The Astros experiment with a 13-man bullpen appears to be done, at least while playing in San Diego. The Astros made a surprise, but not too surprising move on Monday, by optioning Asher Wojciechowski down to AAA Fresno. The second part of the move is recalling an outfielder who is off to a great start to his 2015 season. It is not Domingo Santana or Preston Tucker. The player returning to the Astros is L.J. Hoes.
While this is not a big time move, Santana or Tucker would be the more surprising move, Hoes gives the Astros another bat off the bench while they play in a National League park. In NL games, there is more strategizing by managers and pinch-hitting for the pitchers. The extra bat off the bench will be welcomed by manager A.J. Hinch.
As Jason wrote in his Fresno Grizzlies report, Hoes is off to a hot start with the bat in Triple-A. Through 15 games, Hoes is hitting an impressive .418/ 9 doubles/ 12 RBIs/ 1.076 OPS. These numbers show the player the Astros thought they traded for when they shipped out Bud Norris at the deadline a couple of years back, not the player that regularly sat on the bench as a September call-up last year. Hoes will probably not hit for much power, but his minor league numbers show a potential .300 hitter.
What type of impact should we expect from Hoes? He is up here for his speed as a pinch runner because the Astros have a few lumbering sluggers; who I’m sure Hinch would not mind replacing with some speed in late game situations. One such instance occured when Marwin Gonzalez pinch ran for Chris Carter in one of the Athletics games over the weekend. The TV announcers pointed out that Gonzalez is not your typical speedy pinch runner, and he ended up being picked off first right after the comment. Gonzalez is known more for his bat and defense, not his speed. While Hoes may not have blazing speed, he was able to steal 20 bases in both 2011 and 2012 in the minors. Hinch has had the green light on for the Astros base runners regularly this season.
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How long does Hoes stay up with the Astros? The Astros could just have him up for the Padres series, which McTaggart hints at in his Tweet from above. National League play normally calls for more bats off the bench, so we will see if that was the case after the Padres series. The other condition that will factor in as to how long Hoes will be up is what the Astros decide to do with the fifth starter slot.
The second part of the move was optioning Asher Wojciechowski to AAA, which has a direct impact on the length of Hoes’s stay in Houston. Wojciechowski was scheduled to pitch Friday, so the Astros will decide between Sam Deduno or Brett Oberholtzer to replace him in the rotation. Sam Deduno, is labeled the long-man in the Astros bullpen, but has been used as Wojciechowski’s tandem pitcher buddy so far this year. In all three of Wojo’s starts, he failed to go past four innings. If the Astros take this route, they will be without a long-man in the bullpen as Hoes stays.
If the Astros decide to choose door two, which is activating Brett Oberholtzer, then Hoes could be once again playing with the Grizzles shortly. Oberholtzer was a lock to make the Astros rotation in spring training but was hindered by a blister. Oberholtzer would give the Astros that second left-handed pitcher behind co-ace Dallas Keuchel. The Astros rotation has been a strength of the Astros thus far, despite the rocky start by Wojciechowski and the one appearance by Brad Peacock. Adding a reliable pitcher like Oberholtzer should strengthen the rotation, so I expect that Hoes or another reliever will be sent to Triple-A.
Wojciechowski showed promise at times, but he couldn’t find the same success that he had with the Astros in spring training. I have no dislike of L.J. Hoes, but I see him as more of a depth option versus part of the future as is the case with Tucker and Santana. Could Hoes be that viable option off the Astros bench? Sure, but does he fall into the Quadruple-A type player who can’t seem to find success on the major league roster? Only time will tell, but Hoes could help the Astros try to beat the improved Padres this week. I predict that he might get one start in the outfield before being sent down, with the start coming in Wednesday’s game.