No Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and George Springer in the lineup? No problem for the “other guys” on the Astros’ roster.
Injuries have obviously taken a toll on the Astros‘ lineup in recent weeks. There isn’t an internal way that a team can replace Altuve, Correa, and Springer in short order. Coincidentally, all three hitters were featured on a H-E-B, a Texas grocery store, commercial. Take that for what you will.
On a short-term basis though, Houston has gotten by fine, thanks in part to the “other guys”. I use the term as a bit of tongue in cheek as all are essential cogs in the machine known as the Astros. Although Altuve, Correa, and Springer are recognizable names, they couldn’t carry the team by themselves.
Observation #1: Tony Kemp has earned his playing time
Since May 18th, Tony Kemp has been a member of the Astros’ active roster. Barring an unexpected development, I’d fully expect for him to finish the season on the active roster. Over the course of 174 plate appearances, Kemp has a 125 wRC+ with a .293/.382/.408 slash line. Not to mention that Kemp has 21 walks and 21 strikeouts. That’s a quality bat in the major leagues.
While he doesn’t play every single day, the age-26 infielder/outfielder has provided depth to a roster that has needed it. His versatility in the infield and outfield has come in handy. Like I touched upon briefly, various injuries have befallen upon the Astros. Although he won’t hit for many home runs, I am curious to see how his power holds up as Kemp currently has a .408 slugging percentage along with a .116 isolated power. Counting home runs, Kemp has eleven extra-base hits. Again, that’s not a whole lot of power, but it is worth seeing if he can maintain his current level.
Observation #2: The return of Jake Marisnick
When Springer injured his shoulder on Tuesday night, the overriding fear was an inevitable DL stint. Heck, it may still be inevitable. When it was announced that Marisnick would be recalled from Fresno, it felt as a precursor to a DL stint for Springer. Instead, we saw the news that Kyle Tucker, the Astros’ top position prospect, was sent down to Triple-A. More about him later.
Much has been made of Marisnick’s issues at the plate to start the season, and rightly so. By the time of his first trip to Fresno in 2018, Marisnick had a ghastly 11 wRC+ with a 47.1% strikeout rate. Over the course of 87 plate appearances, the age-27 outfielder only walked once. Again, a ghastly performance. To his credit though, Marisnick did post a 117 wRC+ from May 24th through July 13th before his second trip to Fresno this season. He still struck out plenty of times with a 36.7% strikeout rate, but he did draw six walks over 79 plate appearances. Progress!
With Springer still on a day-to-day basis, Marisnick received the start in center field on Wednesday. He responded with two hits, which included a home run. Let’s see if he can keep this improvement going in August. If so, we may not see Tucker again until September.
Observation #3: A temporary goodbye to Kyle Tucker
On one hand, I can understand why the Astros sent Tucker back to Fresno. Through 50 plate appearances, the age-21 outfielder had a 32 wRC+ with only two extra-base hits. Houston is also feeling heat from Mariners and A’s in the race for the AL West division title, and production in left field has been relatively lackluster all season long. I also trust that the Astros’ front office know what it is doing in terms of player development. Sometimes player development is also knowing when a young player needs to regain confidence. I’ll defer to the management’s judgement on this front as they know much more than I do.
But if I were to be asked for my personal opinion, I think that the Astros gave up on Tucker’s first stint too soon. For one, he was starting to put together respectable at-bats. His average exit velocity upon his trip back to the minors was 91.3 MPH. That’s not too shabby. Although xwOBA (expected wOBA) isn’t a perfect metric, Tucker had a .325 xwOBA. All of his expected numbers across the board were encouraging.
In comparison with his .214 actual wOBA and .200 BABIP, the Astros’ top prospect underlying numbers looks even better. Bad luck and the shift appear to be the primary culprits under a quick analysis. In fact, opposing defenses shifted in 40%, or 20 plate appearances, in Tucker’s first stint in the majors.