A Look At The Choo-less Outfield for 2014 and Beyond

So, let’s talk about that signing that got the Astros Nation (slightly larger than Luxembourg at this point) all atwitter last week. No, I’m not talking about the $3.25 million spent on Jesse Crain. I’m talking about the Rangers’ signing of Shin-Soo Choo.

There were two schools of thought on the Astros missing out on Choo. One group basically said, “Seven years and $130 million? In five years that deal will be the Rangers’ version of the Carlos Lee signing!” The second group said, “Another premium hitter in our rival’s lineup. Great, we’ve got THAT to look forward to for seven years. Thanks for nothin’, LoseNow!”

You can decide which group you fall into. (I’d have signed him for five years, but at seven I’m glad we passed.) But the real question then is, if we aren’t signing any more outfielders this winter, what does that mean for 2014 … and 2015 and 2016?

As of right now, here’s what we can expect over the next two seasons in the Astros outfield. I’m not talking opening day. I’m looking at the seasons as a whole.

Considering the Astros aren’t going to the playoffs this year or next with or without Choo, are you good with what the organization has in the system right now for 2016 and earlier? For comparative purposes, I’ll be looking solely at plate appearances (AB+BB+IBB) OPS, Ks, BBs, total extra base hits. The last stat is of my own devising, and shows more than just home runs as a player’s real power potential.

Oh, and I’ll list their age (on April 1, 2014) and highest level of competition.

Dexter Fowler: 28, MLB
471 PA, .776 OPS, 105 K, 65 BB, 30 TEBH
Robbie Grossman, 24, MLB
280 PA (MLB), .702 OPS, 70 K, 23 BB, 18 TEBH
303 PA (AAA), .760 OPS, 66 K, 48 BB, 15 TEBH
Jerome O’Bryan Hoes (I know, it makes me laugh too.): 24, MLB
183 PA (MLB), .692 OPS, 35 K, 12 BB, 10 TEBH
423 PA (AAA), .808 OPS, 56 K, 58 BB, 29 TEBH
Marc Krauss, 26, MLB
144 PA (MLB), .633 OPS, 45 K, 10 BB, 13 TEBH
309 PA (AAA), .880 OPS, 53 K, 52 BB, 28 TEBH
Domingo Santana (Yes, he’s on the 40-man Roster!): 21, AA
463 PA (AA), .842 OPS, 139 K, 46 BB, 50 TEBH

George Springer, 24, AAA
575 PA (Combined AA and AAA), 1.010 OPS, 161 K, 83 BB, 68 TEBH
J.D. Martinez, 26, MLB
306 PA (MLB), .650 OPS, 82 K, 10 BB, 24 TEBH

Delino DeShields Jr., 21, High A (Lancaster … where the hitters numbers are inflated)
508 PA (A+), .873 OPS, 91 K, 57 BB, 44 TEBH
Preston Tucker, 23, AA
591 PA (A+ and AA combined), .872 OPS, 91 K, 56 BB, 59 TEBH
Andrew Aplin, 23, High A Lancaster
583 PA (A+), .800 OPS, 63 K, 83 BB, 48 TEBH

I’m not going to get into the argument about whether Springer should start the season in AAA or Houston. If I was a finance guy, I’d say AAA. But the fan in me (and all of us) says Houston. So let’s look at what the starting outfield should look like on June 10 (a nice safe Super Two Status date). Also, I did not include Austin Wates as his numbers in AAA were not great and he’s not exactly a top prospect.

  • Right Field: George Springer (he’s got a better arm than Fowler, though in MMP you could argue that means he should be in CF).
  • Center Field: Dexter Fowler. Here’s hoping there’s no Coors hangover in his stats.
  • Left Field: I think those first few months when Springer is languishing in OKC are when Luhnow and Porter see who will become the better hitter: Hoes or Grossman.

4th Outfielder: Well, Krauss is on the 40-man roster, but I would not be surprised to see J.D. Martinez vying for this spot again, at least early in 2014. He tore up the Venezuelan Winter League, which along with $6 will get you a seat at the matinee movie. He still needs to draw a walk. I’m guessing once Springer is called up, whoever isn’t starting between Hoes and Grossman has the inside track.

The interesting thing to watch this year will be DDJ’s and Aplin’s OPS once they leave hitter-friendly Lancaster. More than most teams, the Astros’ system jump from A+ to AA is where you separate the men from the boys.

I would not be surprised to see either Aplin or DDJ competing for an outfield spot by 2015. Both should spend 2014 in AA and, if things go well, could see a mid-season promotion to AAA.

So, here are a few questions to ponder:

  • Are guys like Marc Krauss and J.D. Martinez part of the Astros future, or are they just placeholders until DDJ, Aplin, and Tucker, or even lower guys like Teoscar Hernandez or Danry Vasquez, come up?
  • What outfield prospect (not including Springer) intrigues you the most?
  • If Fowler can hit at MMP, and Springer can hit in the big leagues, do you have faith that either Hoes (183 MLB plate appearances) or Grossman (280 MLB plate appearances) can find their AAA form in a full season in Houston?
  • Say the Astros get a .775 OPS from Fowler and an .800 OPS from Springer. Are you more interested in an offensive left fielder or someone who can play great defense to support our young rotation?
  • Houston had, probably, the worst outfield in major league baseball in 2013. If the 2013 grade was an F, what do you expect the 2014 grade to be?

46 comments on “A Look At The Choo-less Outfield for 2014 and Beyond

  1. Well I hope Fowler does well always liked him in Colorado, Springer Im hoping is the real deal for the next 10 years, Grossman, JD, Krauss, Hoes, all remind me of the same guy, good AAAA dudes, Tucker and Alpin I loved in Lancaster but……, Santana is Intriguing as is DDJ. I think the good thing is out of all the dudes we will have a decent guy rise to the top, which is way better than 2005-2011


    • Kevin, I agree. If you’re looking at these guys’ minor league stats, all but Grossman put up an OPS of .800 or better. And several–Krauss, Hoes and especially Aplin–did it while putting up decent K/BB numbers.

      There’s a gem in this bunch. Maybe not a diamond but a nice topaz or aquamarine.

      Frankly for this year, if Fowler and Springer can hit as well as we can reasonably expect, I’d be happy with a plus defender in left field who is putting up a .700-.725 OPS at the plate.

      I think our outfield will go from that F to a C+ this year. And if Fowler’s defense isn’t a negative, and both he and Springer excel at the plate, maybe even a B-.


  2. To answer my own questions:

    Well, I answered the defense vs. offense in left field and the grade one just above.

    J.D. Martinez is a placeholder who may not have a place to hold this year. And I think Krauss is going to be the odd man out unless he really steps up at the plate.

    I’m most intrigued by Aplin. He’s done well at every stop in the minors, not just Lancaster. And he’s one of those high-walk, low-strikeout guys Luhnow loves. I’m going to be watching him closely at AA.

    Between Grossman and Hoes, I think L.J. has a better chance to hit well–but without much power. That’s a shame because I think Grossman is the better defender.


  3. I guess the real question is this: Are you confident enough in what we have for 2014 and beyond that — especially for the money — you don’t mind losing Choo?

    For me, the answer is a fairly solid “Yes!”


  4. Krauss and Martinez, even if they do hit, will always be one tool guys. They are both defensive liabilities. This team needs to have multiple tool talent at every position eventually. That’s when we’ll be a good club. Neither guy is part of that future.

    Santana is the guy who will be our eventual rightfielder. He’s a big athletic kid who hits everything hard, has a very strong arm and can run. At 20, he adjusted well to the competition at AA. 25 homers in 112 games is a solid stat. And he still managed a .345 OBP. We might even see him late in 2014.

    It’s not very likely that Hoes and Grossman will produce as they did in the minors, but both guys would be serviceable leftfielders and provide pretty good OBP’s. And both guys finished 2013 with solid stats over the last two months. So I’m fairly optimistic.

    I won’t be satisfied until we have three outfielders that can both hit and play their position well. But assuming Springer is in the outfield on Opening Day, we’ll automatically have a solid defense out there. And I think all three positions can produce an OPS above .750. No grade from me, but the outfield should be the most improved area of the club when compared to Opening Day 2013.


    • Dave, I’d be happy if Hoes OR Grossman had an OPS of somewhere between .700 and .725 as long as Springer and Fowler are performing reasonably well.


  5. Nice post Brian T –
    A few thoughts:
    1) Should we call our manager, Choo-less Bo?
    2) I’m not sure if Krauss or JDM make this team – I’m leaning towards not. If they do make it they are just biding time in my opinion.
    3) Santana intrigues me – he was 20 years old (turning 21) at Corpus which is not at all like Lancaster offensively and he put up solid power numbers with 25 dingers and a .842 OPS. His K’s are too high – so are Springer’s and he is 3 years older.
    3) I certainly could see either Hoes or Grossman stepping up with more mlb exposure. They both showed flashes of talent at times. Sure not counting them out.
    4) Even if Fowler and Springer are doing above average – I still want more offense out of LF. We will have outfield improvement already with the first two out there.
    5) I’m looking for a C+ on the outfield front this season – that would be a solid step in the right direction.


  6. I’m excited about Santana. After a rough start at Corpus he turned it around and is still very young. He’s going to strike out a lot, but the raw power is tantalizing.

    Don’t forget about the defensive prowess of Chris Carter if the left fielders flounder.

    Grades before the season starts? Without Springer I’d predict they are a D. With Springer they could rise as high as a B, but are likely more in the C (average) range. That’s not necessarily a bad rating, mind you, because if you look at the standings from last year, if the Astros could get to average in all facets of the game they would be very close to contention.


  7. Santana may be a star with his tools but I see him taking two more years.
    Aplin has tools but needs a swing adjustment to shorten his stroke or he will end up similar to Barnes.
    DDJ has a weak arm, a weak power stroke and a reckless mind.

    Springer has one thing to overcome: striking out too much.


  8. My computer is having a terrible time with the new format.
    2014: Grossman LF, Fowler CF, Springer RF
    2015: Grosman LF, Fowler CF, Springer RF
    2016: Aplin LF, Springer CF, Santana RF
    2017 Vasquez LF, Springer CF, Santana RF, Aplin #4


  9. I’ve seen enough of JDM to know that he’s not MLB material. I’ve seen very little of Mr. Krauss (hello? TV deal??) but can definitely tell he doesn’t have the “it factor” to make it in The Bigs.

    Sometimes you can just tell when the “requisite swagger” isnt there. JDMs confidence is irreparably damaged, and Krauss’ body language was almost as bad as Bedard’s last year. (Let’s chuck Wallace while we are at it.)

    Hitting a baseball off legit pros is the hardest thing to do in all of sports. Without “requisite swagger”, it just won’t come together. Ever.

    Let’s not kid ourselves. These scrubs ain’t pros. I bet all are off the roster by the time Springer arrives.


  10. We haven’t seen enough of L.J. Hoes to make a call on him yet, but if I was to wager a bet, it will be Hoes and Grossman to start the season.
    Luhnow just might throw J.D.Martinez in on a trade before the season starts. Krause is just a tough luck kid……….I predict he will be a life time AAA guy. If I hear one more person say Springer will start the season in OKC, because of money……….I’m going to hunt them down and punch them in the face. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.


    • Becky, I certainly hope Springer is patrolling the outfield in MMP on Opening Day, waiting to record that first Yankee (spit) out. Lord knows, at 24 there’s no reason to let him season in AAA any longer. I just fear that’s what will happen.

      Of course, if he knocks the cover off te ball in Spring Training, it’ll be hard for Luhnow to send him to OKC.


  11. DANG……….I sure would like to pick up Steven Drew. Come on Luhnow
    sign the guy, until Correa is ready to take his place at short stop. PLEASE??!!! With whipped cream and a cherry on top?!


    • I waffle on this. I’d like a better team this season, so, yes, I’d like to sign Drew. But by all accounts, he’s a two-year placeholder for Correa. Do I really want to give up that supplemental pick for a placeholder?

      That’s giving up a guy where we took Lance McCullers Jr. Hmm. I just don’t know.


      • BrianT……..the short stop is the captain of the infield………Villar is NOT
        that guy. This team needs a STABLE guy running the infield, and Drew
        would be “that” guy. Pull the string on a deal……..supplemental pick or not. I’m willing to take that chance.


      • Becky, I don’t disagree. I just think there’s something more valuable than money we’re losing if we sign him.

        Maybe he’s worth that draft pick. Maybe it’s time to spend a little of the future on the present. I just know I believe in Luhnow’s plan. Believing can suck. It did last year. But the question is, are we still rebuilding or just building.

        Not sure how I feel. If we sign him, I’ll probably be happy. If not, I’m still here aren’t I?


      • I love how the national media just looks at the Astros and dismisses them so quickly. Guys signed are signed to be traded. Luhnow and Crane are only looking to pinch pennies.

        If it’s not the Yankees (spit), Red Sox, Dodgers or free-spending Angels, they just don’t care.


  12. When there is no credibility, you will be dismissed, and justifiably so. To date, this organization has indeed excelled at pitching pennies. And the baseball club in the fourth biggest city in the US should not be most known for that designation.

    I don’t think Drew would even consider playing in Houston, but to use the loss of a supplemental pick as a good reason not to sign him illustrates just how much some of us have embraced a willingness to lose. We’ve been hoodwinked by Crane.

    How many supplemental picks go on to have significant careers? There is no guarantee that McCullers will even reach the majors. And if he does beat the odds, it’s at least a couple of years down the road. Shouldn’t our formidable minor league system be spitting out plenty of other aces by then?

    As long as we keep passing on paying for major league ready talent with the excuse of preserving draft choices, we’ll be hoping our minor league system is going to produce all the talent we need. It just does not work out that way. I don’t blame Luhnow for having to work within his marching orders, but Crane has convinced some into believing that this is the best way to rebuild an organization. As I’ve said before, if this keeps up much longer, we’ll lose Luhnow. That would be the real shame. It goes back to credibility.


    • I always wonder, what would you have them spend money on.

      To me, Stephen Drew is a great example. Say the Astros sign him. Does he make us better during the time he’s here? Absolutely. How much better? Well, forgetting WAR comparisons, I’d have to say 5-6 wins.

      But there are a couple of problems. First, Drew is not goin to have the same season he did in 2013. Look at his career stats. His BABiP. His walk totals. He’s due some regression. Still, he’s much better than Villar.

      But by 2016, we are replacing Drew with Correa. Or Fontana. Or Mier. We certainly won’t be playing 34-year-old Stephen Drew in 2016 and expecting great things.

      So, for a handful if extra wins right now, we can lose a supplemental pick. And yes, I have no idea whether that pick will amount to anything. But you don’t build and MAINTAIN a great farm system by trading away high draft picks for a guy who is a placeholder.

      Maybe Drew isn’t a placeholder. Maybe Luhnow and Co. think this team, with a decent SS can win now. Or by 2015. Maybe they think there’s a chance.

      If that’s so, sign him. I’m all for it.

      But if he’s not going to help us contend for a playoff spot, he’s wasting a high draft pick.


      • I’m not talking about Drew, or McCullers, or Choo, or any specific individual. What I’m saying is that instead of the embarrassment of suffering from three or four or five 100 loss seasons, this club, in this market, should have been spending 100 million a year to put a quality product on the field while at the same time building an excellent minor league system. We’ve been losing intentionally for first round draft choices over the past three seasons. At some point pride has to enter the equation. There is a certain responsibility to the city of Houston and it’s fans to play to win. And one of these days soon, MLB will adjust the draft to make it a lottery, where by the worst team in the game does not automatically get the first pick. And they’ll refer to it as the Houston Astro rule.


      • That said, if we’re trying to sign Drew, maybe that’s a sign that this long rebuilding phase is coming to an end. The Astros would then have moved from “Win Later” to “Win Now.”

        If we somehow sign Drew, I would expect Springer to open the season in the outfield.


      • I think the losing at this point was inevitable. This organization–not just the team at the MLB level–stunk on ice. Something needed to be done. And while I know Crane is a rich dude, money is limited. I didn’t want to see another Carlos Lee contract, and that’s all we’d have been able to do for a couple of years. Two or three of those would have hamstrung this organization for half a decade … again.

        But you’re right. It’s time to turn this ship around. I was all for signing Choo because it only cost money. And I was all for signing Feldman and trading for Fowler. We got a good return there. And I think the money spent on the bullpen is money well spent.

        I just know the experts say this will be a deep draft. I’m not sure I want to give up that pick for an aging shortstop due to regress.

        But I’m also not sure I’m NOT ready to do it either. Honestly, I’m conflicted.

        I live out of market and spend hard-earned cash every year to listen to and watch the Astros games. I hate listening to losing. But I don’t want to sacrifice long-term excellence–even just a reasonable chance at long-term excellence–for a placeholder.


    • Becky, I’m glad you brought the subject up. And Dave, I don’t disagree with you. Like I said, I am conflicted and see two sides to the question.

      Here’s hoping one way or another we get a better SS this season.


  13. Rebuilding is not the painful part in my opinion. The excruciating part is FINALLY realizing that it will never lead to consistent competitiveness.

    I think Jeff Passan’s article is not garbage in that he opines how bad the team will be next year. He’s right. And their MO of playing for the top draft pick — and not to win — yet again, is probably accurate.

    I think the article turns smelly once he chimes in with “…the Astros really, truly, legitimately have a chance to be good soon. Seriously!…”

    Sure there are some good young players forthcoming. Yes, Springer is the real deal. Yes, the bullpen has improved. Yes, Rodon’s wicked slider is there for the taking. But he, like most of us, fails to put it all in proper perspective.

    What does “good” mean? Good enough to compete year in and year out in the AL West?

    His final point is the most salient. Crane’s Astros will need to buck up soon. But his take abruptly stops there. The real question is: “will they”?

    He, like the rest of us, won’t admit that it will never happen. Not only will it not happen, it CAN’T happen. The resources are simply not there. And even if they were, Crane doesn’t care about doing right by the fans nor the city to buck up for a consistent winner.


    Crane robs

    Fans hope

    “Good” is coming soon

    Hoodwinked again


  14. Playing devil’s advocate, if they did sign Drew what would be the outcome? Yes, they would lose the supplemental pick. Last year saw Sean Manaea and Michael Lorenzen go in the supplemental picks. As we approach the 2014 draft you can be sure there will be guys who fall and are worth a gamble there. Back to Drew, though, let’s say your infield is now Dominguez, Drew, Altuve, Singleton, and Marwin. That’s a pretty decent infield defensively. Does it get you out of the cellar?

    Yes, I said gamble. Fowler is a gamble. Feldman is a gamble. Drew would cost as much as either and who knows whether he’ll stay healthy. If he did stay healthy, who knows if he’d hit. I don’t mind passing in favor of keeping that pick in 2014, but mainly because I don’t think Drew gives you as big a boost over Villar in the wins column as other people expect. If you really want to win 2 or 3 more games there are guys out there like Paul Maholm who would come cheaper. If we’re comfortable adding Drew, why not go after more of these guys? The biggest dilemma would become which players get dropped from the 40 man roster.


  15. I’m tired of losing. I’m tired of errors nearly every game. I’m tired of
    hearing that money is tight. I’m tired of seeing any guy worth a crap get traded at the deadline…….year, after year, after year. I’m tired of hearing about the CSN debacle……..I want to see a decent product on the field.
    I know these guys are FAR from contending, but GOOD LORD…..would it be too much to at least win 70 games this year? THAT is exactly why I brought up Steven Drew’s name up as a possible signing. Becky


  16. Not convinced Stephen Drew would be an answer that leads to winning anymore than Villar does. Giving him 15 mil for 2 years is probably not an answer.

    I agree that its time to put 100 loss seasons behind us. I believe Luhnow is attempting to do that with the Fowler deal, signing of Crain and Feldman, and starting Springer.

    Unfortunately any team that wants to compete needs to hae a homegrown contigent, even the Yankees had Cano, Jeter, Rivera, etc., making massive contributions. That’s where they are bad. Untl the base is there, adding Feldman – who is probably no better than Woody was – with Crain and Fowler, I think Luhnow is trying to catch some lightning in the bottle to attempt not to lose 100 games.


  17. Message to BBWAA………I’m disgusted, and VERY angry today.
    Will Craig Biggio EVER get in the HOF??? As long as his name
    is even in the SAME sentence as Jeff Bagwell, I don’t think he will.
    I’m in a foul mood today…….and THAT’S putting it lightly.


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