Jeff Luhnow has hinted that there will be plenty of competition for jobs when the Astros arrive in Kissimmee for Spring Training next month. Brad Mills has stated that he likes Jimmy Paredes as the team’s every day third-baseman. Chris Johnson has been working hard this off-season and has something to prove. Add it all up and we’ve got a battle for the hot corner.
While Johnson has been fielding grounders and lifting weights, Paredes kept in shape by playing in the Dominican Winter League. The 23 year-old Paredes hit .306 with one HR and 18 RBIs in 39 games in his homeland this winter.
Last year, Johnson’s misfortune turned into an opportunity for Paredes. The youngster was promoted directly to the big club from AA when a struggling Johnson was demoted to Oklahoma City. Most Astros fans had grown weary of Johnson’s lack of plate discipline and subpar defensive performance and welcomed Paredes with open arms. Paredes hit .286/.320/.393 in 46 games with the Astros. Although those numbers are nothing to get too excited about and the sample size is small, fans seem to be ready to anoint Paredes as the 3B of the present. Not so fast, please. I think Paredes has a bright future but I’m not quite ready to give up on Chris Johnson.
Johnson had a tremendous rookie season in 2010 that his critics are quick to dismiss, citing a .387 BABIP as evidence that Johnson was lucky. A closer look at the data shows Johnson had a line drive percentage of 24.0 which ranked sixth in the majors among hitters with at least 300 plate appearances. Even with his struggles last season Johnson still managed a 23.2 line drive percentage, which ranked 30th among big-leaguers with at least 300 plate appearances. When he manages to make contact Johnson consistently hits the ball on a line. He obviously needs to cut down on the strikeouts and become more selective at the plate. If Johnson is able to accomplish this there is no reason to believe he won’t put up numbers similar to his 2010 season. Johnson has also shown the ability to hit the ball out of the park, a skill that is in high demand.
It should also be noted that Paredes posted a .383 BABIP last season and his batting average was nearly 20 points lower than Johnson’s rookie season. Paredes had a line drive percentage of 21.0 which is above average, but Johnson’s numbers in this category are elite.
Both players are somewhat of a liability on defense. Johnson had a dismal .908 fielding percentage in 2010 and committed 18 errors. Last season was better (.937 with 15 errors) but was still well below average. Paredes is still learning the position and fielded at a .953 clip with five errors in his 46 games with the Astros.
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Matt Downs figures to be the backup 3B, so whoever loses this position battle could be on the outside looking in. It would seem as though Paredes would have more to gain by spending time at AAA learning the position. At 27 years of age, Johnson should be entering his prime. To me it makes sense to give him another chance to play every day and see if he fits into the team’s future plans. Paredes may not be ready and could experience the same type of sophomore slump that Johnson did. On the other hand, Johnson could indeed be ready to break out like he says he is.