Houston Astros: So, What Happens if Tyler White Keeps Hitting?

jenkinse90
Apr 12, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros first baseman Tyler White (13) hits a RBI single against the Kansas City Royals in the first inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 12, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros first baseman Tyler White (13) hits a RBI single against the Kansas City Royals in the first inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports /
facebooktwitterreddit

Tyler White’s start with the Houston Astros has been electric.

At the time of writing, he is tied with Jose Altuve and Colby Rasmus (go figure) for the team lead in home runs with five in 16 games. He continues to defy expectations and, well, hit.

While red-hot April starts are never sustainable,  White has replicated this production at every level of his professional career. High average, decent but not overwhelming power, and a patient eye. When does it catch up with him? After each subsequent promotion, we heard the same question: he dominated that level, but will he be able to maintain that production at the next level?

At FanGraphs, August Fagerstrom wrote an excellent piece about Tyler White‘s rookie comps, growing isolated power, and defiance of expectations. Sure, White has stumbled here and there, but just when his offensive prowess appears to recede, he bounces out of the slump with a home run or clutch hit.

White brings a strong counterbalance to the Astros’ power-first and strikeout-prone offense. He is only 25-years-old and making only $507,500, which makes him an affordable and controllable long-term asset. We all know how much Luhnow likes that. Package all of that together and you have a slow Almost-Altuve.

So, what happens if he keeps this up? This is good, right?

THE EVAN GATTIS CONUNDRUM

Well, yes and no. Evan Gattis is back. But as his power and beard gradually return to their expected levels, he creates a bit of an enviable problem for the Astros.

More from Climbing Tal's Hill

Despite his playoff woes, Evan Gattis led the power-first 2015 Astros in home runs and RBIs. That’s no small feat given the names in the lineup at the end of the season. But call-ups, injuries, and mid-season acquisitions prevented a full productive season from the likes of George Springer, Carlos Correa, and Carlos Gomez, and one can comfortably bet on Gattis not retaining his team home run and RBI crowns at this season’s end. And, less we forget, his swing is absolutely perfect for Minute Maid Park. Much like fellow trade acquisitions Mike Fiers and Ken Giles, Gattis has some affordable years of team control.  Gattis should take over as the primary DH, but the Astros also have him taking drills and practicing at catcher.

Given Jason Castro‘s hazy future with the club, A.J. Reed‘s inevitable call-up, and White’s commanding performance, Gattis at catcher will be an interesting experiment. The Astros value Castro’s framing and defensive ability highly, and if Gattis is to steal some of Castro’s playing time, it will just be to force his bat into the lineup. The last time Gattis caught, he was a defensive liability in 93 games and 799 innings for the 2014 Atlanta Braves.

For now, Castro at catcher, Gattis at DH, and White at first makes sense…

THE JOYS OF MOVING TO THE AMERICAN LEAGUE

Until the arrival of Reed. Reed lived up to the hype in Spring Training (including a memorable thirteen-pitch at-bat with Max Scherzer), and there is still a strong chance that he will debut this season. Tyler White and A.J. Reed hitting in the same lineup is a fearsome reality, but it comes with complications.

What happens if Gattis, Reed, and White are all hitting well? A.J. Hinch will have his hands full swapping them in and out of the lineup, and he will certainly have an ear tuned to Luhnow for the team’s long-term roster plans. Reed plays better defense than White, but how do you carefully balance Gattis and White at DH?

WHITE WON’T PLAY THIRD BASE

Jeff Luhnow has been adamant about White not playing third base. White spent significant time playing at third in the minors but is a defensive liability. Luis Valbuena is all but out after 2016, and the Astros have Colin Moran, Matt Duffy, J.D. Davis, and Alex Bregman waiting in the wings.

More from Climbing Tal's Hill

The Astros’ commitment to quality defense will keep White out of playing third, just as speedy outfielders with plus arms prevent Gattis from seeing a millisecond in the outfield. However, if Reed, Gattis, and White are all mashing the ball at the same time, revisiting White at third might be a solution to an enviable problem.

Might. But for now, he won’t play the hot corner. Besides, the Great White has bigger fish to fry in the forms of A.J. Reed and Evan Gattis.

Thankfully, the Astros can be patient with Reed. Sure, he has homered three times in the last five games at the date of writing, but he is only 22. His call-up should be reactive to dips in performance later in the season, as he almost creates more problems than he solves at this point.

THAT WHOLE “FOURTH OUTFIELDER” THING 

So if White stays at first base and Gattis holds down DH, what happens to Preston Tucker? Tucker has been relegated to a pinch-hitter and late-inning sub, but could hit his way into more playing time if Gomez struggles. Discussion of him filling in at first has vanished since Spring Training, which now puts him in competition with Jake Marisnick for fourth outfielder playing time.

Keep in mind that Carlos Gomez is struggling mightily in a contract year, Colby Rasmus will be a free agent at the end of the season, and Marwin Gonzalez can play any position. Playing time was much simpler when this team had nothing to lose. However, priorities have shifted. The 2016 Astros are contenders.

IN DEFENSE OF JON SINGLETON

The team does have time on their side when it comes to Jon Singleton, who will be a test of the organization’s patience more than anything else. Despite his struggles, Singleton is only 24 years old, which is younger than Jose Altuve, Preston Tucker, White, Springer, Duffy, and Marisnick, among others. Singleton squandered another opportunity to win the starting first base job in Spring Training this year, but is he the next Brett Wallace or the next J.D. Martinez?

Time is on the Astros’ side, and his paltry $2 million a year is not burning a hole in anyone’s pockets. Even the “small market” playoff hopeful Houston Astros can afford to take the time to develop Singleton.

That gives the Astros a lot of pieces to play with. And with a seemingly revolving door of new top prospects, the Astros could wind up with an abundance of players who simply do not fit into the club’s long-term plans. Guys like Singleton, Marisnick, and Duffy could headline MLB-ready packages that the Astros could use to land a young, controllable starter or patch an offensive hole without giving away top prospects.

If they struggle, the Cleveland Indians, Milwaukee Brewers, and San Diego Padres could align as trade partners. As we wait for the standings to settle, one can comfortably bet that Luhnow has a deal up his sleeve. We just want to avoid another Martinez situation.

Next: Astros: Believe it or Not, the Astros are in the middle of pack in LOB

IN SUMMATION
If White continues to hit like this, he could impact the playing time of Gattis, Reed, Tucker, Duffy, Marisnick, Singleton, Moran, Marwin, Gomez, Castro, Davis, and Rasmus in one way or another. And that list excludes any surprise breakout prospects (hi, Tony Kemp here). It would not be a surprise to see the Astros pull into their deep pool of MLB-ready talent and make a big splash at the trade deadline to bolster their rotation. Certain hitters have more control of their own destiny than others, but Tyler White’s success will complicate more than just the 1B/DH battles. And that’s not a bad problem to have.

facebooktwitterreddit