The First Base Dominos: Astros Offseason Talk

I mentioned yesterday that the Astros released a whole host of minor league players. Most of them were relievers. Guys I liked including Ashton Mowdy, Daniel Sarisky and Mike Schurz all were given their walking papers. But, the biggest impact on the organizational depth chart will not happen with the bullpens. Those guys are easier to find than most positions, as the Astros can just convert some of those failed starters to relievers (are you listening, Ross Seaton?).

But, the Astros also released three players who spent significant time at first base last season. That's pretty significant, considering first base is one of the shallowest areas in the Astros farm system. So, what gives? Why did the Astros hurt themselves even more at a position where they needed players. Let's look at who played first base in the seven minor league affiliates (not counting the DSL Astros) and who could start here for the four full-season teams next year.

Round Rock - Eight different players appeared in a game at first base for the Express last season. Chris Shelton got the most playing time of those with 60 games at first. Matt Kata, Tommy Everidge and Brian Bogusevic all got 20 games or more, while Drew Locke and Michael Garciaparra each had 7 or more. Everedge, Kata, Garciaparra and Shelton are all free agents and probably won't be back with the club.

Corpus Christi  - Koby Clemens got the majority of the playing time here, with 111 games at first. Jimmy Van Ostrand was the only other Hook to have 20 or more games there, while Lou Santangelo, Kody Kirkland and Marcos Cabral all played sparingly. Clemens was left unprotected in the Rule V draft next week.

Lancaster - Recently released Mark Ori was the main starter at first for the JetHawks. David Flores and Brian Pelligrini also got 20 or more games at the position. Both backups are still with the organization, but Pelligrini is eligible for the Rule V draft, including the Triple-A portion.

Lexington - Breakout star Kody Hinze played the majority of the games at first for the Legends, while recently released Aaron Bray played in 59 games at the position. The only other player to appear in a game at first was super utility man Andrew Simunic.

Tri-City - Middle Tennessee State slugger Tyler Burnett played the majority of the games at first, but he was followed closely by Marcus Nidiffer and the now-released Nick Stanley. Oscar Figueroa also appeared in five games at the position.

Greeneville - Nidiffer was also the main first baseman for the Appy Astros, while Rafael Valenzuela and Jhonny Medrano both playing over 10 games at the position.

GCL Astros - Ryan Ditthardt and Ronald Sanchez both appeared in over 25 games at first base, but their playing time was so close, it was like a time share. Pelligrini, Kyle Redinger, Shelton and Valenzuela also appeared at first for the Astros.

Looking at this list, the major holes will be at Corpus Christi and Lancaster after Ori and Bray's release. Nick Stanley was a little surprising, considering he was a 25th round pick in 2009, but since he hadn't gotten out of short season ball, we can't be too shocked. Ori was old for his level, too, so it's not a huge loss, but the Bray release probably leaves the biggest hole. Bray only hit .245/.321/.313 in 94 games and was one of the oldest players on the Legends roster, so he probably wasn't given much rope. Still, he did show some versatility, appearing in left field and third base last season.

Where does that leave the team? Let's do a little projecting:

Oklahoma City - Starter: Koby Clemens; Backup: Brian Bogusevic. I do think Clemens will still be with the Astros organization after the Rule V draft is over with. He'll probably be given every opportunity to start at first, with Bogusevic taking the occasional start each week to give Clemens a breather. He's a solid option at Triple-A in case the Astros have an injury to either Carlos Lee or Brett Wallace next season.

Corpus Christi - Starter: Kody Hinze; Backup: Brian Pelligrini. This is a bit of a leap, considering Hinze didn't play past Low A ball in three seasons. But, the big first baseman will be 24 next July and could be pushed to see if he has what it takes to be a legitimate prospect.

Lancaster - Starter: Marcus Nidiffer; Backup: Rafael Valenzuela. I see this less as a clear-cut starter/backup situation and more like a time share, with Valenzuela starting two or three games a week. That way, the 22-year old can ease into his first full-season league while splitting time with Nidiffer like the two did in the Appy last season.

Lexington - Starter: Tyler Burnett; Backup: Telvin Nash. He can play third, but I see the Astros committing to Kvasnicka at the hot corner next season. Burnett has some serious power and would be a plus defensive guy at first base. Nash probably will start in left field, but could see some time at first.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Of course, I could also see the Astros selecting someone in the Triple-A section of the Rule V or signing a minor league free agent to play first and bumping Hinze down to Lancaster. That would bump Nidiffer to the backup role there and Valenzuela to the backup role in Lexington.

What do you think? I know Snake Diggity has already done some serious roster forecasting for the minors. Does this make sense? How do you see the minor league depth chart shaking out?

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