The Houston Astros are different from the majority of contending ball clubs right now. So many, two good examples being the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers, are so decimated by injuries that they are in need of starting pitching. The St. Louis Cardinals suddenly found themselves in need of a catcher this week and the list just seems to go on.
Unlike so many other teams who are desperately trying to find talent in a thin trade market, the Astros have enough internal talent that they don’t need to make a trade to improve their club. Calling up a couple of prospects could be all they need to do to remain in contention, potentially overtake the Rangers to win the American League West and maybe even get all the way to the World Series.
They only have a few positions that could be considered to be “underperforming.” Those are center field, first base and the designated hitter position. First base has been a significant weakness for the Astros in recent seasons.
So how will they fill the holes they have without making a trade? It’s actually so easy that there’s going to be an infield (and maybe even outfield) logjam that will probably come along with daily changes to the lineup card.
However, general manager Jeff Luhnow doesn’t seem to be worried about it, saying in a press conference last Saturday, “what I want to do is to put as many good players out on the field as possible,” adding, “we’ll make it work.”
They already have the number one prospect in all of baseball, according to ESPN’s Keith Law, in Alex Bregman. Houston also just signed international superstar and Cuban defector 32-year-old Yulieski Gurriel to a five-year $45 million deal. Both players happen to primarily play third base.
Gurriel won’t be joining the team as soon as Bregman is expected to be, still having to go through some paperwork and workouts before he’ll be added to the 25-man roster. Still when he does, the Astros intend to have both players playing as often as possible.
While Gurriel comes in as an international star, Bregman was able to showcase his abilities to the masses in the nationally televised Futures Game that takes place annually prior to the MLB All-Star Game. He finished this year’s game just a home run shy of the cycle.
The number two overall pick in the 2015 MLB amateur draft out of Louisiana State, Bregman is already playing at Triple-A Fresno. A shortstop in college, Bregman has been a corner infielder during his brief professional career, however, he also played in left field for the Grizzlies for the first time in Wednesday’s night’s game according to the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan. This move is likely in preparation for Bregman to be called up to the big league club this weekend or early next week.
The more versatile Bregman can be for Houston, the easier it will be to get him into the lineup on a regular basis. Besides putting Bregman in left field the Astros could move Luis Valbuena from third to first, play Bregman at third and have A.J. Reed serve as the team’s designated hitter, a position he already shares with part-time catcher Evan Gattis. An infield of Valbuena at first, Jose Altuve at second, Carlos Correa at shortstop and Bregman at third definitely has a nice feel and appeal to it.
Still the logjam will get a bit stickier once Gurriel arrives. The Astros did work him out in the outfield before signing him through his age 36 season. Luhnow has said that Gurriel, considered a five-tool player, is “very good at all positions in the infield, and he can play the outfield.” This also means that they can fit him in as the DH when necessary.
In the outfield the team can shift Colby Rasmus to center field and put Bregman or Gurriel in left. Will these changes cut into the playing time of other players such as Reed, Gattis, Jake Marisnick, Marwin Gonzalez and Carlos Gomez?
Sure it will, but as Lunhow noted he just wants to put the best possible team out on the field every night. Baseball isn’t known for being a game where they try to save people from hurt feelings, it is about winning.
The Astros don’t currently have any serious issues with their pitching unlike so many other teams, but both the starting pitching and bullpen could feasibly be upgraded. In which case they have another prospect waiting in the wings in RHP Joe Musgrove who not only started the Futures Game, but put up some good numbers at both Double-A (0.34 ERA) and Triple-A (3.48 ERA) this season.
For now the team could insert him into the starting rotation and move one of their starters (likely Mike Fiers) to the bullpen or put Musgrove into the bullpen for long relief. Either way it would really only mean demoting one pitcher who still has options to Triple-A. Musgrove will likely get his chance to prove he can play in the big leagues before any major decisions on pitching are made.
The main issue is the logjam of position players and as of now, the Astros seem to believe they have that under control. If everything pans out this way the Astros could improve their chances of being able to compete for, and hopefully bring home, the first World Series Championship to the state of Texas without even making a trade.
Brought to you by