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Astros Starting Third Baseman: Luis Valbuena

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It’s amazing how much has changed since 2014 where the starting third baseman was Matt Dominguez. If you have been under a rock all offseason, the Astros have made some moves.

One of Jeff Luhnow’s goals for the offseason was to improve at third base. Matt Dominguez was supposed to be the Astros third baseman until Rio Ruiz or Colin Moran took over, but Ruiz was sent packing in the Evan Gattis trade. The Astros had a surplus of outfielders, so they traded Dexter Fowler to the Cubs for RHP Dan Straily and third baseman Luis Valbuena.

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Most people outside of Chicago may not have heard of Valbuena before. Valbuena’s career started off looking like he would be a journeyman throughout his career. He has played for Cleveland, Seattle, and Chicago before joining the Astros. Despite seven years in the majors, he only has about four actual years of service time in the big leagues.

Valbuena also bats left-handed and has a good on-base average, despite having a low batting average. He is a contact hitter who has learned how to hit for more power as he matures. One thing that he does well, is that he doesn’t belong in “Astros Generation K,” unlike most of his new slugging teammates. I wrote about “Astros Generation K” earlier in the offseason, here is Part 1 and Part 2.

Below is the chart from Part II. While the batting order has changed since then, the strikeout rate has not. The stats below are from the Steamer Projections located at Fan Graphs.

The new Astros batting order has Valbuena hitting third between George Springer and Chris Carter. Manager A.J. Hinch wanted a left-handed hitter in the meat of the lineup in between the right-handed sluggers. Ideally this hitter would be someone like Jon Singleton, but after a hot start, he has cooled way off this spring. The Astros are hoping that Singleton can get out of his funk and became the hitter he is supposed to be. Valbuena is projected to be tied for highest on-base average on the team with Springer.

Here is an updated projection of the Astros batting order: Altuve/ Springer/ Valbuena/ Carter/ Gattis/ Lowrie/ Ramus/ Castro/ Singleton or Marisnick.

Last season in his breakout year with the Cubs, Valbuena had a slash line of .249/ .341/ .435/.776 with 16 home runs and 51 runs batted in. With great defense at third, he should be an asset to the Astros playing the hot corner. He might get a day off against tough left-handed pitchers because he struggles against them. There was originally some talk that Matt Dominguez and Valbuena would platoon at third until Colin Moran is ready, but those thoughts disappeared as Dominguez was optioned to Triple-A on Sunday.

Valbuena may not bring the “oohs” and “ahhs” like some of his teammates offensively, but his bat should still keep the opposing pitcher on his toes.

Next: Predicting Who will be on 2017 World Series Roster

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