In this second edition of “Who’s in it for the Long Haul?” I will take a look at the Houston Astros’ outfield. Last season, the Astros’ outfield ranked at or near the bottom in nearly every offensive and defensive category. You would think that this offseason that would have been a major focus, but that didn’t prove to be true. Instead of adding a proven veteran to the mix, the Astros went the cheap route and signed Rick “K or Bomb” Ankiel and a AAAA outfielder in Trevor Crowe. Ankiel has since been released and it’s safe to say that Crowe is no long-term solution either.
Thanks to the lack of improvement over last season’s options, the Astros’ outfield is still just slightly better than my Church League softball team’s. They currently rank last in overall WAR (-1.7) and runs above average for baserunning, or BsR (-4.3). At 31.3%, they have a firm lead on the highest strikeout percentage, and they are 27th in slugging and last in OPS. The Astros’ 2013 outfield has not fared any better in fielding as they are currently dead last in the MLB in Ultimate Zone Rating with a -22. Are any of the current outfielders worth hanging onto for (what I hope will be) the years of success in the Astros’ future? Let’s break them down.
After being called up from Double-A Corpus in 2011, I thought that J.D. Martinez may be the next great Astros outfielder. I saw TV analysts comparing his swing to that of the (formerly) great Albert Pujols and couldn’t help but get starry-eyed. By the middle of the 2012 season, TV analysts should have been comparing his swing to Albert “Al” Gore’s (who was much more of a defensive asset to his grammar school’s whiffle ball team). I have never seen a batter’s timing be so out of whack. If Martinez had plans of being with the Astros long-term, he was going to need a great 2013 season. So far, that has not been the case. J.D. has very few tools to offer the team — he’s slow, he’s not a great fielder, he doesn’t make enough contact and doesn’t show any patience at the plate. So I guess his only tool is his power potential. While I can live with his .442 SLG% so far this year, his one homerun in every 27 ABs is a little light for a guy that can only offer power. I have heard many say that they think his role long term may be as a DH. If that’s the case then he better pick it up, because right now I don’t see him being a part of the Astros’ future.
Justin Maxwell was Jeff Luhnow’s prize waiver claim from the 2012 season. He ended up hitting 18 homers and drove in 53 runs. He also stole nine bases and played great defense in all three outfield positions. Coming into 2013, Maxwell was all but assured that he would be the Astros starting center fielder. The 29-year old played in just 20 games this season before going on the DL. While he does have tremendous power, very good speed, and can glove it with the best of them, he is nearly thirty and is a strikeout waiting to happen. I believe a good plan for Maxwell would be for the Astros to give him an ample amount of playing time once he comes off the DL. That way he can help his stock and hopefully be able to bring the Astros one or two minor league prospects by the trade deadline.
Brandon Barnes has been with the team since Opening Day, but was given the opportunity for more playing time once Maxwell went on the DL and Rick Ankiel was released. While Barnes has been able to contribute with his bat, his best baseball attribute is his defensive ability. Barnes currently ranks 6th in the AL in UZR among outfielders with at least 250 innings. He also has a .282/.341/.419 line at the plate. While those numbers are solid, you would like to see his 27.1% strikeout rate come down quite a bit; especially since he has been batting in the leadoff spot the last few weeks. I can see Barnes sticking around for a while — if nothing else, as a fourth outfielder.
The Astros have given Jimmy Paredes every chance to succeed since being called up. Paredes has been bounced from position to position since being traded from the Yankees to the Astros a few years ago. The Astros have done everything they can to find Paredes’ “natural position”, and now I think it’s safe to say that his natural position may be somewhere outside the baseball diamond. He is an accident waiting to happen in the field — especially in right field where he likes to run kamikaze missions into his teammates in an effort to field fly balls. It’s also clear that he cannot hit MLB pitching on any regular basis. Sure his batting stance looks somewhat like Robinson Cano‘s, but that’s where the comparison ends. He is currently batting .198 and striking out in over 32% of his plate appearances. I’m sure the Batting Stance Guy can imitate Cano’s stance and swing as well. Should we give him a try? Not only will Paredes not be a part of the Astros’ future, I’m fairly certain he will be sent down once Maxwell is ready to return from the DL.
While Chris Carter has played quite a bit of left field, I covered him in the infield edition found here. Basically, not only does Carter not belong in the outfield — I don’t think he should even be allowed to own a glove.
So, which current Astros’ outfielders will be playing alongside guys like George Springer and Domingo Santana in the near future? Unless J.D. Martinez is able to put things together quickly, the only one I can see being around is Brandon Barnes. While he will not play an integral role in any Astro playoff runs of the future, he is certainly a useful player that is young enough to be around for the long haul.