The Houston Astros’ shortstop is gone! Long live the Houston Astros’ shortstop.
In all honesty, Jed Lowrie probably wasn’t the kind of guy you build a dynasty around. Call him Edward VIII — to avoid the problems that might arise from entrusting your rebuilding team in the hands of a capable, but oft-injured shortstop, Lowrie abdicated his throne as Edward once did. Then again, his successor may not last long either. Well, Tyler Greene, Jake Elmore and Marwin Gonzalez are all under team control until the end of the 2016 season, but there’s the matter of the other challengers for the title. The Houston Astros have at least three top prospects at the position, including their number one (or two) prospect and last year’s number one overall pick, Carlos Correa.
No matter. In order to put one foot in front of the other and keep an orderly society, all we need to know is who will be on top of the heap this year.
Perhaps the team should get behind an old favorite that has never had the full backing of his team. Tyler Greene was a top prospect with the Cardinals, known for his ‘sprinter’s legs’ and toolsy athleticism at shotstop, along with strikeouts, power, and efficient base-stealing. St. Louis tried him out over four years, and only once did he manage more than the 133 plate appearances Houston gave the shortstop last year. Even when they installed him as the likely starter at a position, the Cards emphasized that it was an open competition. No pressure, young docent!
But stare too long at that article and the questions emerge. Why, if he has all that athleticism, does he fail to make the easy play sometimes? Why are his (admittedly short-sample) defensive numbers all negative? And if those numbers obscure a good defender, why did his former team want to start him at second base? Everyone agrees that he has the range and the arm, but there’s something missing, and a team in need of a shortstop has already once passed him over to a new position.
Greene probably has the most offensive upside of anyone on the current roster capable of playing shortstop. He obviously has question marks. Beyond the defense, there are the strikeouts. 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.
Greene might be walking a tightrope, even if he does have the upside of power and speed that will make his iffy defense and whiffy contact skills work.
But the competition is not much better. Marwin Gonzalez can pick it, but he can’t take a walk, hit for power, or really help on the basepaths. He’d be the interregnum choice, or choosing no choice at all — he won’t hurt the team! Except by not helping!
Jake Elmore might be a little more interesting. Claimed from the Diamondbacks, Elmore always showed patience and speed on the basepaths… until last season, when the 25-year-old hit .344 in the Pacific Coast League. We all know about old dudes in the PCL, so it might not have been surprising that Elmore struggled in his first 73 plate appearances in the bigs. There also isn’t a ton to take away from those PAs in Arizona other than a nice contact rate. But if defense is a thing — and it probably is — it’s worth acknowledging that Elmore played three times as many games at second base than he did at shortstop in the minors. He may get overexposed if he’s given everyday chances at the position.
So the candidates for the throne — which for the time is more porcelain than velvet — aren’t perfect. You have a guy who can hit when he makes contact, but can’t field real well. You have a guy who can field, but really can’t do much else. And then you have a guy that might be able to field and might be able to hit, but might not be able to do either.
From a fantasy perspective, if it’s not Elmore with a BABIPy empty batting average and a few steals, you’ll want Tyler Greene in there. He’s capable of hitting .240 with 20/20 type stats otherwise. That has value, in a Prince Charles-ish sort of way.