Dan Peschong takes a look at possible problems at second base. Chip returns Tuesday after a week-long trip to South Dakota…on business.
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Heading into the 2013 season, the projected starting lineups and rotation for the Houston Astros — heck, the whole 25 man-roster — was pretty much a 52 card pickup guess. Sure, most fans assumed that Carlos Pena would be there based on what the team was paying him, but even supposed sure things like Lucas Harrell, Jed Lowrie and Bud Norris came with clouds of potential trades hanging over their heads.
Meanwhile, Jose Altuve — and possibly Jason Castro — was one of the few “Sure Things” heading into spring training. Even though he had slumped a bit at the end of 2012 – he had been the Astros only All Star representative and put up good numbers at second base, a traditionally non-offensive position. And who could resist pulling for the 5’-5” everyman who was the same size as an average 8th grader.
But in 2013, after a strong April, Altuve has been in a steady offensive decline and he has gone from one of the most effective Astros’ hitters in 2012 to one of the worst in 2013. Of the Astros normally in the starting lineup, only Brandon Barnes has a lower OPS than Altuve’s .648 and none of the other regular starters has an OPS lower than .690. It has been documented that he rarely walks, consistently chases pitches outside the strike zone, has not shown much power development and on the defensive side is a middle of the road or less fielder. The biggest question currently is why would he regularly appears in the 2nd or 3rd spots in the lineup – he does not get on base and he has little power.
Regular contributor Eric Girard pointed out that Altuve looks exhausted, probably from playing year-around and his miniscule .498 OPS in August sings to that. But he has not been a good player since early May and this has to have the Astros’ brain-trust pondering the future.
Besides the fact that at this point you would be trading Altuve at a low point of value, we do have to remember that he is only 23. He has been asked to be an important cog in a lineup that has given him very little protection and I think he has imposed on himself the duty to make things happen even when the pitchers are throwing their pitches, not his. Jose’s numbers leading off, which he did consistently earlier in the season are far superior to when he has batted down in the lineup.
And as others have pointed out – there is no better 2nd base choice in the high minors at this moment – though folks like Deshields and Fontana may be close next season. The specter of the Joe Morgan trade has always hung over this franchise, but I’m pretty sure Altuve is not the OBP machine that Morgan was and will not be headed to the Hall of Fame. But that does not mean he will not be a solid major leaguer.
So – in a multiple choice quiz question, if you were Jeff Luhnow – would you:
- Have Bo Porter give Altuve lots of rest down the stretch?
- Move him to a different spot in the lineup (and which one)?
- Trade him in the off-season?
- Have him take the winter league off?
- Have him personally tutored by Biggio, Morgan or others in the off-season?
- See if he will perform hot in the early season (like he has in 2012 and 2013) and then get the most value for him?
- Use him as a placeholder until one of the younger guns is ready?
- Some combination of the answers above?