With pitchers and catchers set to report in about five weeks, Chip, Dan and Brian will take a look at each position to see who the Astros starters will be, what options the team has in case of injury or poor performance, and what pieces from Houston’s vaunted farm system might be able to step in and make an impact (or at least hold down the fort in case of emergency).
Today, Brian T takes a look at the Astros’ options at second base.
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Second base: What to do, what to do.
Since Kaz Matsui is not on the 40-man roster, I think we should give that Altuve kid one more try.
I kid, of course. Jose Altuve in 2014 was about the best version of himself I think anyone could have imagined. All at the ripe old age of 24. Frankly, as awesome as he was, it is possible Altuve might get better.
Might not, too. There’s always a chance Altuve will have a bit of regression. After all, what goes up must come down. Unless that thing is in a stable orbit. So, what should we expect from Altuve?
Well, I’m guessing if there is regression we’ll see something closer to Silver Slugger-winning, All-Star, batting champion Jose Altuve. And I’m fairly confident on that because while Altuve has always had the skills—the potential—to do what he did last year, it was his approach at the plate and his preparation, something that has been written about extensively in the Chron (spit!) and other places, that changed thanks to his diet, exercise and coaching.
And that version of Altuve shows up in more than just batting average and a massive number of base hits. Take for example his stole base rate. Altuve was caught stealing just 13 percent of the time in 2014. Previously, Altuve was caught 25 percent of the time. It’s not like he got faster. That’s study and coaching pure and simple. It’s also Altuve showing a willingness to listen and learn. Tony Gwynn once said the ability to hit was much more mental than physical. I think that’s where Altuve is.
Another good example is his strikeout rate. In 2014, Altuve struck out only 7.5 percent of the time. In this day and age, that’s just amazing. And while his previous K rate—a career number just over 13 percent—was not horrible, it’s his dedication to contact that shows study and coaching.
I’m not saying we should clear out a trophy case for all the batting titles, but to think he’s going to hit .300-plus and approach 200 hits each season is pretty reasonable.
On the off chance Altuve gets injured or decides to leave baseball for a life as a dolphin trainer, the Astros’ depth chart shows Marwin Gonzalez as the Astros second baseman. While MarGo is an able fill-in on those few occasions when Altuve is out, he will probably be too busy at third base or short stop to play much on the right side of the infield.
The other option that’s already on the 40-man roster would be Ronald Torreyes who has a .302 career MiLB average and a .785 OPS while only striking out 6.5 percent of the time. Torreyes might not have any power, but neither does Altuve. So in a pinch I’d take him. Oh, and Torreyes hit .298 in AAA last season, striking out just 25 times in 460 ABs.
Other long-term solution at second include one of three options from AAA or AA.
Gregorio Petit: A career .271 hitter in the minors, Petit spent a couple of months in Houston last season hitting .278 with a .723 OPS. He strikes out a bit much, but if the unthinkable happens–unthinkable unless you’re a dolphin–Petit has MLB experience.
Joe Sclafani: In 2014, Sclafani combined for a .315 BA in AA and AAA. He also posted a .789 combined OPS and whiffed 40 times in 336 ABs. While a little over 10 percent, those aren’t bad numbers.
Tony Kemp: The last option will likely start the year in Corpus Christi where his .416 OPS from 2014 looks very enticing. Kemp might not hit .325 in Houston like he did in Lancaster last season, but his walk rate is almost 15 percent. I’m not buying Kemp’s Hanger-aided 2014 SLG of .510, but the little second baseman profiles fairly close to Jose Altuve.
Questions to Ponder
1. Does Altuve regress some in 2015? If so, how far? Or is the best yet to come from Gigante?
2. Other than an occasional fill in, do you expect to see much of MarGo at second base this season?
3. If the Astros need to call up a minor leaguer for second base, which one–Sclafani, Kemp, Torreyes or Petit–gets your call to the bullpen? And why?