While on Baseball Prospectus last night, looking over their PECOTA rankings, I noticed two things. The first is that they have the Houston Astros finishing with a 77-85 record, once again in the cellar of the AL West. While the record is what matters, and a seven-win improvement over last year is nothing to sneeze at, another last place finish just doesn’t feel right with all of the optimism that surrounds this team. The second projection that caught my eye was that they have Matt Dominguez playing solely at third base, but only 25 percent of the time.
Granted, Dominguez struggled mightily last season, batting just .215 with a terrible .257 on-base percentage, but he did hit 16 home runs while driving in 57. His strikeout rate was a bit high, at 22.16 percent, but that shouldn’t be a problem on this team. According to this PECOTA projection, new acquisition Luis Valbuena will be handling third base duties the other 75 percent of the time.
The main question that comes to my mind is this: if Matt Dominguez is only going to be playing in roughly 40 games in 2015, would he be worth a spot on the 25-man roster? These same projections have Marwin Gonzalez playing in a total of twenty percent of the Astros’ games, splitting time equally between second and short. Why not have him play third as well, and use the extra spot created to give someone else a shot?
Gonzalez is a switch-hitter that batted .277 last season with a .327 on-base percentage. The Astros’ lineup has plenty of pop, but if nobody can get on base in front of the power hitters, the whole exercise is futile, right?
Call us biased, but Joe Sclafani could be a utility man in Houston as well. With Gonzalez acting more as the third base backup instead of Dominguez, Sclafani could receive a look in the big leagues while playing short and second, two positions with which he’s familiar.
Other options could include Domingo Santana, who struggled while getting his cup of coffee in the majors last season and will likely see some time in Fresno before receiving a second look, or the Astros could start with an extra arm in the bullpen. It’s no guarantee that lefty specialist Joe Thatcher will make the team out of camp, but an extra roster spot could be just what he needs to make it to Houston for opening day.
All of this speculation could be considered moot if Matt Dominguez does an adequate job this spring while gaining exposure at first base. While Dominguez didn’t excel against lefties, he was much better against them last season, batting .242 with 6 of his 16 home runs coming against southpaws in 350 less at-bats. Valbuena struggled against lefties in 2014, hitting just .217 with one of his total 16 homers coming against left-handers. Jon Singleton could be riding the pine with a left-hander on the mound as well, and Dominguez could represent another option in that scenario.
Dominguez has been fielding grounders at first this spring, and according to an article by Brian McTaggart, Jeff Luhnow said of Dominguez, “He’s got to win himself a job.” Whether that is outright at third base, or by positioning himself into enough playing time at third while also being capable of filling in at first remains to be seen, but Matt Dominguez is putting in the work this spring. In that same article, McTaggart mentions that Dominguez is is slated to start at first base for the first time this spring on March 11th in a “B” squad game.
There are other options for this roster spot, and with minor league talent knocking on the major-league door Matt Dominguez will have to earn his way onto the 2015 Astros.
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