Who’s in it for the Long Haul? Infield Edition


If you are a fan of the 2013 Astros, the only way to keep your sanity is to look to the future. Just picture our fully stocked farm system blooming into beautiful and radiant major league talent. While dreaming of a 2017 AL West title, I try to imagine what that team’s lineup would look like. Since that is impossible to predict, I figure my time would be better spent looking at which current players the Astros should keep around, and which ones are a waste of space and oxygen in Houston. Let’s start with the infield where there is currently the most promise.

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The Astros have been splitting first base duties between Carlos Pena and Chris Carter this season. It’s obvious that Pena is not in the Astros’ long term plans. In fact, I would be surprised if he were in their August 2013 plans. Chris Carter, however, is an intriguing player. While many of the analytical minds in the game have tried to convince the baseball world that strikeouts are no worse than any other type of out, I hold on to my beliefs that if you can put the ball in play consistently, you can make things happen. Carter has been a strikeout machine so far this season, but recently he seems to be showing more patience at the plate. For the month of May, Carter has a .235/.339/.412 line and is walking in nearly 12% of his plate appearances. While those numbers will not blow anyone out of the water, it is a definite improvement over his April numbers, and I hope to see those numbers continue to trend this way as he gains experience. I can see Carter sticking around and taking care of the Astros’ future designated hitter needs.

The Astros have a potential superstar on their hands in the form of Jose Altuve. Thanks to his infectious smile, his “balls to the wall” playing style, and his ability to put the barrel on nearly any pitch, Altuve has caught the eye of people throughout baseball. I see Altuve as the closest to a “sure thing” that the Astros have on their roster, and he could end up having a long career in Houston that could end with his number 27 being placed up with the other Astro legends. Altuve’s presence will eventually push prospect Delino DeShields, Jr to the outfield.

After Jed Lowrie was traded during the offseason, the Astros were left with a glaring hole at shortstop. At the time they had planned on splitting time between Tyler Greene and Marwin Gonzalez. After Greene proved that he was a rare Jeff Luhnow miss in the Cardinals’ 2005 draft, they cut ties with him and signed Ronny Cedeno. Cedeno has since showed that he may have feet for hands as he kicks the ball around more than David Beckham (who is the only soccer player I can name). He has hit the ball fairly well, but not well enough to keep the Astros from moving or cutting him once they feel Jonathan Villar is ready to be called up later this season. I am a big fan of Marwin Gonzalez. Gonzalez has shown a great glove and has an above average arm. The switch-hitter has shown more pop in his bat than he did last season, but has issues with his plate discipline as he is walking in only 3.3% of his plate appearances. Gonzalez has shown ability to play a solid second and third base as well, so I feel he could help out the future Astros in a utility role; though he will have a tough time sticking once Villar and Nolan Fontana are major league-ready.

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Matt Dominguez has slowly become my favorite Astros’ player to watch. There’s something about a sure-handed third baseman that really draws me in. People throughout baseball knew that Dominguez’s glove could play at the major league level. In fact, many thought that he could win several Gold Gloves–IF he could hit well enough to stay in the big leagues. You expect your corner infielders to put up power numbers that Dominguez has yet to show. He has just four home runs this year (two of which came in the same game against Yu Darvish) and an anemic .638 OPS. Since there aren’t really any top third base prospects in the upper levels of the system, Dominguez should get every shot to prove that he can or can’t hit in the big leagues.

The healthy 2013 version of Jason Castro is much better than the recovering 2012 edition. Last year Castro was an embarrassment behind the plate on balls in the dirt. You could tell that he was a little apprehensive about falling to his surgically repaired knee to block a ball. Castro looks much better in that regard, as well as with his bat. While he isn’t getting on base as much as you would like him to, he is hitting the ball with authority as evidenced by his 12 doubles and four home runs. With Castro as the starter and Carlos Corporan as the backup, the catching position has really become a strength of the team. While Corporan has only 57 plate appearances this season, he has an impressive .314/.386/.529 line with 3 homers. He has also been solid defensively, throwing out three of seven attempted base stealers. Unfortunately for Corporan, he doesn’t have the ability to maintain those numbers for an entire season and is not a talented enough catcher to be an everyday starter. Castro, however, has the potential to be in an Astros’ uniform for a while and will eventually start to split his playing time with prospects Carlos Perez and Tyler Heineman.

That’s five infielders that I could see being around once the team is respectable again. That is somewhat surprising to me, but I realize that the infield has been the least of the Astros’ worries this season. Once I get to the pitchers and outfield, I’m sure I’ll be able to spew some more negativity for you.