Monday ramblings on depth, injuries and shuffles

The Astros are once again likely to have one of the youngest rosters in the majors in 2015. And, while Jeff Luhnow has attempted to add some veterans to the roster, the inexperience, lack of playing time at specific positions and injury possibilities all highlight what continues to be a lack of depth in the Astros’ reconstruction project.

Better than a year ago to be sure, but just not enough MLB-ready cavalry at AAA for comfort. Houston could begin the season with players still learning their positions or still getting used to life at the major league level.

For example, some players may be shuffled or expected to wear multiple hats while others will possibly see full seasons in Houston for the first time. Here are some players who may see more action at their positions than previous seasons.

  • Jon Singleton. He’s played only 95 major league games, so if he wins the role out of spring training, it’s possible if not probable he will exceed that number in 2015.
  • Colby Rasmus, if he plays LF. The 28-year-old has played only 15 games in LF and RF in his career (compared to 731 in CF), so he’d essentially be learning a new position if he moved to LF. It wouldn’t be such a huge transition from CF if he didn’t have to deal with the strange configuration of LF and the Crawford Boxes at Minute Maid Park.
  • Luke Gregerson, if he becomes the closer. While he has finished a number of games in recent years, he’s never entered a season that he would be expected to close on a regular basis. Theoretically, he could surpass his 19 career saves by the All Star break.
  • George Springer, if he plays a full season in RF. Like Singleton, he could also have his first full season in the majors. Even then, he has only 104 games in RF over his pro career (minors and majors combined).
  • Jake Marisnick has only 355 major league PAs and Robbie Grossman has yet to spend a full season in the majors, only parts of two.
  • Colin McHugh. You like him, but he has only 34 starts under his belt. Spread over five seasons, including 25 last year.

The injury bug. Last year, the Astros had only three men (count ’em, three!) who played more than 126 games, and one of those was a designated hitter (Chris Carter). Another won the batting title (Jose Altuve) and it could be argued the other (Matt Dominguez) shouldn’t have been in the threesome. While Jeff Luhnow allowed plenty of flexibility for A.J. Hinch and his lineups, the depth question still persists.

Here are some players either prone to injury or who are known to have, shall we say, issues.

  • Springer. Missed half of the season.
  • Jed Lowrie. He played 290 games over two years in Oakland, so the injury moniker may not be fair, but with only two seasons of more than 97 games and only one with more than 136, Luhnow would be good to hang on to Marwin Gonzalez.
  • Brad Peacock. Seems to be working his way back, but clearly the Astros have hedged their bets with Dan Straily, Roberto Hernandez among others.
  • Evan Gattis. He’s a key piece of the Luhnow Puzzle, but his knee and back issues are already part of the equation.
  • Jason Castro. Though he didn’t have an official DL stint in 2014 and only 11 in 2013, the 27-year-old still seems a fragile piece and often misses time with smaller injuries. Of course, since Conger is considered a more astute backup by management, 120 games from Castro may be the norm.

You can argue that Houston cannot afford to lose any of its regulars or pivotal members of its pitching staff, but here are the key players the Astros can ill afford to succumb to injury, at least a version lasting more than 15 days.

  1. Keuchel.
  2. Jose Altuve.
  3. McHugh.
  4. Any of Chad Qualls, Luke Gregerson or Pat Neshek.
  5. Springer.

Questions to start your Monday.

  • Which player could be making the biggest transition this season?
    • Gattis (at either 1B or LF).
    • Rasmus to LF.
    • Singleton or Springer to a full MLB season.
    • Gregerson to closer.
  • How concerned are you about the injury bug biting Houston?
  • Given the flexibility, will Hinch rival Cecil Cooper and Brad Mills for most lineups used in a season?
  • Which player, if injured for a long period of time (say 2 months), would most adversely affect the Astros? Name the top three in order.

15 comments on “Monday ramblings on depth, injuries and shuffles

  1. Thanks for the Monday morning thought provoking post, Chip.
    – Biggest transition – Gregerson to closer. It is odd that it is normally only 3 outs to get with no one on base, but there is a psychological hurdle involved with closer that some guys (I’m thinking Brad Lidge for instance) have no problem with the transition from set-up to closer while others (Octavio Dotel when he was here) are more comfortable as setup guys.
    – Injury bug concerns? Sure I have them – as you point out we are better off with depth than we were, but we are not good with depth, especially if certain guys go down.
    – Will Hinch be a lineup scrambler? I think that Hinch will be doing a lot more matchup related lineup work. The Oakland A’s post-Moneyball have been very good at getting the most out of their roster by applying the right hitters vs. the starting pitchers – especially in 2013 they got a lot of high OPS numbers out of guys who would not have been that good over 600 ABs.
    – Guys we would miss the most injury-wise…
    1) Springer – I saw a real difference maker when this man played
    2) Keuchel – After trading away so many starters or potential starters the last couple years (Lyles, Cosart, Folty, Tropeano) we are thin at starter no matter who they brought in to compete for the 5th spot.
    3) McHugh – See 2) above


    • I will mostly echo this. I think the biggest thing you lose if Keuchel goes down is his propensity to get deep into games. If we can expect similar efforts in 2015 he will greatly improve Hinch’s flexibility with the bullpen.

      I think Springer is the key guy to keep on the field. He was the catalyst to the team turning it around last summer. The catch here is that he has to continue to improve – fewer K’s and no injuries due to wasted effort (like stealing 3rd in a minor league rehab game).


  2. If Springer gets injured we have a lot of Depth in the outfield here and in AAA with Tucker and Aplin and Santana.
    If Altuve gets injured we have Torreyes, Petit, Sclafani and Kemp in the minors to choose from, plus Valverde, Gonzalez, Villar and Lowrie on the team. Nobody replaces Altuve, but we are better offthan any other team in the middle infield situation for replacements.
    Truthfully, we are going to hurt if Keuchel or McHugh get injured because we have only Appel in AAA and that’s about it because we traded our starting pitcher depth for JFSF and a minor league third baseman.


    • OP, guess I’m meaning players who are ready to step in anywhere close to the level of the player lost. For example, what type of numbers would Tucker, Aplin or Santana provide if replacing Springer for 2 months?

      And the same for any of the Altuve replacements. Either of those losses would have dramatic impact in my estimation, especially if they occurred earlier in the season.

      However, you are correct…losing Keuchel or McHugh for any length of time would test the bullpen and push others into roles they likely aren’t ready for.


      • I just cannot gripe about the outfielders we have replacing Springer, because Springer is a guy who has spent two months playing in the major leagues. We have Gattis and Rasmus to replace his bat and we did not have them when he got injured last season and we have Rasmus and Marisnick to replace his defense.
        If Straily wins the #5 spot, we basically have Wojo, Deduno, Fernandez, Buchanan to replace Keuchel/McHugh is they go down. Seriously, that is a huge gap!


    • We also traded rotation depth for a backup catcher and a former backup catcher who has injury concerns but will likely be sent into the field with frequency.


    • Touchet, somewhat, OP. However, things can change. For example, if Straily wins the #5 spot, Hernandez likely opts out and is playing elsewhere if he has a good spring. Just don’t see him heading to Fresno, unless they move the opt out back a few weeks due to his late start. Also will depend on which of these players has options left as well…not to mention how much roster space the Astros have to clear to add a NRI.

      Maybe I’m just playing GHE guy today, but one or two injuries will expose the depth for sure.


  3. oldpro – I’m straining on your Springer replacement argument. He played 1/2 a year at the major league level and put up the equivalent of 41 HR and 106 RBIs (over 162 games) at the mlb level. Nobody else has proven themselves to do anything by strikeout (Santan) at the mlb level. I just am saying that we will not only miss the kind of production that Springer gave, but the fact that he had so many important hits, HRs, RBIs in the wins when he was in the lineup. He was very clutch for us and seemed to really get the rest of the players going.


    • He wasn’t a force in April, he was in May and June. He got hurt In July and played ten games that month and that was it for the season. We had no power to put into the lineup to replace him and this season we have Gattis, Rasmus, Carter and Singleton. Last season his loss just killed our lineup and the loss of Springer would be more easily covered this season. Gattis adds a possible 40 homer bat to our lineup that was not there last season.


      • OP, I hope you’re right…if he gets hurt and misses significant time. I won’t disagree that there are more options this year. However, he’s a spark plug type player, a catalyst along with Altuve. Your “Gattis, Rasmus, Carter and Singleton” combo can take care of the order, but the outfield might be reduced to a Gattis, Rasmus, Marisnick/Grossman option, which significantly lowers the bar.

        Anyway, it’s all speculative, but enjoying the discussion.

        My read is that the Astros lose considerably if Springer or Keuchel is out for 2 months. To me, a Springer loss might be even worse than an Altuve loss. Chew on that one for a moment…


  4. Gattis. going from catcher to OF is dang hard. How many catchers have you seen go to the OF? I saw Yogi play a few games in LF and BGO in center, but BGO went to 2B then to OF and he was a special player. Because of injuries, slumps, days off etc to the regular catchers, i think you’ll see Gattis play 20-40 games at catcher. 20 to 40 at 1B (i expect 1B will be a Singleton/Carter position) 40- 60 at DH and 30 – 40 at LF.
    I’m concerned about injuries (you have to be every year) but not as much as last year.
    Yes i think so, but because of match ups, who is hot etc, rather than the willy nilly approach of Porter.
    #1 Springer, he brings an energy that seems to uplift everyone besides being what looks like a special player.
    #2 Keuchel, pitching deep into games brings many benefits, not the least of which is a bullpen that doesn’t get overworked.
    #3. Altuve, we have replacements but none that are capable of being the league batting champ, and if you lose your leadoff hitter (as he is being projected to be) it ripples throughout your lineup.


  5. Grossman in RF today. Mostly played LF so far. Rasmus hasn’t played as much, but has been in LF. Presley and Marisnick have been playing CF.

    Hard to get a read in what direction they are going yet with this OF. It will probably be another week to 9 days or so before we start getting a feel for what Hinch thinks. He has been batting Grossman leadoff though if that is an indicator. Maybe not a bad decision.


  6. ■Which player could be making the biggest transition this season? ■Gattis (at either 1B or LF).
    ■Rasmus to LF.
    ■Singleton or Springer to a full MLB season.
    ■Gregerson to closer.

    Biggest transition – Gregerson (or whomever is named closer). Dan already pointed it out, closing isn’t just 3 outs, it’s the toughest 3 outs. Opposing managers pulling out all the stops to make matchup nightmares, the pressure of the crowd coming to life, just the expectation heaped on you when you make that long walk across the field from your bullpen, with entrance music blaring, 30,000 people or so staring at you, it’s a different world then when you sneak on the field in the 6th.

    ■How concerned are you about the injury bug biting Houston?

    Very much so. Individually you can hope for each one, but collectively, we could very well lead the league in DL days this year. Gattis, Springer, Feldman and Lowrie have history, Keuchel and McHugh both set career highs as professionals in innings, it is something to keep an eye on. Depth will be important.

    ■Given the flexibility, will Hinch rival Cecil Cooper and Brad Mills for most lineups used in a season?

    Yes – because he will have to. He has a ton of injury prone players, he has some players that are either/or matchup nightmares or matchup winners, it will be a fun year.

    ■Which player, if injured for a long period of time (say 2 months), would most adversely affect the Astros? Name the top three in order.

    No doubt – Springer. The team is different when he is in the lineup. Any of the top 3 starters would also be impactful because there is no depth. Springer can’t be replaced by a Marisnick or Grossman though and have anywhere near the same impact on the lineup. If Keuchel goes down, you only have to deal with Wojo making 3-4 starts, maybe 5 if scheduling works out against you over a month period, if Springer goes down you have to deal with not having that bat in the lineup 25 days and 110 plate appearances for a month.


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