I was going to hold out on this one because I think it is one of the brighter rays of light penetrating through the dark cloud that is the Astros organization, but after struggling to find something to get excited about with Schafer, I had to reward myself. I want to take some time and pat myself on the back for being excited when the Astros claimed Matt Downs from the Giants. Hurray me! Maybe Ed Wade should get a little bit of credit too, but since the trend among baseball fans is to give him no credit, I will pretend like Mr. Wade is not responsible for bringing us Matt Downs.
Matt Downs had a great year. It's as simple as that. If you go to the league leaders for second basemen at fangraphs...and begin monkeying around with the qualifying number of at-bats to get him to show up...poof...Matt Downs is one of the best offensive second baseman in baseball*. The guy we got for next to nothing ranks 3rd in wOBA among second basemen with at least 220 at-bats behind MVP candidates, Dustin Pedroia and Robinson Cano, and ahead of MVP candidate Ian Kinsler. Since I am cherry picking things to make him look better, I'll go through some other rankings: he's second in slugging, first in ISO, tenth in OBP, and first in wRC+ (I don't even know what that is!). Yes, my friends, the last place Astros had a bad-ass second baseman and is BABiP is not high enough to make us expect much regression.
With Keppinger gone, next season should see Downs getting more at-bats. Even if the Astros will probably try and force Altuve at second, Paredes at third (Downs's performance would make him a top offensive third baseman as well), and Sanchez all over the place, that fact is that one or more of those young guys are probably going to flounder enough get sent down to AAA and for Downs to take over as the full time...something or other. Even if Downs is not going to be around the next time that the Astros are good (it's possible, I suppose), if he continues to be this good, they will be able to trade him for a respectable haul. But lets hope he gets enough playing time for the league to realize just how good he is.
So when it is all said and done, the Astros could very well have a five or six hitter that can play third or second. Those are rare. Unfortunately, I think the Astros will do to Downs what they did with Keppinger, that is, not utilize him enough, thinking that Sanchez is the best utility player or sign someone like Bill Hall to steal his at-bats. I have no problem with Downs being a super-sub who plays third, second, and right field...as long as all the other guys that he is splitting time with are holding their own, and since he's competing with prospects, it will be in the best interest of the Astros if he is forced into a super sub role by the good performance of other players. But know this Astros fans, Matt Downs is a resource that needs either be exploited on the field or in trade. Here's to Matt Downs, an underrated player, who could be the best hitter on the Astros next season. Hey, Millsie, lets get this guy 500 at-bats!
*I have to give some credit to Mills. Downs's performance could very well be due to the fact that Mills managed to use him in situations in which he would thrive.