HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 06: Matt Downs #16 of the Houston Astros and Wilton Lopez #59 of the Houston Astros collide attempting to field a bunt from Kurt Suzuki #24 of the Washington Nationals in the eleventh inning at Minute Maid Park on August 6, 2012 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Some things to talk about while this team gets blown up again and again...
1) Tyler Greene and roster moves - Let's break down this one thing into two sections. First up, it's the acquisition of Greene. Yes, his numbers are uninspiring, but don't expect much from him. Like I said on the podcast, there are two takeaways from this move (and a possible third).
First up, the Astros have been looking for a backup shortstop since they sent Brian Bixler down. Mills and Luhnow both talked about it when asked about the backup shortstop spot behind Marwin. Greene became available and is better than Sanchez, so, voila. If he can hit, all the better, but for now, he'll fill a valuble role taking a start every few days.
Second, Luhnow drafted him, developed him and obviously likes him. He's not going to have many opportunities to acquire those players he scouted when with the Cards. That's why it makes so much sense that he's targeted guys from the 2010 and 2011 draft in deals. What I don't want is for this to be a sign that the FO is worried about Jed Lowrie's health status and return.
Now, let's get into the controversial part of my post (well, the first controversial part). I do not agree with either Matt Downs or J.D. Martinez getting sent down. I can understand Downs, even if he was hitting .311 in his last 21 games for a team that desperately needs offense. He was a backup infielder and Houston added a backup infielder. That makes sense.
J.D.? My main problem are the reasons that have been thrown around for demoting him. If you question how his swing looks, you're falling into the same trap all those scouts did who passed on him in the draft. It's an unorthodox swing, but it's worked for him for a long time. Show me .gifs of his swing early this season and how it's changed and maybe I'll believe. But, I really think jumping on that is just picking on a player who doesn't have a cookie cutter swing.
His defense has also been average in left field. He's got a good arm for that spot, he's got good range and has been playing the wall well. He's held runners on multiple occasions from advancing out there and looks good. The defensive metrics last year were overwhelmingly positive but were slightly negative. Split the difference, and he's just average. If you want to throw out the numbers, how can you not see his positives in the field? If you discount first-hand accounts, how can you not see the numbers will even out?
Obviously, the FO had a reason for doing this. Seeing him in batting practice Tuesday, he was not driving the ball with authority. Downs actually had a much better BP session (though that means little, I know). It may be tied up with all his confidence and getting that good feeling back for his performance.
I understand the move, but I don't like it. J.D. needs to work out his issues in the majors. Triple-A pitching is not as good, and any adjustments he makes there aren't guaranteed to work in the bigs. He needed to work out his issues in the big leagues, but maybe, as Tim said in the podcast, the atmosphere in the majors is not right for that kind of work.
2) Brandon Barnes and expectations - Get excited about Brandon Barnes. His is a great story. We all want him to succeed. It is not likely that he will, though. Hoping a player does well and expecting something worse than that doesn't make us any less of fans. It just makes us more realistic.
For instance, look at the list of players who debuted at Age 26 in MLB history. Now, try and fit Barnes into that mix. Doesn't he remind you a lot more of the Brian Bogusevic's, Lew Ford's and possibly even Nyger Morgan's of the world? As an absolute ceiling?
The worst case scenario for him is he ends up like Tom Grant, who got just 23 plate appearances in the majors. The best cases are Josh Hamilton, who was the No. 1 overall pick in his draft, Elston Howard in 1955 and Vic Power, who was from that same less sophisticated way of finding players.
The list of successes are much, much smaller than the list of players who made it not at all. That makes the odds very long that Barnes will suddenly turn into a good major leaguer. That's why we have to be skeptical (that, and the fact that Triple-A stats are a poor predictor of MLB success. Ask Jason Lane about that).
It doesn't rule it out, though. I'd love for Barnes to become a productive big leaguer, because his story is so great. His teammates obviously have a great deal of respect for him and it seems like this team could use some feel-good moments right about now.
Just know the odds are long that it happens for him.
3) Steals, steals, steals - I'll spare you more roster talk with the movement by George Springer and Delino DeShields, Jr. Instead, let's talk about something both of them excel at - the steal.
The other day, I tweeted something that astounded me when I saw it. Jose Altuve is seventh in steals in all of baseball. Jordan Schafer is sixth. I wasn't THAT surprised by Schafer, but Altuve? He still seems to surprise. After all, was there anyone who said Altuve had great baserunning skills when he was coming up in the system?
Maybe steals are suppressed right now. When DDJ and Billy Hamilton get up to the majors, things will change. If Emilio Bonifacio weren't hurt, things would be different. As it stands now, though, he's one of the top stolen base threats in the league.
But, the interesting thing about Altuve's placement is that he's not a great speedster. He's got decent speed, but it's not world-class or anything. Most of his steals come off being savvy and picking his moments well. Sound like another good Astros base stealer from the past?
The question is how far can Altuve go with this? Will he be a 30-steal guy consistently, or could he push that up to 40 or 50 steals a year. If he gets there, Altuve could be very effective as an offensive second baseman. A 30-steal season puts him in the same company as Jose Cruz, Omar Moreno and Terry Puhl. Moving up to 40 a year? He's a top 25 single-season guy easily. In fact, he's already 46th on the all-time Astros steals list, and could move up into the Top 40 by the end of the season.