Our look at the 2014 Astros continues today with Dan’s take on the outfield.
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Looking back at the 2013 Astros oufield, I am reminded of a scene from the movie Crocodile Dundee. Paul Hogan as the famous Aussie croc hunter has arrived in NYC for a publicity visit and is confronted by a mugger who pulls out a knife. Dundee says to the mugger, “That’s not a knife.” then he unsheaths his own knife the size of a scimitar and says, “That’s a knife.”
I look at the 12 guys who to varying degrees filled up the three outfield spots last season and say, “That’s not an outfield.” And then I look at the pristine, unused jewel of the minor league system, George Springer and say “While not an outfield by himself – that is an outfielder.”
Reviewing the offensive performance (and offensive is a great adjective to use) of those 12 players for their at bats as outfielders – Chris Carter, L.J. Hoes, Robbie Grossman, JD Martinez, Justin Maxwell, Brandon Barnes, Trevor Crowe, Marc Krauss, Rick Ankiel, Jimmy Paredes, Fernando Martinez, and Jake Elmore totaled 190 runs scored, 42 HRs, 185 RBIs and 37 SBs. Their combined stats were .241 BA, .293 OBP, .366 SLG and .659 OPS. They walked about 7% of the time and struck out almost 30% of their ABs! Stinko, putrid, (fill in your own adjective – but keep it clean).
For just a little self torture let’s make a quick comparison between Mr. Springer’s 2013 season and the guys he could not displace – even in September. (And yes I know it is comparing minor league numbers with mlb numbers – I don’t care).
- Springer’s 106 runs scored were more than the top 3 scorers in the OF for the Astros combined (100 runs)
- His 37 HRs were only 5 short of the 42 put out there by the 12 combined when playing the OF.
- His 108 RBIs were more than the top 3 (98 RBIs) combined
- He stole 8 more bases (45 vs. 37) than the combined 12
- His BA (.303) was higher than their combined OBP (.293), His OBP (.411) higher than their slugging % (.366) and his slugging (.600) just behind their OPS (.659).
Springer could have fallen off dramatically from minors to majors and still have been the best hitter in the big clubs’ outfield. Which brings me to…..
Most Likely Starters
No surprise that I am saying George Springer needs to be in the starting lineup every day in 2014. He brings speed and power to a lineup that is short in both places. He might strike out too much – but we just spent a season watching a team set records in K’s without producing anything – we will be happy to put up with K’s if increased run production is the result.
And the second most likely starter in the OF is also no surprise as the Astros picked up Dexter Fowler from the Rockies in exchange for Brandon Barnes and Jordan Lyles. Fowler has produced solid, but unspectactular stats with decent speed and power, and up until last season he was a triple specialist reaching double digits in triples for 4 consecutive years. He has been above average in OBP and OPS and the only question is how much playing at Coors Field has effected his overall numbers as his road numbers were way behind his home stats.
Who plays where will get worked out in spring training I guess – but there is no doubt that each of these guys should be an upgrade over the 2013 abomination, unless….. Fowler really cannot hit outside Colorado and Springer really can’t hit outside the minors.
As far as the third OF spot goes – the candidates invited to ST include Hoes, Grossman, Krauss, Martinez, Delino Deshields Jr., Leo Heras, Preston Tucker and Domingo Santana. I do not include Carter, who I don’t think is a candidate for the 3rd starting spot. I really think this comes down to Hoes and Grossman at this time and I’m leaning slightly toward Hoes. Both Grossman and Hoes cashed in at slightly over .700 OPS in their partial seasons with the big team last season and either one could step up and claim this with a solid spring. Hoes has shown more speed and Grossman a little more pop – so it could easily go either way.
Most Likely Backup(s)
It is highly likely that the Astros will have only one full time backup OF. Chris Carter will probably make an occasional appearance in LF, if only to remind everyone that Carlos Lee is not the worst outfielder in the world – but it is likely that the backup spot comes down to whoever loses the starter’s battle between Grossman and Hoes.
Marc Krauss, who had strong numbers at AAA, but wimpy ones in a short mlb appearance might be able to strangle this spot away, but I’m not counting on it – because this person needs to be more flexible defensively than he is.
(The assumption here is that Springer will be a featured player not a future attraction).
While not overflowing with prospects, the Astros’ system is in much better shape with outfielders than anytime in the last decade and by 2015 the cream of OF prospects should be populating the top half of the minors.
Domingo Santana, who was the player to be named later in the Hunter Pence trade seems to be the next OF up from the minors. Santana followed up a great season at Lancaster with a very good season at AA in 2013 (highlighted by 25 HR and .842 OPS). Yes, he strikes out too much – but he was only 20 years old playing at Corpus – that has to taken into account.
Preston Tucker was great for 1/2 season at Lancaster and good for 1/2 at Corpus (sound familiar?) with a combined 97 R, 25 HR and 103 RBIs. If I remember right we’ve been told that he is not built like an OF and shows no speed – so he may end up being a trade chip or a DH.
Delino Deshields Jr. (who I show as an OF because we hear he is moving there from 2B) was #6 on the Baseball America’s ranking of Astro prospects entering 2013. He then had a season where he scored 100 runs, stole 51 bases had an OBP over .400 and an OPS of .873. And this led to him falling off the list. What happened? The whispers are he is a head case and an attitude problem. Too bad because he appears to be a talented one.
Andrew Aplin is either a really good hitter after scoring 102 runs and knocking in 107 in only 128 games or a product of the Lancaster “Lift” in stats. This season should help us figure that out.
So, what do you think? Who do you like?