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Who’s On First? Astros 2014 Edition


First in a series on the Astros 2014. Brian Todd explores first base.

• •• ••• •• •

What if I told you last season the Astros put up a batting line of .224/.316/.423 at first base? That’s an OPS of .739, which ranked 20th in the Major Leagues at the position. Bad? Yes. Horrible? Not horrible. Oh, sure, that .224 batting average is nothing to write home about, ranking near the bottom of the majors. But the OPS was almost tolerable, especially on this team.

Brett Wallace actually took the largest portion of at bats at first base, 206, with a batting line of .218/.278/.413 at first and .221/.284/.431 overall in Houston. Perhaps that poor average and OBP has something to do with 106 Ks in 262 total at-bats. Not that Chris Carter’s at-bats at first did much to help the cause. In 191 ABs at first base, his .225/.332/.429 came with 77 Ks and a match to Wallace’s 10 HRs. Carter’s overall numbers were mostly worse. He whiffed quite a bit more when DHing and playing left field. Third on the list was Carlos Peña. He’s gone, so I won’t rehash his horrible stats other than to say while he may have known how to draw a walk, his overall (almost exclusively done at first base) .674 OPS did nothing to help the Astros’ cause.

Jeff Bagwell, how we miss thee.

Look on the Astros’ website, and the top of the first base depth chart is a name that makes Astros fans cry: Brett Wallace. Yep, we’re probably looking at another year of flawed hitters and AAAA guys at first base.

That said, things shouldn’t be all bad, even with Wallace manning the bag at first base. Hidden in Wallace’s anemic overall .716 OPS was what he did against right-handed pitchers. He put up a line of .243/.307/.481 in 206 ABs with 75 Ks and 12 of his 13 home runs.

There’s been a lot of talk of having a platoon at first. If so, from the opposite side of the plate will be recently acquired Jesus Guzman. Guzman put up an even worse overall OPS of .675 with just 9 HRs in 288 ABs. The fact he did it in one of the worst places to hit, San Diego, is reflected in his home/road splits. With the at-bats fairly evenly split, in San Diego he put up an OPS of .457. You read that right. That was his OPS! On the road his batting line was .279/.339/.526. That .865 OPS was nearly double what he did at home. And all his home runs came on the road.

It’s likely we’ll also see some of Chris Carter at first base, though he should spend more time at DH. Carter also benefitted from travel, so perhaps when the Astros play in San Diego, Guzman can get the day off and Carter, who posted an impressive .925 road OPS can take his place. Hitting against lefties or righties doesn’t really matter to Carter, who posted OPSs over .750 in both instances. His overall line of .223/.320/.451 shows his strengths and weaknesses. For example, he led Houston with 29 HRs (hence the nice SLG) but he whiffed a whopping 212 times. Surprisingly, his best offensive output came at his worst defensive position, left field. Ah, well, with luck he’ll improve in his second full season when all he needs to worry about is his hitting.

Finally, we have the dark horse candidates for this year. Jonathan Singleton may be the future of the franchise at first base, but he had a horrid year in 2013. His 50-game suspension for partaking in the “Colorado Experience” was followed by an unimpressive .687 OPS in OKC. But he’ll only be 22 when the season starts, so there is hope he can build off his otherwise stellar minor league numbers to make an impact late in the season. The reality is, Singleton is probably the future more than the present. Furthermore, he’s the only future for the club. In Houston’s top 20 prospects, there is no other first baseman. Maybe you could convert Preston Tucker, who is a poor outfielder but good hitter.

The other dark horse is Mexican League signee Japhet Amador. I don’t really know what to say about Jephet the Hut other than he didn’t fare well in limited action at OKC, posting a .605 OPS in 45 ABs. No extra-base hits, 8 Ks, no walks and a .302/.302/.302 batting line. His Mexican League numbers suggest there’s more there, but rating the Mexican Leagues as AAA level seems a bit ambitious to me. At 24 years of age when the season starts, I don’t think we’re going to get a meaner, leaner Japhet. Ah, well.

So, what do we all think about first base? Well, here are some questions to ponder:

  • Crane’s big move at first base this off-season seemed to be signing Guzman as a platoon mate for Wallace. Is that sufficient for now, or was there another move (be specific and realistic) you’d have preferred?
  • What sounds like a more realistic level of production from that platoon: .215/.290/.390 (bad), .245/.315/.460 with 18 HRs (not bad), or .260/.330/.485 with 25 HRs (better than we could hope for)?
  • If he hits reasonably well in spring training, how long should the Astros wait to bring up Singleton? Should he start the season in Houston and let us bid adieu to Wallace (and/or, perhaps Guzman)? Or does he need a little time to simmer regardless of what he does in Florida?
  • Do the Astros have an organizational hole at first base? Who in the minors, beyond Singleton, gets you excited at first base?

Brian Todd is hoping to feel some warmth when pitchers and catchers report. Right now, it’s cold in Rochester, Minn.

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About BrianT

Brian Todd is a freelance writer working and living in Rochester, Minn.

27 comments on “Who’s On First? Astros 2014 Edition

  1. Dan P
    January 20, 2014

    The league average for OPS in 2013 was .725 – which means that 1B was one of two positions (the other being catcher) that was above league average. Of course it probably was below league average for all the first basemen, but we had so little occur above average – why quibble?
    I’m OK with a platoon situation between Wallace and Guzman/Carter at least to start the season. I really would love to see Singleton grab a stranglehold on the position out of ST, but the way he hit in AAA last season almost guarantees that he has to show some more/better before he gets the call.
    Japhet Amador is an extreme longshot (actually since we share the same body shape – I might call him an extreme wideshot). He needs to show he can handle the step up in competition – though 45 bad at bats at AAA last season means very little.
    Brian I thought you might throw out Mr. Castro as a possible 1B of the future….
    And I thought we might give that Rule 5 guy – Nate Freiman – another look. Oh darned – really? Gone so we could keep a bunch of other guys who are now gone…..?

    Like

    • spooky2
      January 20, 2014

      The median OPS at first base in the majors last season was either the White Sox .751 or the Cubs .743 (I never actually took a stats class in college). The fact is five teams collected OPSs of .700 or lower, so the Astros could do worse … but I think they’ll do better.

      Like

  2. kevin kuns
    January 20, 2014

    I think you both covered it pretty thorough. A lot of mediocre options platooning, which ever guys can catch the ball and hit like .240 and not strike out 150 times. Hopefully Singleton is the guy, did well in winter ball and Baseball Americas has him rated the #1 1st base prospect. Of course 1st base has the worst talent pool in the minors.

    Like

  3. Astro45
    January 20, 2014

    I hope someone in this group breaks out and makes a hitting 1st baseman. There were no FAs this year that excited me, especially with Loney getting $21/3 year. So not a lot of options for hitting unless someone gets Hot and stays Hot. Let me add that some teams can get by with little production at 1st if they have production in the outfield or someplace else. But we need solid production at 1st to improve the team.

    Like

  4. BrianT
    January 20, 2014

    Dan, I kept Castro out of the mix because he hasn’t played first yet and there’s no indication from the team he will start doing so. Besides — and this comment is for Becky — with as many passed balls as he had, do we really want him trying to catch Villar’s throws over at first base?

    Kevin, I think you hit the nail on the head. The Astros aren’t looking for a superstar at first this year. They’re just looking not to embarrass themselves. I think the platoon situation can clear that low hurdle.

    Like

  5. 1oldpro
    January 20, 2014

    If you use the local train of thought, we have an organizational hole at 1B. Apparently the national thought is that Singleton is a player. I think he is a player, but he is a 22 year old player and is still too young and needs some seasoning, whether that is a full year or three months.
    Penciling in Brett wallace against RHP just irritates me no end. There is a guy who has gotten so many chances and ended up 2013 as a worse hitter than he ever was. Wallace is a perfect reflection of the condition of our major league team.

    Like

  6. rj1953
    January 20, 2014

    my hope is singleton forces his way onto the major league roster earlier rather than later. the suspension and then moving from level to level last year delayed his development. i hope he comes out hitting well and takes 1B sometime early in the year and keeps it for about 10 years. hopefully he learned a lesson and matured a bit and now begins to play ball up to his potential. i dont see many 1B options. guzman? placeholder, utility man, pinch hitter. wallace? – well i hope he finally blossoms, but dont hold your breath, Castro? he’ll catch. Carter? he needs a spot but he’ll play as much LF and DH as 1B most likely. with that kind of outlook singleton needs to come and take it.

    Like

  7. Billy Castillo
    January 20, 2014

    When Wallace got here, he had a rep of being a high avg and OBP guy with below average power for a first baseman. I’d rather have that guy back. Actually I’d rather have Anthony Gose back, but whatever.

    Like

  8. Dan P
    January 20, 2014

    It may change – because Gose is only 23 – but he has been pretty unimpressive the last two seasons at AAA and the majors. He has a lot of speed, but gets gunned down a lot and strikes out a lot also.

    Like

    • spooky2
      January 20, 2014

      In hindsight, I don’t think either Gose or Wallace were great prospects. Singleton, with his young age, I think still has a lot of promise. Playing at AAA last year at 21 was fairly advanced, but frankly he’d proved himself at AA and below. I expect we’ll see him by the end of the season at latest, perhaps earlier if the Wallace/Guzman experiment fails. That said, I don’t see him starting the season in Houston no matter what he does this spring. He was just too overmatched at AAA last year. He needs more time in Oklahoma City.

      Like

    • Chip Bailey
      January 20, 2014

      Dan, at this point in 2014, we know pretty much what Wallace has to offer. As you point out, at 23, Gose could still develop and he is still a bit unknown. Don’t know that I’d want to reverse the trade necessarily, but — today — the Blue Jays have the upper hand.

      Like

      • Dan P
        January 20, 2014

        Offensively (and he is a year younger) Villar has been as good or better than Gose. Which ain’t saying much.

        Like

  9. IceRogue
    January 20, 2014

    Guzman had a good winter campaign as did Gregorio Petit. I think Guzman becomes the first baseman against lefthanders and backs up Dominguez at third as he was originally a third baseman. Think they give Singleton every chance to make the squad, but he can’t be a backup for Dominguez and neither can Carter. On the Fangraphs Site Steamer projects Petit to hit 16 home runs this year. I think he wins the utility infielder job and plays shortstop against lefthanders.

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  10. deuce56
    January 20, 2014

    Since I really believe Singleton will be our 1B next year, possibly late this year, I’m ok with a strict platoon for one year. Wallace should never see another lefty. And Guzman will benefit being away from Petco and seeing only lefties. The production might be passable there, but hardly more than that. It would be next to impossible to find a better free agent on a one year contract if they really believe Singleton is the man. But they did go after Abreu hard , just missing out to the palehose. Lets just hope Singleton is really the top rated 1B prospect he was ranked as before last season.

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  11. devin_
    January 20, 2014

    My problem is that we’re essentially in the same place as last year: we have a collection of damaged goods to run out at 1B while we wait to see if/when Singleton will be ready. We will now break camp with a multi-headed first baseman instead of it being a position of strength because we’re too afraid to lose one of those options in case Singleton isn’t ready. For that reason, he’ll start at OKC. Is it conceivable that Singleton, even if not playing well, would produce Brett Wallace’s output or better?

    Like

    • deuce56
      January 20, 2014

      Devin I believe Singleton could outhit Wallace right now. Unfortunately other factors will play in that decision. Not that I agree with those factors. As I mentioned above that platoon at best will be passable, nothing more.

      Like

    • BrianT
      January 20, 2014

      I’m not so sure Singleton would outhit Wallace at this point. Remember, at AAA Wallace is a very good hitter. Just check the stats. Singleton had real trouble at OKC last season.

      Furthermore, the platoon of Wallace and Guzman will almost certainly out produce Singleton, especially before the All Star Break. Singleton did nothing well at AAA last season. Give him a little time.

      Like

  12. becky
    January 20, 2014

    We have hashed out this problem for three years, waiting for Wallace to show up and use those hands to actually HIT the ball. There are so many guys who Luhnow has signed, who can play 1st. it’s not funny.
    Do you keep Singelton in AAA for a month or two, or do you throw him to the BIG boys, and let him show us he can stay up……..Is Carter an
    enigma, or can we depend on the guy to hit AND field? I dunno………
    either way it’s a crap shoot, and whoever DOES get the job had better work on trying to catch the error filled throws from Villar.

    Like

    • Chip Bailey
      January 20, 2014

      Becky, it’s Singleton’s job to lose — or take — based on spring training. He’s probably the only one of the group who has the potential to be a long-term answer. With that said, I’m not sure you want to throw him to the wolves right out of the gate if the brain trust deems he needs another month or two of incubation. If — and a big if — the Astros believe he’s their long-term answer, then their decisions should be built around him. Doesn’t mean he should be at 1B in MMP come April, just that their plans should be that he’ll be there at some point in 2014. Hope that makes some sense.

      Like

  13. devin_
    January 20, 2014

    I saw enough of Singleton last spring to see the potential. As far as doing nothing good, he put up a .220 / .340 / .347 line last season at AAA. Imagine, for a minute, that his average was closer to the .284 that had been his career low in the minors to that point. Do you think, perhaps, the 50 game suspension affected him negatively?

    Like

  14. Bo Weaver
    January 20, 2014

    Good article Brian, despite nary a mention of Jason Castro filling part of the void at the position.

    I have predictions galore. My overall take is based on two outcomes: 1) Walllace sucks and he’s gone, and 2) management probably realizes that Singleton would greatly benefit from another year of seasoning/personal discipline at AAA. So blunt reality begs a mid-season call-up, at best. He’ll do well and’ll be a legit pro come 2015.

    So if these presuppositions hold true, then Carter’s PT will mostly be at 1B in 2014. Carter will HAVE to carry the load, by default. Plus, Carter’s time at LF will be limited once Springer arrives for good, so that’s a definite factor.

    Guzman as a platoon guy at 1B… whatever. No dazzle expected from this soggy-lettuce bat wielder.

    So what does this mean in the final analysis? It means a three-way “platoon” — sans Wallace — with Castro getting plenty of ABs at 1B, to round out the field.

    Another thought: if Carter improves his K-rate, Porter will play him often.

    Porter can’t afford to leave Castro’s bat on the bench, either. He’ll get his ABs at 1B, for certain.

    Overall, it won’t matter much as the production at the 1B is crappy as ever, especially compared to the division.

    (A dismal 2014 will be highlighted by a breakout season by Springer, however…)

    Like

  15. daveb
    January 20, 2014

    I think it comes down to how Stassi shakes out. if he impresses, then Castro is not needed behind the plate. Stassi is already a better backstop. And if Castro is free to play first, then we finally get rid of Wallace. And if we have Castro playing first four or five days a week and maybe getting a DH nod once a week, then Guzman can play first when there is a lefty on the mound. And with Castro and Guzman getting most of the first base at bats, an .800 plus OPS is realistic from the position. Carter should be a DH only. Keep him away from a glove.

    Like

  16. Steven
    January 21, 2014

    Not sure what value you have in defensive flexibility if Wallace/Guzman/Carter are tying up three spots on your roster in the AL. With likely candidates Grossman and Loes vying for time in OF that should have Fowler and Springer starting, and two catchers on the roster, you better have a pretty solid defensive IF’er that can play everywhere.

    I just don’t see an effective, flexible roster with all three on it. To keep all three someone isn’t going to be there that someone likes, but I guess that’s the story of ST.

    I am sure the OF is a future discussion, but it’s hard pressed not to mention that if you carry all three, you certainly can’t carry 5 OF’ers, leaving Krauss off the roster. Does he have options left?

    If Singleton can knock that door down, it makes Guzman and Wallace both expendable, making Carter your DH and backup 1B, and giving that crowded OF some AB’s at DH.

    I watched Singleton live a few times last year at AAA, he is very confident, I see that in his walk, just watching his body language in the box and on deck. He also seemed to me to be a young guy, and didn’t handle adversity that well. Great eye, didn’t swing at a bad pitch, all the potential in the world, and the confidence to succeed, but I am not sure if it’s this year.

    Like

    • Bo Weaver
      January 21, 2014

      You nailed it, Steven. That’s exactly why the clock has run out on Wallace. He’s a bad spring training away from being out of the league for good…

      Like

  17. Dan P
    January 21, 2014

    Bo – I sure would be happy to see the Astros open the season with Springer and Singleton in the everyday lineup – it would give us something to care about finally.

    Like

    • becky
      January 21, 2014

      AMEN Brother!

      Like

    • rj1953
      January 21, 2014

      im with you dan, but we’ll see neither before april 10 and maybe not till late june. gives them another year of team control for april 10 and no super 2 status for late june. i want to see them play as soon as they are ready, springer is ahead of singleton in that regard, but the team will extend their control over them for one more year by using one or both of those dates. now if its april 10, ok fine, i can wait. but it will be tough to take if it goes to late june.

      Like

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This entry was posted on January 20, 2014 by in Astros.
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