Player profile: Matt Downs
Matt Downs was a 36th round draft pick by the San Francisco Giants in 2006. An experienced college player from the University of Alabama, Downs excelled in the lower levels of the Giants farm system. In 2008 Downs was promoted to AAA Fresno after a strong showing at (High A) San Jose. Downs continued to produce with the bat and was called up to the Giants in June of 2009. Downs would struggle against big league pitching and the Giants would waive him in 2010 to make room on their roster for Cody Ross. That turned out to be a pretty good move for the Giants. Ross went on to earn NLCS MVP honors and carry the Giants to a World Series Championship. The Astros claimed Downs off waivers from San Francisco and even though the team has had very little success, Downs has been a pleasant surprise.
Downs produced a respectable .298/.359/.478 slash line in 423 minor league games. Matt also proved to be a versatile defender, playing all four infield positions as well as both corner outfield positions in the minors. Versatility helped Downs earn a spot on the Astros Opening Day roster in 2011. Matt seized the opportunity and became one of the team’s most dependable hitters. Downs led all Astros hitters with a .518 slugging and .864 OPS. Downs blasted 10 home runs and drove in 41 in only 199 at-bats and was voted the Astros Breakout Player of the Year.
Downs doesn’t really have a position as a starter but should see plenty of playing time in 2012. Downs played three games in rightfield last September and his .340 average against lefties suggests he could platoon there with Brian Bogusevic. The Astros have even toyed with the idea of making Downs their third catcher. I’m not really fond of that idea and hopefully the addition of Craig Tatum means Downs will only don the tools of ignorance in an emergency. I would actually prefer to see Downs given a chance as an every day player at either 2B or 3B. The Astros seem to be ready to start the season with Jose Altuve at 2B, but I would prefer to have Altuve start at AAA and give the more powerful Downs a shot at the position.Downs has more major league experience at 2B (65 games) than any other position.
Third base could be a more likely possibility for Downs as a starter. The Astros don’t really seem to be sure about what they want to do with Chris Johnson or Jimmy Paredes. I think the smart thing to do would be to give Johnson another chance to earn the job in Spring Training. Sure, Johnson was a disappointment in 2011 but I think it’s a bit too soon to give up on him. Paredes, like Altuve, skipped over the AAA level last season and some time in Oklahoma City could be beneficial to the 23 year-old. I really dont think 3B is the best position for Paredes anyway. His speed and arm strength make Paredes a natural for RF, in my opinion. Any of these three players could win the 3B job in Spring Training. Even if Downs doesn’t begin the season as a starter he should see plenty of action pinch-hitting and filling in for players who are injured or being rested.