J.J. Ortiz at the Chronicle has a nice article about the competition between minor leaguers Thomas Manzella and Edwin Maysonet for the back up shortstop position. The article gives the impression that Maysonet and Manzella are the principal contenders for that slot on the Astros.
Matt Kata and Jason Smith, non-roster invitees, are 30-ish infielders who have made careers on the fringe between the majors and minors. One would imagine that they won't be added to the roster unless Manzella and Maysonet don't appear to be ready for the majors. Drew Sutton, who had a magnificent offensive year at Corpus Christi apparently isn't viewed as a "pure" shortstop. If the Astros choose to keep two utility infielders, Newhan and Sutton would appear to be in competition for the back up slot at 2d base.
So let's take a look at Manzella versus Maysonet for the back up shortstop position. Ortiz's article explains that Maysonet and Manzella are close friends, which makes the competition more interesting. Both guys are past the typical age you would like to see in a prospect. Manzella is 25 years old and Maysonet is 27 years old. Maysonet appears to be the better offensive player, but perhaps Manzella has more room to improve in that area, given his age.
If we look at the batting line for all minor league appearances in 2008, Manzella has an advantage in the comparison, because his time was split between AA and AAA, while Maysonet's time was all in AAA.
(BA, OBP, SLG, OPS)
What makes Maysonet's offense appear to be somewhat more advanced is that he did a better job of adjusting to AAA pitching. Round Rock numbers are shown below.
Those numbers for Manzella normally won't get you a promotion to the majors. The MLE's for both guys are pretty bad. They indicate that Maysonet would hit .227 and Manzella .215 . Manzella and Maysonet have fairly similar minor league careers, offensively. Both have consistently low isolated power, and similar K rates. Manzella had two decent offensive seasons at AA, and perhaps might have had an edge over Maysonet at the end of 2007. Plate discipline is always an important indicator for minor leaguers, and it is encouraging that Maysonet put up a good .341 OBP at Round Rock, accompanied by a spike in his BB% to 9.5%.
Manzella's poor offensive output at Round Rock was driven by very bad numbers at home in Round Rock. Manzella hit .194 at home and .255 on the road. Maysonet also hit better on the road, with a .307 average. Some of the PCL parks in the west are at a high elevation and help the offense.
Using the park and luck adjustment features on the minorleaguesplits.com site, the offensive stats in AAA for both guys improve. And the biggest improvement affects Manzella. With adjustment, Manzella's BA and OPS in AAA improves to .259 and .656, and Maysonet's are .280 and .742. Perhaps that is an encouraging sign for both players.
Loretta told Maysonet last year that utility infielders need to bunt well and move runners up. Based on the 2008 data at minorleaguesplits, Maysonet was a better bunter, with a talent for beating it out. Maysonet had 6 hits in 13 at bats bunting, for a .462 OBP. Manzella had 2 hits in 6 bunt at bats for a .333 OBP. Both players had 5 sacrifices on bunts.
Another important factor is the defensive side of the coin. After all, the Astros' desire for a "pure shortstop" indicates that defense is an important consideration. And Cecil Cooper's quotes emphasize that he will be watching closely how these two fellows play shortstop. From the time that Manzella was drafted, he was touted as a defensive whiz. And he has not played any position other than shortstop in the minors. Maysonet has played both shortstop and second base in the minors. He appears to have gotten more time at second base when he played on the same team with Manzella.
The only available range based defensive measure for minor leaguers is Total Zone, shown on the minorleaguesplits site. Both players appear to be good defensive shortstops.
Manzella has bad Total Zone numbers playing for Corpus Christi but excellent numbers for Round Rock and Salem. Maysonet has positive Total Zone numbers at shorttop at each of his minor league stops. The Total Zone is expressed at runs/150 games.
Corpus Christi -20 (2007) -6 (2008)
Round Rock +12
Salem +6 (2005) +18 (2006)
Corpus Christi +6
Round Rock +2
Despite Manzella's reputation, if you believe Total Zone (and, no, it isn't as accurate as ML defensive metrics like UZR), the two players are pretty close in defensive ability. Maysonet has been more consistent, but Manzella may have more upside on defense.
I'll make a few concluding remarks about the shortstop back up position. First, my inclination--maybe I should say, speculation--is to predict Maysonet as the winner between these two players. They seem like similar players, but given the age difference and Manzella's weak offensive season in AAA, I am guessing that the Astros would like for him to get a starter's playing time. I also would not be surprised if the Astros bring in another veteran who can play shortstop, at some point during the spring. (If Garciaparra remains unsigned, do you think the Astros would consider acquiring him as a back up? The A's and Phiillies have considered Nomar for that role.) Also, as I mentioned in a previous post, an alternative arrangement I would consider is to use Newhan or Sutton as a back up to Blum's role at third base, thereby freeing up Blum to back up Tejada at shortstop.