Astros fringe players are trying to break into the every day lineup.
The Astros have their share of what could be called fringe players. That is, men who have not found a spot as Major League regulars. They are men who may spend most of their summer in Triple-A, or if they do make the big league 25-man list, they spend a great deal of time on the bench. What do these guys have to do to become regulars?
Astros players such as Jake Marisnick and Erik Kratz rarely start, spending most of their time on the bench, or entering games in the late innings. Asher Wojciechowski, Brad Peacock, Matt Duffy, and Jon Singleton have all spent time with the Astros, without being impressive enough to stick. Former Astros Alex Presley, L.J. Hoes, and Dan Straily, had similar stories.
For players in such a situation, it is a bit of a Catch-22. To make the big league team and become a regular, you have to play well, consistently. The nature of fringe players is that they don’t get enough playing time at the big league level to show what they can do. These men have an occasional start, get in the lineup as a pinch hitter or runner, or as a late inning defensive replacement. How does a player show he belongs, getting limited action? How can they be consistent when they rarely play?
Marisnick was acquired in July 2014 via trade from the Miami Marlins. It seemed at the time that he might become the regular center fielder. He appeared in 51 games that season, hitting .272 with three home runs and 19 RBI. His defensive ability looked to be a perfect fit to roam the expanse of center field, and many thought the Astros had found a gem. In 2015 though, Marisnick tailed off, hitting .236/.281/.383, with nine home runs and 36 RBI. The late season acquisition of Carlos Gomez from Milwaukee pushed Marisnick back to the bench, where he remains in 2016.
Wojciechowski, acquired in 2012 in a trade with Toronto, spent the next few seasons working his way up from Double-A to Triple-A, finally getting a chance with the Astros in 2015. His stay was brief – he started three games, and relieved twice. In 16.1 innings, Wojo gave up 23 hits, 13 earned runs, and although he walked only seven and struck out 16, it earned him a long flight back to Fresno.
What do fringe players have to do to become regulars? They just have to become superstars, that’s all.)
Singleton’s story is well documented. Traded from the Phillies to Houston in 2011, he immediately began his assault on minor league pitching, pounding home runs regularly. By 2014, he had signed a big contract, and was battling Chris Carter for the Astros first base job. In 95 games, Singleton hit 13 home runs with 44 RBI, yet his line was a meager .168/.285/.335, with an alarming 135 strikeouts. Despite the poor showing, the Astros viewed him as the first baseman of the future. Carter had a better year in 2014 than did Singleton, smacking 37 home runs with 88 RBI. He struck out 182 times, down from 212 in 2013, and his line of .227/.308/.491 showed improvement.
The next season, with Singleton in Triple-A, the first base job was Carter’s to keep. Unfortunately for him, although he reduced his strikeouts to 151, his home run output dipped to 24 with only 64 RBI, and his .199/.307/.427 line was a major disappointment. Late in the season, Singleton, having a solid year at Fresno, was called up. In 19 games and 58 plate appearances, he hit only .191/.328/.298, with just one home run, six RBI, and 17 strikeouts.
Even so, by Spring Training 2016, with Carter gone to the Brewers, the first base job was Singleton’s to win or lose. And lose it he did, to the surprising, hot hitting rookie, Tyler White. Back to fringe status for Mr. Singleton.
Dan Straily already had some big league experience with Oakland and the Chicago Cubs before he was traded to Houston in 2015. Thought at the time to have starter potential, Straily didn’t fare well in a brief four game stint with the Astros. He started three games, pitched 16.2 innings, gave up 16 hits, and 10 earned runs. That season for Fresno, Straily threw 122.2 innings, winning 10 and losing nine, with a 4.77 ERA and a 1.402 WHIP. A disappointing Spring Training 2016 (12 innings, 15 hits, eight earned runs, 6.00 ERA) led to the Astros trading him on March 28 to San Diego (for Kratz, another fringe player).
Have you noticed a pattern here? These so-called fringe players: Marisnick, Wojciechowski, Peacock, Carter, Singleton, and Straily, were all acquired in trades. We are not saying the Astros shouldn’t trade, however, their most recent history indicates for the most part, they have had far better results from home grown players (with Luis Valbuena being the possible exception). Men like White, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Preston Tucker, all products of Houston drafts or amateur free agency (Altuve) and the minor league system, have fared much better than some others acquired by trade.
Back to the original question: what do these guys have to do to become Major League starters? Why are they still fringe players? It is possible they are simply not good enough to be Major Leaguers, or they have not yet been able to make the best out of their opportunities. Some of them could well develop into big league regulars and perhaps stars of the future. What they need is a bit of luck. In order for these guys to climb out of fringe status, they need to take advantage of any and every Major League chance, however brief.
Obviously, we don’t always show what we can do when the spotlight is on. However, to have any chance at making a big league roster, that is exactly what must happen. The fringe player must become a superstar for those brief moments when he gets a chance to step onto a Major League field.
It’s that simple, right? For sure it is not. We do not mean to use the term ‘fringe’ in a derogatory sense. We only use it to describe a player who more than likely has simply not had luck with him when the big club was watching, and has not been able to make the best of his opportunities. For these men, it is most assuredly a difficult thing to be on the outside looking in; hoping for a chance to show they have what it takes to become Major League regulars.
**Statistics provided by MLB.com, Baseball-Reference.comn & MiLB.com**