For starters, there are no absolutes in baseball. This is especially true when it comes to young players. And we know that nothing is solved in January with Opening Day just over two months away.
However, that does not stop people from looking forward towards the season in an attempt to predict and project what will happen in 2014. A great deal of good content regarding this comes from the Fantasy Baseball community as preparations are underway in earnest for this year’s drafts. While this is geared towards fantasy owners, there is some interesting stuff here for Astros fans.
In that vain, Brett Talley takes a look at Houston’s infield and what we can expect from them going forward.
I think the first thing to note, is that Jason Castro and Jose Altuve are the absolutes here and pieces that we can expect to see with the Astros as they move forward. Of course part of this is dependent upon whether or not Houston decides to trade Castro.
Let’s start by taking a quick look at Castro. The catcher had a career year last season, but the big question is whether or not he will be able to make it through 2014 healthy. However, that is not the only thing Astros’ fans should be focused on.
Castro struck out 26.5% of the time last season which is not a recipe for success. Granted he still hit .276 so it wasn’t too much of an issue, but there is some concern as to how that will translate into 2014. I think part of the issue for Castro was that there was no protection in the lineup for him. Another good sign for Castro is that he had a 25.2% line drive rate, but overall Talley is not too high on Castro for 2014.
Castro just screams regression. Let’s start with his batting average. He hit .276 last year despite striking out 26.5% of the time. Of the 1,509 qualified hitters in the last decade, only 61 have had a K% of 26.5% or higher. Only four of those hitters hit .276 or better, and the average batting average of the group was .242.
Altuve should bounce back a little bit from last season where at times he struggled and looked undisciplined, but overall did pretty well hitting .283 at stealing 35 bases. The main thing for Altuve and Castro though, will be the improvements around them as the addition of Dexter Fowler will be beneficial to both. Also the fact that Altuve likely will not be shuffling in the batting order should help.
Despite the infield being stagnant, the outfield is going to look a bit different with Dexter Fowler now on the squad and George Springer on the way. That’s going to help the fantasy value of Altuve and Castro. Steamer projects Altuve to score 21 more runs than he did last year and projects Castro for 13 more RBI. Steamer is actually the most conservative of the projection models on Castro’s RBI total. Oliver has him at 78 RBI, and the fan projections have him at 74.
When it gets to Jonathan Villar, things are not as optimistic. We saw last season how good Villar can be when he is disciplined based on his tools. The problem is that he is just too inconsistent. Villar can run and steal bases, and make a spectacular play or two in the field when he relies on his athleticism, but that is about it. Granted he is still young and can grow out of this, but keep your expectations measured.
Of the 35 players that saw at least as many innings at short as Villar last year, Villar was 27th in defensive runs saved, 33rd in our defensive rating, and 34th in UZR/150. Scouting reports I could find from when Villar was in the minors described his defense anywhere from “error prone” to “an above-average defender and could rate as excellent.” He could certainly improve with just 500 innings under his belt, but the early defensive returns are concerning.
The whole first base/designated hitter situation we know is in flux, and that needs more than just this article to dissect.
Matt Dominguez‘s 2014 will likely not look too much different than his 2013 did.
Dominguez hit 21 home runs in 589 PA last year, and the projection systems expect him to do about the same thing this year. He’s got a little potential to improve his batting average from .241 because his BABIP is likely to rise from .254. But neither may rise that much because Domniguez doesn’t make great contact (18.7% LD%) and doesn’t have any speed to turn ground balls into hits.
We know that this will likely not be the Astros infield in 2016, but they should hold their own for this season with Villar being the biggest question mark.