As the calendar moves into May, which position players could be losing playing time, and who could replace them?
One hallmark of the 2017 Astros was a deep, relentless offense. On any given night, the lineup contained nine hitters who could provide quality at-bats and make a pitcher pay for his mistakes.
So far in 2018, the offense seems to have regressed. The latest example was the team wasting a brilliant eight-inning, 14-strikeout performance from Justin Verlander on Tuesday. At certain times this season, the Astros just have had trouble scoring runs.
It’s not time to panic, as the Astros are still 20-11 and lead the division. But it might be time to look at ways to help the offense match the excellence of the starting pitching.
The Astros are currently fifth in the AL in team batting average and fourth in on-base percentage. They’re also fourth in runs scored, but are just 11th in slugging percentage and 10th in homers.
Despite striking out at a remarkably low pace last year, the 2018 Astros currently have the fourth-most strikeouts in the AL. Their team OPS is .736, good for seventh in the league.
Stalwarts Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer are producing as expected. The catching duo of Brian McCann and Max Stassi has been surprisingly good. But there are some definite holes in the lineup. The situation isn’t dire, but there’s certainly room for improvement.
Who Could Be Out
The Astros currently have three position players hitting below the Mendoza line. All three should be in immediate danger of losing at-bats and/or roster spots.
Evan Gattis is hitting .193/.272/.289 with just one home run. He’s currently last on the team in slugging percentage, which makes it hard to justify keeping him on the roster as a DH. He could be traded or designated for assignment.
Derek Fisher’s line sits at .184/.226/.408 through May 1. He’s hit two homers and two triples, but not much else. Fisher may be the easiest to send to Triple-A, so he could become a roster casualty if he doesn’t improve soon.
Worst of all thus far has been Jake Marisnick. He’s hitting a woeful .154/.167/.323 with 35 strikeouts and just one walk in 65 at-bats. His .490 OPS is dead last on the team. He could still remain on the roster as a fourth outfielder/defensive replacement, but it seems silly to keep giving him at-bats at this point.
Who Could Be In
If Fisher gets sent down and Marisnick loses at-bats, at least one outfielder will be needed. While fans may be clamoring for top prospect Kyle Tucker, his numbers at Triple-A are not awe-inspiring. He’s hitting .278/.355/.433 with just two homers, so he could use some more seasoning.
One option is lefty Tony Kemp, who primarily plays second base but can also play left field. He doesn’t provide much power, but he makes contact and brings an element of speed. He’s hitting .327/.423/.413 with nine stolen bases at Fresno.
Another name to watch for is Drew Ferguson. The righty-hitting outfielder is off to a hot start with a .343/.435/.525 line and has four steals in six tries. He’s less of a speed threat than Kemp but does provide some pop, with 11 extra-base hits thus far.
The Astros would need to add some power from the DH spot, and there are two distinct possibilities. Tyler White leads Fresno in homers and OPS this year, and he could play some first base to allow Yuli Gurriel to DH.
Then, of course, there’s J.D. Davis. He’s mashed to a .391/.447/.623 tune since being sent back to Triple-A, and he could function similar to White. One big difference between the two is Davis is somewhat strikeout prone, while White has walked more than he’s struck out this season.
The Bottom Line
It’s not time to hit the panic button yet, but there is cause for concern. Three position players simply can’t hit right now, and others like Gurriel and Marwin Gonzalez have regressed a bit as well. If things don’t turn around, there are options for the Astros to make some moves.
***Statistics courtesy of MLB.com and MiLB.com***