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Astros Infield: Depth Chart Discussions

Posted By Mike Petriello On February 18, 2013 @ 12:45 pm In Depth Chart Discussions | 10 Comments

Starter
Back-up
Reserve
C
1B
2B
SS
3B

You might think that being “lucky” enough to write about the potentially dreadful Houston infield might be a source of consternation for me. Not quite! At least I get Jose Altuve, who is potentially the only obvious standard-league draftable player on the entire Astros roster outside of maybe Bud Norris and whomever ends up collecting what few saves there might be.

Altuve, of course, is coming off a breakout debut in his age-21 season, contributing 30 stolen bases and 45 extra base hits to go with a .290 average. Due to his youth, there’s still room for projection here, though his slight stature makes it unlikely that there’s a lot of growth for power. Still, 30 stolen bases and a decent batting average in what’s a very shallow second base pool — remember, that was my number one takeaway from our early mock draft, that the keystone is brutal this year — makes for considerable value.

To be honest, the difficulty with the non-Altuve Astros infielders is not in the questionable amount of talent collected here — especially with Jed Lowrie now off to Oakland — but in the fact that so much open competition makes it difficult to figure out who is going to land where. For example, Brett Wallace could be the starting first baseman. Or he could challenge Matt Dominguez at third. Or he could see time at designated hitter. That’s the same for Carlos Pena, ostensibly signed to be the DH but with extensive experience at first base, and Chris Carter, in the mix at first, DH, and left field.

That kind of flexibility could add some value in positional eligibility, particularly if Wallace can get himself enough playing time at third to count in all leagues. Considering he’s not really regarded as a solid defensive first baseman,  the chances of him being able to get by at the hot corner seem slim, but that’s the Astros’ problem, not yours. What you’ll need to consider is if Wallace can hit enough to make it worthwhile no matter where he plays, and while there were signs of improvement in 2012, it merely pushed him to league-average. At just 26, there’s still hope, but I can’t say the fact that he struck out more and walked less in 2012 than he did during his failed 2011 stint offers much encouragement.

Of the group, Carter is perhaps the most intriguing, given his massive raw power, along with the fact that he’s going from a park that hurts righty power to one that is much more accommodating of it. He’ll also have an easier path to plate appearances on this wide-open Houston roster than he would on a much deeper Oakland group, and while he’ll never stop piling up massive strikeout numbers, he seems like an excellent bet for 20 homers in this park if given the opportunity to do so. He’s easily the most appealing option here to me; perhaps I sold him short above when I didn’t list him in the draftable players, since he seems worth a late-round risk. At the very least, the Astros should want to see what he can do more than Pena, who still has power but is 35 and coming off the worst year of his career.

We’ve basically reached the end of the useful or interesting players in the Houston infield, and we still haven’t even really touched on shortstop, third base, or catcher yet. Lowrie’s departure opened up an enormous black hole at short, one that neither Tyler Greene nor Marwin Gonzalez is likely to fill. If you’re absolutely desperate or in a deep NL AL-only league, you can squint hard enough to think Greene is an acceptable option, given that he put up double figures in both homers and steals last season, but one would hope you don’t find yourself in that situation. He’s not a good defensive shortstop, and he strikes out like he’s Carter, but without the massive power upside.

Or as Eno Sarris put it earlier this month

His 25% minor league strikeout rate always told us this was coming, but a 26.4% strikeout rate so far in the bigs does not bode well for Greene. Since 2000 — so even during the reign of the evil strikeout — there have only been 59 qualified player seasons with a higher strikeout rate. Only five of those player seasons came from a shortstop.

Maybe that’s just a statistical anomaly, but it’s hard to keep an iron grip on your position when you strike out more than a quarter of the time. The only one to do it twice was Jose Hernandez — and when he was hitting 24+ home runs in 2001 and 2002, he was fine. Then he hit 13 in 2003 and never had an everyday job again. Jose Hernandez was a plus fielder with more power than Greene, so: uh-oh.

Gonzalez can at least field, but is just a horrendous offensive player who is of no fantasy relevance. You could potentially say something similar about Dominguez, who has the glove to stick in the bigs but little offensive track record, and may potentially lose playing time to Wallace. I haven’t given up on him entirely, given that he’s only 23 and could maybe put up 10-15 homers, but if that’s your upside play… well, look. Please make sure you have third base covered elsewhere.

Finally, we look behind the plate, where Castro might be an acceptable second catcher in leagues that require it. He flopped badly in his 2010 debut and missed most of 2011 with injury, but rebounded somewhat in 2012 to hit six homers in 295 plate appearances. If he plays every day — and Carlos Corporan & Jason Jaramillo are hardly going to be threatening his job — he could put up double-digit homers with a decent on base percentage, and that’s not awful for a catcher.

It’s going to be an extremely long summer in Houston. If we can find someone who provides any fantasy value outside of Altuve, I think we can consider that a win.


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