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Astros’ Infielders: 2014 Non-Roster Invitees


By Brian Todd

If there’s a place for a non-roster invitee to make the 25-man roster, you know, other than in right field, it’s in the infield. The “likely” backup at second, third and shortstop—Marwin Gonzalez—has a career OPS under .600. Brett Wallace, who is now a non-roster invitee, was recently considered an odds-on favorite to take half the first base job.

Honestly, the backup jobs for the Astros infield are pretty much up for grabs. Jesus Guzman, Jose Altuve, Jonathan Villar and Matt Dominguez have the starting spots wrapped up. Chris Carter is set at DH. The rest of the 40-man roster in the infield is Jonathan Singleton (likely headed to Oklahoma City) and Gonzalez.

Last year, the Astros only brought three NRIs to camp: Delino DeShields Jr., Brandon Laird and Jose Martinez. The first and last players on the list never made it to the big club. Laird, meanwhile, totaled 71 ABs in a pair of stints in Houston putting up a batting line of .169/.224/.423.

Well, Laird is gone, DDJ is an outfielder now not even invited to big league camp, and Martinez is a member of the Oakland A’s. Instead, we get the tardy Japhet Amador, not-ready-for-prime-time Carlos Correa and his aged mentor Cesar Izturis. Up-and-coming third baseman Jonathan Meyer looks to be headed to AAA. Utility guy Gregorio Petit has been unimpressive in 54 MLB at-bats and 3,696 MiLB at-bats. And Ronald Torreyes looks like the best option should Marwin falter.

Somehow out of all this, we need two players who can back up—at the least—shortstop, third base and second base. I’m pretty sure we can have Carter as the reserve first baseman or maybe Corporan. But after Izturis and Gonzalez, only Torreyes and Petit can play shortstop, so (assuming Correa doesn’t make it to Houston this year) one of those four MUST be a reserve infielder. In other words, you couldn’t pick Amador and Wallace. Neither can play shortstop, or second base for that matter.

So, here are some questions to consider:

  • With Guzman and Carter on the 25-man roster – not to mention Corporan – do we need another reserve first baseman?
  • Are you more interested in a good glove backing up the left side of the infield or a good bat? (“Good bat” being a relative term here.)
  • Marwin or Villar goes down. Do you bring up Izturis or Petit or Torreyes?
  • Did Luhnow screw up not finding better reserve infielders?
  • Wallace can play both first and third base – neither especially well. Does that make him more valuable than Amador?
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About BrianT

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

33 comments on “Astros’ Infielders: 2014 Non-Roster Invitees

  1. BrianT
    March 3, 2014

    I stand corrected … I think … on DDJ. He is obviously in Big League Camp. He just wasn’t on the NRI list for some reason.

    Like

  2. 1oldpro
    March 3, 2014

    Petit had a good year last year in Tucson, but he is 29, and I forget that Marwin is still only 23! So as a backup I still like Marwin. I like Meyer at AAA and Torreyes at 2b in AAA and Fontana at AA 2B. If they’re not going to start Springlertons’ clocks in Houston, then I like Krauss’s LH bat as a backup at 1B/DH/COF. I like Wallace’s bat in Korea, and Amador’s bat in OKC.
    I’m sorry, but I still consider 2014 as a rebuilding year if we are going to send some of our best players to AAA to start the year there. Marwin as the backup utility guy is fine in a rebuilding year. Even at age 19, Correa is the best infielder in our organization and until he plays in Houston, we are just rebuilding!.

    Like

    • daveb
      March 3, 2014

      Hey oldpro, while everyone keeps talking about what to do with Fontana, what should we do with Sclafani? He had significantly better stats than Nolan last year.

      Like

      • 1oldpro
        March 3, 2014

        I like Sclafani. He had a good year last year but I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was better than Fontana’s. Sclafani is right there with Kemp and Fontana, and Torreyes. All of them have talent, one of them hopefully rises above the rest and starts to push Altuve to become a better baserunner and a better OBP starter.

        Like

    • BrianT
      March 3, 2014

      Korea! Ha ha!

      Like

  3. daveb
    March 3, 2014

    There should be a lefty bat for first base, although our skipper says he does not like to use a platoon. Another reason why Bo is not my favorite manager. When do we get a chance to talk about him? It’s pretty clear that even Wallace, as much as I hate to say it, would have better luck against righty pitching than Guzman, based on career splits for both guys.

    As far as a utility infielder goes, the present options show just how far we still need to go. Unless Luhnow makes some kind of deal, our back up options at third, short and second simply stink. Really stink.

    I’m going to keep hoping that Stassi makes it impossible to send him back down. That will at least create some interesting decisions to be made at first.

    Like

  4. Steven
    March 3, 2014

    Dave – I’ll try and read into maybe what Porter is saying.

    First base is a position of defensive inflexibility. The guys that play there are typically seen as guys not capable of playing passing defense at other positions. This is true of all 3 candidates we have for the position – Guzman, Wallace and Carter. The expectation is that the one that wins the job shouldn’t have to platoon it; your defensive flexibility becomes nonexistent with all 3 on the roster.

    Personally, just looking at career stats, I would have NRI’d both Guzman and Wallace. Neither one are any good, and I think that is your point – at least use what little strengths you can pull from either one, if its that they can be passable offensive forces against the opposite handed pitcher, then use it and try to win a game or two with it. The problem is that will leave us only 3 more spots on the roster for an infielder capable of backing up all 3 others, 1 outfielder, and the back up catcher.

    The Astros are better off NOT platooning first base, and carrying either 2 additional utility infielders, or 2 additional outfielders, giving better matchups there. I would be more prone to platooning LF this year between hopefully a surprising JD and Krauss – not that I think JD will surprise but I am hopeful.

    I caveat that with saying I in general agree with what Porter is saying, platooning is overrated. I guess its the degree in which its used or to what you define as platooning though – if Wallace wins the job outright, and the Astros occasionally spell him against tough lefties by putting Carter at 1B and playing a backup right handed swinging OF at DH, is that “platooning?” I am always for creating the best match ups you can, but I also think there is something to the mental aspect of confidence a player has when his role is defined and specific.

    Like

    • daveb
      March 3, 2014

      Lot’s to cover Steven. Based on Luhnow going out and signing Guzman, it’s pretty clear that he’s got a job for now. See Pena. But yes, my point is that if Krauss or Wallace replaced him against right handed pitching, we’d get more offense out of the position. And in a pinch, both Wallace and Guzman could back up at third, however badly they might butcher the job. And if Krauss gets a spot on the roster as a back up, he technically (although he’s a bad outfielder) can be put in both left and right. And he’s played some first too. So there is a certain amount of flexibility at the first base position, even if keeping two of the three guys mentioned above. And then of course, we’ve got Carter. Another bad guy to have on the field, but he can go to first or left if absolutely needed. If nothing else, we should be thanking Brian for this exercise. It shows us just how bad we are defensively with these four guys. And I won’t even mention Villar. Really, if any of the four have a real future in MLB, it’s as a DH. And not to sound like a broken record, but with Stassi and Corporan behind the plate, I’m pretty confident that Castro, with a new glove, would play the position well enough not to make us miss Guzman, Wallace, Carter or Krauss over there.

      Like

  5. Steven
    March 3, 2014

    And Dave – in Stevens perfect world, I would jump head first in rebuilding, like the Braves did in 1989-1990. Stick the kids out there and tell them we are with you long term.

    If Correa shows he isn’t physically intimidated by a major league fastball in ST, why not? Robin Yount debuted as a 19 year old SS. I think he turned out OK.

    I am with you on Stassi. Look at the offensive force Carlos Santana is for the Indians. He catches once or twice a week. The rest of time, get the batting gloves on son. I can see similar results from Castro. Assign him one pitcher to catch, and DH him the rest of the time. Put Carter at first, drop Wallace and Guzman both. Free up defensive flexibility by keeping Gonzalez and another infielder that is a little better stick than Gonzalez (Elmore maybe?). That way you give the manager the flexibility to use Gonzalez for his strengths – and not save him for a game. Say what you will about his lack of power and range – he is a tough out every at bat, and is steady defensively if unspectacular. I would rather have Marwin at the plate with runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out and down by a run than Carter or some other guy that has a decent chance of not even putting it in play.

    The roster that carries 3 first baseman and a back up catcher that you can’t use in those situations limits when Porter can use a guy in a critical spot. It will force him to use Marwin in spots that don’t fit him – starting and batting 4 times a game more routinely, where his lack of power and OBP will hurt you.

    It’s a team full of holes and weaknesses, and still a bad one.

    Like

    • 1oldpro
      March 3, 2014

      Steven you are way off here. Elmore was released months ago and was picked up by a team, released and picked up by another two days ago. If you commit Castro to DH you destroy his worth to us and to other teams. If you commit Carter to 1B you are committing a defensively challeged player to 1B and literally destoying Singleton’s reputation as your future 1B
      Castro’s current value centers on his current All-Star Catcher status. Carter’s value is as a DH, where you get his bat and avoid his glove. Singleton’s value is as the top 1B prospect in baseball and you don’t want to diminish that or block him with Carter.
      Guzman and Krauss give you flexibility from both sides of the plate and at 1B/COF positions in the field. Carrying Marwin and Corporan gives you two switch hitters, and fills the four positions that need backups, 3B, SS, 2B, C that need filling.
      Why are you pushing for Stassi behind the plate? He has never played a game at AAA and has been beaned by a baseball and had a concussion and the team needs to see him progress normally right now to make sure he has no afteraffects from that. A half a year at AA does not give a team enough info to put him behind the plate on a team that is probably not going to win 70 games this year..

      Like

      • daveb
        March 3, 2014

        Stassi is already a better backstop than Castro. And he’s young. Didn’t we all have concussions as kid’s and get over them as soon as we were let back out of the house?

        Like

    • BrianT
      March 3, 2014

      Steven,

      I’ve made the Yount comparison many times, and everyone looks at me like I’m crazy.

      But how many times have you heard someone–heck, someone said it in a comment above–that Correa is the best middle infielder we have … then they say he’ll do great in Lancaster or Corpus.

      If he plays well in Florida, bring him up. Give Springer some competition for Rookie of the Year.

      I just think Correa isn’t your average 19-year-old kid. And I’m willing to let him prove it.

      Like

    • daveb
      March 3, 2014

      Agreed, I only see two guys at first: Guzman and Wallace or Guzman and Krauss, unless our man Stassi demands a job and changes the course of civilization.

      Unless Luhnow makes a move between now and April Fools Day, I see see Marwin and Itzuris (veteran leadership) as our infield bench. Marwin because he can play three positions. I simply see nothing out of him offensively though. I disagree with you here. His 2013 line of .221/.266/.319/.571, is only a bit worse than his 2012 stats. You mentioned him being a tough out. Lifetime, with guys in scoring position, he’s hit .152. For a guy that will be 25 next week, that’s not enough. He’s only had a pretty good MLB look because he’s been working for the worst team in MLB.

      But again, I agree. Let’s push the process along. I want to see the young guys running around out there. I really hope Correa goes to Corpus. And if he’s making it look easy down there and Villar is having his troubles up here, then bring Correa in this summer to join up with Stassi and Springer and a mostly home grown rotation. I worry though, that Luhnow is trying to squeeze one more first pick out of the system.

      Like

  6. Dan P
    March 3, 2014

    This situation makes my head hurt. The base problem is that if you have good players you don’t have to play the “platoon these two guys and you might end up with decent stats”.
    – The thought with Guzman is that you get him away from Petco Field and his stats will be a lot better (but that does not mean he will be good against rightys).
    – Marwin is younger than some of the other choices and so wins the what the heck vote here.
    – I am assuming that if Izturis/Petit don’t make the team – they do not have to report to our minor league teams if another team is interested – plus do we really need these guys stealing ABs at the top of the minors?
    – I think they go with Guzman at 1B and that Carter is his main backup.
    – I think Marwin G (for better or worse) backs up the other positions.
    – I think Amador goes to AAA.
    – I wish Correa could be the starting SS and use Villar as the utility guy behind him and others.
    So to answer your questions Brian T
    – No we don’t need another 1B
    – On the left side of the infield – I don’t think we will have either good bat or good field on the bench so I don’t care period.
    – If somebody goes down – why not bring up the younger guy Torreyes?
    – I think Luhnow screwed up by not picking up a starting infielder – haha, not a backup.
    – I think Wallace has value as a known commodity and abilty to hit against rightys – Amador showed nothing when he was brought to AAA last season – I think he needs to show something – but he has value in that he has all his options and unknown potential.

    Like

  7. daveb
    March 3, 2014

    oldpro, which stats below would you prefer?

    .259/.415/.399/.814 499 PA’s, 60 RBI’s Steals: 16/5
    .302/.396/.474/.870 406 PA’s, 53 RBI’s Steals: 16/3

    I’d take the guy with more punch and a few less walks. Fontana gets far more press, I suppose because he was a much higher pick. And maybe, quietly, that irks Sclafani a bit. I hope so.

    Like

    • 1oldpro
      March 3, 2014

      Fontana’s because of Sclafani’s scary .929 fielding % at SS for Lancaster These guys were at high A and have a ways to go, but every rating having Fontana in our top 20 prospects shows me more, AT THIS TIME. Sometimes it’s ok to agree with the guys who see these players play a lot. And in projecting backup MLB infielders or 2nd basemen, defense is a must, because if they were good on offense and defense they would be projected as MLB starters.

      Like

      • daveb
        March 3, 2014

        Fair points oldpro, but that .929 came in a small 23 game sample. And neither Fontana or Sclafani are going make it to the big club by playing short. In that regard, Sclafani might have a bit of an advantage. He’s already spent time at all three infield positions. Maybe down the road we’ll see Correa at third, but he’s our shortstop of the immediate future.

        Like

  8. Steven
    March 3, 2014

    Well Pro, I am not trying to make this an exercise in calling out each other – we have differing opinions on the direction the roster should go. When I say Elmore, I mean an Elmore like player that will hit better than Marwin. My point is Marwin has his strengths, but he doesn’t play everyday because of his weaknesses. If you carry both of those first baseman, with Carter, you use Marwin way too much, if not, you can use Marwin at his best.
    You have also missed my point about using the catcher position – I don’t advocate having Corporan on the roster opening day. I advocate (assuming Stassi shows in ST that he is healthy) that you will get the most out of Castro if he is catching SOME but DH’ing mostly, and that foregoes taking another first baseman in that Carter plays there. Say what you will about Carter’s defense, but those same comments hold true for the rest.

    Your detailed Stassi injury update is similar to many injury issues. I think we all share our opinions here with the assumption that the players we talk about are going to be healthy. If I didn’t preface my wish in playing time with “If player A is healthy” I think you can assume that I mean it. Hundreds of major leaguers have played professional baseball without playing an inning at AAA, some on this roster. The quality of baseball between AA and AAA is almost non existent.

    I will say this on Singleton – I watched the guy play a few times when they came to New Orleans – I live 10 minutes from AAA stadium there – I think the world of the guy. Very patient at the plate. He walks with confidence. He stood in the batters box and took his practice swings with confidence. If he is ready now, sign him up and play him. The guy I saw in person last year has all the tools up stairs, but for some reason he wasn’t getting sound wood on the bat. His AAA stint was roughly half a season, not enough to be too judgemental or condemning on his future, but enough to make me think, maybe it’s not THIS year, and I think we would agree that whomever mans first base this year is probably not in the mind of Luhnow the guy that will be there in the future, probably not even NEXT year.

    Like

    • 1oldpro
      March 3, 2014

      I have not missed the point at catcher. Castro is going to be the starting catcher and bat third. If he duplicates his 2013 year he is going to be valuable and expensive by 2015 and Stassi will have all of this year at AAA to prove he is the catcher of the future. If they both succeed who is the catcher of the future and who brings a ton in trade without us having to pay him McCann type money in his 30’s? If I want Stassi to catch Folty, Appel, Wojo, Nitro, Cruz, Rodon I want him getting his AAA year catching them and playing every day with them, and yes, maybe winning a PCL championship with them this year and have him ready to catch them in the majors in 2015.
      You are ignoring the fact that the Astros are saying Carter is their guy at DH. Forget about him at 1B. Singleton is the current 1B of the future and Guzman and Krauss get the spot for now, and they provide backups in the outfield without tying up any spots you could give to Hoes, JD Mart or even Springer.

      Like

  9. Steven
    March 3, 2014

    Dave – when I say Marwin can be a tough out, I mean that he doesn’t strike out a lot. I haven’t looked, but I am guessing a lot of that .152 is small sample size. Before I pick my back ups I like to think of them in the sense of what I would expect from there if they played everyday – a line of .260 avg, 3-5 homers and a .310 OBP wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect – but that would be unreasonable to play everyday.

    But if I am a manager that is watching Corporan go up to bat with runners on 2nd and 3rd, with one out, in the 7th inning, and I am down by a run, and I look down my bench, Marwin is a consideration. He won’t strike out. He doesn’t have to lace a double to tie the game, put it in play, a lot of things can happen. Nothing happens when Corporan K’s except a lot of new pressure on the next guy up. It’s the 9th inning, the closer walks out to preserve a one run lead, I would rather have Marwin manning SS than Villar, at least at this stage. I want Villar out there most of the time, taking advantage of that range, using that arm, but when I need that steady but unspectacular out, I trust Marwin. You just have to use him properly, and he will be successful. To me, this was LaRussa’s magic. Non descript bullpen guys put up amazing numbers, back ups putting up numbers that people didnt see coming, because he always knew the best spots for guys to be successful in.

    So that I am clear – I would start Stassi (C), Carter (1B), Altuve, Villar, Dominguez, Krauss, Fowler and wonderkid. Put Castro at DH and let him catch 1-2 a week so you don’t have to carry another catcher. I have Perez at AAA on the ready. I either move or release Corporan. I carry Marwin, and the whoever wins their job in ST out of Izturus, Amador, Torreyes, and whatever else. I would hope that is a better offensive option than Marwin in the SLG/OBP department so they would get the majority of starts and let me use him for what he is best at. This will let me carry 2 back up OF’ers in Krauss and Hoes, improving my bench.

    When you have a roster full of weaknesses, you need a deep bench capable of occasionally providing you opposite effect, and then grade the manager on his ability to manage games.

    Like

    • daveb
      March 3, 2014

      Steven, I read you. It’s a long, empty bench we’ve got, when your options might well be Corporan and Marwin. I agree with your line up, except in one small detail. Castro becomes my first baseman against righty pitching this year, allowing Guzman to be a back up, and Carter remains the DH unless in a dire emergency. All this is predicated on Stassi having a great spring of course. And for those (I hear you oldpro)worrying about Castro losing value, he’s worth nothing on the DL with another knee injury. If he demonstrates any ability around the bag, then I think he holds value simply by showing more versatility. Getting a good bat out from behind the plate is not a new concept, although some here continue to poo-poo it. What if we end up with a guy that can play first, catch, stay healthy for 150 games and approach a .900 OPS? That’s valuable trade bait if Singleton becomes the guy everyone is expecting him to be. And if not, then we’ve got a first baseman regardless.

      Like

  10. Steven
    March 3, 2014

    Well Pro – then we will just have to agree to disagree. If Stassi comes to camp, shows he is both healthy and ready, he should get the nod.

    I am not making this a practice in what I think the Astros will do – I will agree with your opinion on what I think they will do – I am saying if I was Luhnow this is what I would do. I agree that the Astros appear to be leaning towrds catching Castro, DHing Carter, and playing Guzman at 1B. I merely point out that when you do that your bench will be Marwin, Corporon , Hoes, and another IF’er of equal badness.

    It gives Porter very little flexibility. I wouldn’t blame him for losing 100 games again with it. A bench of Marwin, Izturus, Krauss and Hoes can be more dynamic IMO, with more options.

    Like

  11. devin_
    March 3, 2014

    1. No – we have enough 1B. Wallace if you must have a lefty off the bench.
    2. Glove. It’s really not a fair question since we know there isn’t a bat amongst our backup infield options.
    3. Yes. Whichever didn’t make the roster and is still in our system.
    4. No. I don’t think he had better options for reserves.
    5. Yes. Amador has not proven he can hit AAA pitching yet. Until that point…

    Carter isn’t winning any gold gloves, but neither are Adam Dunn, Mike Napoli, and a slew of other “first baseman” who are better suited as DH. The main benefit to him is that he has been fairly consistent against RHP and LHP. I’m not expecting him to become Joey Votto, but I’m also not expecting him to remain a Rob Deer clone. I think he improves on last year.

    I don’t believe the Astros share everyone’s optimism on Castro’s offensive potential. He had one great month last year and a lot of mediocre to go with it. If he can even it out they’ll offer him an extension.

    Fontana and Kemp look to me like 25th men on a roster if they are lucky. I’ve never seen Sclafani play.

    Like

  12. Astro45
    March 3, 2014

    BT, you outdid yourself, unless Chip wrote this and blamed you with the byline. Very interesting set of facts. We can live with Altuve, Dominguez & Castro. Past that we have a power guy with no glove, we have a glove guy with no power, we have a slow guy that might get on base but takes two doubles to score, we have a contact guy, but the outfield will be playing linebacker behind the infield because of no power, therefore we have many one dimensional players in a league that requires 3-4-5 tool guys. These guys are back ups that you can’t hide in the field and/or you can not hide as a hitter. They need to stay on the bench or in the minors. Overall, this is a better team that last couple years, but we need some quick progress with the prospects. The only reason a few of these are on this team is because you need 9 to play.

    Like

    • devin_
      March 3, 2014

      We are hoping the sum is greater than the whole of its parts.

      Like

    • BrianT
      March 3, 2014

      You can’t blame this mess on Chip.

      Like

  13. daveb
    March 3, 2014

    Just read an AP story on Singleton. No way he’s starting the year here. He might be damaged goods. Definitely not a lock for franchise first baseman.

    Like

    • Billy Castillo
      March 3, 2014

      Shouldn’t be illegal in the first place, but not going to go into that discussion here.

      Like

    • devin_
      March 3, 2014

      I have mixed feelings on this. First, thanks for pointing it out as I’d likely have missed the article otherwise. As for Singleton, I’d rather hear him admit his struggles (as he does here) openly than try to downplay them. I don’t think it hurts to have him start at OKC, but hope Luhnow hasn’t closed the door on making the 25 completely. As for addressing the addiction, it’s disappointing the article states he does not have a support coach travelling along to keep him on the straight and narrow. I hope the Astros have offered to make this available / assist him with this. Finally, I can’t imagine that any drug could make you feel better than the feeling you get when you absolutely crush a pitch. We should play that up to him.

      Like

  14. Becky
    March 3, 2014

    I doubt Singelton will be “punished” for talking about this to the media.
    If Luhnow wanted to do that, Singelton would have never been invited
    to ST. While we are being honest………I should go ahead and tell you
    that I’m addicted to cherry coke. Now…….I feel better.

    Like

    • rj1953
      March 4, 2014

      thats actually worse for you………

      Like

  15. daveb
    March 4, 2014

    Who said anything about the guy being punished?

    Like

  16. devin_
    March 4, 2014

    It’s late notice, but if you get MLB Network the game will be on today (1:00 Eastern, 12:00 Central).

    Like

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