Only one position remains a relative unknown for the Astros 2017 season.
For once, the Astros seem to have every position covered with a competent major league player. Yet there is still a variable of the unknown involved at one important position: first base.
The reason behind this unknown variable is not so much from lack of talent. Between A.J. Reed and Yulieski Gurriel, there is definitely talent. And while the pair hasn’t necessarily proven themselves on the major league level with 278 combined plate appearances, the Astros are hoping to find an acceptable level of performance next year.
Unfortunately for Houston, the team has lacked quality, consistent production from first base for quite some time. For example, here are the team’s wRC+ and WAR totals at the position since the Lance Berkman trade in 2010.
2011: 108 wRC+/ 2.0 WAR
2012: 96 wRC+/ 0.0 WAR
2013: 100 wRC+/ -0.1 WAR
2014: 73 wRC+/ -2.2 WAR
2015: 106 wRC+/ 2.3 WAR
2016: 79 wRC+/ -1.0 WAR
To be fair, the odd number years were not that bad in terms of production. Basically those seasons ranged from average to above average. However, the even number years were just downright difficult to watch. The red flag that appears in the heart of this storm is the lack of consistency. Take the 2014-16 seasons from above as a prime example. Talk about a large swing each season.
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In that same timespan, only Marwin Gonzalez (107 wRC+) provided a wRC+ over 100 as the team’s first baseman. The closest to Gonzalez in this category was Chris Carter with a 91 wRC+. Only 75 plate appearances as a first baseman separated the two.
This is where you enter Gurriel and Reed, the likely two frontrunners to earn playing time at first base in 2017.
Gurriel most likely has the inside track to play first base considering the financial investment (5 years, $47.5 million) despite the small sample size that was his 2016 season. Manager A.J. Hinch has expressed his confidence in Gurriel handling first base duties.
Reed on the other hand carries the potential to be a true masher in the Astros lineup. If he can carry over his power numbers from the past two years in the minors (50 combined home runs), then that would be a needed shot in the arm at the position.
At the end of the day, you have to let Gurriel get a crack at the first base job. The Astros are paying him the big bucks to be in the lineup and most of the positions are already decided upon.
First base at this point is the most realistic spot to pencil Gurriel in most games. Keep an eye out on Reed though in 2017. If Gurriel struggles, it is definitely plausible to see the top prospect earning more at-bats at the major league level.
**Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs**