After a year and a half, the Marwin Gonzalez era is over. The Astros held on to the Rule 5 pick at the major league level until earlier this afternoon, when it was announced that Gonzalez had been sent down to AAA.
At times the shortstop showed flashes of potential, but he was not able to show the Astros enough to warrant further playing time. Since Gonzalez remained with Houston for all of last season, they were now able to option him down to the minor leagues without losing him. Fellow Rule 5 selection Rhiner Cruz actually suffered the same fate earlier this season.
Now of course speculation will be swirling as to who will replace Gonzalez. Although veteran utility man Ronny Cedeno has seen some action at shortstop this season with a slight degree of success, he is not the solution here. And nor will he be as he is only hitting .250 with one home run and 11 RBI. The player the Astros call up before Tuesday’s game against the Cardinals will be summoned to be the everyday shortstop.
Essentially the decision boils down to two players; Jake Elmore or Jonathan Villar. For obvious reasons Villar is the more exciting and desired option, but Elmore is the more likely option.
Villar is four years younger than Elmore (22 compared to 26) and is a highly decorated prospect, ranking 12th among all Astros prospects. This is compared to Elmore who was added off of waivers this offseason from Arizona. But taking the excitement of seeing another top prospect at the major league level out of the equation, Elmore is the better option right now.
Regarding Villar, Jeff Luhnow has made it clear that the prospect would have to show some level of consistency before being called up from the minor leagues. So far this season, Villar is hitting .271 in 73 games driving in 34 runs to go with seven home runs. Of course like most of the Astros, strikeouts have been a problem for the shortstop. He has recently begun to cut down on his strikeouts and has been a more consistent player over the last month or so.
Based on all of Luhnow’s comments regarding Villar, I think this sample size is still too small to say that he has done enough to earn a promotion. He still has some work to do in the minor leagues, and he is certainly getting closer. Fear not, as we will see Villar in Houston before the season is over.
Elmore played three games with the Astros earlier this season when Jose Altuve was on bereavement leave. He hit .364 in 12 plate appearances while driving in and scoring a run. Despite the fact that Elmore played second base then, he is a natural shortstop, so defense will not be a problem.
Another thing in Elmore’s favor, is that he has been hitting extremely well as of late. In his last 12 games he is hitting .391 and for the season his average sits at .297 to go with 30 RBI’s.
To me, Elmore’s overall body of work coupled with his recent hot streak and Villar’s ongoing quest for consistency makes him the answer to who will be starting at shortstop tomorrow night.
The hot streak for Elmore also comes at the right time as Gonzalez’s struggles have intensified. Gonzalez followed up his subpar rookie season where he batted .230 with a .234 batting average so far this season. His average only looks that good thanks to a .297 April so there was a clear fall off there.
The trip to AAA should be a good thing for Gonzalez as it allows him to clear his head and rediscover his stroke. He is still young enough that we could see him back in Houston at some point in the near future. For now, lets see what Elmore can do with extended playing. And don’t worry, Villar will be here before the end of the season.