On Thursday the Astros sent Brian Bogusevic, Brian Esposito, Tommy Manzella, and Wesley Wright to minor league camp. Esposito was an obvious choice, but the rest of the names on this list might be surprising to some people. I was actually very pleased with the news. Manzella did nothing to impress me in his stint with the Astros last season. With the exception of Oswaldo Navarro the remaining backup infield candidates all bring more to the table. Anderson Hernandez is a switch-hitter and the Astros lack a left-handed bat off the bench. Matt Downs has showcased his versatility this spring by taking some reps at shortstop. The scrappy Downs has shown a little pop in his bat as well, blasting two homers in 42 spring at-bats. My personal favorite to claim the roster spot, Angel Sanchez, has been slowed by back soreness this spring. After Manzella broke a finger last season Sanchez won the starting shortstop job, outplaying both Navarro and Hernandez. Sanchez had a productive second half of 2010 and is out of minor league options. If he can avoid the disabled list the roster spot should be his.
Bogusevic, along with Jason Bourgeois, was one of the favorites to claim the final outfield spot. The speedy and versatile Bourgeois is still in the mix but must now contend with surprising prospect J.B. Shuck. The 23 year-old Shuck was drafted by Ed Wade in the sixth round of the 2008 draft. In three minor league seasons Shuck boasts a .303 batting average and a .380 OBP. The little-known prospect also hits from the left side. Looking at his statistics, the thing that really jumps out at me is Shuck’s impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio of 160/161. However, bringing the youngster up to fill a spot on the bench is probably not the best thing for his development. For that reason I would see Bourgeois as the favorite to claim this spot.
Wesley Wright has posted an E.R.A. north of five and a WHIP of 1.4 or higher in each of his first three seasons. The Astros are attempting to rework his arm angle and have thankfully taken him out of the mix for now. That leaves Gustavo Chacin, Ryan Rowland-Smith, and Fernando Abad as the only lefties battling for a bullpen spot. Trade winds have started to swirl around the Hyphen and Goggles is coming off a season in which he posted a 1.85 WHIP. Abad has had a terrible spring which is hopefully only a mild case of arm fatigue. Abad came into camp as almost a lock to make the club based on his 2010 performance and a strong showing in the Dominican Winter League. I have not been impressed with Rowland-Smith’s high eighties fastball and lack of command. Best case scenario: the Astros are able to get a decent bat in return for the Hyphen and Abad returns to form.