The injury to Jason Castro exposed the lack of depth that the Astros have at the catcher’s position. This made me curious as to what kind of coverage the Astros had across the board in case of injury. So I decided to break down each position to see what kind of depth the Astros have to guard against injury, and try and determine what positions are at greater risk than others due to the lack of quality depth. We will start at first base and work our way around the infield before moving on to the outfield, and will stick strictly to the field leaving pitchers off the list to discuss another day.
It appears that Brett Wallace will more than likely open the season as the everyday first baseman by having a good but not spectacular spring thus far. In the event that Wallace was injured Carlos Lee would more than likely slide over from left field to play first, and a platoon of Jason Michaels, Brian Bogusevic, and Jason Bourgeois would cover left field. If this scenario were to play out then the Astros would show improved defense in left field and as far as offense is concerned, they could play matchups with Bogusevic and Michaels to maximize their offense from that position. Looking beyond options at the major league level they could promote Koby Clemens from Triple-A. Koby is capable of playing good defense and hits for power, but does not sustain a high average and strikes out far too much. The last option the Astros could use at first base would be Brian Dopirak who was signed to a minor league contract this offseason. Dopirak has put up respectable numbers in the minor’s but has not played in the major leagues yet. If an injury were to occur to Wallace at some point this year then the Astros have three capable players of filling in making first base one of the deeper and less risky positions on the team.
The Astros signed Bill Hall as a free agent this offseason and anointed him as the everyday second baseman. They briefly fielded trade offers for the incumbent second basemen Jeff Keppinger before it was discovered that Keppinger was going to miss the start of the season due to an injury. Depth options behind Hall include Matt Downs, Anderson Hernandez, Angel Sanchez, and Jeff keppinger when he returns from injury. Keppinger would be the primary backup when he returns in late April to mid May, which would leave Matt Downs, Anderson Hernandez, and Angel Sanchez competing for the backup role until then. All of these players would bring average defense to the position, but their offense would more than likely be below average. Sanchez can hit for a decent average but lacks power, and Hernandez and Downs both show a little pop but have not hit for average. Whoever wins this role would more than likely just serve as a placeholder until Keppinger returns from injury. As a whole second base looks like a position with decent but unspectacular depth at the major league level for the Astros.
Another newcomer Clint Barmes was traded for in the offseason to take over the everyday shortstop duties. Behind Barmes, last year’s opening day shortstop Tommy Manzella appears to be the next best choice. Even though his defense was shaky to start the season he played a much better shortstop right before an injury sidelined him for almost the rest of the season. Manzella does not bring a lot of offense with him, but does have a decent track record in the minors. It has taken Manzella about 200 at-bats before he starts putting things together so it is possible that he could improve significantly at the plate this year. Behind Manzella would be Angel Sanchez. Sanchez filled in quite well for the Astros last year when Manzella was injured, but does not have the arm or the range to be viewed as a decent defender at the position. What Sanchez was able to do last year was hit for average which was something that last year’s squad desperately needed. If the injury bug were to bite Barmes this season then the Astros have options at short, but none of them would appear to be able to fill in at replacement level.
One of last year’s most pleasant surprises was Chris Johnson. Chris Johnson will play an integral role on the team this year and will be counted on to be a big contributor on offense. Behind Johnson on the depth chart is Matt Downs and Jeff Keppinger. Both Downs and Keppinger can play either second or third respectably in case injury were to occur. There are not any quality options at third base in the upper levels of the farm system making third base a position of weakness as well.
The Astros catching options now that Castro has had surgery have already been thoroughly discussed, so we will instead view Towles and Quintero as catcher1 and look at depth beyond them. The Astros signed Robinson Cancel today to a minor league contract to add cheap depth. Along with Cancel the Astros also have Carlos Corporan and Brian Esposito. These three players are probably emergency fillers and will not be expected to contribute much at the major league level unless injuries arise.
Instead of breaking the outfield down position by position we will look at the group of backups as a whole. Jason Michaels, Brian Bogusevic, and Jason Bourgeois are all capable of playing all three outfield positions. If an injury occurred to Pence or Lee then using a platoon of Bogusevic and Michaels would probably bring the best offensive production. If an injury occurred to Michael Bourn then Jason Bourgeois would be the best option due to his speed playing better in center than the other two. Down on the farm system T.J. Steele, J.B. Shuck, and Jon Gaston are all close to being major league ready if the need were to arise. None of these players are projected to be superstars but could fill in at replacement level if needed.
When looking at the Astros major league ready depth, the outfield, first base, and second base appear to have the best coverage. Catcher and third base are the two weakest positions with shortstop not trailing to far behind.