agreed it was in his and the team's best interest if he took a rest. He'll return from his native Venezuela in January to begin preparing for spring training.

OF J.D. Martinez, who was taken off the 40-man roster last month, is having a stellar offseason, giving the Astros reason for optimism. "I tell you, we were extremely happy that we were able to retain J.D. Martinez," manager Bo Porter said. "A lot of that had to do with the fact that he missed a lot of time due to injuries. To J.D. Martinez's credit, he was adamant about going to winter ball. He wanted to go to winter ball because he felt like he missed so many at-bats that he wanted to not only prove to the organization but also prove to himself that he could be the quality of player which he was his rookie year."

C Jason Castro, who overcame a jarring collision in 2012 with the Brewers' Mat Gamel, welcomed MLB's decision to ban plate collisions. "Hopefully guys are able to make that adjustment," he said. "I think in the long run it's going to be positive. Being able to eliminate it is only going to help the game in the long run."

RHP Scott Feldman, the free agent who received a three-year, $30 million contract, will head into spring training as the top contender for the Opening Day start.

CF Dexter Fowler, acquired in a Dec. 3 trade with the Colorado Rockies, is being penciled in as the Astros' leadoff hitter in 2014. The Astros didn't have a consistent leadoff hitter in 2013. "Dexter Fowler leading off, (Jose) Altuve second, (Jason) Castro third. Get back to me with the rest of it," manager Bo Porter said of his lineup for 2014.

RHP Lucas Harrell, who pitched his way out of the starting rotation in August and was arguably the biggest disappointment of the 2013 season, will be given every chance to earn a spot in the Astros' rotation this spring. He entered last spring as a candidate for the Opening Day start that went to Bud Norris, and the Astros hope he can regain the form that made him the club's best pitcher in 2012.