Competition was the name of the game this offseason, and Jeff Luhnow has created an intriguing position battle for the five available outfield spots as several players are competing to break camp with the team. As of yesterday Jason Bourgeois is one player that can be crossed off that list due to the fact that he along with Humberto Quintero was traded to the Kansas City Royals. While Bourgeois was not a lock to make the team by any means, and in hindsight it appears that he would not have made the roster since Luhnow traded him before facing the prospect of losing him for nothing, he was a solid fourth outfield type. Add to that the fact that the Astros outfield looks to be lefty loaded and that manager Brad Mills likes to play the lefty/righty matchups. In any event Bourgeois is out of the equation and there are still several outfielders with their name in the mix to win one of the available roster spots.
Of the three starting spots it seems that J.D. Martinez is a virtual lock to break camp as the starting left fielder. Let’s also say that Jordan Schafer, who is out of options, has played himself onto the roster this spring and will likely be the opening day center fielder provided that he does not experience any setbacks with his sprained wrist. It is also probably safe to assume that Brian Bogusevic, who is also out of options, is a safe bet to break camp with the team as he would most likely not pass through waivers without being claimed if designated for assignment. Whether or not that is as the starting right fielder or fourth outfielder is to be determined. That leaves two outfield roster spots up for grabs for J.B. Shuck, the hitless Jack Cust, former top prospect Fernando Martinez, and minor league invitees Travis Buck, Justin Ruggiano, and Brad Snyder. It is worth noting that out of the above remaining options Justin Ruggiano is the only available right handed hitter. After the jump we will take a closer look at all of the available options.
Shuck has thrown his name into the mix this spring by being one of the few guys remaining that is having a nice spring. He possesses a solid tool which is the ability to get on base at a good clip (.383 OBP in the minors), but unfortunately this does not completely mask his other shortcomings. Known as a hard-nose player Shuck has been described as a guy that has played above his skill set in the past. At this point we know that Shuck is not really a reliable option in center defensively which is where his lack of power but decent speed would place him offensively. His ability to draw walks makes him an interesting option, but given the fact that guys like Buck, Cust, and Ruggiano provide the same skill set while offering more defensively (except for Cust), he could be heading back to Oklahoma City to start the year.
Heading into spring training Jack Cust was a player who seemed like a good fit due to the fact that he has power, and could fill the role of a power bat off the bench similar to the role Jason Michaels has played for the Astros the last few years. The only problem is that Cust has yet to get rolling offensively this spring and has also played very little in the field due to tendonitis in his right elbow. Cust just recently started playing in the field, and needs to prove that he is capable of playing the outfield at a passable level these final two weeks to throw his name back in the running. Cust is another guy that possesses the ability to draw walks at a good rate, but the elephant in the room is the fact that he has yet to collect a hit in the Grapefruit league this spring and needs to get things rolling offensively to catch back up to some of the other guys. Cust is the most experienced of all the candidates and has also had the most success in the majors, but is coming off of a disappointing 2011 season and a poor spring thus far hasn’t done him any favors in proving that he will be able to turn it around.
Health has always been the question with the former top prospect. Coming in with a fresh start with a new organization this spring Martinez has a chance to show what he is capable of, but thus far has been unable to take advantage of the opportunity. Martinez has been someone who has been rushed at every stop in the Mets organization, and given the other options that the Astros have available coupled with the fact that Martinez has an option remaining he could benefit most from spending more time at the AAA level, at least to start the season.
Buck was slowed down by an oblique injury to start spring training but has put up solid numbers since his return. As a former top prospect Buck possesses the pedigree, but has never been able to put it together in the majors. Over parts of five seasons Buck owns a .246 batting average and a .320 on-base percentage. The minors however have been a different story for Buck as he has a minor league career batting average of .303, and an on-base percentage of .384. The majority of Buck’s starts in the majors and the minors have been in right field, but he has spent some time at all three outfield positions in the past making him a good candidate for a fourth/fifth outfield spot if he were to lose out for the starting right field role.
Ruggiano has also been slow to start this spring due to injury. Justin Ruggiano is similar to Travis Buck as he has also performed well in the minors but has been unable to duplicate that success in the majors. The biggest difference between the two however is that Ruggiano has only had 207 at-bats in the majors where Buck has had 829 at-bats. One advantage working in Ruggiano’s favor is that he is the only right handed option available after the Bourgeois trade. Two other advantages that Ruggiano possesses are that he has shown a decent amount of power in the minors, and has also started more games in center field than any of the other guys.
Snyder is the least proven option, and therefore also the least talked about option for one of the outfield spots. He does have good power numbers in the minors, but also strikes out at a high rate as well. Given the other options available Snyder would seem like a long shot to break camp with the team.
Below is a look at how these players have faired so far this spring. I included Brian Bixler here as well since he has seen some time in the outfield this spring.
Since spring stats judge an extremely small sample size listed below is each player's career batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. The totals in red are what each player did last season.
J.B. Shuck - Career: .272AVG, .359OBP, .321SLG; 2011(Minors) - .297AVG, .398OBP, .367SLG
Jack Cust - Career: .242AVG, .374OBP, .439SLG; 2011 - .213AVG, .344OBP, .329SLG
Brad Snyder - Career: .167AVG, .189OBP, .194SLG; 2011(Minors) - .287AVG, .333OBP, .460SLG
Travis Buck - Career: .246AVG, .320OBP, .408SLG; 2011(Minors) - .256AVG, .366OBP, .421SLG
Justin Ruggiano - Career: .226AVG, .262OBP, .359SLG; 2011(Minors) - .304AVG, .378OBP, .518SLG
Brian Bixler - Career: .187AVG, .248OBP, .247SLG; 2011(Minors) - .314AVG, .439OBP, .407SLG
Fernando Martinez - Career: .183AVG, .250OBP, .290SLG; 2011(Minors) - .260AVG, .329OBP, .417SLG
To recap Brian Bogusevic’s solid performance down the stretch last year followed by his strong showing in winter ball this offseason should not be ignored even though he has yet to get things rolling offensively this spring. Travis Buck has performed well this spring, and if any of the aforementioned options could take the starting spot away from Bogey you have to figure that it would be Buck based on spring performance. Shuck has had a great spring but has his flaws and could easily be replaced by one of the other options. Justin Ruggiano is the only right-handed hitter of the group, but has not had a good spring offensively so far. Cust has yet to get a hit, and Fernando Martinez hasn’t performed well enough this spring so far to win a spot in favor of some of the other guys with an option year remaining. In short, the rest of spring training should be interesting to see who separates themselves from the pack and wins one of the remaining roster spots available in the Astros outfield.