All Things Astros and a whole lot more
In past years when we’ve written these pre-spring training previews, there’s always been a lot of “could be this, but might be that” kind of stuff. But there’s one thing I’ll say about the 2015 Astros, they know who they are.
It’s not like there are six or seven positions up for grabs. I guess 3B is. Not sure who our fifth starter is, well, at least until Peacock is ready. There’s a little mess at catcher (more on that from Dan next week), and the bullpen has a couple of spots that’ll need to be sorted out.
In the grand scheme of Astros springs, that’s a pretty light load for the GM and manager to untangle.
Which brings me to first base.
We all know who will start at the first pillow on Opening Day. Barring injury, his name is Jon Singleton. He had a horrid yet slightly productive 2014, and we’re all hopeful his adjustment year is behind him. In 310 AB over 95 games, he slugged 13 homers. That’d be about 20 or 31 over a full season. His 44 RBIs would translate to about 75 over a full season as well. All that from a guy who hit .168 with a .620 OPS and 134 strikeouts, which is somewhere north of 210 over a full season.
Yep, we all hope to see a little progress.
And progress should be, looking at Singleton historically, expected. After all, when Singleton was promoted to AAA in 2013, he hit .220/.340/.347 with 6 HRs in 245 AB. He whiffed 89 times, which is 36.3% of the time. Oh, and he had a BAbip of .346.
In 2014, he hit .267/.397/.544 with 14 HRs in 195 ABs. He whiffed 52 times, which is 26.7% of the time. His BAbip in 2014 increased to .364.
Compare that to his promotion to Houston. With the big boys, Singleton .168/.285/.335 slash with 13 HRs in 310 ABs. He whiffed 134 times, which is 43.2% of the time. His BAbip in Houston was .238. But that was his first year at a new level. Any look at Singleton’s MiLB history will show, Year One at any level was a faint shadow of whatever he did in Year Two. My guess, after a stumbling April, Singleton starts to steadily improve in May and becomes a … well, not great, but … good hitter in a potent Astros lineup.
But what if he doesn’t. Well, Houston’s depth chart lists Evan Gattis and Chris Carter as the backup first basemen. And if Singleton failed to perform or got injured, Chris Carter or Gattis would most likely dig his glove out of storage and man the sack. I won’t get into Carter’s numbers other than to say he strikes out a ton, though he did cut down a bit in 2014, and he hits the ball a LONG way. His .799 OPS in 2014 was pretty significant.
That said, Carter isn’t the best defensive first baseman. Oh, I know Singleton’s small sample size of defensive stats is pretty bad, but he was generally lauded for his defense in the minors, and at just 23, I’m pretty sure he’s got a chance to improve. Carter, meanwhile, is about as good as he’s going to get with a glove, and that’s not good.
There’s also the fact that as a DH, Carter bats a lot better than if he has to trot out to the field every half inning to try to catch a ball. All things being equal, I’d leave Carter at DH.
It’s Not That Hard, Scott
Beane, on learning to play first base: “It’s not that hard, Scott. Tell him, Wash.”
Washington: “It’s incredibly hard.”
If Carter isn’t more than an occasional spot start at first, then the Astros need to look somewhere else for a first baseman in case Singleton’s 2015 looks too much like his 2014. With Marc Krauss gone (whew!), I can’t name the next first baseman in line in the minor leagues. Telvin Nash probably is our AAA first baseman. I’m guessing A.J. Reed finds his way to Corpus Christi sooner rather than later this season. He’ll make Lancaster look like a month or so of batting practice. But both are probably not the best option to replace Singleton if needed, so …
Here’s my conspiracy theory: Luhnow’s plan if Singleton falters is to move Jason Castro to first base. (Luhnow: “It’s not that hard, Jason. Tell him, Hinch.” Hinch: “It’s incredibly hard.”
Between Hank Conger, Carlos Corporan and, in a pinch, Evan Gattis, Castro would be a great choice. Oh, I know his 2014 was underwhelming, but if Singleton can’t hit .200, Castro is a guy probably poised to bounce back a bit from his .222/.286/.366 with his career low BAbip (not counting his rookie year of 2010). I know I’m sort of hoping and praying for some positive regression on Castro, but I’m guessing between him and Singleton, one of them will get his act together in 2015. Meanwhile, the Astros can stash Corporan at AAA while waiting to see if Singleton gets it together. Or just trade Carter and trust that Max Stassi would be ready to become the Astros’ backup backstop should Singleton be told to Go West Young Man (to Fresno).
The other option at first base is, of course, Evan Gattis. Again, not the best defensive option, but I’ll live with an extra error or two if the Astros have a potent lineup. Last year, Gattis posted a .263/.317/.493 line, slugging 22 HRs and whiffing 26.3% of the time.
So, Who’s On First?