Astros’ position players: Early next man up

The 2020 season was a particular challenge for the Astros front office and dugout management when it came to pitching. Rather than a policy of Next Man Up, it became a policy of Next Men Up.

Joe Smith sat out while spending time with his dying mother. Jose Urquidy missed most of the season recovering from COVID. Justin Verlander, Roberto Osuna, Brad Peacock and Chris Devenski all missed most of the season with injuries after only a few appearances. So, the Astros cycled many Next Men Up, some who fulfilled the name (Blake Taylor, Enoli Paredes, Andre Scrubb, Brooks Raley) and some who became the Next Men Up and Down (Nivaldo Rodriguez, Humberto Castellanos, Carlos Sanabria). On the offensive side, the only real long term loss was DH Yordan Alvarez, whose knees took him out after two games and was replaced mostly by a tag team of Michael Brantley and Kyle Tucker.

The 2020 season was then a real test of the Astros pitching depth, which showed itself well considering how many holes in the dike appeared. But what if the health bug swings to the position side in 2021? There is a lot of speculation here, but let’s take a shot at what injuries might mean at each position.

First Base. Despite having his worst offensive year as an Astro, Yuli Gurriel started 54 of the 60 regular-season games played by the Astros. If he went down in 2021, the likely long term solution would be rookie Taylor Jones with a bit of veteran Aledmys Diaz tossed in there for good measure. Abraham Toro might get some reps there too.

Second Base. After being almost a little iron man earlier in his career, Jose Altuve has been missing more time lately, playing in 137, 124 and 48 (out of 60) games the last three seasons. Aledmys Diaz would be the next man up, though other players as diverse as C Garrett Stubbs and OF Myles Straw might have some reps there. With the OF’s holes, it should not be expected that Straw would have many reps for the infield, but who knows. If this became a long term deal or if Diaz was needed elsewhere, the Astros might be dipping down to the minors (Jeremy Pena?) to fill this spot.

Shortstop. Carlos Correa started 56 of the 60 games at shortstop for the Astros and certainly will be trying to show up as often as possible in his free agent year (I’m not buying the sign an extension before the season storyline). But that has not been Carlos’ strong point, playing in 109, 110 and 75 games in 2017-2019. For shorter spurts, this might again be Aledmys Diaz, but for a longer haul, they could move Alex Bregman over to his original position with the thought that it is easier to fill in at 3B. Straw again has played at SS a bit, and of course, Pena could force a call up with the good play in the minors.

Third Base. There needs to be a Plan B with the tweaked hamstring news for Alex Bregman oozing out of Spring Training. The backup plan would again include Diaz, who, of course, is only one man if there are multiple injury holes to fill. Abraham Toro is also an option at third, and the Astros could let Yuli return to his natural position for a game or two.

Catcher. The Astros are in much better shape this season than last when Martin Maldonado took on a heavier load than you would want from a catcher of his age due to the poor play of backup Dustin Garneau. With Jason Castro’s addition, the Astros have two players who have filled the main catching role before. If one goes down, the other can be the featured catcher with someone (Garrett Stubbs? Korey Lee?) filling in a couple games a week.

Designated Hitter. With Yordan Alvarez having missed basically the whole of 2020 and playing with knee soreness in 2019, there has to be some concern that this could be a chronic problem rather than one that the off-season knee surgery successfully addressed. With the lack of proven outfield depth, this is more problematic as Michael Brantley would be expected to spend more time in the OF than at DH this year. Perhaps they would fill a hole here with a rotation of Brantley, Gurriel, Correa, Altuve, Bregman, and Tucker to keep them all fresh.

Right Field. Kyle Tucker has been a sturdy player throughout his career with the Astros. Ironically he is shown as the main RF on depth charts even though he spent a lot more time in left field in 2020. But with George Springer and Josh Reddick gone and the Astros supposedly needing to use the older Michael Brantley in left field, this would be his expected spot. Behind him would likely be veteran Steven Souza Jr. or youngster Chas McCormick.

Center Field. This is, of course, the $64,000 question and one that may not be fully answered until well into the season. How will the Astros fill the giant Grand Canyon gap in centerfield left by Springer’s flight to Toronto? Using the old cliche “if the season started today,” this would be Myles Straw in centerfield. If he produces like he did in 2019, he can hold this spot. If he non-produces like in 2020, he will not be long for the lineup. Behind him right now is Chas McCormick, but there is much anticipation about the eventual rise of Cuban signee Pedro Leon.

Left Field. Yes, this is going to be Michael Brantley most nights. Just remember he will turn 34 in May, only played 19 games in LF last year (mostly due to Alvarez’s absence) and only started 118 games in the outfield in 2019. Right now, the main backup is shown as the newest Swiss Army knife, Aledmys Diaz. But there will undoubtedly be times that Tucker, Straw and even Yordan Alvarez will be over there.

Anyway, this could all be hooey by the time the season comes around, but for right now, this is how the Next Man Up looks like for the Astros.

36 comments on “Astros’ position players: Early next man up

  1. It would be nice not to need a Next Man (Men). But seems like every year, each team needs one or two or more. My hope is that guy is a person that GS1 listed as #5 or #6 on his wish list or 1OP listed as #14. We expect Carlos or Alex to show up quickly, but an unknown like Altuve moving up quick is a welcome event. Let’s hope there is one or more of them this coming year as there were several pitchers last year.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Good question on MiLB, I’ll have to look into it.

        Kyle Tucker said today he has a friend in Cardinals organization who pitches. Before each game they give scouting reports of, “Ok, who in the opponent’s lineup do you want to avoid.” He said they have told him #1-#9 at both MLB and AAA level, “All the Astros Rake!”

        Sugar Land is going to be fun to watch for sure.

        I’m going with First man Up of the Year will be Chas McCormick. His first at-bat in AA, he hit a 2-run HR. He’s just a playmaker, and I see no reason why his excellent defense and plate coverage won’t translate eventually. He probably won’t be an every day OF in Houston in 2023, but I believe he will be somewhere. Maybe an Alex Gordon comp eventually.

        On the pitching side, Shawn Dubin is a guy that everyone is talking about. How will he ever separate himself from Bielak, Garcia, Whitley and Abreu, then with James and Pruitt coming back? It’s no wonder Sanabria Castellanos Emanuel Nivaldo didn’t see much action. Then, there’s Francis Martes trying to make a comeback.

        But these are the pitching names come July-August in the minors that you’re really going to start hearing more; Torres, Conine, Hunter Brown, Solis, Solomon, Ivey.

        After that wave, in 2022 Spring you’ll see Jairo Lopez, Valente Bellozo, Ryan Gusto, Austin Hansen, Blair Henley, Angel Macuare all trying to get a call up later that year.

        And I haven’t even gotten to this year’s draft with Santos, T Brown and Sprinkle.

        It’s like, Next team Up!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Next man up at DH is Diaz
    1B is Diaz
    2B is Diaz
    SS is Bregman
    3B is Diaz
    LF is McCormick
    CF is McCormick
    RF is McCormick
    C is Stubbs.
    Next man up as a starting pitcher is who is scheduled to pitch at AAA
    Next man up as reliever is best reliever at AAA who is on 40-man and hasn’t pitched 2 games in a row.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Diaz is a great option for the money. Maybe this year, he gets a little more opportunity to string some starts together like Marwin was able to do when his bat mostly kept him in the lineup. If Diaz were to play OF in the event Straw & McCormick slump & Souza had not been called up yet (this would be remedied quickly), my guess is Tucker would move to CF, and Aledmys would play RF.

      Your last comment on reliever would probably be Abreu, if Cishek (or perhaps Red Sox acquisition Velasquez) beats him out of Opening Day. It might be Garcia, but I’m not even sure Luis will start in Sugar Land. He might remain as a Starter and get stretched out in Corpus. That would allow Emanuel and Martes to pitch AAA, for example, in their swan song attempt to finally crack the 26-man.

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  3. Astros claim utility infielder Robel Garcia off waivers from Angels – has been with like 5 different teams this off season. Verlander moved to the 60 day IL.
    Garcia seems like a Next Man Up behind Toro. Has some power and position flexibility.

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    • We really need a healthy Diaz this season. His 2019 offensive numbers were excellent for a bench guy. I want to see 400 AB’s from him in 2021, mostly helping guys get plenty of rest. Nobody played 162 last year, so there will be some weariness at times.

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  4. Reading this comment from Sarge
    sargeh
    FEBRUARY 27, 2021 @ 2:28 PM
    The Astros County blog closed its doors yesterday… It had become a hit-or-miss blog anyhow. The owner wrote a great goodbye column. Good luck to him.

    And then reading that last post…… http://www.astroscounty.com/2021/02/astros-county-november-2008-february.html

    …. affected me a bit.

    Don’t worry I am not leaving (at least by my choice anytime soon) but I have empathy for him. What he didn’t say directly, but what has to be at the heart of this is that it became a chore – was not fun anymore.

    It was a bit of a chore here after “IT” happened. There were times when I wondered if I wanted to be an Astro fan anymore, much less a blogger.

    I got over that and now I feel like I am in a good spot with the blog. I’ve committed to crank a post out every other day unless something with family or work gets in the way.

    The only chore right now is coming up with the topics. Sometimes they just pop up and sometimes I have to work on it a bit. The writing itself has never been easier or faster. I hope that it does not show that I write these very quickly, but it is the only way for me to fit everything into my life.

    It was interesting how the astrocounty guy had stopped the comments. I am sure that made his life easier in some ways, but it makes me wonder….
    To me, the comments and the interaction are what make this the most fun. I thank you for being very “professional” in the way you comment. You are rarely rude or trolling. You may disagree, but it is done in a very polite way. You make this a pleasure to do and are the reason I do it.

    Anyways, I am sorry that someone has fallen by the way side, but there is no point in spending time in life on something that is not fun to do.

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  5. Well, I tried to follow that first game of ST on-line. Typical early spring training parade of never-gonna-make-it past AAA guys, and no real inspiring performances, but at least mitts are popping. And there was straw, but no fire.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m a week or more behind on the news. Maybe someone has already made mention of this quote from Forrest Whitley in a Fan Graphs interview on the 19th.

    “Everything I’ve done since I’ve been with the Astros has been pretty much self-driven. I haven’t had much outside influence. I’m pretty stubborn. I don’t always like to listen to people”.

    I think this guy continues to lower the odds of his own success. Listening to him, he comes off sounding as if he’s a bit smarter than the rest of us. And he has perhaps the best single pitching resource in his business right at his finger tips. Ignored.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah someone posted the link to the interview in the comments last week and we made some comments on it, daveb. He seems to want to only listen to his own counsel and so far that has not given him much of a minor league career for a 1st round draft pick.

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  7. Reminds me of a supposed quote from Brant Alyea when Ted Williams was his manager for the Senators. “I know how to hit better than Ted Williams.” He then amended the quote to: “I know how I hit better than Ted Williams.”

    Mr Alyea finished with a career WAR of 1.5 and and his career stats for runs, RBI’s, hits, etc are about what Williams had each year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think we may get to see some of him during the season depending on how things go….It is always fun to see these fresh faced kids who find such enjoyment in being drafted and signed.

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