Astros Spring Training: Jake Marisnick for Center Field

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On day two of Astros spring training, Astros fans on Twitter have been discussing a quote that Jeff Luhnow said the other day. “If Marisnick can hit .260 plus, and be an elite defensive OF, we need to think about him in the mix potentially as an everyday center fielder.” This was said during an interview on MLB TV radio. They understand that Evan Gattis could be a defensive liability in left field, so they may be trying to create a plan B.

The Astros traded Jarred Cosart to not only get Colin Moran, but also to get Jake Marisnick. He was underrated as a Miami Marlin, and he is underrated as an Astros player as well. The two things he does not do is hit home runs and drive in many runs, but he does offer other plus tools. He plays great defense, can hit for a decent average, and can steal a fair amount of bases.

This essentially creates a rare spring training battle between Jake Marisnick and Jon Singleton for different positions. If Jon Singleton wins the battle, then he will be the starting first baseman. He is the future at first base, no matter what happens at the beginning of the year. However, if Marisnick wins, then Singleton will probably start the year at AAA. In that case, Evan Gattis will play first.

Marisnick’s whirl-wind offseason.

Jake Marisnick will probably never tell anyone this, but I bet he has had a roller coaster of an offseason. Following the conclusion of the 2014 season, Marisnick appeared to have left field locked with his solid play both offensively and defensively. Then the Astros traded for Evan Gattis, to be a fly in Marisnick’s house when he heard the Astros traded for Gattis to play left field.

Then the Astros traded Dexter Fowler to the Cubs. Do you think maybe Marisnick broke out the expensive wine that night in celebration? The following day he was probably making weapons out of beer bottles when he heard that the Astros signed Colby Rasmus. If Marisnick is feeling bad, how do you think L.J. Hoes, Robbie Grossman, and Alex Presley feel right about now? I can see them counting on their fingers trying to do the math.

If Marisnick wins the center field job, George Springer is in right field, and Rasmus is in left field. Gattis would then play first, while Carter becomes the designated hitter. If anything, the Astros brass have created some excitement for spring training where there will be real competition at every position, except second base and right field.

What makes Marisnick so special?

Before the trade to the Astros, Marisnick had a perfect fielding percentage. Even after the trade, he only made only two errors with the Astros with a .984 fielding percentage. However, those two errors came playing right field, which could be explained by seeing the ball at a different angle. He is the prototypical center fielder with speed and range.

In terms of a throwing arm, he had six assists between the Marlins and Astros in 2014. Bottom line, out of 177 chances in 2014, Marisnick only had two errors. In 99 chances in center field, he had zero errors. However, if the Astros go with the veteran Colby Rasmus in center field, history says he’s played great defense, even though he struggled with the bat recently. He had three assists playing in center field with the Blue Jays last year, but only played in 96 games in 2014.

After the trade to the Astros in 51 games, Marisnick hit .272/18 R/ 3 HR/ 19 RBI/ 6 SB. Other factors would be considered, but over a full season that would be .272/ 57 R/ 10 HR/ 60 RBI/ 19 SB. If he plays solid defense, then as Jeff Luhnow said, he would be very valuable to the Astros.

Would Jake Marisnick be a late inning replacement for Gattis?

If Marisnick does not open the season as the starting center fielder, that would leave Evan Gattis as the every day left fielder. Marisnick will probably serve a similar role to Gattis that outfielders served to Carlos Lee towards the end of his career. This will work against the Astros favor, being that during a tie game where Gattis is no longer in the game, they will lose that impact power bat.

No matter whether he is the starting center fielder or not, Jake Marisnick will be on the Astros opening day roster. Jon Singleton could use a little more time in AAA to get his mojo back, then Marisnick will get his chance. If Jon Singleton hits well during spring training, this will work against Marisnick. Either way, the Astros believe in Marisnick.

If the Astros do start with an outfield of Rasmus, Marisnick, and George Springer, they would have one of the top defensive outfields in baseball.

Next: Interview with Astros Prospect Tony Kemp

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