2014 Astros Outfield: The Only Way to Go is Up


Our look at the 2014 Astros continues today with Dan’s take on the outfield.

Past outlooks: First Base •  Second Base  •  Shortstop  •  Third Base.

• •• ••• •• •

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.”

Looking Back

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 LylesFowler 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.

Future Attractions

(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 Santanawho 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.

Brandon Meredith, Danry Vasquez and Teoscar Hernandez are other outfielders from the lower minors who may (or may not) make some noise in the next couple years.

So, what do you think? Who do you like?

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23 comments on “2014 Astros Outfield: The Only Way to Go is Up

  1. I like Steve Finley, Luis Gonzalez, and Eric Anthony.

    I think it’s all a numbers game on the roster at this point. I expect Fowler and Springer to make the opening day roster as starters. Grossman or Hoes will take the third spot..depending on which player has a better spring. I think the other will be the 4th outfielder. That leaves Krauss and JDM in a battle for the fifth spot. The problem with this logic, is that 11 pitchers, 2 catchers, 3 1B, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 SS, and 5 outfielders puts you at 24 players. I’m assuming the 25th spot goes to a middle infielder. With Carter being one of those 1B options and having some OF experience under his belt, would they consider 4 OF (plus Carter) to keep an extra pitcher or infielder?

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    • Devin – that is why I said I think they will not have a 5th OF on the roster.
      I think they will have a 12th pitcher and they have to have another middle infielder.
      Another option is to keep Guzman, Carter and get rid of Wallace. They could then use Krauss as a left handed hitting swing man between the OF and 1B.

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    • And I like the reference to the outfield of Finley, Gonzo and Anthony – during the Astros last major rebuild (which happened a heck of a lot faster than this time).

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  2. Dan, what a difference in this lineup if Springer is a featured player out of spring training rather than future attraction. Go figure an opening day lineup that includes Fowler, Springer, Castro, Altuve and maybe an as-yet-unacquired bat. It could get interesting and perhaps more attractive quickly.

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    • And Chip – Villar, Hoes and Grossman totalled one major league plate appearance between them coming into 2013 and Dominguez had about 150 ABs previously. Somebody is bound to be better after a little experience.

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  3. Well I think we all love Springer, but i will be amazed if he is in the opening day outfield, I don’t really understand all that super 1 or super 2 stuff or care to., but its all about $$$ and team control. I see him coming up later in the year, I hope I’m wrong. It seems as though Grossman and Hoes will be 4 and 5 this year, sort of a stop gap for better prospects. Thinking Domingo, Alpin, Tucker, Deshields all need to improve on aspects of their game , down on the farm another year.

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    • Kevin – I know that I am trying to apply logic where logic does not apply when it comes to $$$ – but Springer is older than Hoes, Grossman, Dominguez, Altuve and Lyles – all guys who played last season for the Astros and in fact three of them played fairly significantly before last season. The guy is 24 – bring him up – NOW!!!

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    • Kevin, it may give us a little insight into the philosophy of Luhnow and the Astros, especially if Springer burns up spring training. Hopefully, they won’t hold the guy back exclusively for the “team control” thing. Now, if they want to keep him in OKC for a month or two to work on cutting down his Ks or something specific, that’s cool.

      But — and a little selfish here — would love to give him a full year in the majors to compete for rookie of the year.

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      • Reading my mind on the ROY comment, Chip. If you bring him up at the end of June you will likely prevent him from winning that – if, he is as special as he seems to be.

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  4. There are a lot of choices, but look at this comparison:
    2013 Carter LF Maxwell CF Ankiel RF
    2014 Grossman LF Fowler CF Springer RF
    I like the arms, the legs, the OBP, the gloves, the BA and the youth in my outfield in 2014. Head and Shoulders over last year’s starting outfield.

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  5. 1oldpro –
    And basically way ahead of any combination of the 12 from last season that you can come up with – both offensively and defensively.

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  6. Seems that unless we pick someone else up, Grossman is the guy in left. As a switch hitter, he provides a bit more versatility than Hoes. His .329/.347/.438/.785 line against lefties is solid. And although he did not do much against right handed pitching, he still managed a .332 OBP overall, again, in a limited amount of at bats in 2013.

    Unfortunately, Springer is going to have to have a heck of a spring, have every fan clamoring for his promotion and get some national press in order to force his way into the lineup. And that’s unfortunate, because he should be in right from the start. Hoes is the most realistic right field option if Springer is forced back to OKC. That would be too bad.

    All that said, I think Springer goes out and hits 4 bills this spring and forces the issue. Then we end up with Grossman-Fowler-Springer with Hoes or Krauss as the fourth.

    As old pro has already noted, that would make for a heck of an improved outfield over April of 2013.

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    • daveb – I am dying here ….is this management group this tone deaf to the fans that they won’t throw us the bone of George Springer coming out of ST? (Bo – you don’t have to answer – we know they may well be that tone deaf).
      If…. Springer is in right….then…. maybe they could platoon Grossman and Hoes in left. It is based on a small sample – but Hoes as a righty hit right handed pitching better (.344 OBP / .710 OPS) than Grossman as a switch hitter batting lefty (.327 OBP / .669 OPS).

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    • Call me the anti-bopert, but I don’t think management will keep Springer at OKC to start the season unless he 1) misses time with an injury or 2) has a poor spring. Keep in mind guys like Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee used to put up triple crown worthy spring numbers…so it would be a surprise to see Springer flounder early on.

      We keep citing $$$ and arbitration as the reasons to keep him down, but I think Luhnow knows he is at the point of the rebuilding process where marketing the club and improving in the standings are critical. Starting Springer in OKC would send a big message to Appel, Correa, Carlos Rodon, and all our other prospects. It also would resonate with agents and the free agents on the market for 2015. They opened their purses for Fowler and Feldman. Between the jerseys sold that say Springer on the back and increased fans in the seats from wins they’ll offset some of the cost of arbitration when we get there.

      To put it another way…our payroll is very low and having to pony up money for Springer is a good thing because it means he has performed well.

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      • Every time I guess what they are going to do as a management team – I end up wrong – but I think if you are trying to sign young guys who might have to choose between the minors and say, a college scholarship and they see that if they sign with you and play very well and get promoted and kick butt at AAA – that the result is they don’t get a job at the mlb level…..well they might choose the scholarship instead…..
        And I realize that was a William Faulkner lengthed sentence that morphed into a paragraph….

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  7. Luhnow has said in several occasions (and just last week again) that the best 25 players make the team. I hope, when it comes to Springer, he means it.

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  8. springer most likely wont be up till after april 10 (arbitration clock date) and maybe not till late june (super 2 clock). i could live with april 10, late june would be hard to take.

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  9. Yeah, April 10th would be like the date your 5th starter finally gets a start – not hard to wait for that. Waiting until late June would probably terribly discourage the young man….

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  10. Springer in right, Fowler in center, and Grossman/Hoes in left.
    If this front office screws this kid because of money……..the season
    ticket holders will have to hurt someone.
    p.s. Berkman retired today, and if they held a vote……Berkman back with the Astros as a coach, would be a no brainer. I’d rather have Lance
    over Nolan Ryan……….ANYDAY.

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    • Becky –
      I wouldn’t mind having both those guys back associated with the team.
      I’m afraid that after all the money Lance made he is not likely to do a bunch more traveling away from his family for coach’s pay. Maybe he might help out during ST.
      Nolan could help out as a consultant I think – I sure would like to see him help out the young pitchers in the system.

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