Who’s on Third?


Coming into Spring Training the Astros had three players competing for the starting third base job. Brett Wallace, Chris Johnson, and Jimmy Paredes all had a fighting chance. Johnson eventually won the job but was shipped off to the Diamondbacks prior to the trade deadline. Wallace was trying to increase his versatility by playing the position he played in college, but didn’t look all that comfortable at the hot corner. Plus, with Carlos Lee now out of the picture, Wallace should become a fixture at first base in Houston. Paredes has gone through a couple of position changes, moving to second base for most of the season before the Astros finally wised up and moved him to the outfield.

When the Astros brought Paredes to the big leagues last season as a third baseman, I thought it was obvious that he should be an outfielder. At 6′ and 200 pounds, Paredes  didn’t even look like a third baseman. His footwork was a bit awkward, but the first time I saw him chase down a popup near the stands his speed and quickness were quite evident. I thought, why waste this guy’s speed at 3B – he would be better off as an outfielder. The Astros already had Johnson at third but Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence had been traded away, leaving a couple of outfield spots available. Paredes also had a strong and accurate arm, another valuable tool best suited for rightfield.

Paredes made his first big league start in the outfield last night, batting second and playing rightfield against the Giants. The Astros are now committed to the 23 year-old in the outfield for the foreseeable future.

But what about third base? With Paredes and the others out of the picture the hot corner has become a black hole for the Astros. Scott Moore and Marwin Gonzalez have shared time there lately, but neither is a long term solution. Moore is a decent utility guy, but not an everyday starter. Gonzalez could have a future as a shortstop but doesn’t hit enough to hold down a corner infield position. Matt Dominguez, acquired from Miami in the Carlos Lee trade, could be the guy. Expect the Astros to call him up next week and give him a chance.

But are the Astros missing the obvious answer to the 3B dilemma? I think so. There’s a player on the current big league roster that seems like a perfect fit. That player is Jason Castro. The Astros first round pick in the 2008 draft has a skill set that I think translates nicely for the position. Couple that with the fact that serious leg and foot injuries have already impacted his career and I think moving Castro to third is a no-brainer. His future as a catcher is already in question due to those injuries.

I don’t want to say Castro is a bad backstop, but he hasn’t done as well behind the plate as we had hoped. Castro has been subpar at blocking pitches in the dirt. He has eight passed balls and has been behind the plate for 25 wild pitches in 61 games this season. Even though his caught stealing percentage has declined since the knee injury, I would still say he has an excellent arm. That arm would be a valuable asset at 3B, in my opinion. Squatting with the bad knee could be a big part of the problem. Getting Castro upright seems to be the only logical move if the Astros consider him a part of their future.

The Astros like Castro’s bat, and shedding the tools of ignorance would most likely have a positive effect on his offensive output as well. Jason would be able to spend more time concentrating on improving his hitting, time that he now spends studying opposing hitters and working with the pitching staff.

So what’s the holdup? I mean, why hasn’t Castro already been moved to third?