Tuesday, June 2, 2015

State of the Astros: Shortstop

Over the next several days/couple weeks, I'd like to take a position-by-position look at the Astros, getting a quick overview of the current starters, backups, and minor league players who could contribute this season.

Starter - Jed Lowrie (Injured)

Back for his second stint with Houston, Jed continues to keep up spinning around the roller coaster of promise and disappointment. He carried the offense for the first three or so weeks then predictably hit the DL for a few months. He's due back some time around the All Star break, but hand and wrist injuries can be tough to come back from while maintaining pre-injury levels of production. Will we get back the Jed that can be a top offensive SS, or will we get something more similar to his last year with Oakland? And will he even be our starting SS anymore? He already has about 1 WAR in the back, so even with his injury he'll probably get to 2 WAR as long as he gets regular playing time. Whether that's at shortstop, third base, or in a utility role will be something to watch in the second half.

Reasonable end of season projection ranges

AVG - .250-.290
OBP - .320-.350
SLG - .370-.430

Backup - Marwin Gonzalez

Marwin currently has the most games played of those who have played short for Houston this year, but he's really a utility player. Though his total production isn't too far off from his career numbers, he's been doing it a bit differently this year. His walk rate has plummeted from acceptable to abysmal at just .9% but his power has been a bit up to balance that out some. He's not cut out to be an everyday player, but he has value in being able to handle multiple positions adequately and providing roster flexibility. He's on pace to be essentially replacement level, as usual.

Reasonable end of season projections

AVG - .230-.260
OBP - .250-.300
SLG - .340-.400

Backup - Jonathan Villar

Villar's been getting a little more playing time than Marwin lately and he's been about what we expected; flashes of amazing potential followed by extremely frustrating mental lapses. He's actually hitting fairly well for a shortstop, helping himself by significantly reducing his strikeout rate so far. Prior to Lowrie's injury the organization was trying to give him some reps both around the infield and in the outfield, so perhaps he could be a more dynamic yet erratic version of Marwin. Ultimately either Gonzalez or Villar won't stay with the club for the long-term, so hopefully one of them takes advantage of this competition.

Reasonable end of season projections

AVG - .220-.270
OBP - .280-.320
SLG - .340-.370

Prospect - Carlos Correa

This is the guy that we all know (little about how he'll perform in the big leagues) and love (until he has his first struggles and we all say he's not ready yet). But in all seriousness, Correa has just about closed the book on his minor league career by forcing Houston's hand with his performance. He's slowed a bit since being promoted to Fresno, but there's no way he carries his .246 BABIP for long and his BB and K rates show he's not over-matched. I wouldn't be shocked if the best prospect in the Astros organization, if not all of baseball, has spent his last full month in the minors. You never know exactly how a player will transition to the big leagues, but Correa's strongest tool may be his makeup so even if he stumbles out of the gate I don't expect him to be overwhelmed. He'll likely get a firm grip on the starting shortstop job this summer.

Prospect - Nolan Fontana

Fontana doesn't have the high ceiling of Correa, but he's the type of prospect that could be described as having a high floor. His calling card is his plate discipline, as his walk rates hover around an astounding 20%. He doesn't have a lot of power and doesn't hit for a high average, but it's rare for a player to get on base over 40% of the time, even in the minors. He's solid in the field, though not spectacular, and with Correa clearly the SS of the future he's been seeing time at 2B the last couple years.

Prospect - Joan Mauricio

Mauricio was one of Houston's international free agent signings last year and thus hasn't seen much time in organized ball. MLB.com ranks him as Houston's #30 prospect, though, and describes him as an excellent fielder with raw power at the plate. He's very, very far away but he may be a name to keep tabs on over the next few years.


It's hard to put a firm grade on this position when so much hinges on a 20 year old with less than 40 games above A ball. Marwin and Villar would get a C-, Lowrie would get a C+/B (depending on his return from injury), and Correa could be anywhere from a C to an A+ this year. Long term, though, let's go with an A assuming Correa is even 80% of what we expect.