Monday, March 30, 2015

Eight More Depart for Minor League Camp

The Astros have cut eight more from their Spring Training squad, reassigning Carlos Correa, Darin Downs, Tyler Heineman, James Hoyt and Gregorio Petit while optioning Jake Buchanan, Matt Dominguez and Max Stassi.

Downs, Hoyt, Heineman and Petit will all remain with the team for the exhibition part of Spring Training

The Astros now have 32 players in camp.  Their last cut reduced them to 41 players, then Dan Johnson departed via trade to reduce that to 40.

These cuts clear up a couple of position battles that were becoming kind of obvious anyhow.  Firstly, at catcher, Castro and Conger will split the catching duties (with Gattis available only for emergencies given he has yet to appear behind the plate in the Spring Training game).  No surprise there, although Stassi could encourage the Astros to make a trade with a strong year at Fresno.  Stassi logged 19 plate appearances, walking three times and striking out twice.  He managed 6 hits, including 2 doubles and a home run.  If he needed a good offensive season, this was a reasonable start - small sample size be damned.

Secondly, Valbuena looks poised to assume the third base duties, which has been becoming increasingly obvious for a while as well.  Valbuena has the huge advantage of swinging from the left side of the dish, which helps address the Astros' struggles against right-handed pitching last year.  Additionally, Dominguez had a horror 2014 which resulted in a WAR well into negative figures.  He looked lost at the plate at times last year, swinging a pitches out of the strike zone as well as having contact issues with pitches inside the strike zone.

In Spring Training this year, Matty D had 38 plate appearances, walking twice, striking out 5 times, and hitting 9 singles.  His triple-slash of .250/.282/.250 looks similar to the 2014 regular season, except for the total lack of power.  So Valbuena gets the third base job to start the season, and Dominguez appears ticketed for the minors.  The real question is whether Dominguez can hold his 40-man roster spot - especially if Joe Thatcher and/or Roberto Hernandez make the 25-man roster.  My pick is that he does hold his roster spot until at least mid-season-ish.

Correa and Heineman had no real chance of making the team by virtue of their relatively junior status.  I was watching when Correa effortlessly drove a curveball that he was out on front of over the LF fence against the Phillies the other day.  Correa had 43 plate appearances, walked twice and struck out 10 times, and had 14 hits, of which 1 was a double and two were home runs.  I am looking forward to watching him everyday in the majors, perhaps as soon as later this year.

Heineman was unsurprisingly used sparingly in Spring Traning - if he is the catcher of the future, then he is a wee way away, after all.  He had 7 plate appearances, and recorded a double against no strikeouts and no walks.  His focus was not really on his hitting this Spring - he was more in camp to learn how to work with the pitching staff and get tips from the older guys.

Hoyt, Buchanan and Downs had an opportunity to add their names to a crowded 'pen situation, but all represent easy cuts for the Astros to make.

James Hoyt has not yet made the the majors, so the chances were that he was always going to be cut prior to the roster being set.  He equipped himself well, pitching 8.1 innings in 7 games, allowing 8 baserunners (3 hits and 5 walks) while striking out 11.

Jake Buchanan was also an easy cut because he seems - and always seemed - destined to be shuttling between the majors and minors this season.  He also threw 8.1 innings pitched, but gave up 7R / 5ER on 12 hits and 3 walks against 4 strikeouts.  He was doing well until he had one bad outing, I seem to remember, but he has marginal stuff and needs to locate his pitches to be effective.

Darin Downs was on the outside-looking-in from early in spring training, thanks to the offseason additions of Thatcher (in the LOOGY role) and the various other additions like Straily and Hernandez in the starting role.  He struggled in a small sample: 4.2IP, 11 hits and 4 walks, 7 runs / earned runs, and 3 strikeouts.  Downs can pitch better than that, and will have an opportunity to work it all out at Fresno.

Finally, Gregorio Petit lost out on a battle for a utility job thanks to the combined efforts of Marwin Gonzalez - who has been a solid bench guy for the Astros for a couple of seasons - and Jonathan Villar - whose demise has been greatly exaggerated.

Petit managed 27 plate appearances, recorded 8 hits, walked 3 times, and struck out five.  He hit two doubles.  Petit did his stock no harm at all, and will be a very useful AAA depth-piece for the Astros going forward.

The next cut will be the big one, and will probably occur shortly.  At least this year, the Astros have actual competition, and actual options.

Stay posted.