OK – a little truth in advertising here – I have been tasked with comparing the 2013 and 2014 Astros infield and catcher. The title I have chosen really only applies to the infield, not the catcher position, but I liked it so much I’m using it anyways.
I never have heard of anyone eating turnip ice cream, but my mother said that her family was so poor living up on a “stump” farm on the Northern Peninsula of Michigan that they had to subsist on radish sandwiches at times. Similarly, we seem to be subsisting on the baseball equivalent of radish sandwiches – there is potential for better….but we will discuss that a little later.
You can also read other Astros’ comparisons today:
1B – The 2013 Astros relied on three main contributors (or at times subtractors) – Carlos Pena, Brett Wallace and Chris Carter at first base. Brandon Laird and some others also manned the spot – but these three men drove the overall stats at the un-hot corner. The good – included a solid 29 HRs and an OK 74 RBI cumulatively. The bad included a .224 BA and a rally killing 219 K’s for all the folks for games they were playing 1B. The overall numbers drove the Astros to release Pena during the season, Wallace after the season and to set up a different 3 headed monster for 2014.
Based on spring training – Jesus Guzman will get the majority of starts at 1B with Marc Krauss and Carter splitting time behind him. The Astros believe that Guzman will hit much better away from Petco Park. Fans have to wonder why he has seen huge declines in OPS the last 3 seasons (from .847 to .737 to .675) and why he has not cracked 300 ABs in any of the three seasons.
Is this position in limbo until Jonathan Singleton arrives? Or with Singleton’s recent struggles is this a black hole at a normal power spot?
2B – Since second base belonged to Jose Altuve in 2013 and still does – this would seem to be a straight forward comparison.
Basically, this comes down to a simple question with a complex answer. Jose, what do you want to be when you grow up (not grow taller – grow up)?
After a solid 2012 and a spot on the All-Star squad – Jose took a tumble in most measurable statistics in 2013 and in some unmeasurables. In 42 more plate appearances, he had less runs scored, less doubles, triples, HRs, walks, more Ks, his BA/OBP/OPS line went down from .290 / .340 / .740 to .283 / .316 / .678. He led the league in getting caught stealing and Lord knows how many other outs he ran into.
His spring training line ran down to .254 / .279 / .618 with only 2 walks in 59 ABs and for some reason Bo Porter thinks he belongs in the 3rd spot in the lineup.
Altuve needs to turn it around this season or he may find himself the man outside looking in as some of the Astros’ middle infielders (Joe Sclafani? Nolan Fontana?) rise up out of the minors in the next season or so.
SS – Here is mama’s recipe: take a chunk of Ronny Cedeno, add in equal parts Marwin Gonzalez and Jonathan Villar, a pinch of Jake Elmore and you end up with….an unmitigated disaster. If mom made this, you would not be heading home for Thanksgiving.
In 2013 Cedeno and Gonzalez could not bust the OPS Mendoza equivalent line of .600. Villar did a bit better than that with an OPS of .640 and threw in 18 steals in 57 games. And yes, Villar did not field very well – but one interesting thing. If Villar had played all 162 games – he was on pace for 45 errors. However, the 4 guys playing SS cumulatively put up 44 errors. So basically – Villar did bring a bit more offense after the call-up, and did not really hurt the already horrid SS defense of his predecessors. He didn’t help it either.
In 2014 – It is Villar with Gonzalez as his back-up. Marwin looked good at the plate in Spring Training – but he has done that before. Villar, I believe is who he is – a guy who was an error machine at every level of the minors coming up and whose best asset is his speed which is offset offensively by getting gunned down at various places as he tries to round the bases.
At SS – the future has a name and a face and we just cannot wait until Carlos Correa kicks butt all the way up to the majors….unless he needs to be held back like George Springer.
3B – 2013 third base is the same as 2014 third base….Matt Dominguez. It has been stated here a number of times – Dominguez seemed to figure out something during the season and was a much better hitter in the second half of the season. Maybe he stayed away from John Mallee (that is just a joke – hopefully it will be proven that Dominguez is the only guy who learned from him during the season). Dominguez made a few too many errors on routine balls – but compared to the folks that played at SS – he showed he belonged big time.
Everyone is praying that his ST stats mean nothing (0 HR – 2 RBI – .186 BA and .625 OPS), because he produced close to nothing. Oh well – usually the guys who are slumping in ST, turn around when the season begins – in which case this team will be on fire in April….
The future of 3B may be a Fontana or a Sclafani or maybe young Rio Ruiz. But for now the Astro brass wants to see if Matt Dominguez can make it tough on someone to take it from him.
C – At least offensively, the catcher position is the least of the Astros worries, provided…..Jason Castro can make it to the finish line. Castro made a large leap forward in 2013 until going down with one of his annual injuries. His OPS went up a full point to .835 and while part of it was due to a very solid line against rightys – the guy basically doubled his OPS against leftys from 2012 – going from an insanely miniscule .361 to a very solid .738. Yes – he is not a great pitch blocker – but lets be honest – with last year’s staff, did the pitcher have any idea where the pitch was going half of the time?
Carlos Coporan was a decent backup pumping out 7 dingers in about 200 ABs. His CS% was way down from 2012 and again it is partly due to a young staff that did not know how to knock down runner’s leads.
Expectations are that the Astros catchers will give them above average offensive and below average defense in 2014. But it may be the only position where they get above average offense this season – so don’t pooh pooh that.
There are a number of good receivers coming up in the minors – Max Stassi and Tyler Heineman lead a fairly deep minor league crew. But don’t expect anything to happen this season (unless some team offers their best young pitcher and some other nuggets for Castro).
Summary – The Astros improvement in the areas of infield and catcher will rely mostly on improvement of individual players that manned the position in 2013 – specifically Dominguez and Altuve. This looks to be an area that will see slight improvement unless a big surprise occurs.