By Rob Leibowitz
As a fantasy baseball analyst, I have written about the importance of patience and of sample sizes. Well, unfortunately, at the major league level, baseball managers and general managers do not always have the luxury of patience. In fact, it is fairly astonishing the number of decisions that get made upon small samples and "what have you done for me lately." This often is the case with closers but is often the case with youngsters, especially when they have options remaining.
One of our first casualties of the year was Brett Wallace, who got sent out to the minors by the Astros, a team that is not ready to contend, but does regardless have to compete in 162 games. To be fair, Wallace has yet to ever really adjust to the majors or really ever show the plate discipline for which he was drafted. Instead, Wallace has proved to be an aggressive hitter who strikes out more than a quarter of the time and at going on 27 years of age, has not shown the skills growth to justify continuing to play him at the MLB level, especially when the former first-round pick has been absolutely flailing at the plate (65% strikeout rate is not a typo) this year. Wallace still has 20-plus-home-run-per-season power, but his role will likely be limited to minor league roster filler/left-handed platoon player.
Will Gonzalez hack it?
It was no secret heading into the season that whatever the Astros did to start the year at first base, the idea was to figure out how to best manage a stop-gap situation while they waited for Jonathan Singleton to return from his drug (marijuana) suspension and push his way into the starting job. With Wallace out, Carlos Pena will see most of the action at first. The move gets defensive liability Chris Carter out of the outfield and installed at DH.
Carter was acquired from the A's during the offseason and like Wallace had a fairly high pedigree. Also like Wallace, Carter is a 26-year-old righty with a penchant for strikeouts and limited defensive skills. Carter, at least, does have some OBP skills and is treading water with a .246/.317/.491 slash thus far. However, that .246 is the result of a .333 BABIP from an average at best runner who is striking out over 35% of the time. In other words, the Astros could easily be looking for other options at DH as the season progresses.
Unfortunately for the Astros, this does not end with Wallace and Carter. In fact, I'm sure the Astros are well aware they are taking a dart-board approach to their roster in the hopes that a few might actually stick. The question is, does any of the players they are using as darts even really have a chance?
Moving to shortstop, the Astros hoped Tyler Greene would claim the shortstop job but he did not even make it out of spring training and Ronny Cedeno was grabbed at the last second for his defensive skills. Well, Cedeno is already out, so enter Marwin Gonzalez. Gonzalez was a fairly popular target in this past week's Tout Wars AL FAAB. Defensively, Gonzalez is adequate to the task and refreshingly we are actually talking about a fairly disciplined hitter who has proven able to make contact on a consistent basis in the minors and as a backup last year. Over the small sample size of this year, Gonzalez is striking out a quarter of the time, but that figure is well out of context with his career and improvement is expected. Gonzalez, in theory, could hold down the shortstop job, but offensively he is a low-single-digits home run hitter and a single-digits stolen base guy, so the value here is not in the fantasy game. Even with his contact-making skills, he has at times been overpowered in the minors, so the question is not contact, but quality contact. Other options include prospect Jonathan Villar, noted for his tools, but struggling mightily in the early goings at Triple-A, and Jake Elmore (good plate discipline, speed, no pop) and perhaps both actually offer some value for fantasy players.
Jason Castro is off to a slow start as well, particularly striking out more than a fifth of the time while walking under 2% of it. Castro is a good defender coming off a productive spring training and has a history of solid plate discipline skills in the majors and minors. The issue is health track record and staying on the field. Expect the Astros to stick with him for as long as they can, but do not be surprised if he is demoted given the way he is currently pressing at the plate. Neither Carlos Corporan nor Jason Jaramillo is seen as anything more than a backup, so Castro really does not have any significant competition.
Third base will see shuffling too. The 23-year-old Matt Dominguez may stick for a while due to his fine defense, but has yet to show much at the plate in the majors or minors and combines an aggressive approach with a mediocre power ceiling. The Astros' recent call-up of Brandon Laird, a former Yankee prospect, is not a likely solution either as he is an ultra-aggressive right-handed hitter, albeit with good power potential. Both players have serious warts that will likely hinder their ability to lay claim to a starting job long-term.
The Astros' difficulties extend throughout their entire outfield with no player excelling or displaying a skill or talent set that is not replaceable. Fernando Martinez has been injured, Justin Maxwell and J.D. Martinez unimpressive, and Rick Ankiel has already been reduced to a platoon role with journeyman Brandon Barnes.
The Astros will serve fantasy owners throughout the year with a stockpile of FAAB candidates to take fliers on. The issue will be that very few, if any, will be worth opening the pocketbook widely to justify aggressive spending.
Rob Leibowitz is a long time member of the fantasy baseball industry and has been a member of Tout Wars since 2001. The Diamond Exchange appears at Mastersball weekly on Fridays. You can follow Rob on Twitter @Rob_Leibowitz.
Mastersball, founded in 1997, is a leader in providing in-depth analysis, research, projections and applications to the advanced fantasy baseball player. A 2010 merger brought the writers of CREATiVESPORTS into the fold, widely known for 15 years of insightful fantasy analysis and commentary.
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