The Astros claimed Brian Bixler off waivers from the Washington Nationals earlier this month. Bixler is a 29 year-old utility player with only 260 big league plate appearances to his credit. Bixler has compiled an unimpressive .187/.248/.247 career slash line. In 2004 Bixler was second in the nation with a .453 average at Eastern Michigan University. The Pittsburgh Pirates were impressed with Bixler’s combination of hitting and speed and chose him in the second round of the 2004 draft.
Once he arrived in the Pirates minor league system Bixler struggled to make consistent contact, often swinging at breaking balls that were out of the strike zone. His .284 career minor league average is respectable, but his strikeout rate is atrocious. Bixler first made it to the big leagues as a shortstop with Pittsburgh in 2008. He continued to struggle offensively and his defense was shaky as well. Bixler would eventually work through his defensive issues and recently added second base, third base, and all three outfield positions to his repertoire. His versatility could land Bixler a spot on the Astros opening day roster.
The Astros could view Bixler as a Matt Downs type of player. Downs was claimed off waivers from the Giants in 2010 and was voted the Astros Breakout Player of the Year in 2011. Although he doesn’t possess the same power potential as Downs, Bixler could fill a utility role if Downs assumes a bigger role with the club. If he makes the team Bixler figures to serve mostly as a pinch runner and late inning defensive replacement.