First base remains an enigma for the Houston Astros heading into the 2016 season.
Between some combination of Jon Singleton, A.J. Reed, Tyler White, Matt Duffy, and Luis Valbuena, the Houston Astros hope that someone eventually sticks at the position. However, it appears that Singleton will be given every opportunity to earn the job before anyone else. This is not surprising when considering that his contract is guaranteed for $2 million per season through 2018. So basically it is time to find out if the former top prospect is for real or not.
Power shouldn’t be an issue with Singleton, no matter where is playing. Don’t forget that he hit 22 home runs last year with the Fresno Grizzlies. And the year before with the Astros he finished with 13 home runs in limited time. The primary issue with the 24-year old slugger is being able to hit and field consistently. Overall, the talent is still there. The question is just whether he can finally put it all together.
The story of Singleton’s 2015 season unfortunately enforces the notion that he is stuck in the equivalent of baseball’s “no mans land”; that is the the mythical “Quadruple-A” level. Good enough to perform well in Triple-A, but not consistent enough to be a member of a 25-man roster on the major league level. The fact that the Astros didn’t call up Singleton prior to September despite the issues of Chris Carter speaks loudly. Don’t forget that he finished the season hitting .254/.359/.505 with a 128 wRC+, which is definitely not terrible. Not great, but not the same level of bad that he was in the majors in 2014.
With all that said, the Astros are giving Singleton one final chance in 2016. Unless he completely flops in Spring Training, he will probably be the Astros opening day starter at first base. One projection system, ZiPS, has the slugger hitting 22 home runs and 68 RBI to go with a .206 ISO in 122 games. Not bad numbers at first glance from first base, which was bit of a black hole for most of the season. However, ZiPS also projects Singleton to strike out 32.8% of the time, which is downright atrocious. And his projected wRC+ of 102 and 1.0 WAR doesn’t inspire much confidence as well.
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With that said, I project that Singleton will be slightly better than ZiPS. Here are my 2016 projections for the Astros hopeful first baseman:
Slash line: .230/.335/.445
The caveat in these projections is if he is actually named the starter at first base. And that is all up in the air right now. Singleton will have to outperform his fellow teammates for the job, and there is no guarantee that will happen. He will also have to prove himself also with the glove, which was definitely something to be desired in his brief exposure in 2014 (-6.7 UZR).
In all honesty, Singleton won’t be, or projected to be, one of the Astros top hitters in 2016 even if he makes the major league roster. But he would provide a decent source of power, a la Carter, while making only $2 million in 2016. And the chance for improvement with the bat and the glove definitely exists even if that is mostly rooted in his young age of 24. Regardless of age though, the time is now for Singleton to step up in 2016.
**Statistics and projections provided by Fangraphs**