The Astros Might Need a Change at First Base


[Update: April 22, 10:58 pm. Carter hit his first home run of the season. He hit his first home run on the same date last season, so maybe he will get on track now]

While Chris Carter had a crucial RBI in Tuesday’s win versus the Mariners, it was his first RBI of the season. He also hit his first homer late in the Wednesday night game, but otherwise he has struggled in 2015. The Astros are counting on Carter to play first base and hit for power, but 13 games into the season it is not happening. The Astros find themselves in first place in the AL West, which indicates that they might be competitive this season. Chris Carter coming into the season was one of my favorite Astros, but if he was anyone else he would be out of the starting lineup or in Fresno. The fact that Carter hit 37 homers last year has bought him some time, but that time looks to be starting to expire.

There is zero chance that Chris Carter goes to Triple-A, as the Astros see him as trade bait. They want to give Carter every chance to get hot so that he can regain his power stroke for potential trade value. What I am proposing is limiting his playing time until he gets things figured out. With the Astros in need of someone to play first base, should the Astros promote Jon Singleton?

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Yes, we are talking about the same Jon Singleton who struggled in 2014 and towards the end of spring training this year. The same Singleton that made some inexcusable errors at first base in spring games. The future at first base is Jon Singleton until he proves otherwise. He was sent down to Triple-A to gain confidence and work on some aspects of his game, and by all reports he is close to achieving these goals.

Carter is now batting .122/ 1 HRs/ 2 RBI while striking out 22 times with six walks. In Triple-A so far in 2015, Singleton has hit .313/ 3 homers/ 9 RBI’s in 13 games. The best sign for Singleton is that he has only had 11 strikeouts in 48 at-bats, which is a 23% strikeout percentage. The best evidence of Carter’s struggles in 2015 is his 47% strikeout rate this year. He is struggling way beyond his earlier struggles in 2014, so it’s hard to predict what to make of Carter.

Prior to Jonathan Villar being sent down to Triple-A last night, my idea was to send him down and recall Jon Singleton. In order to do this, Singleton will have to be playing five games a week. Singleton might cut into Carter’s at-bats, but throwing him out there every day is not helping him when he has no clue. He can get some playing time at first, designated hitter, or leftfield. He could realistically be able to play in three to four games in a given week. Once he gets back on track, he can work his way back into the lineup. You might call it a platoon, but Singleton would get the bulk of the playing time.

But this plan might need to be altered now that Villar was sent down so the Astros could activate Josh Fields from the DL. Jason wrote about this here. The Astros are now carrying 13 pitchers, which is not the norm. Earlier in the week I wrote about the chances of Villar going down to activate Fields here.

The Astros now have a thin bench, so the Astros will be asking Marwin Gonzalez to play many positions. Versatility is not a trait that Singleton appears to have, so he is unlikely to join the Astros any time soon unless there is an injury to a reliever or position player. One of the relievers could struggle, or the Astros could realize that carrying 13 pitchers isn’t necessary.  Josh Fields strengthens the Astros already great bullpen, so unless the Astros decide to cut ties with Joe Thatcher, I’m not sure who the Astros can afford to lose.

Once Singleton is called up, let’s look at the potential lineup.

1) Jose Altuve

2) Luis Valbuena

3) George Springer

4) Evan Gattis

5) Jed Lowrie

6) Jason Castro

7) Jon Singleton/Chris Carter

8) Colby Rasmus

9) Jake Marisnick

The ideal place for Jon Singleton to bat is as the cleanup hitter in between George Springer and Evan Gattis. Jeff Luhnow mentioned at the beginning of the season that in his mind, Singleton has already made the team. The Astros have a winning record with Springer, Gattis, and Carter all struggling. However, how long can the middle of your order continue to struggle and you still win games?

Defensively Carter has looked good at first, except for the one play that led to multiple runs being scored in a loss. The one thing that Singleton could bring to Houston is the excitement that Carter is lacking. When Carter is hitting bombs left and right, you can deal with the strikeouts. When he’s not, it’s easy to lose patience. I’m still a big Carter supporter, but the Astros could accelerate their 2017 playoff timeline in 2015.

The Singleton promotion will be on hold for now with the Villar/Fields transaction. The Astros will give Carter some more time, but how much time will be too much?

Next: Houston Astros Minor League Week Review April 9th - 19th

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