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Who is Tommy Manzella, Anyways?

Sometime in the near future, Tommy Manzella is going to be the answer to a trivia question. That trivia question will involve naming the starting National League Central shortstops during the 2010 season. Orlando Cabrera and Julio Lugo will roll off the contestant’s tongue; Ryan Theriot and Alcides Escobar will follow; even the memory of the fierce war Ronny Cedeno and Bobby Crosby waged in spring will flare like so many bombs; but Tommy Manzella? No way. No how.

When one arrives on Manzella’s Baseball-Reference page, they will look at his positions and see “pinch runner” and “pinch hitter” listed before “shortstop”. This is amusing on three different levels, but truth be told, Manzella’s ability to field at shortstop is evidently his best talent. For years now, Manzella has been named by Baseball America as the Astros’ best defensive infielder. Evidently he can pick the ball. Even so, BA has yet to rank Manzella in the Astros’ top 10. That’s a bit of a problem, because the Astros’ system is not one that you would call “deep.”

Defense is the new black, though. So maybe all the disrespect stemmed from Manzella’s wickedly mediocre offensive game. In nearly 830 plate appearances at Triple-A, Manzella has hit .268/.319/.380. Most of that comes from a truly horrid 2008. His OPS at Double-A (503 PA) was .758, and last year his OPS was a career-best .756 (580 PA). CHONE forecasts a .244/.295/.349 line, which would be worth -1.6 wins over 440 plate appearances. For reference, Cesar Izturis’ career Major League line is .259/.298/.331 and the aforementioned Cedeno’s is .240/.280/.346.

Manzella turns 27 in mid-April. Unless he’s Adam Everett with the glove or goes through a Ben Zobrist transformation (Zobrist was an on-base machine throughout the minors though, mind you) he’s a utility player at best. Luckily for him, the Astros (a) have nobody else besides Jeff Keppinger and (b) don’t appear interested in signing the 35-year-old version of Manzella. That within itself is progress, if you ignore the whole Brandon Lyon contract.