The Houston Astros can claim something they haven’t been able to claim in a while: a winning record while holding onto first place in the AL West, or any division for that matter. The future of the Astros has arrived early in 2015, or so it appears. While it’s still early in the season, it’s never too early to look at the future at third base for the Astros. The position has been an enigma over the years, where players came and went. You have had the Chris Truby‘s, Morgan Ensberg‘s, and Matt Dominguez‘s of the world. The previously named players showed potential, but something ultimately held them back.
The Astros were not satisfied with Dominguez’s progression in 2014, so they were actively seeking a third baseman for 2015 in the offseason, to keep the position warm for either Carlos Correa or Colin Moran. While Correa projects as the Astros future shortstop, some scouts feel that he will eventually have to move to third. Moran projects as the Astros future third baseman, but he won’t be your typical slugging corner infielder. Who will be the Astros third baseman in 2016 and 2017?
Who’s on Third for 2015?
The Astros addressed their 2015 third baseman need by trading outfielder Dexter Fowler to the Chicago Cubs for RHP Dan Straily and 3rd baseman Luis Valbuena. At the time of the trade, most people considered Valbuena a platoon player to split time with Dominguez. However, Valbuena had other ideas during spring training and earned the position straight out, with Matty D starting the season in Triple-A. The good news is that through 19 games, he has shown some pop hitting five home runs with seven RBIs. The bad news is that he is batting .194 so far on the season.
Valbuena also appears to be a streaky hitter and tends to struggle against left-handed pitchers. This is why earlier in the offseason I suggested that Matt Dominguez should face the left-handers. However, Dominguez did not even make the team, so Valbuena has played against some southpaws, and the numbers paint an ugly picture.
- Versus righties – .229/ 5 HR/ 7 RBI/ .846 OPS while striking out 10 times in 48 at-bats.
- Versus lefties – .071/ 0 HR/ o RBI/ .276 OPS while stiking out three times in 14 at-bats.
For a full-time player, this split is not a good thing to have. Valbuena started the season slowly, then went on a hot streak, and now he has returned to struggling a little. Is Valbuena in a funk, or is this the player that he is. We have to keep in mind that Valbuena has been a journeyman player up until last year with the Cubs. He has not been able to maintain a decent batting average in his time in the Majors, but I wouldn’t compare him to Chris Carter. Valbuena makes adequate contact, so he doesn’t strike out as much.
Who’s on Third after 2015?
Valbuena so far, even though its a small sample size, has lowered his strikeout percentage from 20.7% from 2014 to 17.8% this year. The bad news is that his walk rate has also decreased from 11.9% in 2014 to only 6.8% in 2015. Valbuena is striking out and walking less, so let’s look at why these numbers are going down. The answer is his swing percentage has increased from 44.9% in 2014 to 49.4% while his contact rate increased from 78.3% in 2014 to 86.5%. All stats are courtesy of FanGraphs.
Valbuena is swinging at more pitches and is making more contact so far this year. However, too many times that he has made contact, he pops the ball up to the pitcher or gives a weak ground ball to short. In other words, he is hitting pitcher’s pitches and making unproductive outs. Can Valbuena capitalize on a mistake pitch? Yes he can, as is evident by his five homers. Valbuena needs to be a little more selective with his pitches and look for ones he can hit. If he becomes more selective about which pitches to swing at, he will start making better contact.
It’s still too early to determine if Valbuena will still be a member of the Astros roster in 2017. The power is legit, but he needs to get on base more. Don’t be surprised if A.J. Hinch starts to sit Valbuena more often against tough southpaws.
Can Valbuena be the everyday guy for the Astros two years from now? That depends on him becoming more consistent at the plate, while Colin Moran could put pressure on Valbuena in 2016, it’s his job to lose right now.
He could be a free agent in the 2017 season, so when Correa comes up, Lowrie could slide over to third base as well.
More from Climbing Tal's Hill
- Just how much better is the Houston Astros playoff rotation than the rest?
- Houston Astros: A Lineup Change to Spark Offense
- Astros prospect Hunter Brown throws 6 shutout innings in debut
- Always faithful Astros World Series champion Josh Reddick defends the title
- Michael Conforto declines Astros’ 2-year, $30 million offer