Let’s see, the Astros have 25 roster spots. Five pitchers in the rotation, seven in the bullpen, and eight positions on the field … let’s see, twelve plus eight, carry the one, add that pesky DH … and now we’re at twenty-one.
Yep, there’s little room left for the bench. Four spots for all our backups. In that narrow space, we need to have players that can play every spot on the field, provide a needed bat—both left and right—and a boost of speed on the base paths. That’s a lot to ask of four good players. It seems a Herculean task to expect from the Astros. Ah, well.
Until the injuries piled up in August and September, the backup catching duties were ably performed by Carlos Corporan. A very good defender, Corporan’s trusty bat faltered a bit 2013. A career .695 OPS hitter, he put up a .225/.287/.361 batting line last season. A reduced batting average (along with a correspondingly lower BABIP) seems to be the main culprit.
This, certainly, is the most important reserve position on the roster. The backup catcher starts about a fifth of the games. Barring a trade or injury, Corporan should be the one taking up that spot on the bench. The other option is Max Stassi. Now, I would be more than happy to give him a shot. But I’m certain Corporan is out of options, so that might tip Luhnow’s hand. That, and the fact that Stassi has less than 100 games above A-ball, and he seems, thus far, incapable of completing a full season. Still, he put up a .277/.333/.529 batting line in Corpus Christi last year, hitting 17 HRs, with 68 Ks and 19 BBs in 289 ABs. The future looks bright, but I expect it’ll start the season in Oklahoma City.
I originally wrote this BEFORE Brett Wallace was DFA’d. Now, it’s possible Wallace goes to OKC or somehow manages to hit his way back onto the big club. But without Wallace and the platoon we all expected, there’s extra flexibility on the bench and, well, a problem too since Wally was likely to be our reserve third baseman. Ah well, here’s what I wrote before … edited a bit to accommodate current events.
Too many names pop up to effectively name our backup infield from 2013. Suffice it to say, things weren’t good. In addition to the Opening Day starters—Matt Dominguez, Ronny Cedeño, Jose Altuve and Brett Wallace, plus Carlos Peña at DH—the Astros fielded five third basemen (Wallace, Brandon Laird, Marwin Gonzalez, Jimmy Paredes and Jake Elmore), three shortstops (Jonathan Villar, Cedeño and Gonzalez), three second basemen (Elmore, Gonzalez and Paredes), and five first basemen (Chris Carter, Carlos Peña, Laird, Corporan and Marc Krauss).
That’s 10 players to fill essentially two bench spots. Yes, there was some overlap with catcher and DH. Yes, Krauss is really an outfielder. Yes, Paredes was sort of a super sub (without actually being “super” at anything).
So, let’s say on Opening Day 2014 we have around the horn consists of Matt Dominguez, Jonathan Villar, Jose Altuve and Jesus Guzman. Chris Carter is our DH. What do we have as backups? Well, provided it’s Guzman and not Krauss at first base, then Krauss is probably our backup at first (not to mention some outfield spot). Carter could technically be the backup first baseman, but if he’s already DH-ing in a game, that’s not likely.
The other infield backup will need to cover shortstop and second base and third base, none of which Krauss can do. If Villar is our starter—and that seems fairly likely—then either Gonzalez (a .571 OPS in 2013, just below his meager career average) or Cesar Izturis (a .530 OPS last year) or Ronald Torreyes (a .697 OPS at two AA stops) or Gregorio Petit (.726 OPS at AAA Tucson last year) will fill the reserve role. Eventually Jonathan Meyer might be in the mix if he starts the season in OKC and puts up good numbers. Meyer had a .721 OPS in Corpus in 2013 at age 22. That’s not horrible. If he can do the same at AAA, maybe he’s a third base and first base backup. Then Marwin or whoever just plays second base or shortstop.
The other option is our starting infield plus DH is Dominguez, Villar, Altuve and Singleton with Carter at DH. If that’s the case, well, Guzman played some third base in 2013 and 2012. My guess is he’s horrible at it, but he could fill the spot in a pinch. That makes Guzman your first base and third base reserve. And Gonzalez or Izturis or Torreyes or someone else we pray never sees the light of day on Houston’s infield is our backup second baseman and shortstop.
That’s all the players who will be in Major League camp save one: Carlos Correa. He is not a bench player, though. But, perhaps, if he started the year in AA, he might be able to make the leap to Houston at some point in 2014 and force Villar into a reserve role.
There are two ways of looking at this: With George Springer and without. If Springer starts the season in Houston, then Krauss, L.J. Hoes and Robbie Grossman will fight it out for the third outfield spot and the one reserve spot. If Krauss somehow manages to take an outfield spot –either starter or reserve — then he can play first base and outfield from the bench.
Domingo Santana also has a spot on the 40-man roster, but I don’t see many scenarios where Santana starts the season in Houston. He’d have to be a starter–i.e. a rash of injuries to other outfielders in spring training sidelining Hoes and/or Grossman. It’s more likely Santana needs time in AAA and needs to play. He won’t be playing and getting experience on Houston’s bench.
Without Springer on the 25-man roster, that’s three spots that need to be filled. Chances are, Hoes and Grossman would take right and left field (Fowler has center field tied down), then Krauss gets the bench spot. Again, you could give that bench spot to Santana, but why would you … especially if Springer is languishing in AAA.
For comparative purposes, Hoes put up a .692 OPS in 171 MLB at-bats. In 365 AAA at-bats, his OPS was .808 with more walks than strikeouts. In 257 MLB at-bats, Grossman had a .707 OPS, with 70 Ks and 23 BB. His AAA OPS was just .760 in essentially the same number of ABs. He whiffed about the same but took twice the free passes. In a paltry 134 MLB at-bats, Krauss had a weak .633 OPS. But in 253 AAA at-bats, his OPS was .880. He walked more than he whiffed in AAA, but did not fare as well in Houston. Finally, Santana put up a .842 OPS in 416 AA at-bats. He struck out a lot (139 times) but had real power (25 homers) at just age 20 when the season began. A monster year at AAA in 2014 could move Santana up the ladder quickly.
The only guy not on the 40-man roster worth mentioning is J.D. Martinez. He’s been an outfield starter, and at 26 he’s still fairly young. His career .687 OPS in Houston screams bench player, but his .928 minor league OPS says there’s a chance he could break out. Look for him as the real dark horse for the fourth outfield spot. There are other minor league outfielders, but there’s enough on the 40-man roster not to worry about the Preston Tuckers and Leonardo Herases of the world.
If I were a betting man, I’d say our bench looks like this: Corporan behind the plate, Gonzales and Krauss in the infield, and either Grossman or Hoes (provided Springer is in Houston and depending on who is starting in left field) gets the outfield spot.
So, here are some questions to ponder:
- Is there a better option than Gonzalez for SS?
- Should the Astros cut the bullpen to six and get an extra infielder or outfielder?
- If you had to pick Krauss, Grossman or Hoes to pinch hit, which one do you pull off the bench?
- Would you be OK with Stassi sitting on the bench four days a week, or would you rather he get more experience in OKC at this point with an eye toward starting him (and trading or shifting Castro) in the near future?
And one final note: After Wallace was DFA’d, by going back over the bench, it seems that either Springer or Singleton needs to start the season in Houston. It just makes the bench that much better. And given Singleton’s spot has a plethora of guys who can man it (Carter, Krauss, Guzman), this should help put Springer in an Astros uniform on April 1.