The Houston Astros are still searching for their 2013 leadoff hitter. Bo Porter said earlier this month that he would prefer second baseman Jose Altuve (who finished last season as the leadoff hitter) to hit second in the order. The two names that have been mentioned again and again to fill the spot are shortstop candidates Tyler Greene and Marwin Gonzalez. A couple of other guys that may make much more sense would be Jake Elmore and Robbie Grossman, but their chances of making the team are pretty slim. Since all four of these guys played in Saturday’s first Spring Training game, let’s take a look at their performances.
Tyler Greene got the nod as the starting shortstop in game one and also led off. Greene had three plate appearances, going 0-2 with a walk and a stolen base (which was part of a double-steal). While Greene does have the ability on the bases to be a leadoff man, he does not have the on-base percentage to be very effective. Last season he struckout in nearly 30% of his plate appearances and had an OBP of only .274. His career OBP is only .292, which is nowhere near where you hope your leadoff man to be.
Marwin Gonzalez started Saturday’s game at second base and hit second in the order. Marwin had a better day, going 2-3 while driving in a run. He showed nothing last season to prove that he could ever be a legitimate leadoff man. He is a below average base runner, and had a .280 OBP while walking in just less than 6% of his plate appearances.
Jake Elmore came in to replace Marwin Gonzalez at second base Saturday. Elmore went 0-2 with a run scored (pinch running for Chris Carter in the 5th inning). While Elmore may be a bit if a long shot to make the Opening Day roster, he may make more sense than Gonzalez or Greene as a leadoff hitter. Though he only has 30 games of Major League experience, he never had less than a .360 OPB in his minor league career, including a great .442 OBP in 108 triple-A games last season. He also walked in 14.5% of his plate appearances and stole 32 bases at triple-A in 2012. I’m not sure how those numbers will translate to the majors, but he is definitely a guy worth keeping an eye on.
Saturday’s MVP, Robbie Grossman, is another longshot to make the Opening Day roster, but may be the best leadoff hitter in the entire organization. He went 2-3 with a double and 2 RBI. Grossman came to the Astros from the Pirates last season as part of the Wandy Rodriguez trade. He spent all of last season at double-A and only hit .267, but you should not get caught up in his batting average. He walks more than a fat kid in PE class, walking in nearly 17% of his plate appearances in 2011 but took a bit if a step back in 2012 with a 13% BB%. Grossman had a .375 OBP last season, and once he gets on base he has shown the ability to do some damage. We may be seeing Grossman at some point during the 2013 season, but I expect him to start the season at triple-A Oklahoma City.
It should be interesting to see how the leadoff role plays out during Spring Training. If no one can emerge as a clear-cut favorite to leadoff, we may see Bo Porter change his mind and go back to Jose Altuve in the one-spot, which is probably the best option at this point.