Wednesday, July 1, 2015

State of the Astros: Third Base

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 - Luis Valbuena

Valbuena has been one of the more polarizing players on the squad this year. He's currently leading the team in home runs with 19, which is already 3 more than his career high coming into the season. He's also carrying an absurdly low BABIP at .176 en route to a .195 average, despite being one of the top hitters in "hard-hit contact" this season. While some of those hard hit balls are carrying over the wall and, thus, don't factor into his BABIP you could make a case that he has been very unlucky on the balls he's kept inside the fence. If you plugged his career .258 BABIP (which is also low but may be his true talent level for balls in play) into this year's numbers he'd be hitting .249, same as last season. All that said, he's been an essentially league average bat when looking at his 99 wRC+. But what an extremely unusual way to get there. He's been worth .4 WAR so far and the projections suggest he'll add another 1 WAR in the second half. (Note: I started writing this a couple days ago, so some stats may be slightly different now.)

Reasonable end of season projection ranges

AVG - .200-.230
OBP - .290-.310
SLG - .400-.440

Backup - Jed Lowrie ? (Injured)

Given that Correa has pretty much established himself as not only the shortstop of the future, but also of the present, I'm expecting Lowrie to see a significant portion of his playing time at third base upon his return from injury. He could very well end up replacing Valbuena as the starter, as well. Barring a trade, whoever isn't the starting 3B would probably end up being a utility guy, where either figures to be an upgrade over Marwin Gonzalez and/or Villar. I won't go into Lowrie's numbers, as we just did that in the last installment

Prospect - Colin Moran

Moran, who was a 1st round draft pick by the Marlins in 2013 before coming to the Astros in the Cosart trade, is currently in Corpus Christi. He's considered a line drive contact hitter with below average power and an adequate glove at third. He was a top 100 prospect in 2014 but, despite finishing the year hitting .296 between A+ and AA ball, his lack of power development seems to have taken him off some people's radar.

Prospect - Matt Duffy

Duffy has, as far as I know, never shown up on a prospect list. He was a 20th round pick in 2011 but has put up decent numbers as he's steadily climbed the ranks. In a little over a full season at AAA he's hitting .280 with 20 HRs. I don't think he'll ever see much playing time in Houston, barring injury or some other event that leaves the Astros no choice. He's been playing some at 1B, though, which could give him a little extra value.

Prospect - JD Davis

Davis was the Astros 3rd round pick in 2014. He's currently in Lancaster where, not surprisingly, his power has been serving him well. He could move quickly but at this point he's firmly behind Moran in the pecking order. A noticeable increase in Davis' strikeout rate this year could portend a potential issue going forward, but so far it hasn't slowed him down much.


With either Valbuena or Lowrie down the stretch I'd grade the third base situation right now as a C+ to B- though where those two are performance-wise in the second half is difficult to predict right now. I'm also not overwhelmed by the prospects working their way up, though I think at least one of them should be at least an average big leaguer in the near to mid future.