HOUSTON - AUGUST 31: Shortstop Tommy Manzella #12 of the Houston Astros leaps to avoid Yadier Molina #4 of the St. Louis Cardinals as he relays the throw against the St.Louis Cardinals at Minute Maid Park on August 31 2010 in Houston Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
With the end of the minor league seasons, the writers at TCB have put together reviews of both the Astros minor league teams and several rookies that have appeared on the major league roster this season.
Today, we kick off our Rookie Review series with Tommy Manzella. Highly touted for his defense, the Astros were hoping he has enough bat to stick at the Major League level. With the emergence of Angel Sanchez, however, Tommy suddenly finds himself in competition for playing time at shortstop for the remainder of the season. The rest of this year and next spring training will go a long way in determining who will be the starting shortstop on Opening Day next year.
Let's take a look back at what brought us to this point as we review Tommy's season thus far:
In the offseason, the Astros decided to let Miguel Tejada walk. The front office said they wouldn't mind bringing him back for the 2010 season, but he'd have to take a significant pay cut and move to third base. Tommy Manzella was going to be the man at short in 2010. He profiled as your typical plus defensive shortstop with hopefully just enough bat to stick in the majors. On March 20th, he suffered a quad injury and did not return to the Astros lineup until April 1st. In spring training, he hit .244/.279/.390 in 14 games and 41 at bats. Obviously, those were not sparkling number, but it was spring training and the Astros lacked other options at short.
Highlight: Manzella solo shot
Manzella became the first rookie shortstop to start opening day for the Astros since Adam Everett did it in 2002. Most of you may remember how well that went. Everett along with Morgan Ensberg were eventually sent back to the minors after struggling offensively. Back then, the Astros had Julio Lugo to step in for Everett. This year, the Astros didn't have any better options to replace Manzella. Keppinger and Blum could play shortstop but you'd begin to develop the habit of cringing every time a ball was hit to shortstop. The minors, especially at the upper levels, were in a dismal state. Manzella it is and Manzella it was going to be. He started 17 games in March and April and in 61 plate appearances, he hit .224/.250/.259.
Highlight: Manzella's diving catch
Manzella received a vote of confidence from Mills during May. Mills said he'd stick with the rookie shortstop and allow him to make the necessary adjustments. In the minors, it usually took Manzella around two hundred plate appearances to get adjusted to his current level. By the end of May, Manzella had 154 plate appearances including his 5 plate appearances from the 2009 season. Manzella in 24 games batted .192/.282/.260 to bring his season totals to .206/.269/.260.
Highlight: Manzella belts first home run
Continuing to make adjustments, Manzella had cut down on his errors in the field. In his first 23 games, he had six errors. Since then, he's only made two. His development would be put on hold, however, after he was making a diving play on a Bengie Molina one hopper, and rolled awkwardly on his left index finger which he had jammed into the ground. It was expected he would be on the DL for at least six weeks and the as the Astros placed Tommy on the 15-day DL June 23rd with a fractured finger. Manzella played in 18 games batting .224/.233/.241. Before going on the DL at the end of June, he was batting .212/.259/.254 for an OPS of .513.
Highlight: Manzella's diving play
Unfortunately for Manzella, he crossed that 200 plate appearance threshold and had been batting .285 in his last 12 games before going on the DL. Oswaldo Navarro was recalled from Round Rock to fill in for Manzella. The Astros must have been unimpressed with Navarro, who also profiled as a defense-first shortstop, because they eventually traded Kevin Cash to the Red Sox for 25-year old Angel Sanchez and Navarro was sent back down to the minors. In Manzella's absence, Sanchez has impressed both the front office and the fans in Houston. In 49 games, Sanchez has batted to the tune of .271/.300/.333 for an OPS of .633. While those are still below-average numbers, they are a huge improvement over Tommy's numbers and helped to create a bit of competition at the shortstop position.
Manzella was reactivated on the 19th of August. During his rehab assignment, Bagwell gave Manzella some things to work on and it appears to have had a positive effect on the young shortstop. Since returning from the disabled list, he has batted .281/.303/.281 in 10 games. They weren't sparkling numbers but certainly an improvement over the start of the season. However, I've got a big fat warning sign to hang on his numbers. His batting average on balls in play (BABiP) was .375, meaning he's been very lucky since returning from the DL. He was due for some luck, but his BABiP in the first half of .291 hardly screams unlucky.
Highlight: Manzella robs Carlos Ruiz of a hit
Anything you get out of Manzella's bat is a bonus. While ideally you would like to see him hit in the .260-.280 area, he's probably more of a .250 and below hitter. With 243 plate appearances his current slash line sits at .222/.265./.258 with a BABiP of .304. Since .300 BABiP is about average, you really can't expect much more of an improvement from Tommy. Offense, as I said above, is not what you should expect from him. His advanced defensive statistics still sit in the negative, but just barely. He has cut down on the errors since beginning the season, and he currently has 24 out of zone plays, which is the most out of any of Houston's other options at short.
His defensive numbers should improve now that he's not fumbling the baseball like Adrian Peterson. His offensive numbers, on the other hand, can't give much hope. If you compare Adam Everett's and Tommy Manzella's minor league offensive numbers, you'd find that Everett had the better line. I understand the difference in competition and ball parks for the two, but I think it's telling how much we expect offensively. Being that he's pretty much a replacement-level player, Tommy Manzella is only a stopgap until some of the shortstop talent in the minor leagues makes it to the majors.