Sixteen different players served in the role of designated hitter for the Astros in 2013. Don’t expect much different in 2014 as the Astros work through a revolving door that involves first base, some outfield positions as well as a day off here from position rigors from time to time.
While many contenders and other American League teams seek out a solid hitter to fill the DH spot like most teams seek out a #1 starter or star center fielder, the designated hitter is a secondary thought for Houston as the organization searches to find the right players to build around.
Only the Yankees — yes, those Yankees — performed worse than the Astros in the DH spot last season. Collectively, Astros’ DHs hit a .199/.276/.399 slash line with 16 HRs and 59 RBI, just ahead of the Yankees’ .184/.270/.297 and 14/58.
Carlos Pena was the default DH (37 starts) for the Astros before his release, though Carter (46), J.D. Martinez (9), Jose Altuve (7), Ronny Cedeno (7), Marc Krauss (12), Brandon Laird (5), Jason Castro (18) also saw time at the position.
MOST LIKELY STARTER
Carter is likely to enter the season as the default DH. Jeff Luhnow and Bo Porter will obviously hope he cuts down on his MLB-leading strikeout total (212). At 27, however, is it likely that Carter will reverse a trend that has increased at virtually every level of his career?
Still, 29 HRs and 82 RBI is nothing to scoff at.
That said, his season can go two different ways: He can cut down on the Ks or pitchers will continue to learn how to miss his bat, thereby cutting down on the HRs and RBI opportunities.
If Carter decreases Ks and increases average (perhaps a one-in-the-same process), it’s Carter’s job to lose. He shouldn’t be needed in the outfield this season (24 starts in ’13) and he probably won’t see the same time at 1B (54) either.
MOST LIKELY BACKUP(S)
Take your pick. You could say that anyone on the 40-man roster who is not a pitcher is a candidate. If it’s not Carter, expect a merry-go-round. Frankly, without an Ortiz-like DH, the “position” for the Astros is more of a result of what happens at other positions. Therefore, much may depend on spring training. For example, if Max Stassi tears it up and makes the squad, it could force Jason Castro into the DH spot with Carlos Corporan remaining at backup catcher.
The farm system is replete with possibilities. In fact, other than pitching, no other position in the organization may be deeper than DH. Think about it. In the past, a first base or third base prospect might be blocked. Now, if Jonathan Singleton pans out at 1B, it doesn’t mean a trade or change of position for an up and coming 1B prospect.
Just take a look at Dan’s outfield outlook last week and you’ll see plenty of names. Singleton, Domingo Santana or even J.D. Martinez are possibilities. But it’s more likely the DH for 2015 and beyond is not on the 2014 team or even in the organization.
Bottom line, DH may be one of the most volatile positions this spring. Carter holds the key and can lock the door with a solid spring and start to the season.