Chip continues a conversation that has been hashed, rehashed, dissected, buried, raised again and has brought frustration along with many failed solutions in recent years. Shortstop.
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Adam Everett anyone? While the now-37-year-old Everett brought one of the best gloves in Astros’ history to the six hole, fans lamented the black hole he brought to the lower part of the batting order, which often overshadowed his work in the field.
Still, pitchers and many fans would take Everett in a heartbeat these days. But the only place you’ll see the Astros’ World Series shortstop is on the bench or training infielders on footwork.
But. Let’s. Be. Clear. Very clear. Discuss all you want. Hash it however you like. Nothing really matters until Carlos Correa arrives. Anyone else is merely an understudy in the role while the Astros’ best prospect warms up in the wings. Place holder. Seat warmer. Junior apprentice.
This year, Jed Lowrie — the starting shortstop for opening day 2012 — slides back into the role he relinquished to Jonathan Villar after the Oakland trade. He’s merely keeping the seat warm for Carlos Correa, who could see a cup of coffee in 2015. Jeff Luhnow obviously thought enough of Lowrie to sign him to a reasonable 3 year/$22 million deal with a club option for 2018. Eventual mentor for Correa and others? Trade bait next year? Reserve role on the 2017 World Series team?
- The big question: When does Correa arrive and where does Lowrie go when he does?
- The next big question: Can Lowrie manage to stay healthy and give the Astros at least 140+ games at shortstop?
So, here are the current options for A.J. Hinch heading into spring training.
- Lowrie. 30 years old. Switch hitter. Which Lowrie shows up? The one who hit .290/.340/.791 in 2013 or the one who hit .249/.321/.676 last season.
- Villar. 23. Switch hitter. Is he really still only 23? He’s been playing pro ball since he was 17 and two Houston GMs have seen great promise, most of which has been unrealized. Gifted? Or a flash in the pan?
- Marwin Gonzalez. 25. Switch hitter. He was acquired in trade one day after Luhnow became GM. Many fans would be thrilled if the team named him the starter and left him alone for a season. And, he may get his shot at third this spring. More likely, he will be the super sub, able to play 2B, 3B, SS and even the outfield in a pinch.
- Ronald Torreyes. 22. Bats right. Keen contact hitter who hasn’t played an inning above AAA. More walks than Ks in 2,125 minor league PAs. Future in Houston?
Then, here are the obvious gentlemen lurking in the wings.
- Correa. 20. Bats right. He’s only the second best prospect in all of baseball and Houston is already planning his coronation. That would have happened this season for sure had it not been for that ugly injury. Now, the question is how fast he can recover and push his way to the door to knock on it.
- Nolan Fontana. 23. Bats left. Like Torreyes, it’s hard not to like a guy who walks more than he strikes out. Fontana’s claim to fame — and Top 20 prospect status — is that .400+ OBP. He’s a smart player a la Bagwell and Biggio and his “playing the game the right way” might help him make his way to Houston at some point. But where does he play if/when he does?
There are some who believe Correa may eventually be a better third baseman than shortstop. They also suggested the same for Derek Jeter as I recall. But Correa may re-usher in a new era of the hugely productive shortstop that began with players like Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra and Alex Rodriguez. Remember when they all played short back in the 90s?
As I mentioned above, discuss all you want. The biggest question, however, is when will Correa arrive. Nothing else really matters does it? That day will be a game changer for Houston. Other pieces will start to fall into place. Suddenly, all the other “prospects”, free agent signings and acquisitions shuttle over for competition at third base. The depth chart at SS will read: Correa. Correa. And, Correa. Game over.
Until then, the game is on, but Lowrie is the man of the hour or flavor of the month, however you would like to look at it.
- Assuming Correa is totally healthy, does the Lowrie signing allow Correa to progress at a normal pace, perhaps not arriving until 2016?
- When do you expect him to begin his career in Houston?
- Where should Lowrie hit in this year’s lineup?
- (Becky, you can stop reading here.) Does Villar have a future with Houston?
- Do you consider Lowrie a substantial upgrade over 2013-14?
- You have to admit that Fontana is somewhat intriguing. What are your thoughts?
- Knowing what you know now, will Correa eventually move to third base?