Looking ahead at Astros 2015: Another season, another stop gap at SS


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.

• •• ••• •• •

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?

 

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25 comments on “Looking ahead at Astros 2015: Another season, another stop gap at SS

  1. Great subject matter and questions. Some points:
    *At 23, Villar is not a bust. He needs to go to AAA right away and kick butt at the plate and play good defense, cut down on the errors. Build his stock back up and make a team want him.
    *I don’t think Correa was ever supposed to be here in 2015. I think his target date has always been 2016. He is not subject to the rule V this coming Fall, so I would expect him to stay in the minors through the playoffs and come to Spring Training as the favorite to win the SS job next year.
    * I like Lowrie as this year’s SS. At age 30 he is not past his prime, is happy here, and is due for a bounce back. A SS combo of Jed/Marwin is a big upgrade from the combo of Marwin/Jonathan of last year’s end of season. I like Lowrie in the 2 slot against LH starters and down in the order against RH starters.
    *I like Fontana, but could you not predict that taking him in the draft right after you take Correa was going to lead to logjams, problems finding a spot for him and a problem developing his skills while paralleling Carlos in the minor leagues? If this were five years ago Fontana would be in our top 10. Now, we try to find a spot for him and pass him up and move him around.
    *Ten years into his career, Carlos might play third base, but he will do it when it makes his team a better team.
    *I like Torreyes. He is real young for AAA. He could possibly fit in as the utility guy if the Astros ever decide to make a deal with another team for Marwin. Torreyes’s defense has a good chance to improve with experience and he could use some muscle to give him more pop w/ the bat.
    * Right now, the utility guy with some pop in his bat is Sclafani, so I’m not leaving him out of the conversation as a major league utility guy, filling in at SS and 2B and 3B and 1B if need be

    Liked by 1 person

    • OP, I’ve seen projections for Correa for ’15. That may have been prior to the injury, though. With Lowrie in the fold, there doesn’t seem to be a rush, Still, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him at some opint if Lowrie underperforms or is hurt and Carlos burns through CC and Fresno.

      One other interesting point is how Luhnow handles Correa. Important to note that Correa has the same agent as Springer. As I recall (ahem), Springer had some difficulties with a long-term, team-friendly contract and regarding when his clock started. So….you may be correct in that Correa may be a 2016 addition. No need to rush and, at this point, there should be no real expectation that Luhnow is holding him back if he plays all of 2015 in the minors.

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      • Chip, when we were waiting for Luhnow to bring Springer up we were a bad team with a lousy outfield and lineup. Springer was ready, in AAA, and proving his worth. The situation now is a little different because Carlos is 20, has not played in AA yet and, in my opinion, the team is a lot better than it was when Luhnow was screwing with Springer’s career.
        I think Correa needs this year in the high minors to solidify his numbers, his game and to get him as ready as he can be to be a good player from the moment he takes the field in the majors.
        I have said for two years now that the Correa is a franchise player. Now it seems that the “experts” in baseball media circles are starting to see that, too. I think Carlos Correa’s ceiling is possibly best Astros player, ever. Buxton is going to have one heck of a time staying in front of Carlos at this time next year in the rankings.
        People who have talked about him being a “four tool ” shortstop are just amazed at how he drove himself to be a good base stealer last year, trying to get that fifth tool.
        The day he is in the lineup with George Springer is the day this franchise takes off.

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  2. – I disliked the trade sending Melancon to BOS for Lowrie. I then disliked the trade sending Lowrie to OAK. Well, I love the three year contract he signed this year…so it probably won’t work out. In seriousness, though, he should get all 2015 at SS unless injuries hinder his PT or the Astros are in contention despite the 3rd base options all imploding AND Correa dominating AA.
    – I think Hinch pencils him into the two spot against both LHP and RHP. I would actually like to try a lineup of Altuve – Springer – Lowrie – Carter…assuming all of the four are playing up to expectations.
    – Probably not much future for Villar unless his bat/defense become consistent and make him too valuable to lose, but injuries are the real wildcard.
    – yes, this is an upgrade. He is a legit SS as opposed to a prospect or utility guy.
    – Why do I have to admit Fontana is intriguing? His defense projects him to be a backup 2B / SS in the future. The bat hasn’t held up as he progresses yet. It would be silly to write him off, but we are hitting a PT crunch in our milb system.
    – I’m thrilled about Correa because everyone lauds not only his natural talent, but how dedicated he is to succeeding. I don’t think he has to move to 3B anytime soon.

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  3. I’ve always said I think Correa is a special player. I’ve always felt that he has the talent to adjust to whatever level he plays. I would have brought him to major league ST LAST year to check him out, and would not have been scared to say this guy is a generational player, he plays SS NOW, assuming he showed in ST that he wasn’t going to get fooled too much by major league pitching.

    As a fan though I am a little more satisfied that the Astros addressed the issue with Lowrie. I would have been fine going to ST with Gonzalez and Villar fighting it out and CC given a look, but all that is out the window. Lowrie is the starter, Villar is in Fresno and CC is in CC. I agree with OP also, Villar isn’t done, he has things to work on, and is athletic enough to get that work done. I do doubt some of his baseball acumen, but that is a telescope view and could be completely wrong.

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  4. I feel much better having Lowrie at SS this year. I thought MarGo did a decent job with the time he was given last year, but I wasn’t comfortable going with him (or Villar) for the entire season. Lowrie gives us a veteran who makes good contact and his offense will play well at MMP. I would keep CC in the minors all year, starting at Corpus and then promoting him to Fresno once he has shown he has mastered AA.

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  5. By the way, I am taking my boys again to Kissimmee (sp?) again this year during their spring break (March 16-23). We will be attending the Nationals game on March 20th and the Pirates game on March 22nd along with the Yankees game in Tampa on March 21st. Will any of our Chipalatta bloggers be there during this time?

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    • Dave, no disrespect to Sclafani and I probably should have mentioned him since he’s at AAA. He seems more popular on this blog than with the (ahem) so-called experts. Fontana is listed on Top 20 prospect lists, Sclafani not. For some reason, Sclafani just doesn’t get the love.

      What type of long-term shot do you think he has at being either a serviceable or above average MLB player?

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      • Chip, at least offensively, he’s shown he can get on base just as frequently as Fontana, and at a level above Fontana. I think he’ll be a servicble utility guy at the ML level, and maybe an above average second baseman at some point. While there might not be room for him in this organization, he just seems to adjust at every level. I don’t think he’s going to fade into the background.

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      • The guys at TCB really like Sclafani and talked about him at length in one of their podcasts. It seems that baseball people that watch him come away thinking that somehow he always outproduces the sum of his talent. He always manages to do things you think he can’t.
        Although Sclafani has not shown to be a power hitter, he seems to be a guy who hits the ball hard. He also shows the ability to get better when others think he has topped out. That is the kind of guy to put your money on.

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  6. What a strange and wonderful phenomenon – actual excitement about both the present and future of the Astros’ shortstop situation! Somebody pinch me.

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  7. Thanks – Chip for a thoughtful article. (I skipped reading everyone else’s comments – so these may be fresh or redundant)
    The Lowrie signing …. does allow Correa to progress at a normal pace in my mind.

    Correa begin his career? I think he could easily be ready this season some time – I expect they won’t promote him to the bigs until 2016 (unless he signs a major league contract for piddle)….
    Where should Lowrie hit – He has had pretty solid career numbers hitting in the 2 spot – plus a solid .330 type OBP against lefties and rightes – I would try him in the two hole.
    Villar’s future? – It appears he would be a stop gap’s replacement… I believe he is tremendously talented but almost a bipolar player – depression followed by manic plays…. He gets significant time this season if…
    – Lowrie or Valbuena get injured
    – Lowrie or Valbuena fall off the cliff production-wise
    He strikes me as a “package me in a trade” player
    Lowrie a substantial upgrade? As I’ve pointed out before – our total production from all players playing SS in 2014 was average to above average. 2014 Lowrie would not be an upgrade – 2013 Lowrie would be.
    Fontana is intriguing – over .400 OBP at each stop – right at .800 OPS at each stop. Not much power to date. Had only 1 error in 25 games at SS at Corpus last season. He might be the future Marwin G – a solid backup infielder – not sure if he will be given a chance to start….
    Knowing what you know now, will Correa eventually move to third base? He brings such additional value as a SS – I say that unless he can’t handle it – you put him there for a long, long time.

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  8. “Knowing what you know now, will Correa eventually move to third base?”

    From what I have heard seen so far, the only three possible reasons Correa would move to third base are:
    1. if Derek Jeter un-retires and signs with our Stros in 2016 [relax, it’s a blast-from-the past joke aimed at Alex Rodriguez fans, if there are any left in this world],
    2. if Nolan Fontana starts hitting home runs like Chris Carter at his best last year, and still walks more than he strikes out; and/or
    3. if both Colin Moran and J.D. Davis quit or totally bomb the next five years.

    I hope to see Correa on 3rd base a lot, of course – just on the offensive side of the ball, please.

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  9. No need to rush Correa, you have Lowrie manning short. Let the kid get his feet back on the field, and inviting him to ST again is just another feather in his cap.
    Marwin was quite serviceable playing short stop last year, and he’s a guy that can fill in for Lowrie if he get’s hurt. You can have every tool in the trade and be an excellent short stop, but if you have marbles in your brain you’re not gonna make it in MLB. Villar *has* all the making of a really good short stop…….but his mental side of it SUCKS. This team skated on thin ice nearly every game last year, and giving the other teams free runs won’t cut it. Villar drove Porter crazy last year, but he kept giving him a chance to redeem himself……. he finally got sent back down. The guy is a one man wrecking crew at short.

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  10. I think if Correa hadn’t missed the last half of 2014, he might sneak into Houston this year. But barring injuries to Lowrie, Gonzalez and Torreyes could bring him up.

    While it’s easy to recall that Villar is only 23, I think it’s also important to remember MarGo is only 25. I think it’s reasonable to assume the MarGo from last year is the same one we’ll see this season. And while his defense isn’t as flashy as Villar’s, it’s also not as spotty as Villar’s.

    Yep, this is Lowrie’s year to line up at short. And if he has any injuries, it’s MarGo’s job.

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  11. So, the Marwin that had a .330 babip last year, a full 44 points higher than his career, is a reasonable expectation? I mean, he has speed and all, wait, not really…
    Much more reasonable expectations would start with that babip regressing big time back to career marks

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